Guilt on the Side

I’m tired of being 5’11”, 167 pounds, and still feeling like I still live in my 14-year-old 235-pound body – my inner Fat Kid. (I think he actually ate my Ego.)

The summer between 9th & 10th grade, I lost 40 lbs. I went from being a weird, nerdy, insecure, smelly 235lb 13-year-old kid who only wore “husky” sweatpants and baggy shirts (to hide the chesticles) to being a weird, nerdy, insecure, slightly less smelly 190lb 14-year-old. And no, I wasn’t into P90X before it was cool. (Newsflash: it will never be cool, so stop writing about it on Facebook, people named Eric.)

I owe that relatively astounding & ultimately life-saving drop of elbees to my sister, who was diagnosed with anorexia in spring of that year. In fairness, the fam knew something was not right, but in our little town, eating disorders were not widely discussed. She was down to 68 lbs (even at 4’10” that’s not a sustainable weight) and had started growing fur all over as her body’s survival instincts to keep warm started to kick in. It took her collapsing in shock at the bus stop one morning at school & a concerned school nurse to get her to the right medical professionals & to be diagnosed.

Not that I find her disease to have been a good thing just because it led to my transformative summer. In no way was her challenge a healthy one. It was a cloud, a pall of frustration & embarrassment & worry over our heads for years later. But if you can’t grow by going through that type of thing, then you’re doing it wrong (along with a lot of other things, probably).

For all the agony that summer and the years leading up to it contained, it was the turning point in our knowledge about food. Nutrition Facts had only recently become de rigeur, and at 235lbs I obviously couldn’t stop eating boxes of Wild Berry Pop Tarts long enough to examine that panel, let alone translate the numbers into anything useful… and useful was loosely defined as delicious for me at that time. And the parents? Forget it. Food was food, and the faster and cheaper and easier it was to feed us, the better. Aside from the occasional seasonal tomato (for 5 Minute BLTs on white Wonder bread slathered with mayo, of course), the main color of our fridge’s interior was soda-caramel-brown; we used the “Crisper” drawer to hold a case of soda, and I just thought that was the model name of our fridge, like a car. Our pantry was a New Mexican sunset of clay reds & mustard yellows & unnatural purples, Betty Crocker scalloped potato AND brownie mixes, Hamburger Helper, Tuna Helper, Little Debbie, Hostess, Lays, KoolAid… Basically we bought food that had someone else’s name or charismatic cartoon character on it. There wasn’t a whole grain or unrefined flour to be found. Scratch was not a type of cooking, it was only something you did to your ass or balls when it was hot out.

I was addicted to eating that way. Did it for 14 years. And we honestly didn’t know any other way to do it. (I certainly didn’t, and if the parental units did, they chose the path we were on in spite of it.) So the addiction (which maybe now I could downgrade to an extreme affinity) to that sort of food, whether it’s mental or chemical, is still there.

That spring my sister spent two months in the hospital, learning the skills she (okay, we) needed to eat enough of the right kinds of foods. For better or worse, we learned later that her main concern with food was about control: she refused to be told by Mom or Dad that she had to eat, what to eat, when to eat; so in order for us to know that she was getting the right nutrition, we ALL had to learn what the right nutrition was.

In my mental movie of this life, the transition happened so fast that I barely even remember it, but it seems that almost overnight, the soda was replaced by cans of Ensure or Boost or Slimfast (the band aid solution to being able to count calories and track nutrient mix for her until we all got up to speed on just how shittily we were doing as eaters). Then the 2% milk became skim milk, and was even (briefly) replaced by soy milk. (This was still mid-90s in rural Pennsylvania though, so it was long before there was “milk from beans” that didn’t actually taste ironically like a cow’s asshole; hence the brevity of its appearance.) Then, in what seemed a remarkable shift in the palette of our kitchen’s canvas, there was color… naturally-occurring, found-on-trees-or-leaves, non-Looney Tunes-related colors. Salad. Fruit. Wheat bread. Vegetables that DIDN’T come out of a box. It was like living 100% Warhol for 13 years and then discovering, oh, I don’t know, EVERY OTHER ARTIST THAT EVER LIVED.

So gradually, I started to shed some weight. I no longer looked like the really fat Keebler elf that bakes delicious treats in a magic tree that somehow never burns down even though there are elven bakers living in its insides. I started to more closely resemble Theodore from Alvin & the Chipmunks, only slightly taller & with longer shirts. And I felt so much better about myself, which got me fully invested in dropping more weight, creating a virtuous cycle that, eventually, became most of the food habits I still have today.

Slightly smaller chesticles, and the possibility of them going away completely, weren’t the only reasons I was investing in this less convenient & significantly less fun meal plan (there is something entertaining about eating M&Ms by the handful). Being the nerd that I was (okay, am), I really became obsessed with the numbers & the math & the science behind nutrition, metabolism, weight loss, etc. I began counting calories, tracking nutrient mixes, and genuinely thinking about eating instead of just eating what I was given or eating because I was bored. It gave the analytical side of me something to do every time I encountered food, which was quite often.

But it wasn’t easy giving up the fun foods. I started to feel incredibly guilty every time I ate something that I knew my sister wouldn’t have even thought about eating, which was a very long list of all my favorite things. In my head I knew if she wouldn’t eat it, it couldn’t possibly be good for me, but I still craved them. Unknowingly, she was a huge source of dissonance for me. (No hard feelings though – only now am I even aware that that happened, and the guilt couldn’t have come along without the life-saving change to healthier options. They’re like matched luggage.)

And I went about managing that dissonance in exactly the wrong way: I deprived myself of them as long as I possibly could, and then when I found myself confronted with them & no access to a healthy option (I.e. School pizza parties or birthdays), I over-ate like no other. Friends from high school have stories of watching me eat a whole pizza, multiple foot long subs, bags of Doritos, cases of Pepsi, boxes of Little Debbie, barnyards of McNuggets… All with a dollop of guilt slathered on top like a condiment. Tasted great on the way down, but the taste of mental anguish lingered for HOURS afterward. That type of avoid-resist-indulge-binge-hate cycle is exactly what defines addiction, and its key side effect is Guilt.

The guilt still sits with me. The addiction to shitty food and its associated guilt are huge parts of my daily internal monologue. There is still a fat kid inside me.

Over the years & with lots of research and experimentation, I’ve finally figured out the path around those pitfall moments, but the negative feelings surrounding those foods are omnipresent. The knowledge we gained eliminated any possibility of the ignorant bliss I need to be able to actually enjoy most of them. I can’t really even look at the bakery case at ShopRite without triggering the craving, fighting to resist the craving, and then hating myself a little bit for even having the craving itself – even if I completely succeed in fending it off. How f’ed up is that?!?!? I can’t even let myself LOOK at a baked good without some level of self hatred? That, my friends, is what the French call Le Bullshitte.

In my humble opinion, Life without muffins and chocolate cake would not be worth living. But not being able to enjoy them without self-imposed psychic damage is, arguably, a worse proposition. What it means is that I still struggle with the self-loathing fat kid in me, and will always struggle if I don’t forgive myself (and the Fam) for ever being a fat kid in the first place.

So I am forgiving myself. Three reasons:
A) I never chose that lifestyle or that body in a conscious way.
2) Behind Regret, Guilt is the second biggest waste of energy in the world (Glenn Beck is a close third).
D) I don’t want my daughter (or any of my loved ones) to pick up such a useless attitude towards the food that can be such a wonderful, simple & available source of pleasure.

I’ll take one giant Chocolate Chocolate Chip muffin please. Leave the Guilt on the side.

Team Eckhart

I just finished reading Eckhart Tolle’s “The New Earth”. It’s a significant event, because I rarely even venture into the land of New Age books, as Borders would undoubtedly classify this, and as such this book would long have stayed out of my purview were it not for life’s intervention. In this particular case, I have my wife, my sister, and Oprah to thank for conspiring to put this book in front of my face… Powerful women, all, so it’s no wonder that, after reading & reflecting on E.T.’s work, I too feel more “powerful”.

Here’s why.

His life, as explained in the book, is not what you & I, the unenlightened might call “life” at all. His consciousness has evolved. In his world, life is a series of things. Things that happen, things that you consume, build, lust after, chase, get, don’t get, etc. It’s literally all clutter. This is not Life, a separate definition that is hard to denote with any letters, even a Capital L. As he would express it, Life just is. The things of the lowercase life are all constructs, are all structures created by our dearest friend & most insecure friend, Monsieur Ego, in a constant & desperate effort to justify his own existence. We do not need Ego to accomplish our purpose in life. Ego actually runs counter plots to this true purpose by convincing us that he is the one in charge & that his desires are what matters. Our purpose is to simply live Life, the Life that Oprah would call her Best Life, by realizing we are all Beings, and as such we are all connected to a higher Being, which E.T. describes variously with apropos but loaded words like Truth, Consciousness, Awareness, God, Self and Life.

He claims that we, before attaining consciousness (which he explains in such adroit fashion as to encompass and equalize most of the world’s religions), create and destroy in the futility of the act of defining ourselves & everything in our world on some meter or scale or reference point. My favorite part of this dialog is his discussion of how nothing is actually Better or Bigger until you decide it’s so. I totally can’t do it justice at the moment, since i only read it once & neglected to take notes. Just take it from me that this was one of the many aha!- like moments I had in the course of his 300 pages: every measurement requires a point of reference, and since society is full of Beings with independent points of reference, yours is the only one that matters, which simultaneously means that none of them do (let’s all stop short of spiraling down into the dystopic argument that society can’t function without some shared givens). There is no Good or Bad, but thinking that makes it so.

But consider that every Being is born and has a spark of life – and that, my friends, is where the similarities end. The only thing we “know” is that we are alive and others are alive. If we can realize that, accept that, and act as though it were the only Truth, everything else that causes us discontent melts away.

The most freeing section in the whole book is where he relates that to action and time. When you accept that the world and time are constructs in which you are forced to participate physically but do NOT define who you are, because YOU are more than your actions, all the risk to You/Self is moot and it’s only your Ego at play that makes you act differently. What you choose to do in any given moment is exactly the right thing to do if you are aware of the choice. Put simply, the only moment there ever is is Now, and the only Action required is the one you choose.

That is a concept that made me fall off the couch. That is some Ninja shit right there. I feel like I earned a blackbelt in like thirty different isms all at once.

Here’s where it can go a little sideways for those less introspective than even I am. Realizing that, accepting that, acting on that… In short, thinking about it (or anything for that matter) is still a lowercase life. Thinking is all Ego. Getting in touch with Life, though, is “simpler” than that. He gives us a few activities to try in the book, but my go-to kata is this: close your eyes and just feel the blood, heat & energy I your fingertips. (I learned focused breath in college yoga classes, so I take for granted that this is easy; I highly recommend learning this technique if for no other reason than it’s ability to quell anxiety & get me to sleep at night). Then let that awareness slowly creep out into your hands, into your arms, your shoulders, your core, the top of your head… that sort of trancelike state you enter when you can honestly feel that energy & not act or think about anything else… that is the Awareness with a Capital A that E.T. says connects us all. It’s the only thing that connects us all, but the point is that we are all connected. However you choose to manifest that Life, whatever God you choose (if any), whatever clothes you wear, whether you’re for Team Edward or Team Jacob (note from my Ego: I am the only guy who would even ATTEMPT to mix Eckhart Tolle and Twilight, and therefore I am awesome), all those decisions are yours and all of them insignificant in the pursuit of Life, Happiness, Zen, Nirvana, Heaven, or Valhalla (what up Nordic readers!).

All you gotta do is let go. The only moment there ever is is Now, and the only Action required is the one you choose. There is no Good or Bad, but thinking that makes it so.

I apologize for the heady meta vapors you’re now wafting in, but this post serves three purposes. First and foremost, to document my own thoughts on this book. It hasn’t turned me into Superman or Oprah or even Dr. Phil, but whatever potential I had that I felt was untapped or that I wasn’t “allowed” to tap, which caused me to worry I was wasting myself, or at least that others were thinking I was wasting myself… Well, none of that matters. And holy jumping Jesus in a jumpsuit did it make a difference in my life.

Second purpose of this post is to tell you about it. Spread the germs of consciousness, I suppose. Without becoming an evangelist, I will simply say that, if you can hang with his meta-analysis (or at least aren’t totally turned off by the words meta-analysis), you will get something of value out of reading it.

Third purpose is to publicly acknowledge and accept that I am more than the sum of my actions, and so is everyone else. That, inevitably, leads to forgiveness, which is a surprising word at this time in my life. I’m afraid that’s a horse of a different color, though, so I’m postponing further public exploration of that.

My thanks to the many different Muses that manifested that book & granted me the good fortune to be able to read it. Hopefully at least one other person will choose the same experience.