My Daddy fought in the Vietnam War. He was so proud of his service, even though it left him with demons and ailments to battle for the rest of his life. His Purple Heart and Bronze Star were framed and hung proudly in our home and were on display next to his urn after his death.
As a veteran, he had access to medical care at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia. He spent a lot of time there, especially in the last six months of his life and he even drew his last breath there. The CCU and Heroes’ Haven staff were so kind to him and us in those final days. Perhaps most touching of all was the Hero Walk after he died. All of the staff stopped what they were doing to line the hallways and pay their respects as the nurses wheeled Daddy’s flag-draped bed downstairs. It was a beautiful reminder that his service to his country was not forgotten and his status as a veteran was important to them.
We were one of the lucky families – our house is about 10 miles from a VA center. Many vets and their families aren’t so lucky and have to travel hours sometimes for access to VA care. When a loved one is in the hospital, the last thing you want to think about is shelling out money for a place to stay so you can be by their bedside. That’s where the Fisher House Foundation comes in. Similar to the Ronald McDonald House, the Fisher House offers vets’ families a place to stay near VA medical centers, completely free of charge. Additionally, the Fisher House operates the Hero Miles and Hotels for Heroes programs – using donated frequent flyer miles and hotel points to allow family members to stay near their injured vets while they’re hospitalized. The foundation also manages a scholarship program for the children and spouses of fallen and disabled veterans.
It’s been a week and a half since my Daddy died and grief doesn’t look at all like I expected. You know that phantom limb syndrome amputees get? It feels a lot like that. I keep thinking Daddy is just in the other room or back in the hospital temporarily. And then my stomach hits the floor and I’m gutted again when I remember he’s gone.
Since I don’t live near my family, I had to return to normal life where reminders of him are not constant. Getting on that plane the night after his memorial service and returning to work the next day felt so wrong. I felt like I was cheating Daddy and abandoning my memories of him. My seatmates on the plane, the people on the Blue Line train, the commuters on my way to work – they don’t know. How could they? But also, HOW COULD THEY?! My Daddy is gone.
I try to talk about Daddy a lot in casual conversations at work and in social settings but I can tell people are uncomfortable by how often I bring him up so they look at their shoes or change the subject. I’m sure it’s just that they don’t know what to say but it feels stifling. I want to talk about him! I want to remember all his funny quirks and eccentricities and hilarious things he said. It feels so unfair to keep those things to myself.
“Let me know if you need anything.” I’ve said it myself a hundred times. Someone’s hurting and you offer those words. As a griever, I’m not going to call or text you to say, “I cannot bring myself to cook or grocery shop or wash my dishes or clothes or vacuum my floor. Can you come do it for me?” Taking care of the daily mundane tasks feels overwhelming but asking someone else to do it for me seems even worse. I know those people mean well. I’ve been one of them and I meant it, too! But I think for friends in the future, I’ll just show up and do those things, instead of encouraging them to ask.
Grief feels so isolating. Especially when I’m far away from family and people who knew Daddy. Having lunch with a friend, re-telling old stories – those things help. They remind me that he isn’t forgotten. I haven’t abandoned his memory. The hurt, while still very raw, is somewhat comforting because it means that it was real. I’m sure it’ll get easier someday but that day is still very far away.
I mentioned in the last post that I was grieving the way I’d look on my wedding day. When September 2nd rolled around, I felt incredibly beautiful. I loved my dress, my hair, my makeup and I felt gorgeous. (Ps. I’m posting all of the pictures with the watermark because I love our photographers and I want to advertise for them as much as possible. TKL Photography, check em.)
But when we got the pictures back, I didn’t see the beautiful girl I knew that Friday. I saw double chins, doughy arms and Ursula back. I felt so embarrassed that I’d had fun and felt beautiful. There was a sense of shame and humiliation. Like, how dare I think I looked anything other than fat?
While I loved our pictures, I didn’t love myself in them. I mentioned this to someone and her response was this, “why do you believe the photos over your own happy memories?”
So I went back and looked over our photos again, this time remembering how I felt in each of them instead of focusing on my flaws. I remembered how heart-burstingly happy I was to marry the man I love, how he looked at me, how much fun our friends and family had and how we were surrounded by our nearest and dearest. And it worked! For the most part, I’m not saying I don’t still pick myself apart but now I can look at them with joy instead of shame.
I felt happy, loved and beautiful that day and I’m not going to let my low opinion of/shame in my appearance take that away!
It happened again this morning. While commuting to work via public transit, I noticed a kindly woman, likely in her 60s, eyeing my midsection. She studied my shirt and then raised a finger to catch my eye.
“Would you like my seat?” She started to get up and I enthusiastically refused.
“No, thank you. I’m fine, really!”
She thought I was pregnant. Pregnant enough to be showing. Showing enough where strangers feel compelled to give up their seats. I’ve never been more thankful for a pair of sunglasses as my eyes started to sting and well up with tears.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. It’s not the second or third, either. It’s always a kind woman, usually middle-aged but sometimes younger. She’ll size me up for a stop or two, then decide with certainty there must be a child in there, and offer her seat. It hurts and humiliates me every time.
My wedding is a little over two months away. Two months this Saturday, to be exact. This isn’t the body I thought I’d have when I walk down the aisle. I never dreamed as a little girl that I’d still be struggling with my weight and body image on the day when I’m supposed to feel most beautiful. I never dreamed I’d have to pay extra for a wedding dress in my size. This isn’t the way it was “supposed” to be.
There’s no lesson here. No nugget of wisdom or clarity. I’m just a little sad and grieving the loss of what I always dreamed I would look like. And I just needed to get it out of my head and onto a page.
I went ran* to a workout class on Saturday and it was PAINFULLY obvious how long it’s been since I truly worked out. Like worked hard and pushed myself. Pushups were next to impossible again and I couldn’t hold a low plank for more than a couple of counts. I woke up sore the next morning in that good way – the kind where you feel like you’ve truly worked all of your muscle groups and you remember you have muscles under there somewhere. It felt great but the struggle now is to keep it up. No progress will be made if I only attend workout classes once in a blue moon.
It’s SO HARD to be consistent and that’s been my struggle for my whole life. I can do the going hard and sticking it out thing for like a week and then I give in to temptation or get lax with my eating well and exercising routine. (Though it’s hard to even consider it routine after just a week!)
For me, tracking my calories and exercising are like being in AA. I have to take it one day minute at a time. After time, when the pain/annoyance of a new routine wears off, it gets a little easier but temptation never fully goes away.
I tend to fall into one of two camps:
Team “I am going to do this and I am strong, I am woman, hear me roar!” I exercise consistently and eat super well and am so disciplined and then one day hit a tiny stumbling block and consume everything in sight like a crazed Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.
Team “What’s it going to hurt to have a bite of this or a bite of that and skip a workout or two and never actually form any new habits or routines?”
One is to fly too high, just to crash and burn. The other is never getting off the ground. So I guess that means a balance between the two is the invisible Wonder Woman plane that keeps me on the journey?
*running is so hard now. It wasn’t even a mile there and I was certain death would greet me before I arrived. So, I signed up for a 5k in two weeks to make sure I get back to it. Nothing like a deadline to light a fire under my butt.
I know I do. I feel this way every time I slip up, every time I skip a work out, every time I can’t button my pants. I feel like It’ll never lose the weight, I’ll never change my ways, I’ll never stop being sorry for myself. I’ll never not be tempted by fried or junky foods and I’ll never be passionate about working out.
The annoying thing is that I have been there! I have been in a place where my body craves healthy foods over junky ones, where I enjoy working out and seeing my body change and become stronger. I just lost that motivation and slid into old habits and now I’m sitting at my desk with my skirt unzipped 3 inches because it won’t go all the way up. A skirt that was once too big. I’m so frustrated with myself for working so hard and then frittering it away.
When I started my journey, I was 234 lbs. and wore a tight size 22. I remember being shocked and horrified and I couldn’t believe it was real. I moved to Chicago and lost about 40 lbs. just out of sheer poverty. I ate eggs for every meal and walked everywhere because I couldn’t afford a bus pass. Then I got a job and started eating lunch out every day. The weight piled back on pretty quickly. Next thing I knew, I was back into size 20s and weighed 218 lbs. (218 is my “real” starting weight because that’s when I decided to consciously make an effort.) Over the course of the next 6 months, I ate really well and exercised at least 5 times a week. I ran a 10 mile race! I got down to 168 and comfy size 10. I maintained that weight for about a year, meaning to lose more but I loosened up on the reigns and let myself splurge almost every day and cut exercise back to three times a week, then two then none. I quit running. Now I’m ? lbs. (my scale batteries died but, at last check, I was at least 188) and a tight size 14. I was so close! I was within 20-25 lbs. of my goal weight and I let go. I dwell on that so often. Instead of looking at what an accomplishment it was to lose 50 lbs. and maintain for a year, I focus on the failure of gaining 20 of those lbs. back.
I’m going running on Saturday morning with a friend. I might not be able to even go a whole mile but I’m going to get out there. I came too far and worked too hard to just let it all slip away. So, yeah, it does feel like it will just never happen sometimes. Everything worth working for probably feels like that. A dream job, a dream spouse, a baby. So, despite my dismay at backsliding, I’d probably be even more dismayed if I never fought for what I want at all.
My friend Mike turns 31 today. I went to his birthday party last night and he asked if I’d been writing and why I haven’t written here. (He’s one of those rare friends who can get down to brass tacks and engage in a deep conversation, even if you can’t remember the last time you saw each other.) I didn’t have a great answer aside from the fact that I’ve put about 15 pounds back on and didn’t think I had any business writing a blog about weight loss under those conditions. He implored me to “start doing healthy things again, if for no other reason than the fact that I’ll get to read your writing.” So here I am. Starting over again. Again.
I realize that anecdote might make it sound like I’m recommitting myself to writing and healthy living because somebody asked me to. In reality, I’ve wanted to recommit to both but need an obscene amount of encouragement to even believe I can do either.
Writing and losing weight/getting healthy have a lot more in common than I realized. They both require commitment, discipline, a ton of hard work and are a lot easier when you have a strong support system, encouraging you along the way. For me, writing and taking control of my health are both essential to my sustained happiness but they’re both almost impossible to do. I want to work out and make wise food choices – my tight pants, restricting tops and getting winded climbing the stairs make me miserable, but actually choosing to get out of bed to hit the gym or turning down seconds at dinner seems unfathomable in the moment. Same thing goes for writing. I love the feeling I get from finishing something I’m proud of. But sitting down to put words on paper? Actually working on a creative piece or even just a blog post? It’s like asking me to hike Everest- it’s an insurmountable feat and I don’t even have climbing gear.
I suppose the solution to both is the same- knock it off with the bellyaching, make a plan and take action. I’m not going to get a perfect figure overnight and I’m not going to write a bestselling novel the first time I sit in front of my laptop . It’s going to take a long time and a whole lotta hard work to achieve my goals and dreams. And there’s no better time to get started than the present.
“But what if I fail?!” screams my head. Guess what, anxious, self-doubting Sara Jane? You will fail. And then, in the immortal words of Aaliyah (RIP), “if at first you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again.” There’s not a single person in this world who hasn’t struggled with something or taken detours on the path to success. (Except maybe Mindy Kaling, her life seems pretty great.)
“But what if I’m not talented?!” my head screams again. Well, you fatalist, think of Toby. Mama and her friend Toby have been pals since 5th grade (this is impressive to me because I barely keep up with my friends who live a mile away, let alone elementary school buds.) Toby has always been encouraging of my endeavors. I get messages from her at least once a quarter, reminding me that I have talent, begging me to use it, suggesting that I submit a packet to Samantha Bee’s new show or The Skimm. Or, she’ll tell me how impressed she is by my latest race or cake-baking. It’s always so flattering but instead of being inspired, I convince myself that she’s just being kind and slink back into my shell of self-doubt. What’s the harm in giving the people what they want? 😉 Why not choose to believe her? If all else fails, I’ve got at least two fans cheering me on.
So, I hope you’ll bear with me as I start over again. And thanks, Mike and Toby. Your encouragement is exactly what I need. I expect daily pep talks in my inbox. Thx. tl;dr Been a long time, shouldn’t have left you without a dope beat to step to.