Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Two years....100 lbs.....a different life...sorta.....

Membership photo taken on Nov 19, 2009
when I joined LTF
 This is probably going to end up one of those winding nostalgic posts. I am facing down an anniversary and that tends to make me sentimental (it's a girl thing I know). Black Friday is coming up... the day my life changed. As a co-worker pointed out last night, time DOES move faster the older you get. It is really shockingly so. In ways this week in November 2009 seems like a moment ago, in other ways it is lifetimes ago.

For those that haven't been reading the blog from the beginning. Black Friday 2009 was when I joined Lifetime Fitness, started working with a trainer, started the journey that I thought was only about losing weight, but have since realized was so much more.

Before photo, Feb 2009
 When I walked into LTF on November 19, 2009 I could barely walk more than a few steps at a time, and even those were difficult. Partially because I weighted 311 lbs (from my high of 338 a few months earlier) but also because of the nerve damage on my right side from the botched surgery and two ensuing strokes. My goal, do water aerobics, maybe the treadmill, not much more. The outcome (to date) is light years from where I started. I never would have guessed two years later I would have lost around 100 lbs, I would have done an indoor tri, that I would be able to lift the weights I do, and certainly not that I would be horseback riding. At that point I would have been happy if I had been told I would be able to walk stairs and not have to make every decision on my life on whether my body could do it. I have come a long long way, and am super proud of that.

Nick and I at the Vikings
game this year
But I have to be honest, this second year has been MUCH harder on many fronts than the first one was. I am still trying to understand why the first year was so much easier, but I believe it is grounded in how far I had to come. Most of the first year was all major milestones, every day was a new accomplishment, and I do well with that. I feed my energy off it and it helped me fight battles that I thought were conquered, but really were only hiding, especially my eating disorder (the not eating part). This second year weight loss has not come, I am currently around 235. It has been as much about not falling backwards as it has been trying to go forward this year. I am blessed with a personal trainer, Nick, who has stood by me through that, trying to keep me moving forward, but also not giving up when we were just treading water.

Me with Snapper, the horse
who changed it all
This year also added an Eating Disorder therapist, Alecia, to my world. I started with her in the middle of a blizzard in February. I know working with her is what I need to be doing, but have to admit part of me hasn't fully connected with it yet, and I struggle with that. I have struggled with that a lot in the last year and a half, working to let the people in I need to and feeling very detached and distant from them even if it isn't what I want. I definitely have become more isolated in the second year than I was in the first, and think that is part of the lack of success also. As I have said in the blog before, I let more people in the first year, but when that blew up in my face with some people I retreated from it, I am working now to get that better balanced.

Joker and I in the first snow, one of the few pictures
in the world of me laughing...ironically I have no clue what about
The biggest addition to my life in year 2 has been horses, and Woodloch Stable. WL was a very happy accident. I was in no way going near horses by choice (they were big scary mean creatures was what I remembered from being a kid) but the minute I was pushed to do it I felt complete in a way I hadn't in a long time. Horses touch a part of my heart I had walled off from humans. While I struggle allowing people to hug me, touch me, care about me, see my flaws when I am with my horse, any horse, that part of me is fulfilled. I become a very different person and I am open to very different experiences. And along with letting the horses in, I have gained an entire new circle of friends, at WL, at Sunnyside and on FB. My "horsey friends" as my other friends call them.

Etta, Snapper and me
The most central new person in this is my riding instructor, Etta. It always amazes me how the right people fall into our life at the right moment. I was reminded again yesterday how everything really came together that day in May at WL. The right horse, the right instructor. If any of that had been different I don't think I would be riding today. I got lucky to find an instructor who gets my limitations but has no hesitation of fighting me to put them aside, which is what I need, and where I am most struggling these days.

My life has changed a ton in two years, my body has changed a ton in two years, but unfortunately my brain hasn't changed in those two years, I thought for a while it had, near the middle of the first year, but I realized this past week how much I still am locked in "brain fat" and "brain fears". Where I have stopped being a prisoner to my body, I still wrestle with being a prisoner to my thoughts and my memories. I still stop myself from doing things, including riding, based on fears about my body and whether it will do what I want it to or not. I still fight myself around food and eating, based on those old messages.

Which brings me to my goals for year 3.........getting my brain to catch up with my body. To stop living in the past in my thoughts, my fears, my behaviors. Because I fear til I do that I am stuck at this point of "good enough but not where I want to be" with my food, my weight, my happiness, my riding, all of it.

Kola and I off on an adventure
And the biggest lesson I am taking from year 2 is I cant do it alone. I tried this year, where the first year people were freely let in, this past year I tried very hard to hide a lot, to do a lot on my own, to figure it out myself. Even though I had great people wanting to help and to care, I always retreated. I see it most clearly in my riding, I go have my "adventures" on my own and come back and tell people what went on after the fact, but that is just the visual of what I did in everything. Its why therapy hasn't helped, I would go and keep 1/2 of what I felt inside for fear of what Alecia thought. In the last 6 months I have done it in the gym too. I got very very hung up this year in what people think, in going back to feeling like I have to be perfect or I wont be loved or accepted, and this year I need to put that behind me, that has to become old think!

Me on Cheyenne
I cant say I know how to do it, so this year I am asking you all to help me, to push me to do it, to yell back, to chase me down when I hide, to force me to live out in the open and not head out to where I can hide. And yeah I am going to fight back, that is me, but please stop me from running like you all did in year 1 before I shut everyone out. I need my friends to get back to being louder than the noise in my head again. You all have my permission, for one year, to be a royal pain in my butt (at least now I know how to jump on a horse and get away from all of you *grin*)

On to year three.....

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Six months in the saddle...

"Every horse you meet will teach you something"
"You are safer than you realize"
"There is a cowgirl in you somewhere"
Etta Arcand Langer

WOW! There wasn't much else I could say when I looked back last night to see exactly how long ago I had started riding and it turned out today marks 6 months. Just like so many other things it seems like just yesterday, and at the same time it seems a life time ago. In ways it was, I am such a different person now. As we have joked at that barn more than once, I am now "a whole lot more cowgirl than princess". While I still have my great heels and my nails and I still like the dressing up I had discovered in the first year of my transformation, I have to admit, I am pretty darn happy to have "traded Nine West for Ariat".

I was asked yesterday why I think I have taken so quickly to horses and riding. I am sure, like with most things, the answer is a lot simplier than I am going to make it, but I came up with two reasons...

1) I have no history with it. My life comes with a whole lot of baggage. Dysfuncational family, abusive parents, eating disorder, weight issues and most of all the nerve damage/strokes and paralysis. Most everything in my life I run through one of those filters and I measure how I used to be able to do it versus how I can or cant do it now. Riding has none of that. I had never done it before I was "broken" so there is no measure of how much harder it is or how much worse it is, it just is. It gave me a clean slate, a brand new story to write, unincumbered by the past. It has no tie to my mother, to being sick, none of that. So I can just do it and figure it out now and not feel I have to measure myself against the past.

I have found a level of pride in my accomplishments riding that I have never felt (or allowed myself to feel) in anything else I have done in my life. I dont need to measure myself against other people or be the best. I have found great joy in just my "baby steps" of riding, and that is new for me. I have gotten a greater high crossing a stream or walking over a log than in anything I have ever done.  I see my accomplishmemts, which I normally don't.

2) It involves the most honest "me" of anything I have ever done. Most of my life I have felt I was playing roles people wanted... the good student, the happy family member, the confident business analyst...sometimes parts of it were true, but more often than not they were truly a role. A facade, a face for the world. Trying to be what I thought people wanted me to be so I would fit in or be liked or accepted. Then I would come home and take off the mask and hide out so people wouldnt see who I really was. But with riding, I haven't had to wear a mask, truth, you can't fake it on a horse. You are who you are. There isnt time for pretend and imagery. And even when people do try to pretend, it is blatantly obvious very quickly. Your horse calls you out on it really fast! All your good and your bad is brought to the surface and exposed for the world. I can tell by watching how someone treats their horse how they treat people and what matters to them and how they feel about themselves. You see the most honest reactions and emotions around horses.

And for me this honesty is liberating. I spend all day smiling and pretending for clients, for people around me, and it is exhausting at times. The barn and with my horse is where that mask comes off and it re-energizes me.

One of the realities I have faced in the last six months is how much I have turned out to be, at my very core, who I fought for the last 30 years not to be and have found peace with that.

I grew up in a small town very much like the Hugo, MN area (where the barn is). That small town country girl is who I really am, even if I thought I had to become someone else for the world to love and accept me. I have done it, I have faked it (I can easily stand in a board room on 5th Avenue in New York City and reshape a fortune 500 company's future, I do it all the time), but at my heart, I'm simple, I'm small town. I'm country music, I am a few close friends and a bon fire much more than I am big cities and night clubs. And I am finally accepting that of myself!

I can't in any way take all the credit for my success this six months or even that I got on the horse the second time. I have always said the right people cross our path when they are meant to. For as much as I believe I was meant to do this "horse thing" at this point in my life, I am not sure if my first day hadn't gone the way it did, had it not been where it was, and the instructor who it was if I would be on a horse today. I consider Woodloch Stables and Etta the happiest accident of my life. I could not be riding at a more welcoming, friendly supportive barn. From my initial fears that I was too fat to ride (met by a comment from my instuctor I will NEVER forget..."Have you seen the size of cowboys"), to the other riders who welcomed me riding with them from day one, to the amazingly helpful barn staff who have never made me feel dumb (even when I ask things like 'do I have the right horse' or 'Has anyone seen my horse, he's missing'). I have never felt once that I didn't belong, and again for me that is unheard of. THANK YOU.

Thank you to my horse friends (and a few non-horse friends) who have listened tirelessly to my stories and accomplishments. Whether you are here with me in person, or an online friend. I love the new dimension of people riding has brought to my life, and the way some of my existing friendships have been deepened.

A huge debt of gratitude to those who have loaned or leased me your horses to ride, for an hour, a couple weeks or months. Etta, Mary and Jessica. You sharing your ponies with me is a gift I wont forget.

Finally the most important thank you. My trusted steeds. Snapper, no matter how many horses I ride in my life, you will always be the most dear to my heart. Your patient, calm, caring way is a gift to all of us you teach to trust ourselves to ride. You do a very important job at Woodloch and hope you realize how loved you are and what a "rock star" you are to so many people who meet you. Cheyenne, I still miss you! You had a caring in you that is hard to explain. Cody, thanks for teaching me I could ride even if Snapper wasnt around. Gunner, just one ride, but you changed how I ride, you taught me how to use my body to ride. Kola....my dear friend. We rode for only a couple weeks, but we somehow bonded. You are still there for hugs anytime I come to the pasture. You made me feel loved and still do. And my special gelding Joker, you my friend are teaching me bravery, in myself, how to trust, that taking a chance is ok. I look forward to what you have to show me in the future. And I look forward to all the horses I am yet to meet......

And to think it all started out with a LivingSocial coupon.............

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ultimate Trust.....

"Horses lend us the wings we lack. ~Author Unknown"

It blows my mind when I let it sink in that just six months ago I wouldn't go near a horse and now I find my greatest moments of victory on their backs. I started this journey accidently in May and what a ride it has been.

It has been exhilarating, challenging and at times terrifying. To use a phrase my riding instructor used about her horse, I am not "brave by design". This is especially the case when it comes to physical challenges. I fear falling, I fear pain and most of all I feel looking like a fool. That last part leads to me hiding many of my "adventures", riding only in an empty arena with the doors closed or heading out to a field to practice. No one knows about them til I have done them and succeeded. The multiple attempts that fail are only mine to know, and well now my horse's also.

The great part of riding Joker is I have the most trust worthy horse in the world and can try new things on my own. Don't get me wrong, he's a horse, I don't lose sight of that, at any moment he could decide to take charge and take off (most likely back to the barn) or spook, but what I have learned as Joker and I have built our relationship is even on his worse moments, he doesn't have a mean or spiteful bone in his body. He feels he is protecting not only himself but me, and I am blessed for that. He is a partner I can believe in when I am not feeling brave, he is in it with me, he is on my side and he will do all he can to take care of me.

This is going to sound very strange to my non-horse friends (and probably even to some of my horse friends) and if you are one of those "they are just animal" people you may want to stop here, but Joker and I have a mounting ritual we go through before every ride. Before I step into the saddle, I stop, I go to his face, I stroke his blaze and I look him in the eyes and ask he if I may ride him and also ask him to help me through the ride. In my mind he understands what I am saying and I see a change in his eyes, an understanding of his role in my life and a softening. I realize that may be me wanting to impose my world view on him, but even if he doesn't undestand it is important to me to acknowledge that I never take him for granted, that I respect and appreciate that he allows me on his back (let's be honest, this is a 1200 lb animal who could easily be rid of me if he wanted) and takes such good care of me.  And to thank him for keeping us safe even when I question my seat.

I thought I knew all this, about how lucky I am and what a trustworthy horse I am riding after our first solo stream crossing alone a few weeks ago, but last night he taught me what trusting a horse really means....we did our after dark trail ride.

The ride started out as a behavior lesson for Joker. Since the season change he has been getting a little lazy riding when the light changes. Even if we are in the indoor arena, he had been deciding he should be done as the sun goes down. So my goal has been to change up the times we ride, to ride him more after dark, to remind him he doesn't have banker's hours.

We set out at twilight, my plan, ride him around the driveways at the barn before we lost all the light. I had no plan for a great adventure. I wanted to be back to the safety of the barn before dark. We did our planned ride, and something came over me. BTW there is a thin line between brave and crazy *smile*.

Not sure if it was beautiful moon, the stars, the previous conversations with Joker's owner about her night trail rides or just how great the ride was going and wanting to test our limits. But something lead me to take it to the next step. Despite the light being gone I headed us out around the track. For those not familiar with Woodloch, there is a 1 mile sand track, that starts out in the open and then cuts through a wooded area and returns back into the open. It is somewhere Joker and I have been multiple times (it is our escape ride when we don't want to work too hard but want to be alone). Last night however was a whole new experience, for me at least.

Not being able to see the ground in front of us (or below me) was not a factor in this outing I had considered til it was too late and we were already on our way. As someone who panics and doesn't trust her own footing when walking in the dark, to cede all control, to have to trust my horse to find his way and to keep us safe was difficult at best. Many times I considered getting off his back and leading him home. But I think what kept me going and not trying to take back control from him was that part of me that hates failing. Because I can't ground mount Joker, it would have meant doing the "walk of shame" all the way back to the barn and that people would think less of me was a lot more scary in that moment than trusting Joker.

And as usual I am glad I rode it out, it was the most fulfilling exhilerating ride I have had yet. Far better than learing to trot or canter, even better than the stream ride (which was pretty darn cool in its own right). Because this meant a level of trust I have never given willingly to any living being. Trust is such an issue for me, but last night I learned that well placed trust is a great thing. That when you have a parter who deserves your trust it can be very liberating to hand over the reigns.

Joker of course handled the entire ride with the same "come on this is no big deal, I got it under control, chill out" look he gives me during our mounting ritual. He safely and calmly rode the entire ride and lead us home like a champ.

And for those wondering, yes he was definitely rewarded with lots of treats. Truth the boy could have had anything in the world he wanted last night, because he let me feel the one thing I have rarely felt in my life, completely secure in where I had placed my trust!!!!! I love you my friend!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Second Time Around...

I am not sure as I start this post where it is going to end up, if I knew that answer I probably wouldnt be writing it in the first place, so maybe I am hoping somewhere in figuring out how to say this is my own answer.

The topic has been on my mind for a long time, I have been fighting with myself over this for over a year now, but for many reasons, I have said precious little in this blog about where I am at. Partially because I feel like I am failing and am embarrassed by that, partially because I have heard the word "inspiration" so many times over my weight loss that I am afraid of letting people done, or trying to keep my head in the sand. But a Facebook post this morning by a friend on the same topic has me ready to face it, at least for the moment. Thanks Paul, this is for you.

The topic, the reality of weight loss after it has long stopped being easy, when the scale starts to creep up again and you feel helpless to stop it or to get back on track, but need to.

I have been fighting this battle for about a year now...for about 10 months I bounced around in the same ten pounds, between 210 and 220. And then the scale started climbing. Today my weight stands around 240 lbs (havent weighed myself in about 10 days so not exactly sure the number but guessing that is about where it is).

I could sit here and list a ton of reasons, but as my trainer points out to me periodically, they would be nothing but excuses. The reasons may be true...eating disorder noise, work stress, lack of self confidence, and on and on...but as true as they are, they are excuses. Convenient excuses to hide what weight loss for those of us who are truly over weight, a decision that we are worth the effort (ours and other people's), that we deserve success, that we are worth believing in and that we are valuable./

Paul asked me this morning how I would address this if I was starting fresh, if I didnt have the history of having lost the 100 or so pounds. His question stopped me cold, because I realized, I dont know what made that change in me the first time, and it is probably why I have struggled the last year to get back there. I dont know how I did it the first time. It feels looking back more like a fluke than something I purposely did.

I can look back at the first year of my weight loss journey and I see myself as a person I never was before then and havent been since. I read my posts on here and it is like reading another's story. The biggest thing I see is that I let other people walk along with me, and I have lost that ability again to let people in and admit I can't do this alone. I look back at the people I had with me when this all started...my trainer, so many people on staff at LTF, other people losing weight there, the readers on here, my friends on FB, other friends. And I saw myself doing something I had never done up to that point, letting others in. But in the last year I have moved so far away from that, I have gone back to trying to take on the journey myself, and not knowing how to let people walk with me, even when they want to. And I haven't moved a step forward.

The great irony to saying that, is that at this point I am actually surrounded by better people than I was when I was losing weight. I have an amazing trainer who has tirelessly beat his head against a wall with me for 16 months, an ED therapist who tries so hard yet I still keep at a distance, friends who want to help and who I know logically would do anything I asked them to help me. Yet I dont know how to let any of them in the same way I did before, and that is about ME not them. And if I dig deep enough I think that is a big part of where I have stalled. Because another reality for those of us who have struggled with our weight our whole lives or grew up with abuse is we measure our worth, as wrong as it, by those around us. And what made me believe in myself for the year I was losing weight, was others' belief in me, others telling me I was worth it, and for the first time in my life I believed what I was hearing. But I dont know why or how. I dont know right now how to believe in myself to meet the goals I need to, and I dont know how to believe in what I am hearing from those around me that got me going when I didnt feel it before.

I guess the big question I have to face, that I have avoided the last year, isnt how to get the scale to drop. But how do I get back to believing I am worth the effort, that I am worth making the right choices for. Because that is most likely the root to how I got things going in the right direction before.

Sadly as I said at the begining of this post, I dont have my answer. But at least for the first time in a year, I feel like I know the question.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Vikings Experience....What you didn't see on the big screen......

"He says it's really kind of simple,
Keep your mind in the middle ,
While your butt spins 'round and 'round...

Take heed to Sankey's preachin',
Keep liftin' and reachin',
And ridin' like there ain't no clowns...."
Garth Brooks

My life is hard to desribe or sum up in a few words, roller coaster is one I used to use a lot, but as I have started riding I think it is closer to broncho riding, a lot of lulls with a few really crazy moments thrown in here and there.

Earlier this week I was struggling badly with some challenges in my life, and said to a couple people close to me how I feel like I always get the harder road, that nothing is ever as easy as it should be and that I had had enough of it. But then today I stood staring at 50,000 or so people all looking down at me and thought, how lucky am I to be living the life I am living. How many people get to have the experiences I do, and in this case got to do twice? Once with the Twins and now once with the Vikings (hey LTF I like Hockey, can we three-peat with the Wild *grin*).

Days like today challenge my thinking. I was raised by a mother who spent a lot of time trying to convince me I was nothing special in the world, that to be proud of myself was wrong, that I was nobody and to think anything different was delusional and that I was more a hinderance than anything to the people around me. And for the most part I have let her thinking control a lot of how I view myself and the world. I have marginalized and minimized myself out of a lot of experiences and chances to have fun - big and small. So to stand there today while people say "you did something worth noticing" was hard for me, and truthfully really uncomfortable.

But today I tried my best to push past that, to take in what was going on and why. That I have done things others havent accomplished, that I do have a story that isn't common place and that it is ok for others to notice that.

The interesting part for me though is the parts of the day that others won't ever know about. Yeah the big deal from the outside was down on the field, but for me that was probably the least miraculous part of the day.
For me the little things today are what I noticed and what made me smile....

  • Fitting in the seat at the stadium and not feeling like I was either squeezed in or spilling over into the people next to me (although I will admit I still worried about the second part and kept turning to not bump into the people on either side of me...that is "brain fat think" and not sure it ever goes away)
  •  Walking down the stairs in the stadium which had no hand rails without falling on my face
  •  Handling the three flights of stairs down to the field and back up without being totally overwhelmed or having to stop to rest
  •  Being able to balance standing on the light rail all the way back
  •  Having to squeeze between a pole and the wall on our way to get our tickets and not getting stuck or even slowing down
  •  Being able to walk fast enough to keep up with people
  •  Wearing a Vikings sweatshirt from a normal store in a normal size
  •  Being seen with my trainer and not feeling like people were laughing at me and noticing only how fat I was comparably to him.
For me THESE were moments that took my breath away much more than standing on the field or seeing myself on the big screen. These are the battles I have fought to win! It has never been about publicity or fame, but about being normal, about not having my life controlled by my weight.

Am I all the way there, nope. I still looked at my pictures from today and cringed at my stomach and my chin, I still fought all the voices in my head last night and this morning about not eating before I went so I wouldnt look fat (sadly my eating disorder won that battle).

But despite that, when I stood there on the field and looked over and saw my trainer standing there I knew I had a lot to be proud of, of how far I have come, that I havent given up in this last year when things arent going as I want and just how lucky I am to have the ability to have people around me who keep me moving when I stall or start moving backwards, who genuinely care and do want to see me win this battle and who have stood by me even when I wasnt making the kind of progress I should be.

Today wasnt about all the fans or the recognition of others, it was about me having that chance to remember where I have come from, what I have accomplished and how lucky I am to have had the chance to walk with some really great people along this journey!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Another View from the Field.....

How many people in the world can say their first professional baseball game they got to stand on the field and have their story told. Very few. I figured last year when it happened at the new Twins stadium that I was one in a million. So I am guessing this year I become one in a zillion?

Because tomorrow my first time at a professional football game I get to re-live the same experience. I am being featured as Lifetime Fitness's "Fit Fan". My story of this entire journey (good and bad) will be in the game book, along with my pictures, I will be down on the field during a break in the second half while my story is told and will be giving away a LTF membership.

Ok so let me say right up front, not a huge football fan, but still am jazzed. The bottom line, this is an experience that few people get to have in their lives, and I have been blessed enough to have it twice!

Anyone who has read my blog knows this hasnt been an easy road, especially the last year or so, the scale isnt moving, and my eating disorder is winning a lot more than it should. But I am proud of the fact that I have hung in there. And I credit having my trainer with a lot of that, for not letting me give up the zillion times I have tried to, and lord knows I have tried and fought him on it *smile*.

As much as this is a recognition by LTF, I am also looking at it as a re-energization (is that a word?) that I really need. A lot of me has fought with should I even be doing this tomorrow, I am up about 15 lbs in the last month (my first real gain since I started this journey) and I a feeling far from a role model these days. But things happen for a reason at a time they are supposed to, and maybe standing there in front of 60,000 people hearing my story is what I need to get myself out of the rut I have been in for way too long.

When the LTF marketing person called me to ask me to do this, she didnt ask me because I have lost a ton of weight, but because my story is unique was her wording, and it is, and I need to remember others fight the plateaus, fight with food and eating disorders and that I am doing this tomorrow to represent THEM.

For anyone local who feels like taking in a game I would love the support, please let me know if you are at the game, no clue where our seats are at yet, but will hve my phone with me. Let me know you are there and I'll find you!

Btw for those who weren't in my life last year when I went to the Twins game here is the post of that experience http://totallypredictableunpredictability.blogspot.com/2010/08/important-lessons-you-can-learn-in-nine.html
I was one in a million.

The following pics are the ones I sent in for the playbook (not sure which they are using)...

February 2009

July 2009

December 2010

September 2011

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The scary blue tarp....

“I have an empathy for horses, when something is scared for their life, I understand that.” - Buck Brannaman

The last few months have afforded me some really amazing experiences. It is hard to believe how many different horses I have ridden in just a few months, the things I have accomplished and how far I have come. It still stops me cold when I think about it. But last night trumps them all. While overall the event I was participating in, a trail riding clinic, was nothing unique or awe inspiring. I found in the middle of it a truly life altering moment.

The clinic was based around learning how to help your horse deal with the challenges they might encouter on a trail ride...crossing obstacles, needing to ground tie, moving objects tied to their saddle and packing.

One of the stations involved working with the horse until they would easily walk across a blue tarp on the ground. Until you've done it it sounds easy.

What few people realize, and what I am still coming to appreciate, is that despite the size of these mighty creatures, they are big babies. As prey animals they see the world as out to get them, their instinct is to flee first and ask questions later, everything is the enemy and safety trumps all. Emotions I get!

To a horse a blue tarp lying on the ground has the potential to be a mortal enemy. It is a different texture and feels weird on their feet, the color stands out against the brown sand, it makes noise and when you step on it...it moves. Death for sure! And when Cody saw it that was his first thought. Him being a school horse I actually thought this might be easier, he's pretty bombproof, but at heart he is still a horse. He saw it and he wanted to be anywhere but there. He started his natural behavior of turning, backing and activating his escape plan. My job, help him realize that this is safe, that we can do this and to trust me enough to not put him in harms way. This is where the moment became magical.

Watching Cody work through his fears gave me real insight into myself. After I worked him into at least checking it out, he sniffed it, he moved it with his foot, he took a tenative step on it. But between each of these he tried to flee. He was getting more comfortable but still wasnt ready to put his safety on the line. It might be ok, but why take the chance it isn't? Even 1% risk was more than made sense to him. Throughout it all I could see him thinking, processing, trying to make sense of it all, trying to understand why he should take the risk. And why was I asking him to do this.

Cody wasnt the only one facing a "blue tarp" yesterday. Like I said, in watching Cody face down his fears I saw a lot of my own. But in my case the blue tarp is food, and my goal of getting through 30 days of consistently eating the right foods and meeting my calorie goals!

I have been doing an awful lot of fleeing lately when it comes to eating, my weight and my fears. I wake up every day saying today I will face it down, I take a tenative step, but each time something spooks me I run, I go back to what is comfortable for me, either not eating or eating the wrong things. Like Cody, each step bring me closer, I try to learn from it, but in the end my need for safety overcomes the lesson. I want to succeed, I want to overcome this, I dont want to live in fear, I dont want to let down the people around me who keep telling me it is ok, that I need to do it, but somehow we still havent found the trick to keep me facing the goal like I have been taught to do with the horse.

I want the same success Cody found. By the end of our work he was not only walking, trotting and backing across the tarp, but did it with confidence and almost a look of "why was I so freaked over this, it's fun". A look I have had many times!

I just hope the people around me will come at this with me the way I did with Cody, with patience yet persistence. Letting him have his room to take those tenative steps, but never letting him give up and never giving up on him. Realizing that fleeing isnt quitting, it is just trying to find the courage to take the next step. Understanding that what seems a simple blue tarp sometimes feels like a dragon waiting to strike.

 I would like to believe someday I can get there with food and my body, but for now, I am still sniffing the edges and ready to bolt!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Have you seen the size of cowboys....

When I was first asked to go riding, my greatest fear wasn't falling, it was hurting the horse. That my weight would be too much for them. That I would step in the saddle and would be so heavy it would pull it off the horse's back was all I thought about.

And I will be honest, I still hesitate everytime I go to mount about the saddle moving because of my weight, but I have come to see it as worrying whether I have the girth tight enough for my weight, not for whether I am too heavy for the saddle or the horse.

Part of the reason, probably the only reason,  I am still riding today, and am so passionate about it, was that on that first day, my riding instructor, Etta, didnt see my weight. She matter of factly looked at me and said "Have you seen the size of cowboys" and in her mind that was that. 

I was a rider, not a number on a scale! I wish the rest of the world saw it so clearly!

I have learned two things about weight and riding in the last 12 weeks....one there is a lot of fat prejudice in the riding community and two there IS a horse out there for everyone to ride, regardless of your size, shape, physical issues. Riding is a totally accessible sport, no matter who you are, and the only ones that find the limits are the humans!

As a friend told me recently, horses dont care how pretty you are or how you look! But we tend to forget that and make judgements for the horses.

It would be easy for me to slip into thinking it is only prejudice against me, and truth I have gone there in the last few weeks. But then I am hit over the head with how it is everywhere. One of the most upsetting experiences I have had recently was sitting at a horse show and hearing another spectator say to the person with them, "God I feel sorry for that horse" as a plus size rider rode by. For the record the horse was MORE than large enough and the woman wasn't any bigger than me, yet these two people felt the need in a public forum to put down someone, who they didn't even know, who had the guts to go show and to follow their passion for no reason other than how it looked.

The ironic part to all this "fat talk" around riding, is that for me, the only time I don't think about my weight is when I am in the saddle. On the back of a horse I am just like everyone else, my body doesnt limit me in any way. It is also the one time the "noise" of my eating disorder isnt running through my head. And after I ride I have a much better relationship with food than I do when I have gone a while without riding. More than once while I was leasing Cheyenne when I was in place where eating was impossible I would pack my lunch and go sit and eat with her. Her lack of judgement of me allowed me to get past all that noise and stupidity I wrestle with around humans. And since ending my lease on her my food has been a mess again. I miss that safe place, but am working on finding another horse to have that soft landing spot with.

I have purposely up to now not blogged about the end of my lease on Cheyenne, I wasnt ready to go there, it has been a hard loss for me. But I feel today like I need to come clean, because my weight was part of the story. I said above, there is a horse out there for everyone to ride, but not every horse is for everyone. Often there are physical limitations of the horse that have to be considered. That was the case with Cheyenne. As an older horse she has back and arthritis issues, and very early on her owner started questioning if my riding her was too much for her. I'm not sure if we will ever really know that answer, how much was horse, how much was human. But for me even the question became dangerous, which is why I ended my lease. Not only out of love for Chey, if there was a 1% chance I was hurting her I would never willingly do that, but also because the question turned on the noise in my head. Every time she mis-stepped I started beating myself up. Every time she didnt want to head down a trail I jumped immediately past it being her being herd sour to it being she doesn't want to carry my weight that far. I found on my rides with her I was still in that dark place, and I couldn't do that to myself. As much as I loved her and still miss her, riding has to stay a positive for me. And watching her owner check her back the second I stepped off, having multiple discussions about how maybe she needed a lighter rider turned on a tape in my head that wasnt sending me in the right direction.

But with all that said, I would be lying if I said walking away has been easy. I have spent the weeks since making the decision in a terrible place with my eating. I have jumped back into ED behaviors I havent fought for 15 years. It hurts knowing that I had to give up something/someone I loved so much merely because I am fat, because I cant seem to lose these last 50 lbs. It has tanked my self esteem big time.

My saving grace has been my riding instructor and the horses at Woodloch. I have been given time with horses far beyond my lessons and just been reminded over and over, that it doesn't matter that one horse wasnt right for me, that there are a million horses out there who are. That I don't need to walk away from my passion because of all this, and also that so much of this is in people's heads not the horse's bodies!

Tomorrow I am going trail riding with a few friends, we will be everything in size and shape from little skinny to big and bearish. The horses will range from tiny to draft. And not one of those horses will care what we look like, how we are dressed, or what the number on the scale says. To them we will all be the same clueless humans who dont get that the grass and the butterflies are their mortal enemies and are going to eat us all alive. And I can't wait!!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Beyond Words....

The wait is measured in weeks,
Then days,
Then hours.
I watch the clock,
is it too soon to go?

Every milestone brings me closer,
35, 14, 61.

I know the steps by heart.
Left at the church,
Through the light,
Past the gas station,
Past the 40 flavors of brats.

150, 160, 165,
A calm comes over me.
I see the sign,
left at 170th,
the world starts to slip away.

Wooden panel,
visitors welcome,
the front pastures come into view.
The routines the same.

Turn off the radio,
Shut out the world,
Into the driveway.
I'm where I belong.

Nothing else matters.

The dance begins,
Lead rope, halter, find my partner.
A nuzzle, a kiss, and its all alright.
The smells, the feelings,
It is better than any drug they can make.

We go through our routine,
Brush, pick, saddle, bridle,
Each step I become more anxious
and more relaxed at the same time.

In between,
Running my hand over strong muscles and through beautiful mane.
Sneaking treats and setting tack,
the world doesn't matter.

My last worry,
My last fight,
My internal battle.

Stupid voices run through my head,
Telling me I shouldn't,
Telling me I'm too fat,
Telling me it's a bad idea,
It's always there.

Somedays I fight through the noise on my own,
other days with help and reassure.

In the saddle and the world is gone.

Tall, proud, in control, relaxed.
In an instant I am transformed.
The strength below me flows into me,
I am strong, I am normal,
I am worthy, I belong.

Somedays we ride in circles.
Trying to find a rhythm.
Trying not to confuse each other,
Trying to learn each others cues.

Other days we escape.
Through the woods,
Through the fields,
The world does not exist,
These are the rides I dream of.

We walk,
We trot,
I am running,
I am free.

Too soon time has flown,
We head for the barn.
I dont want it to end.

Your muscles tense,
We're headed home.
You want to run.
To race to rejoin your world.

My muscles tense,
We're headed home.
I want you to crawl.
To slow rejoining mine.

We end our dance,
And we walk back toward reality.
I feel the tension,
The world is back.

Bridle, halter, saddle,
and another treat.

We say our good byes,
You celebrate
And run for your friends.
I stand and mourn.
Knowing that the wait starts again,
Measured in weeks,

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I forgot to remember I am "broken".....

I think I say this every time, but tonight truly was the best riding lesson I have had yet. It was my third ride on Cody and thanks to some explanation on his movements from my instructor I really started to enjoy trotting with him, and more importantly felt secure doing it. Switching between horses was more of a change than I expected,  but once she helped me realize what I was perceiving as me being out of balance was actually normal for the difference between him and Snapper  I stopped worrying so much and really enjoyed the ride.

BTW for those not on FB trying to figure out why I switched, I "graduated" off Snapper *sniff sniff* and on to Cody. It was a bittersweet change, I am ecstatic I am making progress but Snapper will always be "my guy" and it is weird being on another horse and watching others ride him. I did sneak him some treats tonight, he'll always have my heart even if my saddle is elsewhere! But I have to admit, Cody is more fun to ride!

It is hard to believe it has only been about 12 weeks now I have been riding, I cant remember life without horses (nor can I imagine ever being that way again) but being the Type A, over achiever, perfectionist I am, I of course questioned my instructor on if I was where I should be. Especially since I have switched reining styles now 3 times between horses (neck to direct and now back to neck) and feel like my hands are a "hot mess" at times. She had some really nice feedback and for once I actually believed someone was being honest with me and not just blowing smoke, but so much more happened in that conversation. For the first time in 15 years I actually forgot I am "broken" (my right side).

As Etta was going over my progress she pointed out that I was ahead of where many adults are who don't have my physical challenges. And as bizarre as this is going to sound (and it was to me when I realized it). For a brief moment I had no clue what she meant by my challenges. I actually had to stop and remind myself about the nerve damage!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It was in that moment that I realized how much riding has changed me, to my core. As I thought about it during the rest of the lesson, it hit me, I haven't thought about my right side issues and riding in weeks, probably since the lesson early on where we worked on mounting. When I am in the saddle I no longer think about do I squeeze unevenly or am I not kicking as well on one side, or any of that. I truly think of myself as a normal rider, and for me that is BEYOND huge.

And as I pondered that change, it hit me, that while riding was the trigger for this, it hasn't stopped there. I knew I had changed in the gym lately also, wanting to try new things, wanting to see what my body would do (like our tire adventure on Tuesday) but what I hadn't pieced together, was that I no longer consider my right side in the equation!

Don't get me wrong, there are still things about my body I find challenging and frustrating...my balance isn't what I would like it to be, I cant move my feet and legs fast enough (something Snapper and I seem to have in common...LOL), I have an immense fear of falling. But the difference, when I come against those challenges now, I just see them as part of my body, I don't think about one side versus the other, and more than that, I don't think of them as being the result of the nerve damage, and I haven't in a while now.

I wont lie, the weight is taking me longer to not think about. I still have that moment every time I mount the horse, where I make someone check the girth, not because I don't think I have it tight enough, but because in my mind I still weigh too much and fear stepping into the stirrup and pulling the saddle off the horse.  And I still struggle with it in the gym, when my trainer goes to help me with something my first thought is I am going to hurt him if he has to catch me. But I can honestly say once I am on Cody or Snapper, even my weight goes away. I don't think about it, I forget I weigh over 200 lbs or that there are people who think I am too fat to ride.

Once I am in that saddle I am normal, I am just like everyone else and after 15 years of living as the outsider, that is a greater gift than I could have ever asked for!

Today I truly forgot to remember I am "broken" and never thought that moment would come!!!!!!

Monday, August 8, 2011

It's not the same....it's just not the same.....

I love my friends, they try to say the right things when I am hurting. But there is one thing I just can't stay quiet about anymore. Whenever I am hurting over something related to my weight, like I am right now, all the thin people in my world want to tell me they know how I feel because they were teased growing up for being too skinny.

As much as I get that everyone has their pain, that bullying is bullying and hurts no matter why it is happening. It isn't the same being too thin as being too heavy. Skinny people are teased, questioned, sometimes even pitied or accused of being unhealthy, but heavy people are not just teased and ridiculed, we are also judged. By people who have never met us, by people who know nothing about our behaviors, our health issues or our story.

I had originanlly planned this post only to go in my personal blog, but decided to put it here for everyone to see, in support of the other people in my life who I know share the pain I have....I am posting this here for those that do truly get it because they have lived it.

It's not the Same....

I know you care,
I know you want to make my heart stop hurting,
I know you believe our pain is the same,
but it's not the same, it's just not.

While you were questioned, teased, or bullied
for being a skinny child or a thin teen,
your story is very different than mine,
it's not the same, it's just not.

You were told by your parents no one would ever love you because of your weight,
You were never mocked by your father for making the house shake when you tried to exercise,
You were never told by your favorite uncle that when you walked above him in his house it sounded like an elephant,
it's not the same, it's just not.

You never had to skip trying out for a sports team or a play or taking ballet for no other reason than they didn't make the uniforms and costumes in a size you could wear,
You never had to stay home while your friends went to the amusement park because you couldnt fit on the rides,
You never had to stand and watch while your friends played on their big wheels or toy cars because if you sat on them they would break,
it's not the same, it's just not.

You have never sat on a bench and had it flip over when the person on the other end got up,
You have never had a lawn chair break under you in front of your friends,
You have never had people make fun of how your car tilts to one side when you are in it,
it's not the same, it's just not.

You have never had to face the look of someone coming down the aisle on an airplane who realizes you are the "passenger of size" in the seat next to them,
Or watch when they go tell the flight attendant they want to sit somewhere else,
You have never returned a rental car because you cant fit behind the wheel, or fear getting on an airplane because the belt wont fit,
it's not the same, it's just not.

You have never had to drive yourself to the hospital with a life threatening illness, because you knew the paramedics couldnt easily carry you down the three flights of stairs,
You have never had a doctor refuse to diagnose what is truly wrong with you because they are too busy blaming it on your weight,
You have never been too big to fit in the MRI machine or a wheelchair,
it's not the same, it's just not.

You have never had someone see you eating desert and comment on how you dont need that, without knowing anything about you,
You have never had some critique the food in your grocery cart despite them having the same in theirs,
You have never had people assume all you do is eat, when you havent eaten in days to try to drop a couple pounds,
it's not the same, it's just not.

You have never had to fear learning to ride because you are afraid stepping in the saddle might pull it off the horse,
You have never passed up riding a friend's horse, because you cant sit in their saddle,
And most of all you have never had to say good-bye to a piece of your heart, your best friend, because your weight is too much for her to bear.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Snapper Photos

"A horse is the projection of people's dreams  about themselves; strong, powerful, beautiful and it has the capability of giving us escape from our mundane existance" Pam Brown


This story is published in "Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul" and was written by Jennie Ivey.

I read it and cried and cried, because in so many ways this is MY story. Thank you to Etta for being my "Pat" and to Snapper for being my "Buttermilk"

"Ellen was a fat girl.
She didn't start out that way. but by the time she was halfway through elementary school her lack of coordination and competitive spirit had made her the laughing stock of her more athletic peers.

No matter the game, Ellen was alway chosen last. Chosen last in kickball, because she couldn't catch or run. Chosen last in badminton, because she had never once managed to hit the birdie over the net. Chosen last in red rover, a game even a klutz ought to be able to play>

Junior High was worse.
There was a real physical education class instead of mere playground games, and every day Ellen suffered the indignation of not being able to shoot a basketball through a hoop or skip rope without tripping or even perform a respectable side-straddle hop.

And so she turned to food for comfort.
By the time she started high school at age fourteen, five foot five Ellen was tipping the scales at almost 200 pounds.

Her family's efforts to help her lose weight did no good. She turned up her nose a the special salads her mother fixed for her. She refused her father's invitations to take brisk walks with him. She ignored her sister's warning that a girl her size would never have a boyfriend.

Ellen would toss her head and roll her eyes at her family. Then she'd grab a bag of potato chips or a box of cookies and flounce on the recliner in the den, where she's spend hours lost in the pages of a book.

More than anything, she loved to read about horses. And that's what finally gave Ellen's father a brilliant idea.

'There's a woman at work who's loookinng for a stable hand' he told Ellen one evening. 'Someone to feed her horses and clean the stalls and things like that. I told her you might be interested in the job.'

'She wouldn't want me', Ellen replied.
'Why not?'
'Because I have never been near a horse'
'I told her that. But I also told her you've been reading about them all your life. She's willing to teach you everything from the ground up. And she's offered to pay minimum wage and let you ride whenever you want'

Ride? Ellen's heart beat faster. Somebody was actually offering to let her ride a real horse?

Don't be silly, the voice inside her whispered. Had Dad not told this woman that his daughter was a clumsy tub of lard who could barely keep her balance on a bicycle?
No way would she be strong or coordinated enough to ride a horse. And pity the poor animal that had to carry her weight on his back.

'I told her we'd drop by her place Saturday morning to see about it' her father said.
So that was that.

Pat Cunningham lived on a small farm not far from town.
Dressed in jeans and cowboy boots, she was waiting for Ellen and her father as they pulled into the gravel driveway.

'So you're the girl who loves horses' she said to Ellen, smiling and holding out her hand. 'C'mon lets me show you around'

She lead Ellen to the barn and gestured toward a wheel-barrow and manure fork. 'Every day, these stalls have to be mucked out and then spread with fresh sawdust. The water and feed buckets get scrubbed and filled, the tack room swept and tidied, the gates and fences checked. Think you're up to it?'

'Um...I guess so' Ellen stammered.
'Good,' Pat replied. 'The school bus comes right by here every afternoon. When you're done with the chores I'll run you home in my truck'
'Where are the horses' Ellen asked shyly.
'Oh yes the horses' Pat said. She gave a long, low whistle and within seconds, two beautiful horses trotted up to the barnyard gate.

Pat pointed to the bay gelding. 'That's Thunder. Don't let his name scare you. He's as gentle as a lamb. And the sweet mare beside him is Buttermilk. Which one do you want to ride first?'

Before Ellen could protest, Pat had the horses hitched to the fence posts.
She showed Ellen how to lift their feet and use a hoof pick to dislodge sticks  and rocks from around their shoes.
She showed her how to use their currycomb and finishing brush and how to remove cockleburrs from their manes.
Finally she showed her how to pu on blanket and saddle, bridle and bit

'I'd like you to ride at least one of them every day you're here,' Pat said 'Both, if you have time. They really need the exercise'

Ellen felt tears welling up in her eyes. How could she tell this kind woman that she was nothing but a fat girl who had no earthly idea how to ride a horse?

'But, I've never...never actually been on a horse. All I've ever done is read about them.'
'Then it's high time you learned', Pat said. 'Stand there beside buttermilk and put your left foot in the stirrup. Then bounce a couple of times on your right foot and spring into the saddle'

But try as she might, Ellen couldn't stretch her leg high enough to get her foot anywhere near the stirrup.
'Hold on a second' Pat told her. 'Let's try the milk crate'. She fetched it from the barn and helped Ellen climb into onto Buttermilk's broad back.

'There are a couple things to remember. Heels down. Hands on the reins like so. Relax. This is supposed to be fun! Now follow me.'
Pat swung into Thunder's saddle and headed toward the pasture. Buttermilk followed, with Ellen gripping the reins so tightly that her knuckles turned white.
But it didn't take her long before she began to relax. Pat was right. This was fun. In fact, Ellen couldn't remember when she'd ever had such a good time.

Pat showed her how to go from a walk to a trot, and promised that she'd be cantering in just a short time. 'You're a natural' she told Ellen. 'I'm sure lucky to have run across you.'

So Ellen became a stablehand. Every day after school, she cleaned stalls and scrubbed buckets and swept the floor of the tack room. After that she rode. Some days she rode Thunder. Other days she rode Buttermilk. On good days she rode them both.

As the days turned into weeks and the weeks to months, Ellen the fat grils slowly evolved into Ellen the equestrian. Her flab became muscle and her clumsiness, grace. She glowed with self-confidence that was obvious to all around her.

It was near the end of the school year when a heavyset girl sat down beside Ellen on the bus one afternoon.
'My name is Stacy. I hear you work with horses' the girl said hesitantly. 'Do you need an assisitant? I've never ridden before, but I read abou horses all the time.'
'Why dont you get off here with me and we'll go talk to my boss' Ellen said, smiling to herself. She was pretty sure what Pat's answer would be.
'We're lucky to have run across you, Stacey. Who do you want to ride first - Thunder or Buttermilk"

Friday, July 29, 2011

Photo Shoot with Cheyenne....

I was lucky enough to get to have photos done of Cheyenne and I, by Bailey at B. Olson Photography. This is a just a sneak peak of the amazing photos she took!!!!