Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Two years....100 lbs.....a different life...sorta.....

Membership photo taken on Nov 19, 2009
when I joined LTF
 This is probably going to end up one of those winding nostalgic posts. I am facing down an anniversary and that tends to make me sentimental (it's a girl thing I know). Black Friday is coming up... the day my life changed. As a co-worker pointed out last night, time DOES move faster the older you get. It is really shockingly so. In ways this week in November 2009 seems like a moment ago, in other ways it is lifetimes ago.

For those that haven't been reading the blog from the beginning. Black Friday 2009 was when I joined Lifetime Fitness, started working with a trainer, started the journey that I thought was only about losing weight, but have since realized was so much more.

Before photo, Feb 2009
 When I walked into LTF on November 19, 2009 I could barely walk more than a few steps at a time, and even those were difficult. Partially because I weighted 311 lbs (from my high of 338 a few months earlier) but also because of the nerve damage on my right side from the botched surgery and two ensuing strokes. My goal, do water aerobics, maybe the treadmill, not much more. The outcome (to date) is light years from where I started. I never would have guessed two years later I would have lost around 100 lbs, I would have done an indoor tri, that I would be able to lift the weights I do, and certainly not that I would be horseback riding. At that point I would have been happy if I had been told I would be able to walk stairs and not have to make every decision on my life on whether my body could do it. I have come a long long way, and am super proud of that.

Nick and I at the Vikings
game this year
But I have to be honest, this second year has been MUCH harder on many fronts than the first one was. I am still trying to understand why the first year was so much easier, but I believe it is grounded in how far I had to come. Most of the first year was all major milestones, every day was a new accomplishment, and I do well with that. I feed my energy off it and it helped me fight battles that I thought were conquered, but really were only hiding, especially my eating disorder (the not eating part). This second year weight loss has not come, I am currently around 235. It has been as much about not falling backwards as it has been trying to go forward this year. I am blessed with a personal trainer, Nick, who has stood by me through that, trying to keep me moving forward, but also not giving up when we were just treading water.

Me with Snapper, the horse
who changed it all
This year also added an Eating Disorder therapist, Alecia, to my world. I started with her in the middle of a blizzard in February. I know working with her is what I need to be doing, but have to admit part of me hasn't fully connected with it yet, and I struggle with that. I have struggled with that a lot in the last year and a half, working to let the people in I need to and feeling very detached and distant from them even if it isn't what I want. I definitely have become more isolated in the second year than I was in the first, and think that is part of the lack of success also. As I have said in the blog before, I let more people in the first year, but when that blew up in my face with some people I retreated from it, I am working now to get that better balanced.

Joker and I in the first snow, one of the few pictures
in the world of me laughing...ironically I have no clue what about
The biggest addition to my life in year 2 has been horses, and Woodloch Stable. WL was a very happy accident. I was in no way going near horses by choice (they were big scary mean creatures was what I remembered from being a kid) but the minute I was pushed to do it I felt complete in a way I hadn't in a long time. Horses touch a part of my heart I had walled off from humans. While I struggle allowing people to hug me, touch me, care about me, see my flaws when I am with my horse, any horse, that part of me is fulfilled. I become a very different person and I am open to very different experiences. And along with letting the horses in, I have gained an entire new circle of friends, at WL, at Sunnyside and on FB. My "horsey friends" as my other friends call them.

Etta, Snapper and me
The most central new person in this is my riding instructor, Etta. It always amazes me how the right people fall into our life at the right moment. I was reminded again yesterday how everything really came together that day in May at WL. The right horse, the right instructor. If any of that had been different I don't think I would be riding today. I got lucky to find an instructor who gets my limitations but has no hesitation of fighting me to put them aside, which is what I need, and where I am most struggling these days.

My life has changed a ton in two years, my body has changed a ton in two years, but unfortunately my brain hasn't changed in those two years, I thought for a while it had, near the middle of the first year, but I realized this past week how much I still am locked in "brain fat" and "brain fears". Where I have stopped being a prisoner to my body, I still wrestle with being a prisoner to my thoughts and my memories. I still stop myself from doing things, including riding, based on fears about my body and whether it will do what I want it to or not. I still fight myself around food and eating, based on those old messages.

Which brings me to my goals for year 3.........getting my brain to catch up with my body. To stop living in the past in my thoughts, my fears, my behaviors. Because I fear til I do that I am stuck at this point of "good enough but not where I want to be" with my food, my weight, my happiness, my riding, all of it.

Kola and I off on an adventure
And the biggest lesson I am taking from year 2 is I cant do it alone. I tried this year, where the first year people were freely let in, this past year I tried very hard to hide a lot, to do a lot on my own, to figure it out myself. Even though I had great people wanting to help and to care, I always retreated. I see it most clearly in my riding, I go have my "adventures" on my own and come back and tell people what went on after the fact, but that is just the visual of what I did in everything. Its why therapy hasn't helped, I would go and keep 1/2 of what I felt inside for fear of what Alecia thought. In the last 6 months I have done it in the gym too. I got very very hung up this year in what people think, in going back to feeling like I have to be perfect or I wont be loved or accepted, and this year I need to put that behind me, that has to become old think!

Me on Cheyenne
I cant say I know how to do it, so this year I am asking you all to help me, to push me to do it, to yell back, to chase me down when I hide, to force me to live out in the open and not head out to where I can hide. And yeah I am going to fight back, that is me, but please stop me from running like you all did in year 1 before I shut everyone out. I need my friends to get back to being louder than the noise in my head again. You all have my permission, for one year, to be a royal pain in my butt (at least now I know how to jump on a horse and get away from all of you *grin*)

On to year three.....

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Six months in the saddle...

"Every horse you meet will teach you something"
"You are safer than you realize"
"There is a cowgirl in you somewhere"
Etta Arcand Langer

WOW! There wasn't much else I could say when I looked back last night to see exactly how long ago I had started riding and it turned out today marks 6 months. Just like so many other things it seems like just yesterday, and at the same time it seems a life time ago. In ways it was, I am such a different person now. As we have joked at that barn more than once, I am now "a whole lot more cowgirl than princess". While I still have my great heels and my nails and I still like the dressing up I had discovered in the first year of my transformation, I have to admit, I am pretty darn happy to have "traded Nine West for Ariat".

I was asked yesterday why I think I have taken so quickly to horses and riding. I am sure, like with most things, the answer is a lot simplier than I am going to make it, but I came up with two reasons...

1) I have no history with it. My life comes with a whole lot of baggage. Dysfuncational family, abusive parents, eating disorder, weight issues and most of all the nerve damage/strokes and paralysis. Most everything in my life I run through one of those filters and I measure how I used to be able to do it versus how I can or cant do it now. Riding has none of that. I had never done it before I was "broken" so there is no measure of how much harder it is or how much worse it is, it just is. It gave me a clean slate, a brand new story to write, unincumbered by the past. It has no tie to my mother, to being sick, none of that. So I can just do it and figure it out now and not feel I have to measure myself against the past.

I have found a level of pride in my accomplishments riding that I have never felt (or allowed myself to feel) in anything else I have done in my life. I dont need to measure myself against other people or be the best. I have found great joy in just my "baby steps" of riding, and that is new for me. I have gotten a greater high crossing a stream or walking over a log than in anything I have ever done.  I see my accomplishmemts, which I normally don't.

2) It involves the most honest "me" of anything I have ever done. Most of my life I have felt I was playing roles people wanted... the good student, the happy family member, the confident business analyst...sometimes parts of it were true, but more often than not they were truly a role. A facade, a face for the world. Trying to be what I thought people wanted me to be so I would fit in or be liked or accepted. Then I would come home and take off the mask and hide out so people wouldnt see who I really was. But with riding, I haven't had to wear a mask, truth, you can't fake it on a horse. You are who you are. There isnt time for pretend and imagery. And even when people do try to pretend, it is blatantly obvious very quickly. Your horse calls you out on it really fast! All your good and your bad is brought to the surface and exposed for the world. I can tell by watching how someone treats their horse how they treat people and what matters to them and how they feel about themselves. You see the most honest reactions and emotions around horses.

And for me this honesty is liberating. I spend all day smiling and pretending for clients, for people around me, and it is exhausting at times. The barn and with my horse is where that mask comes off and it re-energizes me.

One of the realities I have faced in the last six months is how much I have turned out to be, at my very core, who I fought for the last 30 years not to be and have found peace with that.

I grew up in a small town very much like the Hugo, MN area (where the barn is). That small town country girl is who I really am, even if I thought I had to become someone else for the world to love and accept me. I have done it, I have faked it (I can easily stand in a board room on 5th Avenue in New York City and reshape a fortune 500 company's future, I do it all the time), but at my heart, I'm simple, I'm small town. I'm country music, I am a few close friends and a bon fire much more than I am big cities and night clubs. And I am finally accepting that of myself!

I can't in any way take all the credit for my success this six months or even that I got on the horse the second time. I have always said the right people cross our path when they are meant to. For as much as I believe I was meant to do this "horse thing" at this point in my life, I am not sure if my first day hadn't gone the way it did, had it not been where it was, and the instructor who it was if I would be on a horse today. I consider Woodloch Stables and Etta the happiest accident of my life. I could not be riding at a more welcoming, friendly supportive barn. From my initial fears that I was too fat to ride (met by a comment from my instuctor I will NEVER forget..."Have you seen the size of cowboys"), to the other riders who welcomed me riding with them from day one, to the amazingly helpful barn staff who have never made me feel dumb (even when I ask things like 'do I have the right horse' or 'Has anyone seen my horse, he's missing'). I have never felt once that I didn't belong, and again for me that is unheard of. THANK YOU.

Thank you to my horse friends (and a few non-horse friends) who have listened tirelessly to my stories and accomplishments. Whether you are here with me in person, or an online friend. I love the new dimension of people riding has brought to my life, and the way some of my existing friendships have been deepened.

A huge debt of gratitude to those who have loaned or leased me your horses to ride, for an hour, a couple weeks or months. Etta, Mary and Jessica. You sharing your ponies with me is a gift I wont forget.

Finally the most important thank you. My trusted steeds. Snapper, no matter how many horses I ride in my life, you will always be the most dear to my heart. Your patient, calm, caring way is a gift to all of us you teach to trust ourselves to ride. You do a very important job at Woodloch and hope you realize how loved you are and what a "rock star" you are to so many people who meet you. Cheyenne, I still miss you! You had a caring in you that is hard to explain. Cody, thanks for teaching me I could ride even if Snapper wasnt around. Gunner, just one ride, but you changed how I ride, you taught me how to use my body to ride. Kola....my dear friend. We rode for only a couple weeks, but we somehow bonded. You are still there for hugs anytime I come to the pasture. You made me feel loved and still do. And my special gelding Joker, you my friend are teaching me bravery, in myself, how to trust, that taking a chance is ok. I look forward to what you have to show me in the future. And I look forward to all the horses I am yet to meet......

And to think it all started out with a LivingSocial coupon.............

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ultimate Trust.....

"Horses lend us the wings we lack. ~Author Unknown"

It blows my mind when I let it sink in that just six months ago I wouldn't go near a horse and now I find my greatest moments of victory on their backs. I started this journey accidently in May and what a ride it has been.

It has been exhilarating, challenging and at times terrifying. To use a phrase my riding instructor used about her horse, I am not "brave by design". This is especially the case when it comes to physical challenges. I fear falling, I fear pain and most of all I feel looking like a fool. That last part leads to me hiding many of my "adventures", riding only in an empty arena with the doors closed or heading out to a field to practice. No one knows about them til I have done them and succeeded. The multiple attempts that fail are only mine to know, and well now my horse's also.

The great part of riding Joker is I have the most trust worthy horse in the world and can try new things on my own. Don't get me wrong, he's a horse, I don't lose sight of that, at any moment he could decide to take charge and take off (most likely back to the barn) or spook, but what I have learned as Joker and I have built our relationship is even on his worse moments, he doesn't have a mean or spiteful bone in his body. He feels he is protecting not only himself but me, and I am blessed for that. He is a partner I can believe in when I am not feeling brave, he is in it with me, he is on my side and he will do all he can to take care of me.

This is going to sound very strange to my non-horse friends (and probably even to some of my horse friends) and if you are one of those "they are just animal" people you may want to stop here, but Joker and I have a mounting ritual we go through before every ride. Before I step into the saddle, I stop, I go to his face, I stroke his blaze and I look him in the eyes and ask he if I may ride him and also ask him to help me through the ride. In my mind he understands what I am saying and I see a change in his eyes, an understanding of his role in my life and a softening. I realize that may be me wanting to impose my world view on him, but even if he doesn't undestand it is important to me to acknowledge that I never take him for granted, that I respect and appreciate that he allows me on his back (let's be honest, this is a 1200 lb animal who could easily be rid of me if he wanted) and takes such good care of me.  And to thank him for keeping us safe even when I question my seat.

I thought I knew all this, about how lucky I am and what a trustworthy horse I am riding after our first solo stream crossing alone a few weeks ago, but last night he taught me what trusting a horse really means....we did our after dark trail ride.

The ride started out as a behavior lesson for Joker. Since the season change he has been getting a little lazy riding when the light changes. Even if we are in the indoor arena, he had been deciding he should be done as the sun goes down. So my goal has been to change up the times we ride, to ride him more after dark, to remind him he doesn't have banker's hours.

We set out at twilight, my plan, ride him around the driveways at the barn before we lost all the light. I had no plan for a great adventure. I wanted to be back to the safety of the barn before dark. We did our planned ride, and something came over me. BTW there is a thin line between brave and crazy *smile*.

Not sure if it was beautiful moon, the stars, the previous conversations with Joker's owner about her night trail rides or just how great the ride was going and wanting to test our limits. But something lead me to take it to the next step. Despite the light being gone I headed us out around the track. For those not familiar with Woodloch, there is a 1 mile sand track, that starts out in the open and then cuts through a wooded area and returns back into the open. It is somewhere Joker and I have been multiple times (it is our escape ride when we don't want to work too hard but want to be alone). Last night however was a whole new experience, for me at least.

Not being able to see the ground in front of us (or below me) was not a factor in this outing I had considered til it was too late and we were already on our way. As someone who panics and doesn't trust her own footing when walking in the dark, to cede all control, to have to trust my horse to find his way and to keep us safe was difficult at best. Many times I considered getting off his back and leading him home. But I think what kept me going and not trying to take back control from him was that part of me that hates failing. Because I can't ground mount Joker, it would have meant doing the "walk of shame" all the way back to the barn and that people would think less of me was a lot more scary in that moment than trusting Joker.

And as usual I am glad I rode it out, it was the most fulfilling exhilerating ride I have had yet. Far better than learing to trot or canter, even better than the stream ride (which was pretty darn cool in its own right). Because this meant a level of trust I have never given willingly to any living being. Trust is such an issue for me, but last night I learned that well placed trust is a great thing. That when you have a parter who deserves your trust it can be very liberating to hand over the reigns.

Joker of course handled the entire ride with the same "come on this is no big deal, I got it under control, chill out" look he gives me during our mounting ritual. He safely and calmly rode the entire ride and lead us home like a champ.

And for those wondering, yes he was definitely rewarded with lots of treats. Truth the boy could have had anything in the world he wanted last night, because he let me feel the one thing I have rarely felt in my life, completely secure in where I had placed my trust!!!!! I love you my friend!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Second Time Around...

I am not sure as I start this post where it is going to end up, if I knew that answer I probably wouldnt be writing it in the first place, so maybe I am hoping somewhere in figuring out how to say this is my own answer.

The topic has been on my mind for a long time, I have been fighting with myself over this for over a year now, but for many reasons, I have said precious little in this blog about where I am at. Partially because I feel like I am failing and am embarrassed by that, partially because I have heard the word "inspiration" so many times over my weight loss that I am afraid of letting people done, or trying to keep my head in the sand. But a Facebook post this morning by a friend on the same topic has me ready to face it, at least for the moment. Thanks Paul, this is for you.

The topic, the reality of weight loss after it has long stopped being easy, when the scale starts to creep up again and you feel helpless to stop it or to get back on track, but need to.

I have been fighting this battle for about a year now...for about 10 months I bounced around in the same ten pounds, between 210 and 220. And then the scale started climbing. Today my weight stands around 240 lbs (havent weighed myself in about 10 days so not exactly sure the number but guessing that is about where it is).

I could sit here and list a ton of reasons, but as my trainer points out to me periodically, they would be nothing but excuses. The reasons may be true...eating disorder noise, work stress, lack of self confidence, and on and on...but as true as they are, they are excuses. Convenient excuses to hide what weight loss for those of us who are truly over weight, a decision that we are worth the effort (ours and other people's), that we deserve success, that we are worth believing in and that we are valuable./

Paul asked me this morning how I would address this if I was starting fresh, if I didnt have the history of having lost the 100 or so pounds. His question stopped me cold, because I realized, I dont know what made that change in me the first time, and it is probably why I have struggled the last year to get back there. I dont know how I did it the first time. It feels looking back more like a fluke than something I purposely did.

I can look back at the first year of my weight loss journey and I see myself as a person I never was before then and havent been since. I read my posts on here and it is like reading another's story. The biggest thing I see is that I let other people walk along with me, and I have lost that ability again to let people in and admit I can't do this alone. I look back at the people I had with me when this all started...my trainer, so many people on staff at LTF, other people losing weight there, the readers on here, my friends on FB, other friends. And I saw myself doing something I had never done up to that point, letting others in. But in the last year I have moved so far away from that, I have gone back to trying to take on the journey myself, and not knowing how to let people walk with me, even when they want to. And I haven't moved a step forward.

The great irony to saying that, is that at this point I am actually surrounded by better people than I was when I was losing weight. I have an amazing trainer who has tirelessly beat his head against a wall with me for 16 months, an ED therapist who tries so hard yet I still keep at a distance, friends who want to help and who I know logically would do anything I asked them to help me. Yet I dont know how to let any of them in the same way I did before, and that is about ME not them. And if I dig deep enough I think that is a big part of where I have stalled. Because another reality for those of us who have struggled with our weight our whole lives or grew up with abuse is we measure our worth, as wrong as it, by those around us. And what made me believe in myself for the year I was losing weight, was others' belief in me, others telling me I was worth it, and for the first time in my life I believed what I was hearing. But I dont know why or how. I dont know right now how to believe in myself to meet the goals I need to, and I dont know how to believe in what I am hearing from those around me that got me going when I didnt feel it before.

I guess the big question I have to face, that I have avoided the last year, isnt how to get the scale to drop. But how do I get back to believing I am worth the effort, that I am worth making the right choices for. Because that is most likely the root to how I got things going in the right direction before.

Sadly as I said at the begining of this post, I dont have my answer. But at least for the first time in a year, I feel like I know the question.