Monday, July 8, 2013

Wherever You Go

One of my novels (unpublished) tells the story of a young woman who hates her life. She decides to change it by staging her own kidnapping and escaping to a new life with a new identity. It’s a very intriguing idea, one that has occurred to me as an option (or cop-out) for me from time to time, but there’s one serious flaw in it that my book’s heroine soon discovers.

And that is something my friend Shannon mentioned a few months ago:   WHEREVER YOU GO, THERE YOU ARE      
The wherever you go, there you are statement is so true and so inescapable that it can hurt, and until you make friends with yourself and accept your past misdeeds as past, you’ll be mighty cranky when the naughty parts seem to stalk you wherever you go. Many times in the past I’ve done something major to improve my life, like take a new job in a different part of the country, only to find myself reacting to my boss, my coworkers, and work situations in the exact same dysfunctional ways as I had in the previous job. At times I’ve wanted to tell myself, “Just leave me alone!”, but I’m stuck with me. My job now is to figure out which parts of me are worth keeping and which parts need revamping or discarding. As I wrote in Bandwagon, I will always have a short, fat girl inside me, just waiting to get out. One day, I hope to live with her in harmony. In the meantime, I sometimes ask her, “Who invited you, anyway?”


Like it or not, adult humans tend to carry a carapace of beliefs and behaviors everywhere we go. The carapace thickens and hardens as the years go by, becoming a portable home that protects our soft inners from weather, injury, and predators. That shell may not be beautiful, but it’s safe. The idea of shedding it is scary: imagine a poor vulnerable turtle without its shell; but as our needs and goals change, our shells may need to change also. If an entire layer of your shell was formed on the assumption that you’re doomed to fail at weight loss, or that food is the only thing that can comfort you when you’re hurt, it’s not going to serve your weight loss journey very well.

I’ve never done well with giving up a belief or behavior all at once, cold turkey, but then, I haven’t had to deal with something the size and strength of a heroin or tobacco addiction. On the other hand, peeling away the protective shell layer by layer could try the patience of a saint. As you’ve heard me say before, I prefer to tackle the easy stuff first, so that I have enough confidence to sustain me when I get to the hard stuff. For example, instead of switching from whole milk to fat free, I switched to 2%, then 1%, before I was able to enjoy fat free milk.

It is possible, though, to make big changes fairly fast if the reward (or punishment) is significant. In the past, one of my jumbo-sized bad behaviors was speeding when driving. Eventually my speeding ticket collection sent me to traffic school, with a one-year probation period during which any moving violation would automatically revoke my Tennessee driver’s license. We live out in the country, in an area with no public transportation, so my speeding habit got a very quick makeover. Now I’m a slower, safer driver, and I still have my license.


Sometimes giving up or changing a negative or dangerous behavior feels far scarier than living with the unpleasant consequences of continuing the behavior. This is especially true of eating behaviors, because the basic act of eating is essential to our existence, so anything that threatens that takes on enormous importance. If I need to give up compulsive shopping, I’m going to be miserable, but I’ll survive. If have to give up compulsive eating, I feel like I’m going to die because all my eating is compulsive, and without eating, I’ll perish. Of course, to lose weight in a healthy manner, I don’t have to give up eating altogether, but it sure feels that way at times.

One of the reasons I approve of (if not enjoy) pre-op diets is that they require you to alter your eating behavior RIGHT NOW, so you can ease into the practice of healthy eating and not have to begin an overwhelming job the day after surgery, or the day after the first fill, when so many other things in your post-op life are still so strange and new. Waiting until the very last minute to jump on the nutritional bandwagon seems to me like a set-up for failure.


One special challenge in changing our turtle shells is that sometimes the really tough layers are completely invisible to us, and they’re difficult to acknowledge (never mind change) even when another person, or the evidence of our own senses, finally shows them to us. I went through a period in my late 20’s during which I carried a big chip on my shoulder and did my best to be a bitch. It may have been an overreaction to the preceding period of depression and submissiveness. At the time, I lived in an apartment with an upstairs neighbor who worked at a bank every day and partied hearty every night. I wore a track into the carpet with my trips up the stairs to knock on his door and complain about the noise. After a few months of that, I was furious when this banker had his 5 year-old daughter (on loan from her mom for the weekend) lean out the window as I walked through the parking lot and yell in her sweet girly voice, “Look at the bitch! Look at the bitch!”

 I happened to have a friend then who socialized with the banker sometimes. I told her the “Look at the bitch!” story hoping for insight about the banker, or at the very least a nice dose of sympathy, but it didn’t work out the way I wanted because my friend said in a reasonable tone, “But Jean, you ARE a bitch.” After which I decided I was proud of being a bitch rather than trying to find a way to get along with the banker better.

I hope I’d handle a situation like that better nowadays. I’ve been gradually chipping away at the bitch layer of my shell for years now, but it’s still there, traveling with me wherever I go.


A while back, my friend Tom quoted a wonderful post from the blog. It was a list of ten daily reminders to keep your mind centered and your spirits lifted. Number 3 on the list is this:

Sometimes to get where you want to go, you have to do what you are afraid to do. You must be brave and push forward. Miracles occur when you give as much attention and energy to your dreams as you do to your fears.
In my case, the most fearful thing I had to do in order to succeed with my band was not drinking skim milk, surviving a liquid diet, or giving up bread. The most fearful thing was giving up my emotional attachment to food. In the nearly 6 years since I was banded, I’ve made a lot of progress with that, but the attachment is still there. It forms one of the innermost layers of my turtle shell. Working on that layer will probably be a lifetime job for me. At times I’m not even sure I truly want to get rid of it altogether. At times I’m afraid that if I shed my shell completely, I won’t be able to survive. On the other hand, I seem to be doing fine without that thick old bitch layer. So I’m going to pay attention to my dreams rather than my fears and pray for a miracle.


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