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Know Thyself

The other week I almost wrote a post about the Delphic Maxims. And then I decided that instead I wanted to focus on the most prominent, and most remembered phrase from Delphi "Know Thyself" (γνῶθι σεαυτόν). And then I stopped myself again, because what I was about to write was incredibly self-satisfying and kind of a jab at people who don't examine themselves.  And it struck me as completely disingenuous, because there are plenty of things in my life that I intentionally, willfully, and detrimentally ignore. 

When it comes to self-examination I am one who looks at my motivations and my reasoning processes pretty deeply.  I like trying to figure out the long embedded problems at the heart of my actions, especially when I fly off the handle about something.  Those of you who know me, know that flying off the handle is not something that I do lightly.  I'm a slow boiler. 

But the one thing that I never look at is my physical self.  In fact I have been actively shutting off my awareness of my physical self for an extremely long time, and God there are so many reasons why. 

When I was young I was incredibly sickly.  I was on the brink of death on numerous occasions due to severe asthma, compounded by the fact that my parents smoked like chimneys, and exacerbated by the fact that we had house cats which triggered allergies.  I was underweight and the slightest bit of exercise could send me into a wheezing, hyperventilating fit.  I could not bear to have my heart rate up, because my throat would just close up.  

At 18 I moved out and went to college.  I stopped eating meat, wasn't around any smokers, nor any animals, and was walking up and down hills like 8 times a day.  I ate like a horse and didn't put on an ounce.  I had a fucking awesome metabolism. I was hackey-sacking with the stoners and was able to just do about anything.  I started coming out to friends at college.  And just as freshman year ended I wound up moving back home with my parents.

Vegetarianism was impossible to maintain in my home town.  I couldn't figure out how to do it properly.  I was eating barbecue onion sandwiches.  It was fucking ridiculous.  So I went back to eating whatever the hell.  I started driving.  Immediately jumped back into the closet around my parents.  And blam: gained 60 pounds in six months.  When I went to my allergist for a checkup on my lung health she was shocked at my weight gain and asked me what happened.  I couldn't even tell her.  It was just too much to just get out at once.  That 60 pounds was closet weight.  I name it so.

It was two years before I moved out again, and ditched the car, and came out for real.  When I finished college I felt like I was in a much better place physically.  Though I started getting catcalls about being fat from college douchebags in their jeeps.  And I started developing that "fat guy" vision of myself.  Though honestly it never felt like I was that big then.  Seriously I was way under 200 pounds.  I wore like a 34 pants.  Those guys were just assholes. 

What follows are a series of years of deferred dreams, gratuitous sex, and heavy drinking.  The weight kept on climbing, but slowly.  What concerned me more than my weight was the lack of any kind of stable emotional connection with anyone.  My weeks were night after night of going to clubs, drinking enough to hit on someone and just drowning myself in whatever physical connection I could get with people.  It was a series of continual one-night-stands and a spiraling depression.  Beyond the emotional shallows was also a lack of purpose in my work.  I'm a very work oriented person and the ground floor of my work life is the fact that I'm a dreamer.  I need meaning, and I felt called to become a librarian.  Every day I wasn't doing that was a day that I was hollow.  Eating and drinking were how I filled the hole in my heart. 

Grad school was different.  I was able to work toward meaning again.  I pulled myself out of the cycle of desperate living and pushed toward a goal that meant something to me.  I had friends who were solidly working on their goals as well and the distractions of dating were minimal (but still tugged at me).  There was a brief period where I attempted to date an artist, but I had to take a step back from that as well as he was pulling me back into the depressive emotional drinking.  But grad school, as is often the case, was also about drinking.  And I got hooked on beer there, because, well, Hale's Cream Ale is totally delicious.  But also the vodka drinking was too intense.  It reminded me of clubbing and black out binges.  But beer also put on the pounds.  When I left Seattle I was wearing a size 36 pants.

DC was where I started putting my dreams into reality.  And that went great for like 2 years, and then the emotions pushed me over the edge again.  I started hating my job, hating the people I worked with, loafing, having luxurious lunches and becoming more and more sedentary.  I ballooned up to a size 40.  Got a huge beer gut. 

Now I'm at 240 pounds (or more sometimes), my cholesterol is through the roof, my blood pressure is borderline stroke levels.  I'm on medication to try and lower that stuff.  But I haven't done anything to exercise at all.

And exercise is one of those huge mental stumbling blocks for me.  In my mind I go back to when I was sickly, young, and embarrassed to be around other people.  I was mocked for not being able to run around the gym without collapsing.  I was mocked for not being man enough. 

And that's the image of myself that I've been holding onto all my life.  That I'm not a healthy person.  That exercise could totally kill me.  That I can't wrap my mind around sports.  That other people are looking at me and mocking me for being less than some buff dude. 

I like to think that I know myself.  And really all that I know about myself is my mind.  I know how I think inside and out.  But I don't know a goddamn thing about my body.  I've actively worked to shut that door, because I am just embarrassed to even think about it ever.  Especially now that I'm the size that I am.  When people tell me I'm too big I freak the hell out from the cognitive dissonance.  I know, but I don't want to know, and I don't want other people to comment about it, and when they do it pisses me off that they do, because I already know...  It's a vicious cycle that perpetuates these feelings. 

I don't want to be an athlete.  Sports and the people who play sports is something that are associated with that pain.  I need solitary activities, away from anyone else's eyes, and anyone else's judgment.  I just want to not look at myself and feel disgusted.  I don't need to be a size 32 again.  I just need to recognize that knowing myself means knowing ALL of myself, including my physical self. 

So, I'm going to try.  I'm going to try and be real with myself and be honest about who I am and what my physical self is like. 

So mote it be.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
May. 27th, 2012 06:55 pm (UTC)
I was a severe asthmatic as a child with limits on my activities. But I was a girl.
My son was an asthmatic. He seems to have managed school and gym. He was ambidexterous an valued as a switch hitter. He had other interests .
As an adult he has an inherited body type that will never be slim.
But he has found a gym with the atmosphere he likes.
He has found a time when few people are there and has fit it into his schedule. He can do his own thing at his own pace.

Find a place you feel comfortable with things you can do just for you. Nobody else's program or schedule.
Do what you do because it makes you feel good.
Good Luck & Blessings
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


Eric Fritter Riley

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