When It's Good to Look Back
As 2017 rapidly approaches, I've been considering goals I hope to accomplish in the coming year and realized that losing weight won't be one of them. This caused me to ponder the time it has taken to reach this point and the craziness I've been through on this journey. To put it all in the proper perspective, I am going to tell you the story. It's not pretty and there's a part of me that really doesn't want to expose this deeply personal history, though I have eluded to it throughout my blog. Now I feel compelled to do so for two reasons: one comes from the Bible in Philippians, the other from a comment made to me about this website.
I haven't read the Bible in its entirety and have found it to be complex, part of the reason I will join a Bible study group. My understanding of the intent of Philippians is to convey the call to be servants. Being a servant requires humility and Philippians exhorts believers to live with selfless humility as an attitude, even in the midst of great and tragic suffering. Perhaps you have, or are currently, dealing with such suffering that you are in the pits of despair and feel that there is no hope. I felt this way when trying to overcome bulimia and it was a suffering that lasted years. I prayed hard for guidance into what talents and gifts I possess that could help me be of service and lead a life of value, and while I realize I am extremely talented and capable (we ALL are), I felt I just wasn't getting it. What if your suffering is your gift in life? I was presented with an opportunity to put my suffering into service but it didn't happen the way I wanted it to and at the time, I didn't see it as a gift. It happened the way God wanted it to and in His time.
While I had been experiencing grief for many years, the opportunity presented itself through a series of tragedies and here I will sum it up: several years living through the heartache of a marriage falling apart and ending in divorce, losing my Father to a horrible accident, and being involved in a bicycle vs. car accident myself where I was left with a permanent back injury. These all happened within a short time frame and I fell into a major depression. I had been binge eating as a bulimic for years but this sent me over the edge and I stopped caring, gained 40 lbs. and pretty much walked away from life, holed up at home with the curtains closed, wouldn't answer the door or the phone and if it hadn't been for my dog, I wouldn't have left the house for anything other than to stock up on junk food. After a year of physical therapy, my pain was no less tolerable and I had to find a way to heal myself. This led me to the discovery of the SuperSlow exercise protocol, with the ultimate outcome of my becoming a certified trainer and starting my own personal training business. Yes, I lost the 40 lbs. and even got into the best shape I had ever been in to that point in my life. I also continued to binge eat though in a more controlled manner.
Initially, I worked part-time in a SuperSlow facility but was approached to start my own center and the rest is history. My client list grew so quickly I had to pinch myself. One of my clients was the editor of The Florida Magazine, a special addition to the Orlando Sentinel newspaper that only ran on Sundays. I pleaded with her to do a piece on SuperSlow and her direct experience with it but she refused, stating conflict of interest. However, she did offer to do a piece on me-and my struggle with bulimia. I adamantly rejected the idea, feeling that while it was one thing to share this with my clients when appropriate, it would spell certain death for my business and credibility as a trainer, not to mention how ashamed I would feel while allowing myself to be publicly humiliated. In addition to that, I had just wrapped up a photo shoot with Dr. Ellington Darden, Ph.D., and would soon be featured in his latest book 'A Flat Stomach, A.S.A.P' - how could I possibly expose this dirty little secret now? But, I did reflect on her proposal and began to do research on eating disorders. When the then-available information proved to be dismal (no cures, no proven therapies, no long-term success stories from rehab protocols, etc.), it seemed that perhaps it was time to be brave and boldly go where very few had gone before.
In 1982, Karen Carpenter died after a 2-year struggle with anorexia at the age of 32. I was a huge fan of hers and was deeply touched. This was also the first high-profile instance of death due to eating disorders that created public awareness. Then, in 1992, tennis superstar Zina Garrison disclosed that she had been suffering with bulimia since 1983. Other than this, there were not very many instances of eating disorders openly discussed. So much stigma surrounding them and because of this, I almost chose to keep it to myself but in 1997, I did share my story. Based on circulation, the estimate is that close to 400,000 people read it and the responses ran the gamut from empathy to pure disgust, no surprise since there was still very little public discourse on eating disorders. The first response was from El Darden, who called to tell me that "...it took a lot of moxy to share that, and by the way-it looks like you have a comb-over (in reference to the ridiculous hairstyle the make-up artist gave me, LOL. It truly was horrendous!)." I was often recognized while out in public and obtained all kinds of feedback; I received letters, gifts and even calls from parents asking me to please help their children that were going through these disorders. I was asked to speak to groups and this I did though I was ill-equipped to be effective on any level. All I had was my story and I was far from 'cured'.
Quick segue back to the present and my number two reason for sharing this story: a comment made on my website. I was told that perhaps women would see "...my gorgeous pictures and long story, they will not want to read more, that they will click on photos, get scared and not go further." That, dear reader, is entirely your choice. If you find my photos gorgeous-well, thank you! It should serve as hope and inspiration that no matter how dark your world feels, you can overcome and you can do this at any age. If you don't know where to start, you can contact me and I will respond. I will do whatever I can to help you and that is a promise-just please, do not feel alone. I won't judge-how could I? I've spent most of my life suffering with this and it IS my gift! It has provided me with compassion and empathy and just the right amount of tough-love and the ability to know when, and in what amounts to dispense it, particularly in regards to training and motivating to stay focused on overcoming obstacles.
One of the most poignant episodes of fallout from sharing my bulimia story came on a blind date I went on after being set up with the brother of a bartender I met while out one night. She and I hit it off and she felt that her extremely hot firefighter brother would adore me; she felt we had so much in common! We did go on a date about a month later (sans the comb-over hairdo, LOL) and things were going pretty darn peachy: lots of laughs, lots in common, looked like it could be leading to a second date. AND THEN-I saw this AHA moment in his eyes as he said "Gosh, you just look so familiar and your name...I'm sure I've heard it somewhere recently...wait a minute-are you the FREAK that wrote about her eating disorder?!!!" I simply said "Yep, that's me-the freak." At least he didn't vanish to the bathroom and then make a quick get-away out the back door. He asked for the check, paid the bill and left. Funny part of this? Flash-forward 2 years: I'm in a grocery store waiting in the check-out line. In front of me are 3 firemen. I'm wearing shorts, cute little tank-top, ball cap with ponytail out the back and sunglasses on, body tanned and ripped to shreds. Guys being guys, they turn to check me out as I stand there with my poker face. One of them says "Hey, we're having a barbecue at the station house down the road at 4 pm today-want to come?" I recognize him as the bartender's hot firefighter brother and I couldn't resist playing along-long enough for him to give me his phone number and tell me how much he hoped I would come. But then, the big let-down when I asked him "Are you sure you want the freak to come?" It took him a moment but then it all came back to him and he just said "How's the eating doing? Still dumpster diving?" And that will be explained in the next blog when I reprint the article that was published in The Florida Magazine. By the way, my story got the cover lead as well as artwork, was given the most space ever dedicated to a story in that publication as well as being the only one that was not edited, and was also nominated for 3 national writing awards in the categories of content, subject matter and style. It didn't win any of them but at least I got to run with the big dogs for a while, LOL...I also made it to the local news. My 15 minutes of fame.
Never judge a book by its cover. This is a long story and I'm not finished. There will have to be a part II and I will leave that for the next blog. So if you are scared away because you look at some pictures of me and think that I don't know what it's like to be dealing with overweight, diet issues or whatever else might be keeping you from reaching your fitness goals, you couldn't be further from wrong. The point is that no matter what challenges you struggle with, no matter what your suffering is, there is a way to overcome it but you will need to step out of your comfort zone and risk reaching out and exposing yourself.
It can be as easy as contacting me and finding that there is someone who understands. Admitting to this issue, and in such a public forum, was just the beginning for me but was also very liberating in that it helped me to not be so wrapped up in appearances and how the public perceived me; it helped me to cultivate my spirit and begin to embrace my suffering for the gifts it holds and yes, I do see this suffering as a gift. There is a process to follow that can help you. It will take everything you have but you don't have to accomplish it overnight. Just be willing to start the journey and keep going, no matter how many times you stumble.
Never look back in regret no matter how filled with regret you may be. That's tripping over things behind you that will keep you from learning to walk tall and proud on the road in front of you. You can learn to embrace the past for strength it has created in you.