Monday, August 4, 2014

August 4th, 2014 Exposing The Fallacy of The Alternate Reality I Believed Existed or Simply, Swim Day!

August 4th, 2014 Exposing The Fallacy of The Alternate Reality I Believed Existed or Simply, Swim Day!

I woke up thinking about the challenge in front of me today. All day long I was getting closer and as each hour ticked away I was becoming increasingly anxious. For someone who doesn't have these types of body image hangups, I'm sure it seems foreign and some of this post might even seem silly. I assure you, it's not.

Our perception is our reality. It may not be everyone else's reality, but it's very much ours. A little background first:

I was often the subject of cruel teasing as an overweight kid. One of the picking points was my chest. It wasn't even another kid who first told me I needed to wear a bra, it was actually a young adult. If memory serves--of course from my little kid perspective--this young adult may have been a teenager, I don't know. I wrote about this experience in my book "Transformation Road," here's an excerpt:

"There was a group of older boys, probably late teens, maybe early twenties, hanging out by a vehicle close to the staircase that led to our front door. I was almost home free. As I approached, their attention turned to me. One of them started laughing as he said the words that would embed in my brain forever. It didn't mean anything to those guys, it was just one of many laughs in their day-to-day lives, but to me, it cut deep and gave me a complex that has plagued me my entire life. He said, "Hey, you need to wear a bra." It hurt bad, those words. They hit me harder than any bullying or remarks about my weight up to that moment in time. I made it up the stairs before letting the tears flow, as as the tears dried, I was changed underneath. I would never swim again without a shirt on, I would never change shirts in front of anyone, I would always carry their careless words on the edge of my brain, ready to come front and center if my new boundary was ever threatened, and it was many times."

How much of an impact did this teasing have on me? It took more than a year for my former wife of twenty-one years to see me without a shirt on. I've had a couple of serious relationships since my divorce over four years ago--and neither of them ever laid eyes on me, regardless of the circumstance, without seeing the covering of a shirt or at least hearing my frantic pleas for them to "look away!"

And it wasn't just a shirt to cover up my chest, stretch marks and fat. It was also about covering up my damaged right leg. The swelling is very manageable now but this wasn't always the case. At over 500 pounds my right leg would swell to unnatural proportions, breaking the skin in several places--and each time it required time off to heal. My former wife Irene was like a nurse, becoming an expert in wound care, healing and wrapping with compression bandages. I was too big to do it myself, I couldn't reach. Weight loss has dramatically improved my right leg. I still have some occasional swelling but I have yet to have any more trouble with the painful skin breakage. The damage done is very clear. The skin on my lower right leg is forever discolored and scared. Hiding my damaged right leg has been another thing keeping me from allowing myself to enjoy a swim.

But what is it? Really?? I mean-- how can some people seem completely confident exposing their flaws without any hesitation while others allow it to paralyze them into hiding? I mean, really--is it 100% because of the teasing? Or is it in combination with larger issues concerning societal perspectives on what's attractive and what isn't? Maybe it goes deeper on a personal level with some kind of fear of rejection if my "secrets" were exposed. Really? I mean, come on--it hasn't been a very big secret that I was near, at or above 500 pounds for twenty years. And let's be 100% honest, clothing isn't always the best concealer!

"I don't want you to see me like this." Is that what it is?? The fear of disappointing someone? The fear that they may not see me the same as my imagination would like to believe they're seeing? I've been wearing my clothing like an invisibility cloak, at least in my brain, giving me a level of protection as long as I'm covered.

These hangups must go now. Since the personal epiphanies of May 15th, I finally know what it means and how to really love me. For the first time in my life I have unconditional self-love for all the right reasons and it shows every single day. Never before has an epiphany had such an impact. It's a life will never be the same kind of impact.  And yet, for whatever reason--I still have the hangups I've allowed to render me "less than" my entire life.

Walking out of the locker room tonight and doing something I've wanted to do again, for a very long time, is a monumental victory. It's transformative, totally exposing the fallacy of the alternate reality I believed existed. Remember, our perception is our reality--until something comes along to shatter that perception, giving us a glimpse of the truest reality that is powerfully real. When we get that glimpse, we must open our eyes to what we're experiencing, it is the truth and the truth sets us free.

Trusting in the existence of a reality that isn't in line with what we've believed is very tough. It requires a large amount of faith and trust and the ability to step outside of ourselves long enough to consider the possibilities, while suspending the embedded beliefs that have kept our brain locked in position.

At the precise moment this video ended, a large man--easily seventy to one hundred pounds heavier than me with a swelling issue in his left leg, walked past me--through the door and into the pool area. He walked tall with complete confidence, like he had done this a thousand times. The timing was unreal. I needed to see him do what he did. And he didn't even know me or my struggle, and even bigger--he didn't know how much he helped me in that moment. I followed right behind him. As he made his way to the hot tub, I made mine toward my daughter Amber in the lap pool area.

There I was, legs exposed and ready to lose the shirt for a relaxing swim after my hardcore spin class. There wasn't a throng of people making fun of me. Not one person was staring or acting like anything was abnormal. I even asked Amber, "did you see the guy walk out right before me?" It was such a perfect timing thing, I was questioning if seeing him had been a figment of my imagination. She did see him. Turns out the only figment of imagination was the one I kept for more than three decades, because now--out in the open, the authentic reality was proven: The only person that ever cared how I looked, was me!!! All of the hangups were IN MY HEAD. My perception of reality was blown to bits, replaced by the truth. And I was free, to swim.


I messaged back and forth with Michael on the West Coast a few days ago. Michael is a regular reader of this blog and was one who agreed to overcome his nearly identical hangups too, agreeing to do it tonight just like me. I told him that I would likely keep the shirt on and that wearing the swim trunks would be enough of a challenge for right now. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized leaving the shirt on would be contrary to the point of this entire experience. So, right before getting in the water, I did it. I took off the shirt and tossed it aside. Still, the world was well. And I was in the water.

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I felt completely naked for the first five minutes. Then, the feeling of vulnerability was replaced by a rush of freedom that will likely impact me in positive ways the rest of my life.

If I truly analyze my body, notice I typed analyze--not criticize--I have a natural undertone of sorts. The pronounced "man boobs" are only there because I have naturally built pecs underneath. Seriously-I can make them dance to a beat--no, for real, I can. I'll spare you that video!

You know what? I can't think of a better time to share with you a picture and some encouraging words from my very own father. He sent me the picture below with the caption "Pecs at 67, you can do it Son."
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This picture is like looking 25 years into my future. Nice, dad. Thank you. Apparently pronounced pecs are a source of family pride. Who knew? It's all in the perspective, huh?
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With all of the exercise (45 minute killer spin class before swimming), I struggled to get enough calories to properly fuel my body today. I tried my best though, as you'll see in the below Tweets. I took a suggestion to add some solid nutrition calories to my efforts to get my net calories after exercise up to at least 1200. Despite intentionally consuming 293 calories beyond my 1700 per day, my net calories after exercise was still only 939. It's very hard to change the mindset I've held during my initial weight loss and up until very recently. I never adjusted calories in consideration of exercise calories burned. I never before considered how the body works and how it needs fuel to work properly. It just seems foreign to me to eat more in an effort to lose more. It feels like I'm doing the opposite of what I need. I've been asked to trust the process and that's what I'm doing. And it's all good, because I'm in this for life. And one of the lessons I've learned along this road: I must never close my mind to learning new things. I pray I never again adopt an I've learned all I need to know type attitude, because that kind of attitude is almost always the first step off the cliff.

Okay--Food Tweets:














Thank you for reading this exceptionally long post!
And thank you for your incredibly generous support,
Strength,
Sean

23 comments:

  1. Stayed up late waiting for your blog post. Kudos, my friend. Although I have to say... you look perfectly normal to me, in fact you look quite muscular. Also, has anyone ever told you that you look like Ben Affleck?

    Hope you enjoyed the feeling of that lovely water holding you up and supporting you!

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    1. Never told I look like him! I'll take that as a compliment, Becky, thank you! It felt incredible. The sensation of floating weightlessly is a thrill.

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  2. I agree, you look great. But if we were at the pool I wouldn't even be looking. I don't stare at half-naked strangers, even the cute ones. I'd probably be kicked out of the pool area if I did!

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  3. A lot of new wisdom in this post-I've got to read it again when I have more time. Body image and what I think of as 'body regret', when we realize the damage we've caused in ourselves are a whole other facet that needs healing for this weight loss journey to continue. It seems like you took a giant leap. A leap you didn't take when you lost weight the first time. You set a good example for us.

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    1. PJ, it was a GIANT leap, for sure--and you're right, I chose to not take it during my initial weight loss. It's like finding a missing puzzle piece. Thank you PJ!

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  4. I went to the pool with my daughter-in-law and granddaughter last Sunday. I refused to wear a suit, she had to talk me into wearing shorts, so I could, at least, wade in the zero entry side of the pool. I wrote a blog about my experience, pretty much with the same outlook as you had. I even mentioned you in my blog. http://www.sparkpeople.com/mypage_public_journal_individual.asp?blog_id=5752010

    "GET OVER YOURSELF!" I told myself. Nobody else was staring at me, and they wouldn't have stared had I worn my swimming suit, exposing my varicose veins and excess skin.There were more heavy people at the pool than skinny people, and they just wanted to have a good time in the water with their family and friends. Nobody was doing any judging, that I could tell.

    Kids can be so cruel, they've stigmatized all of us who were heavy as kids and throughout our lives. You are brave. Maybe I will go back to the pool next weekend in my swimming suit. But it is so very hard to do.

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    1. I read your post on Spark People--oh, wow!! It was incredible!! You're right--it is very hard to do--But I'll confirm this, for me--once was all it took--breaking through that barrier was needed--and now, I'm planning on making swimming a regular part of my exercise plan. That was my favorite part of your blog post--at the end when you decided next time to join them. I hope you will!

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  5. Glad you were able to face your fears and win! Cool your dad sent you a selfie! How nice of him to show that kind of support.

    Blown away by the fact of the other man, (maybe a reflection of your former self) moving around the pool with ease. Is there a more obvious sign than that? :)

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    1. Nikki-- that other guy--it was one of the most perfectly timed, yet totally random things I've ever witnessed. I don't know if it came through the video--but I was genuinely scared before going out there-- and literally, at the very same moment I hit stop on the video--He walked right past, grabbed the door and made his way to the hot tub...and later the pool, I noticed. I so badly needed to see him do that--and it couldn't have been planned more precise. I'm still in awe of how that happened. He instantly, in a micro-second had my: Attention, respect and admiration--and I wanted to be like him...So I was. And he never knew he was a major part of this--totally oblivious to the wonderful gift of example he gave me in that moment. Dad was an awesome sport--totally unsolicited, it just showed up in my text messages recently. Love that guy.

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  6. BRAVO!

    "Our perception is our reality. It may not be everyone else's reality, but it's very much ours."

    That right there explains what I have been working on the past couple of months: changing my view so that it projects who I want to be, therefore changing my reality.

    Easier said than done but oh so worth the work.

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    1. Thank you Helen--it does take work---yes, totally worth the effort though. When the authentic reality shatters the previous perception--it unleashes this ripple effect that I doubt can be undone...This will forever resonate in my life. Can't wait to get back in the water!!

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  7. I will never forget the first night with my husband. I'd lost over 100 lbs & have alot of what I call 'swinging skin'. As I disrobed in front of him, he said, "you're beautiful." You know what I wanted to do? Argue, point out my poochy belly, saggy arms, flubby thighs rumpled rear.

    I had dreaded this moment for the five celebate years preceding our relationship - no man had seen me in the buff. But I wasn't going to make a liar out of him. I humbly said, "Thank you."

    As he disrobed, I noticed his perfectly imperfect body, with mild scoliosis, and man-boobs! He didn't cower in a corner,, just confidently disrobed. I turned to him and said, "You are beautiful." He smiled confidently and said, "Thank you."

    I probably will never employ that same confidence as sweet David, and as I age, gravity takes its toll too. The sags are more saggy, and the dimples are more dimply. But together, that man and I are beautiful!

    You'll never be the same, Sean. You faced the lie and now you know the truth - you are beautiful

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    1. Gerri--you--you're gonna make me all emotional!! Loved the story of you and David. Never be the same, is right. Powerful stuff.

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    2. Gerri, you're gonna make me get all emotional! Loved the story with you and David...beautiful, indeed. Thank you Gerri! Never be the same, is right.

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  8. HIP HIP HOORAY! Doing the "smiley dance" in appreciation of your accomplishment Sean!!! Smiled all the way through your blog! Huge new AHA's flooding your life and there is no one who deserves it more. Keep it up PLEASE with you doing and writing about it. Love the food pics and they are most helpful. So glad you showed them even though the report was focused on your swim. Again, congrats Sean!!!

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    1. Nancy, thank you!! HUGE AHA's--yes, YES!! I'm glad you appreciate the food pics--I can't seem to remember why I hesitated to include them in the first place--but I'm glad I did. I suppose it was because so many people were telling me they didn't do twitter.

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  9. I'm sooo happy for you. I understand, I really do. This brought back memories of my first pool outing in public, a YMCA pool, in a real swimsuit, in many many years. It was a few years ago, and I was still 394 pounds. It took a LOT of positive self-talk!! But once done, I was so glad I did it, and proud of that accomplishment, that huge hurdle. If I hadn't developed an allergic reaction to the chlorine, I'd still be swimming.

    I just know you will feel that empowerment, too. Wonderful progress for you!!

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    1. Retta, thank you! I'm already planning regular return trips. I loved it--so wonderful!! It was a big hurdle. I feel a little more complete as a person... does that make sense? Like it was a missing piece of sorts.
      When you visit this blog, I hope you take tremendous pride in the design--because I LOVE IT!!! You did an amazing job here, Retta. I can't thank you enough! :)

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  10. Bravo, Sean! This was something you needed to do and kudos to you for overcoming your fear and long-standing trauma.

    Despite the many surgical scars I have (including a fairly new, very long and still quite pink scar on my knee) and the extra weight I've carried my whole life, I have never let that stop me from going to the pool.

    However...I remember a few years ago I went on a cruise (for work, lucky me!) with a colleague who used to be a fashion model in Europe. I'm short and roundish and she's tall and painfully, fashion-model thin. The thought of her seeing my chubby legs and puffy knees was so difficult for me to accept that I spent way too much money on a plain back wrap to wear over my bathing suit. In the end, I never saw her by the pool and I spent the money for nothing.

    I too also had a difficult experience as a child that has marked me to this day. One day, when I was very young, someone remarked nastily about the fact that I had knock-knees. Yes, I do and I now know that they looked/look even worse because of a barbaric medical treatment that I underwent as a young child to "correct" being pigeon-toed. In fact, this procedure led me directly to a knee replacement 50 years later (my surgeon told me that he's seeing lots of "bars and boots" kids coming in for knee replacements when they reach their 50s).

    Ever since that time, I have hated my legs. In fact, I have always felt that I could even accept being heavier, if only I had shapely legs and nice knees.

    It's terrible how a single nasty sentence can affect one's life forever more.

    Well, my friend, we're not taking it anymore!

    Go, Sean, go! (And me too!)

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    1. Oh, Wendy-- I very much appreciate you. Your perspective and experience has always been incredibly enlightening. Even when you've shared things with me over the years that were tough to process, I've appreciated the challenge. Your lifelong experience with your legs and knees--and that nasty remark that's echoed since, tells me you understand completely. It also gives me perspective of gratitude. I can't imagine the pain you've experienced over the years. Thank you for sharing this piece of your story and the experience.
      Wendy--I agree, we're not taking it anymore!!!!!! Go, Wendy, GO!!!

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  11. I am so so impressed by what you did. I also went into a public swimming pool about 5 years back at my highest weight. I was terrified but the world didn't end. Yes, I was uncomfortable for the first little while but soon felt better.

    Bravo Sean!

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    1. Katrin-- Thank you!! Isn't it the most wonderful feeling when terrified turns to relaxed? Just fantastic, Katrin! Did it inspire you to do it more? I'm wanting to quickly do it again and again--almost like if I don't, I'll forget that it felt so good!

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