***Hey folks, I don’t usually give content warnings on my blog, but I’m guessing most of you don’t tune into this for weight loss talk. So, just be aware that there’s some of that in this essay and, if you’re not in a good place to hear that, feel free to skip this one. And if content or trigger warnings offend you then you’re a whiny baby who should know that in the real world people consider other people’s feelings, so tthhhhpt.***
My Body and Me
I hate my body. There hasn’t been a single moment when I haven’t had a beer gut. From childhood all the way to as I type this I have looked like a six-pack-chugging Homer Simpson costume even though I don’t drink, I’ve spent a tremendous amount of that time counting calories, and I’ve been exercising at least once a day over the past four years.
I was picked on for my weight in school. Not badly, though; I was too funny and quick for that. Words were always more important, but that didn’t mean that my weight wasn’t real. It was the well people went back to and, despite my mother’s excuses, I was not and am not, in her words, a great-looking kid. I have never been hit on, picked up, or anyone’s first choice for dodgeball, and the reason I didn’t get any OKCupid messages was only partly because I did two-card fans in my profile picture…probably.
If I’m honest, being heavy might have been easier with a different father – one who wasn’t an athlete every moment of his life. I wanted abs. Ya know, abs? With those lines? My dad had abs at his heaviest.
He was so strong, it was magical. He’d lift entire sofas by himself and out-benchpress college students he mentored and coached who were half his age – but last month, when my mom needed to move two cardboard boxes and a bedframe, I hired movers. More than a few strangers found it hard to believe that I was his son.
He was a rugby player, and they called him “the Albino Ram.” The single most precious object I have is a small staple-bound book of stories from the kids he coached and played with at Binghamton University. And when I was a kid, since rugby was long and boring and I was me, while he played I would sit in the car listening to a James Herriot audiobook with a bag of Tostitos Scoops and TWO jars of mild salsa because, and this is true, my hands were too fat to reach the bottom of the jar of one big one. One time a cop who knew my dad stopped the game to let my dad know some kid had broken into his car and was eating his groceries. My dad jogged to the edge of the field and looked in the window. “That’s my son,” he said.
And without any meanness at all the cop said, “Really?”
“Really,” my dad said. “That’s my boy.”
For all the failed wrestling tournaments, footballer years, and school musicals he was never ashamed of me. Even when, maybe, he should have been.
I’ve always loved food. As a little kid, if I was good, I was allowed a wish. I would cover my eyes, run into our pantry and wish…for a jelly bean. Looking back, I don’t know why I never wished for world peace or a Ferrari but sure enough, when I opened my eyes, there my mom would be with one or two giant, lovely jelly beans.
And in my mother’s defense, she tried. Growing up there was no candy in my house, no sugary cereals, no soda, and no junk food. Admittedly, this is because my mom thinks that “organic” means “good” and that chemicals are bad (don’t get either of us started), but no matter how hard she tried…you can always eat enough crazins.
Diets don’t work for me. I have counted calories (I should say I am counting calories), but I’ve tried Atkins, Southbeach, juice fasts, cleanses, soylent, shakes, and (for a brief period in college) diet pills that only succeeded in sending me to the hospital with the worst diarrhea I’ve ever had.
It’s funny now…NOW.
And so..I hated my body. I have hated my body for as long as I can remember.
And yet I love my brain.
By which, of course, I mean, “me.” I’m the funniest person I’ve ever met. Don’t get me wrong, I think there are probably funnier humans. I just haven’t met any of them. As funny? Yes. Funnier? No.
I can memorize a deck of playing cards, read faster than anyone I know, recite poetry, and better yet write a poem whenever my wife wants one. When my wife and I were first dating I asked what her favorite part of me was and she said, “That big sexy brain of yours,” which I think she didn’t mean for me to take as her not being able to think of a single part of my body she finds attractive, but I understood. Because, again, my brain is me. It’s just trapped inside my body…which I hate.
And then, 5 years ago, I had a revelation. I was listening to “10% Happier” by Dan Harris, the book that began my meditation practice and actually created quite a few changes in my life, on my way home from yet another personal training session from yet another trainer (I’ve had about four in my life and none have ever stuck) when the thought that has run through my mind like an old song – “I hate my body” – ran through my mind at the exact same time as the scene where Dan had his first-ever major breakthrough. And in that moment, clear as day, and for the first time, my mind responded.
“You are your body.
“Your stomach, your thighs, your back, and your bones are as much a part of you as your brain and you deserve love.”
And I started to cry…on the A-train…at four in the afternoon.
And bizarre emotional reaction or not, to this day, I think that’s one of the most important realizations I’ve had. It transformed the way I thought about myself for more than a quarter of a century, and so I want to pass it on to you.
I spent the first 25 years of my life in this thought cycle. Hating my body and loving me. The rider behind my eyes, represented by the top of my nervous system…my brain. I mean, when I was young, I suppose, I liked my soul, too, but I lost my belief in souls in college and planted everything I liked about myself in the few pounds of meat inside my skull.
In my mind lay my kindness, my empathy, my relationships, my memories, my jokes, my curiosity, and my wit. In my body was everything I hated. I was trapped inside a bum unit. A meat suit that could NOT get below 180 pounds.
Now, this surprises a lot of people who know me. As someone with a mental illness, surely I must spend more time hating my brain than I spend hating my body. But I don’t feel separate from my brain. When I’m depressed or anxious, well, I’m depressed and anxious. When my stomach hurts – even grammatically speaking – my stomach is doing the hurting…not me. Or my stomach is hurting me. But nobody says THEY hurt when they’ve got a bum knee. At most they’ll say “I’m nauseous,” but that’s not something about you, it’s something happening to you. And so it was with me
But what I realized in that moment, and continue to remind myself today, is that you and I are our bodies. I write the poetry with my hands, my reverse-Benjamin-Button face is the one my friends know and love, and my gut protrusion is where my darling lays her head when she is weary.
And that should be worthy of love even from me.
Hey guys, thanks so much for listening. I know this was a rather personal version for you this week, but I hope you liked it. If you did, please consider supporting this blog on Patreon. If everyone who listens to this blog gave a dollar I would have dozens of dollars, folks, so…get out your wallets. And if you’re already a patron stay tuned for a patron-only “afterthoughts.”
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