Consider the Source.

For the majority of my life, I’ve taken people, places, and things at face value. Taken what was told to me as truth, until shown otherwise. And sometimes even then, it took a LOT of evidence to the contrary to come around and admit to myself what I thought I knew (or what I wanted to believe) was wrong; what I thought was true was false; who I thought I could trust or believe was, in fact, not trustworthy at all. Once you believe something, it can be really damn hard to change your mind, to be open to the idea of being wrong. Or, at the very least, open to the possibility of a different way of thinking/seeing something.

I started reading “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn, and something in the first pages stuck out:

Thus, in that inevitable taking of sides which comes from selection and emphasis in history, I prefer to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees, of the Civil War as seen by the New York Irish, of the Mexican war as seen by the deserting soldiers of the Scott’s army, […] And so on, to the limited extent that any one person, however he or she strains, can “see” history from the standpoint of others.

We are pretty much always given/fed/taught information in a way that benefits someone. Think about our history books, all told from the white majority’s perspective, and spinning a narrative of conquest, of superiority; it certainly enables us to continue thinking and believing we are on the right side of history and have no cause for regret or concern over how others have been impacted, or that we might need to work hard to correct what’s wrong. We’d have to admit something is wrong first. Right? I mean, as just one example: we might be regaled with humanizing stories of slave owners, but I guarantee the stories from the slaves’ perspectives are going to be a whole lot different. Where are those in the history books?

And I’m not just talking history, either.  For example, the pathological liar/cheater/gas-lighter I dated a few years back: every word that came out of his mouth was designed specifically to benefit himself and the life he wanted to lead, with no regard for the truth or the people around him. I still occasionally marvel over the depths of his depravity, how manipulative everything was, and how it served to further his agenda. Everything he said about the other people in his life, the reasons he gave for breaking up with past girlfriends, the stories he told about himself; it all had little glimmers of truth but a whole lot of twist, all to give a totally different impression of what was actually going on and what actually happened.

But that’s a pretty extreme example, thankfully; most people are not that mental or messy. They are, however, impacted by what’s taught and told to them, what aligns with the values instilled growing up, affected by their culture, their teachers, their families… we are all the sum of our experiences. And whether or not we choose to challenge that, to question what we’ve been taught… that’s where critical thought comes in.

Side note: It’s telling that we have to TEACH critical thought in school… and I’d imagine not everyone gets that lesson, whether due to substandard education, or the school system’s decision to not include it as a class or subject – and THEN you have to question why they don’t value critical thought, right? Who benefits from people not thinking critically? (Hint: It’s likely those who prefer the status quo.) But really, if we’re not innately programmed to question, to be skeptical, to consider the various sides, to take others into account instead of simply charging forward with whatever it is we have chosen to believe and accept as the best truth as human beings, then it becomes apparent there is some work that needs to be done. Some effort needs to be expended in order to open up to the perspectives of others. We are, as a general rule, selfish and self-centered beings. Why wouldn’t we want to challenge that?

Do you ever ponder how a person (or a book, or a corporation, or a news station, or an elected official) might benefit from the information they’re presenting to you? Do you ever think about how everything in their lives might have led up to them being who and where they are, and so what they’re telling you is directly influenced by that? When you’re reading historical accounts, do you ever stop to consider the perspective of the teller? Nothing happens in a vacuum. Nothing in our past – as a country, as a planet, as the human race, as individuals – happens without something or someone else being affected. Right? Or, very little, anyway. We can engage in mental, emotional, or physical self-harm that appears injurious to only ourselves. But even then, if you have someone else in your life bearing witness to these injuries, they’re going to be affected, and they’re going to have their own perspective on the situation.

It reminds me of that old adage: There are three sides to every story – yours, mine, and the truth.

I write all of this to say, I’ve started questioning more of what I hear, what I read, what gets posted on the internet or is reported… I’ve tried to expand my circle to include the perspectives of others, those whose lives and experiences are different than mine, so I can learn, so I can take other perspectives into account. It’s necessary, but it can be exhausting, too; at some point you have to determine which appear to be the most straightforward, the least slanted, the most inclusive. And not because it’s what we WANT to believe, although I suppose that’s always an option. Really, I just want to be sure I’m not falling into the trap of taking things at face value and not challenging myself.

On a personal and less political note, not a day goes by when I don’t feel a sense of gratitude and relief that I’m in a relationship with someone I trust. Someone I don’t feel the need to question motives, question the words, question anything, unless it’s apparent there’s something going on that warrants further discussion. And I think that’s any relationship, right? When you can tell something’s going on so you ask questions to get to the bottom of it because you care. He does that for me, too; we challenge each other to get real, get honest, and we offer up a mutually respectful, safe, and loving environment in which to do just that. It’s huge.

Now, if we could all just do that for each other.

Advertisements

Whole30 Observations, Revelations, and Other Stuff.

CW: Some weight, scale, and body image discussion ahead…

I’m writing this tonight, the last night of our Whole30 adventure, for a few reasons. Mostly because I have the time while my sweetheart is on his way back from his 4th work trip in as many weeks. Have I mentioned how impressed I am with his brand of stubborn, sticking with this thing while traveling for work? I mean, if I were in Vegas, I’m not sure I would have been able to resist going ALL THE WAY OFF plan. In fact, while he was gone, I was *this close* to calling it quits (mostly because of the intestinal distress), but I couldn’t justify it when he was having to find a grocery store, rent a refrigerator for his hotel room, and eat the same damn things every day while I could make all kinds of yummy stuff.

Anyway. The other reason I’m writing about it tonight is because I want this to be about everything but the weight I’ve lost. More about that in a bit.

Before we started this thing, we were eating relatively well, but our habits were devolving pretty rapidly. Like, instead of going to Baskin Robbins once in a while, we’d go several nights a week. Anytime he traveled for work, I’d go to Panera for dinner and get the French Onion Soup (with all that cheese and bread) and a large mac & cheese. And then stop for ice cream on the way home. There was always at least one glass of wine with dinner. I’d start foraging for chocolate or candy at work around 2pm. And don’t even get me started on the reduced-fat Cheez-It binges…

Yeah. I mean, it certainly could have been worse; we were having smoothies for breakfast, salads for lunch, and more often than not, a relatively healthy dinner. But those were getting interspersed with taco and margarita nights, Panera nights, eating anywhere but home nights…

So, a few of my favorite things about Whole30 is that it was like hitting the big reset button on my bad food habits. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had cravings pretty much this entire time, but my behaviors have changed around food. For the most part, we’ve cooked healthy breakfast meals and sat down to enjoy them, instead of running out the door with a smoothie. (I say “for the most part” because today for breakfast I had an apple & almond butter.) Lunches have stayed healthy, either chicken &  broccoli with lemon, or some form of protein and veggies, leftovers, etc. Dinners were the best part, getting creative or not, making good use of the recipes in the book and being blown away by the flavors… and all the while, getting to spend that quality time cooking together.

Real Talk
Yes, there was a lot more planning and prep work involved. No, I didn’t always feel like doing it, especially when he was on the road. Yes, I ate a lot of eggs for breakfast and got tired of them halfway through, but am back to enjoying them again. No, I never did get the “tiger blood” they talk about in the book, but that could be due to any number of extenuating circumstances not related to diet. The bowel movements have been… exciting. I haven’t had the energy or interest in the gym since we started.

Random Observations

  • There is sugar in damn near everything
  • If it’s not sugar, it’s corn or soy. Did you know that most cans of “tuna in water” in the regular grocery stores are actually “tuna in vegetable broth that probably has soy in it”?
  • I’m pretty sure I heard angels sing when I found the sugar-free, nitrite free, whatever whatever free bacon at Whole Paycheck
  • This can get expensive, real quick, if you let it
  • Some of those sauces lasted more than a week, or close to two, and they were worth every ounce of effort
  • I like making our own almond milk, and will probably keep that up

Weights and Measures
My initial inspiration for wanting to do this was, admittedly, weight-related. I could feel my already-upsized clothes getting tighter, I was carrying more fat than I’d ever had on my frame before, and with the wedding coming up, I started to panic a little. Going to the gym and eating relatively healthy wasn’t making a dent, and I could tell the food consumption was going to get worse before it got better, unless we did something “drastic.”

For about 3 of the 4.2 weeks of this program, I obsessed about getting on the scale. Like, I thought about it more than I ever had when I was allowed to weigh myself. As soon as I could tell I’d lost a few pounds, I wanted to know how many, and I wasn’t going to rest or relax until I knew. I managed to overcome those urges, just like the urge to shove a Twix in my face, but man. Those sucked.

They sucked mostly because more than anything I know this: my weight does not equal my value as a human being. My size is not my soul. I would never be as harsh a critic on others as I am on myself when it comes to the condition of my body, and the last 30 days put a huge spotlight on that internalized obsession/unkindness. Yes, I want to be healthy, and yes, I want to feel good about myself, but focusing on the scale is sure as hell not the way to do that.

And that’s where my last post about comparison came in. I compare my body against those of other people, and have allowed that to determine my worth in my own mind. It’s insane, it’s dangerous, and it’s completely unfounded and unnecessary. If I’m going to judge anyone – including and especially myself – may it always and only be on the content of character.

Will I weigh myself tomorrow? Probably. Am I going to allow that obsession to guide my behaviors, moving forward? Not if I can help it. There are much better benchmarks of success, if what I want is to be stronger, healthier, smarter, happier…

So… yeah. That’s my Whole30 experience in a nutshell. I’d absolutely do it again, even after 2+ weeks of a tender butt and near-desperate need for a bathroom every morning. In fact, I intend to eat like this as much as possible, moving forward. If I find that we’re deviating too far from the new norm, we’ll hop back on the wagon for another round.

In the meantime… tomorrow morning, you better believe I am putting some damn coconut palm sugar in my coffee, and there’s a lovely glass of wine out there with my name on it.

The Joy Thief Club

There have been a few “motivational” quotes rolling around in my head lately. I call them that for lack of a better word, but they’re certainly quotes that – fairly succinctly – serve as reminders of the way I like to live life (when I remember).

The first, I’ve written about before: “How we spend our days is, in fact, how we spend our lives.” by Annie Dillard. It reminds me to choose wisely in how I spend my moments, and to evaluate how I’m engaging with the world. When I look back on my life, I don’t ever want to feel as though I wasted precious time.

The second, also one I’ve written about but that keeps cropping up: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” This is attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, but after some googling, it appears there is some disagreement about that. Whatever the case and whatever the source… it couldn’t be more pertinent for me right now.

We think about it a lot in the negative sense… you know, comparing yourself to others and falling short? I compare myself against my siblings sometimes, and can feel like a failure because of it. I don’t make nearly as much money as they do. I haven’t found/chosen a lifelong career and don’t even know that I’ve got much in the way of direction. They’re more mature and… I don’t know, polished? They’re all healthier/thinner than I am (which, that whole “thinner” thing is a crock; your worth has no connection to your size – more to come on that ongoing revelation)… you get the idea. And then there’s the rest of the world. Anywhere you look, it’s possible to compare yourself against others and fall short.

Then there’s the comparison against self piece… like, I get why comparing yourself today against the person you were a month ago might be beneficial if you’re trying to measure progress in something, like health & wellness, fitness, or even educational pursuits. But even that can take a negative turn, if you focus too long on comparing yourself to a previous you, maybe one where you were more successful, in better shape, younger, actually able to conceive/bare children. Or even comparing yourself against a non-existent you, the version of you that you envisioned for yourself, the one that never came to fruition… instead of just being present with (and loving) yourself today, as you are.

And then, there’s the opposite side of the comparison against others coin: being BETTER than. You know, feeling like you’re better than someone else, for whatever reason. You’re smarter, you’re better looking, you’re funnier, you’re more successful, you’re more willing to be part of a team, better at learning things, you work harder than others to open your mind and be a better person…

The funny part is, as I sit here and write this, there’s a voice in the back of my head saying, “Well yeah, but…” and it feels like “not all white people!” when what I should really be doing is listening and learning. Yeah, some people ARE terrible, sure. I could say I’m better than a child abuser because I don’t abuse children, and I think pretty much everyone would agree.  But anytime my brain tries to argue with me and gets defensive, I know I’m striking a chord worth digging into.

My recent struggle with this “better than” comparison is feeling like I’m a better person than someone who, say, supported Donald Trump for president. And what “better” looks like is anything from kinder, to more empathetic, to better educated, to more capable of critical thought, to a better grasp on reality…

It sounds pretty terrible when I say that out loud. But how can we ever change if we aren’t willing to get honest about it? Kind of like white privilege and supremacy; if I’m not willing and able to accept hard truths and own stuff, unpack and inspect my own crap, I’m sure as hell never going to be able or willing to hear anything else, much less effect some change. It’s why I follow a lot of POC on Twitter; so I can learn, and do the work to hear, see, and understand as best I can.

But yeah. As soon as I start thinking I’m better than someone else – for any reason – it puts us on an uneven playing field in my own mind, rendering the possibility for civil discourse highly unlikely. And chances are, that person is going to pick up on the judgement I’ve already conjured, especially since I’m not very good at hiding how I feel (like, I’m REAL terrible with it). That judgement is going to come off as condescension, and I don’t know about you, but if there’s one thing that will shut me down to someone else, it’s them being condescending. (Passive-aggressive is a very close second.)

If there’s someone out there I love who supports Trump and happens to think his being in office is good for the country and everyone in it, me deciding I’m obviously a better human and a more evolved a thinker than they are is not going to solve or change anything. Right?  I don’t pretend to believe for one second that I could change anyone’s mind or force them to believe anything other than whatever conclusions and life views at which they’ve already arrived. But that doesn’t mean I can’t support and participate in the work being done towards what I believe to be right, and just, and true.Or, you know, just work to combat the damage that I believe is being done, without judging the people who are actively supporting it.

So why make that comparison in the first place? Why put yourself up against someone else at all, whether to be better or worse? Why not try to take the judgement and comparison out of all of this, on the off chance it opens up some space for dialogue?

Like, if I remove the self-inflicted comparisons between myself and my siblings, suddenly I have a lot more joy in being who I am, as well as celebrating who they are – their successes, their drive, their lives.

And if I stop comparing myself against who I thought I’d be at this age, or who I was 10, 20, or 30 years ago, or even who I was a month ago, then there’s a lot of room not only for joy, but for acceptance, and growth – inside and out. You limit yourself when you’ve already defined and confined yourself with comparisons.

While I struggle with comparisons of self, and negative comparisons against others, I think it’s the “better than” comparisons I am working to be most wary of. Otherwise it’s a surefire way to thieve the joy right out of life.