As the popular Christmas tune reminds us, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”—assuming that running around like a chicken (partridge?) with its head cut off equates to “Wonderful.”
Even with this seasonal mayhem, I confess that I’m the person who secretly plays Christmas music over my earbuds while working out in November. But I also admit that once Thanksgiving hits, life can feel like a rollercoaster racing toward December 25th at a record pace. It’s as if we’re suddenly contestants on a manic game show and must complete an inordinate amount of tasks in order to not be disqualified (and/or disappoint friends and family members who might be counting on us to make their season bright—no matter which winter-inspired holidays we observe).
As someone who extolls the virtues of being present and taking time for one’s self (something that was essential to my taking off 250 pounds of excess weight and keeping it off), I often need reminders to stay mentally present more than anyone during this time of year. This was recently proven yet again when recently attending a friend’s Christmas get together.
This wasn’t a work-related occasion. Nor was it a huge party that had the potential to leave one feeling lost or inconsequential. This truly was a simple gathering among close friends with the sole purpose of enjoying twinkling lights and good company. There was also amazing food and drink (count me in for that—even if it would require some extra time on the treadmill to offset the extra calories).
It was the following morning (while working out at the gym) that I started thinking about this small party that occurred the night before—realizing that I hadn’t actually been fully present (mentally) at the event. Sure, I was there. And I ate, drank and made merry. I talked to friends and even inquired sincerely as to what was currently going on in their lives. But I also remember going over my “December to-do lists” in my head while talking and listening.
Similarly, I was concerned about what time I would get to bed since I knew I had a busy schedule the following day. I was also thinking about the foster kitten I had at home. And a million other things that I had going on—even though it would have been perfectly fine to set all of that mental anguish aside for a few hours so that I could have been fully present at said get together. Instead, I was in a sort of “no man’s land”—neither fully in my head or fully enjoying the time with my friends.
Realizing this initially left me feeling sad. And then, remembering that shame is no one’s ally, I decided to use the realization to make me glad. Mainly because this realization could help me recognize that as much as I want to be present (“in the moment” as it were), that I can be as guilty as anyone else when it comes to getting distracted by an overfull agenda.
By not being fully present with friends (in a lovely setting with amazing food and drink), I wasn’t allowing myself to be in the moment and enjoy the respite from life’s busy-ness. Had I accomplished being there 100%, I might have even woken up with a clearer head the morning after—better able to handle all of the important tasks that needed to be taken care of.
These helpful reminders make this an appropriate moment to re-introduce the old adage that “Less (thinking) is more.” Sure, we all have a lot to do. And yes, there never seems to be enough time in our days (during the holiday rush or at other times of the year) to fully embrace all that’s going on. But that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to be fully present during all aspects of life (yes, even when at the grocery store or dry cleaners—and especially when participating in what has the potential to be an enjoyable event). Living in the now is a gift we can give ourselves again and again (making it an acceptable re-gift).
Try inserting quiet moments into your day to help bring yourself back to the here and now. I attempt to make a habit of this when getting in and getting out of my car. For others, my car check-in might translate to checking in with yourself on a bus or while on the subway—or maybe when you sit down at or get up from your workstation. No matter where you decide to do it, take a quiet moment, just a few seconds really, and breathe in and out several times. Close your eyes if you can. And as you breathe in, think “In.” And as you breathe out, think “Out.”
Breathing in and out just 3 to 5 times sequentially can bring your mind and body back in sync—and, therefore, your entire self back to the here and now. This mental state is where we all want to be in order to achieve peace of mind—not to mention be our most productive and to get the most out of every aspect of life.
It’s when embodying presence in every aspect of our lives that the popular Christmas tune referenced earlier has the potential to become reality—truly making it the most wonderful time of the year (no matter what time of year the calendar says it is).
Photo Credit: Obesity Goodbye
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