It has been four and a half years since my divorce was final. Five and a half since my ex and I separated, and I became a Single Mama. My fat to fit journey is just one leg of the journey I've been on for a long time, and by no means the final leg. In one way, it is frustrating to me, because there is a part of me that keeps wondering when things will be "easier." But another part of me is working to embrace the journey, because as much as I am over Miley Cyrus, the Disney starlet hit on a profound truth in her song - it really is the climb. Just like our muscles do not get stronger without hard work, we do not become emotionally and mentally stronger without facing and overcoming obstacles.
This took me so long to realize. I wish I could have those years back. I wish I could wave a magic wand over my daughters' heads and instill this knowledge in them so they do not have to go through all the pain and misery that I have. A lot of pain and misery that they have witnessed and directly experienced. I can only hope that as we muddle through, I am making an impact on them and teaching them the lessons I want them to learn, and what they remember is not the times they saw Mama crazed, or upset, or hurt, reacting (and overreacting) poorly, but that in the end, they see and remember the strength that I am developing and know that it is in them, too.
For a lot of years, I believed that life would be better "if only." If only I:
had more money
had a better marriage
had a better husband
lived somewhere else
had a job
had a better job
was a stay at home mom
wasn't such a social moron
blah blah blah so on and so forth
In short, I was always looking for something outside myself to fix my life, to make me happy. Even when something came into my life that I had been excited about, something I was convinced would make me happy, the feeling was short-lived and I was looking toward the next thing I had to have to be "happy." I don't know that I ever truly enjoyed anything. Then one day I realized that no matter what my circumstances, I was never going to be happy until I decided to be happy.
There are a lot of pithy sayings, like "you get what you give," and "happy is as happy does," and "where attention goes, energy flows," but there is a lot of truth in all of them. You wear negativity and misery like a sandwich board. People see it on your face, in your demeanor. It is a turn off! Even close friends and family can only tolerate complaining and a poor me attitude for so long. It is the same with weight. If you think like a fat person, it's doubtful you are going to be a not fat person any time soon. I have read my share of self-help books in my life. In fact, I am a very good "reader" and "researcher." I was a font of knowledge on self-improvement and weight loss. I knew what to do - I just didn't know how to get started on the doing. And when I was able to get my butt in gear and start something, I was an absolute professional at shooting myself in the foot and sabotaging my efforts. My life reads like a Quitters for Dummies book!
Deciding to be happy was the easy part (the deciding is always the easy part, right?). But I was still struggling every day, often crying on my way to work, on my way home from work, trying not to cry in the bathroom at work. How was I supposed to convince myself to be happy when everything still seemed to just flat out suck? Then one day something came to me. I have no idea where it came from - I must have read it or heard it somewhere and it lodged itself in my subconscious somewhere (I even thought for awhile that I had made it up, but I know I'm not that smart) - but at the time, it seemed like someone had thrown me a life line when I was drowning. I called it Smile Therapy.
Whenever I started to feel sad, anxious, angry, frustrated...whenever that ugly voice was shouting in my head...I forced myself to smile and think one happy thought. Be grateful for one thing, no matter how small. When my ex lost his 5th (and then 6th, and 7th) job since we separated, I forced myself to smile. When he told me he was getting married and going on an exotic honeymoon, I smiled (right after I slammed on my brakes to avoid hitting the car in front of me). Whenever I thought I was going to win an award for Least Patient Mama That Ever Lived, I smiled. When one of my lovely daughters tugged on my Very. Last. Nerve...I smiled. And oh my God, it worked!
This is what I have since found about Smile Therapy (turns out I really am not that smart, and it is a real thing):
Research has shown that when you smile, your brain assumes you must be happy. http://smiletherapy.com/
Smile therapy actually lowers the stress hormones cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenaline and produces hormones which stabilize blood pressure, relax muscles, improve respiration, reduce pain, accelerate healing and stabilize mood. If you’re feeling down the stress hormones secreted with a scowl may increase blood pressure, weaken the immune system, increase susceptibility to infections, and exacerbate depression and anxiety.These are some pretty good reasons to smile, but there's another reason, too...when you smile, people smile back, and that is an awfully good feeling! As I went around smiling like a lunatic, I started to find that things really were starting to look up! My positive to negative thought ratio starting improving. I started feeling better about my life, even though nothing had really changed, only that I had made a conscious decision to Be Happy Now, and smiled my way to a better attitude.
I decided to love where I live. I had wanted to live in NC for a long time, and moved here after my divorce to be closer to my parents, but after I got here, I became convinced I would be happier somewhere else. Once I decided to love where I live, and become invested in my community by finding fun places to go and things to do and getting involved, I did fall in love with it. Now I drive around town and think, I'm so lucky to live here, in a place I love! Thinking about it makes me smile (for real!).
I decided to love where I work. I was absolutely blessed to land the job I did not long after I moved. I had to go from a stay at home mom to a full-time working mom, and that transition was brutal at times. I found everything to hate about my job. Most definitely I treated it as a JOB, something that was unfairly forced on my due to my divorce (even though when I was married, I hated always being broke and I found staying at home with three kids completely overwhelming and NOT fun). Once I decided to love my job and started looking at it as a career instead of just someplace I had to be 8 hours a day to pay the bills, I found that I was blessed not only to have a job in this economy, but to have been lucky enough to have found a challenging and fulfilling career that is perfectly suited to me, and work at a place I enjoy going in every morning.
I decided to love myself. For a long time, I let my fat come between me and life. I isolated myself. I was embarrassed to go out and do things with my kids because I was fat. The thing that makes me the saddest about that period is that not only did I deprive myself of a lot of great experiences, but I deprived my kids, as well. While I would lay on the couch every weekend in a deep depression, watching tv and napping, they were complaining that they never got to do anything fun. It breaks my heart to this day!! I had not made any friends in the years I had been here because that incessant, persistent, convincing negative voice in my head made me believe that no one would really want to be my friend. I remember like it was yesterday the day I finally told that voice to shut the &*(%& up, because life did not start once I lost the weight. It was passing me by every day. It was so hard, but that was the day I came out of my cave, began reaching out, and lo and behold, it was also the day the pounds started coming off. I forced myself to meet people and forged some close friendships that I enjoy to this day, with wonderful people who I believe were brought into my life for a reason. People who are living life and encourage me to do the same!
Last year a lot of good things happened for me. Two things that I am most proud of are being recognized at work with a promotion and buying a house as a Single Mama. I was over the moon! I woke up every day thinking, "oh my gosh, this is what happiness feels like." I was having a conversation with my mom one day shortly after I moved in, and she mentioned how great it was that I had achieved these things that had made me so happy, but I corrected her. I told her that I had achieved them precisely because I was happy. I would not have been able to achieve them had I still been mired in misery. It was like once I made that decision, to not put my life on hold until things happened to make me happy, but to be happy with where I was, no matter what, I opened a door to good things. I was putting out good energy, and it was being returned to me.
I am by no means saying that I have everything figured out. I am still a Single Mama. I still struggle every day. I still have times when I feel overwhelmed and discouraged. I have a long way to go. But now I have a powerful weapon at my disposal to ward off negativity, and I don't let myself wallow nearly as much as I used to (sometimes a good wallow can be healthy, but I limit myself the same way I limit myself to only one serving of Nutella). I now know that when the going gets tough, the tough SMILE!