I’m doing it again. I’m five weeks into a new lease on life, and I’m exhilarated and terrified. Did I hit rock bottom? I doubt it. I’m sure things could have gotten worse – and that’s the part that scares me. I’ve done this all before and yet here I am again. I think this time it started with Lent. Considering spiritual disciplines I could take on, I started thinking about the changes I needed to make in my life. I recognized that I was deeply unhealthy.
I don’t need to go into the details, but I looked in the mirror and hated everything I saw. Heavier than ever – way too close to 400 pounds. Aching back, tingling feet, chronic fatigue. I was cruel to myself, “You’re a piece of shit” was my multiple-times-a-day mantra. I hated things that I once loved. I leaned into terrible habits, stopping at McDonald’s between meals, eating handfuls of Oreos before bed, buying candy bars in the checkout line. I ate to experience a small dose of happiness in the midst of a world that was so full of evil, apathy, and pressure. This winter, as the world started to come out of pandemic – even as it lingers – I started to see what I had done and what I had become. I realized that I was slowly killing myself because I was convinced that the world – my church – even my family – would be better off without me. I never harmed myself, but I was destroying myself slowly. I was choosing the slow burn into oblivion.
Then I knew it had to stop. My family deserved better than a husband and father who was slowly destroying himself. Lent came and it was the catalyst I needed to make some changes. I made an appointment with my physician, fearful that I had already done irreparable physical damage as I massaged my toe that hurt for no reason. I found a therapist who seemed compatible and enjoyed our first session even though I knew she wouldn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. We renewed our membership at the local fitness center, and I made a plan to go every day after dropping off the girls from school. I decided to join my daughter in the piano lessons that she started.
I took control. I had a plan. I found a goal – a 5K in June that I decided I wanted to run. I asked my daughter if she wanted to run it with me, and she was excited. I told my daughters that I started going to therapy. I shared with them my struggles, and told them how sad I had gotten. We cried. We hugged.
I started posting pictures of my workouts on Facebook and Instagram. I told people about the theme song I found – “Living My Best Life,” by Ben Rector. I told my girls that every time I get on the elipitcal machine, when I get to the last three minutes of my workout I start playing it and it motivates me to finish strong.
I close my eyes and lip sync “Can’t believe I’m a grown ass man, but you know what they say of best laid plans. But I’m holding on to my daughters’ hands, and I’ve got a reason to live,” and I throw my fist into the air and beat my sweaty chest and go harder. People might wonder what the heck I’m doing, but I don’t care, because “Baby I’m thriving. I’m living my best life. I wake up with the sunrise. It does not look a thing like I thought that it would. I’m getting my steps in, and I sleep with my best friend, It’s the best that has been in a long time.”
And that’s why I’m scared. I’m terrified because I’ve done this all before. This is the third time in my life that I’ve looked at myself in the mirror and hated everything I saw and felt and started to make some changes. Twice before I’ve lost 80 pounds. Twice I’ve started doing 5K runs and felt the addictive joy of trimming times off of my mile. Twice I’ve felt like I had made the kind of permanent changes that would save my life.
So now I’m in season three of the same show. I’m getting my steps in. I’m wearing my Fitbit and tracking my calories. I’m making smarter choices. I’m skipping McDonald’s. I’m choosing fruit instead of fries. I’m making protein smoothies instead of eating sleeves of cookies. I’m finding ways to get to the gym instead of finding excuses to avoid it. I feel good. I’ve lost 20 pounds. My heart rate has improved. I’m getting stronger.
This time I’ve added a few characters and twists to the show. I’m going to therapy, and feel good about having a place to articulate my depressive feelings. I’m inviting my church to participate in the 5K. I’m taking piano lessons. I love the creative outlet. I took piano lessons as a kid and always regretted quitting. I love that I’m doing it – and I love even more that I’m doing it with my daughter. It gives us this beautiful shared experience and shared sense of accomplishment, confidence, and pride.
Things are better right now than they have been a in long time, but I’ve been here before. I’m terrified that I’m going to mess it up again. I’m so scared that I’m going to do all of this work, make all of these changes, and then let it all fall apart again. I post all the selfies and soak in the likes and encouraging comments, but what happens when it stops? What happens this summer when I don’t have the built in reason to get up with my daughters and get to the gym? What happens when I go on a trip for work and there isn’t a gym at the airbnb I’m staying at? What happens if I strain my calf again (which ended season one)? What happens when I take my foot off the gas?
I want to say that this time will be different, but I don’t know that it will be. Season one was ten years ago. I wrote about my first 5K. I knew that time I was doing it for them – for my girls. Season two was four years ago, and I realize now that a lot of that was about dealing with the grief of my Mom’s death. I was doing it for her. This time feels different because I’m doing it with my girls. I’m talking to them about my mental health. We’re sharing our joy of learning piano together. We plan on doing the 5K in June together for Pride Month, which is important to us emotionally and spiritually as well.
Yet I’m still scared that I’ll fall into the same traps. Four years ago – back in season two – I said that “I don’t believe in Before and After.” Do I really believe that?
Four years ago I wrote this:
“I can be good all day, light breakfast, healthy lunch, smaller portions at dinner. Then a few hours pass and I’m cleaning up the kitchen or watching some TV and the hunger sets in. I suddenly want to EAT ALL THE FOOD. One cookie turns into a handful. And a bowl of cottage cheese. And some yogurt and granola. Suddenly all the gains I made all day are gone. I’m not alone. Losing weight is hard. According to some research, keeping it off is nearly impossible. Apparantly it is a natural reaction for your body to be more hungry after losing weight. It’s as if your body is screaming “You’re starving yourself!”
So what’s the answer? I checked out some websites, and basically the only way to maintain this lower weight is to keep doing what I’m doing. In other words, there is no before and after. There is only now and the next choice I make.”
It’s still true. I’m just really hoping that it’s a lesson I’ve finally learned. Considering how low I got this time around, I’m not sure I could survive a season four.