It’s been a while, hasn’t it, denizens? Not a while since I paid any love to the lair. I’ve been banging on about books and beers and strange ephemera from my youth that once (and forever) made me happy. But it’s been a while since I wrote something navel-gazey, eh? What better day to change that then the auspicious 11th birthday of my bloginations?
During a recent perusal, I ran across the section The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances. True, I don’t really run all that much. Sometimes, if I have an abundance of energy, I’ll bring it down a few notches with a jaunty jog here and there, but mostly I walk. A lot. Uphill, downhill, on paths, on trails, in cities, in the woods, wherever. I love to walk. The longer and more strenuous the walk? The more I’m going to dig in. I don’t take glucosamine every morning for nothing, dammit.
But why? The unglamorous reason is that I started walking four years ago as a means to outpace having to deal with my mom’s death. I dealt with it some, mostly through blogging here, but when the edges got too sharp and the feelings got too raw? I moved on. If I just plugged in my earbuds and kept moving, then I could focus on the music, on the pace, on the sweat and exhaustion, on the physical pain and not the deeper hurt. Basically, I tried to walk away from dealing with it all, not accepting that it was chained to my ankle and following right along with me.
But that’s a whole other story.
Funny thing (and I’m always one for gallows humor), is that when I started to resurface from the fog of my self-enforced avoidance through exercise…I really liked the physical me I came back to. I’d “avoided” myself down 50 pounds and up several metabolic notches. I had a reduced appetite and increased energy. I was toned and muscular and for the first time in my life, I didn’t want to run away from the reflection in the mirror.
Thus bringing me back to the Oatmeal post on running. Bet you thought I’d forgotten that, didn’t you? Some of the post made me laugh and some of it passed right over me without any response. One panel, though. One panel punched me right in the solar plexus:
“I grew up a fat kid.”
When I was in the safety of my own world (as any good introvert will tell you, we all have two worlds: the outside one in which we have to live, and the inside one in which we choose to live), my weight wasn’t an issue. It never stopped me from battling Cobra Commander and Destro or using my proton pack to fight ghosts or calling for K.I.T.T. before the bad guys found my hiding spot. I could be anyone, do anything in the confines of our yard…although, looking back, I would love to have known what the neighbors thought of my strange antics, swinging from tree limbs, running and rolling and ducking and dodging, none of them able to see the fantastic adventures my imagination was creating for me.
Outside of my own world? I was fat. And others made a point of informing me that I was fat, as if somehow this truth eluded me without constant reminding. Because somehow having to shop in the boys’ husky section for jeans or the women’s plus-sized section for school clothes when I was 11 wasn’t enough.
[Loba Tangent: Don’t cry for me, Argentina. Yes, kids bullied me for being fat. The sad truth, though, is that when someone else came along, even lower on the popularity food chain than me, I didn’t step up and defend them. Instead, I reveled in the feeling of finally giving back some of what I’d been taking all those years. Kick a dog too much and sometimes the wrong person ends up losing a hand when the dog finally bites back. I bear the weight of that truth even now, because introspection is deservedly cruel sometimes.]
I’ve tried since my teens to tame my weight, but almost always in that half-assed, “miracle diet,” snap-my-fingers-and-it’s-done-right? way. You know what that approach gets you? A boatload of disappointment and discouragement. Intellectually, I understood that being healthy was more important than being skinny, and that being healthy was a commitment (that I obviously wasn’t ready to make).
But the part of me conditioned by years of fat-shaming and societal demands to fit into one generic mold, regardless of the multitude of body shapes women should have, had left me convinced that I was never going to be attractive as long as I had a double chin or my thighs rubbed together when I walked or I had bingo wings—and these were the reasons that I had to be skinny!!11!!!1
[Loba Tangent 2: That’s a whole other post as well: realizing that society’s expectations, especially for how women “should” look, are bullshit. Okay, so maybe that’s not a whole other post…but I bet I could turn it into one. Because wordy.]
Worse yet, I was never going to consider myself attractive. I was only going to see these “flaws.” I was always going to feel terrible and let those acidic feelings erode my self confidence, thus trapping me in a cycle I simply didn’t have the strength from which to break free. Truth is, at the point when my mom died, I was still overweight and still unhappy about it…but it was an “I can’t do anything to change it so why bother trying” defeatist unhappy, which feels as sucky as it sounds.
And then I finally pulled my head out of my ass after a year of running from the sorrow of my mom’s death and, I’m not going to lie, denizens…emotionally, I was still a mess, but physically, I felt fantastic. I had the energy level of a hamster on speed, my joints and back no longer hurt after I did any physical activity, my cholesterol was no longer a worry, I’d developed muscles in places I’d never had them and strengthened the muscles I’d previously had—I had let go of my erroneous focus on weight and ultimately ended up letting go of the weight as well. Not the ideal way to finally get my ducks in a healthier row, but sometimes we just have to go with what we’ve got.
Also, in my need to outrun my sadness, I’d finally outrun the shadow of my arch nemesis: “The Fat Girl.”
See, Mr. Oatmeal Running Man Matthew has his Blerch. I have the Fat Girl. I joke about her all the time, saying that she’s still back there, WAAAAY behind me…too out-of-shape to catch me now. But she’s persistent, and one day, she’s finally going to close the gap between us. I “joke” about her, but secretly, she is my greatest fear. Wounds heal, but scars remain…and if a wound goes deep enough, the scar is just that much uglier.
The Fat Girl is my ugliest, deepest scar.
Do I let her control me still? Not often, but sometimes…sometimes I can hear her breathing right behind me. And so I strap on my sneakers and I go. I go walking. I go work out to some shockingly bad 80s movie. I move in some kind of positive way, because as long as I’m moving, those admittedly juvenile fears won’t catch up…even when I stop to drink half a bottle of wine in one sitting or eat ice cream for breakfast while at the beach (because what else should I eat for breakfast while at the beach?).
I’m always going to have a damaged image of myself. I’m always going to worry about my weight, always going to pay attention to what I eat. It is what it is. However, I’m not going to let that damage stop me from enjoying myself. Even in the not-quite-how-you’re-supposed-to-do-it way that I typically employ, I’ve learned that it’s not about dieting and meeting external ideals. If that were the case, I still wouldn’t look the way I do (but I finally look the way I like, so nyeah). No, I don’t always eat what I “should” or stick to some kind of tortuously limited diet. But, no matter what I eat or drink, I always make sure I keep moving…moving way more than I ever moved before.
“I run because it’s the only way I know how to quiet the monster.”
I began walking to quiet the sorrow in my head. I still walk, only now it’s to quiet the sound of a past that I can’t change but that I can continue to outpace. One step at a time.