Friday, June 18, 2010
That's me, age 22. It wasn't too long after that picture was taken that this all began. It's been nearly 13 years to get where I am today and though it took patience and persistence, it was worth every step of that journey. I guess the specific moment I snapped was the morning I went to my mother's house to do my laundry. Out of curiosity I stepped on the scale in her bathroom. I had to lean over to look past my stomach to see that I weighed 257 pounds. I had no idea how I had let it happen.
When I graduated from high school, I probably weighed about 215. I was stout, but I at least engaged in some sort of physical activity. Whether it was playing basketball in my friend's driveway or bowling after school, I managed to keep my sloth in check. This all changed when I graduated and went off to college. I didn't learn much the first time I went to college because I majored in pretending-to-go-to-class-by-going-to-the-mall-and-playing-video-games. Add to this lifestyle my preference for power-eating entire boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese while slaking my thirst incessantly with Mountain Dew and it's easy to see how out of control I was. But that's not the whole story.
The truth of the matter was that I was miserable. Looking back on it now, I don't know the exact cause of my depression, but that's surely what it was. I went from being a fairly adjusted high school graduate to a college newcomer who hated his school and just about everything else within 6 months. During my senior year, I had been the vice-president of our school's chapter of SADD (back then it was just Students Against Driving Drunk) and had never even sipped alcohol. By the time I got to winter break of my first semester at Rhode Island College, I was drinking regularly and smoking cigarettes. The only thing bigger than my wasitline at that point was my apathy.
I withdrew from college by the middle of the spring semester. I worked full time for a few years and continued to gain weight due to my horrible eating habits, lack of exercise, and smoking. That morning that I got on that scale, though, was a wake-up call. I snapped. After getting off the scale I marched down the hall and furiously took my clothes out of the dryer and threw them disgustedly into the basket. I went out to my car and slammed the door, rolled down the window, and lit a cigarette.
As I raced down Nate Whipple Highway, I smoked like a chimney. I had about half a pack of cigarettes left that I intended to ceremoniously inhale and as I pulled into the bicycle shop parking lot I flicked the last butt out the window. I walked in and looked around for a few minutes before I saw a Mongoose mountain bike hybrid that I liked. Without the least hesitation I slammed my credit card onto the counter and told the gentleman behind the counter that I wanted "that bike." He helped me out and I stuffed it into the backseat of my 84 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.
When I got home about half an hour later, I ran into the house and quickly changed. I came back outside, unloaded the bike determined to ride from my house to the border of Massachusetts and back--what amounts to a massive five miles. I remember thinking as I left, "What's five miles on a bike?"
When you're 75 pounds overweight and a smoker--a lot.
As I got to the border of MA, I was dying. Rhode Island is nothing like Florida when it comes to terrain. RI is a continuous series of hills and valleys; FL is flat. In another stroke of brilliance, I decided that I should take a short rest by walking my bike across the street (apparently I still thought I was 7 years old at the moment); this was the worst mistake I could have made. In between all the pumping and churning of my legs, I hadn't noticed the queasiness in my stomach. As soon as I took my feet off the pedals, I threw the bike into the grass and started dry heaving. It was a solid 5 minutes before I could control the retching. When I was done, however, I was still determined to finish and I sped home as fast as I could. By the time I got there, I was so exhausted that I opened my sliding glass door, placed the box fan in front of the screen, and passed out from utter fatigue on the living room carpet.
The next day, I did it again. Over the course of that spring, 5 miles a day became 7. Then 10. Then 12. Then 15. By mid-June I was riding my bike 20 miles a day. Some days if I felt I had the energy, I would do 20 miles in the early morning before work and then do another 20 when I got home in the evening. It got to the point that if I could take my bike somewhere rather than my car, I would. One day I even went to my friend's office in Foxboro, MA, which was at least 30 miles each way, maybe more. I started to eat better (or what I thought was better, back then) and slowly began to lose weight. In the first three months I lost about 25 pounds, but I was still heavier than I had been when I graduated high school. Over time, though, I managed to get where I wanted to be.
Anyone can do this. Whether it is losing weight, quitting smoking, extricating yourself from a bad relationship, we all have the power to change--especially ourselves. And it won't happen overnight. If you are committed to change, you have to also be committed to perseverance. I believe these are inseparable, perhaps even symbiotic. There is so much that I have learned about life in general and myself specifically since that time. Nearly 13 years have passed since that I day I stood before that mirror, pissed as hell at what I had let myself become. When I left that bathroom I knew I never wanted to see that person again. Not because I was overweight; that was a symptom of the problem. My real problem, my real enemy, was my apathy. But that deep urge to change is what saved me. What started out as a bike ride for health ended up being the impetus to my metamorphosis. The genesis of a new me...
But the way out of my former life, the exodus one might say, was a much longer road than I had anticipated. It certainly was a struggle filled with sacrifice, but success sure is sweet.
Keep chipping away,