I started out 2016 in a very low place. 2015 was just a long haul of a year. Most of the year had been consumed with a lawsuit trying to get some very important property/finances back from my thieving in-laws; a stolen website and loss of sales back (yes, from the same fucking in-laws); suddenly rescuing all of our locked up property (including 10 antique tractors and 14 other pieces of machinery equipment from my very Trumpesque, you guessed it, father-in-law); finding out that our accountant had flaked out and submitted well none of our tax returns for the previous two years (we had our paperwork done and paid in to the IRS, but she had created a logistical and fee nightmare for us); all while continuing to provide for my joyous but consuming bundle of kids at that time ages 3 to 13. My husband and I were mentally and physically feeling rock bottom.
A turning point for me was when I saw my husband barely be able to move. He had developed sciatica at the end of December and it was taking a toll on him. For a man that hardly sits still, he was stuck and in pain. He went to a physical therapist and saw only slight improvement. He went to two doctors and both of them offered him a few options. All of the options involved some medicines with some pretty hefty side effects. The last thing I wanted was a husband taking medicine that MIGHT knock him into depression. Despite everything that we had been dealing with and harboring some major anger, I really really wanted him to get better, but not with medicine.
So I read about sciatica and it is often caused by stress. Hmmm, yep, he could be stressed! It was a catch-22 for me because the history with his parents was taking a toll on me as well and I blamed him some. I felt like he didn’t stand up for us for 15 years too long. I was extremely bitter at the situation we were in. At the same time, something had to change for both of us.
I was feeling useless as my career had become hijacked by choices that I didn’t always have control over. But I thought I could help my husband without the use of drugs. He had lost his only brother to suicide 20 years prior and now was estranged from his family. Despite being deeply angry at him, I had to fucking find a way to help.
At the end of 2015 I read a book by Donald Miller called A Million Miles In A Thousand Years. It was at the suggestion of a friend of mine that had gone through an awful divorce 5 years earlier with a narcissist, controlling ex. She had turned a corner on believing in herself and she offered me this book when I told her about my ordeals. She was hesitant offering it up because it was “kind of religious” (she grew up with me and knew that I was not into being told how I should feel about any higher powers) but she thought it really fit into our conversation about life and fulfillment.
To put it incredibly simply, Donald Miller talks about writing a better story for yourself while you are alive. In short, get off your butt and start living. I was really moved by a scene in the book where the author tells a friend that had been complaining about his teenage daughter that “his daughter was living a terrible story.” After saying that a couple of months later the author ran into his friend again and the friend tells him that his daughter is better because “his family was living a better story.” I thought about my own story and my own story sucked. I had a family (including a teenage daughter showing the same signs as the daughter in the novel) and money enough to travel and work flexible hours; and I had plenty of conflict in my life, but as Donald Miller will go on to point out, “what our stories are about matters, not just for us but for the world.” My story was lacking in momentum and meaning. My story was hardly a great story for my kids, let alone the world. I was a bitter mom that spent too much time either being a guru mom, or I was drowning in the burdens constantly created by my in-laws. I was so tired of being tired all the time.
I knew I needed 2016 to go better. I still had to work and be a parent and a spouse so I knew the changes could not be drastic. And it sounded like the lawsuit would likely take another year or two to get my property back. I knew if I made the same New Years Resolutions like lose weight, exercise, and blah, blah, blah I would fail. I thought about Donald Miller’s book and I thought about the mindset books that I had started to read that I talk about in My First Blog Bespeaking: Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable. If I had to go to trial, I wanted to go in their mentally and physically strong. I wanted to be happier. I wanted my kids to see someone changing and living a good story.
I thought about it and thought about when I run a race (which I don’t do that often), I know if I make it to the last mile I am home free. I just have to get to that last mile. I also knew that for me as an individual it wasn’t too difficult to give things up for a month. I decided to try a staggered New Year’s resolutions approach in 2016. I decided I would incorporate at least one new resolution a month for all of 2016. I thought of each month as my last mile of the race rather than trying to tackle the entire marathon (12 months) all at once.
I made up my own rules for my staggered New Year’s resolutions.* I would decide near the end of each month what the new resolution would be. I would start with two resolutions in January (Yoga 5 times a week and drink 100 ounces of water every day) as they went hand in hand and I wanted to jumpstart my physical health. I really liked the idea of adding something (water) rather than starting by taking something that is comforting away (like coffee). The last thing I needed was to lose more things in my life.
Later the same day that I came up with the staggered New Year’s resolution idea (this idea was “new” to me at least so I’m calling it new), I presented it to my husband. I told him that I truly believed that his sciatica was from stress and I wondered if he would give me two weeks to try to help him. I told him that I was starting Yoga (at home using the P90X active yoga dvd since it is the only yoga dvd I have). I also knew that I am not the type of individual that can get up early and exercise before work so it was going to have to happen at lunchtime or not at all. What I didn’t tell him is I knew I would fail without support. I needed someone to push me that extra mile. He said he’d try.
And we were like a lot of out of shape people. The first time we did it we were pathetic.** We made it 20 minutes. I was shaky on the simplest pose. I wasn’t going to force myself to finish the 90 minutes. I didn’t want to be so sore I lost all desire to workout again the next day. I kept thinking and sharing with my husband the line in Donald Miller’s book when he goes to a trainer named Dave:
“And Dave taught me a lot about living a good story. He taught me that progress, no matter how slow, is all that matters.”
We progressed and by the end of the first week my husband’s sciatica was dramatically improved. By the end of the 2nd week, he had no more sciatica pain. I was feeling so energetic and mentally stronger after month 1 that I decided to tackle giving up coffee on month 2. I knew February was a short month. I didn’t want to go cold turkey so first I quit buying coffee from Starbucks, but I made these small coffees on my machine at home. Definitely, going to Starbucks was a comfort habit so the first day it was odd to pass on Starbucks. Day 2 was similar, but by the end of the week I didn’t really crave Starbucks. I didn’t give up the small coffees until summer when it was so damn cold outside and I craved it less.
Month 3 I committed to only salads for lunch. I kept repeating in my mind: “I eat salads now” because I really wasn’t crazy about the idea, but I really wanted to increase my fresh food intake. And like so many people I was in the habit of grabbing the same old processed food. I found that if I added red cabbage, tortilla strips, and used a tiny bit of Olive Garden dressing that the salad was pretty good. I also started to chop up my food right away when I got home from the store. It took me about 5 minutes to throw a bunch a fresh food in containers (I know plastic is suppose to be better, but sometimes plastic is all I have with 6 kids “borrowing” my stuff all the time). For me having the food cut up ahead of time really helped. I also found that my oldest daughter would grab from the containers more often as well rather than always reaching for the easy goldfish.
And so the year continued:
Month 4: give up the at-home lattes as well, download HBO app, and bike a minimum of 10 minutes a day on stationary bike while watching Game of Thrones (usually I biked a half hour or more and watched most of an episode a day)
Month 5: start running (minimum 10 minutes a day— try to increase slowly)
Month 6: limit sugar to 20 grams a day
Month 7: no eating out, but must cook out with friends at least once a week
Month 8: grandma died so I set my goal to be more of a weekly goal since I was a bit sad that month— bike around the lake (12 miles) once a week
Month 9: summer was over and the kids were back in school so No Alcohol
Month 10: write something personal for 10 minutes every day and drink broth (I had just heard about the broth craze and thought I would give it a whirl. It’s not bad, but everyday was a bit much. I borrowed a recipe from the Stash Plan but modified it to fit into reality for a busy mom.)
Month 11: no wine and yoga 3 times a week
Month 12: join an exercise class (3 times a week minimum)
By month 3, my husband decided to join in and he would try to follow whatever resolution I was trying with a few modifications of his own (he was not about to watch Game of Thrones on a stationary bike). By the end of the year, he lost 30 pounds and ran his farthest distance ever (6 miles—prior to 2016 he said he had never run even a mile) and had given up his main comfort staple for years, Diet Pepsi. By the end of the year, I just felt better all over. I lost a little weight and had alleviated chronic knee and back trouble that started several years prior. I certainly was stronger mentally and physically. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was progressing forward.
But what struck me throughout this process was my kids. They noticed that mom was moving a little more. They were really understanding that my husband and I needed just 30 minutes a day for ourselves. In the summer, we would often run right before dinner when my husband got home or after dinner. The kids would be pretty patient with us and if we were doing yoga once in while a kid would join in. We would let them know our time improvements on our bigger training runs. And honestly, I found that they kind of enjoyed having us away for a bit. My oldest was starting to do a few more make believe games with her siblings (especially in the summer). And more times than not in the summer, a few kids would join us on their bikes while we ran. The fall was difficult because the lack of light really put a damper on our running. My husband ended up starting to go to gym with my daughter before work and I had to resort back to yoga on my own (not as much fun). That’s why in the last month my resolution was to join an exercise class of some sort.
I was listening to the radio the other day and the announcer was talking to past participants of The Biggest Loser that have successfully kept the weight off. The underlying theme was the importance of finding the thing that really works for you. I can attest to that. Maybe if going cold turkey doesn’t work and year long resolutions, consider resolutions that add to your life (water, smoothies, etc.) before taking things away. And like so many other people communicate when talking about exercise and wellness that 10 minutes a day consistently really does make a difference. I can’t climb a mountain (maybe a small one) or a rock wall or do a pull up; but, I at least feel like my momentum is headed toward a better story. With more energy and a clearer mind, I found myself venturing out for new experiences and meeting new people and finding something that I am interested in: writing.
If seeing Trump behind the Resolut desk has you feeling like we are all on a downward spiral, please keep your physical and emotional space in top form so we can problem solve this batshit crazy next four years together. Please do. I am ready to resist his narcissism as a community—a community teeming with strength on the inside and out.
**And we didn’t start on New Year’s Day. We started on the Monday our kids went back to school. I did the same thing this year. Start whenever….just start.
*My husband read a draft of this blog, loved it but said that I made him sound like a sloth. I responded, “We were both sloths and that’s okay.”