Rock bottom. They say an addict, a drunk, a chronic gambler … has to bottom out before real change can occur. Once you’ve bottomed out, they opine, that’s when the true, sincere desire for help is born … along with the drive to make the change happen. For real. Action talks, bullsh*t walks.
I spent years packing on weight, a master of excuses. More than once my father would tell me, “I’m really worried about you and your weight. You don’t look … well.” I then would mildly lose my temper because he is a roly-poly, ever-expanding little zombie lawn ornament himself. Who was he to lecture me on who was fat? Had he looked in the mirror in the last two, maybe three decades? Had he seen a picture of himself at my age lately? My answer was stock, right out of the Official Handbook Of Excuses And Justifications (Revised Edition):
“Geeze Dad! I’m fifty-three years old, for cripesake! Nobody my age is skinny anymore! (knowingly untrue) And furthermore, there are people far worse than me! (knowingly true)”
And he would often reply in his witty little manner with something like, “Just wondering if that was your head or if your neck blew a bubble.”
It was really getting to me, these jabs at my weight, every time I saw him. I’d caved in to the idea that I would just be overweight forever more, that I would probably die young, and that there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. I had learned to avoid looking at myself in the mirror except when shaving, when I would look at my puffy face and whisper to myself, shaking my head in disgust … “Look at you, Clay. What the hell happened to you?” I hated myself for getting so unhealthy and even more so for just letting it continue. Change, though, seemed so daunting. But then, I hadn’t hit rock bottom.
I was simply, lovingly, addicted to overeating … and sloth, which was more than anything a condition the result of the overeating of a high carbohydrate, junk-supplemented diet. I would make huge meals for myself and then go have a long nap. I would whip through the drive-through and snatch two double cheeseburgers for a mere snack. Exercise was a really dirty word because I was so out of shape, and my spine so unknowingly out of alignment, that even mowing the lawn, a paltry twenty-five minute job of pushing a mower on level ground, would leave me wrecked with lower back aches. And, even though I knew that carrying all that weight around was compounding the issue, I hadn’t hit rock bottom.
I flirted with exercise a good many times. I bought a Swiss ball, did some crunches, squats, and push-ups. Used a few free weights here and there. I walked the dogs every day. It wasn’t enough to really make a difference, though. I’d still be huffing and puffing when I hit the top of the staircase. Any palpable, noticeable change in my body and general health was not to be seen. I hated myself. I drank a few stiff cocktails in the evenings to numb that self-directed animosity so I could stumble off to bed and fall directly asleep without lying awake, obsessing on my weak, pitiful, miserable failure. When a high school classmate asked me if I had had my first colonoscopy yet, I replied, “What for, so he can tell me I’m gonna die young? Why pay for what you already know?” Yeah, and I still hadn’t hit rock bottom.
Then, last February, an old friend asked me to come and play some music in his little pub on Fat Tuesday. I chose to sit on a tall stool for the gig, because my lower back wouldn’t allow me standing for that long. To be enthusiastically honest, I had a great time singing covers and originals for his patrons, who were more than friendly and appreciative. I never even took a break … not for three and a half hours of music. But, during that time I realized that my right leg had fallen asleep … and it turned out to be … completely asleep. All that weight bearing down on the edge of the stool had cut off the nerve flow to my right leg, and I was too ignorant, or too stubborn, to get up and move around.
At the end of the night, I stood, attempted to walk, and the leg simply gave out from under me, and I went down like a mill stone, rolling my foot under the ankle. The fall injured my lower spine and the nerve damage left me with a paralyzed foot. The next day I was in serious pain and barely able to get around. I stopped and bought a cane. My leg didn’t work. My foot didn’t work. I was mobile, but just barely. I couldn’t “walk” the dogs” … I had to get them out and watch them play as I inched along with a cane.
Now that, I tell you, was when I hit rock bottom. You don’t realize how much you take mobility for granted until it’s taken away from you. And that was the defining moment, the point at which I screamed … “ENOUGH!”
I made myself a solemn promise. I swore an oath that if I could regain the use of my foot, I would walk daily for health, and maybe even start running, if I could get there. I began telling people that I was going to lose at least forty pounds, by God. I returned to Atkins which had helped me lose weight many years before. The motivation and drive was finally there. A transition of the mind, of will, had replaced excuses, finally.
I began seeing my chiropractor regularly. She is magnificent, a miracle worker, a master. Within weeks, although the foot drop was not showing any fast improvement, I was more pain free than I had been in decades. While urging me to understand that the natural repair of nerve damage is a very slow … nay, a painfully slow process, she managed to get my spinal health in perfect order in just a few months. Aches and pains are now a thing of the past, and I intend to continue seeing her to keep it that way for the rest of my life.
And then, there was the walking. Bring the mountain to Mohamed and tell him to get climbing. Over time, I went from hobbling on a cane to a slow, unassisted walk; from a slow walk to a faster walk, to a brisk walk, to five minutes of running, to ten minutes of running, to a mile, to three miles, to five miles … and on. My typical day now includes a five mile run and another minimum of three miles walking. My foot drop is not quite fully healed, but it is no longer a bothersome issue and it appears that over time, it will fully recover.
My eating habits are much improved, of course. During the phases of Atkins, I managed to lose an average of two pounds per week; I went off of gluten and wheat products altogether; I kept a strict log of my food intake; I stuck to my goals and way of eating with reckless abandon; and I acquired the tools I needed to cut weight, keep weight off, and enjoy life to its fullest.
Healthy body, healthy mind. I don’t much feel hate for myself anymore, because I accomplished something beautiful. I did it by myself, for myself. In the middle of week twenty-one, I managed to go over my weight loss goal and redefined it to lose another five pounds.
What rock bottom did for me was trigger the drive for making a complete lifestyle change. It wasn’t solely about losing weight, it was about recovery. It was about getting better, physically and mentally. It was about resolve, will. And, as I have told so many people in the past months, the one critical question I would always ask myself in the face of temptation was, “do you want to be healthier and thinner or don’t you?” For me, that’s what worked. The answer was always clear. YES … I finally did, at all costs, want to be healthier and thinner, and no cheat was worth sabotaging that goal.
At a recent neighborhood cookout, during a discussion of my transformation from former pudgy sloth to fit, middle-aged, quasi-stud (at least to the partially blind), a neighbor said, “I heard that you’re supposed to reward yourself weekly by going off plan. You know … eat something you’re not supposed to have so you don’t go crazy.”
I cocked my head and answered, “My reward was watching two pounds a week go away. Being fat was making me crazy.”
And so, for all of you out there who worry and wonder about every little pound gained back as you live and die by the readings of a scale, or every little “I fell off the wagon … big time” … I can only hope that your moment of clarity comes for you. That day when you have finally had enough, and you know in your heart, with all of your heart, that it’s your time, and that nothing can stop you because you have hit rock bottom. You’re not kidding around anymore. And, you have screamed … “ENOUGH!”
That is the day when you will begin your journey on the road to unfailing success … because it’s the day you will know the meaning of the inner question, “do you want to be healthier and thinner or don’t you?” It’s the day when you realize that action talks and bullsh*t walks.