I’d really let myself go.
Two months ago, I’d been in incredible shape. This was because I was going home for my 25 Year High School Reunion and also because my long-distance high school boyfriend was going to be staying with me in the hotel the whole time I was there.
I’ve literally never been so excited.
I am incredibly disciplined when I’m happy. During the weeks leading up to the trip, I would smugly post one word updates on Facebook like ‘SPINNING’ or ’30/60/90′ or ‘METCON3’ and regularly check myself into every Equinox across the city. I was eating better, exercising a ton and wearing the shit out of my skinny jeans.
One day, one of my co-workers said to me in the office kitchen, “What have you been doing differently? Dieting? Exercising? You look lovely.” He has a British accent so this totally did not sound creepy or inappropriate at all.
“Oh,” I said, as I smiled coyly and tossed my hair over my shoulder fetchingly .”You know, just cleaning it up a bit.”
“Well done,” he said.
I smiled a self-righteous smile and continued to peel my low-carb, low-fat boiled egg.
The trip home was amazing. My boyfriend and I were on track to both move back to our hometown early next year where we would rent a house and he would garden and cook and I would do the dishes. I would spend my weekend evenings watching his band perform and trying to fit in with his cool, punk-rock friends. I did worry briefly if that meant I’d have to give up my pink jeans and gold wedges but overall, it really was all I’d ever wanted. But all this planning had been exhausting. So when I returned, I decided I deserved to take a week off from my rigorous schedule to recoup and regroup. You know, just relax a bit. It would just be for one week.
My boss, Wade, caught me in the office kitchen that Thursday, absentmindedly eating a from bag of Doritos while I waited for my afternoon cup of coffee to brew. “You got the guy so now it’s all over?” he said and pursed his lips. He was looking exceptionally trim and fit in his grey silk vest and lavender button-up.
“Oh no,” I said brightly. “I’m just taking a little break.”
“Hmm,” he said, as he pulled his Magic Bullet mug from the dishwasher. “Might want to re-think that.”
I scowled as he moved to his office, blender in hand, to make a smoothie. Geesh, it was just one week. What was the big deal? I defiantly grabbed a snack-pack of Cheetos and went back to my desk.
The next day my boyfriend broke up with me. I was horribly, horribly shaken. Now it’s true, the morning after, I did begin some preliminary work on this blog but by that Monday, as the reality of the break-up set in, I was completely off-track.
Normal people would use this opportunity to right their psyches by doing hot yoga or taking brisk walks in Central Park or perhaps journaling by the East River. I so wish that was me. But it isn’t. All I wanted to do was not think, not feel. I had already fallen out of my gym and eating-well routine. And I did not have the energy to go back. The only energy I had, I used to get myself to work each day. Other than that, I required nothing of myself. I felt as long as I managed to work each day, I didn’t need to do anything else – the gym, eating well, responding to personal emails, cleaning, teaching myself how to knit: these were not priorities anymore.
I found the only thing that accomplished the total detachment I wanted, was to read. And drink an exorbitant amount of light beer. So every night I came home, fed The Cat, set out cheese and crackers for myself, grabbed a beer, laid on the couch and read. Every night. I was pretty behind in mainstream books, what with all the self-satisfied exercise-postings and the time it took to check how many ‘likes’ I’d gotten on them, so I started in on ‘The Twilight Series,’ moved to ‘The Hunger Games,’ then all the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ and the first two ‘Divergents.’ Once I’d finished a book in a series, I just clicked to download the next one on my Kindle. It was so simple. So stress-free. I didn’t even have to get off the couch. I could tell I was gaining weight. I could tell my energy was waning. But I didn’t care. I just wanted time to pass.
Truth be told, I didn’t see an end in sight to this madness. Every single morning for weeks I woke up exhausted. Every single morning, my eyes would open blearily and I’d think to myself, “How will I make it through this?”
It was a Groundhog Day existence of bad popular fiction and alcohol.
But one morning I was sitting in Wade’s office, going over his next week’s travel, after a night of pausing from the first installment of ‘The Ender Quintet’ and instead, browsing through old Senior Prom pictures of me and My Ex and, of course, drinking a lot of Bud Light. I was hungover and weak and sketchy and worn-out. I happened to look down and notice my shirt was on inside-out. How could I have not seen that this morning? Was I that out of it? I looked up at Wade and said in a small voice, “My shirt is on inside-out. I’ve lost it. I’m not well. ”
He just nodded sadly and replied, “I know, dear.”
I excused myself to the restroom to right this wrong and pulled out my compact to check out my butt. It was straining against my jeans, saggy and wide. My stomach was oozing over my belt and my bra was cutting off the circulation to my chest. I turned around and looked at my face. My eyes were shot with red lines and my cheeks were puffy and blotchy. I brought my hands up to my temples and pressed in. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I couldn’t do this anymore. I couldn’t live like this anymore.
One of the best parts of my job is that I am President and Co-Founder of the office Fun Committee, which consists of me and my two co-workers, Anna and Emily. Our mission is to create festive and morale-boosting activities such as Office Lunches, Happy Hours and Birthday Make-Your-Own-Sundae Parties. We take our role very seriously. When I re-emerged from the bathroom, I sent a meeting invite to them to convene at my desk in thirty minutes.
Anna sat on the exercise ball and Emily sat on the side of my desk. They both have long dark hair, light eyes and are in their mid-twenties. As a result, everyone (including me, much to my chagrin) frequently interchanges their names, even though they actually look nothing alike. This irritated them to no end. They were each drinking water from one of our large logo-emblazoned plastic cups. “Why is everyone here so goddamned health conscious?” I bitterly thought. Then I remembered why I set up this meeting.
“Guys. We are going to host a Workout Challenge,” I said, crumpling up the empty cookie wrapper on my desk and tossing it into the garbage.
“Oh, we are?” said Anna.
“Yes, we’ve all been talking about getting in shape and now it’s time to get it together.”
“Okay, so what will be the challenge?” asked Emily.
I admitted, “I haven’t gotten that far.” The fact that I’d even come up with a coherent idea while my head was whimpering from only five hours of alcohol-induced sleep, was a major achievement in itself.
“Do we want to have a competition? Like if you don’t workout then you have to put a dollar in a jar and whoever works out the most gets all the money in the end?” Anna asked.
Emily interjected, “Yeah, but what if one person only wants to workout once a week and someone else, five? That doesn’t sound fair.”
“Hmm, that’s a good point,” Anna replied.
This conversation went around and around for awhile because we kept getting distracted with talking about Emily’s recent apartment move and the fact that I couldn’t find the calculator on my phone (Anna sorted this out for me and when she handed my phone back, she’d set up some sliding text thing where you could type by just swiping the keyboard with your finger, so we then had to play with that for a bit) and then we needed to Google what the latest update was on Amanda Knox. This kind of thing happened often in Fun Committee meetings. Finally we decided to put up a calendar of the month and people could write in their weekly goals. If they didn’t make their goal they had to come up with a personal punishment, like giving up something they really didn’t want to. Whatever would motivate them to stick to the plan.
“Coffee,” Anna declared. “If I don’t hit my goal, I can’t drink coffee for a whole day.” That didn’t sound like much of an incentive to me but she actually looked a bit ill just thinking of it.
Emily chewed on her straw thoughtfully. “Hmm, I don’t know.”
“Okay, that’s fine,” I said. “We’re not starting until next week. You have time.”
“It would have to be something I really like, like bread, or chocolate.” She laughed then. “Or like drinking on weekends.”
My eyes widened. That was it. “That’s going to be mine,” I announced.
“Really?” asked Anna. Neither of them are huge drinkers so this probably didn’t seem like much of a threat. To me, it took this challenge to a whole other level – like a climbing Mount Everest level.
“Yes,” I nodded. “If I don’t hit my workout goals I can’t drink that weekend.”
“What about during the week?” said Emily.
“Oh. Well, that’s not so much a problem,” I lied.
By that afternoon we had the calendar written up on a large whiteboard and our co-workers noted their workouts for the next week. We listed our punishments on a chart next to the calendar. We would start that Monday.
I was actually a little worried about this challenge. I was just so emotionally and physically exhausted. I didn’t know that person anymore who would get up 7:30am on a Saturday morning to go to Spinning and then treat herself to a manicure because she was so kick-ass and deserved it. I had a real fear that if I engaged in any sort of rigorous physical activity I might burst into tears or have a panic attack. I’d been smoking and drinking so much I thought having a heart attack was a real possibility.
This fear intensified that Monday as I entered the gym after work. I felt like I didn’t belong there. I knew I reeked of beer and cigarettes and was wearing a workout tank top that was fraying along the neckline because I couldn’t afford to buy a new one. This was freakin’ Equinox for Pete’s sake. These people sweated money and class. They were serious about health and fitness. Why did I ever even join this gym? Who did I think I was?
“Sanity in sweat.” My friend Lin’s words came to me then. Lin was an avid runner and had even done the New York Marathon. She would say this every once in awhile and it always resonated with me. At this point, I didn’t even care about losing weight. But sanity, that was something I needed badly.
I had chosen this particular Spinning class to kick-off the challenge because the teacher, Matt, is my favorite. He is incredibly positive and engaging and I knew I wouldn’t be able to deal with an instructor who would be barking at me like some sort of stern school-marm. That would most certainly cause me to break down.
I had told myself that I just had to show up to the class. I could merely leisurely pedal if I wanted to. I didn’t have to push myself. I just had to show up. I barely remembered how to set up my bike and had to ask Matt to put on the shoe clips for me. My voice was barely above a whisper. Everyone else in class had their own spinning shoes and were dressed in perfectly fitted, colorful lycra ensembles. I looked down at my faded black yoga pants and bit my lip. I didn’t want to be here. I wanted to be home safe with The Cat and my Kindle. Matt then returned to the front of the class, explained the plan, clicked on his playlist and we began.
I didn’t end up crying. And I didn’t end up just pedaling idly either. I worked. I worked hard. Matt’s words were encouraging. His music was inspiring. I sweated. My breathing was labored and rough and my lungs screamed like they were being raked with internal coals as with each hacking breath I took, I felt like I was coughing out residual smoke. I thought at one point I might pass out. But I didn’t quit. I could feel the beer from the previous night and all the other many, many nights seeping out, dripping down my back and chest and face. My skin was burning from it. But I didn’t care. I pressed on. Matt walked by my bike and checked my RPM’s. “You’re doing great,” he said softly. I pushed harder. At the end of the class, I put my head down on the handlebars and closed my eyes. I did it. I fucking did it. I thought then I might actually start crying.
When I left class, I smiled at Matt and thanked him. I smiled at the other women in the locker room as I collected my bag. I waved goodbye to the team at reception. I stopped off at Lenny’s and got my favorite salad, where I chatted pleasantly with the cashier.
You know, I’m not much of a Katy Perry fan. But if I was to see you walking up Second Avenue after Spinning class, listening to her song, ‘Roar’ and you were to start mouthing along, “I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire. Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me Roar.” And then maybe you started to smile so hard it looked like you might burst out laughing and then maybe your steps started to become more confident and strong and then you wiped your eyes because you were actually weeping with relief, I wouldn’t judge you. Because maybe after weeks of feeling like you weren’t going to make it, months of losing yourself and living for someone else, endless days of waiting by the phone for calls and texts that were never going to come and, after feeling like you lost a part of yourself that had been lodged in your heart since you were 15 and thinking you would never feel whole and complete without it again, that you were never going to make it through – maybe just in this small moment, you were feeling you might end up being okay.
So if I were to see you singing along to ‘Roar’ on Second Avenue and doing these things I wouldn’t judge you. I wouldn’t think you were crazy. I would think to myself: Fuck yeah, she’s going to make it. She didn’t think she would but she is. She’s going to be okay. She did it. She fucking did it. She made it through. Fuck yeah.