My friend Megan Hyatt just blogged about some of the lessons she is learning in her life while on her quest to run in a Half Marathon. I was struck by her comment about learning to be more gentle with herself — something I am not known for! I sent a comment back to her where I said how I wished I had learned that lesson earlier in life. It’s so true. I am increasingly aware that one of my biggest challenges is learning how to subdue my "inner critic"; that voice in my head that tells me how fat I am, or weak-willed, or undisciplined, or not worthy (obviously, the list can go on and on).
I think my "inner critic"voice has been active for so long (and the voice I hear is so familiar) that the idea of quieting it is quite a challenge. It means I have to have a focused awareness of that critical voice and make a concerted effort to answer it in a way that speaks truth — real truth that I know in my heart is right. (I think I’m sounding convoluted here… let me explain.)
I have yo-yo dieted my whole life. You could call me "Duncan" I’ve dieted so much (remember, those cool Duncan Yo-Yo’s we had as kids? They did neat tricks and sparkled but you could always count on them to consistently go up and down.) Well, my weight is back up and I have no clothes that fit. I had lost 50 lbs. two years ago and kept if off for about a year and a half. I felt great. I was actually convinced I had my weight issues licked (no pun intended) and that I could maintain that weight for the rest of my life. I actually got rid of my "fat" clothes — a huge leap for me! Then, as they said in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the "Hormonies" hit. I started HRT and my weight slowly crept back on. Now I’m up 30 lbs…. again. Sigh. It is just so frustrating. I have done this my WHOLE life.
I remember starting my diet journey by going to Diet Workshop with my best friend, Ellen, when we were 14 years old. It was there I learned good eating habits (except for maybe the one where we went to MacDonald’s for ice cream cones after we weighed in as a treat.) Since then, I’ve done just about every diet — Weigh Watchers, Fen-Phen, Grapefruit, O.A., Zone, Liquid Diet, Cabbage Soup, etc, the typical, exhaustive list. And every time my weight came back my "inner critic" said, "Karen, you are such a failure. Why can’t you say no? Why do you always cave? Why can’t you be strong and not give in? You have a closet full of clothes that don’t fit — evidence that you are once again a failure."
Now, I have to tell you, at times that voice is loud but other times that voice is just quiet and persistent but effective none-the-less.
But quieting that voice is not always easy. One of the things I have recently changed–I’m interjecting something positive here–is that to begin to quiet that critical voice, I work really hard to not say self-deprecating things about myself. Like if someone I hadn’t seen in a while asked me how I was, I’d say, "I’m great, thanks, even though my rear is looking like the state of Texas! (ha-ha)".
I always figured people were thinking it (because I was thinking it) so if I said it first, I would would actually be in control of what was going on (a bit of an illusion, to say the least). It was my way of covering my embarrassment and shame. Now, when I catch myself starting to say those things, I do the thing that is THE hardest thing for me to do… I say nothing. I keep myself quiet and don’t say what I am thinking. It is definitely retraining my mind to respond differently. And it’s really hard to do! Retraining myself is takes focused discipline and diligence — that’s why I wish I could have learned it a bit earlier in my life!
Not giving voice to my inner critic is a step in the right direction. This weekend, though, I felt was two steps forward and one step back. I went to a wedding and saw old friends I hadn’t seen in years. I felt so awful about how I looked (and yes, I know that people are more focused on themselves and not on me but still, I doesn’t make it feel any better). I wore all black (stretchy travelers, thank you Chico’s) and went with a smile on my face (and yes, with a bit of dread). It turned out fine and I was glad to see my old friends, yet it was still difficult.
But here’s the truth. I know my friends love me for me — and that they truly don’t care about my weight. I know the lie that my inner critic tells me is just that, a lie. I know my value is in who I am not what I look like. But, for me at least, choosing to believe the truth is a lot harder than believing the lie, particularly when the lie is so familiar.
So, today, at this moment, I am on my way to visit other old friends I haven’t seen in awhile. I am going to chose to cut myself a little slack, to be gentle with myself, and to rest in the assurance that I am loved, truly, for who I am and not what size clothes I wear.
Today, my inner critic can just learn to be quiet for a change.