Psychology, and taking responsibility for one’s own life

There is a quote from The West Wing that “…Presidential elections are won and lost on one square foot of real estate.” (Meaning in one’s head). It occurred to me this morning that weight loss succeeds or fails in one’s head.

Outside of the Army and my mother’s house (which was stricter and louder), nobody has ever held a gun to my head and forced me to eat. All of my food choices have been mine, and they were just that: choices. How many times could I have made a healthier choice instead of an unhealthy one? Could I have decided to not go for that second (or third) serving at the all-you-can-eat buffet? How many times should I have opted for the salad instead of the French fries, or ten wings instead of twenty (or thirty)? How many bags of chips should I have poured one small portion from and then sealed, rather than eating out of (and finishing) the bag… or should have not bought in the first place?

Some of these choices were made out of ignorance. More were made because psychologically I was not strong enough to make smarter, healthier, better choices. Yes, I probably rebelled against the Army’s discipline when I was discharged, and I went on an uncontrolled eating frenzy. That frenzy lasted what – seven years before I first tried to do something about it? Something like that. For one who is (in so many respects) so strong, it is a disaster that I could not have picked myself up by the bootstraps and stopped the unrestrained gluttony sooner. Let’s review:

When I was engaged to my first wife, I started on Weight Watchers. By the time she left me I had lost nearly forty pounds. The first meeting after she left, I walked out in disgust after my weigh-in and never went back. It was not until years later that I found out that the facilitators really dropped the ball and were supposed to call me to after I missed one or two meetings. I will not blame them… but maybe two weeks after my separation I might have been in a better state of mind to get back onto the program.

I do not think that I had a slip after my separation from my second wife, mostly because I was very active in Taekwondo. I was teaching several nights per week, which kept me in pretty good shape. About a year later, I had my final showdown with my mother, which prompted me to reevaluate many aspects of my life. I will not spend any time on the long-term emotional trauma inflicted upon me by my abusive mother; suffice it to say that I had an epiphany, realizing that if I was ever going to be a good person, I had to unlearn a lot of the behaviours and attitudes that she had taught me were normal. A few days later, on a day when I was particularly vulnerable because of the sheer immensity of the changes that I would have to make, my GrandMaster (who I suspect was also having a particularly bad day) yelled at me inappropriately, causing me to walk out… and I have not returned to that club since. Owing to the sudden lack of exercise, I started to gain weight again.

In 2017 I started the program for the first time, with a medical (non-surgical) bariatric program. I lost a tremendous amount of weight. While I slipped back a little from October through January, I was back on track, losing weight at a respectable pace. I am not sure how much of that slipping was due to my mother’s diagnosis with brain cancer. Around the time I started regaining the weight, friends convinced me (against my will and better judgment) to visit her in the hospital. I went the day that she went in (for the last time) and stood there making small talk. She was a grandmaster in the art of the backhanded compliment, and even as she lay there on what was probably her deathbed, she complimented my sweater… and told me how lovely it would look if I just lost some weight. I was sixty pounds lighter than the last time she had seen me, and I had just lost a hundred pounds. Grandmaster indeed.

Over the course of the next few months, I drove to Montreal almost every weekend to see her. I watched this once powerful and mighty force degenerate before my eyes. I told her one day that I forgave her. I said it to put her mind at ease. I was lying. I did not forgive her what she had done to me, and despite years of therapy, I do not know if I ever will. My weight crept up throughout that time, despite a couple of efforts to control it.

And then she died.

I always had an extremely complicated relationship with my mother, but her death essentially put an end to her and I ever being able to resolve things. I suppose it would have been nice had she, even lying on her deathbed, apologized, or taken responsibility. Now that would never happen… could never happen. Over the course of the next year and a half, my weight was back up to where I had started.

I tried again… and while there were bumps along the road, I got back onto the program in July 2019. By October 2020 I was the lowest weight I had been in nearly two decades. My weight valleyed below what it had been when my first wife left me. And then it started creeping back up. It took time to get to bad, but from bad to worse was again due to psychological and emotional losses and traumas. My father died, and I shot up another forty pounds. My sudden and unexpected return to Canada, and I shot up another forty pounds. Relationship trauma, another twenty pounds… and I realized I was at my heaviest weight ever, and nearly 130 lbs up from my best. Not all because of psychological trauma and issues… but a lot of.

It would be easy to blame my mother, my ex-wife, my Army trauma, and so many others for my weight gain. Everyone suffers psychological trauma, and it is how they deal with it that matters. I dealt with my trauma poorly. I am not going to say that there were no worse ways for me to deal, but the long-term effects on my weight and health are obvious. I can blame others, but the buck stops here. The responsibility lies with me, and nobody else.

Owning one’s own shortcomings is never easy. It is so much easier to lay the blame on others. How could that possibly help me to lose the weight and to keep it off? If I blame anyone or everyone else, then the next time I am slim and suffer a trauma I will have the easy out… I can eat to my heart’s content, gain as much weight as I do, and it will be someone else’s fault… but the consequences are mind and mine alone, so in the end, that is not a healthy way to deal with it. Taking responsibility for one’s own actions and state and course means that there is nobody to blame for where I am going; I am at the helm of my own future, and no matter what external voices may tell me, I can lose the weight and keep it off because turning to food and especially to unhealthy foods is an obstacle to avoid, but when I am at the wheel then I can do it without listening to the voices telling me to eat.

I am not writing any mantras to recite, I just have to remember every day to do as well as I can… and that slipping one day does not mean I have to go down the slope, it only means that I have to redouble my efforts to stop my fall, and to get back up again.

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