Archive for the ‘Featured Content’ Category

Dia de los MuertosWhat’s your biggest fear? Spiders? Speaking in public? Heights?

Mine is, by far, death. I know, that’s not very original, is it?

Isn’t everyone scared of dying, at least to some degree?

I’m sorry to be so morbid here, but isn’t it slightly terrifying that death means . . . The End? Story Est Finito. Game Over. If you really sat and contemplated the finality of death, I wonder if it would scare the daylights out of you like it does me?

Fearing Death Can Also Sorta Give You a Necessary Kick in the Ass

Since I was very little, I have been frightened by the looming possibility of death: a real, physical terror, in the form of cold sweats and the sharp slice of panic shooting through my stomach. The movie Stand By Me sent me into an 8-year-old’s existential crisis. My 8-year-old self lay awake in bed, letting my mind wander just far enough to hit the edge, and as soon as I’d feel that all-encompassing sense of creeping dread come over me like a wave of invisible creepy crawlies, I would mentally rip my mind away from thinking about it. On to fun thoughts! My Little Ponies! Let’s sing the chorus to Hit the Road Jack, over and over! Anything to return my brain to a less traumatized state.

For my entire life, I’ve had an almost physical fear of death. Any time I would think about it too long or too deeply, I would begin to feel shooting arcs of anxiety and become ill with dread. Although it’s really the one thing you can count on in this life (everything dies!), that doesn’t make it any easier to comprehend or accept.

Now, I’m older and the sense that the clock is ticking always knocks at my consciousness when I’m least expecting it. But what terrifies also motivates, and knowing that our time is limited and precious here in this life makes me more determined than ever to face down the demons of life. Attack those things I feel I was meant to do.

Write if you’re going to be a writer!

Paint if you feel the pull!

Love, laugh, travel, pursue big dreams.

You’re only here for a brief visit, make the most of it, damn it!

It took me over thirty years of living to finally understand that life doesn’t mean doing what you’re told to do, or living ordinary. There comes a day where you say to yourself: Hey, you . . . if you were old and dying, would you regret not pursuing those things when you had the chance? Um, hell yes!

Where I’m at in life now is old enough to know that I can’t take my time for granted, and young enough to be able to do anything I set out to do (except back bends. Those, not so much). The only person who stands in the way of great things is me, and the very thing I’m so terrified of is the greatest motivator to make me get out of my box and do all the other terrifying things I can do, because I’m still here to do them.

Beliefs Are a Comfort to Most of Us

There’s a billion people who believe a billion different beliefs about life: where we come from, where we’re going, and how we’re getting there. I think, personally, that every person has a right to their own beliefs, and shouldn’t have to be force fed why everyone else’s are the right ones. I’m still figuring out mine. I do have a sense that things happen in the way that they’re supposed to, and forcing events to unfold in a certain way is useless; it’s just wasted time and energy. If something is meant to come about, it will. And if it doesn’t, there’s no need to devote a ton of thought and energy to it. Let it go (let it gooo!), it wasn’t meant to be. I also feel that when a person’s time is up, it’s up, and there’s no changing that.

Beyond those two things, I am not entirely sure where my beliefs lie. I have a fascination with the dark side of life. The psychology of people who do things that would be considered abnormal capture my attention, because I can’t comprehend what has to happen in their lives, their biology, their minds, to make them do the things that I read about in books or see in the news. It’s strange that a person like me, who is terrified of the prospect of death and dying, is also fascinated with everything surrounding death. Ghosts and spirits, even though I’m not sure I believe in them. The legends and stories explaining the darkness in life. Art, books, and movies about death, despair, and darkness.

I guess you could say what terrifies me inspires me.

I Found The Mirror. You Know, the Mirror . . . Of Destiny!

For a while now, I have had an obsession with Dia de los Muertos, the traditional Mexican holiday that translates as “The Day of the Dead.” It started when I was browsing a Mexican import shop several years ago. I was mostly broke, trying to get back on my feet, and trying to figure out what direction my life should be heading in. I was feeling proud of myself that day, for getting myself and my daughter out of the house, to visit the historic downtown of a nearby town for a day of fun that would be sort of affordable for a broke single mom. In this import shop were so many colorful and interesting artifacts, I found myself daydreaming about what life would be like if I were somebody else, rich and able to live in a house with an interior courtyard framed by black wrought iron surrounding a mosaic-tiled fountain. Yeah, you know that daydream . . .

In real life, I had wandered in front of a Day of the Dead mirror hanging on the wall. It was adorned with hammered tin and featured tiles of colorful scenes depicting happy skeletons dressed in fancy clothes. It was love at first sight between me and that mirror, as I pictured it hanging above my big, heavy sideboard in my dining room, my favorite room on my home because it is painted a deep red.

The Mirror . . . of Destiny!

The Mirror . . . of Destiny!

I spent months paying on that mirror before I could bring it home, but it felt like first thing I was able to have after my divorce that truly represented me. Since then, the entire concept of the Day of the Dead has continued to fascinate me, both for the colorful, happy imagery of a usually grotesque subject, and for the story behind the traditional holiday. The more I think about it, the more it seems right for me to use my fascination with the subject to begin to create a story or book about it, so I’ve started doing some research on the idea. I already have one idea kicking around for the traditional voodoo practices of the city of New Orleans that I hope to turn into a book, so this new idea seems to be a natural progression. (You see where my mind goes, right? Scared = fascinated, apparently.)

The Discovery of A Unique Ritual, Feared By Conquistadors (Who Were Afraid it Would Piss Off the Dead)

According to what I’ve found out so far, native people to central and Southern Mexico have celebrated the Day of the Dead for over 3,000 years by mocking and making fun of death. Now, it’s not a spiteful or hateful thing, it’s actually just the opposite. Way back in the days of the ancient Aztecs, the tradition first started. Aztec people held a festival to celebrate the goddess Mictecacihuatl, (yeah, that name!), who is supposed to be the ruler of the afterlife and the goddess of the Underworld, a very scary and badass sounding creature, if I do say. According to legend, the goddess presided over the ancient festivities, even though it was believed she died at birth. Soo, she’s a baby goddess? Or she was born an adult? Not sure how that all works, but anyway! Still . . . badass.

As with most cool things going on in the world, everything began to change when other people found out about it and didn’t understand it. This was about 500 years ago, when the Spanish Conquistadors landed in Mexico and found the native people involved in elaborate and good-natured ceremonies mocking death.

Those conquistadors didn’t really care to piss off the dead by allowing them to openly be mocked. So they tried to change things. You see, Spainards believed that death was the end of life.

The natives believed something else, a very beautiful view on death, actually. They embraced death because they believed death is just a natural continuation of life.

The Spainards weren’t called Conquistadors for nothing, though, and they went ahead and conquered those pesky beliefs. Before their arrival, the natives celebrated the festival of the Queen of Mictlan in all her badass glory for a whole month in the Ninth Month of the Aztec Solar Calender.

Or, as we refer to it – August.

Now, if any of you know holidays, you may know the Day of the Dead is celebrated near Halloween, or you may have even thought it was Halloween. Congratulations! That means the Conquistadors won! They moved the native celebration to coincide with their traditional All Souls/All Saints Day celebrations, which happen the two days following Halloween, on November 1 and November 2.

The changes made in the date stuck, but those natives weren’t gonna give up everything for some overbearing Conquistadors. Today, the Day of the Dead is celebrated traditionally over two days, mostly in the Oaxaca region of Mexico, but the popularity of the holiday has spread enough that it is celebrated in some form all over Mexico and the world.

You may wonder why it takes two days to celebrate the Day of the Dead? There’s a reason for that. After midnight on October 31, Mexican natives are ready for dia de los Inocentes or Angelitos, during which time the spirits of all the dead children can come back for 24 hours. Families spend a lot of time, and sometimes up to two months pay, preparing for this holiday and for dia de los Muertos, which occurs the next day when adult spirits of dead loved ones reunite with their living family members.

Lots of time is spent creating all the traditional items used in the Day of the Dead celebration. Families create elaborate altars of marigolds, which are called “the flower with 400 lives” and traditionally symbolized death to the Aztec Indians; papel picado, which are intricate tissue paper decorations; pan de los muertos, the bread of the dead, which is baked in round or skull shapes; and finally, the most well known symbol of the Day of the Dead, the calaveras, or sugar skulls. Artisans spend months crafting the small, colorful grinning skulls, which date back to the 18th century and represent a departed soul, often with the person’s name written on the forehead of the skull.

Skeletons, skulls, and people painted to look like skeletons/skulls have become really popular in modern celebrations of the Day of the Dead. The most famous skeleton symbol of the holiday is Catrina, a creation of artist Jose Guadalupe Posada, in a painting done around 1910. Catrina is why you often see a skeleton figurine wearing a fancy hat and a pretty Victorian dress. Legend has it, Catrina was a greedy and selfish rich lady who did nothing to help her fellow man when she was alive. Natives openly mocked and disparaged her by painting themselves as skeletons to show that they do not follow her greedy ways.

I’ve done two paintings so far that have painted faces in them. This one is me and from a Day of the Dead painting I did a few years ago:

Painted face selfie

Painted face selfie

And this one I am working on right now:

Catrina painted face

Catrina painted face

Also, here is Catrina as she was done by Posada in the early 1900’s:

The Catrina skull as done by Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada

The Catrina skull as done by Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada

An Ancient Celebration Takes a Commercial Turn in a Modern World – Or Does It?

There’s nothing new under the sun, right? What began as a native Aztec Indian festival in a remote region of Mexico several centuries ago is today, for lack of a better description, a commercial retailer’s dream. Just like Halloween has overtaken other holidays in popularity because the Gods of Wally World (Wal-mart) sayeth it is so, and Christmas displays are created in August to give you plenty of time to buy, buy, buy! – so, too, has the Mexican celebration of the Day of the Dead been commercialized. There’s Day of the Dead artwork on posters and cell phone cases. Sugar skulls abound. The distinction between a festival to honor loved ones who have passed (dia de los Muertos) and the ancient Gaelic night when they believed the barrier between the living and the dead was thin enough to allow spirits to come back and wreak havoc on people and crops (Halloween), has been all but lost in many ways.

Is it ghoulish, scary, or does it have to do with death? Eh, throw it in with Halloween. Then charge the shit out of it!

I will cop to loving the imagery, artwork, and creations associated with dia de los Muertos, for sure. But what is even better is that it allows me to see something that is terrifying to me with new eyes, thanks to the beliefs of one group of people.

People who truly celebrate dia de los Muertos do it because they care. They anticipate the return of those they loved by spending time out of their busy lives crafting a fitting “welcome back” tribute. They go to the cemetery with a picnic lunch and a basket of cleaning supplies so they can spend the day with their dearly departed’s’ Earthly remains, and do them justice by cleaning their final resting place. Then they sit nearby, eating the favorite foods of the people they loved, telling stories about the lives they lived.

It’s not a time to be sad those people are now gone. Instead, it’s a time to celebrate and honor the fact that they were here, and they lived. And, whether or not you and I believe that those spirits come back for 24 hours to visit, admire tiny colorful skulls and drink some mezcal, the people who celebrate this holiday carry on as if they do. For two whole days, they honor lives remembered and take time to acknowledge those people whose time on Earth may be up, but whose lives mattered. They mattered to friends, they mattered to family, and their presence is not forgotten.

It is celebrated.

I’m not over my fear of death, by any means. But do I love the thought that someday, long after I’m gone, the people who knew me will gather together, talk about how awesome I was, and eat and drink in honor of me?

Yes, yes, I love that thought.

Because, really, isn’t that what we’re all striving for? To live a life that has a lasting impact on the world, even in some small way? Skeletons and spirits, ancient festivals and modern interpretations aside, it all comes down to the fact that living or dead, we all want to believe our life and our legacy matters.

“Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them.” –George Eliot

 

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Having the Courage to Start

Having the Courage to Start

Have you ever had something you were sure you were supposed to do, that kept nagging at you, and wouldn’t go away?

Oh, you tried to ignore it. Maybe it seemed impossible. Or you didn’t know where (or even how) to start.

Or people, people who were supposed to believe in you and be your champions, made you feel as though this thing, this burning desire you had was silly, childish, or impossible.

After so many years of hearing or feeling “You Can’t,” you really start to tell yourself “I Can’t.”

The problem with this, with this thing, whatever it is, and with you trying desperately to push it down, push it away, pretend it’s nothing more than a silly idea, is that the more you do this, the more persistent it becomes.

Like a dumb puppy who keeps bringing back the stick, your dream, want, need, big or small, just won’t let you alone.

It keeps you awake at night, it’s in the back of your mind all day. As you go about your life, the life you’re living right now, it shows up again and again to remind you that the life you have now isn’t really the one you want.

It’s the one you’re living because you’re supposed to.

You’re supposed to because people are supposed to go to college, or get an office job, or get engaged, then married, then have kids. It’s what you do to please those people who “want the best for you.”

You know what “the best for you” in their eyes is? It’s what they want for you. It doesn’t matter if you want to balance on increasingly tiny platforms in the circus, or start a non-profit baking cupcakes to raise money, or be single. You’re clearly not thinking about what’s best for you, right?

So we live the life we think we’re supposed to live, and when that persistent puppy comes back around we get mad at it and kick it away. We feel bad, because it’s not the puppy’s fault. The puppy doesn’t know it’s not what’s best for us.

It can go on like this for a while. Sometimes we deny our dreams for years, a lifetime, even.

But for some of us, one day something happens, something changes. Maybe it’s the customer that stomps on every last nerve. Maybe it’s when she doesn’t come home – again. Maybe you look around at your life, and you wonder who it is living it.Puppy

But on that day, one reason or a tangle of many reasons finally makes you pat the puppy on the head and pick up the stick. You realize that all along, the puppy was doing what’s best for you, bringing that same stick over and over until you realize, “This stick is the very thing I’ve been missing all this time.”

Because that little voice inside you, that gut feeling that you’ve been ignoring, is telling you something real. I’m not silly. I’m not impossible. I’m what you’re supposed to be doing.

I’m what you’re supposed to be.

On the day you realize this, you feel a lot of things: relieved, happy . . . panicked. Panicked because you’ve wasted so much time doing what you thought you were supposed to do, what “they” wanted you to do. Now there are so many years lost to drudgery, the wrong thing, the wrong path.

So, where do you start? Now that you know, it should be easy, right?

Wrong.

If you’re like me, you instantly try to drag that puppy down the river of Denial and send it on it’s way. You’re scared, terrified. What if I screw it all up? Or worse, what if I’m fantastically successful? What if they are all right, and I’m throwing away stability, certainty, happiness, all for a silly and probably impossible (Shut up, puppy!) dream? What if I’m successful, and then screw it up? What if, what if…

When did it become so normal to doubt ourselves so much? All those motivational phrases – You can do it! You go, girl! You got this! – all those inspirational Facebook quotes with pretty watercolor backgrounds or grab ’em by the balls graphics . . . we see them, we read them, and we nod and say “That’s it!” But then we make dinner, go to the game, work 2 hours of overtime, commute for 85 minutes, or a hundred other things and all the quotes in the world can’t get us to change our minds. This is reality, we say. I don’t live in Fantasyland.

The fear consumes us, the fear that the impossible dream is something we could do, there’s just so much standing in our way.

So we do the same things we always do, a part of us turning angry, or bitter, or worse – indifferent. The fear, and the excuses it uses to make us do what it wants, wins.

To beat it, to tip your hat to the fear and pursue your dream anyway, many people believe they have to get rid of the fear. So all their time is consumed with trying to banish the fear, and they are still no closer to living their dreams. Because the truth is, the fear isn’t going away.

It’s like when you have to talk yourself into walking down a dark hallway as a kid. Or talk yourself into raising your hand in class. Or going on stage, or talking in front of people, or dealing with a fear of heights.

It’s not that the fear goes away. It’s that the fear is still there, and you do it anyway. You and the fear, you do it together, like a maniacal team out of a wacky movie. You’re trying to talk the fear into it and the fear tries to talk you out of it, and while both of you are distracted:

  • You pick up the pen.
  • You open the door.
  • You grab the paintbrush.
  • You give notice, ask for a raise, apply for that new position.
  • You tell that person that you love them, or you want a divorce, or you forgive him.

Whatever step was necessary to begin that impossible dream, whatever tiny move you had to make to get the persistent puppy to trust you this time, you and the fear do together.

That’s where having the courage to start begins.

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Do you have a dream that scared you but kept showing up? Did you chase it or ignore it? I’d love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments.

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Losing 73 Pounds and Keeping it Off

Losing 73 Pounds and Keeping it Off

The last time in my life I remember being “skinny” was when I was about 7 years old. I have pictures of me before being chubby and after. I was one of those kids that, until about age 8, was a stick: long knobby legs, skinny arms, long brown hair.

Then, something happened (or many somethings) and all that changed. I clearly have a picture in my mind of me at 8 years old. It’s from a photo of me, and I am standing in our house, wearing short shorts and a t-shirt. I have frizzy brown hair (back in the days when perms were awesome) pulled back with two barrettes. I have a round face and round middle. The way I’m standing in the photo is just awkward to begin with, with my hands up and my back arched, so I’m sticking everything out and not sucking anything in. It’s a totally different me from the skinny kid just a year before.

Ever since that time, I have done battle with my image, my weight, my reality. I’m sure I promised myself a million times “Today, I will start losing this (freaking) weight.”

And a million times, I didn’t.

I knew I was overweight, but I stopped associating that problem with me. I loved chocolate (plain Hershey’s only, please) and would take to stashing a bag with me. If there was dessert in the house, I would wake up in the morning, head to the kitchen and eat it straight from the container . . . cake, brownies, cookie, whatever, then I would make myself a full breakfast. Sweets were truly my heroin, but I loved plenty of other things like pasta, potatoes, or fries. I told myself I was pretty healthy because I hated soda, tried to always eat my vegetables, didn’t eat white bread, and didn’t eat prepackaged snacks.

Heck, I even worked in nutrition and could tell you anything you wanted to know about the Food Pyramid, exercising, and choosing the right foods.

I could say it, but I didn’t live it.

I was a sneaky eater. I didn’t want people to see me being bad, so I hid my chocolate, hid when I ate more that I thought was normal. Maybe I even hid it from myself. If nobody saw me eating, it must not count.

Jaime, 1980

Me as a toddler, around 1980. In the top photo are my Uncle Steve and my gorgeous, ageless Memaw. That’s my brother in the dryer at the bottom there. (We didn’t turn it on, if you’re wondering).

My other downfall was portion size. I never paid attention to how much I ate. I had no idea how many calories I took in during a typical day. Second and third helpings were ok. In my head, I convinced myself that I couldn’t lose weight, that I was healthy, just bigger, and that I was unable to follow a regimented diet plan like you saw all laid out in magazines. I hated those. 1/2 cup of asparagus and 3 oz of lean meat? Who eats like that? Not me.

I also convinced myself I was not athletic. Which is funny since I danced for 14 years, from third grade through college graduation, and rode horses. Plus, I liked walking, mostly because it didn’t really seem like exercise. But team sports, going to the gym, lifting weights? Ugh. Work.

My First Attempt

I successfully lost weight one time. It was in 2004, about mid-spring. It suddenly felt like a light switch had been flipped in my head, and I was able to do all the things I needed to lose weight. I started reducing my portions to the size of a side plate instead of a dinner plate, and walked every day for at least a couple of miles. I got down to around 155, maybe a little less. I was in a size 12, which for me was a huge deal. I felt great. I looked great. Maybe too great?

In September of that year, I became pregnant with my first child. Have you ever been extremely nauseous and ravenously hungry at the same time? How about for several months at a stretch? I tried valiantly to keep it all under control, but the day I checked in to the hospital for my c-section (my baby was breech), I weighed in at 221. My daughter, when she was born, weighed 6lbs, 13oz. So, I know the weight was all me.

I Gave Up For Years

March of 2009, when I got a tattoo of my daughter's name on a trip to Branson, MO.

March of 2009, when I got a tattoo of my daughter’s name on a trip to Branson, MO.

For the next seven years, I struggled mightily to force myself to that place I had been in 2004 when I found the magic spark that made me lose weight, but I was not able to. As 2009 came to a close, my life exploded. My husband left and I was suddenly a single mom with a house to pay for and a daughter to raise. For many months, simply existing was a success. I was crushed and heartbroken and completely lost, so taking care of myself went waaaaaay on the back burner.

At some point, I made it out of grieving for my marriage and began to come to grips with everything. I knew I didn’t want to be alone forever, but I also knew dating meant I had to have some respect for myself, and I didn’t. I tried online dating once before, and met someone at the end of 2010, but it ended badly and I swore off any form of dating for a while.

Finally, my best friend, Angela, told me I had to give it another shot. I knew I wouldn’t find Mr. Right until I saw myself as Miss Right.

This Time, I Changed My Mind

In February of 2012, I promised myself, this time, I could do it.

I could lose weight. It wasn’t a body thing, and eating thing, or an exercise thing.

It was all in my head, and if I could get my brain to back me up, I could do this.

Tattoo in 2012

Me taking a photo of my tattoo in 2012, over 3 years after I got it and in a very different body than the day I got it.

I joined My Fitness Pal so I could keep track of my calories (a really eye-opening thing once I saw how far 1,200 calories a day went. Hint: not far.) I broke out my dormant treadmill and began walking on it at night after my daughter went to bed. Gradually I added a minute of running, and then after a couple of months, I was running for about 20 minutes every night. According to my app, I was losing 1-2 pounds a week. I carefully measured my food, and found that if I ate pretty much the same thing for breakfast and lunch, it helped.

Breakfast: Honey Bunches of Oats with skim milk and strawberries.

Lunch: An apple, a serving of crackers or pretzels, and an ounce of cheese.

Add lots of coffee (no sugar, only creamer) and rinse, repeat every day.

Dinner: Meat, a vegetable and a little bit of rice or bread or other side.

After dinner I allowed myself 16 Ghiradelli chocolate chips. 16 is a serving size. It seems brutal, but it let me have chocolate.

After a while, my body got used to the portion sizes, and I stopped craving so much sugar. I went down to a size 14, which I was able to wear because of the clothes I had kept from 2004, but soon I was too small for those and had to go buy clothes that fit, which were around size 8. In July of 2012, I was at 160, and by the end of September, I was at 143. During all those months, I entered my meals every day, just to make sure I didn’t get off track. I also weighed myself every morning.

In the middle of all this, I joined another online dating site. I talked to a few people who seemed promising, and went on a couple dates that proved that adage is true: some people can seem like anybody online. In real life? Not so much.

I talked to one guy for a couple months, but in the end he proved to be very squirrely. Single dad, but no job, no vehicle? I finally wised up there that I was probably being played. In late July, I got a message from a guy who liked that I was a Damn Yankee. Turns out, he was, too. Would I like to meet? I couldn’t that night because of my job, but agreed to meet him for dinner the next night, a Saturday.

I was standing in the “lobby” of Longhorn restaurant (a running joke between us now because he doesn’t believe it had a lobby) when Luke came around the corner of the restaurant. I had made it to the restaurant on the bottom of a tank of gas on E, and I didn’t dare sit in the parking lot with the AC running for fear I would run out of gas and not make it home. Our “meeting” lasted until after midnight. I found out he understood all about my weight loss (a thing I was still very shy about discussing) because he used to weigh almost 400 pounds himself, and had lost the weight by changing his eating and taking up running.

Luke & I in NY

Luke lost nearly 200 pounds and has kept it off for over 7 years. I lost 73 pounds and have kept it off for 2 years.

Even through starting a new relationship (there were a LOT of rocky places involving my daughter accepting it, and us merging our lives and understanding who the other person was) but through it all I stuck to my plan.

Eat the same breakfast and lunch. Pay attention to calories. Allow yourself a small treat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

This isn’t a diet.

I have to eat this way for the rest of my life. Otherwise, I’ll end up back where I was, and I know that no matter what tempting food is staring at me, it’s not worth being fat again.

All along, it was a mental journey, and my physical body just reflected that.

Every single day, with my actions and my thoughts, I choose to be at my current weight. It’s not as much of a conscious decision some days as it is on others, but it’s still a decision I have to stick to.

Now I’ve added exercise back in. I pretty much lapsed on the exercise for almost a year, yet maintained my weight. 1,200 calories, every day. I know what most foods I eat are calorie-wise now, so that makes it easier. I joined a running group in March of 2014 with my mom, and just completed my first 5k. There’s another in 3 weeks that I now know I can complete with little issue.

My First 5K Race

The two people I used to be have changed places. For most of my life I was a fat girl, with a skinny one somewhere inside, waiting for me to allow her out. Now, I’m a skinny girl, who keeps the fat girl I used to be tucked away inside. She’s still there, but I fight every day to not let her out.

Losing weight is a mental battle, and maintaining a weight loss is, too. Any person who has successfully lost and kept it off will likely say something similar. It’s not the diet you follow, the exercise you choose, the doctor you go to, or the pills you take.

It’s you.

You’re the difference between losing the weight and not losing the weight. It’s not even about “willpower.” It’s about making a choice every day (sometimes every minute or every second) to not let the fat you win anymore. She’s not mean, or evil, or bad. Often, the fat you is scared, or hurt or sad. She thinks she’s protecting you, and helping you, and comforting you.

But there comes a point where you finally have to come to grips with the damage fat you is doing, either to your mind or your health.

It’s not sexy or easy. It won’t sell a product on the back pages of a magazine. Shaun T won’t do an infomercial about it. Because there’s no way to sell you what’s already there, inside your head, waiting. You have to be willing to admit that losing the weight will be hard, frustrating, challenging, and life altering. But also totally worth it.

And only then can the journey start.

 

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In February of 2012 (two years ago now!) I started doing something I never believed I would be able to do. I began losing weight, and instead of giving up like I’d done a hundred times before, I kept at it.

My best bud, iPhone, had an app on it called MyFitnessPal, (awesome site, by the way . . . I couldn’t have lost the weight without it) and my info when I first set it up showed me weighing 221 pounds. I am 5’6″ tall, so this put me in overweight, definitely pushing something else, especially since my BMI (body mass index) was over 30 which meant I was that word that I can’t even stand the sound of . . . obese. Ugh, what a way to think of yourself.

Pool Pic 2011

This is the picture that got me writing this post. This is me in 2011, I am on the left and am obviously trying to suck it in here.

Today, at this very moment. I am still 5’6″ but my BMI is 23.9. I weigh 148 pounds.

Camping 2014

This is me on a camping trip in March of 2014.

The thing is, in my head, I will always be that fat girl. I spent so many years being her, compensating for how it felt to be overweight but not seeing it. Oh, I felt it. I understood it. But even though I looked in the mirror every day – I never really could see myself, and be honest about it.

But I can now.

Even now, two years into my new body, when I look at the pictures from before, I cringe.

How did I not see it? How did I have such blinders on? That little voice that lived inside my head was constantly telling me, “Hey, you’re not that big. Plus, insert excuse here. (You’re a new mom, you’re just built this way, you eat healthy, you only had a kid x years ago, how fast are you supposed to lose it? And on, and on). That voice was also the one saying, go ahead, have a bag of Hershey’s, you deserve it!

Just like when I was big and couldn’t see myself in a mirror or in photos for how I really looked, now that I’m 73 pounds lighter, I don’t see the new version of me. In my head, I’m the same as I always have been.

About 10 months into dropping the weight, and about 5 months into my relationship with Luke, he took me to the casino. I had never been before and we thought it would be fun/funny to go and see how I did (Side note: I’m terrible at going to casinos. It’s a depressing place and I lost all my $20, hustled out before I did any more damage, and have no want or need to go back). They have a huge bathroom there, two rows of stalls, and when I came out and rounded the corner, I was startled by this skinny dark-haired chick coming toward me. As we got closer to each other, it was obvious that she was me.

I didn’t know her at all, and as I stood there washing my hands, I wondered how I would ever be able to see the fat girl I was and this new person as one and the same.

I’m two years into being “skinny” by outward appearances. All my life, I longed to be a skinny person. I wondered what it would be like to wear clothes of a certain size (it’s several, by the way: size S and M, size 7, 9, 10, 11, junior 13. They all fit me at different times and on different days). I thought, life would be so much better, easier, free-er! It would all change when I became skinny!

My life did not change because I’m skinny. I still have the same job, same house, same parents, same family and children. I still struggle with being introverted, with a messed up self-image, with wanting to eat things I shouldn’t. For a long time, I hovered at 143-145. Now I’m at 148.

It freaks me out a little and I’m struggling to cut back so I can be five pounds less again. So I’m not so worried that this is the beginning of a slow climb back to fat. I run my very first 5K tomorrow. I don’t know what, if any, feelings of accomplishment that will bring? I still hate running, but I make myself do it so I can prove “I can.”

Somebody said to me when I told them I was doing a 5K this weekend, “Oh, I didn’t know you were a runner!” I replied, “Neither did I. I was just as surprised as you are.”

I didn’t know there was a skinny person in here, either. I’m still getting to know her. It turns out, we’re a lot alike.

Have you ever achieved a goal, and it wasn’t quite what you expected? What was different?

Did you struggle with weight, image, a bad habit, or something more serious like drugs, alcohol (hey, gambling?) and now don’t?

Once you got through it, did it change your life or the person you thought you were?

I’d love to hear your thoughts . . . leave me a comment.

I’m 35 and in many ways, I feel like I am still a kid, although on some days, and in some ways, I do feel unimaginably old. I don’t know if there are people out there that can relate (I’m sure there are), but even though I was technically a “grown up” for a long time and did all the things that grown ups are supposed to do (got married, held a job, had a child), deep down I still felt as though I was an imposter. Any minute, someone would see that I was just pretending to be a grown up, and the facade I had built would crumble.

My dad, Bruce, Aunt Shirley and me circa 1979

My dad, Bruce, Aunt Shirley and me circa 1979

It’s funny, that the times I would expect this unmasking to happen are probably the times when I was actually becoming more of an adult. I have had several moments where I had to be the grown up, and in doing so began to accept, once and for all, that I couldn’t keep living my life as though I was still a kid. That I couldn’t keep believing I wasn’t responsible for my part of the things that went wrong, or didn’t have to accept the consequences of my actions or inactions, or that hiding behind the (not literal) leg of a real adult would keep me safe from all that was scary.

It was when my husband left me three years ago that I really knew I was going to have to become an adult. I was on my own, with a small child, and had to piece my life back together one day at a time. It was a frightening reality to face.

I alone was responsible for my life.

Me circa 2012, a "grown up," air quotes included.

Me circa 2012, a “grown up,” air quotes included.

It was also a strangely freeing feeling, knowing that my life could be what I chose. However, it’s taking a long time to truly understand the full meaning of that thought. I made some grave mistakes along the way to understanding this reality, and those mistakes are what I’m faced with repairing today.

I’ve never really spoken or written about this before, so my first attempts at it are halting, tentative. Nobody ever wants to admit they’ve screwed up, or that they let destructive or unhealthy forces make make the choices they should have been making all along. I accept that I had a part in the destruction of my marriage, that if it was a good as I wanted to pretend it was, he wouldn’t have cheated. I accept that before March of 2012, when I finally got serious about my health, I was hiding behind my weight and the excuses I made for why I wasn’t fat, just big-boned, genetically cursed, or meant to be bigger.

Those things I was able to wrestle with on my own, to understand and deal with for myself. I forgave my ex-husband for the things that he did that hurt me, and took responsibility for the parts that were mine to fix. I lost 75 pounds over the course of about six months, and have kept the weight off. I have changed and fixed things that I was unhappy about. I quit a job I hated, pursued a lifelong dream of writing, and got back in the dating world, where I met someone who was totally unexpected yet exactly right for me. None of it is perfect, but it’s all mine, and if there is of any of it that doesn’t work, it’s up to me to accept it, or change it.

It’s a huge change in thinking for a person who has long been tied to the identity she thought was her: shy, introverted, just an observer. It’s how I lived my life.

And it’s bitten me in the ass several times over.

It’s a very strange thing, to try to untangle yourself from . . . yourself. Or the view you’ve always had of yourself, anyway. Am I really shy? Or does being an introvert just make it seem that way, even to me? Are the things I let happen because I was scared of dealing with them the result of things “out of my control?” Or is there no such thing as out of my control . . . because no matter what happens Out There, I always have control of my reaction to it and the choices I make because of it.

After all, isn’t that what being an adult really is? Accepting that only you are responsible for yourself, how you treat people, how you deal with the things – both good and bad – that come your way, and whether you can look back and stand by your choices rather than regret them.

What do you think? Did you magically feel like an adult at age 18? Or is it something that comes with experience, wisdom and time? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

You know what’s crazy? Quitting your full time job in the middle of the biggest, scariest, most horrifying recession of all time. Ummm…yeah, I think that about sums up the news media’s view on the recession/debt/unemployment crisis. I bet each news station even has a specialized logo for each story relating to the “crisis,” like they do during an election year. Perhaps it is a tiny person being crushed by an avalanche of unemployed people who are falling on him while at the same time drowning in a sea of overdue balloon mortgage payments? Anyway, that’s not my point…

My point is that I quit my job this summer.

For five long years, I’ve hung on, telling myself “It’s a paycheck, it has crappy medical insurance, it’s a job for crying out loud!” But you know what I discovered? There’s only so long a person can live with having their soul slowly sucked dry. Maybe it was the dumbest decision I’ve ever made. Call me in two months and ask if I’ve been eating cereal for three meals a day (no milk).

Or maybe….it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. maybe I finally made a decision that took careful, calculated thought, threw it out the window and instead spoke directly with the heart. You see, I have a dream. It’s not on par with Martin Luther King’s dream. In fact, compared with his vision, mine is kind of pathetic.

But that doesn’t matter. You know why? Because this dream is mine. Nobody else has the ability to create my future but me, and the only way I can start is by dreaming about the life I want. I don’t want to wake up every morning and feel like crying before the alarm even stops going off. I don’t want to be so exhausted by 4p.m. every day that I drag myself home and wonder how I will make it to bed time, and then have to get up the next day and do it all again. (If I actually get home at 4, that is. My default was to stay late by at least a half hour most days.)

I know what I described is a reality for many people. And I hate that because I know what it does to your life. You become a miserable person, unable to find the joy or enthusiasm you once had because 40 or more hours of your week are spent in a stressed-out, frustrated haze. Why do we accept that this is normal? Why do we hang on after ignoring the Exit sign time and time again? Well, I can’t speak for everyone. But mine was…FEAR. Big, gigantic, crushing fear. I was literally so scared of facing the consequences of my own choices that I was paralyzed. I tried to quit four times, and then when I critical moment came, every time I sucked it up, went back and spent the year wondering what the hell I was doing.

Not. Fun.

Life isn’t supposed to be fun, you say? Well, I thought so, too. For a very long time. That’s why I held onto a job that was a dead end for me. That’s why I held on to a marriage that was, at best, routine and at worst dysfunctional. And now, on the other side of that, I have to say I disagree. Life IS supposed to be fun. You are supposed to live each day excited about what you are doing, excited about the people you are spending time with, and excited about being you. And if you’re not…well, that’s for you to work out. But I’m realizing more and more that nobody else on this planet will point that out to me. I am the decision maker here. Everything I have done in the past has lead me here…to a life I hate. Thanks, younger and stupider me. Could you not have figured out a few things before now?

Obviously, the things I went through were important, because they brought me here. To the place where I quit my job during a major debt and unemployment crisis. Go me! I rock! But seriously, I don’t particularly care about the media hype. I do care about the people who are going through hard times, because I know how it feels to watch your life crumble right in front of you. But at this moment, I don’t feel like I made a wrong decision. In fact, for the first time in a long time, I feel like I finally made a right one. Putting myself through extended misery is not the right choice for me. Plus, I have a plan…in fact several plans…for my career’s future. And I’m so excited by them that I am alternately giddy and completely terrified. And I’m convinced that’s a good place to be.

What about you? Have you ever made a decision that scared you? Did it turn out to be the best decision you could make? Did it backfire? (I hope not!) I’d love to hear any and all comments!

My painting “In the Sea,” in progress.

My inspiration for this painting is actually the band “America.” You may have no clue who that is, but that’s okay. (Sister Golden Hair? A Horse With No Name? Anyone…?)

When I was a kid, I had a huge obsession with one movie.

It was a cartoon called “The Last Unicorn,” and it was based on a novel by Peter S. Beagle.I must have watched this 100 times as a kid, plus I recorded the songs onto a cassette tape once while the movie was playing, so I had a really terrible version of the soundtrack, too. The 1980’s were awesome.

In the movie, a unicorn discovers she is the last unicorn on Earth, and she sets out to find out what happened to the others. She meets an incompetent sideshow wizard, Schmendrick, who actually has powers, and they leave together to search out The Red Bull, who is supposed to be holding the other unicorns captive. They are joined by Molly Grue, a lady traveling with a band of outlaws, and they invite her on their journey to King Lear’s castle. When the bull finds the unicorn, Schmendrick saves her by using his magic to turn her into a human girl. They then have to talk King Lear into letting them stay while they search for the bull’s lair, and before the unicorn becomes human forever.

The entire movie is accompanied by a soundtrack by 70’s band extraordinaire, America. I love all the songs, but the song “In the Sea” seemed to be a good basis for a painting. In case you want to hear it, here’s the song:

In the Sea by America

When I listen to it, I get a mental picture of swirling water, and flying fish. I went online and found some old line illustrations of flying fish. Then I got to do my favorite part of starting a painting: dig through my collection of junk to see what I could use. I had some shells and starfish, some netting, sea glass, and some rope-like string. I also printed out some of the words to the song.

Those were glued onto the canvas along with three of the flying fish I had found, and I started layering on blue, black, white and silver paint, along with some structure paste to mimic waves. Then I added the net, shells, and glass, plus a quote I printed out, “May your joys be as deep as the ocean, your sorrows as light as its foam!”

It’s why I love making mixed media collages so much. I can just get lost in paint and treasures and words and try to somehow make it all fit together to make a painting that tells a story. In this case, it combines two things I love: the ocean, and my favorite childhood movie.

The best part was after I finished the painting, and I was at a discount store and came across a picture framed in old weathered wood (like barn siding). I took it home, took the picture out and glued the frame to my canvas, adding a rope I painted black as a border between the painting and frame.

It’s so awesome when things come together in reality like I saw them in my head.

The finished painting:

Painting by Jaime Leigh Hebert, 2011

Painting by Jaime Leigh Hebert, 2011