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.

The story so far…

So, what a year, eh? We’ve touched on the alcohol thing, but what about the rest?

Alcoholism isn’t something you talk about. Not really. It’s a bit of a conversation-stopper in fact. If you mention that the reason you’re not drinking is not in fact because you are pregnant (we’ll get to weight-loss soon), but that you’re an alcoholic, people tend to have to stop and contemplate the image that immediately enters their heads – one of you passed out in a gutter at 9am with a can of Special Brew in each hand and any ability to hold down a job or relationship dribbling away from you in a foul-smelling stream. Thankfully, this is not what happened to me. In fact, it was this image, the myth of the stereotypical alcoholic, that stopped me from seeing that I had a drink problem at all.

Alcoholics come in a myriad of shapes, sizes and severities, which I discovered upon attending my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. The meeting itself, along with its members, I won’t mention, as that would negate the “Anonymous” part, but the experience was something I’ll never forget. I suffer from that very English affliction of not wanting to put people out, make a fuss or impose. For this reason, sitting in a room full of assorted strangers and being asked to share my darkest secrets, and worse still – being given phone numbers so that I could call strangers should I need help! – was not my idea of fun. Although, to be fair, my idea of fun was what had landed me in that situation in the first place, so I was prepared to give it a go.

As it turned out, I was, in my own expectations, perpetuating the myth of what an alcoholic was. I was completely unprepared for the fact that these people were just like me. We all sat, we all told how alcohol affected us, we all had surprising stories that elicited nothing but pity, understanding and solidarity from the room.  We were all supposed to be there, there were no mistakes. It didn’t matter that I didn’t feel the need to drink every day. It didn’t matter that I didn’t need a drink first thing in the morning to be able to face the day. It didn’t matter that my only perceived “crime” was that I was a weekend binge drinker. What did matter was that once I had a drink, one drink, I was physically and mentally unable to stop. I would drink until I hit oblivion, willingly, happily, over and over again, and that is all it takes to be an alcoholic: drinking in a way that is detrimental to your health, or over which you have no control.

If I’m honest, I knew I had a drinking problem for years. It wasn’t until I was forced to face it though that I saw it for what it was. I had struggled with mental health problems for years, never really knowing what was wrong or how to even consider fixing it, until the time came that I couldn’t ignore it any longer.

I was working for a small charity in London, and being stretched far beyond my limit, far beyond breaking-point, when it finally happened. I was so disconnected with reality that I had entirely lost sight of how very badly my job was going. It turned out that they were as disillusioned with me as I wholly and completely was with them. We reached a (non-mutual) understanding, where they would neglect to help me through it, and in turn I would agree to resign in order to make their lives easier. If you note a tinge of bitterness, you’re not imagining it, it’s definitely there. Anyway, upon leaving my only link to the real world I immediately set about getting help before all my social-need muscles atrophied and I went to live in a hole somewhere. I cannot say how grateful I am that I have parents prepared to pay in order for me to get the fastest and best help. This is not an avenue open to everyone and I will never take this extraordinary privilege for granted.

The reason I wasn’t already in treatment was that I’d already been through the NHS and come out the other side none the wiser. This time though was different, so off to the Priory I went for a psychiatric consultation. An hour later I came out with a diagnosis of depression (expected) and co-dependence (not expected), and an appointment with a therapist who thankfully worked outside the Priory so that I could afford to see her.

In the course of my subsequent treatment I was led to discover that I was an addict. I was never told, it was never suggested to me, I was led down the right paths until I discovered it for myself. First of all we tackled alcoholism. It didn’t take me long to figure that one out, though I do not mean to make it sound like an easy thing to beat. I was so unbelievably angry when I realised I’d have to give it up. Palpably, measurably angry. The thought of never again having a glass of Champagne to celebrate a wedding/New Year, the thought of trips to the pub for exciting pints of soda water, the thought of never again, never ever, being drunk literally made me want to shout and shout and throw things and blame someone, anyone, for the mess I found myself in. Unfortunately though, there was no one to blame but myself.

Next, and hardest of all, we tackled food addiction. This took a lot longer and is still the biggest struggle of my entire life. I have been sober for 10 months and 28 days. I have been a clean-eater for fewer than 3 months. See, I’m not an alcoholic, not really. I’m an addict as a result of being a co-dependent. I can make an addiction out of anything – alcohol, cigarettes, gambling, shopping, food, love etc. Thank God I never took up drugs or gambling – I can honestly, hand on heart, say that I would be dead by now if I had.

My addictions are: alcohol, sugar, caffeine, refined flour, cheese, processed foods and additives. It is necessary for me to cut all these things out of my life. My food addiction counts as an eating disorder. The foods I cannot eat are trigger foods – they elicit an allergic response which triggers my addiction. I consume the food/alcohol, I want the food/alcohol, I consume the food/alcohol, I want the food/alcohol. Nothing else matters. I will lie and cheat to get what I want and I won’t even realise I’m doing it. As the person I’m lying to and cheating the most is myself.

So, here I am. I’m a non-smoking, teetotal, non-drug using, gluten-free, sugar-free, processed food-free, clean-living vegetarian. I read endless articles about food triggers, diet fads (to know what to avoid) and the benefits of clean living (and collect endless recipes on Pinterest). I’ve taken up Zumba, I swim again and I fight every single day to keep my addictions in check. Because they are all-consuming and they are life-threatening and I cannot risk ever slipping back into them again. Food can be the most dangerously addictive substance there is, and unfortunately it’s the one substance you can never give up. My life could not be more different to what it was at the start of this process. My life, and my relationship, have never been better.

Teacup

The cup that started it all.