I’ve been running my whole life. I don’t mean that I have been putting my feet to the pavement and racking up the miles in races. Nope. Until about two years ago running wasn’t a physical activity for me. It was an emotional one.
Internalization was a lesson I learned young and perfected by my teenage years. Anger in my house was an emotion that bred dysfunction and abuse. It was the fuel behind volatile emotionally abusive fights and my family’s inability to deal with anger in constructive and rational ways was the catalyst for another emotion that I’ve never been able to deal with well, resentment.
I learned not to express anger in an effort to avoid uncomfortable confrontations. I learned to fear anger because the wrath of the women in my family was so emotionally, verbally and physically abusive that making sure they were never angry, which meant never being angry yourself, was a well-known goal between the men and children in our family.
But when things start happening that make us angry and we don’t learn to deal with it, to talk through it and get past it, we are left with resentment. The strange thing about resentment is that it’s a very private emotion. It has almost no impact on the person it is directed towards because they rarely know that it exists. Instead it resides deep within us causing internal discontent.
When our life is filled with negativity we start trying to run from it. When my marriage started falling apart because I harbored so much resentment towards him for all the financial problems we had, all the lying he had done and all the pain he had caused me there was no fight or flight reaction in me, it was only flight, running away was always my answer. So I buried myself in my own little world of online escapism. I buried myself in work. I stuffed my feelings with food. This was me running away.
I’ve previously wrote about night I discovered my love for running. It was the night before my Father passed away. What I don’t talk about is the horrible fight I had with my Mother the night before that. I’ve never gone into details about how I almost left the house and got back on a plane because she wouldn’t allow me to disengage from a verbal fight she wanted to pick with me. I’d never wanted to run away so bad in my whole life. Here I was in a house I swore I would never go back to. A house that was full of memories that had haunted me for most of my life.
But my life was different now. I’d had weight loss surgery; I’d lost 155 lbs and though I still had another 100 lbs to lose I was taking my life back from the dark grasp of obesity that not being able to express anger and deal with resentment had led me too.
I didn’t know what to do to make myself feel better. I hadn’t really gotten to the stage where I had learned to start developing healthy coping skills. I knew I couldn’t go back to any of the old ones, especially food but I knew that if I left the house to exercise I could get away.
I ran for the first time that night. The 4th of July under the fireworks of Los Angeles, CA and somehow, the faster I ran and the further I went, the more free I felt. I put on music and found that it helped me feel my feelings. Something amazing happened that night. Right then and there I became a different type of runner.
I might not have been moving very fast. I still don’t run very fast, but that was the moment that the runner in me was reborn. Being a runner for me isn’t about a 8 or 10 minute mile, it’s about taking the time to feel my feelings, it’s about having a healthy coping mechanism, it’s about having time to collect my thoughts and gather my words so I can communicate them to others and deal with them rather than being burdened with resentment.
People often ask me why I run. I run because it’s my healthy addiction. I run because I made a deal with my father when he was leaving this world that I would spend time with him and talk to him when I exercise. I run because it keeps me close to my father. I run because in truth I have always ran I’ve just found a way to turn what was once a negative emotional exercise of running away into a positive physical activity that helps me maintain my weight loss and my sanity. I run because it’s how I modified an unhealthy behavior into a healthy one and that Slender Seekers is what healthy lifestyle changes are all about.
Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies and Motivational Speaker studying to become a Certified Personal Trainer.
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Last week I received an email from the Outreach Coordinator at a company called Oscar Insurance who provides health insurance in New York and New Jersey. They were looking for influential bloggers to write about their Health Hero, a person in their life that helps them stay on track and stay healthy as part of their campaign to help spread the news about their new approach to healthcare.
I’m not the type to take the word “Hero” lightly. When I say someone is my hero it’s because they are someone who I look up to. A hero to me is someone who has by some act or another saved me. When you ask me who my Health Hero is, there is really only one true answer: Chris and Heidi Powell.
When you name someone famous as your hero usually you come off sounding like an obsessed fan. But the truth is though I am a fan, a big fan, I’m a fan because of how they have both helped me through some of the darkest moments of my life and encouraged me into the light during times that nobody else could.
Losing my father halfway through my weight loss journey was devastating
My Father was the champion of my weight loss journey. His concern for me at 420 lbs., being treated for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, clinical depression and sleep apnea and not wanting him to leave the world uncertain of how long I would be left in it was what propelled me to try to make some health changes.
Although I was still motivated to lose my weight, not having him there to say “I’m proud of you,” and cheer me on along the way left me feeling alone in what felt like the hardest journey I was ever going to take.
Around this time I wrote to Chris Powell for the first time expressing how much I admired him and what he does on his show and how much I desired to help others lose weight by becoming a Personal Trainer myself. I was so ecstatic when he responded to that letter and told me how awesome he thought I was. Having him say he was proud of me, not just for losing the weight but for the emotional obstacles I had overcome was the closest thing I could image to hearing my Father tell me he was proud of me.
Now I hated my body more than I ever had
I think many of us affected by obesity start out thinking that if we get skinny all of our problems will be solved. Since I was a little girl I believed that if I wasn’t “fat” my life would be much better. Boys would like me, girls wouldn’t bully me, people wouldn’t stare at me and kids wouldn’t make fun of me.
As an adult the same disillusionment that wouldn’t be so unhappy if I wasn’t so horrifically overweight followed me. Once I lost my weight I was startled to realize that I wasn’t any happier with the version of me I saw in the mirror than I was before I had lost my weight. Even though I had reversed all of the health conditions that obesity had caused me I still needed to deal with the depression and my new struggles issues with body image.
Luckily watching Chris Powell’s show Extreme Weight Loss had somewhat prepared me for this. His approach to total transformation and how in order to change your body you had to change your mind helped me start to wrap my head around food addictions and helped me start to understand why I hated my body so much. The realization that as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I associated my body with what had been done to me was a huge part of my transformation process.
The day Chris Powell became my Hero
I spent a year doing several rounds of reconstructive plastic surgery to have the skin removed thinking that I could cut it off and get rid of what I now considered the remnants of my abusers. But no matter how many surgeries I had, there was always some evidence of the fact that I once weighed over four hundred pounds. The day I realized that those old ghosts still haunted me was one of the darkest moments in my life.
In a moment of panic I reached out to Chris again via Facebook and asked him to read a blog I had written, “If you’re still hearing my voice I could use a pep talk right now.” Once again he replied.
“Pandora you have come so far. Never forget that! I am still so proud of you. I hope you won’t give power to those who hurt you in the past and still haunt you. It is YOUR body. You have achieved much but the journey continues doesn’t it? When you look at yourself in the mirror I want you to see what YOU have accomplished not what the past may still try to remind you of.”
I’m not sure there was anyone else that could have said those words that I would have been able to hear them from. Sometimes we’re not ready to hear a message no matter how much truth it contains. I honestly believe that Chris saved me that day with his words. Had he not answered me I’m not sure that I would have learned the lessons his words contained and I might have spiraled into very unhealthy place.
In a moment in my life where I literally felt like my past was burying me alive his words were the little bit of oxygen I needed to get me through as I started to dig my way out. He taught me to stop giving power to people who didn’t deserve it and to give that power to myself instead by learning to love myself, to appreciate and be proud of what I saw in the mirror because it clearly displayed how far I had come.
The Powell’s continue to be a pillar in my journey to a healthier mind and body
In the next year I got the opportunity to meet him and his wife Heidi Powell, who I instantly connected with because we shared the commonality of both having recently lost our fathers.
As time has passed there have been a couple other times that I’ve reached out to them. Sometimes I just need to hear them say they are proud of me.
When I was struggling with the number I was seeing on the scale after my last round of reconstructive plastic surgery and was emotionally paralyzed with the fear of re-gain, it took Chris telling me to stay off the scale and let my body heal for it to sink in.
In the last year or so I haven’t needed them as much in those ways because the lessons that they have taught me have stuck with me. They’ve added tools to my weight loss journey tool box that have left me better armed and now, my journey continues through my job as a weight loss and wellness coach and through sharing what I have learned with my clients.
But almost every day I see a post from Chris or Heidi that affects my life; A water check-in that asks me if I’ve drank half my body weight in ounces of water or a post asking me what exercise I plan on doing for the day that reminds me to move.
During the seasons of Extreme Weight Loss I keep my gym here in North Carolina open late so my clients and I can spend time on cardio machines watching the show together and Chris and Heidi are always sure to take the time to give me and my clients a virtual high-five to encourage us.
I’m constantly sharing posts from Heidi that I know have messages that will help others affected by obesity when they find themselves in those dark places that I was once in. Articles about body image issues, self-acceptance, a new workout routine or a healthy recipe that sounds delicious and makes you not feel so deprived.
Being a blogger it shouldn’t be so amazing to me that having only meet Chris and Heidi Powell once, their correspondence with me via social media outlets has enabled them to be such a huge part of my life. Everything they have done for me, the support they have given me, the constant encouragement and motivation they provide hasn’t only helped me stay on track with my health but has made me a better coach and helped me help others stay on track with theirs.