Exercise begins with copious cursing
It starts like this:
Oh, man, I don’t feel like going for a walk.
I pause to think about a very important lesson learned long ago (although I have frequently forgotten it when in the grip of electrified compulsion to eat, which is): “Behavior Comes Before Feelings.” And I also think about the fact that my hips will be less painful if I get ’em movin’, AND that the bariatric surgeon wants me exercising. Oh, AND there’s this: I cannot gain ANY weight over the next 4 months. My health insurance won’t approve my gastric sleeve surgery if I gain any. I have to weigh in once a month.
[Sigh.] Okay, okay. I will now guarantee that I will go for a walk. I approach my 3 dogs, Chase, Kevin, and Jake: “Hey, guys! Do you wanna go for a walk?” [I show them their leashes and harnesses. The crowd goes wild.]
My ears ringing from enthusiastic barking as I put on their “clothes”, (known to non-dog people as their harnesses), we move en masse to the front door. I wade through dogs in an attempt to reach the doorknob. This is where the swearing begins, because Jake is already tangled in his own leash. How the hell does he wrap it around his face? (I am cleaning up the cursing here. It’s actually much worse and includes generous splashes of “Fuck!”)
I manage to open the door, whereupon Chase and Kevin test the sturdiness of the extension leashes, and Jake, who is on a shorter leash since all he does is attempt to glue himself to my leg the entire time we walk, attempts to follow them.
We have GOT to get better at this. I have to do better at planning this and training these guys on my expectations.
But for today, I’m not quite sure how, I manage to close the front door and we rocket toward our road, which is an asphalt county road with very little traffic. Most days, I don’t see any vehicles, and the times I have, it’s always a truck. Because Texas.
Our goal–and this is progress– is to walk up the hill to the entrance of a Christian “Guest Ranch”, turn around before I break out in hives being that close to evangelicals, and inspire Jake to keep walking forward by saying, “Let’s go HOME! Let’s go to the FRONT DOOR!”
Meanwhile, the entire walk, Kevin is just beside himself with joy at being able to roam more freely than before. He used to be on a tandem leash with Jake as I attempted to help Jake, A.K.A. The Spokesdog for Dogs With Anxiety Disorders, feel less freaked out that We Are Leaving the Driveway! Oh My God, Will We EVER Go Back Home? After too many times of Kevin and Jake nearly clothes-lining me by splitting up to walk from behind me on either side, I decided to try 3 separate leashes.
Chase, who has 4 legs but uses only 3, is skinny. If I came upon him on the street, I would assume his owners should be shot for starving him. He has IBD and it’s hard for him to keep weight on. The meat he does have on his bones is all muscle, and he is incredibly strong. And I normally believe he’s incredibly smart, too, except that when he runs over to a fire ant mound, he knocks the top off of it, and observes, ears perked, as a bazillion pissed off ants emerge. He’s also the most observant in terms of seeing wildlife in the brush along the road, which is when I say, “Uh-uh. You are NOT going after whatever is there and taking us with you.”
We arrive home about 30 minutes later, and my walking partners are energy antonyms of their prior selves. Except Jake: he is more jazzed about getting home than he was about leaving. Although Jake gets excited about going for walks, he visibly relaxes each time we, once more, return home. I know the feeling, Jake. I’d love to show you guys a video of me walking roughly 250 pounds of Fitness Partners, but I’d have to have a Go-Pro on my head.
Breaking up with B.E.D. (TRIGGER WARNING for SURVIVORS OF C.S.A./SEXUAL ASSAULT)
I am studying Leora Fulvio’s Reclaiming Yourself from Binge Eating (Ayni Books, 2014). Today, I annotated the Intro, Chapter 1, Using This Book, and Chapter 2, What is Mindfulness and How Will it Help Me Heal?
I really admire Fulvio for her authenticity and honesty about her history with Binge Eating Disorder, and I relate to her childhood of having to wear women’s sizes even as a pre-teen. It brought to mind the way I had to wear “older” clothes to go with my body, which developed early and served to constantly remind me that my body was too large and that’s why I couldn’t wear the same stuff as other kids.
While Fulvio’s mom thought that by enrolling her in Weight Watchers at age 11 she was protecting her child from “not being liked” because of her body type that Fulvio inherited, my history of wearing adult women’s clothing was in part because I began binge eating shortly after my stepfather began sexually abusing me, and I outgrew my clothes so quickly that my parents could not afford new clothes for me. So I had to wear my mom’s clothes to school.
All that time, I longed to be petite and delicate. I wanted to be a free-spirited child wearing jeans with stitching on the pockets. I was jealous of girls who could wear what they wanted and I know I also envied my friends whose dads didn’t seem interested in them sexually or yell and shake empty plastic tumblers at them to refill with bourbon and Diet Pepsi.
I felt like such a weirdo. I loomed over my peers–I was taller than others until I stopped growing in height in 6th grade– and, anyway, the goal of clothing was never to find pleasure in what I wore. Instead, the goal was always to attempt to fix my “flawed” physique. Mom would gush, “Oh, that’s so slenderizing!” when I found something to wear that apparently made me look less Incredible-Hulk-like: usually some sort of draping garment. I was a kid, but I didn’t look like a kid, and I resented the changes in my body: the boobs, the hair, the periods–the reminders that my body was womanlike.
It sucked, and for me, it just reinforced my sense of “otherness.” I was already coated in shame from head-to-toe because of the sexual abuse being perpetrated on me from age 8, and my perpetrator specifically told me that my body was irresistible to him. He’d molest me then tell ME, a child, “Slap my hands.” He put ME in charge of stopping HIM. He was fixated on my breasts from the time they began to form, and as a result, I hated them. I even tried to claw them from my body. I felt helpless because there was nothing I could do to make these changes stop, and there was nothing I could do to make a 35 year old man stop coming in my room at night or spying on me or physically overpowering me.
I remembered recently a “modeling class” my stepfather told my mom to send me to, when I was 12. It was through a J.C. Penney program, and every day for a week, my mom drove me from our suburb South of Dallas up to Valley View Mall in the North Dallas area. All these other beautiful little girls were there–they were so delicate and excited about being there. I didn’t even want to go but my mom kept going on about how generous it was of my stepdad to want me to do this. It didn’t matter that I knew I had no desire to learn to be a model or be introduced to beauty regimens. I was a late 70s version of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird.
The show culminated in a “runway” show in the center of the junior’s department. They had nothing in that section that would fit me and I ended up wearing something from another department. All these other girls were wearing stylish stuff and my frock was this shit brown pattern. Man, I didn’t want to do that runway show. I did not want to be looked at and judged. I already felt like an outsider–I never did assimilate with the rest of the girls, because I was an “other” and I knew it. I was incredibly, painfully, shy and always felt so fucking awkward. Doesn’t matter that it was all in my head, does it?
Is it any wonder that I have lived a lifetime of hatred for my body, and I inadvertently modeled B.E.D. and self-loathing to my children? In the Q & A segment of a recent school visit I did, a student asked me, “If you could go back and have what happened to you NOT have happened, would you do it?”
Of course I wish it hadn’t happened. Although I like the strong survivor I am, I cannot imagine wishing a traumatic childhood on an innocent child, especially since the damage did not end with me. My children were raised by a damaged person, and my husband married a damaged person, and they pay the price in some ways, too, for what I was and still am in some ways. I suppose it would be heroic to say, “You know, I wouldn’t change a thing. I would not be the person I am today if I had not gone through hell as a child. It was a real character builder.”
Fuck that shit.
Fulvio says, “Healing from Binge Eating Disorder is like breaking up with someone you have been in a dysfunctional relationship with…[Food] has always been there for you, has always comforted you, and, unlike people, food has always made you feel better when you were down. But then comes the let-down. The after-binge feeling…” (Fulvio 12).
I used to think that eating like I did began when we moved to Terrell, Texas, a city in East Texas that, to this day, I cannot drive through without triggering flashbacks. Even though the city is unrecognizable in some ways, there are still enough landmarks remaining in downtown, like the bank, that I feel myself beginning to panic when memories begin to intrude. I once went on a job interview at a school there, insisting to myself that the pay was great and I was healed enough to work there, and they offered me the job–they called me less than 24 hours later–but I knew I couldn’t take it. Post-interview, I blew out of that town, my heart racing. I knew I’d be a wreck if I had to pep-talk my way through my drive to work every day.
Eating the way I do started before our move to Terrell. It began when we lived in Richardson, Texas, right after my mom married my stepdad. My mom put vanilla sandwich cookies in a glass candy dish that had a lid on it. It was on a dark brown bookcase that we had. I was perhaps just barely 8. It’s possible I was still 7. I have a poignant memory–it’s very powerful emotionally–of experiencing an overwhelming anxiety and panic. I feel myself putting my hand on my chest and recall numbness as I stood staring, transfixed, at the crystal candy dish with the cookies in it. I lifted the lid and took some cookies, and when I replaced the lid, I was careful–oh, so, so careful–that replacing the lid did not make a tell-tale “clink” that would reveal my presence there. Somehow, this memory is tied to an episode in which my friend Tom and I were playing with a garden hose in the back yard. We were pretending it was a snake, and the water pouring from it was the creature’s venom. We were taking turns. I accidentally hit Tom in the face with the metal end of the hose, and my stepfather, who I had noticed watching us from the window in the kitchen door, threw open the door, yanked me roughly from my friend, and dragged me into the house. He was hitting me all over and screaming at me. He was grabbing at me and when he was through, he threw me into my room and I hit the wooden floor hard. It was the first time that happened; it was the first time I’d ever met this side of him; it was the first time anyone had ever handled me like that. I sneaked into my parents’ bedroom and hid on the floor as I called my grandmother for help. My mother caught me on the phone and told me that I was never to do that again.
My clothes were wet. I did not yet wear a bra.
Now I realize what it was. Now I see why he did it.I know that I began emptying that candy dish of vanilla cookies any time Mom refilled it, and I never told that it was me eating them all.
There’s a lot I didn’t tell.
My husband loves vanilla Oreos. I did not eat them for YEARS, but in the last several months, I fell into it again. Not long ago, I opened a new package and discovered I had bought lemon instead of vanilla. I ate the entire middle section from the package and the only way I was able to stop was by placing the package in the kitchen sink, coating the cookies with dish soap, and running water on them. Hadn’t had to do that for years, either.
Then I was wracked with anxiety: will my husband notice they’re gone? He would have bitched about the wrong flavor anyway…it took me 2 days to work up the nerve to tell him–via text–that the cookies had been “causing me problems” and what I’d done to stop. He texted back that I was goofy, but next time I went to the store, even though I told him I was sure I could stay out of them now, since I can’t gain weight, he said he didn’t think I could. I asked him if it made him angry and he said it didn’t. I’m grateful that he does not resent me for his being unable to have his cookies here.
“Meditation”, A.K.A. “Napping”
Leora Fulvio says that healing begins with Mindfulness. She says, “Creating a mindfulness practice will give you the tools to pause, notice what you are feeling, notice what you want to do in reaction to that feeling, and allow you just a little bit of space to make that choice willingly” (16). She suggests setting an alarm on one’s phone and when it goes off, ask, “What am I feeling?”- then label the feeling without judgment. Then, ask, “Does this feeling put me at risk for a binge?” That is supposed to make it possible to just “sit with” the feeling as opposed to feeling like something has to be done about it.
She suggests how to practice meditation by relaxing, placing one hand on the chest and one on the belly, filling the belly with air, and breathing in and out slowly. Another great place for such relaxation instructions–although more detailed–will be found in Appendix D of the forthcoming book I co-wrote with Dr. Matt E. Jaremko, Trauma Recovery: Sessions With Dr. Matt. In fact, I learned about Leora Fulvio’s book, Reclaiming Your Life from Binge Eating, because Matt read it and it’s mentioned in our book as both a recommendation and a plot device. I once spoke to Ms. Fulvio on the phone and totally fangirled!
At any rate, I took her advice on meditating and promptly fell asleep. This has been my prior experience with meditating, as well. If the goal is relaxing, though?