One night I was walking around the Strip on Myrtle Beach, SC. It was my first visit there. It was a cool summer evening, humid with a little breeze in the air and a clear, starry night. The weather was just perfect. I was gazing around in an oversized t-shirt, shorts, and flip flops, and looking at all the young people out and about partying and having a good time. Girls in their bikini tops and short shorts; guys going shirtless and sporting their best kicks. Cars would cruise by with their tops down and making a loud rumbling sound whenever they revved up their engines. The street was packed with people going in and out of the clubs. Lights were flashing, enticing the cheerful bustling crowds to come to their bar for 2 for 1 shots and mixed drinks. And loud, pumping music could be heard everywhere. I was just taking it all in.
Huh??? It rang out, loud and clear, louder than the blaring music. I looked around, startled. Who said that? Why? What’s going on? I recognized that it was a male voice, but I had not done anything to anyone, so that could not be about me, right? Yeah, there are probably hundreds of people out here, that’s probably about someone else.
I quickly looked around, shaken, until my eyes met with his. There he was, to my left, just a few feet away. A young man, appearing in his 20’s, standing against a wall outside of a club, staring right back at me. When he saw the look on my face, he simply replied, “Yeah, I’m talking to you!”
And there you have it.
I was more than just humiliated. My spirit was completely destroyed. I could hear a few chuckles of laughter, but I didn’t look up to see who it was coming from. I walked around the rest of the night with my head hung down, until I finally got back to my hotel and cried silently in the bathroom so my roommates would not hear me.
What this stranger didn’t realize is that within seconds, I was immediately shoved back into a very dark space…that space where, as I was walking around taking in the cheerful atmosphere of the Strip, I had temporarily escaped. That space in my head with an ugly cycle of vicious dialogue, where words and phrases like, You’re not good enough, look at you. You’re fat, you’re ugly. You’re worthless, already played over and over like a broken record – and did so for years, well into my adulthood. In fact, this particular incident happened almost 18 years ago (I was 17 at the time, and I’m now 35), and it was so deeply painful that I am still able to recall his face and what he was wearing and how small it made me feel at the time. And whenever I found myself in that space, such as in the situation at the beach, a familiar, yet destructive, sense of comfort was always beckoning…
Ok, so on with the lesson about this month’s Excuse of the Month. I rarely share stories publicly with this level of candor because of how hurt I was at the time, but I chose to share this true story about myself because of something I heard recently during an episode of Divorce Court that caught my ear. The husband had a drinking problem, and at the end of the episode he said, “The judge gave me a challenge to quit drinking for two weeks. I feel like the only way I can fail is if Mallory and me have a situation, and she causes me to leave the house and to drink.”
Notice what he said – if SHE causes me to leave the house and to drink. So basically, it’s the wife’s fault that he drinks. It’s her fault if he continues to rack up DUI’s. He hits you on the street while drinking and driving and you get injured? Don’t blame him, it’s the wife’s fault for nagging him. His liver and kidneys get messed up because of years of alcohol abuse? It’s the wife’s fault for pissing him off. He disappears for days, verbally abuses his family, squanders the household income on booze, and gets into bar fights because of his temper while under the influence? It’s all the wife’s fault for making him angry. The onus is completely on someone other than himself, who happens to be the only one raising that bottle of alcohol into his mouth.
Isn’t that the exact same problem when you eat the wrong things when you get upset because of something someone else did or said?
Many people don’t view overeating or addictions to carbs/sugar in the same lens as other addictions (i.e. alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, shopping) but in my opinion the justifications are the same and the results are the same – wanting a quick fix to make yourself feel better, abusing your body, hurting other people, repeating a hurtful dialogue in your head about not being able to stop because it’s too hard. Just like this guy was in denial about his actions, so are many people about their eating habits. Sorry, lemme re-write that: Just like this guy was in denial about his actions, so was I about my eating habits.
I certainly won’t undermine the harmful effects of being a victim at the hands of an abuser, going through a devastating life event, being on the receiving end of someone’s nasty remarks and actions – OR even during happy times, like a birthday party or Girl’s Night Out, because those times normally include food and high calorie drinks as well. I know about emotional eating all too well. But during my adulthood, especially times like this when I was going through this process of getting ready for weight loss surgery, I had to realize that when it came to my eating habits, the buck stopped with me.
- I ate the wrong foods.
- I chose to eat at the wrong times.
- I chose not to pay attention to nutrition labels.
- I gave myself those “treats”.
- I chose not to exercise.
- I drove into those fast food drive-thrus.
- I ordered the pizza and greasy Chinese takeout.
- I chose to eat and drink in excess of what my body needed.
It was also me that believed the terrible things that people said about me, and it was me that continued to internalize it as my true identity. I accepted the idea that I deserve a “treat” when I’ve had a hard day and wanted to make myself feel better. It. Was. Me. Granted, the assholes I’ve encountered, such as the asshole I talked about at the beach that made that asshole remark, made me upset and I was justifiably hurt. But what I do with that hurt is up to me. That’s a really hard pill to swallow, given that this incident at the beach is just one of a million incidents of me being bullied or harassed because of my weight….but I know it’s the truth because I’m still making a choice in the end to put poison in my body. And that’s why I made it the EOTM, because I’m still having to constantly work on it in my head today. You can’t control other people, but it is within your power to control yourself, even when you are extremely hurt, depressed, sad, bored, happy, or angry.
My advice? First and foremost, one big thing I’ve done over the years is learn to speak up more when I feel disrespected and learn to remove destructive, toxic people from my life. Again, still working on this, but if you’re causing me pain, you got to go. Separating myself from those sources of stress is not running away or being a coward, but part of how I take care of myself. It’s how I acknowledge that I deserve to be treated better, and in return, I treat myself better. Above all else, know that someone saying something nasty about you or doing something nasty to hurt you is really about them and not you (i.e. the asshole from the beach could have been drunk, high, mentally ill, possessed…or just a complete and utter asshole at heart that gets a kick out of fat shaming people who are out minding their own business, and he has nothing better to do with his time and has no life of his own because he’s an asshole and will be nothing more than an asshole – none of which has anything to do with me).
Long-term solutions to take care of yourself: Go get help if you need it. Speak to a counselor*, seek spiritual support, confide in friends – not just to talk about what other people did to you, but to help sort out the things you say to yourself. Also, find other ways to deal with your emotions; some things I find helpful are watching a comedy, listening to uplifting music (I love upbeat jazz, old school r&b, neo-soul and even soothing classical music from time to time, just to name a few), watching dramatic TV shows and movies that will distract you from what’s bothering you (ie. Scandal, This is Us, How to Get Away With Murder, Being Mary Jane), writing in a journal, having a good cry, taking a vacation to relax your mind and soul, and, of course, exercising.
So let’s stop using other people’s actions and how it makes us feel as an excuse to continue to abuse our bodies. Let’s stop internalizing the things people say. Repeat the following mantra after me:
I do not receive negative things people say,
I know it’s my choice at the end of the day.
I am in charge of my body and mind.
I pledge from now on I will treat myself kind.
I love me and I respect myself.
I will protect and take care of my health.
Say this over and over again until it sticks.
So what do you all think? What do you do to help manage your emotions and eating habits? I’d love to hear your feedback!
* Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and am unable to provide medical advice. Please consult with your physician. If you are in danger of hurting yourself, please call 911 or seek additional assistance.