Monday, April 25, 2011

Study Break 2011:2

The beach is restorative; the wind, the waves, the unrelenting tide. The rhythmic, persistent motion sets everything in perspective.

I have set up camp here just a few feet from the shore and tonight I walked. For a decade now I've been coming to this same place. Ten years ago I was in a very different place in life - the mere fact that I was in my late thirties rather than my late forties is huge. My eldest was only eleven, the current age of my youngest.

Life has progressed in surprising ways.

Most every time I have walked this beach, I have done so with questions. This is the place I come to open the floodgates, to dump the truck, to do the internal work that is impossible to do in the quick pace of life. On many occasions there have been rich conversations with those who know me best as we walked together; my mom, my dad, my brother and sister-in-law. My husband. My kids.

Tonight, I walked and tried to assess exactly where I was, emotionally and physically. Looking at My Life, I began to  consider which act I was in, what scene was playing out....I came to a few conclusions:
  • In a few short weeks, I will be 48 years old. That sounds so old, but perhaps that is because I am considering that number from a 20-year-old's perspective. Back then, 48 WAS old. Now, it just is what it is. I have lived every one of those years, and as I walked the sand tonight it occurred to me that it might be entirely possible that I have only lived half of my life. It would be a stretch, for sure, but I could make it to 96. In which case I have a lot of time left!
  • For the first time in my life, I feel and look my age. This is disturbing to me. It probably shouldn't be. I imagine it's a matter of pride, perspective and priorities.
  • I have carried a cloud with me daily for the past few months. It is a constant source of mild depression, discontent, sadness; a feeling of disappointment. It is always with me. I have wondered if it is, indeed, depression. Tonight, I think I came face to face with the truth. I think it is a cloud of disappointment centered on my physical health and appearance. 
    • Item one: Around the age of 10 or 11, I was exposed to pornography; naked women in seductive (and airbrushed) poses. The expectation was set early on in terms of what a woman ought to look like. The images seared into my brain, and though somewhat dimmed, the impact on my young, impressionable psyche has never completely faded. A women should be slim, voluptuous and taut. I'm a LOT healthier than I used to be regarding my self-image, but some things never completely fade away. My ideal has always been skewed.
    • Item two: I've always been tall and relatively slim. For most of the last decade, I've been pretty consistent with exercise and I've been healthy. Never quite matched up to the early messages about body image, but I was slim, healthy and content.
    • Item three: In the past two years, I've added about 20 pounds to what was a healthy weight. Exercise hasn't been a priority. I've had some pretty stressful life passages, and I'm a stress eater. 
    • Finally, here's the deal: Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I think to myself is this: I am fat. I've never "had" to lose weight. I've never dealt with a metabolism that didn't function at a high level. Now suddenly (but not really; it's been a slow creep), I am buying the next-larger-size and feeling uncomfortable in my clothes. And I find myself dumbfounded by it all. Which is sort of ridiculous; I know the formula. More food+less exercise=more calories stored=heavier weight. It's a no-brainer. But for me, it's become this huge emotional anvil.
I feel like a failure. I'm so far from that ideal woman that I don't know exactly what to think of myself. If I can't stay fit and trim, am I still valuable? People have always said to me, "I can't believe you have FIVE kids! You look GREAT!" But nobody says that any more. And what if I never hear that again?

(I think I have some pride issues to deal with here).

And here's another big issue for me, what started to unfold as I walked tonight, and what - I think - is behind the sudden tears that have been lurking (and sneaking out) behind my day-to-day composure. I feel like everybody I know is looking at me and thinking, "Damn. That girl is letting herself go. Beth is putting on some weight. Beth is getting fat."

It's ridiculous. I have an over-inflated sense of my own importance. But part of this time away has to work through the layers of what is keeping me from being healthy, and this is huge. I have this feeling that everywhere I am - work, home, the grocery store, teaching, shopping - people are looking at me and wondering why I'm letting myself go. I realize that this is about my own insecurity, but at the bottom of all of this paranoia is the sense that I'm letting everybody down. People are disappointed in me. I'm disappointing the entire world.

I think this has something to do with being in the public eye, in a large church in a small community. I sometimes feel so responsible, in an unhealthy way. And that, I think, is part of what I need to work through tomorrow morning. And I am  responsible, for many things. But when it comes to my health, my self, my responsibility is to me, I suppose. And it just confounds me.

    7 comments:

    WhatAboutNovember said...

    One thing I find interesting is the phrase "letting oneself go". That gaining weight is somehow equivalent to letting oneself go. And it makes me wonder this. Forget the weight. (I'm going to tell you right now what everyone else is going to tell you. You're gorgeous. You're far and away one of the most beautiful people I've ever known in my whole entire life. True story. No lie.) But when you use the phrase "letting myself go" I want to ask you: are you? Not about the weight. Forget that - put it aside. But when you write those words and think those things, I wonder, is there some part of you that you ARE letting go? And perhaps you shouldn't be? What is your body telling you about YOU? On one hand, perhaps there is something you are neglecting. On the other hand, perhaps there is something that is full now that hasn't been before. I don't know - I only wonder.

    <3 always.

    And yes. You're gorgeous. Trust me.

    Brandee Shafer said...

    I hadn't noticed your 20-lb. weight gain.

    My plan has always been to be fat and young, then skinny and old so that I'm never overly pleased with, or disturbed by, my body image.

    My joints say I'm starting to get old, so I guess I'd better get my fat hind end in motion. Lmk if you need a walking buddy. Omgoodness, that would be so cool. You, me, and the baby C's. I wonder if you could push my double stroller as well as Sharon. She's a machine, lmtellya.

    Ooh...lmk if you need some sugar-free cookies! They're pretty good. Bob was my taste-tester.

    Saying a little prayer for ya. Not so much about the weight I didn't notice. Moreso for complete happiness.

    Rita said...

    Beth, I turned 58 several weeks ago [February] and if I had the writing skills you have I would have written much the same as you. The tears, the feeling of depression, the fear of what others may be thinking or saying behind my back. You are a beautiful, loving, caring woman. I'm sorry that some of us have these feelings but I hope it helps you to know you are not alone. As I pass through every year I feel like I'm losing something so important, but can't seem to muster up the determination to get control of it all again. Be happy my friend. As the old saying goes "we're not getting older, we're getting better." Love you

    dorothy (vicar of vibe) said...

    God has always known where we would be at this point in our life…and He loves us just the way we are. The gray hair, the wrinkles, the aches and pains, the extra pounds…
    Question: Would you really want to go back 10 years?
    Sure, there are times when I grimace at the new wrinkle, the flabby chin, the weight gain…
    But if I were to turn back the clock I wouldn’t have the joy of my 5 grandbabies, the incredible blessings of my two dil’s in my life, I wouldn’t be at this incredible church where God is using my gifts in ways I never imagined. The list goes on and on.
    Are there disappointments? Plenty.
    You couldn’t pay me to go back to any age. I relish each and every year of my life. And look forward to each year coming. For I truly feel it only gets better.
    I pray for you as you go through this journey…I claim victory for you on the other side-I rejoice with you as you realize just how incredible our lives are becoming each and everyday.
    Dorothy (vicar of vibe)
    - the 54 year old, fluffy grandmother of 5 ½.

    Leighann said...

    As your birthday buddy, I am struggling with the same weight issues (and age issues). I feel like my weight is one of the few things in my life I have complete control over, but I can't seem to control it. Don't feel alone. I have to agree with the others though, your weight gain is not noticable. But, I know that it is to you. Hang in there and I will too!

    Lindsay Durrenberger said...

    Wow. Did you just steal a whole bunch of thoughts out of my brain? Because I'm pretty positive those last few paragraphs were birthed in MY brain. Liiiiike everyday.

    Hey. You're great.

    Kelley with an "e" said...

    I love you so much. You are absolutely 110% gorgeous. I feel your "prison", however; I've lived there for over 3o years.... But only YOU can make YOU stop thinking that everyone else is thinking about YOU. So, in this instance, it kinda IS about you. :o) Thanks for sharing this. Like...thanks a whole bunch. xoxoxo