I started putting on weight after I left a dream job. By “dream job” I mean, the kind of job that made me the toast of cocktail parties. The kind of job that literally, one out of every three people I knew or met, would say, “you have my dream job.”
It was in professional sports. It was demanding. It was exciting. It was backbreaking. It was glamorous. But it was just a job. At the end of the day, my thought, not my response though, when someone said, “you have my dream job” was, “you need better dreams.”
Anyway, after I left, I started gaining weight. I hadn’t changed my eating or drinking habits. I was a bit more sedentary, but not that much. The reality was, my metabolism was changing as I moved into mid-life, and I didn’t realize it.
Inside my head I was still 25, half of my actual age. I don’t think I’m the only one whose self-image has nothing to with reality. I wrote a short story that included a passage discussing the cognitive dissonance between self-perception and chronological reality.
“Marty looked up, startled by his reflection in the bathroom mirror, experiencing the shock of waking from a deep slumber, drowsily groping for the light switch on the wall and, for a nanosecond, glimpsing a stranger in the mirror.”
Without understanding the age-related changes taking place, all I knew was my weight became a huge source of shame. My self-confidence was already tenuous as I realized how much of my identity I derived from my “dream job”. For my wife Caroline, my weight became a convenient explanation for the chasm between me and rest of family.
“I’m worried about your health. I like walking and bike-riding. They’re really important to me. They’re really important to your daughters and I want someone I can share that with, into old age.”
The psychology of shame is tricky, For some, my wife for example, a New England Yankee it isn’t tricky. You have a problem? Pick yourself up by your bootstraps and fix it.
Life is a tad more complicated for me. And others. If everyone was like Caroline I suspect there’d be no self-help industry. There’d be no “weight doctor” for me to go to and spend hundreds of dollars for naught.
Some people handle their shame by spiraling into a worse place, engaging in behaviors that feed the sources of their pain. That was where I eventually ended up.
Through therapy, I no longer consider my shame a taboo subject. That transformation has allowed me to put the causes in perspective. To develop a gameplan. To stop being harder on myself than I am with everyone else in my life.
And maybe, most importantly to give myself a chance.
And, that’s what I’m doing.