That’s how I ended my last blog, all positive and chock-full of how-to tips for switching gears into the next stage of my weight-loss journey. There’s something I didn’t tell you, though, something that came before all my revelations about muscle, body image, and body fat. I didn’t tell you about the mud. I skipped over the mire of doubt, frustration, and hopelessness that had kept me stuck for weeks. The truth is: I may have felt like a mountain biker ready to ramp up, but I was stuck in the mud only days before.
Skipping over the mud, I’ve learned, is common in self-help literature. After all, no one wants to read a book titled, “Damn, I’m Stuck Again and Don’t Know What To Do.” When sharing stories of overcoming, it’s much more fun to focus on our strengths. We’d much rather share the answers than the pitfalls that preceded them. Every diet book contains “guidelines.” Eat this; don’t eat that. Every spiritual guide distills life into “principles.” Believe this; don’t believe that. These ideas, while valuable, are what come after struggling through the mud. They won’t necessarily keep us out of it. These answers are not so much the “right” path as the end results of messy struggles through private pitfalls. Between those lines of advice, there’s probably a juicy story of how the author wallowed in doubt, thought ugly thoughts, and felt like a fake.
When I’m stuck in a pitfall, I have thoughts like, You hypocrite, why are you even doing this? What makes you think you can do this? What made you think you could think that way? Everything you thought is blowing up in your face. It’s all wrong.
I feel safe admitting these doubts because I believe the mud swallows each of us, somewhere along our journey, and I would be false if I didn’t admit how it happens to me. Plus, I’ve discovered a secret power laying dormant in the pitfall. In fact, inside all the miry clay, there awaits the answers I seek. I need only be true to myself. It’s time to be true to being stuck.
First, let’s ask why there’s rarely a “Damn, I’m Stuck Again” chapter in most self-help books. Why shun the negative? Why be so protective of the positive? I wonder what’s behind this. Is it a war-like mentality which translates vulnerability into threat, a chink in our armor that must not be? Or is it a fierce reliance on positive thinking which must veneer all things negative? Maybe it’s not so convoluted. Maybe we just don’t like how doubt feels. If you ever felt like patting someone on the shoulder to reassure their misgivings, then you know what I’m poking at.
I admit, no one likes their soft underbelly exposed. I can’t remember ever volunteering for a pitfall. When I get stuck in the mud, I mostly curse it. I resent it. I judge myself for being there – again. I hustle for the quickest way out. Whenever I have doubts, my first strategy is a mad scurry to gloss over my murky mind with a shiny coat of what I think I should feel. It might go something like this:
The doubt: I’m disappointed and sad; I won’t lose 100 pounds in one year.
The gloss: It’s not all about numbers! Focus on how much you’ve already lost!
The doubt: I’m so tired; there’s no way I’m going to lose any weight this week.
The gloss: Don’t go there! Just pick up where you left off and think how good next week will be!
The doubt: This sucks. I should be doing better.
The gloss: No, no, give yourself a break!
These two personalities — one defeated, another defensive – battle in my brain. Neither accepts what’s going on and allows me simply to be who I am at that moment. The defeated talk tears me down. The defensive push-back ignores how I really feel. When I voice-over my real feelings like this, I stay stuck in a tug-o-war between defeat and defense. My self-esteem begins to unravel. No matter the words, my thoughts play the same message over and over: I feel this way, but I shouldn’t, so I am wrong. This undercurrent of invalidation only feeds doubt, and I drill deeper into the mud. If I keep up this vicious cycle, my mud becomes quicksand. The more I struggle, the more I sink.
I’ve never fallen in actual quicksand, but I know how to get out of it. The experts say to relax your muscles, look up, and let your body float on top until you touch solid ground. Of course, if I were ever drowning in quicksand, then relaxing is the last thing I’d think to do. To escape, I’d have to go against my instincts and ignore my brain screaming Get Out! As that thick grip rises around my neck, I’d have to resist my resistance.
Whether its real quicksand or mental mud, the way out is the same. If resistance keeps me stuck, then acceptance will get me unstuck. For me, acceptance means learning to acknowledge my feelings, relax into reality, and trust the answers to float me to the top. At first, acceptance can feel wrong, like allowing the quicksand to bury me in a murky grave. It’s tempting to default back to my defensive, positive gloss-overs. At least then I’m not giving up. However, having feelings doesn’t mean giving up. When I pay attention to my feelings — acknowledge my frustration, express my anger, validate my doubts – I stop resisting what is and join with what’s real. Frustration is where I’m really at! Anger is what I really feel! I’ve just returned to the most powerful place I could be: the present reality. Now that I’m dealing with reality, I can get out of that emotional tug-o-war. I can begin seeing solutions.
For example, here’s how I accepted my disappointment at not being able to lose 100 pounds in one year (a kind of conversation in my head)…
I am sad. (Heaviness drags on my body as I let out a disheartening sigh.) I really wanted to reach my goal. I really wanted that scale to go down more by now. Why can’t I do this? I’m sad. I’m just plain sad.
Yeah, I know.
I don’t. I mean, I really wanted this. I wanted to feel more like myself. I wanted to fit into my favorite clothes stashed in that box under the bed. I wanted to do the things I used to do. I wanted to feel like I could want something, and I could have it. I wanted to have an effect on my world.
That makes total sense. These are o.k. things to want.
Yeah, but I didn’t get there.
How do you mean?
Duh! The scale!
It’s funny, in all those things you listed that you wanted, you didn’t mention a number on the scale.
Maybe there’s more to you than a number.
Yeah, I know, I know.
I know you know. You wouldn’t be feeling this way if you didn’t know there was more to you than this.
So what else is there?
There’s a desire to live a full life, to be spunky and vivacious, to inspire others, to not live in vain.
Wow, that sounds a lot like what you’ve been doing.
I take a deep breath and pause to search for possibility. For a moment, I feel like I’m betraying my sadness. Something in me wants to stay sad. I return to my tears, wringing the last drops from my soul. After a bit, a space opens up. It occurs to me that I have a choice. I can stay here, or I can look up. There is no “right” choice. There’s only what I am able to do, only what’s real. I decide that I can look up, for a moment, just to see what’s there.
You’re in a tough spot, but I can see you.
What do you mean?
I see your vivaciousness. I see your spunk. Deep down, there’s a part of you that’s still O.K., a part of you that’s never been broken. I see you whole.
I want to be.
You have been. You will be again.
Yeah. It’s who you truly are, not just who you want to be.
It is. I just feel like I’ve been hijacked away from myself.
That makes total sense. You had a part of you, now you feel like you don’t.
Yeah, but I want it back!
Oh! I can see that, too! Well, how can you get it back?
I know that the scale can’t tell the whole story of what’s going on in my body right now. I know I’m gaining muscle, and muscle weighs more than fat. I need a way to measure my progress that’s more than just weight. I need a way to feel successful. I guess I need a new kind of feedback…
The rest of the conversation, you can read in my last blog, Switching Gears…
I’m a firm believer that answers reside in our present reality. Feelings give us a gate into this reality. When I give my feelings all the attention they’ve been clamoring for, then the mud lets go. I sense solid ground. Then, a miracle happens: I can move on.
Shelby is on her most revealing and thrilling adventure yet: to find out what it’s like to lose 100 pounds in 1 year. She began on Thanksgiving 2011. Will she make it? Find out by joining Shelby on this journey, not only of the body, but of the soul and mind. Shelby lives in Missoula, Montana where she works out at The Women’s Club Health and Fitness Center.