My friend Natty concludes (for now) guest-blogging this week. More about the man in my introductory post.
Things were going well in May. The late spring in San Francisco sees plenty of sun light which always makes me feel more chipper, more productive, more optimistic. I had just finished a fun set of performances and was heading into the summer, which meant that I would be making more money serving fried shrimp to tourists.
I had spent a couple of weeks out of the gym after a very bad groin pull and everything now seemed aligned (finances, art making, weather, health, and time) to focus on myself. I even stopped dating a lovely gent, with his blessing, so as to keep this time all about loving myself.
I spent several hours composing the email that I shared in Part I of this blog. And then I got to it.
The Nuts ‘n’ Bolts
I would go to the gym six days a week. I would do two 3-day cycles in a row and take one day to rest. Every visit focused on weightlifting for 2-3 muscle groups for at least 45 minutes, and 30-60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise. I had done this before in the early spring of 2009 for a strong 6-week stint. The results were fantastic. Since that time I had still been visiting the gym regularly, but not with the consistency that I aspire towards. What’s worse is that when my exercise habits wane, so goes my good nutritional habits.
Nutrition, for me, is the bugger. I like exercising. I like making the time for it. I don’t make the time to buy groceries and cook. The goal this time around was to eat small meals 5-6 times a day. Each meal was to have a good portion of protein (about 60%) and the rest split up evenly between fat and whole/healthy carbs. The greatest benefit to the multiple small meals is the steadiness of the blood sugar, which means the steadiness of my mood and my capacity to remain motivated and kind and clear-thinking.
The Summer Starts
As the summer started everything went as planned. Looking good and feeling good was the norm. The Thriving Natty facebook page was cute and a constant source of motivation. I kept a log of my exercise and nutrition on the website, Daily Burn. And, as was my wont, I was not spending time seeking out companionship, neither immediate nor long term, as I worked toward finding greater comfort in my solitude. But then in late June changes started to prove more consuming of my mental energy than I had room for.
I was working two jobs to save up money for a 3-week trip. I was trying to help manage a new theatre company (not Naked Empire) and my lack of time and energy to do so weighed on my conscience. Then, just before my trip I made the anxiety-producing decision to quit one of my jobs so that I could rehearse and perform in a show upon my return from the trip.
The 3-week trip was going to be my first real vacation in over two years. I would be enjoying the sunny climbs of Boulder, Colorado. It took less than 48 hours after my arrival for me to throw out everything I had been working on.
I began eating gluttonously. I rarely exercised. I stopped reporting to the Dream Team. I indulged a default loneliness and spent too much time combing the internet for sex, which wasn’t to be found. It seemed like the floodgates of bad habits had been broke open and I truly felt out of control.
I reached out to the team. I had long talks with a couple of them and while I felt uplifted, it was still as if there were two of me fighting each other. These two Natty combatants have only deepened their trenches and are ever present, to this day.
When I returned in late July I slid right into a 20-hour per week rehearsal process, phone call and emails from debt collectors, and a waning tourist season quickly leading to less income. I also started seeing my current boyfriend, the same lovely gent who encouraged the journey back in May, and enjoyed the artistic fulfillment of a successful show. Highs and lows.
As my birthday came around at the end of August and my 15-week experiment came to a close, a part of me was looking at a failure of epic proportion:
*I hadn’t reported to the team since July.
*Save for a couple of phone conversations and emails in mid-July, I stopped hearing from the team. This was truly baffling and upsetting. I predicted fits and starts and going into this I had imagined pokes and urges and even demands from the team whenever I floundered. Indeed, this was the foundation of the experiment, but silence prevailed.
*I had actually gained weight.
*I proved to be less productive in my daily life.
*I was exercising an average of once a week and friends at work were teasing me about letting myself go.
*I lost all motivation to even engage the team, for a part of me felt it was hopeless. And, seeing as how my silence didn’t produce a wave of inquiry from them, I grew insecure about what we would say to each other. Their care for me is unquestioned, but this experiment? Was it tedious? Was I going in circles? Would they feel helpless in their attempts to be helpful? Mired in this psychological swamp I sort of imploded.
So here I am. This here blog has been my first true in-depth recollection and analysis of my little experiment. I see, very clearly, that this was a learning opportunity and here’s what I’m taking from it:
*It was a failure. By definition, a failure. I laugh as I write this because my relationship with failure has been an unhealthy one. I’m hard wired to avoid it at all costs. There’s a photo of me as a four year old crying as I sit in a puddle of mud, my arms outstretched reaching for my mother who was likely laughing as she snapped the Polaroid. There was no joy of getting dirty. No attempt to get myself up. No understanding of the humor of the situation. Indeed, as I recall the photo I still get choked up and resentful for being mocked by a parent. I’m 31 and I’ve been trying my best not to fall back in the mud.
I’ve never enjoyed that damn photo, but as I write this I can feel something releasing. Something appreciating the fall and the mess and the temporary discomfort. Something in me is just now allowing compassion for the photographer, which does wonders for my capacity to move forward.
In the midst of my summer struggle I had a great conversation with one of my friends on the team. We talked about a bunch of stuff, but one of the strongest points he made was about this notion of failing. The suggestion wasn’t so much to give myself a break or let myself off the hook (advice I don’t believe in nor respond well to), but to not get so paralyzed and shell shocked when I do falter. Whatever. Acknowledge the stupid shit, get up out of the puddle, and keep moving.
*The work to be done is in developing the intrinsic. When I find myself struggling to fulfill my goals there is always a sensation inside of me that suggests that the choice I’m about to make doesn’t really matter. In 100% of those moments the missing thing is a valuing of myself. I call if self-love and the work that I need to do in order to maintain this loving relationship with myself is lifelong. And it is work. Whenever I invest in it, the pay off has positive effects on every aspect of my life. I also cannot rely on others to instill this self-love in me. Buckets of positivity, tough love, and sage advice from a team of my closest friends cannot fill the void. They can support my work, but they cannot do the work for me.
Regarding the team’s silence in the last month of the experiment, I don’t know what to say. Yes, perhaps they had been persistent or demanded accountability it may have altered my behavior for the better. I am certain, however, that the change would have been superficial, necessitating a cycle of external pushing. External motivation derived from extrinsic values, and ultimately not contributing to fundamental change.
That, and I’m an adult. If I need help, then I must ask for it. My silence begot more silence and was a childish tactic designed to have others come to my rescue. No more.
And so it goes. This work is hard. I was raised by people who do not love themselves. I work with people who do not care about their minds and bodies. I live in a culture that suggests so many paths to finding happiness that it’s easy to be derailed from the track I have set out for myself.
But there it is.
I looked in the mirror today and enjoyed what I saw…WHO I saw. This, in turn, allows the love of my dear friends and my generous boyfriend to have an effect as well. When I need help, and I will continue to need a lot of help, I will be better able to put their love and support to good use.