In the past, my inner life has been ruled by artsy-fartsy improvisation. I’ve never been much of a goal setter, because I always figured, too optimistically, that if my first experiment didn’t work out, another opportunity would come along. This wasn’t a bad way to live as a single girl in my 20s, but after getting married and having kids, those second and third opportunities grew fewer and farther between. And it left me a shell (albeit, a very overweight one) of my former self. I wasn’t writing, wasn’t crafting, wasn’t sewing, wasn’t reading, wasn’t doing much of anything for myself, really.
And then, this past year, sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I made the conscious decision to make some dramatic changes to my life. When I looked in the mirror, I wanted to be happy with the woman staring back at me. My only New Year’s Resolution for 2011 was to focus on my physical health to the exclusion of all else, but the more I focused on changing my body, the more I changed emotionally.
I’ve wanted to write this blog for a while now, but for whatever reason, the words just aren’t coming easily. My life is profoundly better than it was three months ago, but it’s hard to talk about some of the decisions I’ve made, and also hard to describe the difficult emotional journey I’ve travelled.
In January, I started a new diet and exercise program. In order to make it work, I decided to do something radical. I decided to become someone else.
Since then, I have lost almost 25 lbs. The key to my success? Asking myself what I would ordinarily do, and then doing the complete opposite. I love food, but for the first couple of phases of the diet, I turned my brain off and stuck to the diet like a robot. Instead of yoga and water aerobics, I took up body sculpting and spinning. Instead of writing and watching movies in my spare time, I started doing half hours wii runs in front of the TV. If I would typically sit, I stood. If I would typically eat, I drank.
The first few months were tough. Inside I was screaming, “This isn’t me! I don’t run! I’m artistic! Not athletic!” The more I protested, the more I went to the gym. Then I did something that my former self would’ve never ever done and signed up to run a 5K.
Over time, this new reality has become the norm. I enjoy running and spinning and weight training. I like what it does for my body, which is shrinking rapidly. And I also like what it’s done for my head. It’s made me so much stronger emotionally, and able to face that which I couldn’t face before.
Most people know that I’m a huge dog lover, and before my boys were born, my dogs were my entire life. One of my dogs, Sammy, was only a puppy when he developed a lifelong pancreatic condition that destroyed his body’s ability to produce digestive enzymes. When he was a year and a half old, we adopted him in spite of this, nursed him back to health, and then took enormous pride in the way he recovered, his zest for life, and the way he put the T in terrier. For most of his 11 years of life, he was a complete joy to have around. A loveable curmudgeon who’d occasionally show you what a marshmellowy goofball he was deep down. Even though he could be a gigantic pain in the butt at times (he was a barker with a fondness for chocolate), we relished every second with him.
But then 18 months ago, that dog disappeared, and in his place, a grumpy, anti-social, aggressive dog appeared in his place. I could only assume he was sick, although I took him for testing at the vet and they couldn’t find anything wrong with him. His energy declined markedly, and with every fiber of his doggie being, he told us “leave me alone.” We tried hard to do that, and it was much easier in South Carolina to let him retreat to the backyard year round. But once we moved to New York, it grew harder and harder. And over the course of this long, snowy winter, it became obvious that Sammy wasn’t doing well emotionally. I took him to the vet, who couldn’t find anything wrong with him per se, but assumed from the way he held himself that he was in pain. We tried steroids first. Then a narcotic, combined with a steroid. It helped about 90%. Sammy slept a lot. We’d let our guard down, think everything was fine, and then from out of nowhere, he’d become aggressive about things that dogs are not supposed to get aggressive about (like walking into the same room where he was sleeping). By this point, he had bitten everyone in the household at least once, and was biting the boys’ friends with alarming frequency. Luckily he was a small dog with a small mouth, and never drew blood. But my heart broke a little bit after every new incident.
Tom and I made a lot of excuses about his behavior. The boys were loud and excitable. They startled him and kept him on edge. He just wanted a quiet place to sleep. We taught the boys to give him a wide berth and we did as well. But about a month ago, Tom took the boys and left me home alone for a writing weekend (which I found the gumption to ask for, because I needed it) and even though I was the only human in the house, I didn’t see Sammy the entire weekend unless he was hungry or wanted out. That wasn’t like him at all, and it made me think that his issues were totally unrelated to the boys. He was sick sick and having a hard time coping with it.
But I still thought maybe if I just let him rest and gave him a lot of space he could continue to live out his doggie years in relative happiness… until the morning that John walked into our room and Sammy chased him, snarling, from the room. I called the vet the next morning and made the appointment to have him put down. And then I cried and doubted myself, doubted myself and cried.
It took more inner fortitude than I thought I had to make that hard decision, and I was only able to do it because all this working out I’ve been doing has made me strong enough to face this inevitable outcome. I’ve been working through physical pain for a couple of months now, and I’ve learned how to shut my mind to the pain (physical and emotional) and just do what needs to be done. After I called the vet, I went to the gym and did a really strenuous body sculpting class. At times it was so hard I thought I would pass out, but I did it anyway. The old me would have stayed at home, crying, and drowning my sorrows in a bag of Doritos, but now I see that that’s totally counterproductive. If I’m going to be in pain anyway, I might as well be in it at the gym.
I don’t know what the rest of the year will bring, but I already feel like my resolution was a success. I know what it means to have resolve now — physically pointing myself in the direction of a goal and just going for it. But I also know what it means to be resolved — to see what has to be done and following through with it emotionally.
I’m hoping that my new sense of resolution will impact my writing in positive ways. I’m looking forward to the future and can’t wait to see where this year’s journey leads.