"Truly an empty-handed leap into the void."

crossing a threshold

into the void

Over the last two weeks I am having trouble bringing to mind a single individual with whom I have exchanged words who did not make mention of my weight loss. This is a quantum leap from previous experience where only people who felt comfortable with me would ask if I had lost some weight. Now, everyone knows I have, something about my appearance has so significantly changed that people no longer wonder what it is that is different about me, they know.

For me, the difference is in my experience of looking down at my body. It looks to me, as I look down, like my head is sitting on top of someone else's body. The last time I weighed what I do now I was in my early 20's, and my body was different then (that was 25+ years ago), so really I am in an entirely new body. When I put my pants on in the morning I look down at them and think "there's no way I can fit into those" right before I slip them on. I don't remember the last time I had my current waist size, I'm guessing it was in the early 1980's.

This morning, on the Subway, something happened to me that has almost never happened before. Someone sat down in the seat next to me, when she got up and off the train, someone else sat down next to me. That sounds simple enough to all of you, I'm sure, but up until I crossed whatever threshold that simply didn't happen. People sat one seat over, and they would rather stand than sit next to me. I felt like a leper. The truth was there wasn't room to sit in the seat next to me. Now, there is. It's just another marker for myself as my body undergoes this radical change.

I know you're going to be moved to say "attaboy!" and encourage me to "keep going." I deeply appreciate the feelings of support behind that, but this isn't some hard-won accomplishment on my part. Congratulating me for losing weight right now is like congratulating someone who has jumped off a cliff for falling. I'm not doing anything other than coping with the realities of my new situation. I'm not sure I could stop losing weight if I wanted to.

My time in psychotherapy and my zen practice prepare me pretty well for undergoing this process, I think, but even with the benefit of all that preparation I'm having trouble just hanging on for the ride. I can't imagine what this would be like for someone who does not have the benefit of the training and insight I've been fortunate enough to enjoy.

So, that's another threshold I've crossed, I'm sort of done with the psychological construct that this process I am undergoing is just a big ole' weight-loss party, uniformly positive and enjoyable. It's not. I understand how those who are vulnerable to depression can get profoundly clinically depressed by this process. It's a big deal. Change is very hard to tolerate, and the less control you have over the change the harder it is to put up with. This sucks.

It's a little bit like what I've heard can happen to people who win the lottery. They often have a whole bunch of problems because of their windfall--families fall apart, friendships are strained, jealousy emerges in unanticipated corners--yet no one wants to hear about how bad things are for a lottery winner. I understand they can end up feeling very isolated and depressed, and more than one has wished they had not won the money after it was all said and done.

Similarly, I don't think people really hear me when I tell them that all this stuff that looks so great to them on the outside is actually very hard to take in. Having a closet full of clothes I can't wear because they're too big, not being able to finish any portion of food served to me, not being hungry, being unable to polish off a big meal, even the weird sensation of having someone sit next to me on the Subway, it's all very hard to take in.

Another threshold I've crossed is joining a gym. I met with a personal trainer yesterday who was recommended to me by my surgeon, he did a full kinesiology work-up with me, identifying for me how my body is unbalanced and what I need to do to correct that. After I finish this essay I'll be off to the gym to work-out, which is weird, but not that weird. I've been a gym rat before, but I realized yesterday when I was stretching that I weighed 100 pounds more than I do now the last time I was going to the gym regularly. I was the gym mascot in some ways, everyone noticed me and encouraged me because I was so hugely fat and working so hard, now I'm just another pudgy old guy in sweats like everyone else, I don't attract much attention.

That's great, that's what I want in every way, but it is different. It is something else to get used to--I'm not the outlier at the gym anymore. It's like being sat next to on the subway. It is something I've wanted for so long, but now that I have it I don't know how to integrate it into my self-concept. I mean, I will, I'm not psychologically disabled, I really mean it when I say I don't know how. I don't know how, I've never done this before. I probably don't need to know how, that's not the point, it's just that I don't know how to do this. That's it, all by itself. I don't know how to do this. I just don't know how to do this.

It's the classic empty-handed leap into the void. That's why crossing a threshold is such a potent metaphor for me. I'm in a different place, that old room is gone, this is the new one.

fitness model

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