Saturday, December 31, 2011

Where to begin?

Sitting here on New Years Eve around 5:30 p.m., I'm caught up in my own thinking over the changes we're about to begin. I know why they call them baby steps--our first efforts are sure to be as shakey and unstable as those of a toddler first venturing out into the world. Still, those first steps can be equally exhilarating and refreshing, each one an opportunity to explore something new.

One of my first steps was to share this blog with Chris (he didn't know yet I had created it), and he was amused as he read and listened to me talking it through (he's an incredibly patient listener). He's agreed to try, agreed to write a bit himself (yeah!), and now all that's left is to figure out where to begin.

A writer's for Oprah penned an article about the difficulty of change, and she wrote: "So instead of waking up New Year's morning and saying, "I'm going to do X now," then berating yourself a month later when that resolution didn't work, remember: You're doing nothing less than rewiring your brain. Approach change as if you're learning a new language or a new instrument. Obviously, you're not going to be fluent or play symphonies instantly; you'll need constant focus and practice. Overcoming an unhealthy habit involves changing the behaviors associated with it and managing stress, because stressing about change (or anything else) will knock you off the wagon faster than you realize. Above all, get that dopamine system going: Find rewards—make them instant, and don't be stingy. Your brain needs them. And I promise (well, Volkow, Schlund, Wexler, and Fleshner promise) it gets easier. That's not a bunch of self-help nonsense. It's biology." Read more:

So, change doesn't happen by simply deciding that you want things to be different, nor does it happen by simply cutting "bad habits" our of your life. It happens when there is consistent, concerted effort behind it, when the goals are real and solid and measurable, when we find a way to feel a reward or a payoff instantly, when we provide ourselves the necessary resources, and when replace the bad habits with positive ones that fuel that feeling of a reward or a payoff.

See, that wasn't so hard, was it? (Whew!)

I already know my goals are to be healthier and wealthier by this time next year, but what does that mean? How do I define "healthy"? How do I define "wealthier"? By many definitions already in existence, I am already both of these.

So, to make this work, I need to decide my working definitions and I also need to decide what steps I'll take to make this work. Some consult with the hubby is needed, and I'll report back.

Until then, New Years blessings to one and all.


Friday, December 30, 2011

The Rest of the Story: I Got Myself in This Mess

Like most Americans, there is no "easy answer" for why I am overweight and in debt. But here's what I think I know:

I'm a very impulsive person. I'm also a very industrious person, and I try, most of the time, to be a generous person. As such, I learned that I found great pleasure early on in buying something for myself or, even better, for someone else, RIGHT NOW. I loved that credit cards made it possible to do everything I wanted to right away, no delay of gratification necessary! I also found that I felt better somehow, more powerful, more real, more alive, and, perhaps, more valuable, when I bought something. Looking back, I think the early years were their own form of self discovery. I remember buying a lot of different things, studying how they worked together in my room or in my wardrobe; it was kind of like exploring who I thought I'd become. It never occurred to me that I was already in possession of everything I needed to be the person I wanted to be.

I also found tremendous pleasure in buying things for people. I loved watching their faces light up, and somehow it made me feel more secure in the relationship. I realize now, of course, that this was unnecessary and a complete fallacy. After all, a number of those friendships later fell apart, and the ones that didn't weren't there because they were looking for presents--at least not the tangible kind.

As for my weight, that's a different story. I was never a pixie, never one of those girls who could wear the trendy clothes and make them look good. I was always, always sturdy, big boned, and for many years, a poodle head (I have the permed-hair pics to prove it).  I have very early memories of comparing myself to others, wishing I looked more like some of my friends, wishing my legs didn't jiggle. I still remember, to this day, boys in middle school calling me "Twinkie." Some of that had to do with a certain outfit I wore (hey, it was one of the few trendy items I had), but I was also pale and puffy, and often made the connection (rational or not) that Twinkies make people fat, hence the name.

I never, ever liked physical activity, and I never found myself exceling at anything physical. My accomplishments were largely linguistic and artistic, a fact that continues today. So, I never believed that I had any real capability to be truly physically skilled or fit. There were, as I recall, only two girls in our class who could hang on for minutes on end, their arms shaking, for the chin up/pull up test on physical fitness testing. I was never that girl. And I never did well on the testing. I did play volleyball and basketball, I was a cheerleader for four years (including middle school), but I resisted the physical fitness training. Somehow, my readiness to invest in hard work did not translate to physical fitness in athletics.

Ultimately, both issues, in my mind, point to the fact that I wasn't ready, I didn't understand the impact or value these things would have on my life over time, and I didn't truly believe I was capable of those achievements.

So, what changed? Well, I'm 36. I'm a wife, a mother, and a professional. It is a source of serious shame to me that I'm more than halfway through my 30's, and I still haven't grasped any sort of control over my own antagonists. (Wait--I can earn a Masters Degree but I have no control around cheesecakes? What the heck?!) I am very aware that everything we do is a choice (thank you, William Glasser), but forcing yourself to make the right choice every time is damned hard.

Shame alone is never a motivator, though, and I'm now motivated primarily by my children, as well as my own need to prove to myself that I am in control of my own life. As for the children, I'm particularly aware of how my choices now impact my children. There's nothing wrong with the word "no", and I believe it's healthy for children to learn it. But I don't like that, because of our debt, I have no choices about money. And I don't like that our children are a bit overweight largely because they are following my example. I keep wondering what's going to happen if I let this continue, and I'm terrified to think of what I've led my children to, a future that is less than bright.

When two of our children were diagnosed with autism (another reason my husband and I often felt we should spend money because we "deserve it"), it changed everything. We're blessed that our marriage is happy and in tact, and that we've had the resources needed to support the children as their diagnoses require. But lacking financial freedom means that we're completely unprepared for their futures beyond school, and worse yet, if we're not in shape, will we be alive to see their futures and be there to continue to support them as long as they need us (and we're here)?

In short, continuing to make the wrong choices means that we choose to sentence our children to a lifetime of no choices and, perhaps, a lot less time having us around. How is that remotely acceptable?

It isn't. It just isn't.

So. Here I am...the starting point. And it only gets better from here--it has to, for everyone.


They Do This in AA

I'm Wendy. And I'm overweight...and in debt.

(Audience: "Hi, Wendy.")

It has almost become a cliche of American culture. Step One: Admit you have a problem.

That part's never been an issue for me, admitting I have a problem. Changing, however, is a far more tedious and arduous undertaking, even (or perhaps especially) for someone like me, a counselor, a wife, a mom, a sister, daughter and friend. I've often said that counselors can't afford to "lose it"--we're the ones who are supposed to "find it", but ironically I can do this for everyone but myself.

In the 12 years my dear husband and I have been married, many things have happened that have made taking care of ourselves and our finances much, much more challenging. The current situation we're in, both health-wise and financially, is entirely of our own making. We've taken steps in the past to turn things around, and yet it seems almost impossible to make those changes sustainable over time.

Hence, this blog. I can't afford right now to attend Weight Watchers or something like it, but the way people will be more likely to actually follow through with eating healthy because they KNOW they have to weigh in, so, too, I'm hopeful that sticking to keeping a blog of this process toward permanent health and financial improvement will encourage us to make it stick.

You, the few readers who might actually be out there, are our scale, the ones who will know the "truth", for better or for worse. In the coming weeks, we'll share how we got here, what we're doing to turn it around, and try to uncover the pitfalls to lasting change along the way.

This is merely a babystep, but I have to start somewhere.