Good evening, friends, family, and friendly faces! I know, it’s been awhile. I hope some of you are still out here! Fair warning; this will be a long one, to make up for the extended silence.
Please rest assured that I do mean to continue this blog. The months between my last post and this one, while full of many milestones, have also been full of new challenges. Though I made my peace with the heavy decision to end contact with my family last year, I have been slowly coming to terms with that unexpected and sad finality, and trying to put things into perspective as I move forward into my own future. Making such a difficult choice, as it turns out, is far easier than knowing what to do with your life and taking charge of your own destiny for the first time since college, particularly when the path ahead looks so unexpected and unfamiliar.
Over the course of replacing my old life and expectations with new ones, I’ve found both a new sense of freedom, and a sense of uncertainty and often-unexpected grief that strikes in moments that I would have chosen to share with my mom in the past. Being free to choose my own life now, instead of living in the perpetual what-if of wondering when I’d be needed (and how on Earth I would get her to listen to and accept me as her caretaker when it did,) is a luxury that I did not expect to have for many years to come. I made the choice I did, in part, to gain that freedom, and I have no regrets aside from wishing with all my heart that she’d listened to my concerns and sought out the help she needed. I no longer feel as if I’m marching to my own grave.
At the same time, I fear that the urgency with which I’m throwing myself into all the things I want to do, and feel the need to do, is overwhelming my ability to manage all of them without stressing myself out and crashing hard. I’ve attempted to get back into the swing of regular workouts, proper diet management, and increasing my overall activity on a more regular basis, but I keep catching every single bug that happens to grace my general vicinity. John and I have both been sick together more times in the last six months than I think we ever were in the last six years. This has been hard on both of us, and though things are looking up, it’s impossible to undo fifteen years of pain, suffering, and drama overnight. It’s been a short few months since November.
Right now, I’m looking at changing things up a little, in honor of our two-year 20/20 graduation anniversary (back in March – I forgot to post!!!) I think it’s time for me to step back a little bit from the pace that I’ve been keeping when it comes to my workouts. I’m quite happy with my overall weight, and despite some occasional fluctuations back and forth (usually during moments of particularly bad stress,) I’m balancing my diet with the amount of exercise I need to maintain things. I still have areas that will benefit from seeing a professional, but three times a week with a personal trainer is an aggressive weight-loss schedule, not a maintenance schedule!
Instead, I’m hoping to transform things into a new sort of challenge. It is often still difficult for me to be out of the house on my own, thanks to my social anxiety. It is also spring, and the weather is getting nicer here in Kirkland. We happen to live just a short walk away from the Cross-Kirkland Corridor, colloquially abbreviated to the CKC – a long trail built on the remains of the old rail line that ran through the city. In addition to lots of good walking, the trail features various sports facilities (basketball court, volleyball court, TRX mounts, etc.) and is close to the grocery store that we use (read: a good place for me to grab lunch to go!) Part of it even runs through the Google Kirkland campus, which means that an occasional workout or lunch buddy might be available.
I’m hoping to start taking time out of each day to do a little bit of… something. Anything. I am now the proud owner of my very own basketball, and John and I shot hoops (badly) for almost two hours the other day. It was a great workout that kept both of us busy and left me pretty sore afterwards. I also own a jump rope, which is something I’ve been told will help me build the stamina I need to improve my shuffle dancing. I already have my own TRX straps, and several hand weights. There’s zero excuse for me not to get out of this house, get to the CKC, and kill an hour every day. If the weather is sour on a given day, I know that the Pro Club is always happy to have me, but I feel compelled to get out there and try new things this year.
Of course, I’d like to keep our dancing dates. I’d like to keep my TRX classes, once I’m feeling strong enough to keep up with them again. And I’d like to keep at least one workout per week with my personal trainer, as a sort of check-in with someone who can tell me if I’m not doing enough, or I’m doing things wrong. With the rest of my time… I’d like to focus on the rest of my life. My therapist has been issuing me little challenges for driving, using the phone, and getting out by myself, many of which I’ve missed due to being sick. I haven’t had the time or the focus to write and create much lately, despite loads of ideas chomping at the bit. I still need to put the final touches on the game that I’ve been working on for the last several years! I have no shortage of things to do with my time these days, and finding more ways to balance all of that is what I want to focus on, going forward.
I know that the process of letting go of my family will continue to be hard, and while I still find myself caught up in unexpected bursts of grief or anger from time to time, I am making huge strides, and I’m so very proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish. Only the fear of how others might choose to judge me for my choice still haunts me, and I know how irrational that is; I’ve spoken to countless friends and strangers that have had words of support, wisdom, and warning to offer from their own experiences with similar situations. I’m far from alone, and I’m no monster. I have the right to my own life, and my mother has the right to choose her own path, no matter how tragic I may find her choice. I want to keep living, growing, learning, and changing for the rest of what remains of my life, and that isn’t compatible with desperately trying to raise the dead back to life.
Now, to happier subjects… like our recent vacation!
Despite John and I treating our last few days in Tucson as a sort of farewell tour back in November, and my refusal to set foot in the state for any reason following my final exit from it, I failed to consider what would happen when the month of February rolled around. We’ve returned every year to attend the Arizona Renaissance Festival; part of my heart and soul since I hit double digits in age. We went every year as a family, sometimes in the company of close friends, except for one notable year where my childhood hijinks saw me grounded during the one weekend we were free to go – a legendary punishment that I have not forgotten to this day. I introduced John to the whole thing as soon as I could, and we’ve still gone together, with my family, every year since. Over the last two or three years, we’ve visited my family and stayed at their house while going by ourselves. If we didn’t return to Tucson, that meant we couldn’t go anymore.
In addition, something new occurred to me. I’m much smaller than I used to be. And there was one shop at the ARF that I’d never been able to peruse before; Domba Tribal, the belly-dancing costume shop. Ever since I started attending the Festival, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the tent full of beautiful, colorful silks, tassels, coins, and veils. I knew that my body was in no way shaped to wear such garments, but I always wished I could change that; it was, of course, a time in my life when I didn’t have the power, the knowledge, or the support to do so. Every year, I averted my gaze from the tent with the age-old excuse that such things weren’t meant for me; I was destined for the corsets and dresses that I’d grown to love in their place – and I did love them, make no mistake! It was just… well, the best someone like me could do.
Now I know. Fat isn’t part of my identity. It was a choice I made, and I made it over and over again, with the help and encouragement of everyone around me. And it’s a choice I stopped making two years ago.
So, after hours of dithering about whether or not I had the courage to walk into a store for pretty, healthy bodies and ask to try on something that shows a lot of skin… I grit my teeth and bid John to buy the festival tickets. And then I placed an order for a costume online. I kept it to only the simplest pieces of the costume, mainly to check for fit and personal comfort level. If they turned out to be unflattering, or I wasn’t comfortable showing so much skin even in my new body, I could always fall back on my old costume, and content myself with knowing I’d chosen not to wear it – though doing so would probably cost me dearly.
Without going into extended detail, I still carry a lot of excess skin around my belly from my days of being heavy; it often makes me look heavier and jigglier than I truly am, and that can pose problems for low-rise bottoms such as belly-dancing skirts or swimwear. We were told this was likely; it’s a sign of how well planned the 20/20 program is that it’s not worse. Still, they advise clients to wait at least two years before considering any sort of plastic surgery, because your body continues to change. We’re just now hitting the point where things are evening out, and I’m still not super excited about the prospect of going under the knife. It would be fun to have the perfect body for once in my life, but the practical, medical part of me knows that recovery would be hard on my diabetes, and it would be a lot of money for what ultimately amounts to my own vanity!
A week passed, and the two easy parts of the costume arrived in the mail. The third – the fancy, bedazzled bra top – would take longer, as each of Domba’s non-festival pieces are hand-made to order. This was meant to be a test, not an actual purchase in time for the Festival! I grabbed the closest bra analogue I had out of my closet, took a deep breath, and tried my best not to pass out. The result… left me stunned. Due to the aforementioned skin, there was no way I would be willing to wear my skirt as low as the design intended, but pulling it up just a little higher, closer to my bellybutton, left me absolutely zero room for my inner critic to complain. Which left me with a new problem: not having a complete costume in time for the Festival! It seemed like such a shame to come so far, only to fail to get to wear it and prove to myself that I could.
So… I got creative. I bought a cheap, skin-colored swimsuit that would do the job of masking the unmentionables without adding anything too elaborate or expensive to the bits I’d already purchased. I bought a cheap headdress to match what I’d already ordered. And then I told myself that I was going to go to that stinkin’ Arizona Renaissance Festival in that stinkin’ belly-dancing costume if it killed me. At the time, I was reasonably convinced that stepping outside in any such thing would do just that! I’d only mastered the guts to wear sports tanks with cut-outs early last year; last summer I was feeling brave and powerful by riding around in my convertible in my sports bra. I really, really don’t show a lot of skin; I never had the body to make it desirable or welcome, even if I’d wanted to. I believed I looked good in that costume… but what if others didn’t? What if they laughed? What if they made fun of me? What if I still hadn’t come far enough to fit in? What was I thinking?!
Social anxiety sucks, folks. But I didn’t let it stop me. I went to that stinkin’ Arizona Renaissance Festival in that stinkin’ belly-dancing costume. I didn’t even pack my backup costume. And I don’t know if y’all will agree, but every single thing that others had to say to me was 500% positive in ways that I never expected.
In the photo gallery at the end of this post, you’ll see the jury-rigged costume that I threw together to wear, which turned out far better than I’d hoped! The plaid-ish scarf is something I wear at home all the time, and I realized it might tie in with John’s kilt – darned if it didn’t do just that. However, I had every intention of stopping by the actual Domba tent to check out what they had available in the shop, and I found a matching top and belt that turned out to be the perfect match for my simple pieces. (Thus requiring me to ask to try things on in a store for pretty, healthy bodies. The “sure lady, good luck with that” look I was waiting for never happened.)
I’ve since received the bra I ordered, and as it turns out, the one from the tent looks far better on me. I’d intended to purchase a “real” costume from Domba eventually, once I’d decided on size, but I didn’t expect to buy it then and there! But I couldn’t be happier, as I’m sure you’ll be able to tell from the photos of the entire ensemble at the end. I love the design, I love the colors, and all of it makes me feel like I’m actually beautiful for once. And that… is priceless for someone who often can’t stand looking in a mirror.
I do admit that I panicked a little bit, getting out of the car at first. I panicked all the way along the somewhat extensive walk into the festival from the parking lot – especially after a fellow visitor jokingly warned us to be careful of the windy day! (He might have been talking to John as well – I didn’t see him because I was bent over trying to fix a stubborn sandal strap, and I’ve refused to inquire about what a gentleman wears under his kilt; the mystery is fine by me!) The wind ended up becoming a beautiful breeze throughout the sunny, warm-but-not-nasty Arizona spring day. And after about ten minutes of glancing around, worried that people were going to point and stare… I forgot I was running around in a bra and a low skirt and had a wonderful time at the festival!
On the way home, we had to stop for a restroom break, and the nearest available toilet happened to be at an Arby’s. I’m normally pretty nervous about these almost-guaranteed stops when they happen, as there’s nothing more antithetical to social anxiety than walking into a room full of regular, “normal” people when you are dressed like something out of a storybook. I like standing out for the right reasons, but being the center of attention has never been easy for me, even so. I was also covered up as tight as I could with my shawl, fearing the old “no shirt, no shoes, no service” policy that never before had been a consideration for me!
As it turns out, we attracted the attention of every single patron and staff member in the place. As it turns out, it’s much harder to slip by unnoticed when you’re wearing a real, heavy coin belt and bra that make noise every time you move! By the time I came out of the restroom, John had started a discussion with a local about the Festival (he’d been before) and several other things in Tucson, and all of the ladies working the evening shift went out of their way to stop and compliment my outfit. It was awkward… and very empowering, too.
I’d already had one similar moment at the Festival, in which I thought I perceived a lady acting strange around me; part of my social anxiety means that I’m perceptive to others’ mannerisms well past the point of the average person, and it’s almost impossible for non-experts to hide or disguise their feelings from me. I’ve watched and tried to understand other people from a distance for most of my life. It’s rare for me to pick up a vibe I can’t name, but that’s what happened. It turned out she thought I worked at the shop we were visiting; a mistake several others made! But that didn’t quite explain the read I was getting.
Then she said something I’ve been thinking about ever since. “Oh, I see. You’re just standing there, looking pretty, in your perfect costume, making the rest of us look bad!”
It was said jokingly, of course; a kind deflection from the mistake of thinking I worked there. And yet, that had to come from somewhere. People across the course of my life have had many various reactions to me, both positive and negative, but jealousy about how I look has never, ever been on the radar at any point prior. The only time I’ve been the girl others want to be is online, in places where no one could see my face.
The desire to grab her by the shoulders and shake her hasn’t left me, though all my mouth did was say thank you and smile. It’s so thrilling to think that others might react that way, and I’m so very flattered – but so much of me is still screaming that no, you’ve got it all wrong, I was three hundred pounds just two years ago, and surely everyone can see it if they look for more than just a moment, and please, please don’t feel bad about yourself because I know that feeling. It hurts. It makes you feel hopeless. But what I didn’t know until now is that it also widens the gulf between you and the person you’re admiring by denying the work that they put into being healthy.
I was raised, like most people in the world, to believe health and beauty were magical gifts given or denied at birth; now I know the blood, sweat, tears, and thought processes that it takes to achieve such things. It may look effortless from the outside, to those of us that haven’t yet attained it and don’t even know where to start… but that’s false, and I wish I’d learned that lesson far sooner than I did. I’m suddenly aware of just how many people I never got to know, or kept at a distance, for the crime of being “too perfect.”
How many of them wanted to help or inspire me, rather than terrify me into more of the same silence that nearly killed me? What struggles did they have, that I might have helped with in turn? I’m afraid to even ask. It’s one of many revelations I’ve had, over the course of breaking down my social anxiety over the last few years, that leave me feeling as if I’ve been sleeping for a thousand years and just recently opened my eyes.
I’ll be running the obvious feelings of impostor syndrome by my therapist when I see her this week, though I know it’s not the first time we’ve talked about such things. The person I see in the mirror is still often my old self, regardless of what reality shows. I also routinely minimize my own successes. I truly do know how far I’ve come – but to revel in it seems somehow flawed and risky. I know well how easy it was to live my old life and bad habits. I know how hard those addictions and obsessions were to treat in the first place. I know how my brain was able to convince me I had no choice in the matter. Two years is a long time, but it’s nothing compared to thirty-something years of poor choices, bad environments, unhealthy habits, and crippling mental illness. The way backward remains right behind me, and I don’t want to do anything, ever again, to allow myself to take it.
The price, then, of whatever beauty and attractiveness I have now, is knowing that there’s still a looming shadow behind me. It no longer comes from the size of my body, but from the weight of everything I’ve left behind. Forgetting, once in awhile, won’t send me flailing back into the darkness… but forgetting everything is the point at which I rejoin those who believe they have no hope and no choice in the matter.
I’ve always found the most beautiful people in my life are the ones who have made and learned from their own mistakes, faced unexpected hardship and struggle, and emerged stronger and wiser for the experience. It shows in their actions as well as their bearing and their expressions, if you spend as much time watching as I do. Perhaps I can become that for others, instead of forever wishing I could be like the ones I see myself.
Photo Gallery: Arizona Renaissance Festival 2019 – Huzzah!