That strapping lad to the right is me, circa 1982 or '83. I was about 14, and a freshman in high-school. Tubby my entire life, this was me at my most healthy. Ever. I was playing freshman football (nose-guard / defensive end) until I tweaked my knee / ACL. I never got to play an actual game under lights, but the exercise and weight-training helped get me in the best shape in my life up to that point. I was also in swing choir, and was doing a lot of dancing. Additionally, we had a 24' above ground swimming pool in our back yard. I swam daily.
This pool is a very formative part of my life's picture. Shortly after this photo was taken (on July 31st, 1983) I dove "wrong" into that very pool and impacted the bottom with my full body mass directly on my head, shattering my C4 and dislocated my C5 vertebrate. Instantly paralyzed, I drowned. That incident is a different story for a different time, but it lays the groundwork for the next 27 years of my life. I went from a BMI of about 16 to 26 or so in a matter of weeks as muscles atrophied and lack of mobility quickly converted muscle tissue to fat.
To say that I've struggled with my weight since then is such an understatement that it's almost laughable. The short form is this: I have always comforted myself with food. Always. And the years and decades that followed only saw that coping mechanism grow and grow. Frankly, it grew in exactly the same proportion that my gut did.
I'd held a goal of hitting 250 for quite a while, so getting this close was a near-victory in and of itself. And what does one do when victory seems within sight? Why celebrate, of course! So, I started getting lazy (or more correctly, I started eating a more reasonable amount of calories again, since frankly I'd been starving myself up until that point). Refined carbs were back, and the weight started coming back on. Quickly. I'd missed my goal by three pounds, Three pounds! I'd never been that close to that goal in my adult life. I got close.
Then life changed.
In late 2008, a slew of things happened that made life vastly more challenging than it'd ever been before. My estranged step-daughter returned from California with a raging heroin addiction, and came to me for help in getting clean (something I fortunately or unfortunately have skill in myself). My relationship with my then-wife had been in a state of flux for the better part of six months, and this was presenting its own challenges. In early November of that year, I asked my partner for a divorce. While amicable as could be hoped for, it was still emotionally devastating. I was now 41, with an addicted kid, heart-wounded, unemployed, with no prospects, no resources, and very little direction. I remembered "celebrating" Christmas eve (not that I observe Christmas) by eating a half-pound of brie, a quarter pound of smoked gouda, and a box of crackers. By myself. It got worse from there.
I stayed in the house with my step-daughter (hereafter referred to simply as "my daughter" because I consider her so and always will), slowly going through the accumulated crap in my life, trying to figure out what in the hell to do next, where to go, how to live, and getting progressively more depressed.
In January of 2009, I applied for residency at Great Vow Zen Monastery (the monastery my sangha operates in northwestern Oregon). I thought this was a brilliant idea. As a resident, you are only required to contribute towards the cost of your food (about $500 a month). I could afford that. Cheaper than renting my own place. It'd give me time to work on my issues, my stress, and my zen practice (which had become increasingly more important to me the year prior), lose some of the weight I'd put back on, and possibly save some money. I applied for residency before I'd ever gone on retreat. That was a less-than-skillful decision on my part.
In early March of 2009, I went on weekend retreat. This retreat--Beginner's Mind--while calendar short, was long on experience. One thing this retreat taught me was that I was in no way, shape or form ready for monastic life at Great Vow. I was back up to about 290, and simply couldn't cut it. I remember the heart palpitations as I walked down to the dining hall for breakfast. I remember the constant sweating, the dizziness as I stood up from my chair, the near-black-out I had after walking kinhin. At the closing circle of the retreat two days later, when it was my turn to share any insights I'd had, I shared this: "I know I'm not ready to live here. Not yet, anyway..."
-To Be Continued-