Mother’s Day is an occasion that always gives me pause since I spent most of my childhood struggling to survive in a household ruled by a monster (AKA my abusive mother). For anyone who thinks my descriptor is a bit harsh, I can assure you it’s not. What my sister and I endured while growing up was quite horrific in regard to the constant abuse we suffered—along with the lies we were forced to cover-up on behalf of dear ol’ mom.
I have a vivid memory of a time I tried to report the abuse to the police. Because it was many years ago (and because we, as a society, didn’t know better at the time) they dismissed my claims (since the bulk of the abuse wasn’t physical) and refused to investigate. Imagine a young teen hanging up the phone and turning to said abuser (my mother in this case) who had just heard me make the call. I get chills thinking about incidents like these. But still, I’ve made a vow to never suppress them or pretend as if they didn’t take place.
As faithful readers of this blog know, I spent most of my young life morbidly obese. I started to gain weight around first grade and by the time I graduated college weighed over 450 pounds. I imagine some mental health professionals might attribute this to creating a layer of protection to shield me from any relationship that I thought might cause me more—or continued—harm. This is not to say I didn’t struggle to lose this “layer of protection” throughout my childhood (even though I knew it made my mother livid to have an obese child given her penchant for telling people I had a disease that caused weight gain as opposed to simply confessing that I overate).
Once a young adult living on my own, I eventually realized that I had to let go of the mental weight (mostly comprised of memories of abuse) before I could let go of the physical weight. But even though I accomplished the goal of shedding the excess weight (and have remained a healthy weight since), I never want to forget what my sister and I went through. This is not to say I have a victim mentality. I wouldn’t encourage that in myself or anyone else. But an attitude of “acceptance” has proved most healing.
This happened. The abuse happened. It was real.
These days I can go for long periods of time without thinking about the abuse that my sister and I suffered (even though some of its after effects have been far reaching). But when “holidays” like Mother’s Day roll around, I can’t help but get a pit in my stomach when I see commercial-friendly media images that show mother and child (infant, toddler, teen or otherwise) living their happiest moments on screen or in print. I never knew this kind of relationship with my own mother. The concept remains foreign to me even to this day.
As for my mother being a “monster,” in hindsight I’ve come to accept that my mother was likely mentally ill given her outrageous behavior—which makes the real monsters other family members who, even though well aware of my mom’s actions, left my sister and I alone with her to raise us. I share this not out of spite, remorse or even sadness. But in an effort to let others who’ve had similar experiences know they’re not the only ones.
Many people breathe a sigh of relief when they learn what my sister and I lived through—because they were raised under similar circumstances. To talk about these issues doesn’t mean our goal is to demonize our parents. But abuse is abuse. And underage children often have no choice but to endure it—and to hopefully survive it. But even as adults—even when free from our abusers—we sometimes still have to make a conscious choice to continue to survive it. Especially on occasions when many are celebrating their mothers, which can potentially leave many adult survivors of child abuse feeling like we are weird, undeserving or, perhaps, as if we were in some way responsible for our tragic circumstances.
So yes—the occasion of Mother’s Day makes me somber. But it also reminds me that my sister and I—and so many of you—are survivors. We have all faced major challenges in our lives. Some on the outside, some from the inside. But we can continue to overcome these challenges (even the ones that still sometimes haunt us).
These days, when shopping for Mother’s Day cards, I pick up several. One card is for my sister, who’s managed to break the cycle of abuse and is an amazing mother to two beautiful children. And the additional cards are for other nurturing influences in my life who’ve taught me that a mother’s love can arrive in many forms (and from many different people). My self-defined version of Mother’s Day is definitely worthy of celebration. And yours can be, too. As long as its observed in a way that honors your fortitude—in addition to paying heed to moms of all kinds (perhaps even those, like mine, who were mentally ill and, maybe—just maybe—doing the best they knew how to do).
Even though winter isn’t quite behind us, I like to think of this early portion of the year as a great time for spring cleaning. So once my holiday decorations were finally tucked away, I turned my sights on the rest of my home – including my overstuffed home office, which had become a catchall for anything that didn’t have a proper ‘home’ within my home.
As I wiped away dust and opened up boxes and bags with all sorts of stuff in them (much of which I’d placed onto their respective areas of the office floor several months ago when moving into my current home), I realized I’d let too much clutter build up over the years. Here I was, finally going through the odds n’ ends that I’d said I would go through right after the move. But hey, no time like the present, right?
A lot of what I came across could now be classified as ‘junk’ that could be given away, donated or given a permanent home in the circular file (the trash bin). But there were some things that did warrant keeping and finding a home for. Thus, my attention turned to my crowded bookshelves, most of which were stuffed full.
Upon closer examination, I saw that my shelves were filled with many books that not only had never been read, but also really had no place in my collection. Many of these were “quick gimmick” diet books and “self help” mumbo jumbo. Now, don’t get me wrong – there are many diet and self-help books that are written by legitimate sources. But I’m talking about a (mostly) collection of over-the-top, quick fix-style books that would lead most to failure long before success. (Why? Because there are no shortcuts and you can’t trick your body – or your brain – for long.)
But even though I knew better, and even though I’d sensibly taken off my excess weight over a decade ago (and kept it off since), my fat head and fat brain kept buying these ‘quick fix’ books that I’d been addicted to during my heavy years (nay – heavy decades).
Although I knew these books were written mostly to make a buck and take advantage of the dieter (or person with heartache or would-be goal reacher), I kept buying them. And even though I wouldn’t read them (or at least wouldn’t get past the first couple of pages), I held onto these useless books for years, in hopes, perhaps, that their mere presence on my shelves would somehow magically make all of my goals (including weight loss) come true.
Needless to say, these books didn’t work for anything more than collecting dust and taking up much needed space. But even though I knew this on one level, I was afraid to get rid of them on another – even today, over a decade after I’d taken off over 250 pounds.
But that was then. And this was now. I decided I was going to be brave and send a big message to myself, my brain, my belly – and the universe – by getting rid of all these quick fix books that not only didn’t work, but that are often the cause for us dieters receiving very mixed messages about meeting goals and losing weight.
I’m not going to lie to you. As I pulled these books off the shelves (fighting the dust clouds I was creating) and put them in boxes I would later bring to my local donation center, I felt very frightened – again as if I would break some kind of spell and, perhaps, even gain back all 250 pounds that I’d lost.
Once the shelves were clear – and even after I’d replaced the books with necessary objects and even some legitimate books from other areas of the office – I was still haunted by the two boxes of books that I’d cleared away. They knew their time was nigh and they tried to tempt me with the outlandish promises made on their covers. What was I going to do if I needed a 3-day diet? To lose weight eating just cabbage or drinking lemonade? Or to win hearts by being ruthless? Or get fit by only exercising 10 minutes a week?
It was with much bravery and a caffeine buzz that I finally delivered these boxes to my local donation center. Sure, I wanted to add a warning to every cover. But at the same time, I didn’t want to contribute to a landfill. The point is, I cleared them away from my space and, more importantly, my head.
To my surprise, when I returned home, I felt freer and more confident than ever. I hadn’t lost my weight (or kept it off) with any of these books that offered success with little to no work involved. Nor had I won any hearts or met any goals with ‘3 simple steps’ (or whatever). I’d used common sense, balance and my own self worth to meet all of my goals. No quick fixes – or books meant to rip us off through false promises – necessary.
I must admit that I was intrigued that I would have to wrestle with such a decision even today. But keeping my past in mind (along with what did and did not contribute to my weight gain as well as overcoming it) keeps me sane today. It’s weird, but I feel like I’m breathing a little easier in my home office now – having let all of those ‘false crutches’ fall to the wayside (or weigh-side, as the case may be). Along with reminding me of my own inner strength, clearing out these ultimately useless books reminds me that even maintaining my healthy weight cannot be done through gimmicks or quick fixes. And that’s a really wonderful thing to be reminded of during spring cleaning – no matter which time of year you’re doing it in.
For some tips on clearing away clutter: Click Here
What are you sitting on, keeping in your home or hoarding on your shelves that might be holding you back, psychologically? Anything you need to get rid of? Any de-cluttering you need encouragement on? I’d love to know. After all, one man’s junk is another man’s blogpost. So do tell.
Image Source: houselogic
Now that we’re further into January (AKA a most popular month for dieting), I’m reminded of a disturbing trend in the billion dollar diet industry—albeit one that has been pervasive for years. I refer to it as the “Light Switch Mentality” that’s being sold by many organizations, programs, books and so-called experts who proclaim that to lose excess weight, you (we) should be on a diet. But this kind of thinking often leads to the opposite of being on… Being off.
Certainly being on or off has become part of the dieting vernacular. But in my humble opinion, it’s a way of thinking that can potentially lead to more weight gain than weight loss. In fact, it’s while many of us with a dieter’s mentality are on our diets that we’re focused on when we plan on going off. It’s a mindset we’ve been sold as the way to success, when in reality, it can be the way to put on extra pounds.
As someone who started gaining excess weight around first grade, and whose parents immediately took me to a doctor who put me on a strict diet (yes, even at a very young age), I can attest to the fact that the on/off cycle contributed to my continuing to gain weight throughout my youth. Sure, I would take off a few pounds (when I was on). But then I would gain even more weight back (when I was off). By the time I graduated from college, I was clocking in at over 450 pounds. And this was after years and years of constant dieting—the very thing that was supposed to be helping me was actually doing more harm than good.
Thankfully, I was able to remove myself from this cycle after my home electronic scale started reading “ERR” (its internal code for error, since it was not programmed to register any weight above 400 pounds). It’s when I stopped thinking of “dieting” (and being on and off of one) and started embracing healthy eating that I began to make some real headway. Within a year’s time I had dropped most of my excess weight. And sure, I yo-yoed up and down the scale for a couple years after that. I was, after all, recovering from a lifetime of “on and off” behavior. But once I nailed it (reaching a healthy weight for my height and body frame), I’ve stayed at this weight for well over a decade.
But this is where I quickly bring up that damned light switch thinking again. Because many people who see my before pictures want to know my secret to losing over 250 pounds of excess weight without any kind of surgery or medication. They’re not too thrilled when I tell them the secrets are eating less, moving more, getting plenty of sleep and drinking enough water (AKA common sense). And they sometimes go onto register abject horror when I tell them I have to keep all of these mandates in mind even today (otherwise right back up the scale I’d go).
Successfully losing excess weight has nothing to do with a light switch. There’s never a time that we should be on or off. If we’re prone to gaining weight or if we choose to lose excess weight to benefit our mental and physical health, then it’s going to take some work. This doesn’t mean food plans can’t be extremely helpful. But whether we choose to have a salad for lunch or even if we opt to have some ice cream for dessert, we’ve got to always think about portion size and ingredient content (yes, even when it comes to the salad).
This doesn’t have to mean we are always on and never off. Instead, we can adopt new mindsets and start living life as healthy minded individuals. You know—like those those fantastical types who can eat half a donut and then declare they’re full. (Yes, even I’m dumbfounded by this kind of behavior to this day.) But what these people know that we do not, is that they can have another donut (or whatever) in due time. But those of us on the endless on/off cycle of dieting often think, “I will be on my diet tomorrow (or Monday or come January 1st),” so I better have eighteen donuts today.
On. Off. Not always helpful.
Healthy thinking. A move in the right direction.
And healthy thinking can include well made (meaning clean ingredient) treats that can be easily and moderately worked into our eating plans—whether we’re taking off excess pounds or simply maintaining a healthy body weight.
Although somewhat baffling, this can be triumphant news if we allow it to be. Thinking less of on and off can mean reduced shame and self-punishment (also part of many dieting cycles, mentally speaking). Fact is, you are beautiful at your current weight (inside and out). If you choose to get healthier and drop some of the excess weight, then do so in a fashion that embraces all that life has to offer and try leaving the on/off Light Switch Mentality behind.
At the risk of an eye roll or two, what do you have to lose?
Photo Source: Zazzle