The Selfie Experiment: Learning to add myself back into my life.

Not too long ago I read this article on how women in particular shy away from photos, which virtually remove them from the history of their lives and their children’s lives. I’m sure there are many reasons for this. I know as I was growing up, being “vain” was frowned upon and widely discouraged if you were a girl. If you liked your image too much, there was something wrong with you.

In today’s Selfie-obsessed culture, many older folks carry the same kind of belief. Why do you need so many photos of yourself, they might ask. You just want attention, they might say. It’s unhealthy to need that kind of validation from others, they may assert.

Whether you post a photo for yourself or for others, you’re going to get nailed to the wall for it. You’re “narcissistic,” you’re “mental.”

The peanut gallery has plenty to say on the subject of you and what you think about your self-image, and has always, always, always felt the definitive authority on the subject of, well, you.

If you are a bigger girl, in particular, trolls Internet-wide often make posting selfies an exercise in stamina, to see how much body shaming you can withstand if you dare to share a little too much self-love.

There are those “brave” girls who dared to post a glam shot before prom, only to be kicked in the teeth by Internet strangers. There’s only one thing worse than a non-perfect girl posting a selfie, and that’s her audacity to be happy about it. For that they must shamed immediately and put right back in their place… the shadows.

In the end, when we look back over our lives, we see the decades of watching our children grow up with nary a hint that there was a non-perfect mother around to guide them. After we’re gone, it’ll be up to our children to piece together the limited info we leave behind, often already painstakingly edited by us, leaving gaps and holes that our children – who have often been much more merciful to us than we ever could have been – to fight for each memory we left behind to share with their children and grandchildren who follow.

Eventually we’ll be erased entirely, much to the delight of our critics. This is, after all, what we deserve.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought recently. Being somewhat in the public eye as an author, my image is often meticulously groomed to court a wide audience. There are those folks who won’t read a book by me because I’m *gasp* like the imperfect girls I write about. In fact, I’m worse. I’m heavier. I’m not as attractive. I’m older. There is nothing about my image currently that begs for the attention of a wide crowd. So to protect my image I have to be hidden, out of view, all my selfies policed by those who want me to sell as many books to as many people as possible.

Yeah. About that. I’m kind of over it.

When I started writing I wanted the career of Danielle Steel, who was the top-selling romance writer of the day. I wanted people far and wide to read my work and love it. I tried to write books that I thought might appeal to everyone. It never worked for me. Mainstream wasn’t my lane. They say write what you know, and here’s what I know: I’m not for everyone.

But I know who my audience is: my audience is that group of women who have been told subtly and outright all their lives that they don’t deserve a place in the spotlight. My audience is the group who edits themselves out of their lives because they don’t want to make the people that love them look bad. They’re embarrassed for their kids who show around their family photos, which dare to include a non-perfect mother. They don’t want their husbands to proudly display a photo on his desk at work, lest he be thought less than for having such a non-perfect wife. They’re the ones taking dozens of photos to post on Facebook and Instagram, but it’s always, always, always of their kids, their families, their friends, food or places they get to see, with nary a selfie in sight.

And the reason that is my audience is because that is who I have always been. I’m not a selfie person. For every one I dare to post, there have been a dozen taken and rejected because I didn’t like the way they looked. It’s like I’m that chick on Seinfeld who looked gorgeous in one light and hideous in the other, so I can *only* post the ones where I feel I look attractive enough to be seen, even though they’re all pictures of the same person.

Years back my bestie, who loves me regardless of which light I’m in, asked me to take a selfie at one of Hal’s shows I attended. When I told Hal of this directive, the Selfie King grabbed my phone and spun around so we could take a photo, no fucks given about the angle, the lighting or the Ginger he happened to snap at the time. It was one and done, because there really IS only one Ginger, and he’s always been as OK with that as my bestie has been.

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The people who truly love you feel that way, even if you don’t. That’s why they tag you on the photos they share on social media. It’s not to embarrass you or make you look bad. They are happy to include you as part of their world.

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The people who truly like you, respect you, admire you – they don’t care that you’re non-perfect because they figured something out the people who need you to be perfect haven’t: there’s only one kind of perfect any human can accomplish. You’re perfectly you, and that’s the only thing that matters. In the end, we’re all varying degrees of beautiful, part of this glorious, diverse mosaic of individuals that deserve to be recognized for the unique people that we are.

And guess what? The picture simply wouldn’t be the same without you. So you’re fucking perfect as a result.

The truth is editing myself out of my life, including my career, has done nothing but *damage* my image. How can I write books that empower women to feel beautiful and worthy of love if I’m too scared to post a selfie because it means someone I don’t know won’t like me? My own characters would smack me silly for such foolishness. It’s not only okay that I’m non-perfect, it’s okay that I exist just as I am. I have value just as I am. This journey to health and wellness isn’t about finding that value, it’s about *owning* what was already there. If I’m unhealthy it’s because I’ve forgotten that, and won’t take care of myself as a result.

That’s something the shamers don’t get, nor do they even care. Your health is not the point, no matter how much they claim it is.

So I weighed the pros and the cons of becoming more Selfie-proficient as I’ve dipped my toes in the public image pool. Granted, not too many men are going to “like” my photos. The ones who do are generally older, married, friends, family or gay. I am okay with this. As a married woman, I don’t need a lot of guys paying me attention anyway, and I’ve always preferred the safety of guys who actually don’t want to have sex with me.

Women will like my photos more often than not, and since they’re my audience anyway – that’s ideal. Especially if they’re “non-perfect” like me. (Spoiler alert: EVERYone is non-perfect like me, we all just have different ways to hide or display it.)

So I won’t get any attention I don’t want from predatory men, and I’ll hit my target audience for women. Sounds like a couple for the pro column to me.

Some women will recoil every bit as much as a guy when they dare to see my audaciously posted non-perfect selfies, which means I might lose them as a reader. Honestly what I write would never appeal to them anyway, so really… what’s the loss? If you won’t read my book because you think I’m (insert pejorative here,) you really wouldn’t get much out of my books. I don’t swim in the shallows. I navigate deeper water, one that dares to wear the skin of the non-perfect. If you need your writers to be pretty or perfect, or the “fantasy” of living through the characters they write who are, then I’m simply not the writer for you.

I consider this a pro as well. It’s okay that you don’t want to read my books. There are plenty of writers out there who write those kinds of books, you’re going to be okay. There are plenty of readers out there who read my books, so I’ll be okay too. Hat tip and move on.

See, what many don’t seem to understand about me is that I don’t mind a smaller career as long as it is significant. I’m not out to become a millionaire from my books. I’m out to change the message, which is my only real barometer of success. The fact that I’ve sold even one is a miracle according to the industry, and I’ve sold many more than that, remaining solidly in the top 20% of all independently published writers for six years.

That means there’s room for the non-perfect. There’s room for the message. There’s room for me.

I was perfectly content selling enough to live on, and I did that *without* white-washing my image to some lesser non-perfect image a wider audience could find palpable. My first series hit big even though it broke a lot of rules and smacked conventional romance in the face. For those who couldn’t stand the idea of reading about such non-perfect characters, I basically said #byefelicia. This isn’t the book for you, I’ll tell you before you even buy it. I’ll discourage you from spending your money on something we both know you won’t like.  I’m not for everyone. I know this. You need to know this.

And you need to know that I’m perfectly okay with it.

That’s the kind of ovarian fortitude that built my career. When I caved on that, thanks to industry pressure, my burgeoning career flatlined. I don’t think this is a coincidence. You can’t build a career on bold honesty and then hide from the spotlight and expect things to get better.

That’s not how I roll. That’s never how I rolled. And since my instincts have proved the more successful, Ima go back to what I know works for me.

This is why I’ve dared to make this blog public, to explore all my deepest darkest demons on a public stage. THIS is how I built my image. The people who will buy my books, who will love my work, have always, always, always been the group who looked a little deeper, who cared a little more about what a non-perfect like me had to say. They seek me out. They find me… and they stay.

THAT is my audience.

And I’m done lying to them, watering myself down trying to pretend I’m something I’m not. I’m 100% proof. Some can handle it. Some can’t. That’s just the reality of my entire life.

Knowing this, there is really no risk then in throwing myself into the selfie pool, so I’ve not only been posting more selfies on Instagram but I’ve started posting on Snapchat. I get to utilize these social media accounts for my public image every bit as much as every other account I have. It is limited thus far, but I notice the more I post of my image, the more forgiving I am of it. This is just me, and I’m learning to be okay with that. Each selfie I post is a bold declaration that I deserve to be a part of my history, my family and my career.

These are my first steps on the crowded dance floor of life. Yes, I hear you snickering. Yes, I know for some of you this makes me the butt of your joke. For some, it makes me easier to reject because you find me so repellent.

But, since I was never trying to attract you anyway, I can’t care.

My characters, my audience, my family and my friends… and all of those who dare to swim past the shallows…  deserve more of me, not these limited scattered pieces I’ve been encouraged to leave behind by the people who don’t give a shit about me in the first place, who would rather I be erased entirely.

But I ain’t goin’ anywhere.

I’m putting myself back into my life because I deserve to be there.

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Sunday weigh-in: 292 (1.6lbs lost) 58lb muscle (+3lb gain.)

Non-scale victories: Three of four instances where I was going to excuse a binge, I avoided the binge entirely, and maintained walking 20 mins per workday all week despite back pain.

 

 

It doesn’t get easier. You get stronger.

The other night my son and I were chatting and my new journey to health and wellness came up, including the challenges that I face particularly with the physical activity thanks to my current limitations. Last week I went balls to the wall with the walking only to collapse over the weekend. My “bounce back” time has increased exponentially, and it’s frustrating the shit out of me.

It’s still such a chore to do the work necessary to meet my goals.I mentioned this to my son, who has done athletic training before in high school gymnastics and then kung fu classes as an adult. “I just can’t wait for it to get easier,” I lamented, since it’s still like trudging uphill through molasses.

“It’s like that quote,” he tells me. “‘It doesn’t get easier. You get stronger.'”

I knew in that moment that was going to be my blog topic for the week.

Like his father before him, he has a passion for physical activity that bypassed me completely. It was just never a part of my childhood, never modeled to me by those closest to me. My parents weren’t physically active. My dad was much older and disabled, my mom worked full-time to support the family. Like so many Southerners, many of the celebrations we had centered around food. If we traveled, we didn’t go camping or hiking. We went to see relatives, other older, Southern folk who cooked good ol’ comfort food, enough for an army.

There were no physical games to play, and any of the games I played in school were stressful. When you are hard-wired for anxiety, a simple children’s game like Duck Duck  was an ongoing nightmare. These were obligatory, too, which deeply tests my Personal Choice Boundary. After you’ve had your consent taken away, doing things you don’t want to do because you have no choice leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. So the Presidential Fitness Tests that began when I was 10 at once became the bane of my existence. Run a mile? Are you crazy? The only running I ever did was to escape mean dogs.

Then, beat me if you can.

Though I grew up in 70s/80s, I didn’t have roller skates or a skateboard. I went to a roller rink exactly once, in 1981 or thereabouts. I enjoyed it because of the music, but I couldn’t get myself coordinated enough to maneuver the silly things. I knew that would come with practice, so I asked for some skates for Christmas.

I got a lamp. Such was my childhood.

There were only three physical activities I enjoyed. I liked jumping rope (before I got boobs anyway,) though I couldn’t Double-Dutch to save my life. I’m just not coordinated at all, which is one of the reasons I don’t dance. It’s like my body and I aren’t exactly friends. I tell it to do one thing, and it gives me something entirely different. I’ve become subconscious to it to the point of paralysis. The only way you’ll find me dancing is if I’m locked in a safe room where no one could ever possibly catch me attempting such foolishness.

I also enjoyed the game Four-Square, mostly because it was a game where my size didn’t compromise me. I could play it and I could win. This was important. After my dad’s encouragement silenced, I felt like I had ended up in Loserville. I had plenty of detractors to laugh at me when I stumbled. It almost felt as if they expected me to, like they were waiting for it so they could pounce all over it with sadistic glee. And it’s tough being a living, breathing punchline. Hence why so many fat people don’t (insert public activity here).

If you haven’t watched the new NBC hit series “This is Us,” it stars an overweight actress whose battle with her body and her self-image is a huge part of the show. Her twin brother is an actor known for his impressive physical appearance, and she, by default as his right-hand gal, ended up going to a major Hollywood party at his insistence, even though conventional wisdom suggests people like us would not fit in at such an event. He needed her there and, thanks to her boyfriend’s insistence that they go, she went. Said boyfriend, Toby, is also a big guy who gives zero fucks what anyone thinks of him, so he hit the dance floor with gusto, ready to get down amidst the most beautiful people in the industry.

Kate was much slower to follow. Why? Her entire perspective shrunk to the whispers, the murmurs, the barely concealed laughter and amusement. All she could see/hear were the detractors, those who couldn’t WAIT till she got on the dance floor so they could snicker over the fat chick “trying” to dance.

You’ve probably seen Hairspray. You know what I’m talking about. The detractors are everywhere.

So naturally Kate hesitated. Why put yourself on display like that? You might as well walk right in front of a firing squad. There’s no fun to be had when you’re the butt of the joke. It took her quite a few drinks to muster the nerve to join fun-loving Toby on the dance floor, because that’s the job of booze – to lower one’s inhibitions and raise one’s DGAF.

I totally get that. I’ve danced publicly exactly three times, and alcohol played a part in each and every one, including my wedding dance.

The third activity I enjoyed was leg wrestling, which we did around fifth or sixth grade. Jeff will have to chime in here since his memory isn’t quite as fractured as mine. It was in elementary school, though, and I remember enjoying it because I was killer at it. My leg strength, to this day, is phenomenal – thanks mostly to carrying all of me around day after day. I was flipping people left and right, like some kind of prize-fighter, which at long last restored the admiration and acceptance I had lost. I only got flipped once myself, by some skinny kid, and I remembered thinking, “What the hell just happened?”

I liked winning. Winning felt good. I was gaining respect in a way I hadn’t ever been able to in a P.E. class before that. When I was eight, I was the slowest runner and the easiest pick for Duck Duck Goose. By the time I was 11 or 12, I was a beast who could take you out.

I liked that. Apparently Ginger + Time = Badassery.

I’ve always had very high standards for myself. I don’t just want to do a good job. I want to dazzle you. And I can’t do that if I’m falling down on my ass because I can’t skate, or making you double over in laughter because I can’t dance.

Humiliation is a hard pass for me. Oddly enough, it was the one thing I passed it down to my two kids. Both can watch a zombie get his skull curb-stomped, but if someone gets embarrassed they have to leave the room.

Neither one of them dance, which – again – is all me. Their dad was known as Disco Dan back in the day.

Me? I’ll be nursing a drink at the bar nodding my head along with the beat, thank you very much.

So I do most of my failure stuff in private, where no one can see. When I was nine, I wanted to learn how to ride a bike. My sister had moved out, leaving behind a purple sparkly bike I had long coveted. And I was tired of being a weirdo. I wanted to do what the other kids could do, the normal kind of stuff that we all share as a collective experience. And I simply couldn’t do that. I didn’t know how to swim, skate, ride a bike, I’d never gone camping, I didn’t have any friends who participated in any group games. I was even too big for the Big Wheel I begged my mom to get me when I was in third grade.

I decided I was going to ride that fucking bike. My mom couldn’t teach me because she didn’t know how. My dad couldn’t teach me, because like I said – he was disabled. My sister wouldn’t teach me because she had her own family at the time, and – frankly – hated me anyway. With no friends there to teach me, I decided I’d just teach my own damned self. I dragged that bike into the alley, which was a pretty secluded place with a flat surface, and I didn’t stop until I learned how to ride it.

And nobody knew about it until I was zipping around the neighborhood like a pro.

This has been my long-standing problem. And I know it’s not unique to me. I know there are plenty of us who just don’t want to suck at anything. But you kind of have to suck at something before you can excel at stuff. Natural talent is a good place to start, but skill gets you where you want to go. That takes training. That takes learning. That takes sucking.

At my son’s wedding, there will be dancing. Well, there will be dancing *available*. How much dancing is actually done will depend entirely on how the bride convinces my non-dancy son to participate, and the kinds of people we end up inviting to the shindig. I would like to look back on the event without thoughts of humiliation OR regret, so that means I have to drag that old bike back out into the alley to, simply put, get over myself.

I’ve been waiting 40-something years for this stuff to get easier, so I’ll enjoy it more, and, by extension, do it more. But it’s never going to get any easier. I’m just going to have to get stronger. The biggest obstacle in my way to do that is to learn how to get past the suckatude. There’s nothing stopping me anymore except me. I can buy my own damned skates now, which I just sorta kinda figured out just now. I got my kids skates when they were young so they could learn how, but I somehow never thought to do the same for me. Interesting epiphany that comes complete with its own action plan.

Guess it’s all on me now.

I have purchased dance videos or looked up instructional videos on YouTube to practice my little heart out until I master the moves, but so far I still embarrass my own damn self when I do it.

Virtually I’ve become that room full of hateful detractors, mocking and laughing at my own attempts to get it right.

And I may never master get it right. I may always look like a spider on a hot plate, to quote BBT’s Bernadette. But there’s a great line in the movie “Florence Foster Jenkins,” where Meryl plays a socialite who, though she loved to sing, couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. At the end, she says of her critics, “People may say I can’t sing, but no one can ever say I didn’t.”

I fucking wept like a baby when she said that. One, she’s Meryl Fucking Streep. But man… that quote hit home.

Kind of like my son’s quote the other night. If it’s never going to get easier, which is what I’ve always kind of been waiting around for, then I’m just going to have to get stronger.

THAT I have complete control over. Just like the bike so long ago.

There is no expiration date on any of this. I took my first hike when I was nineteen years old. This was back when Dan and I were homeless in L.A., and we were looking for something fun to do that didn’t cost anything. Since Dan was a fitness junkie, who barely had a spare ounce of flesh on the man, he decided he wanted to explore Griffith Park. For those unacquainted, Griffith Park is a huge municipal park in L.A. that spans over four thousand acres of land and houses the Los Angeles Zoo, the Observatory and the Hollywood Sign. It has trails for humans and horses that wind through sloping hills for these amazing views of the city. Dan, who came from West Virginia “hillbilly” stock, could run those fucking hills in his sleep, and couldn’t wait to race up that hill when he saw it.

I was a lot, lot slower, with a more “Can we not and just say we did?” attitude.

I had never hiked before, particularly in hilly terrain. Considering I was carrying 210 pounds, it was not the stroll in the park I thought it might be. I paused maybe four times going up that moderate hill, testing Dan’s limited patience. It was on my fourth “break” that this little old man went *jogging* past us. He was gray-haired, easily 60 or better, but he was trucking like a champ up that incline that had stymied me. He was barely out of breath. Humbled and chagrined, I got up off my butt and I didn’t stop again till we got to the top. If he could do it, I had no excuses. I was nineteen, FFS. I was overweight and unconditioned, but I was still in my physical prime.

And man. What a view once we got there.

I’m no longer in my physical prime, but I’m also not as bad off as I have been. I’ve got some challenges, but I’ve made it a habit of overcoming challenges and doing what people didn’t think I could do.

I dazzle folks. That’s my M.O. That means my physical prime very well lies before me not behind me, provided I pull my head out of my ass, get my shit together and learn how to survive the sucking.

So I guess that means I have only one alternative left. It’s time to shut up and dance.

 

 

Fat Town.

It should go without saying that I love to travel. An open freeway beckons to me like a lonely lover. I have literally traveled – by car – from one coast to the other, and loved each and every minute of it. This is my idea of paradise:

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And I plan to do it again and again and again, until the wanderlust is exhausted at last.

I don’t anticipate this happening anytime too soon, especially since my Muse loves to travel every bit as much as I do. You put me on the open road with some good music on the playlist, and my creativity just unlocks. It’s unchained. Unstoppable. Other people see mountains and cactus and oceans and forests from their windows. I see stories. I see the history of the Native American going west, and the backdrop for the civil war going east. I see monsters and aliens and heroes and survivors as I pass through place to place, summoning the spirits of those long gone, as legend, history and imagination blend into one.

I’ve even been known to meander through cemeteries, the older the better. I love reading names and dates and wondering exactly what their lives were like. I long to know what comprised the dash between their birth date and the day they died.

If there’s a story there, I want to know what it is. The more forgotten, the better.

I guess you could say I’m a seeker.

My mother must have been too because we never stayed in one place for very long. By the time I was eighteen I had moved over twenty times, across two states and a smattering of towns. I learned at a young age that if you get stuck where you are unhappy, you simply move.

Dan was the same way, so I became even more of a nomad once I met him.

During my many travels, I’ve gone through tiny little slips of towns that barely have anyone living there, yet live there they do. They seem satisfied with that tiny little parcel of land, and breathe life into what might otherwise be a ghost town without them. I often wonder if maybe the people who settled that town were heading somewhere else, and just decided that particular speck of land was good enough, and no one that followed ever thought to question. Kind of like the scene in Pleasantville, where wild child Jennifer, as played Reese Witherspoon, asked her class what was beyond the borders of Pleasantville, and everyone seemed so puzzled by the question.

Why would anyone go beyond Pleasantville? It’s just so darned… pleasant.

Clearly these small town folk across our nation feel the same way. A small number of people stay there in those little one-streetlight towns, where the only jobs seem to be at the fast food restaurants or gas stations where people passing through need to stop to refuel before they head on out again.

Seemingly, they never feel stuck enough to move, as if they are perfectly comfortable there. I can’t fathom such things, personally. Not when there’s so much to see and do and experience.

Why stay in one place?

And yet… here I am, for the fourth decade straight, living right square in the middle of the same place I’ve always lived: Fat Town.

I first rolled into Fat Town way back in the 70s and figured, hey. It’s comfortable here. I know who I am here. Nobody bothers me much. The expectations are low for all the residents here. People outside our borders look us up and down, decide what we can give, and what they want to take, and more often than not pass us by.

It is that “passing us by” thing that is a big, big appeal for Fat Town, especially for someone like me.

Though it seems illogical to everyone else who damns fat as the quick pathway to an early demise, Fat Town is safe.

That hidden speck of town is off the beaten path by design. Fat works many times like a fortress, to keep people at arm’s length when it might prove too dangerous to let them any closer. So we burrow a little deeper away from folks, setting up our environment to keep us as comfy (and padded) as possible. We have all our favorite luxuries and all our chosen enablers, who help us keep what is often a hard life more comfortable.

You might be asking how Fat Town could be comfortable, given the residents are often reviled and hated, heaped with public shame and abuse as though they deserve it, simply because they weigh more than folks think they should.

Doesn’t this make us a target for negative attention?

Not as much as Thin Town might think, especially if you’re a woman. Everyone outside of Fat Town is perfectly content ignoring those of us who live in it, which is quite comforting for some of us who learned a long time ago if you’re targeted for how appealing you look, really bad things can happen.

Lately I’ve been thinking how my life would change if the barrier I put in between me and everyone else was gone. I’ve tried to use some visualizing techniques, since I’ve never been able to imagine myself “thin”. My brain simply won’t go there, and I think I’ve pinpointed the problem: stark terror. When I think about hugging someone I care about, someone who could hurt me because of how much I care, without that extra padding between us to absorb the blow, I feel like I could hyperventilate. Likewise, I start to feel uncomfortably vulnerable when I think about being in a crowd of strangers without my Fat Suit on to keep me oddly invisible to those who might cause me harm.

It just seems easier, and safer, to keep everyone, good or bad, at the border of Fat Town.

That terror is important to understand. I moved here initially because I was terrified of men, and men generally don’t favor girls who live in Fat Town. I probably didn’t do it consciously to start, but it has been a more or less conscious choice for about three decades now.

I was a pretty child, or so they tell me.

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Even when I was a baby, men would line up outside the church nursery just to hold me. It was one of my mother’s favorite stories.

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I was the star of my life up until I was four, when I was snatched from my front yard by a stranger who would forever alter how I looked at men. By no real surprise, I guess, this made damned sure I’d alter how men would look at me thereafter.

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Then…

2.2.2017

Now.

Suffice it to say, I found Food Town before I eventually moved to Fat Town. I was a four-year-old harboring a dark and dirty secret I felt I couldn’t share. I needed comfort for that. The only person who knew about that need and subsequently could meet it was me, at the time a four-year-old child. I decided to self-comfort with the only thing a child knows how to do. An extra cookie. Another piece of candy. A bowl of ice cream – anything to make the boo boo sting just a little less. Even today, if I’m feeling bad I reach for more. More of what? More of anything. Whatever you have that makes me feel good, load me up. Make it count. I wanna feel it. It’s instinctual. Primal. It all goes back to that four-year-old who had to self-comfort and had no clue how to do it. I had to use the limited tools I had at the time. And just like the baby doll I had way back then, I would feed this aching four-year-old when she cried.

Since she cried in private, because no one could know why she cried, likewise she ate in private, because no one could know why she ate – and she sure as shit wasn’t going to tell anyone.

I’ve written about this in a few of my books, taking a heroine who has been stained by sexual shame and how she self-comforts with binge eating as a result. Though I’ve written some very explicit intimate scenes, these were the ones that make me feel most exposed. At one point, I literally threw my laptop across the bed after I finished writing one. You know that dream of being naked in a crowd? That. Times, like, a gazillion.

The safest part of living in Fat Town is that most people will chalk it up to my laziness alone. I simply have no willpower. They don’t know the real reason, which for a lot of us would be the worst thing ever.

By the time I was ten, I was a secure resident in Fat Town. And of course there were kids who said what they were going to say, but I usually let it go in one ear and out the other. It probably helped to be bigger than the bullies, another silver lining of Fat Town. How do you frighten off a bear? Pretend to be bigger than the bear.

I simply chose not to pretend.

Being picked last for games didn’t matter much to me because I didn’t care to play those games anyway. That kind of physical activity didn’t allow for creativity, at least the kind I liked to indulge. I would play alongside my favorite TV shows quicker than I’d play kickball. I might have danced, the ultimate form of physical creative expression, but there were a lot of hang-ups there. In a strict religious upbringing, anything that even hints at sexual expression is forbidden, even more so if you’ve been chewed up like a  piece of gum and you can’t let the world know how tainted and corrupted you are and risked being loved or thought of any less.

Since being pretty was no longer my objective, I aspired to be the smartest person in class. I easily reigned over the playground with a ton of friends who would love the imaginative games we’d play.

gin1980

Then, like now, I was fun, I was just way more outgoing. I liked to have a good time. I attracted friends who loved to laugh, to play, to *live.* And why wouldn’t I believe I was awesome? I had all these great qualities and I knew with all certainty the only man I let close to me after 1974 would never, ever hurt me. My daddy gave me that confidence. He treated me like one in a billion, and that’s what I felt like.

gindaddybeech

Then he hurt me in the most awful way possible. He left.

I was eleven when my dad died, and I felt like I had lost the only person in the world who treasured me for who I was. This was more than love. It was more than the value I got from others. I actually felt like a prize, like I, myself, was this precious gift to be exalted above all others.  Suddenly, like a splash of cold water in my face (more like a tsunami,) I realized that not everyone would love me as unconditionally, or treasure me as wholly.

In fact, I realized a little late (especially given my long residency at Fat Town) that not many people wanted to love me at all. Forget being treasured, I found myself fighting for basic human value. Being pudgy was cute when I was a kid, but the older I got, the more work I had to put into in order to earn that courtesy from other folks. I needed to change for most of them to even pay attention to me, much less value me or – God forbid – love me.

But the bad habits were already in place, second nature to me by that point.

whatdoesntkillyou

Through the 1980s I tried many times to leave Fat Town, if only to chase after everyone else in Pubertyville where all the boys I liked seemed to live, only to get hurt by someone’s unthinking actions. I’d poke my head out only to get bonked by some karmic anvil, then race right back to where I was comfortable (safe), bolting the doors and locking them tight so I couldn’t get hurt like that ever again.

I don’t know that it was conscious at this point either. I’d get hurt, I’d eat. I’d eat more. I’d eat a lot. I’d eat as much as it took to numb the pain, and as the pain grew more intense, that amount multiplied. It only exacerbated the problem and became this endless self-defeating cycle.

gin1982

What Fat Town looked like in 1982, when I was twelve…

 

ginpose1985

Fat Town circa 1985, when I was fifteen.

People who live outside of Fat Town see how illogical this is and tell us, time and again, that in order for things to change we must change some things. But change hurts and that’s how we deal with pain. Food is not only a comforter, it’s instant gratification. The further you get into Fat Town, the more appealing that is. I can eat that chocolate cake and get a boost of endorphins *right now*. I’m happier, *right now.* It’ll take weeks, months, even years to see the kind of change I need to truly escape Fat Town, to make me as “happy” as the world around me tells me I’ll be. You know, later. Eventually.

They want me to give up happiness now and pull the lever on a slot machine for a possible happier happy in the near future, in a future I really can’t even envision for myself. And for what? So I can live longer? So I can attract people who show me daily they don’t give a shit about me? Those aren’t necessarily the high stakes you think that they are.

By the time I was thirteen, I just kind of figured out my life was going to hurt. If things were going well, I could count on something big and bad happening to keep me from getting too full of myself, like God making sure I paid for such a healthy sense of esteem when I was little. I was raised to believe humility was a virtue, particularly for women, so there was a problem with someone feeling a little *too* special. The pounds packed on. Acne hit at thirteen like a machine gun. My teeth started to twist, and my mother certainly didn’t have money for orthodontics. It wasn’t like I was ever going to be some raving beauty.

gin13

I couldn’t figure out why I, who had been denied so much in my young life, should give up the one thing that gave me true, unquestionable pleasure. Simply put: getting fatter didn’t matter. I had set up my place in Fat Town, where things were safely predictable, even if lonely.

I’d been behind the eight-ball for nearly ten years at that point, and nothing around me indicated it was going to get any better, at least for the long haul. Putting a diet on top of it often felt like insult to injury, considering the thin girls I knew weren’t any happier. They were every bit as scared, lonely and insecure as I was, they were just better at hiding it.

Only I carried around the physical manifestation of such things.

Despite my fluffier exterior, I still attracted people. I was still creative, smart and fun, plus I cared about people. A more devoted friend you couldn’t find. I knew if people loved me despite my permanent address in Fat Town, they deserved the best of me. And that’s what they always got. Still, to this day, that is what they get, maybe even more so.

And I got lucky with some great people. There was my bestie Jeff, who was the opposite of me in every physical way…

bestfriends

Yet he loved me every bit as unconditionally as my Daddy did. Maybe even more so. He treasures me, and he has showed that to me every single day of our 37-year friendship. This is remarkable to me because he has seen it all, good, bad and ugly. Of anyone in my life, he knows me best. He knows all the dark secrets, all the bad choices, all the temptations I did and didn’t take. Even still, to this day, I confess my darkest desires, my most impossible dreams, and I know he won’t judge me or love me any less.

He was even the first person I told about what happened to me when I was four, when his unconditional love saved me from making the worst, most permanent “instant” fix of my life.

Other people got in too. I made all kinds of friends from all walks of life. Though some will sell you the sad sack fat girl meme, I still got hit on. I still GET hit on, and in fact got hit on this very week when I went to a club to see a friend play. No matter my zip code, I’m still me, so I still attract folks, even living squarely in the middle of Fat Town at my new address at the cross streets of Old Street and Obesity Boulevard.

They’re just fewer, and I’m kind of okay with that because along with good folks, there were also those who got a little too close who were not so good. Back-stabbing friends, people who would use me to get to other people, or girls who would use me to make themselves look better to guys by comparison. Not the least of which were a whole number of men who were not so noble. As I got older, and started filling out into a fuller figure, this mostly meant older men. In Pubertyville, everyone was every bit as insecure as I was, and they couldn’t risk having a girl like me on their arm for the whole world to see.

Older men didn’t care about that stuff, because usually I was never on their arm in public either. They made their visits to Fat Town in private, where they could savor womanly curves wrapped in youthful innocence and I was starving enough for attention that I’d let them.

ginger1986cropped

That’s the paradox of Fat Town. It can keep you safe from some, but if you’re used to hurting yourself, it makes it that much easier to accept when others hurt you as well. And I felt like I had control over it, because I didn’t get unwanted sexual attention like other poor girls did. I didn’t have to learn how to tell a guy to fuck off, that I wasn’t interested.

I simply took their interest away, and took my chances with those that remained.

I never wanted just anyone to want me, that shit was far too dangerous. But I still wanted to be the star to someone I loved, just like I used to be, without all the risk. Hence why I would always, always, always return to Fat Town, where the expectations are lower, fewer people gather, and no matter what happens I can self-medicate with my drug of choice (food) – to hell with the consequences. So what if fewer people loved me? Love hurt. So what if life was shortened? Life hurt.

Food comforted. It made the hurt hurt less.

Despite the alcohol I started drinking when I was fourteen, or the sex I started having around the same time, food became my vice of choice. Not only was it quick and easy and often cheap, it was socially acceptable across the board. The universal wisdom of the ages? Fix it with food. Have a bad day? Have some chocolate. Feeling a bit out of energy? Have a soda for a pick-me-up. It was socially ingrained into me that food was a fix-all, which was even validated by a doctor when I was eight years old. After I passed out at lunch one day in the third grade, the doctor diagnosed me with low blood sugar and recommended a candy bar and a soda if I got too lightheaded. My own mother wouldn’t let me have soda, but a doctor said it was okay?

Well, okay!

Food became my luxury of choice. We couldn’t afford skates, but I could get a dollar candy bar at the store and feel pretty darned good while I ate it, and after the sugar rush kicked in.

The greater the pain, the greater the fear, the greater the indulgence. If one is good, two must be better. When you feel like less, simply have more. This made sense to the four-year-old who was still comforting me.

All these years later, feeding a problem is still part of our cultural message, which makes changing these habits a battle I usually fight all alone.

And like any four-year-old, I’d rather have a Snickers bar than kale.

Growing up is hard.

Even more challenging, in and out of Fat Town are the feeders. It is our nature to comfort with food. It is our nature to celebrate with food. It is our nature to seek food. The poorest person on the planet will feel like a king as long as he has something to eat. It is our basic human luxury. So, when we care for others, food is where we start, from the time they put a newborn baby in our arms. Even those who criticize you for your Fat Town zip code will be the first to invite you to lunch, take you to dinner, buy you something delicious and tell you to indulge in a decadent dessert, just this once, because you deserve it.

The people we love deserve to be spoiled, right?

Spoiled. What an appropriate word.

Even my husband, whom I love and I know loves me, will pop off with, “It’s not like we do it every day.”

Confession: I do it every day. I think about, obsess over and rejoice in food every day. I indulge in one more bite every. single. day.

Unlike an alcoholic, who is encouraged to change their behavior by divorcing themselves from everything in their life that led to the problem, a food addict has to learn to manage their disorder when they are inundated with triggers every hour of every day. Whenever we eat, we have to make conscious choices about the food we place into our mouths. Back in 2003, when I first decided to get serious, it was like I was playing Russian Roulette every time I took a bite. Every. Single. Bite. Matters. And we have to question where that line is between healthy nourishment and unhealthy emotional eating.

That’s why everyone always jokes that they’ll start their diet on Monday. You can’t escape it. It’s all around you. Every day. Name me a major holiday that doesn’t revolve in some way around food. Name me a celebration that doesn’t have food at the heart of it. There’s always something looming in the future that makes “giving it up” inconvenient. Even at our offices, our coworkers show their love for us by buying donuts or the bosses spring for a pizza party.

At my office, there’s a constant supply of M&Ms because our CEO has decided to use the fun little candy as a way to teach our new business model.

Hell, even I keep a candy dish on my desk to give my coworkers who pass my desk a little something to perk up their day.

It’s cheap and it makes people feel good. What more could you ask?

So you make it work in Fat Town, which, even if you’re doing anything to ultimately move away from it, is your address for the next several months or years while you make these changes. And truth be told, it’s not so bad to live in Fat Town. Yeah, we have problems. We get shamed on the regular. We have to go to special stores to buy clothes. Sometimes we find ourselves suffering health consequences from our extra weight, and very little empathy riding shotgun since, after all, we’ve done this to ourselves. But I know who my friends are. I know that men who interact with me want no more than I’m willing to give. I have a built-in asshole detector the minute I meet someone new where I can tell whether or not they’re a decent human just by how they look at me. I’ve got decades of experience now reading people, and I know when they see the fat, and when they see me.

Sure, we don’t get promoted as often, overlooked as “lazy” because that’s the common stereotype. Sure, we don’t a dozen likes on our Instagram selfies by men, who reserve their kindnesses and their compliments for the women they want to bone.

I, personally, consider that a plus.

Sure, there are people who won’t read my romance novels because they think I’m talking right out of my ass, because what woman from Fat Town knows about real romance anyway?

I’ve been managing those things for years, and most of the time I come to the conclusion that my fat has actually *saved* me from the folks who couldn’t be bothered to care about me in the first place. I’ve made it more challenging to love me because I need people to get through the obstacle course to prove that they’re worthy, that they won’t hurt me, that they can be trusted with the treasure that is me.

I’ve locked it away in the ultimate safe. And only those really special people, who are brave enough to risk the stain of loving someone from Fat Town, have cracked the code and proven themselves worthy.

I guess I really AM Mjölnir.

So you see the confusion. You see my dilemma. Just like that small town girl who is intimated by the lights, noise and dangers of the big city that may call to her, I’m petrified to permanently say goodbye to Fat Town. Hence why this is where I’ve always returned.

It’s a battle, for sure. But one thing about me… true no matter where my address… I am a conqueror.

It’s time for me to hug that little four-year-old and tell her everything is going to be okay. She’s going to be all right. I’m going to keep her safe in ways I never knew how to do before, because I’m a lot stronger than I used to be. I’ve been through many battles, I wear many scars, but I’m still here. I’m still breathing. And that means I am stronger than what has happened to me. I don’t need to pretend I’m bigger than the bear. I AM the bear. So we can venture outside the fortress, we can live the life we are terrified to live, because no matter what, we’re going to be okay.

It’s time to move on now. It’s time to travel somewhere new. It’s time to get “unstuck.”

I’ve never said this before, and maybe the Universe needs to hear it: I can handle it now. No matter who I meet. No matter what I face. I’m ready.

Today I can only make a step, but I’m taking it. One step away from Fat Town and towards Gingerville.

Let’s go.

Recalculating…

It was 1989 when I first moved to Los Angeles. Coming from small-ish town Texas, it was quite the culture shock. I’d only been driving a little over a year, since I was a late bloomer and didn’t get my license until I was eighteen. Back then, you had to get driver’s ed in order to get your license at sixteen. Unfortunately, that was a class my mother had to pay for and, as a single mom working 70-hour weeks at a convenience store, she simply couldn’t spare the extra funds. Forget getting my own car at sixteen, it turned out even getting the license was a luxury we couldn’t afford.

In November of 1987, the minute I turned 18, I got my GED (because I had skipped the horror of high school) and my driver’s license. Within a month I had my first job. Basically I burst out of that gate like a race horse that had been stuck in the starting gate too long. (A running theme in my life, now that I think about it.) By February of 1989, when I was 19, I decided to make a break for the west coast because the man I loved was sick and tired of living in Amarillo, Texas, and had come into a small amount of money that he decided to use as his ticket to ride.

Since I was so blindly in love with him that I would have followed him to the ends of the world, I ditched everything I knew up till that point and went with him. It was on my To-Do list to live in California anyway, so I wasn’t going to miss my chance, especially since missing that chance would have meant losing Dan.

I decided in most hopelessly romantic heart of hearts that wasn’t going to happen.

Needless to say, Los Angeles was a far, far cry from Amarillo. It’s huge. It’s filled with a LOT of people. I went from a town of about 100,000 people to one in the millions. The freeways were these intimidating snarls of concrete tentacles I had zero idea how to maneuver. By the time we arrived in town, little old ladies were zipping past us, even with us doing the speed limit. This looked nightmarish for a new driver like me.

Getting around such a foreign place was daunting. Thankfully back then they had what they called Thomas Guides. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it was basically a book of maps, large grids of large cities you could flip through to find your way around.

 

Recently I was watching an old Moonlighting episode where David was fussing over one of these and I was all, “OMG! I know what that is!” The first time I watched the show, when I was about 15, I had no idea. Only time and experience gave me insight on what an invaluable tool it was, especially living in Los Angeles.

I think they probably had it for most major cities, but one absolutely needed it for L.A. Los Angeles frustrated me greatly. The street layout simply didn’t make sense. New York City, where I found myself navigating by car in 2009, a full twenty years later, was much, much easier to navigate. It’s a grid, which is much more straightforward than the meandering chaos of Los Angeles. What works in other towns simply doesn’t work here. Both Dan and I would find ourselves lost more often than not, which was even more frustrating for him. It caused a great deal of stress between us, since I was his navigator by default as the passenger. I was basically still a kid when I was tasked to figure out the confusing puzzle of L.A., and the Thomas Guide was my go-to guide to get us rerouted back on track.

Often I had to do this in high-stress situations, with an aggravated Dan, whose bipolar disorder had yet been diagnosed. Likewise my anxiety disorder had yet to be identified. So the madder he got, the more anxious I got. By necessity I ended up flipping through that book like a pro to put these crazy squares together in time to get us where we needed to go in order to avoid a scary fight.

Thankfully these days we don’t have to juggle a War and Peace book of maps to get around anymore. Most of us have smart phones, which will tell us in a soothing female robotic voice which turns to take, when, what direction to go and where we can find our destination. She never gets frazzled, like I used to so long ago. She’s confident she can get us to wherever it is we have decided to go, even if we get horribly off track.

I started using navigating systems to travel during my Comedy Groupie days, when I was traveling all over the country to see Hal Sparks perform comedy. It was one of those Two Birds, One Stone kind of things. I loved to laugh, and no one makes me laugh harder than Hal. Also, I was born with a touch of wanderlust, so whenever I would get bored in my ordinary workaday life, I’d set off for somewhere new to do something I loved to do, see people I loved to see, get to meet friends from all over the country I’d only just spoken to online before. Just a weekend here or there, to break up the monotony, to spice up a boring, average life that fit me like a suit cut a size or two too small.

Deep down I knew that an average life was never what I was supposed to be living, so I needed those weekends more than other folks, who could condense their wanderlust down to two weeks a year and call it a “vacation.”

I wanted a life that would leave me so fulfilled I wouldn’t need a vacation from it.

Back then, though, I needed these getaways like I needed oxygen. In my heart of hearts, I dreamed of one day getting the freedom of Janet Dailey, one of my favorite authors growing up, who set off to write her Americana series by living for a time in all fifty states to write a romance centered in each and every one.

Eventually I would use my cross-country experiences to write my own romances, so I guess I kinda sorta got what I wanted. I even sold a lot of books as a result. Still not done, though. The dream is still in progress. And the good news is I don’t have to break away from my current life near as much as I used to.

Progress. I’ll take it.

And wherever I go, there is nothing more reassuring than having that soothing female voice telling me, with confidence, the directions I need to get there. Sometimes she’s wrong, but not nearly as wrong as I used to be way back in the day trying to figure out which page to turn to in the Thomas Guide. Now I punch it into the navigator and I’m on my way, confident I’ll get where I need to go.

It even provides what time I can expect to arrive, what traffic I may run into, and offer alternatives if I need to amend my plans. Score one for technology!

Even more reassuring, if I take a wrong turn because let’s face it, sometimes I do, it will take a moment to recalculate and reroute me so that I’m never lost, merely delayed.

It hit me in the last week or two how much that applies to this first month of my new commitment to myself. Imagine my chagrin when the universe lobbed another brick my way with this advertising campaign from Jeep:

My whole life has been one recalculation after another. Nothing has gone according to plan, pretty much ever. The same is true for most hero’s journeys. If things went according to plan, it would be the most boring, unrealistic story ever told. The success stories we want to hear are the ones where our heroes and heroines revise, reroute and recalculate. This gives us inspiration how to do likewise because let’s face it: the path to success is rarely Point A to Point B.

path-to-success

So I had a bad couple of weeks. It happens. I could beat myself up about it. I could “throw the baby out with the bath water,” as the old saying goes. Or I could look around. Get my bearings, and recalculate.

I wanted to start walking every day at work, using my two, ten-minute breaks to get out of my office chair and away from my computer for physical activities. Then, my knee caved. My back gave. I ended up sitting more than standing.

Recalculating…

I wanted to tackle my emotional eating particularly in how I have been handling stress lately. I’ve been easily triggered for emotional sabotage since last year, giving in to my  binge eating more often than not. And knowingly so. I’ve become enlightened enough to know what I’m doing when I’m doing it, so it’s no longer an unconscious choice but a conscious one. One I can change as the urge hits me, if I so choose. That’s the good news. That it’s not second nature yet is the bad news. My so-called warning system is usually about ten minutes or so before I cave to temptation. I realize I want to eat to “feed” whatever it is that I don’t want to feel, and I debate about it all the way up until I do it. Yet I still find myself doing it, more often than not.

So naturally my fragile house of cards picks this month to come tumbling down, which has me in a tailspin how to handle all those old triggers that have been firing at me at once, usually in the middle of my “debate” time, which means I’m “reacting” more than acting consciously.

Recalculating…

I wanted to find some work-life balance, but thanks to everything crashing down at once I have to jump at any economic opportunity, which means overtime, which means no days off as I tap dance over hot coals for my writing career, which barely fits in the small window a week I get to set aside for it as is. Opportunities are stacking up, and I have to figure out a way to take care of everything that needs taking care of, with me and my health coming so often at the bottom of that list.

Recalculating…

None of this is ideal, of course, because life isn’t ideal. In fact these are the typical challenges I face. None of it, absolutely none of it was new or unpredictable. And I knew this when I started this. Things are chaotic right now, to add this on top is yet another stressor which I knew going into it could prove counterproductive. And, as expected, I haven’t excelled in this as much as I had hoped to. It sucks, but just like any wrong turn, I have to reroute myself to get to my destination, particularly since this goal has a deadline.

No matter what happens between right now and March 26 of next year, I have to climb over the boulders, skip over the rocks, dodge past the bullets and wade into the lava to make things happen. (Which is pretty much how I make anything happen.)

I didn’t do this to fit into a dress, even though that will be one of the bonuses. I did this because if I didn’t, I’d be pissed I didn’t when I went shopping for said dress. I would have beat myself up endlessly that I had a year to make a change and I didn’t do it, like all the other 47 years that came before it, and yet another year has come and gone and I’m still in the same place I was.

THAT is my motivator.

That time is going to pass no matter how I spend it. I can either make small steps and see incremental change or I can blow it off and stay the same – the choice, really, is mine. And it’s never going to be ideal enough for me to get through it any other way. I understand this now.

Still, failure is a tough pill to swallow, especially publicly. But this, too, is part of the process. Nothing will force me to recalculate quicker than being accountable for getting lost, just like all those years ago when I was scrambling through endless pages of the Thomas Guide, paranoid that Dan would get pissed at me for getting us lost. AGAIN.

So now I get to woman up and admit I took some wrong turns and I didn’t end up where I planned. It happens. It sucks. But I can learn from it. And it won’t ever change until I do.

I’m up 2.6 pounds this weigh-in, which was actually down over a half a pound from last week. I weighed in at 298 last week, but I didn’t bother recording it because it was during “that time of the month,” which has gotten increasingly that-time-of-the-monthier as I get closer and closer to menopause. One week a month I’m basically useless as my body kicks into some demonic hormonal overdrive in ways that make me long for the baby factory to just shut down already. Some months are mildly annoying, some months feel like I’m auditioning for a scene in Carrie. I’ll spare you the gory details but suffice it to say, there’s no activity during those days. Some days I’m stunned I even make it to work.

And some days I don’t.

But in every cycle there’s *always* bloating, a lack of sleep, insatiable cravings and, ultimately, a weight gain.

Needless to say… I allowed for the recalculating.

This week I tried to make up for it. I was more conscious about the food I ate, paying a little more to eat a little healthier. Drinking water over sodas (mostly.) I even got to walk during my breaks at work, so there was progress in that area at least. This was good news, considering the bike ride I did on Mother’s Day leveled me for the first three days of my week. By Thursday, I jumped all over the chance to walk even though I didn’t feel completely healed. I took it slow, one walk that day, and by Friday I was able to walk twice.

Incremental progress, but progress nonetheless.

The emotional eating thing though, still my biggest nemesis. I let it beat me up several days this week. I own that completely.

I have a few ideas how to reroute myself out of those as well. I may be trying those this coming week. It’s going to require some deep introspection I probably won’t want to make public, yet that might be the very thing that helps me defeat this thing once and for all. Most of my binging is done in hiding. So maybe it’s time to stop hiding.

Whatever it takes, right?

Recalculating…

So… new week. New goals. Walking more during the workweek, that’s number one. Portion control and watching food intake, definitely number two. Dealing with triggers has to be number three.

And we’ll see where we end up from there. It’s almost been a month since I started. Let’s see where exactly I find myself. It may not be the destination of eight pounds lost that I wanted, but it’ll be a turn in the right direction. No matter what, I’m not lost. Merely delayed.

Recalculating….

Weigh-in: 297.6

 

 

Limitations are not my favorite.

So yesterday was my weigh-in. I actually debated long and hard about doing a weekly or a monthly weigh-in, but weekly weigh-ins, though frustrating, keep me more on track than letting things go for a month. If a weigh-in looms, the Good Girl in me wants to make sure that the numbers go down instead of up, which helps me make better choices than I would if I could “put off” that scary marker of progress for another three weeks.

It keeps me accountable, and that’s what I need right now. I may need you all to talk me down from a ledge here and there when hormonal stuff and life in general don’t yield the results I want. As I already told you, if I’m aiming for two pounds, I really want it to be anything over that.

Some weeks that just won’t happen.

This week was one of those weeks.

I lost 1.4lbs so I’m down to 295. I’m actually surprised it was anything at all. My workout regimen at the moment is walking during my two 10-minute breaks at work, and then on one weekend day, I walk at one of my favorite spots in the world, Mile Square Park. It is my place of zen, where I can walk 4-5 miles in a stretch and barely feel the pain.

To me, this was slow. Apparently it wasn’t slow enough.

Lately I’ve been feeling the pain. I start nothing easily. We’ve all heard “no pain, no gain,” and that’s how my brain was wired. I want to see drastic results so I feel like I need to make drastic changes, which is always, always, always how I start out.

Unfortunately, though I did start doing this about a month or so ago, I wasn’t able to keep up with that kind of workout regimen. About three weeks ago I hurt my knee. Not sure how, but it was pretty debilitating for about a week. So I took some days off and went right back to it. Not so surprisingly, the pain returned, adding back pain to the mix for all the compensating I was doing to go easy on my knee.

As some of you might well know, back pain has become my nemesis these last eleven years and will sideline me quicker than anything – especially since the only real thing that ever worked to control it was medicinal marijuana and I’m a respectable working woman these days. I’m not going to go to work “high,” just like I never wrote high.

My son Tim cautioned that I take it easy and give myself a chance to heal. I’m not one to relax and take it easy, and going slow is not in my playbook. For anything. Not being able to walk every break like I was doing, or going to my favorite park for a big weekend tally of about 4-5 miles, was difficult. It’s a glacial pace that feels like I’m not moving at all.

But what was more difficult was losing sleep because of the pain I’ve been in. Limping around my office because everything just hurt so bad, and still pretending I was operating at 100%, doing everything I normally do and jumping in to do more cuz, that’s just me. But it’s left me feeling even older than my 47 years, which is depressing as hell.

Limitations are not my favorite. I don’t like being told no, or that I can’t do something. Unless it’s something I don’t want to do and then whatever, but most of the time I want to power through and impress the bejeezus out of everyone – including me.

I’m hard as fuck to impress, at least when it comes to me. But we already went over that. I also don’t forgive myself easily, so this chatterbox has had a field day whispering in my ear that I was going to embarrass myself with a public weigh-in that didn’t show a loss, or worse. Showed a gain. I had to make peace despite the chaos that this week hasn’t been so much about losing weight as it is compromising with what I was willing to do in order to meet my goal. So I couldn’t walk? What else could I do?

My main goal this week was ditching Diet Coke. Has not been easy, but has not been as hard as I thought either. I didn’t have the normal raging headache withdrawal, thanks to drinking more water. And it’s not that I don’t like water. I don’t put anything in it, I just ice it up and go and usually I’m good.

It just doesn’t do a whole lot to turn me on. It’s kinda boring, especially when you have to drink so freaking much of it a day. Fortunately at work they gave us a pretty cool insulated cup for Administrative Professional’s Day, and it keeps water pretty cold, which works out well for a sipper like me. Because of this I’m drinking more, which means I’m less tempted to reach for a Diet Coke.

Extremely good news for Goal #1.

It helps that the vending machine at my office has been possessed by the spirit of Hal Sparks, who regards Diet Coke as “the devil’s ass sweat.” (He’s not far wrong.) Even if I put in my 85 cents in that dumb machine in a moment of weakness, whether I get my fix or not is like a pull on a slot machine. And, just like a slot machine, I wind up putting in more than I take out.

I also went back to ordering tea when I got lunch out. Since I broke my addiction to sweet tea in the 80s, it’s my go-to drink if I don’t want to drink water. A shout-out to all restaurants who provide a flavored tea that doesn’t include sugar. Y’all come through in a clutch, I’m just saying.

To ease myself off of sodas, I’ve been drinking Diet Ginger Ale instead. It’s a caffeine-free option that includes ginger, which they tell me is good for me, especially when it comes to controlling inflammation.

Either way I don’t care, give me some damn bubbles dammit.

For food, I’m doing the intermittent fasting – mostly. This means I typically eat between 1pm and 10pm, but life will occasionally throw a wrench in my plans. As long as I do it every other day, I feel like I’m getting some benefit out of it. (I do prefer to do it daily, though.) (Working on it.)

The next challenge will be watching my calories, which I’m kinda doing now, opting for foods that have a lower caloric value rather than the cheapest option. Anyone can tell you those are usually NOT one in the same.

One of the appeals of intermittent fasting is that I didn’t have to strictly police my  caloric intake to lose weight. I could eat bigger meals less frequently, but I was able to make it work for me a long time by eating whenever I was hungry and stopping whenever I was full, as long as it was in the time frame of the Eating Zone.

I need to read more about it to really get the most out of it, and now that I have finally finished the rewrite on my script yesterday (YAY) I should have some downtime at last to concentrate on all of these other goals.

I think that was part of my overall happy problem, I was hitting life full-throttle every day of every week for the past few months. Probably the five months, really. I haven’t had a whole lot of downtime to relax and recharge, and I kinda need that to avoid those deprivation triggers that whisper in my ear, “Go ahead. Do it. You deserve it.”

Creating more life/work balance is on the agenda for this reason. This has been very difficult to do balancing my writing career on top of a full-time job. Why? Because I don’t like limitations. If I have something I want to write, I don’t want to limit it to a few hours a week. I want to sit down and write till I’m done. So carving out an hour before work, then having to stop what I’m doing to do something else, will vex my muse like a MF, which will frustrate me to the point of uselessness.

Basically everything needs reevaluating. I’ve been weighing my needs against my desires and my (gack) current limitations, which hasn’t been fun-time for Ginger.

But the best news of the week is that I’ve been able to mostly keep the emotional eating under control, even with some not-so-nice stuff going on at the 9-5. Change is coming one way or the other and I’m kinda freaking out about it. I’m just so grateful every single day that I have such support from some incredible friends, who give me the courage to face scary changes head on. So even though there have been an occasional binge or two, and a happy hour where I probably indulged a little more than I needed to, I feel like I’m on the upswing of this particular cycle.

I’m not there yet. I’m climbing out of the fog, but new storms loom. I just have to figure out what I can do because even one step in the right direction is progress.

As someone once told me:

Chin up
Knockers out
Bitchface on
Fuck the Haters.

Even if that includes me.

A lil history, some goal planning, and sweaty-palmed, white-knuckled transparency.

Howdie, folks. Welcome to Day Two.

Except it isn’t Day Two, just like yesterday wasn’t really Day One.

Anyone who has nosed around this blog knows that the whole weight loss journey is one I have run up to and run away from enough times that even *I* roll my eyes when I pledge to start again. It just never feels like it’s going to happen, not for real, and not forever.

The only real success I’ve had transforming my health and my body was in 2003/2004, when my first husband’s sudden death from a massive heart attack scared me straight. I literally felt like I was playing Russian Roulette every single time I took a bite of food. It’s no secret that I was in much worse shape than he was, because I outweighed him probably by about a hundred pounds.

I usually outweigh everyone by about a hundred pounds.

I started that journey at over 330 pounds, which was around the size I was when I got married, which was twenty pounds less than when Steven and I met. By the time Dan died, I was a size-32. I felt enormous.

But, despite the obvious visual cues, I *wasn’t* as bad off as Dan was because his health problems weren’t quite so visible. And despite what people could “see,” those problems ended up killing him at the tender age of 43.

Still, I knew I was on a dangerous path. As the only surviving natural parent to two young boys (then 13 and 11,) I knew I had to get serious. So I did something drastic and terrifying. I decided to blog about it.

This was before the books and before the social media platforms that have cultivated my brand. This was back in the days of AOL, when they had jumped aboard the blogging train, and would feature interesting blogs on their front page to drive traffic to other areas of their site.

See, the thing you have to know about me is that I’m an overachieving teacher’s pet. I knew if I made this journey public, it would drive me to succeed because I would never risk such personal failure on such a public platform. I want to WOW people, remember? I don’t want pity. I want Atta Girls and pats on the back, just like everyone else. So when I committed to it, I committed to it 100%. I knew I had to be fully honest or it wouldn’t work. I had to display facts and figures, publicizing each weigh-in so I was forced to be “real” about half-assing anything.

This was important to me because I have an eating disorder where I binge if things get too intense. It was a coping mechanism I picked up as a child, after the incident when I was four years old. Like I said yesterday, I immediately hid everything so that I could be “normal,” but the trauma was still there. I became my own comforter at four, so the only thing I knew to make myself feel better was to “feed” the hurt. You can see the changes almost immediately. Here’s a photo from the house we lived in when I was abducted:

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Here’s a photo from kindergarten, a year later:

gingerKindergarden

First grade, a year later than that:

ginger1stgrade

And second grade, a year later than that…

ginger2ndgrade

As the years wore on, I had to eat more to feel more comforted. I’d eat at school, then come home and eat whatever my parents had left over from lunch. By the 1980s, when I became a latch-key kid, when I had to prepare my own dinners and feed myself when I was only eleven, I could kill a box of Kraft Mac n’ Cheese. I’d stop eating because I ran out, not because I ever felt there was “enough.” To be completely honest with you, I don’t recall ever feeling “full.” When people tell me they’re “stuffed” and can’t eat another bite, I don’t get that. I’ve felt like I couldn’t eat another bite, but if there was still food left, I kept going. It was Clean Plate Syndrome to the Nth degree. Mentally I’ve never felt satiated, because what I was eating for was never physical hunger. It was to numb and emotional void. Food brings pleasure, so I needed that pleasure to make the Not Okay okay. (Later I would add sex and spending and gambling and a host of other vices.) Whatever felt good, I needed to have more. It was the only way to even things out against the staggering mountain of CRAP my life tended to be.

Imagine my delight when I realized in 1985 that I could eat Nutri-System, supplemented with nightly nachos that were off the plan (but helped me feel “fuller”), and still lose 36 pounds in three months. If that program hadn’t sent my mother and me into the poor house at $90 a week, I might have actually got down to a “normal” weight.

These have been the patterns of my life. The more chaotic the circumstances, the more I binge to deal with them. This is why diets never work for me long haul, especially since I already told you yesterday, most of my life has been spent in the Not Okay.

In 2003/2004, I *started* my weight loss journey in the Really Not Okay, right after we lost Dan. He died in September, and I finally got around to doing something about me in November of that year. Things were going along mostly well until February, when I got the emotional rug pulled out from under me again, when Steven was seriously tempted outside the marriage.

This was very tough for me to handle at that time because Steven was one of the few men on the planet I truly believed could love/desire me even as heavy as I was. This was the woman he fell in love with:

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That the woman who tempted him wasn’t overweight really threw a major wrench in my progress, making me feel everything before that was a lie. I was sent into an emotional tailspin. The only reason it didn’t derail me completely was mostly because I was doing a public blog, where I had 100% transparency. When he messed up, the whole world knew it – just like they knew it when I messed up.

I didn’t have four-year-old Ginger feeding me. I had dozens of strangers, sisters on the same path, who could hold me up and keep me focused.

But, all things being the Internet, it was not a journey for the faint-hearted. Doing anything publicly invites criticism. When AOL featured my blog on their main page in February of 2004, ironically just before the whole thing blew up with Steven, I got plenty of complaints and criticisms too, and so did AOL. “Why would you feature her weight-loss blog? She looks like she weighs 300 pounds!”

Again, I had to have an “after” photo to validate the “before” photo. I had to be “okay” or else no one would listen to me.

But I wasn’t okay. Hence why I needed the blog.

You don’t need a weight-loss blog if you’re thin, do you? This was a part of the journey, and ultimately it was successful. This was me at the beginning, in November 2003:

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And this was me in September of 2004, wearing the same shirt:

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This was me when I married Steven, at a size 34:

4

And this was me in 2004, ten sizes smaller:

june04g

What do I know about losing weight? About as much as I know about gaining it. And what I know for certain is that the only thing that has ever worked for me long-term was if I stopped hiding from it.

I write Rubenesque romance because I don’t agree with the narrative you have to be thin and beautiful and perfect to deserve love. I’ve never been “thin”, “beautiful” or “perfect,” and I have found love, been married, the whole nine.

Yet I still hide the numbers because there’s a deep shame that I’m not okay. Even within the books, I write “smaller” larger women because I’m easing people into the novel idea you don’t have to be perfect to be loved. Sadly it’s necessary, because I’ve had my share of criticism about the heroines I write and the romances I write not being “realistic.” One recent critique was for a size-16 heroine who was top-heavy and the (female) critic pondered if I was even a woman because my heroine’s measurements were YUUUGGGEEE.

In reality, I’m larger than my heroine – so that was really nice to hear. Not. But that’s part of the cognitive dissonance that makes sizes and measurements and actual numbers on the scale scarier and more negative than what they are. It’s all relative, and each body is different.

At my size hiding the numbers is stupid really, because it’s not like I can hide the reality. You look at me, you know that I’m overweight. The medical diagnosis, morbid obesity, is pretty obvious to any layman who passes me on the street. And believe me, they’re not shy about diagnosing it.

Yet I am still ashamed of the number. I still hide it. I still yearn to be okay.

As we established yesterday, I’m not okay. And that’s going to have to be okay.

So in order to make this work, I gotta get real about it. There’s gotta be some transparency because without transparency there’s no accountability. If I want to meet my lofty, lofty goal, there has to be some accountability.

And let’s talk about goals for a second. Like I said before, I’m an overachiever. I always push myself. I’m incredibly ambitious and completely self-driven. Bosses normally love me because I go above and beyond. I need little supervision or really little guidance. At my current 9-5, I have no one who looks over my work at the end of the day to make sure goals are being met. But they’re being met, by God. In fact, the goals I set for myself are just a fingertip out of my reach most days, because of how hard I drive myself to succeed. I plan my day without a second to spare, working all the way up to the minute I clock out. I take the standard they give me and push it into overdrive.

For example, the job I do is in medical records. A primary function of that job is taking a paper record and converting it into a digital file so we can file it into our Electronic Medical Records, or EMR. When I took over that position in July of last year, the company standard was to have those files converted and into the system within a week of obtaining them.

I made sure they went up within 24-48 hours. I figured why wait? It takes about fifteen minutes for me to do a file, so why not get each one into the system as soon as we get it? And it doesn’t matter if we have one or twelve to do in a day, I make damned sure that the minute it gets to my desk, it is on the fast track to get into the EMR so everyone who needs the information has access to it, rather than hounding me to fax this or upload that. I’m on top of my job so that they can be on top of their job, which is both time-efficient for the employees and cost-efficient for the company.

As someone who has run her own business before, as well as helped others start-up businesses, that’s just how my brain is trained to look at processes and procedures. I work smarter, not harder, aiming for excellence rather than accepting the status quo.

So now THAT is the standard in my department. And I’m pretty freaking proud of that, really. I took something and made it better. I impressed people. I changed things.

Mama likes.

I like my goals lofty. It’s why I can write a book as fast as I can, or produce a quality screenplay in weeks rather than years. I don’t sit on ANYTHING. I figure out a way to get it done and I get it the fuck done, because I’m OCD to the NTH and I need shit checked off my list.

But being done isn’t the only objective: I push myself with a deeply rooted drive to be excellent.

The weight loss is really no different, even though my lofty goals have, more often than not, derailed my progress more than anything else.

They will tell you that losing 1-2 pounds a week is the best way to ensure that you have long-term sustainable weight-loss. So of course, me being me, I won’t be happy unless it’s 3-5. And those weeks I don’t make it, because I won’t, because no matter what you do sometimes the scale just does NOT move, for whatever reason, or there are gains even when you do everything right, because that’s the painful irony long-term weight loss, fucking bum me out hard-core. If you watch This is Us, you’ve seen this unfortunate dynamic work with one of the main characters, Kate. It’s almost too painful to watch sometimes. The episode where she does everything right and doesn’t lose, and finds out her binge-eating boyfriend loses more, devastated her. And me. Been there. That shit sucks.

And I know, intellectually, it isn’t a formula. Every body is different, and the road to physical excellence isn’t always X+Y=Z. Some weigh-ins come whenever you didn’t get a full night’s sleep, or you’re on your period, or it’s holiday season and no matter how many extra miles you walk on the treadmill, that chocolate and cookie and turkey and pie will derail your progress. There are dreaded plateaus and, unfortunately for me, emotional ups and downs which put me face to face with my ED.

A mathematical formula leaves no room for life, especially a not-okay life that will  punch you around a bit and knock you off your footing. I still have triggers and a real disorder that I battle, sometimes on the daily. There are days that I will fall short, no matter how high I am.

For that reason alone, I’m aiming higher. If I’m working for outstanding, maybe, just maybe, I’ll land in the exceptional anyway. I never want to idle at average. In anything. Ever.

And it’s become increasingly obvious to me that I need to be here, in front of you all, to get where I need to go, when I want to get there. And my reasons for it are not merely cosmetic anymore. Which raises the stakes even more.

Last July I had my first real weight-related health scare. I had just taken over a new position at my 9-5, and it came with certain growing pains that had me anxious and overwhelmed. When you have an anxiety disorder this can feel like hell, and it did for a long, long while. One morning I had a pretty intense anxiety attack at work. They’re not that uncommon for me, though when you’re having them it pretty much makes your brain go haywire. Instead of dismissing it as the same kinds of attacks I’ve had in the past, where everything is okay, it feels like The End. That wretched voice in my head whispers, “What if this IS a heart attack, and not just your anxiety?”

That particular morning I decided that, since I work in a medical environment and I’m around nurses and medical professionals, I’d just have it looked at. So I went into one of the nurse’s offices and explained my symptoms. She took my blood pressure and it was, for the first time ever, off the charts. I’ve only had minor increases in my blood pressure before, tapping out at maybe 130/80. This time it was 150/90.

Needless to say, it tripped me the fuck out. For once, that anxiety attack I was feeling was a legitimate medical alarm. I left early that day, buying a blood pressure monitoring machine before I even reached the house. From that moment on, I was determined to make some changes.

I got rid of Diet Coke, which is one of my bigger addictions, and, at the suggestion of a friend, started intermittent fasting (which we will talk about later.) I started exercising again. I ditched all processed foods and watched my sodium intake. My blood pressure evened out, usually maxing out around 125/80, but on the whole staying under 120/80, enough where I wasn’t monitoring it every day. Within months, I started shedding weight again. Everyone around me was telling me how great I looked.

I lost about twenty pounds over three months. I went from a size 28 to a size 24. I could buy new clothes in smaller sizes that would actually fit.

Then… November happened. We’ll talk about that later as well, because it really is another blog in and of itself. Suffice it to say, four-year-old Ginger started feeding a very emotionally traumatized forty-seven year old Ginger all the comfort foods that made things feel okay when they weren’t okay. Emotional eating/binging came back hard, undoing all of my progress to that point.

I’ve tried to restart it several times but hiding myself from the Not Okay has meant that I haven’t had one iota of accountability to conquer these particular demons.

Hence, the blog.

So THIS is my new starting point, even though technically speaking, it’s not.

I’m going to include all my social media in this new endeavor, although some to a lesser degree than others. I’ll post progress pics on Instagram. I’ll post workout progress on Snapchat. I’ll post all the nitty gritty about weigh-ins, measurements, food and workouts and the like on my Sparkpeople profile as I add them into the plan, which – again – we’ll talk about later.

And here is where I’ll do the emotional workouts for my journey where I’ll just be real about the numbers and how much it terrifies me to do so.

Gonna feel the fear and do it anyway – which is how I do anything successful in my life. And aim high… because even if I shoot for the moon and miss, I’ll land among the stars.

That being said, my goal is get under 200 lbs for my son’s wedding next March. The last time I was under 200 pounds was in 1989.

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That’s nearly 100lbs in ten months, or 10 pounds a month, making eight pounds a month the baseline (2lbs per week). This  would still put me around 210, which is where I spent the majority of my teen years:

ginger1986cropped

Anything less than eight pounds a month will require reexamination and modification. This is a journey, not a formula. I may try a lot of different things just to keep my body from settling into any routines, which seems to be the death knell for my progress.

And that, really, is what I’m aiming for the most. I may not reach Excellence in ten months, but ten months from now I won’t still be linger in the Not Okay.

It’s time to make things okay.

Starting weight:

May 2017 – 296.8

Starting measurements:

49/45/57, Size 26/28 (depending on where you shop – again, a topic for another blog…)

So that’s it. No shame. No fear. No hiding. Just a starting point.

Let’s do this.

 

Day One: I am not okay.

It dawned on me this morning that much of my life I’ve spent pretending things are okay when they weren’t okay. It probably started when I was four, when I had a pretty big secret to hide. I go over that quite a bit, so I won’t rehash it here, but suffice it to say, I started pretending at a very early age that things were okay and I was normal.

And you simply cannot be normal if you’re not okay. That’s the narrative we all perpetuate, right? It’s not a hero’s journey unless there’s a happily ever after. That’s the only thing that can make not being okay, well, okay.

Needless to say, I got used to hiding behind my shell very early in my life. To me, this represented strength. Never let ’em see you sweat. You’ll never see me cry. If I get knocked down, I’ll get back up on my own, thank you VERY much. I don’t want help. I don’t want pity. No before and during pictures for me, buddy. You’ll only see my successes, because THAT, my friend, is how I validate my existence.

Yet, things have rarely ever been okay for me. I can think of maybe one six-month span in my 47 years that felt “right”, without that much of a struggle. Everything else? I’m in the deep end of the pool, fighting not to go under.

Most of that has been because of financial instability, which I’m sure I don’t have to tell you is the pits. You don’t get a lot of peace when you’re beating off wolves at the door, and I’ve never really been ahead of the wolves – except for 2014, which I finally got a little bit of a foothold.

That wouldn’t last, which made all the other crap even crappier. Struggling relationships, a brutally low self-esteem and, well, life, would remind me yet again that I wasn’t meant for the easy life, no matter how hard I worked for it. Something somewhere had to go awry to remind me, again and again, I wasn’t okay. I wasn’t normal.

But you never saw me sweat. You never saw me cry. You saw what everyone around me has always seen. I come back swinging, because fighting is easier. I get mad, because I never want to show how vulnerable I feel deep down. I’ll pull myself up by the bootstraps, broken and bloody, and keep on keepin’ on, because that’s what I do. I’ll show up for work. I’ll take care of my family. I’ll meet and crush deadlines. I’ll wow people who’ll never know how fucking hard it was to leave the house, or to smile when I really wanted to cry. They’ll never know my first impulse has always been to hide. They’ll never know how seriously I’ve contemplated giving up entirely, cuz GODDAMN it’s exhausting running a race when the finish line keeps moving.

I’m not okay. Okay?

In fact, I have to wonder if I’ve ever been okay. All my life I’ve had this nagging thought that this isn’t the life I’m supposed to be living. It doesn’t fit. Like a shoe a size too small. I can get by, of course, but I’m not fully comfortable. I know down deep in my soul it could be better. *I* could be better.

Getting from here to there, however, has been a magic trick I haven’t yet mastered.

I follow self-help gurus. I listen to all my smart friends. I pray. I meditate. I can spew positive affirmations like a demented parrot. And generally I put good advice into motion. I do the work. I’ve never been afraid or unwilling to do the work.

Yet here I am, spitting distance from Year 5-0, and I feel like it’ll *never* be okay because the span of not-okay-ness has lasted for so long.

And yes, I know what you’re thinking. Happiness isn’t a feeling, it’s a choice. Don’t sweat the petty stuff and don’t pet the sweaty stuff. If your life is so dissatisfying, change it for fuck’s sake.

This ain’t my first meltdown. I’ve had some humdingers. I got through those, I’ll get through this. I’m just tired of pretending things are okay when they’re not. I’m tired of keeping up my “image”, whatever the hell that means, when the whole reason I was able to step into the lane of what my life SHOULD look like was by ripping open scars and bleeding for the world to see.

I’m not the only one who feels like this. I’m not the only one who sells 40 hours of their life away, on the treadmill of life with obligations and ruts galore, who eats a freaking cheesecake by themselves every now and again, or drinks wine by the gallon, or spends way more money than they make just to indulge in a little retail therapy so they can finally capture some kind of bliss. Everyone wants to feel okay even when things aren’t okay.

I’m not alone. Somewhere out there is someone just as unhappy as I am, aching for someone brave enough to change the narrative so that they can feel okay even if they’re not okay.

So I think it’s time to rip open some scars. I think it’s time that I admit things aren’t great. I’m unhappy. I’m nowhere near “normal.” That doesn’t mean I’m not working on it. It doesn’t mean I’m giving up on it. It just means I’m not there yet and I recognize that.

And hopefully…. hopefully… I’ll find that secret hidden door that will lead me back to the life I know I’m supposed to be living.

I’m going to be blogging more often. Not a lot, because right now I’m working a full-time “regular” job as well as writing on nights and weekends. Though my dream abandoned me like a newborn on a firehouse stoop, I haven’t given up on it. There have been some significant strides forward as a matter of fact, in ways I didn’t see coming. I was recently hired to write a screenplay based on a real story, and it was the first “real” money I’ve made in my screenwriting career. No $10 option, we’re talking a five-figure paycheck.

The wolves took most of it, which was depressing beyond belief. I vault back and forth between, “Glad I had it or else we’d have been SO SCREWED” to “Really? This is all I get to enjoy from the biggest ‘win’ of my movie career?” No paying down bills or buying all those things we’ve been putting off, no breathing room – just paying down a handful of predatory loans that had been eating up almost all of every paycheck, essentially making sure I work for free despite being paid well above minimum wage.

The day after I got hired to write the script my car got towed, sinking me a couple thousand more dollars into debt before I could even get the first check. This has been my life the last couple of years. (And it SUUUUUUUCCCKKKSSS.)

Worse, it doesn’t matter how hard I work trying to correct it, I keep getting sent back to poverty jail – do not pass Go, do not collect $200. I work my ASS off, both the 9-5 and my writing career, and I’m still fighting for every single dime. I need to make more. I work hard enough to earn more. Yet, life. Hard choices. Sacrifices. Endless, endless compromises. Yet no matter what I do or don’t do, the wolves breathe down my neck.

And I’m not okay.

Recently my son Jeremiah got engaged. It was the one thing I could wrangle out of my windfall and I made damned sure I made it happen. We went to Vegas. We had a good time. We didn’t go crazy. We were modest spenders. But we got to “live” a little bit. We got to “be normal” for a few days. I know how to make Vegas happen on a shoestring, I’ve done it enough in my life – including my very own wedding there in 2001.

Because of this we’ve decided to go back on the year anniversary of their engagement for their wedding. I found a great deal. Totally workable. Totally doable. I can make the dreams come true for BOTH my kids, both Jer and Brit, his fiance. (I’ll never get tired of saying that.)

But I want to make some changes, obviously. Not just with the money, which has to happen in order to fund the nuptials, but I also want to gain some mobility. I’m tired of being limited by what my larger body can (and can’t) do. I may never be a supermodel. I wouldn’t even want that job. I just want to be able to walk and stand and, y’know, live. I’m okay with getting older, but I really resist the idea of getting old. I want to be the kind of mother and grandmother who can jump right in there with her kids and grandkids, who will ride the rollercoasters and do the ziplines and stay out all night, matching them moment for moment.

I don’t want to miss a thing.

I can’t do that at my size. My body has been working against me for more than a decade now, and I’m tired of the aches and the pains that sideline me. I’m alive for a reason, I want to live, and this ain’t livin’. This is getting by, while putting on a brave face that I’m okay with all the new limitations being this age and this size has put on me. I can’t sleep at night because of the discomfort. All the activity I try to include in my life leaves me feeling more tired and older and less mobile. I get sick way too often. I hit walls and barely have any stamina left to scale them.

I’m not okay.

I’m not asking for help here, by the way. I’m not waiting for a hero to fix it. *I* am that hero. *I* can change it. Despite starting and stopping the weight loss thing quite a bit, the successes I’ve stacked up in my life are impressive, especially since it’s never really been “okay.” From the time I taught myself how to ride a bike when I was nine, I’ve beaten every limitation between me and what I wanted. I went from straight F’s to straight A’s in six weeks, just to earn an album. I wrote a book when I was 14, just because I wanted to prove I could. I wanted to live in Southern California since “Three’s Company,” and here I am. I’m barely holding it together some days, but I’m here. I wanted to be a published writer and I made that happen, too. I took a blank screen and created almost thirty published novels, which people have bought and people have loved despite being overlooked by an industry that didn’t think I had anything to say.

I wanted to write movies and I was just paid a nice little check to do that very thing, impressing those “in the biz” with my skill to bring a shared vision to life.

In fact, as I see it, the only thing holding me back from true success is, well, staying hidden. If people can see what I can do, they’re blown away. I don’t impress people by being “normal.” I impress people by being extraordinary. The fact that I can pull ANY of this off when NOTHING else seems to go right is freaking amazing.

This next year is a work in progress, not just in my career, not just in my personal relationships, but in my overall health and well-being. I’ve decided to show this journey, mistakes, missteps and mishaps and all. I’m going to be vulnerable, because there’s nothing wrong with being imperfect. It’s perfectly human. In fact, we’re way more imperfect than we could ever be normal.

Normal is the illusion that everything is okay. And it’s not okay.

But that’s okay.

This is Day One. I’m only aiming up from here.

 

 

 

 

Never underestimate the power of words.

Last November, when I declared 2015 was the Year of Transformation, I forgot one thing. Words have power, and I was begging the universe with my careless use of the word “transformation” to drag me right through the fire.

And so it happened.

2015 will go down in history as one of the toughest on record yet. My income was slashed by a whopping 75%, which was devastating enough. All year long we flirted with homelessness as we came to litter our walls with three-day notices galore. Our credit went down the tubes as bills piled up, unable to be paid on time, sometimes at all.

We lost one of our cars, but managed to keep everything else by the skin of our teeth. But the uncertainty lingers.

It was a rough way to get hit, one that sent me into an emotional tailspin as I wrestled even more than usual with self-doubt and insecurity. It set off some serious emotional triggers in ways I haven’t had to manage in a long, long time. This led to the realization that I’ve been suffering with PTSD since that event that happened when I was four.

I had time to figure this out when I had my emotional breakdown around May, when I came as close to suicide as I’ve been since 1999.

Needless to say, my aspirations to get healthy and prolong my life went right down the toilet when I could barely find any reason to battle through another second. I was off program way more than I was on it, though given all the complications I faced, I ended up staying fairly consistent with the exercise. I think I only had one or two spells that lasted maybe six weeks at the longest, but I always managed to get back on the bike. I’m less than 100 miles away from topping 1000 miles ridden for the year, which means my exercise bike may hold clothes every now and then, but it hasn’t gathered dust.

Because of this, I lost twenty-five pounds over the year. I will consider this a personal victory, given that I didn’t go completely off the wagon and gain back  even more, which is my typical pattern.

Also on tap for the year, three deaths of friends and family that sent me reeling. The first, back towards the beginning of the year, was an old friend I had reconnected with years ago courtesy of Facebook, whose sudden and unexpected death took everyone by surprise. This one hurt because he was so young and did so much good, spreading awareness, helping those who were in the battle of their lives with addiction.

It was truly a loss.

The second was my half-sister on my Dad’s side, also whom I had reconnected with on Facebook. Despite how differently we saw the world sometimes, she was always very sweet and accepting of me. We had never really gotten to know each other, thanks mostly to the fact my father was about 30 years older than my mother, and all his kids were grown with families of their own by the time I showed up.

Yet family was why we reconnected and why we stayed connected, until her death.

The third and most devastating loss was much, much closer to me. I lost my mother on December 6, 2015, 35 years to the day when my dad went into the hospital for a stroke, which would keep him hospitalized until his death thirteen days later (his birthday.)

This one was even harder than the others, not just because she was my mother but because I had no idea where she had been these last several years. I was contacted in late October, to let me know that she was in hospice so that I could sign insurance papers to release money to a funeral home to pay for her final expenses at the time of her death, which looked like it would be imminent.

I did get to speak to her one last time before her health failed her. I feel very good about the things we were able to say to each other, even though technically it wasn’t a ‘goodbye.’ My mother had been suffering dementia, so there were moments when I knew she struggled to remember certain things, but she knew who I was and I could tell it made her happy to hear from me.

I also knew she wouldn’t remember anything I told her when that call ended, or even if I called at all.

After that, neither my best friend nor I could reach her. According to her nurse, she went downhill quickly, unwilling or unable to eat.

There are other complications I won’t get into here but I choose to look at the positive of the situation; that I was able to reconnect with her one last time. That is a priceless gift to me, no matter what. My worst fear was that she’d die thinking I didn’t love her, which couldn’t be further than the truth.

Now I know for sure that she knew I loved her, if only for a fifteen-minute phone call.

And it reminded me how much she loved me all my life. It hurts my heart to go forward without her, though I find peace knowing that she’s been set free from an ailing body and a cloudy mind.

So this year has transformed me, no doubt about it. Just like the caterpillar, I’ve died to an old way of living, only to reemerge as something else – something even better than I’ve ever dreamed.

Oh sure. You can’t see my wings now. But they’re growing. And this cocoon is shrinking. 2016 is nearly here, and my year of transformation is blooming into a year of actualization.

I’m calling something different to my life this year. As a writer, I’ve always known how powerful words are, especially when you put them in the right combinations. Of all the lessons my mother taught me, the two biggest – faith and tenacity – will carry me forward into this new year. I’m calling success and achievement… the triumph, not just the trial.

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I’ve decided to declare it boldly going into things, stepping out of the boat on faith that I’m going to be able to run across the water.

And if I can’t run… I’ll fly.

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I’m going to get there.

Stay tuned…

Learning to embrace the “During.”

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:

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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?

Oprah-Weight-Loss-before-and-after

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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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This was me before my dad died when I was eleven years old:

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This is before I was homeless, living out of a car at the age of 19:

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This was me before eight years of living with someone with bipolar disorder, and the emotional and physical abuse that followed:

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Before my nine-day-old son died in 1995:

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This is me AFTER I managed to crawl out from under menial jobs and finally provide for my family:

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And this is me AFTER finding love again:

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This is me AFTER losing 70lbs in a year:

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This is me AFTER making my dreams come true as a working writer:

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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.

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No Plan B

In early 2010, I was in a pretty bad place. I had just quit my job at a call center because I was calling off at least once a month or every two months because of my chronic back pain, and I’d much rather quit than be fired, again, for my health. That was a low point for me. I remember that my back went out – again – and I knew I’d have to miss work – again. Missed work meant missed wages, and we were already financially strapped. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed, in tears, ready to give up on everything, not just my job, because I couldn’t see it getting any better. Ever.

Little did I know my life was shifting in ways I could never have predicted. Within a month, my mother called me and told me that she needed to get to California to take care of her ailing brother and his wife. Since I was off work anyway, I decided to go with her, driving her to California and providing emotional support for her, since she was frail and in poor health as well.

Being in California was good for me in a lot of ways. I was able to connect with California friends, particularly a writer friend of mine and possibly my biggest and loudest cheerleader. She was also living “the dream” in that she made her living with her writing, and I was all ears how to make that happen for me. I remember our conversation vividly. Like me, her life had shaped itself where she couldn’t hold down a typical nine-to-five job at a brick and mortar company. She told me that she had to make the writing work. There was no Plan B.

That conversation stayed with me when I returned to Texas, where I began to look for opportunities to write for money. I ended up freelancing, which was fortuitous. Not only could I make money with what I wrote, I could manage how much I would make. I worked when I could, rested when I needed to, and managed to bring in enough money to supplement my husband’s income to meet our needs.

Freelancing taught me how to work with editors, which made sure the quantity of what I wrote was quality. Each project was another bill paid, so that taught me how to use my endless drive to churn out completed article after completed article. This training would serve me well when I began self-publishing in 2011.

The freelance stuff eventually dried up so I threw myself into self-publishing. By the end of 2012 I finally saw that pay off. In 2013, I made twice as much as I had ever made at any brick and mortar company. In 2014, I doubled that.

I credit this ALL to the idea there can be no Plan B. There can be no safety net. Your margin of error shrinks and you have to learn to trust yourself to make things work, and reject anything that doesn’t ultimately serve your goals.

By 2014, I was also fortunate enough to get a handle on my back pain. I found a much better (and natural) management tool that actually worked, which meant I could work even harder towards my Plan A. The results were incredible. I found myself even higher on my own personal mountain, with everything I wanted well within sight.

In 2014, I also came face to face with my physical limitations that had nothing to do with chronic back pain. If I want to continue climbing this mountain, I need to be stronger than I’ve allowed my physical body to become. In order to reach those higher peaks, and continue climbing even higher than that, I need to condition myself.

Hence my #oneyear project. When I say that this is totally health-motivated, I am 100% sincere. My physical limitations were sidelining me in my own life, preventing me from enjoying time spent with the family, doing the things that we all want to do. I couldn’t even consider a trip to the beach without a certain amount of dread, because I knew what kind of chore it would be to walk through the sand towards the shore. The last time I went to the beach, it took three breaks to walk up the incline from the beach back to the street.

If I can’t do that, then how the hell am I going to do anything a successful writing career entails?

It occurred to me today that the same principle applies to both. If I want to conquer these physical limitations, there cannot be a Plan B. There cannot be a safety net. It’s not something I can opt into or half-ass, any more than my career. I either do it or I don’t, and each choice comes with its own consequences.

Every morning before I actually get on that bike, I’m faced with both choices. There’s the voice of action, that says the only way to condition my body to be strong is to do the work. Then there’s the choice of inaction, where the devil on my shoulder whispers all sorts of excuses. I know how to play the game by now, I know how much I can get away with.

But I also know that if I ever want to experience true change – true triumph – I can’t entertain those excuses. I have to treat this journey the same way I treated my career. I managed to fight and claw my way up into the coveted minority of working writers just by obeying the “No Plan B” rule. It was all or nothing. I went for broke. I accepted no alternative.

If I could do that, then this other stuff is a piece of cake. Unlike my career, which depends on a thousand of variables out of my control, my body is my domain. These results are completely, totally, entirely dependent upon me.

Perhaps that’s what makes it so damn scary.

But there’s no Plan B. So scared or not, I’m out on that high wire, no safety net, no margin of error.

I can make it happen. And so I will.