Existential Excavating: What Made Me What I Was

The hardest part of losing weight, I’m finding, is the challenge of identity.
Being fat isn’t just something that happens over the course of a month. Being fat, becoming as fat as I ever got, took me 25 years exactly. 25 years of daily contributing to an obviously ever-growing problem.
From an eight-year-old spending a summer with an unlimited flow of Mountain Dew and Pepsi at my aunt’s for the first time, I began the journey of Becoming Fat. Unbeknownst to me, I’d spend the next two and a half decades becoming more and more internalized, avoiding the issues that drove me into those cans of pops in the first place — all the fighting around me at my aunt’s, whose home was the very picture of dysfunction, with screaming rage fits and all three of them suffering alcoholism — the kind that makes people violent, and leaves a trail of broken knick-knacks. Thanks for the summer vacation away, Mom & Dad. Auntie’s pad was a real blast.
A book and a pop tucked away in a magical corner of the far-away-attic was better than on the couch with the accusations and rage. And tasty, too. Sweet distraction. Something I’d return to often in the years that lay in wait. I still remember the smell of wood must as comfort and emotional safety, too.
I went home, and then my parents’ marriage spent the next seven years falling apart in a gloriously rageful manner as my dad began drinking more and more, and my mother became more unhappy and distant. And I kept getting fatter. And fatter.
As I became a teen, I was officially fat. I’d heard “Fatty-Fatty, 2×4” taunts on the playground. I’d be pestered if I was on a diet — “Yeah, what, a seefood diet? You see it and eat it? Har-har!”
Naturally, I was hurt. I was sad. So I ate. No love? Well, there’s always cookies. Tasty bitsies of chocolate and more, all there to perform like Spackle on the fragmented teenage heart.
Eventually, fat is everything. Why don’t you want to go tonight? Oh, I feel fat. Why won’t you come to play soccer with us? Oh, I’ll hold you back, I’m fat. Why don’t you work out? Oh, I’m so unfit and fat, everyone will stare! How come you’re not dating? Oh, I have nothing to wear. Why not buy new clothes? Well, then I won’t want to lose weight, it’s better I keep what I have. Why are you gaining more weight? Well, I guess I’m staying home too much and snacking. Why are you staying home? I have nothing to wear.
It’s a fucking cycle. It’s a cycle that not only continued but worsened over the years. Throw into that fat-is-me syndrome all the fucking bullshit life hurtled my way in my 20s that furthered my dependency on hiding and running, well, yeah, I was poster girl for early-onset cardiovascular disease. At 275 pounds and 55+ per cent bodyfat, I was en route to an oversized early grave. And I knew it.
I’ve journalled much about what first triggered that final urge to REALLY undertake this journey, but the further I get into the success of it, the more I need to dig into what all those early triggers were, and find ways to avoid ever relapsing onto those escapes. And I’m doing that quite well, but it’s hard.
And as that weight drops, so too do fragments of my identity — the identity that has shielded me from hurt and life for so many years. An identity I created to protect the soft existential belly of Steff. So who am I now? Who am I anymore? If I’m not her, am I anything?
You, as the reader, you go, “Oh, of course you are! You’re Steff!” But you’ve oversimplified it, because you’re 450 words, and 2 minutes of reading, into the problem.
Me, I’m 25 years. 218,400 hours. Not including leap years. 218,000+ hours of playing those old insecurities on a loop, crawling into those fears, wrapping myself in those shames, and hiding behind those rolls of fat.
Solving this is anything but simple, anything but quick.
One of the trendy brilliant books of the time right now is Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Outliers, in which he asserts one must be something, do something, act some way, for more than 10,000 hours before they attain true proficiency. Wanna be a writer? You gotta do 10,000 hours before mastery will come your way, basically.
So, with 218,000 hours of beating myself down, believing I’m deformed, outside the norm, and something to be shunned, well… I’m probably not just a master but the all-time champ of self-derision.
I’ve spent more than 10,000 hours, now, on this journey to my new self, but it occurs to me that perhaps my mistake has been that I’ve been trying to rediscover myself.
Well, with 200,000+ hours of losing myself, maybe there’s nothing left to rediscover? Maybe now’s the time to excavate a whole new self, because the woman emerging here isn’t the girl who got lost so many years ago.
Oh, no, she ain’t.
Because I’ve never been close to being this person I find myself becoming. The funny thing is, my friends, even the ones who’ve been around me going on 20 years, they’ll tell you I’ve always been like this — strong, independent, outspoken, off-the-cuff, funny, etc.
They’re right, yeah, I have. But I’ve never been real. I’ve never been very good at sharing the innermost thoughts and emotions that really bring us together as people. I’ve never felt connected and present with others, or trusting, like I’m beginning to these days. I’ve kind of always tried to skate the surface a little. Now I find myself swinging the pendulum too far the other way, and I’m searching for a middle ground.
Occasionally I land where I ought to, where I’m easy to talk to, and casual and open, yet irreverent and cutting. It’s a hard place to get to, but then I remind myself — I’m not quite done those 10,000 hours needed for mastery. I figure sometime this summer I’ll hit 10,000 hours of being fit and strong, and then begins my journey of 10,000 hours of really owning who I am until, well, I don’t know. Until it really takes hold in me?
I don’t care how long it takes. I really don’t. I get it now. It’s not about that end result. It’s about absorbing the voyage there. And I am, I so am, even in its infinite hardness. I love this process.
I’m not pressuring myself anymore, I’m not rushing. There’s nothing I can do to speed this journey up. In some ways, I wish I could slow every single day down. They’re going too fast. I’m not sure I’m keeping pace. I’m changing so much, so quickly. I’m never the same person twice anymore, it feels like. But in good ways.
I just wish I had more moments in all those hours to just sit and savour it all, like the African porters a missionary had paid for a series of forced jungle marches, who eventually sat down and refused to budge. Challenged as to why they were no longer marching, they steadfastly declared, “We’re waiting for our souls to catch up.”*
That is what my morning is for.
*Paraphrased from a much-loved passage of Bruce Chatwin’s that I will always, always treasure.

6 thoughts on “Existential Excavating: What Made Me What I Was

  1. CatrinkaS

    As we get to be all ‘grown up,’ it seems we are presented with nearly infinite options for digging through what is flaw, what is comfort – what makes us successful, and what we are successful in spite of. Sloughing off some of that ‘stuff’ is mental weight loss – and never easy.
    Very, very good stuff. But not easy. Turtles carry those shells around for a reason.

  2. Naughtymgn

    I love reading your blog. I am about to undertake a journey myself. In approx 4 days I am moving from a city I hate to Ottawa, Ontario. I am originally from BC.. lived many years in Vancouver.
    I am 31 and have been over-weight for about 21 of those years.. I have horror stories like most overweight people do, Im sick of my life style and limiting my actions and activities because of my current weight. I’m 5’11” and I’m 300lbs. I have a long journey ahead of me, I have my fears and I know it’s going to be a bumpy road but I know I can do it.

  3. Chibi Jeebs

    “So, with 218,000 hours of beating myself down, believing I’m deformed, outside the norm, and something to be shunned, well… I’m probably not just a master but the all-time champ of self-derision.”
    This. Beating myself up (down?) has become so ingrained, such a habit, I’m not even aware that I do it. My other half gives me shit every time I’m hurtful towards myself, but it’s such a hard habit to break.
    Thank you for this. It gives me hope that changing the way I think about myself is possible.
    Chibi Jeebs’s last blog post..Hooooeeee

  4. alana

    i’ve spent about 28 years in an abusive situation or another, between my mother and then my ex husband. that’s about 245 000 hours….i’ve spent the last 13 000 hours trying to rediscover who i really am and then trying to embrace her. it’s been a long haul and it’s never going to end, and i’m cool with that.
    i’ve finally allowed myself to get into a “real” relationship lately – i’ve kept things deliberately shallow – and i definitely have fears…who the hell wouldn’t. mainly, i’m afraid i might get back into my old patterns as i have more time spent with those.
    reading your blog has provided me with inspiration in those times when i thought i just wanted to take a break from pushing myself along. has kept me honest with myself.
    thank you.

  5. Invisible Girl

    The way you document your journey is utterly eloquent and poignant. I’ve also had a similar journey. I’m starting to win the war though – little by little I rework those behaviours that gave me permission to eat or hide.
    At times I am a peeling onion, each layer being slowly revealed. It’s obvious you touch and help others. 🙂

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