After a few months of being in a “reading dry spell”, I have finally found my literary mojo and am quickly making my way through some of the books that have been lying dormant in my Kindle or next to our desk for the last six months or so. I love to read, but sometimes it requires a focus that I just don’t possess during different phases of life.
I recently read a beautiful book titled The Ragged Edge of Night by Olivia Hawker. If you are into history, historical fiction, WWII stories, true stories, well written stories, love stories, war stories, or any combination of those things, you will love this book. After having my faith in humanity somewhat restored through the lens of a family redeemed in the crucible of war, I opted to read something a little more frivolous.
Next, I started Fat Girl Walking by Brittany Gibbons. I had never heard of Brittany before stumbling across this book, but now I feel like I know her well. A little too well, in fact. She writes like I think, which is a little jarring. This book is the memoir of a woman who has been overweight for most of her life and she writes about how that has affected everything from her grade school days to her relationship with her parents to her sex life. I started reading this book because I thought it would be funny, but Gibbons’ personal experiences are hitting a little too close to home for me. Maybe that is why I am hammering away at the keyboard at 12:21am, silently yelling at the cat while my husband snores in the next room, knowing I will be miserable tomorrow because my normal bedtime is a strict 9:30. I now find myself in a mental vortex of memories, questions, and doubts that can only be present when someone else’s courage to honest has pricked my own sense of vulnerability.
Like me, Gibbons uses sharp-witted humor to deliver difficult truths about who she is and how she learned to cope with the messiness of life. She writes about how her family used food to cope with stress and how she found comfort in salty, fatty, sugary treats when her parents were spiraling or her peers were taking punches at her in the cafeteria. I relate to this all too well.
At this point in the story, most authors, especially female authors, go on to tell you about how they found the one thing that worked for them and got them out of their food-induced shame coma. I’ve read countless books and blogs by women who struggled with their weight and body image from grade school through adulthood, only to find the thing – a therapist, a program, a lifestyle change, a team, a group, a retreat – that helped them overcome their addiction to food and emotional eating and drop the 75 pounds for good and lead a totally different life. These people inspire other people, and I am all for it. I thought I would be one of those people, too. Gibbons takes a different route though, and oddly enough I find myself more motivated by her honesty than by the success of all the other people who seem to have figured this thing out and discovered their healthier selves.
At 35 years old, I thought I would have a few more things figured out in life than I currently do. I thought I would understand politics. I thought I would be able to add up the total of groceries in my head without being completely shocked when the cashier told me the total. I thought I would own a car that was less than 10 years old. I thought I would have at least one kid. I thought I would be maintaining my “goal weight” and running 5Ks on the regular. I thought I would have overcome my fear of clowns. I thought I would have been to Paris. I thought I would stop losing my car keys every day.
Sometimes these thoughts manifest as what I like to call “other stupid questions”. I know we tell kids that there is no such thing as a stupid question, but I am starting to think that is a lie used to reduce shame and encourage healthy curiosity. As an adult, I find myself asking a lot of stupid questions. And when I say stupid, it is not a judgment call on the questioner. I call them “stupid questions” because they are questions I ask when I already know the answer, yet I still attempt to find a different answer because I don’t like the one that is true. For example: Should I leave my car windows cracked to keep my car from getting so hot? No, dummy. You live in Central Florida where it rains every day between 3:00 and 6:00pm and every time you crack your windows, the inside of your car gets soaked. Yet, I press the button…
Ms. Gibbons’ book has forced me to face my longest running stupid question, the big one (no pun intended). Why am I still fat? Well, there are lots reasons for that and none of them require the IQ of a rocket scientist. If you look at my childhood class photos, it is easy to see that I was several inches taller and wider than all of my other classmates. I was never going to be the thinnest girl in the room. Even when I was playing multiple team sports, dancing, and doing all the other things kids are supposed to do, I was just larger than the other girls. My doctors started telling me from a young age that I needed to eat less, exercise more, and work harder to “be healthy”. (True story: an endocrinologist once told me if I just ate sugar-free Jell-O and danced by myself in my room, I would lose enough weight to be healthy.)
When I quit playing sports and ate bagels, ramen noodles, and pasta every day for meals, I gained a lot of weight. When I went to college and drank a lot of beer and kamikaze shots and ate pizza and Mexican food and fries around the clock, I gained more weight. When I took a prescription weight loss pill, stopped eating, and exercised 2-3 hours a day, I lost a bunch of weight. When I quit doing those things, I gained weight. When I got really stressed out and went back to obsessive workouts, I lost weight. When I picked up swimming again and kept a food journal, I maintained a healthy weight. When I graduated from grad school and couldn’t afford to buy food and gas in the same week, I gained a ton of weight. When a friend stepped in and helped me navigate a healthy weight loss program and lifestyle changes, I lost a bunch of weight. When I couldn’t afford to maintain the program, and worked four jobs and got married, I gained weight. When I was diagnosed with an autoimmune thyroid disease and given some tools to manage it, I lost some weight. When I got pregnant and had a miscarriage and we were living off of a $40/week grocery budget and I was depressed, I gained more weight.
So, the answer to my stupid question is there somewhere in the midst of genetics, body type, family history, poor coping skills, lack of awareness, poor life choices, extremist thinking, unforeseeable circumstances, denial, hopelessness, and exhaustion. I know the answers. Asking the same question forty different ways is still going to produce the same results. So why am I still asking?
I am starting to think that there are lessons in this life we think we have learned, only to learn we have no idea. Ok, that may be a little too meta. Let me rephrase: no one has this thing “figured out”. Everyone has a that one thing that they are still asking “Why am I still [fill in the blank]?” Why haven’t I figured this out yet? When will my ducks be in a row?
I don’t know what your big question is, but I do know that most of us fail to do for ourselves what all good counselors do for their clients: they identify the question BEHIND the question. See, when I ask myself or my doctor or anyone who will listen “Why am I still fat?” what I am really asking is “Am I a failure?” The question has very little to do with my weight and everything to do with how I see myself when I take stock of my life. It’s a shame-based question, and shame-based questions can only produce shame-based answers, unless someone we trust as the courage to help us ask the real questions in life: Am I a failure? Am I loved? Am I worth loving? Am I wanted? Am I enough? Am I too much?
Most of us don’t ask these questions because they are just too scary and they require too much vulnerability. We (myself included) want to know how to be “fixed”, but we don’t want to know how to be healed, which would require looking at the root issues that plague us all if we sit in silence long enough.
Maybe I am “still fat” because I have not learned to love myself regardless of my size. I still base my worthiness and lovableness on a three digit number that haunts my dreams and waking moments. Maybe the grand answer to this whole question isn’t another program, but an honest wrestling with what I believe about myself when I look in the mirror.
My fear in sharing this is that I will receive a ton of messages from people telling me what worked for them in the weight loss category. Please don’t do that. I am not sharing to get answers. I am sharing to help others ask the real question: Am I lovable even if I never “get it right”? Am I worthy of care, love, and relationship even if I never get my ducks in a row? Maybe my worth isn’t dependent on my weight. Maybe my husband isn’t a liar when he calls me beautiful. Maybe, on this long road to health, I will learn that I am worthy of love at any stage of life.
I guess my big question isn’t a stupid question at all as long as it leads me to closer to realizing that I don’t need to hustle for my worthiness. I guess that means your questions aren’t stupid, either.