The Christmas That Didn’t Suck

IMG_0083Last year I convinced myself that Christmas was going to suck, and it did. I had completely disconnected.  I stayed in Fredericton.  I worked the day away, avoiding the phone, ignored Facebook, and didn’t see a single person face-to-face the whole day.  After three years of trying to get through a Christmas at home like nothing was different, I had hit a wall.  I didn’t have enough pretend left in me.  It was a shitty Christmas because that’s what I wanted it to be.

I’ve got this love/hate thing going on with Christmas. The season has a way of magnifying whatever is happening in your life.  If you’re having a rough go, and you’re feeling down and alone nothing will kick you in the nuts harder than Christmas.  On the flip side, if you’re smiling and filled with love and surrounded by happy, supportive people – well you’re decking the halls and fa la la a la’ing and every song on the radio is about you.  That’s just what the holidays do.  Reality is somewhere in the middle, not that it matters in this ultimate season of highs and lows.

This Christmas was going to be different.  Not a god damn thing was going to keep me from making merry and keeping Christmas in my own way.  I hauled out all the go-to’s. There was gingerbread men, eggnog, tree decorating, winter walks, turkey dinners, shopping sprees, night time drives to look at lights, hot chocolate, candy cane ice cream, advent calendars, Christmas Playlists and a million other things you see in every Hallmark Christmas movie.  And you know what? It helped.

Just doing it helps. But you know what helps the most? Not trying to recreate the past. This Christmas was new.  I didn’t hang old decorations.  I didn’t listen to Kenny and Dolly or Jim Reeves.  I didn’t take on the futile task of trying to recreate treasured moments from the past.  It’s kind of impossible when the cast is down one regular. This season has been all about creating new moments and in time some of those will return year after year and become new traditions.

For months after Dad died I wouldn’t sit at his chair at the kitchen table.  So, sitting where I always sat I was forced to stare at his empty seat.  His absence was obvious.  Everything looked the way it always did, only he wasn’t there.  One day I just sat in his chair, and his absence wasn’t as obvious because I couldn’t see the spot where he used to be, plus my own perspective changed, and as I now looked at my empty chair I new everything had changed.  It stopped being about his absence, and started being about my presence.  The same thing applies to Christmas.

The most important difference though is I didn’t try to do it alone.  In the moments it all seemed too much I was lucky enough to have someone spike my coffee and make me go to a Christmas Parade, and not judge me when an Old Spice display in WalMart almost brought me to tears. More than that I had someone with the patience to let me try to navigate my way through this landmine filled season.  I can’t say I found the joy of this season again.  It was given to me by someone special, and it’s been the best gift of the year. No yankee swaps.

So many people I’ve talked to these last few weeks struggle with the holidays – whether it’s because of death, divorce, depression, or just coping with the usual temptations of a season that’s built on icing sugar and shortening.  I’m hardly an expert but here’s what I’ve been trying to do: create as many of those special moments as you can for those you love and let them do the same for you.  The rest seems to take care of itself.

Merry Christmas!

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Guess who showed up at my door?

photo (1)Every gift I’ve bought this year is sitting on my kitchen table, ready to be wrapped when the doorbell rings. I’ve got a wine bottle in my hand as I turn around and look through the frosted glass of my front door to see who it could be. The shape doesn’t look familiar, and I’m not expecting anyone. The plan was for me, this wine, and a cheesy Christmas playlist to finally get everything wrapped and under the tree.

I open the door and a man with a shy smile says “Merry Christmas, sir!” I must have looked rather funny standing there, staring, ignorantly not saying anything in return. I can’t stop staring at this guy. He reminds of my Dad twenty years ago.

He’s wearing a black toque, with the knit lines running straight up and down, forming a funny little peak right on the top of his head. He’s got a blue and green check shirt on – snaps, not buttons, and over it a heavy flannel jacket of brown and black plaid. He’s wearing jeans and workbooks. His hands are large and thick, and he’s stuck one out before me, waiting for me shake and say Merry Christmas back.

His hand is rough and his shake is as hesitant as his smile. He bends down and picks up a wreath that’s been leaning against his leg. It’s perfectly round, lush green with a red bow tied top centre. He turns it toward me and begins his pitch.

“My wife and I are going door to door, selling these wreaths.” He points at his wife, who is knocking on a door across my parking lot. “She’s just finished making them and they’ll last you through Christmas, no problem. Ya want one?”

“How, uh, much? How much are you selling them for?,” I stammer. He doesn’t sound like Dad. But he’s wearing his clothes, and he carries himself the same way. Dad would have been just as uncomfortable trying to make this sale.

When he says ten dollars I spot six bucks in change on the key rack by the door.

“Sure, come on in. I just have to run upstairs and grab some change.” I’m still looking him over in complete amazement. The longer he’s here the more I notice. He’s got a pack of smokes in his shirt pocket and you can smell it off him. His hair is black and wiry and he coughs as he comes in out of the cold.

I’m halfway up the stairs when I realize what I’ve just done. Months of savings, weeks of spending, every gift I have for everyone I love – I’ve just left them unguarded with a stranger who’s only endearing credential is that he reminds me of Da.

I grab the change and dart back downstairs, coming to my senses. Stuff like this has been happening a lot because of the season. Christmas has made me an emotional wreck. I feel everything and trust nothing because it’s just grief working itself out.

As I hand him the money his face lights up and he starts mumbling his thank you’s and turns back toward the still-open door.

“This is great. Tell your wife thank you. What’s your name?”

“Me? I’m James.”

Gulp. Okay. Hold it together, Jay. Admittedly it’s kind of strange that a guy dressed like your Dad, with your Dad’s mannerisms, mumbles and smokes like your Dad, also just happens to have the same name. But what? You think this is some kind of sign?

I do my usual thing, and start to interview him. “How old are your kids, James?” I ask, following a feeling that there was happening here than he let on.

He leans on the doorway, sighs a little, and with the deal now done we speak like men. That’s when I find out why he’s going door to door selling wreaths with his wife four days before Christmas. He’s got four kids at home. Five if you count the oldest who is out on her own. They’re doing what they can to get through Christmas.

If you want to feel like a privileged asshole, stand in your new townhouse with your new car parked out front, with hundreds of dollars worth of Christmas gifts literally on display in your kitchen. There’s so much food in my fridge, as I get ready for a family dinner Monday night, that there are cans and boxes overflowing on to the counter.

My leather jacket is laying on my leather couch with while my iPad and MacBook charge. Oh, and the wine bottle is still waiting to be opened.

For a second I’m embarrassed – not for what I have, but for what I haven’t done. I’ve always been an incredibly hard worker, and I’ve always believed that you need to have two streams of money coming in to your life. I’ve always got a side project, or something on the go. I live a pretty comfortable life. It wasn’t always like this – but in the last couple of years I’ll pulled my shit together and have very little to complain about. I’m not embarrassed for what I have. I’m embarrassed because of what I hadn’t done.

A month ago I said I was adopting a family – and somewhere in the hustle and bustle of getting my own Christmas together I just didn’t do it.

Hearing James talk about his kids and the three different ways he’s tried to make money this month, it got me thinking of the incredible strength of my parents, who year and after year did what they had to do make Christmas an unforgettable experience for my brother and I.

When they were my age they were married, had a house and two young kids. They had bills coming left, right, and centre. For years Dad worked seasonally, and Christmas was pieced together with odd jobs, unemployment cheques and tax returns that Ma would sit on for months – while her and Dad went without – all so their two sons could always experience a Christmas very different from the ones they both knew as children. My mother, with diagnosed rheumatism, continued to cater weddings and Christmas parties long after should have been just so could bank her cheques and give us the Christmas she wanted us to have.

That’s what James and his wife were trying to do for his kids. They took the time to collect broken and trimmed boughs from every tree lot in the city, spend the night sitting around their kitchen table bending and wire-tying them together in to 25 wreaths they piled in their car to hustle door-to-door to scare together $250 – $50 in gifts for each kid, and $50 for the grocery store. They weren’t stopping until they sold every single one. It’s what it was going to take give their family the Christmas they wanted.

I’ve had an incredible year. There has been challenge, change, and opportunity. I’ve has successes and failures. I’ve risked and lost, and I’ve risked and won. I’ve been within and without and I close the year off a stronger, happier man than I was twelve months ago. Like I’ve been saying for more than two years now – I’m more me everyday. None of that happens in isolation. I didn’t do any of that alone. It’s rare, I find, that anything worth doing can honestly be done alone.

Today, James went away from my door knowing that he isn’t alone either. He and his wife aren’t the only two who want their kids to have a Christmas morning worth remembering for the right reasons.

What did I do? Well, that’s between me and James. The more important question is what can you do?

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Grief is Guilt Wrapped Up for Christmas

Dad_winterIt made no sense to me.  It was just after 5AM, I was out shovelling the driveway and I was happy as a pig in shit. I was smiling.  I had the new Foo Fighters blasting in my ears, and I was making quick work of the snow.  I hate winter.  I hate snow.  I hate the cold.  Why was I enjoying this? By this point I’m basically dancing with the shovel, and every push of the big scoop to drop snow onto the front lawn has me two-stepping back before waltzing down to dig out the car.  I’m downright merry.  It’s disturbing but I go with it. 

It’s not until I’m sitting in my car admiring my work that a flashback hits me in the gut and I understand the giddy feeling.  It’s quickly replaced by embarrassment and sadness as I remember how much my selfishness was a burden on those around me when I was at my heaviest. 

When I was in my 20s I would sit in the house and listen to my Dad shovel the driveway because I couldn’t do it.   Just walking through the snow was enough to leave me winded at 460 pounds, and that was before I even lifted the shovel.  So instead, I hid inside – timing my shower so he’d have it done before I got outside.  I’d lay in bed pretending to sleep, not able to hear my mother’s yells to get my lazy ass outside and help my father.

I wasn’t lazy though, and he’d never ask me to help.  I may be rewriting history to ease my own mind, but I feel like he knew how much I struggled.  Even though my parents never mentioned my weight to me – I would have raged against them had they tried – I feel like he knew my limits and tried to protect me from the embarrassment of asking me to do things he knew I couldn’t do anymore.

I grew up on construction sites and renovations being Dad’s “gopher” and doing odd jobs.  It put money in my pocket in the summer and got me through more than one Christmas. At some point he stopped asking me to do that.  My size made me more of an inconvenience than a helper.  We never talked about it once, but I know he worried about my health.  Since his death Ma has told me that they’d talk about my size and share their worries with each other. My father, who struggled with his own weight later in life, said he couldn’t say anything to me because like so many parents he thought it was his somehow his fault.  

So, as the snow would blow in off the cliffs of the Atlantic, drifting high in our driveway,  I’d lay in bed sinking deeper within myself knowing I was sending my 2-pack a day, 50+ year old, overweight father out to shovel the driveway alone because I had squandered the most basic thing a son can be for his father: youthful. 

Dad is everywhere this time of year and I struggle with that. This is our fifth Christmas without him and if I’m being honest I thought it would be easier by now.  Remembering him isn’t what makes me sad, it’s remembering how little of me I shared with him.  I’m not just embarrassed that I didn’t help him shovel, I’m angered that I missed out on the experience, the conversation, his playful pushes, the funny way he’d quietly shovel his snow right into the part I was trying to clear just to see how long he could do it before I noticed.  I missed out on the stories of his mother sending him all over Reserve Mines as a kid to shovel out their family and friends, and warning him not to take more than a cookie or a biscuit as payment.  I missed out on the memories, and the longer he’s gone the more aware I become that what I do remember is all I’ll ever have, and every year it’s a struggle to keep those.  To keep his face in my mind as it actually was and not just how it looks in the pictures I keep.  To hear his voice as it was and not let time fade that away too. 

Sitting in the car with the snow melting on my boots I try to imagine what he’d say right now if he was here, sitting beside me, puffing on a smoke, double tapping the end with his thumb to drop the ashes out window into a small pile on the snow. I can see him there I can smell the smoke.  I can smell the old spice.  I see his jacket rise and fall with each breath. His black winter hat would be tossed on the dash, and he’d bend over trying to swat away clumps of snow stuck between the tongue of his work boots and the rolled-up cuffs of his jeans.  I try to imagine what he’d say and nothing comes out as he moves his lips. I don’t know what he’d say because in real life we never sat like this.

In fact I don’t know that he’d playfully push me in the snow.  I don’t know that he’d shovel his snow into the part I was trying to clear.  I don’t know that his mother made him shovel out their family and friends and refuse money.  I never got to have those conversations with him because I rolled over and pretended to sleep instead. 

So, of course I was giddy to be shovelling snow yesterday morning.  The changes I make won’t give me new memories of him, but they remind me to actually live now that I can.  I don’t “roll over and pretend” for anything anymore.  Last night I spent three hours shopping, going up and down every aisle in every store all over the city, with an amazing woman by my side every step of the way.  I couldn’t have done that a few years ago.

Grief is just guilt wrapped up for Christmas. Long after the tree is down and lights are away, twenty Christmases from now these memories will be mine and they will be real. There will be no guilt and no grief.  There was a moment and I lived it.  Being present is just about the best present you give the people you love.  I know that now – and while it’s been a hard lesson to learn, it’s probably the most important thing my father ever taught me.  I didn’t get it back then.  I do now.  I believe that happiness is a habit.  I believe that confidence is a habit.  I’m just starting to realize that peace might just be a habit too.

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Songs Are Time Machines

songsIt’s just after 4:30AM and I’m sitting at my kitchen table drinking apple cinnamon tea.  The only lights on in the whole place are from the Christmas tree and the glow from the screen of my laptop. The house is creepy quiet.  The rain is beating off the kitchen window and I hear the faint beeping of a truck backing up somewhere. 

This is just about my favourite part of the day.  There are people who get up with just enough time to get ready and get to work.  I’m not that guy.  I love being alone.  I love sitting in a clean, quiet place.   Quiet until I start to get ready and turn on the music. 

My obsessive nature carries over into my music.  I’ll listen to anything, but whatever I’m into at any given moment I’m going to play about 4000 times a day until I ruin it for myself and everyone around me. You know in Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men” how Lennie really wants a mouse, a rabbit, or a puppy dog but when he finally gets one he pets them so excitedly he accidentally kills them? That’s me.  I love things to death. 

The music is always a strange mix.  The Arkells are playing now. They became the soundtrack for this past summer after seeing them at a festival downtown.  But it’s just as likely that the Foo Fighters, Bruno Mars, or John Fogarty will be on next.  Notorious BIG, Conway Twitty, and The Barra MacNeil’s are all on there too.  

I have an iTunes playlist I’ve called “Time Machine.”  I hope you can relate to this, or you’re going to think I’m crazy.  

Sometimes a song comes on and with the first few notes you’re transported back to a moment you’ve lived before. We do this with more than music.  I walked past a woman in the mall a few weeks ago and the smell of her perfume put me back in Mrs. MacDonald’s Grade 2 class at Brookside Elementary School at home in Glace Bay.

It’s the same thing with music. 

Eve 6 plays and I’m smoking a cigarette on the backstep of parents house at 2AM wondering where I lost my keys.  The song was on in the cab before it dropped me off. 

ColdPlay comes on.  It’s 3AM and I wake up alone on my girlfriend’s couch.  It’s winter and I see my car is running outside.  She went out for a smoke.  I have work in a few hours so I throw on my jacket and go out.  We have reached the point of comfortable silence so I sit behind the wheel while she finishes her smoke.  She kisses me goodnight, neither us talking, both of us yawning and crusty-eyed, she leans in the door and says “press play” before closing it and going inside.  As I pull out of her driveway I hear Chris Martin sum up our relationship in on perfect line. I smiled for days.

Gwen Stefani and Mary J Blige. . . I’m 19 at the Guildwood and up to no good. 

Hot in Here by Nelly.  I’m spending the weekend with friends at St. FX and I can taste cotton candy on my lips. 

The Bare Naked Ladies – Alcohol – Me and my brother and any night of debauchery. 

The Killer’s – Here with Me.  “Don’t want your picture on my cell phone, I want you here with me.”  They’re not all break-up songs I swear. 

There are 45 songs on that list and each one takes me back to some of the strongest memories I have. 

I noticed something interesting the other night.  There isn’t a song on that list from 2002 – 2012. 

Songs don’t make the memories worth remembering, the people do.  That whole ten years wasn’t a write off – there would be good moments in there, but those memories don’t feel like mine. That can’t be healthy. 

So a new goal for next weekend: add songs from those years, and make an effort to remember the people and times that didn’t suck.  I’m only shortchanging myself if I pretend that decade didn’t exit just because I now judge the decisions I was making back then.    I have to accept that time, not simply write it off. 

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What I want. . .

227954_13575350703_9089_nMy god I am predictable.  Just over a month ago, just as my job was changing, I moved in to a new townhouse on the other side of the city.  It’s a castle compared to my old place – which says more about my old place than my new one.  When I moved to Fredericton almost two years ago, it was meant to be temporary in every way.  I gave it two years, at most.  I was here for the experience.  I was here, most certainly, to prove a whole lot to myself. 

It was nine months after my surgery that I called my boss and asked him out for a drink at a bar in Sydney.  His house was already packed up – he was travelling back and forth from Fredericton while he put in his finals days in Sydney.  We met at a bar around the corner from his hotel. 

We talked about the last five years in Sydney, about how I went from being the low man on the totem pole in the newsroom to being the News Director and co-host of a morning show – landing a career in an industry I had never really expected to be in. 

I told him that night, I believe for the first time, that I had accepted the job with Newcap Radio because the community newspaper I owned had cashflow problems and I was on the verge of losing the big printer we used to publish the paper.  I took the radio job because it was a paycheque at the right time. I had already been taking shifts at a local call centre and was designing webpages on the side just to keep the business afloat.  And even that wasn’t enough. More than once my father dropped by our office with a box of 11X17 paper in the back of his truck.  I’m sure he wondered just how long we were going to struggle along with this this but each time he’d pull away a part of me was sure he was proud of what my brother and I were doing.   He read every issue we put out over the years – and especially loved my brother’s hilarious column “Big Billy Bay Bye” which I still believe is the only reason anyone actually bought the paper week after week. 

But after a year in radio I was hooked.  I sold the paper to a guy who owned another nearby, cashed the cheque, and headed south. Drunk on a beach in the Dominican Republic I decided I was going to stay in radio.  I had the chance to stay on with the paper, and work for the new owner, but it just didn’t sound fun to me.  I liked the challenge of radio.  I liked the size of it.  But mostly I loved the pace of radio.  With two stations in the building – I loved the idea that while everyone else had just 24 hours in their day, we were responsible for 48. 

We had been talking for about fifteen minutes when I looked across the table and told my boss I wanted to be a part of his new project in Fredericton, no matter the job.  This wasn’t about making a career move.  The Fredericton market is comparable size to Sydney.  The pay didn’t really change all that much.  As it turned out – the job was pretty much the same.  I’d ended up running the newsroom and being on a morning show.  

The decision, like so many I’ve made in the last two and half years, was a selfish one.  I left behind a girlfriend I cared for deeply, and a mother whose side I had barely left since since my father passed away.   Why was it so important for me to leave?

It was because I needed to stand on my own.  I needed to know I could live alone and still make good choices.  I needed to know I could face the stress of regular life and not revert back to my old ways.  I was scared to death and was completely indecisive.  In fact, the night before I left I sat at Tim Horton’s in the Sterling holding my girlfriend’s hand and knew I was making the wrong choice.  My brother was on a bus heading toward Cape Breton.  We were packing the U-Haul in the morning and moving me to Fredericton.   

At midnight I told him I had changed my mind and I wasn’t going. 

At 9AM we packed the the U-Haul.  My brother did what brother’s do – he told me if I wanted to come back home in a couple of weeks he’d help – but I was going now. 

That was two years ago – and truthfully most of my life is still just me walking around like a deer on ice.  I keep trying to say “yes” to new things because I’m still retraining myself to live this new life.  And it is a new life.   If I had to live another day like I was back then I’d feel like I was drowning, and if I took who I was back then and tried to make him put in a day like I do now – he’d collapse in the corner by 10AM.   Life has gotten much bigger than I could have handled back then. 

This last month has been filled with a lot of change, and the cast of characters around me has shifted as I figure out just what it is I want out of each day.  I feel like I did the week after I sold the paper.  I have no idea if any of this is forever, but I’m positive it’s for good. 

I have never been more certain about what I want. I know what I want to accomplish, and I know who I want to keep close as I try.  That’s the risky part.  When I didn’t expect very much of myself, whatever I got was enough.  But the risk these days is how will I react if I don’t get what I want? Truthfully,  I don’t know, because I’ve never wanted this much before.  

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“You look kinda sad.”

10710451_10154805764820704_2857275424576864261_o“You ok? You don’t seem like yourself.  You look kinda sad.”

Nothing brings an awesome day to a grinding halt quite like someone pissing in your cornflakes with an observation like that.  

It’s not the first time I’ve had something like that said to me and each time it’s been said by someone who has known me since before surgery. 

You know, when all of this started I couldn’t stand the way some of the most successful weight loss patients I talked to seemed to measure their time “before surgery” and “after surgery” like it was a rebirth or resurrection.  It seemed so silly to me but now I get it. I measure everything that way. 

So when someone who was in my life “before surgery” says….
…..you seem more serious now…
….you’re not as funny as you used to be…
….you look sad….. of course!

Of course that’s how it seems to those who knew me back then. You know why I used to hide in my basement for days at a time? Because the energy it took to be the fake bastard I used to be was unbelievably draining.  When you play pretend that long it becomes work. I worked pretend.  You don’t fake it ’til you make it.  You fake it ’til it breaks you.

The person people remember being friends with, partying with, working with, or even dating never really existed.  It was always me, just amped up on self-doubt trying way too hard to be accepted. 

So it’s not that I’m sad, or more serious, and I haven’t forgotten how to be funny. 

I just save those things for genuine moments. 

I’ll admit living the way I did for as along as I did has left me emotionally numb.  I’m insanely sensitive and overthink just about everything – but that’s internal.  I don’t wear my emotions on my sleeve.  I think the most basic, most gracious thing we can do for one another is be consistent.  Back when I was a manager, I never wanted any one on my team having to stop outside my office door and think “what kind of mood is he in?” and use that to filter the things they would bring to me on any given day.  

I try to live that same way.  I want the people I care about to know what to expect from me. I don’t want anyone to have to cope or handle with what’s happening in my life.  And in the right situation with the right person, the wall comes down and I’ll be share it all. 

That’s not fake.  That’s emotional accountability.  In fact, it’s exactly why I don’t fake it now. 

If I’m smiling – it’s real.  If I’m laughing – it’s real.
And when it happens, and it happens a lot, it’s a completely real, and that’s the best feeling in the world for a guy like me, who has been where I have been. 

If I’m not who you think I should be, that’s my fault too.  I lied to you for years. 

I defined myself to you as someone I knew I was not.  Small confession, sometimes I miss that liar too.  When I was fun, I was really fun and when I wasn’t I was alone.  

So I’m not sad.  I’m just me.  This is just what my face looks like when I’m not smiling a fake smile to convince us both that everything is fine. 

Reality is the cost of honesty. 

 

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The Truth About Excess Skin

I now know what it’s like to ask a dry cleaner to get blood out of something.  Last Wednesday as I changed from my suit and tie into my after-work uniform of a jeans and a hoodie I noticed a large red spot on the upper arm of my white dress shirt.

I took off my tie, unbuttoned my shirt revealing a black compression undershirt.  As I took the dress shirt off I could see there was blood smeared all over my arm. I stood in front of my mirror and peeled the compression shirt off, feeling sharp pain as I lifted it above my head to take it off my body.  All at once I unfolded, free from the under armour.  The squishy tire of flesh around my stomach, held tight and pushed into a barrel shape by the shirt, now hung free.  The folds of skin that had been held up all day now stretched down.  There’s what the doctors call  “the apron” – that part of my stomach from the bellybutton down, getting flatter, more wrinkled, and harder to hide as time goes by.

My chest – sigh.  That’s not accurate.  My breasts.  The skin falls flatter than it used to, the nipples slipping lower, pointing at the floor.  Yet, there they are.  No matter how much weight I lose, or how much I target my chest with workouts – there is actual breast tissue there, developed prepuberty likely by the impact of childhood obesity on my hormones.  There they are, creating two deep folds of skin under each arm where I used to have much larger rolls.  Even when I stretch my arms above my head and reach as far as I can I can’t make that fold unfold.

There are wings of fat and skin that hang off my arms.  I lift them up and wave my arms from front to back.  The skin sways and slaps against the front of my arm and then the back.  It hangs down for inches, the fat tapering off into a “V”.    As I lift my shoulder, I see where the blood is coming from. 

One of the stretch marks that runs from my arm, across my shoulder, under my arm and curves down the side of my stomach has actually opened up.  And it’s my own fault.  For almost a year now I could comfortably fit in XL shirts.  My chest, my back, my stomach – everything fit.  But not my arms.  I find myself still buying XXL shirts just so my arms will fit.  When I try to force them in to anything smaller the skin bunches up, hurts like hell, and slowly twists whatever I’m wearing as it bunches the fabric up under my arm.

This cut is my own fault.  I’ve never bled before.  It’s because I bought new compression shirts and I bought XL.  The XXL weren’t holding my stomach and chest together the way they used to.  They weren’t tight enough. I didn’t know if I was getting smaller or if I was just slowly stretching out the shirts, so I got a smaller size.  Now I have a small bloody gash where the sleeve of the compression shirt dug into my arm all day at work.

I had talked to enough successful weight loss patients along the way to know that success came with these issues.  Here’s what I hadn’t considered:  sometimes people fail because they’re afraid of success and the changes it brings.

I’ve spent the last two years writing and talking about fearlessly facing change and taking control of a life that was out of control in so many ways.  Meanwhile, everyday I was struggling with something I hadn’t really figured out until the last few weeks.

About a year ago I reached the point where I subconsciously decided that my body was getting worse looking with each pound I lost.  About 75 pounds ago I looked like you expect a fat guy to look.  When you unwrapped this present, you pretty much got what you’d expect.

That’s not the case now.  Now, I have a body that was once stretched to hold someone almost twice my size.  The more weight I lose from my stomach the more prominent my chest appears.  The more weight I lose from my arms, the more the skin pinches and pulls,  no matter what I wear.

Walking through the woods yesterday I was climbing up a little river bank and as I leaned forward to pull myself up I felt the weight of more than 30 pounds of excess skin hanging from my body. I’ve learned to to cover it up, to strap it in, and spread it out so I can generally walk around like a regular looking overweight guy – but that’s when it hit me.  I’m worried about what success looks like.  I’m worried about what true success feels like. 

When I wrote the first book I said it was all about helping people get out of their own way. Well, yesterday, alone in the woods, I realized that I might once again be in my own way, and that’s kind of terrifying.

I tell people all the time that they’ll be disappointed if they head into this expecting the end result to be a “normal life with a normal body.”  I’m not really sure why I thought I was any different, but I did.

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