Monday, June 16, 2014

What I've Learned

This is my family, circa 1979. As far as I know it's the last group shot of all of us together--mom, dad, 5 kids.

This is the remnant of wholeness I tried to cling to my entire childhood.

And into adulthood. Let's not mince words.

My parents divorced just before I turned 5. My father died 2 and a half years later, the spring before I turned 8.

Poof. Just like that.

With Fathers Day being just yesterday, I wanted to post a few things about what my dad taught me. Because for years, if anyone had asked, I would have told them that I never learned anything from my father. How could I? He wasn't around most of my life, and the part he was around for I don't remember. Really. I have precious few memories of anything before 3rd grade.

This is the family I grew up with. Us kids and Mom. This is what I remember. We weren't always so dressed up, or pleasant, or goofy (looking at me down there) but it was the 6 of us.

I missed my dad like you wouldn't believe. I missed what I didn't know--which doesn't make a lot of sense but I missed what I thought I should have. Even dysfunctional, even apart from us, I wanted a dad.

If you were raising a family around me during my childhood and happened to be a dad, I apologize. I was very hard on the dads around me. I held them to an almost impossible standard, and was unforgiving of their faults. If they screwed up, it took months or years to get back into my theoretical good graces.

I didn't realize it at the time, but I was forming a list of the qualities I wanted my kids to have in their dad. And I was a tough, tough taskmaster.

I don't want to sit here and idealize my father. He made mistakes, and some of those mistakes cost him dearly. But he wasn't the villain in the story. Everyone makes mistakes, and we don't get to choose the consequences. Sometimes it's a far heavier price than we'd like to bear.

It took me years, almost into my 30's, before I finally stopped looking at my dad's death as something that happened to me and saw it as something that happened to him. In the months and years before he died he was in constant pain. Yet he worked anyway because he had family to provide for. So when he got home he was tired, hurting like I can't even comprehend, and it made him grumpy. For a long time I looked at my father's legacy as that one time I can remember him yelling at me. My single memory of him. And it wasn't enough.

Now, though, I can look back and understand that in some ways his death was a release for him. It's not something he would have chosen, even as miserable as he was, but I imagine his pain only getting worse with age and how miserable his existence would have been had he lived to my adulthood. I can see the mercy there.

And I can see what he taught me. First, my father taught me to make the most of every moment, and to make the little moments precious. You never know when you're going to go (42 is NOT that old, after all) so you need to make the most of the moments you have. Your last day on earth could come in 70 years, or it could come tomorrow. We just don't know. Your time is precious--don't waste it.

He also taught me that the world goes on. The day we got the news that he'd died was the worst day of my life. I remember watching my mom cry all over the phone receiver and knowing it was bad, feeling that deep, sinking feeling inside me. Bawling all over my brother in the recliner. Wishing that it was a lie, that someone was wrong, that he wasn't dead.

But the sun set on that day and rose the next morning. We got up, dusted ourselves off, and after a while started living again. We grew up, married, started families, took vacations, and lived our lives. And we're still doing it.

The hard truth is part of the person I am today came about because my father died when I was seven years old. The underlying strength, the determination, the appreciation of seemingly unimportant moments. I look at life differently than a lot of people, especially those who have not had this experience (not that I recommend it!). And if I'm going to be okay with the person I am, then I have to be okay with the path that brought me here.

Because the view from here is spectacular.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Celebrate You

There's something you should probably know. I haven't wanted to share this because of all the guilt and embarrassment that goes along with such a confession. In fact, I'd rather nobody ever talks about this ever again.

But you could say I'm taking my doctor's advice on this one. And because so much of my life is public, I'm sharing publicly.

This time last year I went to the dr and weighed in at 237 lbs. Today at that same dr, on her same scale, I weighed 157.

Quick math here. That's a loss of 80 lbs. That's like, an 8 or 9 yr old. Seriously.

There's so much that went into that weight gain. So much emotional trauma, depression, hurt, pain--all the wahookey associated with self loathing. And it all hit me pretty hard right around the time my first novel was published, which affected how I marketed said novel--so pathetically most people don't even know it exists. I still believe in my book but I missed that precious marketing window.

Which of course added to the pain/trauma/weight issue.

Finally I woke up. I say finally but we're really talking about three years. For a lot of people that's not a long time to be overweight. And many people may make light of it because they've been heavier longer. But we're talking about me, and I had hit bottom. I got scared. I was sick of being tired and sleeping half the day away. I was sick of not accomplishing goals and having to thrift shop for bigger clothes every few months. I didn't want to shorten my quality and quantity of life any more than I already had.

So I took a drastic step. I'd tried other things half heartedly with little to no success. This time I committed. Thousands of dollars, I won't lie. And it was hard. Spending that kind of money on myself was like pulling out all my teeth without anesthetic. Hard. There have been days I have questioned why I did it. There have been days I've wondered about the logic of it all.

But it wasn't surgery. It's a food plan. A health plan. A way to re-learn how I look at food and how to use it properly. At first it was pretty easy to stay on plan and watch the scale tick down. It got harder. We hit a serious financial wall and I had to go off the plan for a bit. Going back on and staying faithful has been really, really rough. Right now as I type this just 10 lbs short of my goal I feel like I want to quit. Again. I won't--I'll stick it out and see it through, but it's been incredibly hard.

It's taken a lot of my focus. Focus that could have gone into writing and publishing books. That's why we're talking about this on my author blog--not because I want everyone to applaud my success, but because I want to explain to the majority of my readers who have been clamoring for the next book I've promised and promised (and have yet to deliver). Some days it was all I could do to stick to this new learning plan, my "classes" so to speak. And, naturally, parenthood comes first, so my kids' needs supersede my readers needs. I don't apologize for that, but I do wish there were more hours in the day.

But as I sat there today in my doctor's office and she kept wow-ing over my weight loss all I could say was that I was embarrassed that I'd let it get so out of control. Some things were in my power to change, some weren't. My reactions were ALWAYS in my power to change. Basically, I made a choice to get fat. I made a choice to lose the weight.

So my doctor pointed out, as my physician, that that sort of negative thinking wasn't healthy. It wasn't a helping or healing mentality and it doesn't do anyone any good. And I have to wonder why we do these things to ourselves? Instead of looking at a success with a sense of accomplishment, we nitpick how we could have made it better. We downplay our efforts and our successes.

Why do we do that? Most people don't have a fan club that follows us around cheering our accomplishments. Sometimes we have to be our own cheerleaders. But we don't. Why? Because we're taught boasting is wrong. But are we boasting? I don't walk up to strangers and say, "Hi. I've lost 80 lbs. What did you do this year?"

Significant weight loss is a difficult thing to hide. I've gotten a lot of attention for it. That's not why I did it. I'm nobody's poster child for anything.

Look, this has gotten a bit long winded but what I really want you to do is stop and think. What have you accomplished today? This week? This year? Did you grow a human? Did you publish a book? Did you manage to keep your kids alive and the house standing for one more day?

Congratulations. Throw some confetti in the air and celebrate. Celebrate you, because you're worth it.