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.

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.

The trials of afternoon tea

Let’s talk about afternoon tea shall we?

My alleged best friend is abandoning me and our beloved Blighty and buggering off to the US of A for no better reason than to marry the love of her life. Some bloody people, eh? However, before she leaves she has a to-do list of terribly British things that won’t be available in America. Afternoon tea is a recurring motif amongst the items on this list, one with which I am quite happy to assist.

Now, it’s true that not all afternoon teas are created equal. Take the one I recently had at Soho’s Secret Tearoom as part of a hen do celebration, for example. I was pretty worried about this particular part of the hen do, because it would be the first time I’d had to put myself forward and speak up about my dietary requirements. The thing that had previously stopped me doing this is that I don’t actually think I have the right. I don’t assign my addiction the same weight and importance that I assign to other people’s allergies and intolerances, and I think that the reason for this is that I consistently look at myself through other people’s eyes and judge myself in the way that I (usually unfairly) imagine these other people to be judging me. By speaking up I’m frightened that I’ll have to say the word “addiction”. I’m frightened I’ll have to explain the eating disorder. Above all though, I’m frightened that other people think I’m simply being an awkward fussy eater with a made-up condition who’s trying to get attention. Luckily though, this is why I have a therapist, and one of the things I learn in therapy is how to talk about and value myself. It’s an incredibly simple trick actually, but one I would never have thought of. Which, again, is why I’m there. Duh!

My therapist spent weeks trying to get me to stop being so hard on myself – to stop referring to myself as “such a dick” whenever I did something wrong, and to stop reprimanding myself for being stupid enough to have an addiction when other people somehow managed not to, but nothing worked. One day though, she took in all the things I’d said about myself and then asked me what I’d do if someone said those things to my 3 year old nephew, she asked me to *really* imagine it. Alas, I can think of no other phrase to adequately describe my feelings at this point than, “shit just got real”. In my mind I gathered him up and rushed him away from the offending person, put him somewhere safe, told him he was loved and awesome and not to listen, and then returned and punched aforementioned offender in the face. In other words, the appropriate course of action. Why, then, could I not protect myself? It was this trick that helped me to take this first step and put my needs out there, to tell the tearoom what I could not eat, to take away temptation and protect myself from the crippling consequences of succumbing to the addiction. I was proud of myself, I had done a positive thing and attempted to put my wellbeing first. It’s unfortunate then that it failed, miserably.

According to the person who made the booking, the tearoom boldly claimed to be able to cater to any dietary requirement – to be fair though, this isn’t stated on their website. Anyway, the venue was lovely, I greatly enjoyed passing behind a bar and up a secret-looking staircase to get to the tearoom. It was endearingly short on elbow-room, with mismatched cups and saucers occupying all available surfaces, and the (largely female) population snugly but delicately perched on a variety of differently-shaped chairs. Unfortunately however, my request for a vegetarian, gluten-free, refined-sugar-free afternoon tea was forgotten. No, really, I was informed upon arriving that the chef had literally forgotten to make anything sugar free. He had, however, made lovely gluten-free, vegan, sugary treats for the only other person with dietary requirements – a whole plate of awesome looking cakes, a scone (to rhyme with gone) and some gluten-free cucumber sandwiches. When I looked understandably crestfallen at the news that would not be able to partake, they managed to rustle me up what amounted to two gluten-free cucumber sandwiches, but I’m afraid that was, as they say, ‘it’.

I sat there, I drank my (really delicious) pot of rose tea, I ate my cucumber sandwiches and I tried to ignore the fact that all around me people were tucking into the most amazing looking cakes. I attempted to fit in, I tried really hard to be “normal” and interesting and fun, but I was overwhelmingly socially crippled by my own insecurities and sense of embarrassment. In a last ditch attempt to salvage some perceived dignity, I slipped off to the counter and asked a waitress whether it would be possible for them to make some gluten-free versions of the other vegetarian sandwich options (egg mayo or cream cheese & chive). However, and this was the crowning glory, not only had they now run out of gluten-free bread, but they claimed that I couldn’t have had them anyway as I was a vegan. Which was news to me.

I turned Humiliation Pink, escaped to the loo to re-group, and decided the best course of action was one that involved giving up and going home. Which I did. I’d tried, I’d put myself first, I’d attempted to look after my wellbeing and I’d been left feeling disillusioned, deflated and a little bit sad, like a bargain flan in a cupboard.

To give them their due, Soho’s Secret Tearoom were very apologetic, and they didn’t charge me for the delicious pot of tea, or the 2 cucumber sandwiches I consumed. Which was nice. It also wasn’t entirely their fault that I felt the way I did. As lovely as the day was, and as happy as I was to be there, I hadn’t realised that the only person I would really know was the bride-to-be, whose attention was, quite rightfully, pulled in several directions. I was also over-dressed. Which I hate. All in all not a good day to choose to make a big, brave stand against addiction.

After bemoaning my sad and sorry situation to aforementioned best friend, it was decided that we would attempt afternoon tea again the following weekend, that it would be an astounding success, and that we would get dressed up to the nines (whatever they are) and have a simply marvellous time. We chose our venue from Londonist’s Sugar-Free Guide to London, and we chose wisely. Namely, we chose the Guiltless Afternoon Tea at the Wellington Lounge of the Intercontinental Park Lane hotel. Not only was the entire menu free from refined sugar and gluten, but they did an entirely vegetarian spread and even made me a non-alcoholic version of the cocktail. The lounge itself was luxurious, comfortable and elegant without being exclusive, the staff were knowledgeable and welcoming, the white peony and rose tea was beautiful and the food itself was perfect, really perfect. The cakes tasted no different to “real” cakes and the savoury items were so much better than sandwiches could ever be. I felt better, I felt more like myself, I felt like I belonged, and I felt pretty damned good because we got £10 off each with a trusty voucher!

Afternoon tea 3

This post isn’t about shaming Soho’s Secret Tearoom – it was an unfortunate situation which could have happened to anyone, and they handled it with care and consideration. The place itself was lovely, and I would very much like to go back in the future and give it another try. Nor is this post intended to be in any way derogatory regarding the hen do, which was immense fun with some really lovely people and I thoroughly enjoyed it – especially the Sing-Along-A-Frozen screening at the Prince Charles, “LET IT GOOOOOOOOOO”. This is a post about my own failings and limitations, my attempts to overcome them, and the utter and inimitable joy that can be found in getting really, really dressed up and going somewhere posh.

Afternoon tea

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.