Saturday, July 29, 2017

How My Community Saved Me (an Open Letter to a Friend)

Dr. A's Habits of Health is THE USERS MANUAL for creating "Optimal Health and Wellbeing". It is written in such a way that anyone who wants to know how to learn and practice healthy habits of energy management, eating, moving, thinking, sleeping, and managing stress can learn to DO that without having to go and get a degree! Trust me on that! I have the degree!

I'm going to put my "expert hat" on for just a moment, and tell you that I may have a Bachelors of Science Degree in Human Nutrition, I may be a Registered Dietetic Technician, I may be one statistics class away from having my Master's Degree in Obesity Prevention and Management, and nothing, NOTHING I have learned in all of my studies in a University setting, in Academia, has helped me further my own health in a real and practical way. 

And I will also let you in on something that I have learned plenty in my life, and am still learning! People don't "Lose weight and keep it off". What people DO is "learn healthy habits, begin to practice them daily, and continue practicing them daily." 

Or, sometimes they do that for awhile, even years, and then stop practicing them for a spell. Does this mean they have failed? Does this mean they are out of the "healthy club"? 

No. What it DOES mean is that if they want to begin practicing the habits of health again, they can do that TODAY. Right now. This moment.  

The minute you stop, I stop, or anyone STOPS, or pauses practicing their healthy habits, their bodies WILL follow the instructions we give them. There is no magic program or pill or cleanse or operation that is going to prevent someone from gaining weight in this scenario. There is only you and your habits. There is only me and my habits. There is only the decision of what we are doing TODAY. With our next choice. And our choice after that, and whether or not it agrees with our desires to live an optimally healthy life. We all have habits. Are we in the habit of doing those things daily that are necessary to be healthy? Or, are we in the habit of doing those things daily which will inevitably, if we continue in those actions, cause weight gain? 

I recently had a friend PM me to tell me that she was "worried about me" (my integrity, my soul, my character, etc) because she saw I had changed my profile picture to my health transformation collage which contained a picture from 2010 and a picture from 2014. She said it was "deceptive" and "wasn't fair" to all of the people who were commenting on the picture and congratulating me, since she knew I had a hit a few speed bumps in the road with my own health over the last two years (I think she had forgotten that she only knew that because I was as transparent with her about my journey as I am with EVERYONE who has a conversation with me).

Here is the "offending" profile picture:

You see, my 2009 picture was taken a year before I made the decision to strive to live my life as a healthy person. I was on a Make-a-Wish trip with my husband and my son, Julian, who had just, the year before, received a kidney transplant. IN that before picture, I was super-obese and weighed 272 pounds (at 5 foot 3). I walked with a cane sometimes because my knees hurt so badly. I hurt when I went to bed, and again when I woke up, if I could sleep at all in between! My back hurt. My plantar fasciitis hurt. I had lost hope that I could ever truly live my life as a healthy person. I had squelched my dreams, because my one dream was that I'd be able to someday be healthy, and, well, I wasn't!

The picture taken in 2014 was taken when I was in the best health I have ever been in my life! I had, a few years prior, achieved a healthy BMI with our program, and had been practicing healthy habits daily for several years. I continued on setting health goals and achieving them, and one of those goals was to run the full Paris Marathon which I finally did in April of 2014 (I'm wearing my Marathon shirt in the second picture)!

At age 45 I felt like I was 25 years old, except I didn't feel like 25 when I was 25 because I had struggled with health my entire life! 

A while ago, I started to let my healthy habits slip. And, because our bodies will always follow the instruction we give it (and I had changed the instructions I was giving my healthy body by not daily practicing my healthy habits of energy balance and healthy movement) my body responded accordingly, as it always will. It is no surprise that when that occurs, there are consequences. Because I had not put myself into action to re-establish and daily practice my healthy habits again I was no longer a healthy BMI or a healthy weight.

GASP! I know! A HEALTH COACH? Yes, a health coach! Did you know that I have a health coach too? I look to my health coach to support and encourage me also! I am simply a person, like anyone else, who someone cared enough about once to share an AMAZING program with, a program which gave me hope that I could truly live a healthy life?

Yes! Crazy, huh? When that person shared it with me, I made the fundamental decision to move in that direction, to change my orientation and develop healthy habits, and to CHOOSE optimal health!

Through this program I found an AMAZING community of like-minded people, who are health coaches also, who have supported me along the way! I'll support them too when they may run into inconsistencies in their healthy habits, or speed bumps, no matter what life throws their way, no matter how they choose to respond to those curve balls.

By the way nothing happens TO us that MAKES us do anything, we are always 100% responsible for the choices we make. That is actually AWESOME NEWS because that means that in the blink of an eye, in a heartbeat, in the time it takes you to finish this sentence, YOU CAN DECIDE TO CREATE OPTIMAL HEALTH IN YOUR LIFE. There. Did you decide? Are you going to do it?  

But, I digress! When I found THIS community, I decided I wanted to take as many people on this road with me as possible! I wanted to link arms with people and walk the road WITH them! Not because I have it all together, or I don't, not because of me at ALL! But because of OTHERS. I want to help others make breakthroughs in their health. I want to help other people build a community of health around themselves which, if they'll have me, includes me, and I want them to be a part of the community of "lifelong transformation, one healthy habit at a time" that I belong to which includes THEM! As a Health Coach, I'm not an expert! Sometimes I'm a guide, who at the same time needs a guide, and guess what sometimes I misplace my map or lose my flashlight (or do a somersault into a ravine) too!

But here's what I'm thankful for, here is what this recent development has highlighted for me. It is simply this:

That I have an entire COMMUNITY of support surrounding me, a like-minded, vibrant, loving community of individuals who, 6 years ago when I became a health coach, welcomed me with open arms and have never told me ONCE, or ever even IMPLIED that if I hit a rough patch, if I "failed to perform" if I ever fell in the bushes and took a little longer to get up than I would have preferred, I would have to lock all of my pictures I had documenting my transformation away until I looked like that again? That I would have to erase 5 of the last 7 years of my life as if they didn't happen?

So, here is my open letter to a friend:

"Dear friend, I love you, but I disagree with you, and there isn't really any way I can explain it to you because you simply don't understand this journey I am on. And, that's ok, it's my journey after all, and we are so very different people, we always have been. 

This journey I am on allows me to reject the notion that my story has to be perfect, or flawless, mistake-FREE in order to lend a helping hand to someone else who may be on the fringes, wishing they, too, might be able to have a shred of hope that things can be different for them in terms of their health and wellbeing.

And I see them all the time, standing on the ridge, watching us go by. When I get within shouting distance of them, I'll call out to them. I'll wave them over. I'll approach them (even if I'm hobbling a little bit because while I am firmly with my tribe, that last ditch I stumbled into and stayed in for a good bit kinda threw me for a loop and bloodied and bruised me up a little bit) and I'll start a conversation with them. I'll show them my skinned up knees and tell them "Hey, don't do what I just did a bit ago! I mean, do what I'm doing, and do what I did before I tripped over my own feet and fell head-first into that ravine, but I would highly recommend you be rather a little more mindful than I just was. 

But it doesn't end there! Because THEN I'll say "But hey, let me tell you what will happen if you DO take a tumble into a ravine! See all these awesome amazing people around me? This is my community! They KNOW me! They link arms with me! And, they NOTICE when I've gone and disappeared! They'll send out a search party and make SURE they bring the ropes to help pull me out, and the stretcher if I need it for a spell, because they are NOT leaving me behind. You come join us, and they'll be YOUR community too! I'll introduce them to you, and you to them, and you can come with us! It's not easy, there are plenty of these ravines to go around, but you stay towards the middle, where everyone is, and you'll be just fine! You just keep putting one foot in front of the other foot and keep them pointed in the direction we are all going.

What you won't EVER hear us say is "You know, I saw that you took a tumble down that ravine awhile back, and you stayed there for a couple of years. Well we've had enough of your shenanigans, you make us look bad.  You really shouldn't tell anybody about this road anymore, it's deceitful and hypocritical. I mean, you can't even stand up straight for 7 years solid, we saw what you did at that 5 year mark, don't think we didn't see it. We can't have the likes of you, someone who is a little clumsy every once in awhile, who let's herself get the wind knocked out of her, no, you're not what we want here. Hey, look, we can't have you representing this road anymore. I mean, what if they see you on it, and think you are ACTUALLY one of us? Can you imagine? How embarrassing for us, and you know, really, how embarrassing for you. What? You're still telling people about this road? I thought we told you you couldn't do that anymore. You couldn't cut it. You're a hypocrite for telling anyone else about it, even if their journey isn't your journey and your journey isn't their journey, no one should hear about this road from YOU."

I don't "get" to tell people about this road, I have a deep sense of URGENCY which COMPELS me to share with people about this road. I MUST share it with them, for THEIR sake. And if I can show them pictures about my first 5 years on the road, and how those were the happiest years of my life, how I felt a purpose and a calling and a responsibility to and a deep joy, believe me I'm also going to tell them about that pit!

I didn't take too many pictures of me in the pit, it wasn't very scenic, and the pit is not where I chose to STAY. The pit is the pit, but it is an essential part of my story and they'll hear it, believe me.

Here's the thing, though, I'm drawing a line in the sand right HERE. I will NOT let YOU tell my story for me. Nor will I listen when you dictate to me how I should tell it.

I may have been stuck in a ravine trying to claw my way back up for the last 2 years, but my tribe did not leave me behind, to stay there, miserable in my pit!

My tribe surrounded me with love, dropped every rope they could spare, and spent THEIR time, with nothing to gain but my humble gratitude, reminding me what I had forgotten. Reminding me that to move forward, to move upward, I have to raise my hand, grab the rope, and do the work with consistency to get out again.

If I remember correctly, YOUR response to my struggles was to dis-invite me to the "Made to Crave" Book Study you had asked me to be a part of. Yep, I noticed.  

What you are implying is that I'm misrepresenting ME. No, I'm not misrepresenting ME by having my transformation pictures as my profile picture. BOTH of those pictures are 100% me, no airbrushing, no touch-ups, no manipulation, I didn't photoshop my head on someone else's body in EITHER of those photos. They are genuine, they are true. That IS me, I DID do that, that IS a vital part of my story. 

No, I'm not misrepresenting me, I'm CORRECTLY representing the potential of the amazing transformational program my husband and I coach. That message is clear: If you practice healthy habits daily with consistency you can create vibrant health in your life. If you change those instructions, you will change your health. That is a truth in BOTH directions.

But, let's just take your point of view for a moment. So, you are saying that I COULD have posted my before and after picture as my profile picture up until the point I showed my flawed and sometimes inconsistent humanity?

How generous of you.

If I listened to you, I would be sitting in a corner in shame, which, now that I think about it through the history of our friendship, may just be exactly where you wanted me.

Well, I'm not ashamed. I'm not apologetic. This has become part of my story.

Sure, you can send me a "message" (brave of you, by the way) and call me deceptive. You can tell me I've lost the right to show people to road to health, and help them up onto it, link arms with them and continue contending for our health together. You can say "hey, you fell down that ravine, I saw you do it!"

I know you did, I shared that detail with you as I shared it with anyone who inquired. 

Guess who else saw it? My tribe, my community. How do I know this?Because THEY came over, cared about me, and helped to pull me out. And that person on the ridge over there? That person you are so afraid I am "misleading" with my profile picture? They also know. How do they know? Because I tell every single person who asks how I'm doing.

I'm still on the road. I'm not perfect. I don't claim to be. 

And this is what this crazy group of like-minded travelers are doing on the road, we are helping each other. I can lean on them at times, they can lean on me at times, and we support each other! I chose to tag along with these amazing life-giving beautiful people, my fellow OPTAVIANS, when I became a coach myself. THESE are my people, this is my tribe, those who have and who will HELP me recognize when I'm off the path, in the weeds or bushes somewhere, and LOVINGLY come along side me and help me back on to my feet with wise, timely counsel, reminding me WHO I AM! 

People who have become dear friends to me who, in times when I been headed in the other direction, have run after me and embraced me and and seen me as ME and not as a failure! THIS is my tribe, this is my community, these are the people who are in my life for the duration. These are the people who never give up on me, never kick me to the curb because I stumbled, and to ME, that is the vital importance of community!

A club will kick you out if you don't follow the rules, if you don't live up to their "standards".

I've noticed people can sometimes do that too.

A COMMUNITY, our community, will catch you when you fall, will reach out and say "how can I help" and it not be just WORDS. THIS is why finding and connecting with a like-minded community is a key element of successful positive long-term behavior change.

I'm not an actor here, I'm not playing a part. I've not set myself up on some pedestal and claimed to be bullet-proof. I'm not engaged in some kind of puppet-show hoping nobody can see the strings. I'm not the wizard of OZ behind the curtain. I post pictures to inspire me, and sometimes they are my pictures (GASP)! And, when I want to see a particularly poignant reminder of what I know I AM capable of, I make it my profile picture, without apology! I am still that person, both pictures, the difference in appearance being my level of daily commitment to practice my healthy habits.

Only rationale that smacks of "diet mentality" would say "that's not you anymore, you don't look like that, therefore you are trying to deceive people".

You are incorrect. It is me. Both pictures are me.

One is a reminder of what happens when I'm not practicing healthy habits over time, and one is a reminder of what CAN happen when I'm practicing healthy habits over time. Still me, 100% me, I can guarantee you that. 

Those who have experienced shame, defeat and rejection can find hope and connection when they enter our life-giving community of coaches. We have a culture and code of helping people, no matter where they are now or where they used to be on the spectrum of health. I know this. I've experienced all ends of the spectrum, and all the space in between.

And this I know for certain, when a community of people, with genuine love, compassion and truth are committed to help others bring out the best versions of themselves (instead of judging, pointing fingers, or "shaming them"), LOOK OUT WORLD!

Hope, inspiration and encouragement are contagious. When we receive those things with authenticity we can't help but pass it on! These are the people who never count someone a lost cause and move on, no. My tribe sends out a search and rescue party, NOT a search and destroy party!

What a contrast!

When we need a little help to see and believe in our potential again, I know who I can count on. The heart of our organization, our community, is best expressed by words I heard just last weekend at Convention and Wellness Retreat. Phrases (always accompanied by big bear hugs) of "SO glad you are here!", "you are right where you need to be!", I know what you are capable of, keep going!" and "We need you, we love you!"

I could say I have no words to express my deep appreciation and gratitude for my community. But, as you can see, I have MANY words!

But I'm not listening to YOUR words anymore."






1 comment:

Rachna said...

Stacy,
What I admire most about you is your optimism, authenticity and the fact that you have succeeded and you have failed and then succeeded again. Thats more powerful and inspiring to me and many others. I think it is unconscionable for a "friend" to question your integrity because they know you may have struggled these past few years. The struggle is real in some form or another in all our lives and thank you for being real and true to yourself and the process.