Can’t get over it

So. We are under a winter storm warning, or watch, or something telling us to look out. Supposed to have ice and/or snow late tonight and into tomorrow morning. I would be ecstatic if it was snow, but I would be pissed if it was ice. Either way, it is going to be deliciously cold, which I rather like. Losing power is always a concern. This complex has lost power if there’s a sneeze in the heavens, so I am always somewhat prepared for being in the dark. One year, there was an ice storm, and power was out for three days. That more or less sucked, especially since the manic hoards of survivalists had descended on the grocery stores and stripped the shelves of bread and milk. I will never quite understand the obsession with those items, but whatever. I have Rice Krispies Treats, King Cake, and protein shakes so I can survive for at least a couple of days. If the roads become impassable, that would complicate things, because my strategy is that if things prove untenable here, I’ll drive South, or North, or somewhere that has power and functioning grocery stores. Im not gonna die. Unless I do something stupid like grab a live power line or something. But otherwise, I think I’m good.

Back to the exploration of obstacles, though. One of the other prompts in my new course asked what obstacle is the longest running in my life. I don’t know quite how to answer that. I feel as though my weight has been the longest running obstacle, because it has been attached to lack of self-confidence, and my incessant second guessing of myself, distrust of my judgement are the longest obstacles I can call out. I feel as though they are all related, and maybe all part of some larger triumvirate of self-defeat. I suppose the big question though, is which came first – the weight or the personality by-products. Did I have a lack of self-confidence first, which led to self-protection with excess weight, or did I have excess weight first and then developed lack of confidence and lack of trust and second guessing as a response to the weight? Does it even matter?

When you’re Black, you know that you’re not white, and you know that you’re somehow down in the pecking order. You understand from the very begining of cognizance that you are not a member of the dominant culture, that rules are different based on the color of your skin. When you’re fat, you know that you’re not thin, and you know that you’re very much not in the dominant culture of thin, or at least weight-proportionate-to-height. You get those messages from your peers, from the media, from the size of clothes that fit, from the size of furniture, from the size of bus seats. You understand, without understanding, that you are other. You take up too much space, and the issue of attractiveness is made clear in many ways. Children can be cruel. Families can be cruel. My mother and even my beloved grandmother spent way too much time discussing my “weight problem” as though I wasn’t even there. “She’s going to outgrow that baby fat, just wait.” “Just feed her a little less at every meal, and she’ll start slimming down.” So, I learned it wasn’t a particularly good thing to be fat. The funny thing is, I felt as fat then as I do now, and that was over 100 pounds ago. I wasn’t even a teen before they were having those conversations, my mother fretting over it as though it was something tht broke her heart. I suppose it did. She was a tiny little thing, and had been somewhat sickly as a child. Pregnant with me, she weighed not quite 100 pounds. She had a bizarre perception problem about size, she wanted everything to be “small” or “tiny”. We got a dog at one point, and he wasn’t a big dog. A poodle/terrier thing, fuzzy, cute. We got him as a puppy, and he grew a bit, as puppies do (when they are healthy). I remember her saying many times that he used to be so cute, and small, and she thought he would stay like that, but he had gotten big and ugly. Ugh. I don’t think he weighed 15 pounds, if that. But she saw a big dog, too big to be cute, too big to be attractive. Maybe I internalized that, because it wasn’t a far leap between her perception of that dog and my “baby fat”. By the time I was a teenager, it wasn’t baby fat any longer, and she began to exhibit a resignation of my weight. I think I started to feel ashamed of myself at that point, but had no vocabulary to describe that and, like all other abuse victims, assumed what was happening and how I was feeling was quite normal. Just another day in Paradise, so back on the bus.

I thought I was huge, because that’s what I was hearing, and that’s what I was seeing. I didn’t seem to fit into any clothes at the department store, I couldn’t zip up knee-high boots over my calves. I couldn’t dress like the other girls dressed, even though I didn’t really want to wear the frilly dresses and sassy skirts – I wanted to wear blue jeans and Dingo boots and tennis shoes. I wanted to wear hippie clothes, boy clothes. But there was no room for that, and it would be a while before I dealt with all of that stuff. It’s another story entirely. But, suffice it to say, the weight was quite an obstacle. By the time I was in the 8th grade, I had begun to feel as though I had no right to be wherever I was, as though people were simply being kind to allow me to be there. I knew there were other girls that were my size or bigger, but I was somewhat obsessed with my size, and I saw it as gargatuan. When I have seen pictures of myself around that time, I was always surprised to find that I really wasn’t’ very large at all. I just felt that way. I felt the same way I feel now, bloated and huge and a bit like Mr. Stay Puft in Ghost Busters, busting clusily through everything in sight and leaving a mess behind. Goodness.

What a load to carry. I was socially awkward, felt particularly unattractive, and had begun to feel somewhat dumb once I was enrolled in private school. When I was in the neighborhood parochial school, I was at the top of my class. I was one of the smart ones. But, I enrolled in private school in the 6th grade, and they seemed to be so much farther ahead of me from the moment I walked through the doors. Between that and my weight, I felt like a dumb ass that didn’t belong. And that’s where the lack of confidence and the second-guessing and the distrust of myself really took root. To my way of thining, and my mother’s, I didn’t know how to act and I was a misfit. I just needed to act like everyone else was acting – why couldn’t I just do that. I was never going to amount to anything acting like I was acting. Those were my mother’s exact words around that time, and not only did I never forget them, I made them a self-fulfillinng prophecy. So, I am not clear on what came first – the weight or the dysfunciton. Whatever the order, I would say that has been the longest standing obstacle of my life. More than race, more than academic limitations, more than sexual orientation, more than theological identity – and I don’t so much think of any of these attributes as obstacles, but frequently they are challenges.

So, I’m finding myself a little frustrated with the exploration at this point, because it has begun to feel like a therapy session, without the therapist. I am guessing it’s necessary in relation to identifying obstacles that block me from the path I want to take. I’m not sure I’ve ever taken the path I’ve wanted to take, at least not because I just wanted to. I’ve always taken the practical path, the path that I felt was responsible, was expected of me. That’s a little complicated, because I can’t say those journeys have not served me. I felt that it was expected of me to go to college, and I am glad I did. But I went because it was expected, not so much because I had a burning desire to go. I was incredibly immature, but go I did. I nearly didn’t make it out, partly because I was so immature, but also because I was so incredibly damaged. I didn’t know who I was, or what I was; I was desperate even then, desperate to find something to hold onto. A person, a sensation, some meaning. Nothing seemed to mean much of anything, and it still felt as though I had no right to partake of the life I was leading. I felt like a failure. I was not 21 when I graduated from college, and I felt like a failure, because I was not the societal ideal of a “normal” girl, with normal weight and normal intelligence and normal sexual orientation. I was not normal. If that’s not an obstacle, I don’t know what is.

Over many years, MANY years, I have worked on many aspects of this obstacle, of feeling not normal and not having a right to be here, not having the self-confidence to walk with purpose. I’ve been in therapy for many years, explored meditation, gotten sober, participated in 12-step recovery, read a veritable truckload of self-help books, journaled, talked, raged, meditated more, been in therapy more. I usually tell people that I will die in therapy. It’s the closest I can get to having someone listen to me, hear me, let me talk about things nobody really wants to hear about. Let me have a sounding board. If I have to pay for that, so be it. It’s better than raging at everything and everyone because I can’t find an exhaust vent. Has that worked? I would say it has, since I am still here, still standing (even if wobbly at times). I can’t guarantee that would be the case if I wasn’t in therapy.

I would say the biggest obstacle I have faced has been myself. I am my own worst enemy. If I could just stay out of my own way, I might get past some of the speed bumps. I run around inside my head, going down dead-end streets and alleys and running up stairways that lead to locked doors. It seems that I’ve done this for quite a long time, snatching defeat form the jaws of victory, talking myself into the abyss. I have a t-shirt that says “I”m a December woman – I was born with my heart on my sleeve, a fire in my soul, and a mouth I can’t control.”. That is me. A mouth I can’t control. So yeah, the biggest obstacle is me. One of the biggest accomplishments in that area, though, is getting sober when I was 28. I’m still sober, have not had a drink since 12/7/88. That’s taken a fair amount of work, and I still work at it. I don’t so much work at the not having a drink part, because that has become habit and I’m really just not interested in it any longer. What I have to work at is the personality and character issues, the self-centeredness, the selfishness, the tendency to ignore the spiritual aspect of my walk through the world. My recovery work there helps me to orient myself more spiritually rather than in a hedonistic fashion, where everything I do is centered on my comfort and enjoyment. It’s the place I get to focus on things like balance, and ego, and avoiding intellectual self-sufficiency. Working on those kinds of issues has helped tremendously, and helped me to figure out who the hell i am. I thought I knew that a long time ago, but I was mistaken. I knew who everyone expected me to be, who I thought I was supposed to be, but I did not know who I was. I can’t say I know every single aspect of that, but I have some form and definition now. Years ago, I may as well have been Silly Putty – just slap me on a surface, and I take on those characteristics. That’s not the case so much any longer, and I think that’s a good thing.

OK, another piece of this exploration is going to give way to some rest. There’s more to come, I can feel it rattling around behind my eye balls and making that little bongo sound like in the cartoons. I’m tired, though, so it will need to wait a little bit longer. I ain’t goin’ nowhere.

Somedays, that is what I feel like. Burning, with some hot spots.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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