Early Resolutions: a Year in Review

Last year, on New Year’s Eve, I was single. I was invited by a few friends that I barely knew to attend a party with them at a house of strangers, and I debated doing that, going to the bar, or just staying in. After all, I’d stayed home by myself on Halloween, my birthday dinner on Thanksgiving Day had been out of a microwave, and I’d spend most of my Christmas alone, having a half a bottle of wine in a mountain cabin and writing. The year before, I’d taken my kids trick-or-treating on Halloween and then gone to an expensive fundraiser, solo and single, and I had spent both Thanksgiving and Christmas with my kids for half the days and solo for the other halves. I was accustomed to associations with strangers and acquaintances in busy places.

But I made my decision and went to the party.

There, I made small talk with a few friends, had a glass of wine, flirted a bit, and smiled a lot. Then I noticed a good-looking guy across the room. At 11:40, we had some conversation and laughed. At 11:55, I body asked for a midnight kiss. And now, nearly a year later, we are together and happy.

I’ve made a habit, for the past three years, of setting bold goals for myself at the start of each year, goals which have felt impossible yet have proven to be highly achievable with the right amount of focus, ingenuity, and dedication. I’ve eliminated debts and set up savings, I’ve traveled to many places domestically that I never thought I’d see, I’ve set myself up in a rental home that I’m very happy in, I’ve written a book, I’ve worked extensively on a documentary that once felt undoable yet I’ve partnered with an incredible film crew and have made so much progress. My children are happy and stable, I have good friends who support me, and I continue to be happy in my own skin. And this year, I’ve had someone to share it with as well. Life is truly wonderful in a way that I never thought possible.

I spent a lot of my year writing in small coffee shops in myriad places. San Diego, Saskatoon, Brattleboro, Reno, Missoula, Minneapolis. I’ve dived into my roots and gained a greater understanding of myself. I spent two full months exploring my 2 year missionary service, I’ve written stories of my childhood, and I’ve been open and honest about my sexual development as an adolescent. I’ve spent less time writing about my observations from the present, and more writing of the past. These stories opened up new narratives and have given me new goals for the future. I’ve become more of a storyteller than ever before.

Much of my year has been framed by the telling of a man who died far too young and far too tragically, and not just him but the men who killed him. I’ve spent dozens of hours reading, reaching out, interviewing, and filming, and at the end of it all, something beautiful is about to come forward. And I can’t help but think beyond that, to other stories that need to be told.

On top of that, my children are a year older, and they are happy and well. They have transitioned into a charter school which gives them much more support overall, and we’ve seen their behavioral struggles and social behaviors adapt and grow for the better. They are vibrant, introspective, imaginative, and beautiful. Parenting is never without struggles, yet it is a complete joy.

Being in a relationship has changed me as well. My boyfriend has given me a consistency and stability that I didn’t realize I was missing. He’s faithful, steady, and romantic. He listens, he laughs, and he stays by my side. He supports me, and he’s wonderful with my children. On top of that, he’s damn handsome. He’s calmed my spirits in ways and he’s given me new insights into myself, which make me a better writer, a better father, and a better therapist.

I continue to do a self-inventory. I set some physical goals for myself that I didn’t achieve. I’m clearly recognizing of patterns of dedication to physical change (exercise and nutrition consistency) followed by a crippling apathy about that change, and this has resulted in a moody apathy. I haven’t gained weight, yet I haven’t achieved my goals. I struggle to break certain habits that don’t do me any harm except that they stop me from progressing.

Soon it is going to find time to set goals for the coming year. I know travel will be part of it. Raising a large amount of money to complete my film, finishing the film itself, and publishing my book will certainly make the list. Spending time being grateful for what I have, reaching out to others, reading books, and regularly writing will remain there. And right at the top of the list will be those physical goals that somehow evaded me this year.

Once in a while, I wish I could go back in time and tell the younger versions of me how good life will be if he can just wait it out. I’m as temporary as always, and a year from now I hope to be writing about my reflections from 2018. But for now, in a coffee shop at home, in frozen and polluted Salt Lake City, I’m grateful for my life, and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.

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Mostly Vegetarian

MEAT

“Meat!”

My brain was screaming for meat as I continued on the elliptical machine, straining with the pace at the highest setting. I was dripping with sweat, my heart was thudding wildly. I watched the red digital numbers on the screen, my heart rate showing at 158 beats per minute, my ‘Calories Burned’ numbers raising by one every six strides or so, the timer ticking closer toward my goal. I still had ten minutes left.

Before this, I had lifted weights, focusing on chest and triceps, and I looked forward to the muscle burn that would set in. Between the weights and the elevated heart rate, and the fact that this was my third day of hitting the gym in a row with this intensity, my caveman tendencies were kicking in again.

“Meat!” my brain screamed again, and little cartoon images of KFC chicken breasts, turkey sandwiches, and honey-glazed ham began swirling around my brain, all with little smiley faces plastered on them.

“I don’t eat meat,” I reasoned with my brain, but my heart was pounding too swiftly to do much good. I was ravenous for protein, and desperately wanted to sink my teeth into cooked animal flesh.

“Meat!” It screamed at me a third time, and I practically salivated at the idea of an extra-crispy chicken breast, barbecued.

My heart cried back one more time. “No. No, no, no. That is a chicken! Not some food category called chicken, but an actual chicken! It was a walking, clucking creature covered in feathers, and it was probably kept in some terrible cage on some industrial farm somewhere, where they fattened it up without giving it space to walk or even healthy food, and then they cruelly slaughtered it. That is what you’d be eating!”

“Meat! Extra-crispy meat!”

“No!” My heart was outraged. “That extra crispiness? It’s breading that has no nutritional value that they deep fry! And they just roll it over the skin. Actual skin! They pluck the feathers off and fry the skin!”

“Ooh, a cheeseburger!” My brain yelled. “Doesn’t that sound yummy? Ketchup, pickles, onions, cheese, a nice thick bun, and meat!” And I could feel my stomach rumbling in response.

My heart was calm in its response. “And that is the actual muscle lining of an actual cow, another living creature. We can get our protein from other sources, easily.”

“But, meat! Meat! Come on, I know we are usually vegetarian, but we’ve taken breaks before.”

The heart ignored this reasoning. “Only by shutting down our very ethics. There are black beans, whey protein, peanut butter… so many great protein choices that didn’t once have a heartbeat.”

“Pulled pork sandwiches! Sweet and sour chicken! Steak!”

“No, no thank you. We can be patient.”

“Bacon! Bacon, you dumb bitch!”

My stomach made an even louder gurgling, audible to those working out near me, and I gave an embarrassed shrug. I technically still had five minutes left, but perhaps I should stop now and get some food.

I stepped off the machine, heart still thudding, and grabbed my towel to wipe my brow with, then rushed over to the counter to purchase a whey protein bar.

“Meat! Meat! Meat!” my brain screamed at me, but I unwrapped the bar and swiftly devoured its sugary goodness in three giant bites, shoving it down my gullet at an unhealthy level. Barely tasting it, I felt my digestive system give an immediate sigh of relief.

My heart slowed, my head quieted, my stomach relaxed. I sat on a nearby stool and felt hungry still. I needed a meal, something with sustenance. I needed carbs and protein and fat.

I planned out my meal in a hurry, and my heart felt grateful that I was vegetarian.

Well, mostly.

Physical Obesity

Obesity snuck up on me, slowly and surely over a period of months and years. I certainly knew I was overweight: I was winded and sweaty all the time, standing could be difficult and so could climbing stairs, I bought giant baggy shirts to fit over my ample stomach, and my face was fatter and rounder. I consumed bags of microwave popcorn, large bags of peanut butter M-n-Ms, liters of Pepsi, and bags of sugared mangos in between meals, and I ate seconds and thirds for dinner and had three or four bowls of cereal for breakfast. Once when I sprained my ankle, I was on crutches, and getting myself from my car to my office became a struggle.

Still, the word obese never crossed my mind. It was a dangerous word, an ugly word. In fact, the only thing worse than obese, when it came to weight, was morbidly obese, a word that implies someone is near death.

My son was flipping through photo albums recently and he looked up with surprise and his usual candor. “Dad, you were really fat when I was a baby. But not anymore, right?”

I remember the day I learned I was obese. It was at a family Christmas party, and my sister Sue had a Wii system. Wanting to engage in some fun family Wii competitions, she had a few of us create character avatars to play with on the game. I designed a little man to look like me with brown hair and clothing, and I entered my height. Then I stood on the little scale for the Wii to take my weight. In front of my entire family, the avatar on the screen suddenly ballooned out to beach ball size, accompanied by a cartoon sound effect, a rubbery boing noise. Giant capital letters flashed on the screen, followed by exclamation marks.

YOU ARE OBESE!!!

And that simple humiliation began my personal transformation and, in many ways, marked the first steps toward living rather than just being alive. It didn’t take long to realize I was eating too much and too quickly, so I began by lowering quantities of food, drinking more water, and learning a bit about what I was putting into my body. I began monitoring what I ate, what foods my body needed, and how many Calories exists in foods.

I had felt abjectly out of control of my life for years at that point, trapped by religion and culture, trapped in the closet, trapped by self-expectations that I had to work 60 hours per week and serve in the church and that it was selfish and ugly to do anything for myself.

So I began walking at lunchtime, and then I began working on the elliptical trainer at the gym during my lunch break. I started lifting weights in the mornings, something I had never done. I began dropping pounds swiftly. At my heaviest, I was 255 lbs. (I’m a 5 feet 11 inches tall). Before long I was at 240, then 230, then 220. I started gaining a bit of confidence in myself, enjoying the gains I was making and seeing the results in myself.

I learned a lot about myself at that time. I learned that weight comes on slow and steadily over time, one half pound at a time, over a period of months and years. I learned that losing weight is a relatively simple science, boiled down simply to burning more energy than consumed. I learned that the human body is forgiving, that it is eager to be healthy and will work toward health when correct decisions are made. I learned that old habits can be hard to break, but that the alternative is simply gaining more and more. And, perhaps most importantly, I learned that change takes time: If it takes a year to gain 50 pounds, it is going to take more than a few weeks to take the weight off. I adopted the mantra of slow and steady growth over time.

Once I hit 220, I plateaued for a while. The weight came off more slowly and was more difficult to shed. But as long as I stayed consistent, and was patient and kind toward myself, it continued going down 1-3 pounds every few weeks. 220 became 215, then 210, then 200.

By then, I had taken careful stock of my life. I realized that I had had zero nutrition or exercise knowledge instilled in me growing up, in a family that often struggles with obesity. I realized I was participating in a religion that vilifies coffee and alcohol, but says nothing about obesity and physical health. I realized I was surrounded by people in my life who cared about me, but who completely enabled my dangerous habits and said nothing about my weight or my unhappiness; in fact, some of these people resented me or called me selfish when I began transforming myself. And I realized that it wasn’t just physical weight I had put on, it was mental weight, it was emotional weight, and it was spiritual weight. I had become obese in every sense. Dropping pounds was only the beginning of a years-long transformation ahead of me.

Four years after I began losing my weight, I hit my lowest adult weight, and the most fit time in my life, at 175 lbs. I had lost a total of 80 pounds. I looked and felt better. I felt cleansed and strong and confident. And it was then that I began focusing on shedding the other types of weight I had to lose. I take care of my physical health now on all fronts: exercise, nutrition, sleep, hydration, and overall wellness. It felt, and feels, wonderful.

As I type this, I line up two photographs of myself, one from 8 years ago, and one from last summer. The first, I’m dressed in white at a religious event, literally standing in front of a painting of Jesus. My lips are curved into a smile that doesn’t match my eyes, which seem as heavy as my face, as heavy as the expectations I placed upon myself. In the second, my smile is genuine, my eyes are alive, my arms are strong and I’m alive. It’s difficult for me to reconcile these two versions of myself.

And then two simple thoughts come to mind: life is meant to be lived, and I refuse to spend another moment miserable.

 

(Blogs on spiritual, emotional, and mental obesity to follow).

Big Bucket of Fat

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Red liquid pooled around my feet, dripping from the eight holes in my abdomen and forming a large red puddle on the floor of my laundry room.

“Gross…” I muttered, and I wondered why it didn’t hurt. Bright red streaks ran across my shorts and down my legs, over my feet and to the floor, drip-drip-drip, incessantly. I couldn’t go get a towel or the liquid would get all over the carpet, so I would just have to stand here until the draining finished.

“What if this was blood?” I wondered, and gave a small shudder, and thanked my stars that it wasn’t.

I leaned up against the wall as the fluid drained out of me and thought back to how I ended up here. Not all that complicated, really. Four years before, I had gone from 255 pounds to 175 pounds. “How did you do it?” everyone asked, and I shrugged and gave easy answers like “Well, I started caring about myself, eating better, and exercising.” The weight had come off rather quickly, and it was immediately apparent. I was a completely different person that few years that I spent obese, both inside and outside.

And since then, I had been getting into shape slowly and surely, consistently and steadily. I had no plans to run a marathon or enter a body-building competition, I just wanted to look on the outside like I felt on the inside. And I felt good, so I wanted to look good. Putting on muscle inspired more confidence, feeling like an athlete during a workout made me feel like I could do anything I set my mind to.

Yet no matter how hard I had tried, I couldn’t lose that last little bit of fat around the middle. It wasn’t debilitating, it was just… there. And I didn’t like it. The last vestiges of my former life. And so I thought about it for a few years, saved up for a long time, and decided to go in for liposuction. I had had LASIK surgery years before and it had been life-changing. This one would definitely be confidence-boosting.

The first appointment, I had met with a super-model-looking woman, a brunette with perfect make-up and tanned skin. She’d been a little bit flirtatious. “Oh, Chad, you’ll look so hot after this procedure! Wow, you’ll turn heads! You’ll be glad you did this for your whole life! You are so making the right decision!”

And then, on the day of the actual procedure, the gorgeous women had walked me through a set of double-doors to the medical clinic, where a very short and very chubby nurse waited for me. She was wonderful and attentive and sweet, but I had been horrified that they kept this wonderful woman behind the doors and hired the model to be up front. After a time, and some before pictures, the doctor came back and drew all over me with marker, gave me some anesthetic (I chose the mildest), and began filling my abdomen with Lidocaine.

The red liquid pumped into me in surprising quantities, and the doctor explained that they were inserting it between the skin and muscle to help separate things and deaden the appropriate areas. My stomach swelled up, full of liquid.

Then he punctured my abdomen in eight small places, along the top bottom, and sides of my stomach.

And then he began inserting a small tube and, no way to say it any other way, sucked fat out of my abdomen.  He explained that this procedure would permanently remove the fat cells from these areas of my body. I could gain fat again in the future, but it would collect in other areas of my body; this was a permanent transformation.

I watched yellow adipose move through the tube out of my body and plop into a bucket nearby. And in time, there was literally a bucket of gloppy squishy fat in a bucket next to me. A bucket of fat. A literal bucket of fat.

“Wow, I’m getting more out of you than I expected to. You were hiding this well in there,” the doctor said, like he was complimenting me. I pictured him doing this all day, every day, sucking fat out of people, and wondered what the world felt like when that became routine. I guessed that his paycheck more than compensated for any job related stress.

And pretty soon I had a friend driving me home, my body wrapped up tightly in a body stocking. I had laid an old blanket down on the couch and slept for a long time. And then, when the time was right, I got up to loosen the stocking, unclasping and unzipping it.

And there it was, the Lidocaine pooling on the floor, clearing itself out of my system. It took nearly an hour before the dripping stopped, and then an hour after that cleaning up the massive mess with piles of towels, which were tossed into the washer, one red-stained mass.

The recovery after that had gotten a bit easier every day, but it did take a while. For the first few weeks, my entire abdomen felt bruised and sore, stretched tight. I rubbed Arnica lotion on the skin a few times per day, and took Arnica pills, which was supposed to reduce swelling. I took a lot of aspirin. I wore the body stocking a lot. The next few months, my stomach constantly felt like I had just done one thousand sit-ups, the muscles tired and tight. But I could tell a difference immediately.

It’s been ten months now and I can definitely tell a difference in my abdomen after the procedure. My confidence is higher, my exercise routine continues to increase. I didn’t tell many people I had had it done, not that I was ashamed, mostly because it was no one else’s business. The procedure is paid off. I get Emails from the company from time to time, asking if I need something else done, and I smile and simply don’t reply.

Once was enough. I chose it carefully, saved up for it, and did something for me. And that felt good.

And besides, now I have stories to tell about pooling puddles of Lidocaine and buckets of yellow fat.

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Lesbians and grossed out gays

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“What are you reading?”

I looked over from my book to the man on the treadmill next to me. The gym was crowded and smelled like sweat and machines, a familiar smell in the winter months in Utah. Air pollution was particularly bad today, given the inversion, and I had come inside to shake my headache and get my blood flowing and heart pumping.

While doing a warm-up on the treadmill, stretching my joints out along with each muscle and tendon, I had set my current biography up on the stand, a book I was loving.

“Oh, it’s a book about Sally Ride.”

“Who the hell is Sally Ride?”

The man had his ball cap turned slightly to the side. I wondered if he was trying to flirt in some brash way.

“She was the first American woman in space, back in the 80s. She was pretty amazing. A real revolutionary.”

“Sounds boring as all hell.” He looked at me as if trying to challenge my enthusiasm for the book.

“She was also a lesbian, though that wasn’t revealed publicly until after her death. She was with her partner for 30 years.”

“So how is that supposed to make her special.” He said it like a statement not a question.

“Well, I’ve been researching a lot of LGBT history lately. It’s kind of hidden in our society. Like I had heard of Sally Ride, but never knew she was lesbian. I heard of Alan Turing, but never knew he was gay. I think Ride was pretty incredible.”

The guy finally looked away, pushing some button on his treadmill to slow his speed. “I think lesbians are pretty disgusting.”

I gave him a disconsolate look. “What, why? What makes lesbians disgusting?”

He lowered the incline on his treadmill as well as I kept going. “I like dudes. Masculine dudes. Lesbians are gross. Vaginas are gross.”

I sighed and gave a half-laugh. I pictured all of the gay dating profiles I had seen over the years that said things like Man seeking masculine men. Masc for masc, no fems. I thought about informing this man that he didn’t have to be sexually attracted to women in order to respect and understand them. The hyper-masculinity of male culture drives me nuts, whether in the straight world or in the gay one.

I thought about my sister Sheri and her wife Heather, and wondered how often they faced this kind of attitude from gay men, men who were supposed to be their allies in the fight for equality. I knew the shaming words against transgender people from gay men was even worse. Lesbians are hyper-sexualized by straight men and shunned by gay men. The whole thing just reeks of patriarchy.

“I love lesbians.” I looked away as he stared at me in shock.

“Bull. How could you possibly love lesbians? You’re gay.”

“I know a lot of lesbians, dozens and dozens of them. And I genuinely like every one of them that I know. They are good people, smart, dedicated, talented, genuinely nice people. I could say the same thing about every transgender person I know, literally every one. But I can name a whole lot of straight people and gay guys I don’t like. So I love lesbians.”

He stopped his treadmill. “Whatever, man. Enjoy your boring book.”

I turned back to Sally Ride, eager to learn more about this fascinating woman. Guess I wasn’t masculine enough for that guy.