A United Front

I’ve noticed that most of my posts start with “So…”

So, I got married this year. A fact of which I’m sure you’re aware, especially since I’ve now joined Instagram. This would be a fairly momentous occasion in anyone’s life, and it certainly was in mine.

I literally just wrote “we all imagine our weddings”, but then deleted it, because this isn’t true. Just because I had a secret wedding Pinterest board long before I got engaged, just because that board mutated into seven boards once I became engaged, it doesn’t mean I’m the norm, it doesn’t mean that everyone thinks like me. This journey of discovery is helping me realise that there is no ‘norm’. Times are changing, and things that have always been seen as being in the minority are being revealed as more prevalent than previously thought. When my parents married, they married young for the freedom it gave them. It enabled them to live together, to go on holiday together, to really be a couple. That’s not the case anymore, so people are marrying older, or not marrying at all because they don’t fancy it. It doesn’t affect the longevity of relationships, it’s just something that people choose to do or not do.

I imagined my wedding though, not in an obsessive way, just in a “that would be nice” way. Over the years the colour schemes changed, the dress changed, and thankfully the grooms changed, but one thing remained constant, and that was my image of myself as a bride. I was slim, and to me that meant I looked my very best, the most beautiful I could possibly look. In reality, I committed the ultimate sin, I went against the magazines, the TV shows, the advice of relatives and in-laws, and the general feeling of the western world, and I got married fat. This wasn’t entirely by choice to be fair, if I’d had it in me to lose the weight I think I would have made a valiant effort, but I didn’t. I’d like to say that this was a feminist stand, a brave and empowering protest against perceived gender obligations, but in all honesty I didn’t have room in my life to lose weight.

A lot of weddings follow the traditional model of taking place in a hotel or other such venue, with prescribed package deals that can be altered to suit the couple. You choose your meal, your place settings and your drinks package from a list of options, and someone takes it from there. This is a sensible way to plan the most elaborate party of your life. This is a good idea. This is not what we did. We wanted to make the day our own; we aren’t formal people and would have felt uncomfortable in formal surroundings. The thing Tony wanted most was to get married outdoors, and the thing I wanted most was to feel like myself on my wedding day. We chose an outdoor venue in Yorkshire in June. This is not as easy as it sounds. Strangely enough, unlike the rest of the world, and America in particular where you can legally get married anywhere, even up a tree if that’s what floats your goat, in the UK you can only legally be married under a licenced permanent structure. Otherwise, you have your ceremonial ceremony and then go to a registry office, which is not what we wanted – we wanted the ceremony to be real. Our day was to take place at the only place in North Yorkshire you can legally be married outdoors, in the Cruck House at the Yorkshire Arboretum, or the Wedding Shed as we affectionately thought of it. Turns out this was a terrible idea as it rained and we had to get married in the visitor’s centre, but it was a lovely thought.

The main problem of an unconventional wedding is also the main blessing: there are no packages to choose from. You get all the freedom of expression you like, but a huge amount of work and no one to share the load. Our reception took place in a marquee (by the wonderful Will’s Marquees – can’t actually recommend them enough) in the Arboretum grounds, and we had to organise everything ourselves – the loos, the bar, the caterers, the music, the decorations, the drinks, everything. I DO NOT recommend this approach. It was wholeheartedly the most stressful thing I have ever done and I certainly wouldn’t do it again. It was beautiful, awesome and felt just like us though, and we loved every second of the day so, you know, swings and roundabouts**. Realistically though, I had a huge amount of work to do, on top of my full time job and cyclic mental health difficulties. Something had to give, and losing weight was the non-essential item that I didn’t have room for in my schedule. To be fair, I tried at first, but it was just too much pressure at a time when I needed to feel good about myself and my anxiety was already through the roof.

I’d thought that, as a result, dress shopping would be a nightmare, a hideous, embarrassing, humiliating nightmare of body shaming and low self-esteem. It was, in my own head, but actually not so much in the shops. The first dress I tried on was a size 14 (hahahahahahahahahaaaaa) at the wedding exhibition in London. It was utterly, utterly beautiful, and utterly over-budget, from a gorgeous shop in Brighton called Leonie Claire, and the owner deserves a special mention for The Thing She Said to Me. She encouraged me to try on the dress in question, stating that I’d be surprised what sizes I could fit into, just to get an idea of what they’d look like. I felt embarrassed and as though I had to justify my existence, so I said something along the lines of “well, the diet and exercise start here!” in a hearty, over-compensating way. She turned to me, and quietly said, “No. Don’t change yourself, not for this, not just for the sake of one day”. And I was floored. This person who makes a living selling wedding dresses, who didn’t stock a single thing in my size and therefore was unlikely to make a sale, went out of her way and actively advocated for me not to feel I had to change myself. I’m so thankful to her, I’m sure she thought it was just a small gesture, but to a plus size/curvy/fat/whatever bride starting on a journey through an industry that is inherently against her, it was everything. Thank you Leonie Claire, so much. I’m sorry I couldn’t afford the dress!

The dress I did choose was by Truvelle, an American designer, and I bought it from Heart Aflutter, a small studio in Hackney. If you’re looking for something beautiful and unconventional I strongly suggest you give them a try. They have the most amazing selection of floaty, glitzy, vintage-y, modern-y, and ethereal things, most of which can be ordered in plus sizes, and their seamstress is frankly incredible. I loved my dress. I loved the way it looked, the way it made me feel and, most of all, the way the entire bottom third was covered in matte rose gold sequins. It was perfect. It’s not remotely what I expected to wear, I’d pictured a lot of lace, but I’m so pleased I chose this dress instead.

Anyway, the fact is that I got married fat. I was a fat bride. I went against every promise I’d ever made myself to not be a fat bride, and instead was a fat bride. In my panicky moments pre-wedding I worried about people looking at me and thinking “bloody hell, she’s fat!”, I worried about Tony looking at me and thinking “aaarrghhh!!!”. In the wise words of my incredible bridesmaid though, who looked me steadily in the eyes and spoke slowly as if teaching a child – “I think they know”. No one spontaneously combusted of shock as I appeared at the end of the aisle in my dress. My groom didn’t pass out from sheer disgust at my inability to materialise as a size 12 on our wedding day. There were no Biblical plagues, no rains of frogs, and, most disappointingly, neither Buffy nor the Winchester brothers appeared to foil the inevitable apocalypse. I was fat, I was tall, taller than Tony, as I usually am, and we had a wonderful day that we’ll never forget, for all the right reasons.

Looking back, the day is basically a blur. The week before was the most stressful of my life, I slept for two hours each afternoon as I was thoroughly drained and exhausted, and I felt indescribably tense and anxious at all times. I’d made the mistake of being in charge – I was the person who knew what was going on, I had all the information, all the supplier details and all the timings, so I was the person everyone asked, and that was too much for me. When it came to the day itself though, it was easier. That was the day where the member of venue staff, our bridesmaids and our groomsmen took over, and we could just enjoy the ride.

I don’t actually remember what the ceremony space looked like. I don’t think I ever really looked at it. I walked in, nervous, excited, with my dad, and kept my eyes fixed ahead to where I was going, to Tony. At all times I looked at him, or at the person speaking – the registrar, or the reader – I tried not to look at everyone else and be overwhelmed by how many people were looking at us. What I do remember is the way Tony looked at me. In that moment it seemed ridiculous to have ever thought he might be disappointed when he saw me. The way he looked at me is exactly the way I always wanted to be looked at on my wedding day. He looked wonderful, standing there, waiting for me, I probably looked at him in exactly the same way.

I remember what he said to me, I’ll never forget that, and I remember the part where he stopped to loudly blow his nose before starting his vows *cue laughter*. I remember referring to Philip and Tiger Lounge in my vows *cue cheering*. I remember calling him weird, and having not anticipated the laugh it would get, and the subsequent fact that I would have to wait for it to subside before I could add “…and I’m weird”, so for a few moments it just looked as though I’d called him weird, with no explanation, on our wedding day. After that I remember interminable posing for the camera, feeling consistently buoyant and happy, barely eating anything, and, inexplicably, not needing a wee all day. Which was weird, but convenient. I remember the immense stroke of luck that was the double rainbow, and our guests running and shouting at us from too far away so that we’d turn around and see it. I remember spinning around like a fool with my new husband to Bellowhead. I remember the task force involved in bustling my dress, and those who attempted to shield the spectacle with skirts and umbrellas. I remember one guest going into raptures because she was “finally ON Sean Bean” (table name), and another requesting to take home the “Patrick Stewart” table flag. I remember feeling loved, absolutely, positively loved, and feeling immense love in return for every one of our friends and family members who were there. I remember how happy Tony looked, how much fun he seemed to be having. I remember the Jagger-off between my husband and the resident dance-enthusiast, how the guests parted to let it happen, and how one participant decisively removed his jacket when the song started.  I remember driving us to the B&B at the end of the night, just the two of us at last, and eating week old pretzels (courtesy of my glove compartment) and hand-dipped chocolate strawberries (courtesy of the B&B owner) in bed when the dust finally settled and we realised how damned hungry we were. In that moment, it was like the wedding hadn’t happened yet. We were snuggled up in bed, the same as always, feeling happy and content to be there with each other. It may sound like a complete come down, but it wasn’t, at all, in fact it was the exact opposite. After all, you get married because you like the way things are and you want them to stay that way all the time. We felt exhausted, dazed, unsure of what had happened, but content to be snuggled up at last, and very, very happy.

We missed Philip though, obvs.

On 10th June I married the love of my life. It was a frankly glorious day, but I couldn’t tell you all the details. Almost two months on I’m still not used to referring to him as my husband, and am surprised to see him wearing a wedding ring. I have officially (well, at work and on social media, I’m yet to fill in all the forms) transitioned to my married name, but I’m still surprised every time I hear it. Tony opened a letter addressed to me the other day because he glanced at the envelope and saw his surname! Life hasn’t really changed though, not really, we just had a really wonderful day with almost everyone we love, to celebrate the fact that we chose to spend our lives together.

Here are some pictures taken by Henry Lowther, our very, very talented photographer.

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**What does this even mean?! Yes, swings and roundabouts, these are standard playground equipment, and you’re stating their names. If you’re trying to depict a scenario in which occurrences balance each other out, this is not it!

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What it meant to me

So, I heard the other day that Tiger Lounge is closing its doors for the last time on the 12th August this year, and as you may have noticed, I got pretty emotional about this.

After 13 years in its current location, it’s moving on to an as-yet-to-be-determined new space find out more. This isn’t an ending, the night will still exist, the DJs and playlists will still be there, well, not there, somewhere else, but at least they’ll still “be”. So why am I so upset? I’ve been asking myself the same thing for the past few days, and I think I have an answer.

When I were a lass in the wilds of Yorkshire When I was a teenager in Hull, my first forays into nights on the town were pretty limited in what they could offer. There wasn’t much in the way of musical diversity, and the small concessions towards indie/rock music were no good to me since my friends didn’t share my taste. Every week was the same: on Tuesdays we went to Bus Stop at LA’s, on Thursdays it was drink voucher night at Waterfront, and on Fridays we went to LA’s again. The same nights, the same music, the same takeaways, the same taxis. I wore towering heels, tiny skirts and shivered through the city with blue arms and legs rather than spend valuable drinking/dancing time queueing to put a coat in the cloakroom. I did what was expected of me because I wasn’t brave enough to go against the grain. Luckily, I had some wonderful people to go on these excursions with, which made them worthwhile in the end, but nothing, not the club, not the clothes, not the people, and definitely not the music, was to my taste. I danced half-heartedly and tried my best to like it, because that was What You Did.

I had the chance to change this when I went to university, but to be honest, by then I was only in it for the drinking and I didn’t really care where I was as long as the vodka was cheap and my friends were there. I started to branch out though, and understand that nights out weren’t all cut from the same cloth. I started going to Jilly’s Rockworld every Thursday, still not completely to my taste, but definitely an improvement. Jilly’s was a revelation in itself – the fact that this place existed, and was so widely known and loved was testament to Manchester’s immovable status as The Big City in my eyes. A fact I grew out of when I moved to London over a decade later.

When I moved back to Hull after university everything changed. My much braver, and far more confident housemate led trips to Piper on a Friday night, and the Welly Club on a Saturday. It was glorious. It was Rolling Stones, Kings of Leon, Small Faces and The Killers. NOW I knew what I was looking for. There’s one night that stands out in my mind, a defining moment of youth, an illustration of the reason you do it all – get drunk, wake up tasting of regret and feeling horrendous, but laugh it off and do it all again. I was standing in the middle of the dancefloor at Piper, one Friday night circa 2005/6, in that perfect stage of drunkenness, where the world is incredible, you love everyone in it and you’ll be happy for the rest of your life because you know that feeling will never end. The Killers “All These Things That I’ve Done” started to play, and as it built so did my feeling of bliss, it was the closest I’d felt to musical perfection since I first heard Hendrix’s cover of Watchtower. My friends were all around me, I was in a place where I felt at home, a place I felt I belonged. I put my arms in the air and smiled, I felt euphoric, truly and wonderfully euphoric, I felt invincible. I knew with an absolute fervour that everything would always be alright. For me, that feeling perfectly sums up the crest of the addict’s wave. It was heaven, and I’ll never forget it.

The next year, following my move back to Manchester, I discovered Tiger Lounge. I can’t remember how I got there, who introduced me to it, or why we went, but I like to think I stumbled upon it, having been led there by its voice calling out to me in my dreams: “Chaaaaaarlotte, come hoooooome…” and, I know I don’t remember things very clearly from those days, but I’m fairly sure it didn’t happen like that…

Tiger Lounge promised kitsch, and it sold itself short. As I entered they stamped my hand and invited me to take a candy necklace from the bowl. Strong start. I descended, past velvet paintings, through a faux-tiger fur covered door, into a wooden basement room of….of…..WONDER!!! There were cats on the wall – not real ones – pictures of flamenco dancers, candy machines and they were playing Ike & Tina Turner. Not Tina Turner. Ike & Tina Turner. I literally squealed I think, and rushed to order a cocktail. They played Jump in the Line, The Clapping Song, The Snake, Jailhouse Rock, a French cover of Son of a Preacher Man, Janis Joplin, Blondie, Yes, The Stones, Bowie, Hendrix, The Pixies, Johnny Cash, Led Zep, T-Rex, Fleetwood Mac, Wilson Pickett, Madness and Nancy Sinatra. It was like nowhere I’d ever been before, I couldn’t believe my luck.

After a while we became Saturday regulars, and I flitted between flailing uproariously around the dancefloor, bombarding the DJs with my usual requests, most of which they’d already lined up, and cooling off outside with the smokers, because whatever else Tiger Lounge was it was HOT. Make-up didn’t last long, and I inevitably left sporting the drowned rat look, by virtue of over-enthusiastic sweaty dancing. It was here I first saw DW’s Mick Jagger impression. It was here I saw my husband-to-be join in the homage, and thus an enthusiastic duo was born, that now performs at weddings, whether you want it to or not.

I may not have met my husband in Tiger Lounge, but we had our first kiss there. He’d asked me out a couple of months beforehand and I’d turned him down, because I was on long-term sick from work for mental health problems, but you’ve heard all that. Over the following months we’d got to know each other properly, with no agenda, and when we finally became a couple it was with the confidence that we each knew what we were getting into. Where could be more fitting for it to happen than my spiritual home, the place I could always be myself?

With those other clubs we found in Hull I’d finally felt at home, but with Tiger Lounge I felt I was home. My Home. And that moment of addict’s clarity I had on the dancefloor at Piper? Every night at Tiger Lounge was like that. Every night. I always felt loved, I always felt welcome, I always felt powerful, I always felt invincible. This was my house, this was where I belonged.

I went back sober, after we’d moved to London, just the once, and it was harder than I was prepared for. I looked around My Home, seeing it for the first time without the alcoholic tint, and it was still glorious. It sounded the same, it felt the same, the staff welcomed me home like an old friend and played my favourite songs – the doorman requested to buy me a drink, a coke by that point, because it was so nice to see me back. It wasn’t the same though. The feeling was tainted. I knew now that I wasn’t invincible, that the things I wanted weren’t the things that were good for me, and it hurt. It tangibly, physically hurt my heart to be so close but know I could never have it again. I wanted more than anything to be back there, and suddenly it became a dangerous place to be. I was supposed to understand that addiction was a slow and deadly awful, it wasn’t supposed to feel so invitingly like home. I looked across the dancefloor and found I was actually surprised not to see myself there, the me from two years ago, in my red dress, holding court, dancing up a storm, and acting like I owned the place – because I did, that’s how it felt.

My heart broke when I didn’t see her, when it dawned on me that if all went to plan and I stayed well I’d never see her again. And that, right there, is why it means so much to me. Tiger Lounge was my soulmate. Tiger Lounge was my home. Tiger Lounge was where I’d been the most me that I could ever be. The end of Tiger Lounge symbolises the end of her – the me that I thought I would always be. I’ve known that for a while, but it’s never seemed so real because Home was still there, always there, if I needed it. The end of Tiger Lounge is the end of euphoria, the end of invincibility and the beginning of reality, and I need to grieve.

Breathless

It’s been a while since I posted. In all honesty this is because I haven’t had anything to say. Things have been going well. I’m nervous about saying that out loud, but they have. Therapy’s really helping. It’s forcing a lot of things to the surface that I don’t really want to face, but that’s part of the process I guess. Whatever it is, it’s helping. There are days when I don’t do so well, but there are more days than there used to be when I’m feeling good, and I definitely count that in the win column.

I haven’t had a drink now for almost two years. That habit appears to have stuck. Healthy eating though is a harder habit that continues to beat me into submission. My personal best is 3 months, which isn’t bad, but I’ve been at it now for over a year and I should be better at it than this.

What else has changed? Well, in December, on my birthday, Tony asked me to marry him. And I, obviously, said yes. I would love to spend this whole post talking about this, because he absolutely blew me away with his proposal, I’m not ashamed to say it was perfect, because it literally couldn’t have been better. I’m writing this post for a different reason though, so I’ll save that for another time. You see, the only part of being engaged that I’m not enjoying is the obligation to lose weight before the Big Day.

I would be the first person to tell any other overweight person not to let anyone tell them how to look on their wedding day, or on any other day of their life. I would remind them of the fact that the person who wants to marry them, wants to marry them specifically because of who they are and how they look. I would remind them that they don’t owe weight loss to anyone, that any person who tries to make them feel bad about themselves isn’t worth their time. I would wholeheartedly believe what I was saying too. Unfortunately though, I don’t extend the same courtesy to myself. I am a slim person who’s gone wrong along the way. I have made myself look terrible and I need to rectify it. The thought of looking back at my wedding photos and seeing a fat bride makes me literally want to cry. I’m not good at being kind to myself. I’m getting better, but I’m not there yet.

So, what am I going to do about this? Well, I took out a class-only membership at the local gym. I’ve even been. Although only three times. I think I’ve been a member for about 5 weeks now though, so that’s better than I’ve ever done in the past.

I went to step class tonight. It’s the first time I’ve done a step class for about 15 years, but I thought I knew what to expect. The walk there was colder than I’d expected – I worked from home today so I wasn’t really aware of the temperature outside. I have asthma and the cold made it a little difficult to breathe, but I started to feel better when I got inside. The instructor was late, and all the usual class-goers were chatting and catching up with each other. I was very much the outsider. No one spoke to me, no one knew me, I wasn’t one of their group.

I took my ticket to the instructor and told her it was my first class. She looked at me doubtfully, sizing me up in all my plus-sized glory, and told me the class was not for beginners, that it was very fast. I said I’d be willing to give it a go, and she said I was very welcome. I followed everyone else, picked up my step and my mat, and my hand weights – for some reason – and went and got a place right at the back of the class, as far away from the mirror as I could possibly get.

She was right. It was FAST. I had no idea what the steps were, but I kept up as best I could. Very quickly though, too quickly, I was running out of breath. It wasn’t the exercise, it was the asthma. My chest was tight, I couldn’t take in enough breath but luckily I knew exactly where my inhalers were – one was at home in my handbag, and one was on my bedside table. I usually go to classes straight from work and so have my handbag with me, but not today. I had two options. I could stick it out until I passed out, or I could pick up my things, admit defeat and leave. Instead I chose to take a breather. Only 10 minutes into the class I went to sit in the foyer to see if I could get my breath back, and to call Tony to bring my inhaler, but he didn’t answer. I called 4 times but he didn’t answer. He’d said he might go for a swim, and that was probably where he was. With no other option I went back into the studio. I checked my gym bag in vain for the inhaler that I should have put in there, but of course it wasn’t there.

I made a half-arsed attempt to join back in. It didn’t help that they were now doing something so complicated that I couldn’t even tell there was a pattern. I hopped about a bit, eventually got into a rhythm, and quickly realised that my time was up. It was with an overwhelming sense of shame and defeat that I picked up my bag and my coat and left the studio. You see, I wasn’t an asthmatic woman leaving a class because she’d foolishly forgotten to bring her inhaler. I was a fat woman, easily the biggest one in the room, who couldn’t keep up with the class and was now so out of breath that she had to go home, only 20 minutes in.

Now, in truth, I don’t actually know what anyone else was thinking. They may have managed to read my mind and realise I was having breathing trouble, they may not have even noticed me. Unfortunately though, I’m not stupid. It is impossible not to notice me in a fitness studio. I am 6ft, very overweight and the only one wearing a dress because leggings and t-shirts aren’t built for my shape. I’m also the only one with bingo wings prolific enough to launch their own online gambling franchise. I feel as welcome as a hipster in a Yorkshire village pub. I know damned well what everyone thought – the looks were enough.

It took me half an hour to do the 10 minute walk home. By the time I got in I was wheezing so hard I felt faint. I was trying very hard not to panic and cry, and the humiliation was overshadowed only by my anger at myself.

Any normal person would have been able to look in the mirror, or at the scales, or at the fit of their clothes and see that they were not losing weight. They would see this lack of progress and recognise that this meant that they were not, in fact, making any progress. Not me though, oh no, not me. I see the fact that I’ve stopped climbing stairs and cycling to work, that I’ve once again started to let unhealthy food edge its way into my diet, and I think “Oh, look at me, I’m doing great!” Reality is not my strong suit. Nor is it my friend. In fact, I’m pretty sure it hates me.

Looking in that mirror at the over-sized, out of breath person that used to be me, I finally realised that I was not doing as well as I’d hoped. At the rate I was going I would not be the slim, toned bride I dreamed of being. No, I would forever look back on my wedding photos and curse myself for not trying harder. I have a chance to lose this weight, to improve my health and to make the actual me look like the past me that I still see in my head, the one I know is still in there, in time for the most important day of my life. If I don’t take it I’m going to resent myself for longer than I care to guess.

So, how is this a win? Well, it’s not. Not really. What it could be, however, is the kick up the arse I need to help me see the reality of my situation and start taking responsibility for changing it. I’m damned well going back to that class next week, WITH my inhaler, and I’m going to do the whole bloody thing. If only to find out what the hand weights were for.

Wish me luck, because I really, really need it.

Bloody sod you then!

I’ve been having a bit of a crisis of faith over this blog recently. There was a period where I was unsure of whether to continue. It’s been a learning curve, and I’m not ashamed to say that I haven’t always got it right. It’s very easy to get caught up in the therapeutic process and forget about the repercussions. In fact, the only reason that I can write this blog is that I chose, wholeheartedly, to leave my shame and guilt at the door. Part of the process of therapy and recovery is coming to terms with what you’ve done in the past, owning up to it, learning why you did it and then moving forward without making the same mistakes. I have owned up to what I’ve done, I have come to terms with all my failings and my glaring errors, and I’ve made my peace with them. Most of them anyway.

I knew when I started to write this blog, that there were people I wouldn’t want to see it, but that they probably would, this being the internet after all. I had to be prepared for them to see everything I had to say, for them to judge and to criticise, and for me to be ok with that. There was no point in going ahead otherwise. I considered this, I accepted it and I went into this with my eyes open. I was fully prepared for this to happen, there is nothing in these posts that I’m ashamed to have written, and I can hand-on-heart say that I truly do not mind who reads it, or for that matter what they have to say about it.

I recently discovered that this is happening, that there are a couple of readers who come here simply to rubberneck. They show up sceptical, ready to judge, and they leave morally outraged at the weakness of a person who has the audacity to be writing about mental health, weight problems, addiction and other such unspeakable subjects. I expected to be hurt, to be offended, to at least be a little annoyed, but I wasn’t. To be honest I was surprised at how little I cared. I was also amazed that anyone would spend valuable time reading the blog of a person they dislike. I imagine them aghast in front of the screen, angry and affronted, but unable to look away, stuffing popcorn into their open mouth whilst muttering “terrible!” under their breath. Then, laughably, demanding that I stop posting, as if they have any bearing on my life at all.

I have made mistakes though. In my little personal journey towards recovery I have caused upset to others. And for this I am sorry. The point of therapy is not to improve your own situation at the cost of someone else’s, and I will be mindful in future of what I write regarding other people. I will not, however, limit or edit anything I write about myself. There is one person in the world with the right to dictate what I write here, how I write it and whether I write it at all, and that person is me.

I cordially invite those who do not agree to stop reading, or forever hold their thoroughly irrelevant peace.

Longing for swimwear

I’ve been stuck for something to write about over the last couple of weeks. Therapy’s going well, work’s going well, everything’s good and I have nothing to report on. Or so I thought. However, I’m currently trying to buy a swimsuit, “trying” being the operative word, and suddenly I have something to write about. Stop the press!! Yes, I know it sounds riveting, sorry.

We’re heading off to sunny climes in the not too distant future. Spain to be precise. I haven’t actually been to Spain, ever, I don’t think. I’ve been to Menorca with extended family, but I was 7 and don’t remember much, except that it was sunny and nice. The one thing that does stick in my memory about that holiday, is standing on a balcony with my cousins and my brother, looking over into an apartment opposite and seeing a gentleman getting it oooooon with his lady friend. We didn’t fully understand what they were doing, but were aware that it was “rude!”, and so we threw olives at them. Said gentleman became understandably irate and retaliated with pegs. One of them hit my finger and really hurt, which brought our parents out on to the balcony, late to the party, to shout at irate gentleman about throwing things at children. To make matters even worse, they were amazed at how much we apparently liked olives and bought us some more.

“Dear amorous Spanish gentleman,

I hereby apologise for throwing olives at you when you were trying to get your end away. I was only 7 and didn’t know any better. I’m also sorry that we didn’t tell our parents the real reason you threw a peg at me until many years later. I’m also sorry that we all laughed about it, a lot. I hope you managed to get your leg over in the end.

Sincerely,

Charlotte.”

Anyway, that has nothing to do with swimsuits, sorry. So, up until last year, Tony and I hadn’t had many holidays in our 5 years of relationship. Other than a lovely week in Brittany with lovely friends, a gorgeous long weekend in Paris for my 30th birthday (he’s an old romantic about once every 3 years) and a week at Center Parks in the Lakes (never again), we hadn’t really seen much sun. For this reason my parents took pity on us and invited us for a week in the Isle of Wight last year. It was wonderful. The weather was perfect, good enough for a trip to the beach and a swim in the sea every day. It reminded us of how nice it is to have a holiday once in a while. So, off to Spain we go, also with my parents (our holiday enablers), for two weeks. It may seem strange for a 30+ year old couple to be going on holiday with parents, but we get on with them so well that it’s not a problem. Also, they like to do their own thing once in a while, as do we, so we don’t spend every day together.

The Glorious Isle of Wight

The Glorious Isle of Wight

I’m excited about the holiday, I am, but I’m also quite apprehensive. The weather in the Isle of Wight was a complete surprise, so this is the first time I’m actually expecting sunshine and heat, and planning my wardrobe accordingly. Now, fat people don’t do well in the heat, at least I don’t. Hot, sweaty and bothered is not a good look on anyone, and even though I’ve lost about a stone I am still not what ­­­­Protein World would call “Beach Body Ready”. Incidentally, for anyone who hasn’t seen the nation’s response, please click here as it is nothing short of wonderful.

Don’t get me wrong, I fall firmly into the camp that believes that the way to become beach body ready is to put your body, whatever it looks like, on a beach. I struggle with my own body image though and am not brave enough to wear a bikini, as many awesome women are. While I think they look fabulous, and am sure that the world would not end if I put a bikini on and joined them, I just don’t have it in me, not yet. For this reason, buying summer clothes I won’t overheat in, but that don’t show too much of me, is a horribly daunting prospect, and that’s before we even get to swimsuits.

So, plus sized swimsuits. There are some really great options available these days, and I should be spoiled for choice. Simply Be have a brilliant range with some really nice choices, as do M&S and Long Tall Sally. Yes, I’m sure there are more retailers catering for the bigger girl, but the reason I’ve used these three as examples is that I’m not only plus-sized, but I’m tall as well. Longer length swimsuits are few and far between – I mean swimsuits that are actually longer length, as opposed to those that say they are but fall short of the required length by enough centimetres to render the wearer a hunched-over Quasimodo impersonator. The alternative being standing up straight and choosing between your boobs popping out of the top, or giving yourself and atomic wedgie. Yeah, not ideal.

I’ve bought two swimsuits from Simply Be in the past, Exhibit A and Exhibit B. While they’re perfectly nice, well-made suits they each fall into the Quasimodo category. Neither are long enough, and while the purple one is wearable due to being fairly stretchy, I have encountered many an almost boob appearance whilst swimming. The black and pink option is not serviceable at all, I don’t believe that it is, in fact, longer length.

Not wanting to encounter this dilemma again, I chose to buy my holiday suits from Long Tall Sally. I’ve been buying from them on and off for about 20 years now, and they not only have great quality clothes, but they really are longer length and comfortably so at that. I chose two swimsuits, Exhibit C and Exhibit D. They were lovely, the fit was comfortable, the fabric nice, the designs attractive, and they were definitely long enough. However, for the larger busted amongst us, they are fairly obscene. Rather than having one of those clever shelf panel things to sit your boobs in, each suit had only an ineffectual, soft piece of foam on each side. The foam was not supported by a band underneath, neither was it stiff enough to actually support a boob. I wish that my breasts still defied gravity as they did when I was 18, but alas I am now 33 and they are considerably bigger, and therefore heavier. Unsurprisingly I chose to return these rather than to give everyone a show they didn’t ask for.

I’m still awaiting my latest choices. I’ve decided to turn to that old favourite, M&S, the place where Britain buys its underwear. You can’t go wrong with Marks & Sparks. I hope. Their suits are generally long *enough* – there isn’t much leeway, they could stand to be longer, but generally they’re alright. They also seem to understand the boob issue quite well, so I have high hopes for Exhibit E and Exhibit F (in red) and even higher hopes that they won’t exhibit my double Gs!

A very trivial blog post I know, but there we go. Wish me luck…

Me and The Girls

Me and The Girls

The Fear

fat

I wish I were as fat as the I was the first time I thought I was fat. (Thanks www.someecards.com)

The first time I thought I was fat I was a size 14. Yes. A 14. It was my first year at Uni and, up until then, it was the biggest I’d ever been. To set the scene – I’m 5ft11” and a pretty sturdy build. I’m big, I’m tall and a 14 on me looks like a 12 on most other people. Up until I left sixth form I was a 12, and I looked pretty damned good in it. I possessed the most precious of all the gifts that are wasted on the young, a high metabolism, and could pretty much eat whatever I wanted and still look hot. I was also intrinsically lazy, and as such never learned how to keep fit and slim.

Once I hit university I discovered alcohol. Oh, I’d discovered it long before that, of course, I mean, this is Britain after all. However, I was equipped with a series of crippling fears when I was younger, a lot of which hung on until, well, until this year actually. They were very strong, particularly, and most enduringly, the Fear of Sick. I was absolutely terrified of the thought of throwing up, or of anyone throwing up near me. This extended to seeing people on TV throw up, and even hearing stories about people who might have, once in their lives, thrown up. It got so bad that I once, when about 13 years old, begged my next door neighbour to let me spend the summer holidays with her because the thought of getting on a ferry to France and getting inevitably seasick filled me with such revulsion and fear that I couldn’t sleep, I developed weird eating habits and I felt sick every day because I could think about nothing else. I used to avoid eating meals that were too big in case they made me feel sick. I refused to eat eggs or chicken because I was convinced they were going to give me food poisoning – a fear only exacerbated when I took the Basic Food Hygiene course at age 16  (spoiler: everything can and will kill you, but only after making you horrifically, ruinatiously sick).

I had a routine when travelling in cars – I’d put my headphones on, listening only to music I already knew, nothing new, and refuse to speak to, listen to, or even acknowledge anyone, whilst praying silently that I wouldn’t throw up. I used to measure journeys in tapes (I know, I know, I’m ANCIENT) and refuse to consume anything but dry toast and water before getting in the car. This was probably because of the time I threw up croissants, melted cheese and dandelion & burdock in our brand new Rover. I still seriously hate Rovers. Trains were the only method of transport I considered “safe” as they didn’t generally make me feel sick, and if we were travelling for more than half an hour by any other medium I would spend my days thinking up creative excuses to get me out of going, even if the destination was somewhere I really, really wanted to go. In my mind the end did not justify the means.

It never occurred to me, at this point, that this wasn’t normal. I knew that other people didn’t have a problem with throwing up, but I think I just assumed that everyone felt that way about something, but for some it was heights or snakes, or some other reasonable threat. It never occurred to me that this was a phobia, an excessive, obsessive phobia that had literally taken over my life. Of course, I didn’t want to limit myself to just one phobia, oh no, I cultivated two or three others – dentists, and insects and spiders, being the most prolific – which I also dealt with incredibly unhealthily, but nothing even came near to my Fear of Sick.

It was this fear that kept me from truly “discovering” alcohol. I was happy to get drunk, but I was always careful to stop well before the Danger Zone. It’s a shame really, as the music and club scene in Hull in the 90s was such that being drunk would have considerably improved it. It wasn’t until I started University and discovered the overwhelming freedom of having absolutely no restraints – of being able to smoke without doing it in secret, or being able to spend all my money in one day without being chastised, of missing every single lecture in a week with only a slight slap on the wrist to show for it – that I truly embraced alcohol. I was already drunk on what I thought was freedom (please note the massive, gaping errors in my logic), what more harm could actually being drunk do? After all, wasn’t I invincible? It’s strange, because the fear of throwing up never left, but the love of being drunk started to rival it I suppose.

Anyway, at a size 14 I thought I was huge. I’d always had an unhealthy relationship with food. My Dad, a fit and healthy person who watches his weight and does regular exercise to stay strong and fit, never really grasped the fact that I was a very tall teenager who was constantly hungry. Every time I tried to eat enough at mealtimes he would ask me “Do you really need that?” which would shame me into putting it back. I very often went to bed hungry and actually dreamed about food. It was my own sense of shame though, not his input, which led me to feel embarrassed and gluttonous. Whereas anyone else would have spoken up and said “Actually, yes, I do need it, I’m a growing teenager who is already taller than you, and I’m really hungry”, which he would’ve understood, I kept my head down and felt ashamed.

This led to eating in secret. When my parents were out I’d run to the kitchen and eat a sandwich before they got home. When my friend and I started going into town on a Saturday daytime we would always have McDonalds for lunch because it was forbidden. I felt I needed to hide what I ate, and project a façade of healthy eating and mini portions when at home. I suppose I developed the same approach to alcohol too. Either way, eating was something to be ashamed of, and eating at home often seemed to be a contest of who could eat the least. I remember taking half a pastrami sandwich and a mini can of Weight Watchers soup (also known as coloured water) to work for lunch one day when I was 25, only for my Dad to say “Do you really need all that? I only eat fruit at lunchtime”. I literally despaired.

It is no one’s fault but mine, and certainly not my Dad’s, that I was not equipped to deal with freedom. Unfortunately, that’s the nature of co-dependency – an inability to set appropriate boundaries and control one’s behaviour. It was just unfortunate that the message I’d managed to retain was that enjoying food was bad. For this reason I saw it as a treat, a comfort, something to be treasured because it wasn’t really allowed. Which is why, when I got upset over the fact that I’d started to put weight on I would eat to make myself feel better. And then drink, to make myself feel better after the eating. And then eat because I was drunk and hungry. And then drink because I felt bad……

What came next was an absolutely abominable relationship with a severely damaged and stunted individual, a series of truly terrible grades (lowest scoring person in my faculty to fail the first year, and still ever so slightly proud…), a marathon of nights out I couldn’t remember, and a steady upward creep of the needle on the scales. I’m simplifying of course, the years between 18 and 24 were some of the worst of my life, to such an extent that looking back actually frightens me, but you get the idea.

So, yeah, I wish I were as fat as I thought I was the first time I thought I was fat. Size 14 is my target size nowadays. I’m currently a 20, and when I started this blog I was a 22 (not this post, this blog, that would be the fastest weight-loss EVER), I’m aiming for a 14 because I think it’s reachable and sustainable. It will also get me back into the pretty high street dresses that call to me as I walk through shopping centres. Man I love clothes….

The issue I’ve always had though is that I kept trying to diet. I spent years trying to cut down on certain types of food, but constantly relapsing into a spiral of shame and pizza, wondering why nothing ever worked. It wasn’t until I accepted that I was an addict, and applied to food the same logic that alcoholics apply to alcohol, that I finally started to see results. And it’s easy. It genuinely is. Sometimes I have a massive craving for pizza, or ice cream, or crisps, but every mealtime I make healthy, informed choices on autopilot, and I sincerely enjoy them and then feel good.

So I’m going to do something now that I find incredibly difficult, and have been working up to the whole time I’ve been writing this. I’m going to post my least favourite picture of myself, right slap bang next to a picture of me as a size 14 when I was about 26 years old. This is not an exercise in shaming, or a way to punish myself for being fat and ugly, this is something that feels right. I’m acknowledging the people I have been, and I’m accepting them both.

Me3Me4

And for the purpose of documentation – this is the most recent photo of me, taken on Saturday. It’s terrible quality as it’s been zoomed in on, a lot, but it’s what I have.

Me5

The ties that bind

My therapist told me I was inspirational. She said it made her feel quite tearful to think of how far I’d come. She could remember when I was so deep in my lethargy and my pit, it was so dark, that she wondered if I’d ever get out of it. Now I’m eating well, feeling stronger, healthier, I’m not longer drowning my brain cells in alcohol, I’m using my brain, I can remember more things, I’m busier, more productive. I’m taking better care of myself, more pride in my appearance. She said all this in one session, and my answer was: “Really?” followed by “Oh, um, thank you, but I wouldn’t go that far.” I couldn’t take the compliment. In her words, I kept batting it away. I was so surprised, and touched to be described as inspirational, but I couldn’t acknowledge it. She set me the task of writing it down, here in my blog, for all to see.

The next thing she asked me to do was to say aloud “I deserve to be noticed”. I fidgeted, giggled a bit and said “I’m always noticed, I’m a six foot, overweight redhead, everyone notices me”. She told me to stop hiding behind humour and to just say it. It was so hard, so hard to say. I felt silly, and arrogant and silly again. I said it into the air. “Again” she said. I said it again into the air above her head. We did this four times and I still couldn’t look her in the eye.

This is co-dependency. This is a “shame existence bind”. Which is a situation where I feel ashamed to exist. (Link will take you to an excellent explanation of this).

One thing I’ve never been able to do is to tell people how I feel about them. Really tell them I mean, in a “You’re amazing, you’re so much fun and I love you” kind of way. I can do it with Tony, and with our cat, I have no problem telling them, but I can’t tell my family. I call it simply being terribly British and not feeling comfortable saying these things out loud, but it’s more than that. I feel like I’ve missed out on stronger relationships with my family members because I just can’t tell them that I love them.

When my birth family tells me they’d like to see more of me, that I’m always welcome, I worry that I’ll be imposing if I just announce that I want to visit. When my aunt and uncle tell me how loved I am and how important, I’m dying to tell them what they mean to me, but I can’t. I’m worried it’ll sound crap and insincere, and I don’t really know how to say it anyway, so I don’t. And they carry on not knowing that I feel that way.

When my sister tells me how nice I look, how brave I am, or how good it is to see me, I feel dowdy and awkward and want to tell her how inspirational I find her and her life. How smart and beautiful she is and how proud of her I am. But I can’t. I’m worried it’ll seem too much, that I’ll embarrass her, and I know I’ll definitely embarrass myself.

When my sister’s sister (it’s complicated) says I’m funny and kind, I want to tell her how great I think she is, how I love her passionate geekiness, her contagious good humour, her sensitivity and her endless enthusiasm. I want to say how glad I am to know her, and how grateful I am that she declared us ‘quarter sisters’ at our first meeting, which made me feel like I belonged.

My cousins, I want to tell them how much fun it was growing up with them, how I seriously loved it. How I wish I lived closer and saw them far more often. That they’re funny, amazing people who mean as much to me as brothers and sisters. That I’m so proud of the kind, good-hearted, successful people they’ve become and that I want to be in their lives. But I can’t. Because it would sound forced and wrong and it would be ‘too much’. So I say nothing and continue to miss out on their company.

I don’t want my nephews to grow up not hearing me say these things to them. I want them to know how much I already love them, these little boys, these incredible little forming personalities. How it’s an overwhelming feeling for me, someone who doesn’t know how to be intimate with people, to suddenly love these little people so much.

So I’ll practice my affirmations in the mirror. I deserve to be noticed. I am enough. I am loving, loveable and loved. I am able to be intimate with others. I can receive compliments. I’ll practice them until I can say them without laughing. Until I can say them out loud to my therapist, and actually look her in the eye. Until I can tell the people who mean the most to me that they do, in fact, mean the most to me.

Weekend wins!

Oh wow, where to start? Things have been going well over the past couple of weeks. Not stupendous fireworks and fanfares well, but the realistic kind of well. The sustainable kind.

So, let’s cover the main points first:

Eating – Great, I’ve stuck to the programme and had no slip-ups for quite a long time now.

Exercise – Slow start, but a very promising finish.

Mental health – Pretty bloody good altogether.

Finances – Errr…..

General wellbeing – Awesome.

Let’s start with the Easter weekend. For most people, the Easter weekend is pretty amazing, containing as it does 2 bank holidays. For Tony and I, however, and all other employees of our particular charity, it contains 3. That’s right, we are given the Tuesday off, for free, no catch, allowing us to savour that rare and fabled beast… The Five Day Weekend. Followed, of course, by the 3 day week. Bloody marvellous.

We chose to use our freedom to go up and visit my parents. I’m becoming increasingly aware recently that the topic of parents is one on which most people are terrifically divided. When mentioning the old homestead and family, people either gush enthusiastically about their loved ones, or pull a face like a bulldog licking piss off a nettle. Thankfully, I fall wholeheartedly into the first category. My parents are awesome. Like, really awesome. They’re understanding, accommodating, welcoming, interesting, fun and above all, really really nice people. Over the years they’ve been invited to the weddings of 3 of my closest friends, which says quite a lot about what people think of them. Anyway, we were excited for the weekend, and it didn’t disappoint.

My Dad once told me that inside every man is a little boy, and what he desperately wants is a football and someone to play with. Despite the fact that Tony and I are 34 and 33 respectively, he and my Mum arranged an Easter egg hunt for us. No really, they bought us treats, wrapped them up, went into the garden in the morning and hid them. They then left us a note from the Easter Bunny, handed us a bag each and watched with glee while we rooted around in the foliage. I confess to feeling a little foolish when first we ventured out, but I soon got into the swing of things and I loved it. By far the best part was finding that M&D couldn’t actually remember where they’d hidden everything. They subsequently spent the next 2 days wandering around the garden bickering, looking bewildered and pointing at bushes.

Bunny

My parents are big supporters of my health and wellbeing. That should really go without saying but, as I mentioned earlier, it’s not the case for everyone. We had our difficulties, oh yes, we very very did. We went through years of not knowing what on earth was wrong with me, why I was so odd, why I kept putting weight on or why I didn’t seem to be able to function like a normal human being. Their reaction to the fact that I had mental health problems was hugely unhelpful at first. They wouldn’t really talk about it, certainly didn’t understand it and I subsequently felt I had to hide everything from them. However, as they did more research, learned a little more and listened a little more I started to open up to them and actually tell them what was going on. We’ve never had a stronger relationship than we do now. They know about the alcoholism, the addiction, the eating disorder, the co-dependence and have learned how to support me through it all. For this reason, my bag of Easter findings contained no chocolate. No, instead of sugary brown joy that would send me into a spiral of binge-eating, physical allergic-reaction and shame, they filled the garden with amazingly thoughtful gifts wrapped in bright yellow paper. These included candles, bath-related treats, cute little Paperchase note cards in an adorable box and an accompanying pen with abstract cats on it. I love stationery, like, seriously love stationery. Geek. It was so thoughtful, so sweet, and exactly the kind of thing they’d do.

Don’t worry though, Tony’s bag was brimming with mini eggs, creme eggs, white chocolate Easter chicks, and other assorted goodies. Which made him very happy too.

Mum, known for being a damned good cook, has also been incredibly accommodating of my food choices. I turned vegetarian 4 and a half years ago, and she saw it simply as a challenge and starting swotting up on veggie recipes that everyone would enjoy. Having now cut out sugar, gluten, caffeine, alcohol and processed food though, she didn’t throw her hands in the air and shout at me in despairing tones that I could sort my own bloody meals out, as would have been her right, no, she simply saw it as another challenge. When we arrived the table was littered with print outs of sugar free recipes and a copy of Gluten Free magazine. Mum had absolutely surpassed herself. She had managed to make me a sugar and gluten free version of absolutely everything that she was planning to cook that weekend. Seriously! Check out my personal gluten-free bread and butter pudding made with honey!

Pie

Isn’t it the most hipster dessert you’ve ever seen? Especially in its tiny little Le Creuset dish! Awww, middle class win. It was amazing.

This weekend showed me that all this is going to be a damned sight easier than I thought it would be, because I have the support of not only my awesome friends, but my truly one-off parents. I felt pretty special to be honest. I also managed to go for a swim, my first in two months I think. I’d been putting it off mostly because I currently have horrible annual eczema on my hands and seriously couldn’t face the effects of the chlorine. I took my swimsuit though, and I only went and swam a bloody kilometre! Very pleased with that.

So, when Tuesday came we headed south again (traitors) and returned to work. Since beginning to eat properly and exercise more, it’s been amazing how much better I’ve felt. I mean actually fireworks and fanfares this time. I feel healthier, stronger, more positive and more motivated. I no longer put things off, I just do them. I no longer take the lift because I’m knackered, I climb the stairs, and feeling boosted after our jaunt to The North, my motivation was even stronger.

I bought a book about giving up sugar, I bought another containing sugar-free and gluten-free recipes, I bought a set of digital scales so that I could weigh myself every week and keep proper track of my progress, and then I actually did weigh myself when I got home – and recorded it too. I bought some brightly coloured beads and put them in an old glass coke bottle – not an arbitrary task, my intention is to transfer them into another bottle every time I lose a pound (why is a pound represented as ‘lb’? Neither of those letters are in that word?) However, the beads I’d bought were too small and the amount of pounds (lbs) I want to lose took up only about an eighth of the bottle. So I multiplied it by 5 to make it look better. I’m guessing this will also be more therapeutic, transferring 5 beads for every pound lost instead of 1. My motivation didn’t stop at just buying things though. I also dug my poor, long-neglected bike out of the cellar and bloody well rode it.

I hate the cellar. I watch A LOT of horror films and I have a healthy, reasonable mistrust of the cellar. I also don’t enjoy spiders. I went down there though, and went through the horribly frustrating process of pushing a bike with completely flat tires up the basement steps without being able to reach the handlebars. It was covered in dust and mould and crap and cobwebs, most of which I was wearing by the time I reached daylight. None of this really sounds like such an epic win does it? It sounds like an everyday task that anyone would usually do at a weekend. Let me assure you though, that there was a time when the mere thought of going down into the cellar and getting covered in cobwebs would have made me curl a little deeper into my bed and plan to do it later. A later which never came. Now though, I not only decided to get the bike, but I actually got the bike, then I actually pumped up the tires (which took for-bloody-ever) and I actually rode it. I rode it!

In the interests of saving money I’d decided to try to cycle to work. It’s only 3 miles, not a huge feat I know, but it is for me. I was actually surprised with how determined I was to do this, more so than the fact that I actually managed to do it! My problem has always been getting started. I knew once I was on the bike that sheer pig-headedness would get me to my destination, I just had to get on the bike in the first place. When I did I suddenly became painfully aware of those two little bones that you forget you possess until you get on a bike. I chose a direct route, straight along a massive main road, which was a stupid plan because I was terrified the whole way there. I took a clever shortcut though, which led me round an enormous, horrifying roundabout, and which I will not be taking again. When I arrived near my office I stopped in a supermarket carpark and forced my lungs back into my chest. Heat was radiating from my enormous, swollen, scarlet face in such quantities that young raggedy children in Victorian dress stopped to warm their hands and roast chestnuts on sticks against it. I looked as though I’d been inflated and then dropped from a great height. But I’d done it. The fact that I’d have to do it again in order to get back home was something I was trying not to think about, so instead I wandered around Morrison’s and bought cat treats, olives and a copy of Die Hard 5 (£3 – bargain!).

When I could walk again, and had forced two Nakd bars down my neck to stop my hands from shaking, I mounted my trusty steed with my two burning bones howling in protest and set off home again. I’m literally amazed that I cycled all the way home again too. When I arrived I was exhausted, a kind of exhausted I hadn’t known for years. A wheezy, breathless, light-headed, shaky exhausted with a glow of pride about it. And a massive headache. A really bad one, the kind that doesn’t even disappear when you go to sleep. It was worth it though.

So, I’d done it, I’d proved that I could cycle to work and back every day. Which means that I’m now going to have to do just that. Not today though, today is therapy and I’m not cycling the 11.4 miles there, let alone the 11.4 miles back again.

Other wins this weekend included: gardening, cutting the grass, eBaying clothes that are now too big for me, putting up pictures, booking my accommodation for my trip to the U.S. in August, doing 3 loads of laundry, picking up my prescriptions and doing a grocery shop. This is literally more than I have done in one day for longer than I can remember. I cannot tell you how positive I feel, how powerful. I even painted my toenails.

I wish I hadn’t stayed up late to watch a film last night though. No film is worth feeling tired over, especially not Final Destination 4.

Not cool

So, today I read an open letter from a J Barlow to Katie Hopkins. For those of you who haven’t read it, you can find it here, and you really should because it’s ace. However, I’m not (currently) going to get into the debate about mental health, or to add my opinion to J’s, because I agree wholeheartedly with him and he’s literally said everything that needs saying. Instead, I’m going to write an open letter of my own, one that I’ve been wanting to write since I started this blog, a letter with a very different subject. A letter to the woman who publically fat-shamed me just over a year ago:

Dear woman in charity shop with impressionable children in tow,

At first glance you seemed to be a pleasant person, you even blessed me when I sneezed upon entering the shop, for which I thanked you. I must admit that I didn’t really pay any attention to you though, following that short interaction, for no other reason than that I was going about my business of being fully engrossed in cheap cardigans and questionable DVDs, and you yours. To say that I was surprised therefore when, upon exiting the shop, you shouted for me to “keep my f*cking germs to myself” would be a massive understatement. I didn’t actually realise it was me you were shouting at, I even turned around to see if I could spot your  unfortunate victim, only to realise it was me when you looked me straight in the eye and added “yeah, you, you fat cow”.

People stared, people giggled, I was suddenly immensely and painfully aware of my boyfriend standing beside me and the fact that he’d heard what you’d said, seen the stares and witnessed the giggles.

Yes, surprise would be an understatement. Amazement is closer to the mark. That is why I stopped and stood bemused outside the shop until you came out. I wasn’t hoping for a confrontation, and please don’t mistake my bewilderment for bravado, I can assure you that I felt only shocked and humiliated.

Of course, you couldn’t possibly have known that I was on the verge of losing my job, that I had been diagnosed with some pretty serious mental health conditions only 3 days previously, that I was yet to start treatment or have any support whatsoever, and that my self-esteem was, at that point, akin to that of an unemployed, smelly, weedy cockroach whose girlfriend has just left him for a considerably younger and more virile cockroach, taking all his money and leaving him with a massive pile of debts and a severe case of leprosy. For you, a stranger, to shout at me in public was bad enough, that I had no idea why was worse, but for you to proceed to personal physical insult was the crowning turd in the water pipe (thanks Blackadder).

I’m actually glad that I stood outside the shop, frozen to the spot with my mouth hanging open, for long enough for you to emerge. At least it cleared up what I was being accused of. When you laid into me again for being a “fat cow” and “coughing” and “bringing my germs out in public” it was quite satisfying to be able to tell you that the cough you heard on our way out of the shop wasn’t actually me, it was my boyfriend, and that neither of us were even ill. Heaven only knows what possessed me to do what I did next, put it down to a very strong feeling that things couldn’t get any worse, but sensing the hesitation in your face when you realised you’d yelled at the wrong person (not that you would have been justified in yelling at the ‘right’ person) I took the opportunity to tell you that the fact that I’m fat has nothing to do with the reason you were angry with me. That my appearance shouldn’t come into it at all, and that it was an incredibly unfair bring it up.

I would genuinely like to thank you though, for standing and listening to me while I bundled up all my accumulated anger at the myriad people who had felt the need to mock my appearance over the years. Thank you for not simply walking away while I told you that all you’d succeeded in doing was ruining my day, humiliating me in public, knocking my self-confidence down to zero, confirming all my worst fears about myself and the way I looked and making me want to go home. Thank you for answering “no” when I asked if I really deserved that just for being fat. Or if my being fat was any of your business.

I may have walked away from you in tears, I may have felt like going home and eating an enormous pizza seasoned with my feelings, I may even have spent the rest of the day in a state of itchy paranoia every time I heard a giggle or saw someone look my way, but the fact was that I didn’t go home. I didn’t give in. The pure fact that you listened to me and admitted you’d been wrong gave me a bare ounce of my dignity back, which turned out to be enough to get me through the rest of the afternoon.

The real magic though came an hour later when you saw us again and purposefully crossed the road to apologise once more. You sounded genuinely regretful when you told me that what you’d said wasn’t fair, and that I could call you a “skinny cow” if it would make me feel better. As I ineffectually tried to explain though, that wasn’t the point. I wasn’t interested in calling you names or making you feel bad, I was interested in making sure that the next time you got angry with a fat person, you didn’t succumb to name-calling and public-shaming if it wasn’t relevant to your anger. My intention was to help you to understand that a person’s size, just like their gender/religion/ethnicity/sexual preference/dress sense or anything else so wholly irrelevant should never be brought into an argument as a weapon. Beggars are seldom allowed to be choosers however, and I was just very grateful indeed to you for being the first person ever to apologise for publically fat-shaming me. It takes a lot of courage to admit that you’re wrong, and to do so to a stranger, in front of your children, must have taken even more.

Sincerely,

Charlotte.

Incidentally, I think we had a Chinese, not a pizza.

Happy Easter, Easter-celebrators. Happy Bank Holiday, non-Easter-celebrators. I hope that whatever you do is enjoyable, relaxing and covered in sunshine x

Phil

A picture of Philip as, contrary to my claims at the beginning of this blog, he hasn’t been in it at all yet.

Then and now

Good old Timehop. For those of you who don’t know, Timehop is an app that pulls posts and photos from social media sites and your phone’s photo album in order to remind you of what you did this time last year, two years ago, three years ago etc. This morning it showed me a picture of my 2nd broken leg, which occurred 2 years ago. Said leg is, thankfully, now healed and only occasionally limpy and crap (and hopeless at descending stairs) and has left behind only a fading scar and a large piece of metal in its wake. It got me thinking though, about what life was like at the time I broke the leg, and inevitably to comparing it to what life is like now.

Leg

The Break was actually only the second time in my life that I’d broken a bone, and it happened, as fate would decree, almost exactly 3 weeks after my first broken bone had healed. It wasn’t a good year. I’d broken my foot in January whilst taking Christmas decorations down, having absentmindedly leant on something I knew wouldn’t take my weight. Although it hurt, a lot, it wasn’t too much of a hindrance as I was given one of those 1980s Robocop-looking boots to wear instead of a cast, and could hop about the house on crutches slowly, but fairly effectively, so I was able to work from home. The second break was much worse. I fell over in a pub and ruined my left ankle, one of the bones cutting through the ligament as it snapped, and was therefore confined to a cast for 6 weeks and then Roboboot for a further 6. Working from home was no longer an option as it took me 15 minutes to get from one end of the flat to another (and it was a very small flat). So I sat at home. For 6 weeks. On my own. Watching daytime TV, napping and drinking too much, and it was nowhere near as fun as it sounds. During this time, my partner and his parents bought the flat in which we currently live. Unfortunately, as I was unable to come along and view it, I had only seen it in pictures until 1 week before we moved in! Thankfully he’d made an awesome choice.

It wasn’t the break though that got me thinking, not really, it was what caused it and how I dealt with it. Although the first break was innocent enough, an accidental and sober fall, the second was not. I was, as previously mentioned, in a pub at the time, but it took me a long time to admit to myself exactly what had happened and why.

On the night in question I had gone to a pub opposite my office with a colleague. We had started with a bottle of wine, and then another, and when the time came for a third (at my suggestion), I decided the prices in the pub were too steep and I would go out and buy my own from Sainsbury’s. Not wanting to find myself short I bought two bottles. Thankfully, at that point my friend suggested that we have dinner as we’d previously eaten around 1pm and it was now at least 8pm. Also, she was nearing her limit for wine and I hadn’t really recognised that I drank most of the third bottle myself. The reason I didn’t feel too drunk is that I would regularly drink 4 bottles of wine at a weekend. My alcohol tolerance was a hard-won and prized possession, it was also a growing inconvenience as it took more and more to get me to the oblivion that I favoured at least once a week.

Feeling in need of some distraction from the onslaught of wine, my friend got up to dance. I followed, but in the way that a poorly coordinated hippo follows a gazelle onto the dancefloor. As hippos and gazelles are known to do in their natural habitats. As she bopped gracefully around I took one step backwards, fell against some steps and destroyed my ankle. This made the absolute night of the gentlemen sitting at a nearby table whose previous sniggers at the hippo/gazelle situation were eclipsed as they exploded with joy at seeing the fat one fall over. They didn’t stop laughing when it became apparent I was injured, in fact, one of them got up, went to our table and went through our handbags. A comment about the addition of insult to injury seems redundant here. We were informed of this development by a nearby girl, at the same time that the bouncer was demanding that I get up as I “can’t sit there”. As if my sitting, crying and clutching my leg, was a choice I had made to spite him.

My friend had to go and rescue our belongings while I demonstrated my absolute inability to get up. Thankfully, there were two people in attendance that night who weren’t complete pricks. They helped me up and supported me outside and into the taxi they’d helped my friend to call. Upon arriving at the hospital I, Hippo, was further humiliated by Gazelle having to heft me up and interminable ramp in a poorly-designed wheelchair. Thank God she was an exercise-enthusiast. My main concern on arriving at the hospital was for no one to guess I was drunk. For this reason I gave the unopened bottle of wine in my handbag to my newly-arrived boyfriend as Gazelle helped me apply lipstick – priorities are important after all. My cause wasn’t helped by the staff giving me gas and air. I was as high as a kite when they finally came in to reposition my bone, which is every bit as unpleasant as it sounds. I was then brought crashing to Earth when they told me I’d have to stay in to be operated on, but still managed to laugh heartily when they drew a massive arrow on my leg pointing the equally massive cast, to guard against confusion. Bathing in bed with a bowl of soapy water was not the highlight of my day. Refusing point blank to put on a pair of paper knickers under my insubstantial gown kind of was. There’s something very comforting about retaining your own underwear in a time of crisis.

For most people, the 5 days in hospital, 6 weeks off work, indignity of having a wash on the side of the bath with a plastic mac tied round your thigh, necessity to hang a bag around your neck in order to gather food and supplies from around the house whilst on crutches, lack of access to the outdoors and total reduction in social life, would have been humbling enough to remind them of their gigantic idiocy, of the fact that drinking was not as important as leg-use, that no amount of booze is worth that much pain, and that there had to be a serious underlying problem for that situation to ever have occurred in the first place. Oh, but not me, no, I’m far too cool for that.

It actually took another year for me to recognise the problem. Once recognised it took me a month to quit drinking. It took another 2 to understand that there were massive, gaping problems hiding underneath and that alcoholism was only ever a symptom. I didn’t even realise it when I passed out on a tube and was awoken by an unknown man who tried to take me home. He succeeded in taking my bags home as I scarpered at the next station whilst he was still carrying them. Surprisingly, it turns out that he wasn’t the burly, leery, potential rapist I remembered him being, but was in fact actually the nicest person in the world who had genuinely been trying to assist me. I found this out the following morning when he contacted me over Facebook, having first contacted 4 other people who turned out not to be me, in order to check on my wellbeing and return my completely undisturbed bags to me, complete with credit cards which I’d thoughtfully cancelled before checking Facebook.

Some lessons are hard to learn. Some are impossible to learn on your own and require outside help and the expertise of a professional. Once learned though, they’re unforgettable. Once I’d accepted that alcohol was the cause of my broken leg, that addiction was the cause of my alcoholism and that addiction had taken over every single part of my life. Once I’d been encouraged out of my job due to mental illness, once I’d found myself at a rock bottom that exists leagues below the one I’d previously discovered 4 years earlier, once I’d threatened my relationship, only then did I learn to take responsibility for my actions, to allow myself to feel shame, to really feel it, and to deal with it. I kept telling myself that other people would have got it. But then I realised that other people probably wouldn’t have found themselves in that position in the first place. Now I get it, now I am humbled, and ashamed and penitent. This was a crippling feeling at first, but now it’s a gentle reminder of how far I’ve come. Next month will mark my 1st anniversary of sobriety, I have broken no further bones and passed out on zero tubes. I know this is a huge temptation of fate, but I don’t actually feel that I could ever find myself in that place again, because there isn’t a single part of me that doesn’t understand exactly how it happened and why it was my fault.

Leg2

The reminder.