If there’s one thing that 2015 has taught me in these many months, it’s the fleeting nature of existence. Every season we experience, and we will experience them all, is ultimately temporary, whether good or bad. That’s good news for the bad stuff, promising us that light at the end of the tunnel so we don’t ever give up. It’s not such great news for the good stuff, which we hope lasts forever, but is over way before we’re ready.
There’s a line in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, where two people find love right before a meteor destroys the earth. The heroine laments to her new love that she wished they could have met when they were younger, that they didn’t have enough time.
“It never would have been,” he tells her.
It’s such a poignant moment because no truer words have ever been spoken. Good stuff, bad stuff… whatever it is, it is just a season to endure or to enjoy. Yet it’s our human nature to seek out the victories, to celebrate them as if we’ve crossed some imaginary finish line. The good stuff means we’ve weathered the bad, we’ve endured the battle… we’ve survived and have emerged victorious.
And granted, we have done all of that, but crossing over that finish line inevitably puts us at the starting line of yet another race. We’re never really “done.” Nothing is ever really permanent. As such, our victories, hard-won though they might be, aren’t really the full story. They’re little bookmarks on eras of our life where we proved our mettle every single time we managed to rise after being knocked back down.
Getting back up again – THAT is the true victory.
Without getting back up again, winning is impossible. So why are we so fixated on those fleeting glimpses of success defining the story, to the point that there is no story worth telling without it?
I’ve been giving this some thought since Hal Sparks posted the following tweet:
Of course, as someone who has struggled with my weight and with weight loss for roughly four decades, I had something to say about that. I’m quite resentful that the arduous process of weight loss is often downplayed by the importance given to its conclusion, as if the baby steps we take towards health and wellness don’t count until we fit into some two-piece bikini on the cover of People Magazine. For those of us with a lot to lose, this gray area of invisibility lingers long, and it’s hard enough to keep motivated without bartering our value to simply be *seen* in the process.
We set up unrealistic expectations when we simply show the Before and After pics, because it’s the During part where the hard work is done. That During part could last months or years, with ups and downs and triumphs and failures, but all we see is the resolution of the “problem,” which is the most time anyone in our fast-paced world can spend on a weight-loss story anyway. The only thing that matters when you’re fat is what you do to change it, and even then many only care when it’s all said and done because – more often than not – no one cares enough about you to be in those trenches by your side.
Judging is easy. Investment demands much more than these folks are willing to give.
So why exactly is it my job to impress them?
You can see where I am in the battle when you look at me. I can’t hide it. I can’t run from it. It’s right there. But this visual cue only tells half the story. It tells you how I got there, but it doesn’t say one damn thing about what I’m doing (or not) to change anything. Oddly the judgment always defaults to “not”. Whenever I step outside my front door, you have the before picture, which comes with this hidden disclaimer that I must somehow suck as a human because I have *so much* to change. Without an “after” photo to validate my journey, there’s no real visual proof how totally kickass I can be or how valuable I am… outside of being a fellow human being.
That should be enough but far too often it’s not. And it never will be. My goals for my journey may not include fitting into a Size 0, or having six-pack abs. Maybe my After includes running a mile without stopping, or losing enough weight I no longer qualify as “obese” on my medical chart. These are worthy goals, even if they’re not what others have determined for me. Even with an After photo, you never really cross someone else’s finish line.
It’s baffling to see anyone say these things to a fit woman, but that’s usually where we fat folks live. The message we continuously hear from the world around us is that we can unlock the secret code to social acceptance, a bonus round, if you will, with a glorious “After” photo. That’s why everyone wants it. It’s our golden ticket to join the world around us.
To prove to you exactly how important that photo is to the conversation of weight loss, I have tried in years past to get endorsements for weight loss blogs where I – with all my weight to lose – offered myself up as a guinea pig to highlight the journey in painful detail, with all the ups and downs, triumphs and trials, to encourage all those other folks out there on the same rocky path as I am.
I even approached Oprah’s magazine. I got shot down. Hum. Wonder why?
Truth be told, nobody gives a shit about the “During” part. They just want the awful, ugly, frowning “Before” shot and the victorious, glamorous, smiling “After” shot. Even those who have the best of intentions err on the side of After.
I, of course, expressed this discontent to Hal, and he, of course, reminded me that the “During,” is, in fact, important. It’s were we all live.
See, that’s the dirty little secret no one tells you. There are no “Before” or “After” photos. There are only “During” photos. Every physical state that we’re in, whether we love it or whether we hate it, is temporary. This is life. And life is messy. There is no point where you break through the ribbon at the finish line, or reach the top of the highest mountain. There is always, always, more to go, things to accomplish and battles to win.
You don’t believe me? Check out this blog from a gal who, by the standards of our fine (*cough*) society has crossed her finish line, but boldly asserts the idea There is No After. Putting a “thin” shot next to her “heavy” shot didn’t instantly fulfill her or fix all her troubles, and as such proved to her how much left was to do AFTER the After.
There. Is. No. After.
There’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of weight loss because the rainbow has no end.
There is today. There is now. There is during. There is life.
I uncovered myself one pound at a time; now, I must REcover myself…I must DIScover myself. And that…that is the new goal. Not numbers. Not sizes. Not inches.
Me. I am the goal. Finding. Loving. Being.
Can anybody hear me?
I hear you. And I get you. One hundred percent.
The last four months have been a bitch and a half. I decided to spend this year focused on my weight, my health, my journey – only to have the universe slam me with crisis after crisis. There have been times I wanted to abandon the One Year project, convinced that this is just not the time to do it. There are simply too many chainsaws up in the air. Each new tightrope I walked had no wiggle room aside from the very next step I took, which was precarious at best. I wasn’t thinking my end-of-year “After” moment. There were no triumphant laps around the pool just to prove that I hadn’t become a statistic of my ambitious body change project. I was thinking only of my next breath as I struggled (struggle) to keep my head above water, often nearly drowning in the process.
In this year alone Steven has been yanked around with three different employers, which put a huge drain on our monthly income thanks to bounced paychecks, and less than honorable management that would strip the hourly wage to nothing after a couple of days of low sales. This occurred right when we needed the money the most, which resulted in one of our cars being repossessed. Tim’s cat, Simba, managed to break *both* hips at once. Thanks to all the stress, I’ve been sicker in the last four months than in the last four years.
To tell you the unique juxtaposition I’ve experienced this year between absolute highs and fuck-it-all lows, my first traditionally published book released the same week that we got served eviction papers. The irony of it was painful. The book I wrote while homeless finally publishes the very month I flirt, once again, with homelessness.
This has been my 2015.
Because of all this, I’ve been fighting off the dogs of depression with varying degrees of success. On the good days, I can manage my wavering moods with exercise or herbal remedies. On the bad days, and there have been more than a few, I’ve danced with some really dark thoughts that all circled back to one very unsettling idea:
Was this my After?
It sure as hell felt permanent, yet another hole to dig myself out of, with only a teaspoon to do it. There was nothing more depressing than After the After. The current (temporary) situation as it is feels it will never get any better, so why bother? It’s been rough, made rougher still by this idea that I can’t share this part of my journey because it’s not sparkling, shiny and successful. I’m still mired in the During, and I know in my gut far too many people won’t even hear me until I emerge on the other side of After… if I ever do. Needless to say I have not been running at full capacity. There were some days the victory was simply getting out of bed. All the other stuff slid right off the priority list.
And yet, I couldn’t give up entirely. On the one hand, I’m frustrated that the one year I put aside to really get serious is the one year that Life decides to throw everything at me at once. How inconvenient, right? But on the other hand, the universe isn’t out to get me. It’s happening this way for a reason. There are lessons to be learned here. It’s my job, in the During, to figure out what that is.
It dawned on me that maybe, just maybe – the During is it, no matter how imperfect and haphazard it may appear.
I’m swimming like hell for the shore, best I know how. My immediate need is my income, so that was where I diverted all of my focus and energy. In the midst of all that, I’ve completed two books and tweaked a script, doing everything I can think of to get any lifeboat coming my way so I can get back to where I was a year ago, while finding the energy to change who I’m going to be in the future, dropping nearly 30 pounds and a couple of dress sizes in the process. There have been victories in the During, even though, llike some demented cosmic board game, it seemed like every step I had taken towards my “After,” I was sent back five steps.
Nothing was harder to confront than this idea that my success, forty years in the making, was so limited – and now over in the space of six months. (Not a ringing endorsement for any OTHER goal, lemme tell ya.)
But it wasn’t over. It was only temporary, just like this new state is. I wasn’t any better, stronger or wiser… I was just luckier. It’s my turn to deal with the crap, and I’ll get through it because I AM strong, even if I don’t measure up to someone else’s backwards metric to measure it.
We fixate so much in this life about the After as some place to rest and languish after the hard work is done. And of course in our (*cough*) culture, the truest measures of Happily Ever After success to the outside world are wealth and attractiveness. (For women, this means our inherent fuckability, but that’s another blog altogether.)
If you have neither of these things, just pack it up and go home. Stay silent. Stay invisible. Nobody gives a shit about the struggle. Those of us fighting our way through the During simply cease to count until we reach After, and many, MANY times after the After.
But there is no After. There is only During. And During is messy. It is fraught with complications and failures and missteps and excuses and depression and elation and determination and tenacity.
After doesn’t show you who you are. *During* is where you figure out who you are and what you’re worth. My wise best friend told me that I don’t need to apologize for my During.
He’s completely right. The During is everything. It’s life, not some fucking race to be won. The race will never be won, because life is a journey with no finish line except at the bitter end. If your value depends upon your “After,” you’ll never truly know your value until you draw your last breath.
So we’re going to stop waiting around for the “After,” myself included. Like everyone else, I have been hinging my own value on who I become *after* this year. But who I am now counts. I started this journey with the idea it’s not about weight loss. It’s about conditioning, and that’s where the During lives.
So yeah. I’m going to post pics and run the risk that some Internet asshole will find something negative to say about it, even with the work I’m putting into myself to change. They’re going to do that even AFTER the “After,” no matter who you are.
As you can see, people don’t give much of a shit about the After, either. Not really. Even they know that every state is temporary, and what they see can be altered, changed to fit their ideas of physical perfection, even if one can do this:
This is my race to run. No one else gets to tell me where the finish line is, or move it based on what some total stranger thinks I need to be doing. From now on I’m going to abandon this idea of “After,” because it robs me of all the joy, the triumph and the lessons of my “During.” And nothing – NOTHING – is ever going to prove my worth more.
You want before and after photos?
This was me before I was sexually abused at age four:
This was me before my dad died when I was eleven years old:
This is before I was homeless, living out of a car at the age of 19:
This was me before eight years of living with someone with bipolar disorder, and the emotional and physical abuse that followed:
Before my nine-day-old son died in 1995:
This is me AFTER I managed to crawl out from under menial jobs and finally provide for my family:
And this is me AFTER finding love again:
This is me AFTER losing 70lbs in a year:
This is me AFTER making my dreams come true as a working writer:
In essence, every single photo taken represents a Before, During and After. In essence every photo is a starting point and a finish line. And I’m me, in every single one. Every good thing. Every bad thing. Everything.
And that’s okay because I am okay. I’m strong enough to fight through the battle – and that strength is the source of my inherent beauty as a human being, not how I’ll look in a smaller size.
Every single photo we take is a “not there yet but working on it” photo, and deserves to taken, documented, seen and appreciated.
So if you’re waiting for an After pic to give me the respect, consideration or admiration I’ve already earned, that’s your issue not mine. Every single one of us is in the During, which means it ain’t over for any of us. In the pursuit of self-excellence, it never will be… and never should be.
Welcome to my During. I can’t promise you that pics of triumph and victory won’t outnumber those of trials and stumbles, but I can promise you every single photo will be 100% me. For those who would love me, that’ll be enough. For those that won’t, it never will be.
Here’s the only After photo that counts: It’s me after I realize that it’s not my job to make your world prettier by disappearing.
I’m here. And I count. Right now, in the During.