April 24, 2007

External Measures (Pink Scale)

I gave my bathroom scale to Purple Heart not too long ago. We had an unhealthy relationship. It was a hand-me-down, pink and old. It kept perfect balance. Every time I went to the doctor the weight they found me there was the same weight my pink scale at home was showing. Yeah, so it had to go.

My bathroom scale was bossy. Coupled with my brain, it was strident, cruel, uncompromising and unbelievably intolerant. When I own a bathroom scale, especially an accurate one, my brain gets in cahoots with it and the next thing I know I'm listening to that team of undue criticism spurting venom at me each morning. It's amazing how the flattest item in the home can tower so. I shoved it in with the stack of unused children's toys and old clothes on the front porch one morning and the man came and took it. I put it out there very last of all because as I said, my brain was in cahoots with it and there's always doubt and a struggle.

Sometimes I think I have a problem with being measured in most any capacity. It gives me the sweats. Just the phrase "being measured" means that an outside source, a foreigner to my self, is taking a hard look at me and is about to tell me exactly how I fall in some bell curve. I was never a good test-taker. I'm sorry, I'm just not one of those people who like to show others what I'm made of. I could run a race and see who won. That's objective, it's empirical evidence, hard facts. No judgement necessary, just demonstration. But when it came to tests, I often dreaded and sweated funneling what I'd learned into a 25 item obstacle course of questions and then having a grade dropped back under my nose: You know 83.5% of everything I asked you today. Honestly, I'm not sure it's ever necessary for a soul to know exactly where it falls on a bell curve. Furthermore, maybe that's my problem. I keep insisting that I'm a soul - the immaterial essence, animating principle of an individual life... the spiritual principle embodied in human beings, all rational and spiritual beings, or the universe, according to Merriam Webster. And all the while, the world keeps insisting that I'm one of them and I must be measured. When you're a citizen, other citizens have to know exactly where you fall on the bell curve. It's as simple as that.

On the bell curve of weight, I fall right within the proper allotment of poundage for my height. You'd think this would delight me, but not really. My brain also has another nasty partner, one it stumbled onto when I was 16: bulimia. Let me take this moment for a public service announcement.

Warning to all brains: Don't do it. This is a partner that is reluctant to leave the floor, long after you are done dancing. And it's a violent dancer. Think Foxtrotting with Wolves.
The telltale bulimic behavior stopped, for me, 20 years ago, but the thought patterns have worn slippery, muddy paths through my brain. Standing on a scale is a trail head, a venture. Loose rocks ahead. The jaunt may turn slippery, dark and perilous. Recently I fell into one of these rabbit holes and finally, after a year or so of struggling with this sticky team, I had to sacrifice one half of it on my front porch. And the spell was largely broken. For now, the wolves have gone scampering back to their lairs.

I wonder how others deal with the scale. When I see the numbers on the scale in the morning, I regard that assessment and am gravely convicted to do something about it that day. It doesn't matter if it is a "good" number or a "bad" number, really. A good number only means there is something essential to protect and enhance, and so hyper vigilance is the order of the day, lest I be foolish and celebrate. A bad number can be all but crushing. It means I've failed. It means I have clean-up duty and shame. It means my self, my soul, becomes less important than a number. As one could imagine, this situation does not lend itself to healthy eating habits. Possessing a B.S. in Nutrition does little to defend my panicky self from the situation. In fact, it makes the struggle wilder.

Since I've had time to ruminate without my brain's evil partner panting there on the bathroom floor, I've been thinking about external measures in general. By external measures I mean finding feedback about yourself from people or devices or scales rather than from your inner knowing or from your God. Sure, we live in a society and there is responsibility to others and a natural flow of signals that tell us when we may be veering into dangerous or offending territory. But we know that's not what I'm talking about here. Since pink scale is gone I've been eating less. I've lost weight, I think, because my jeans are loose. How, after being frantic and freaked about my weight for over a year, carefully measuring my heft every day, does it happen that the weight falls off when the scale is gone? Internal measures.

When I am not so distracted by meeting external marks, I listen to internal appetites and thirsts. I relax a bit, quit jumping up for the carrot over and over and over, with my nose in the air and my feet trampling messily on the things below. I allow the thought Carrots may not be all that to bubble up into the realm of possibility for a moment. Yes, there are more important things than carrots. My day shouldn't be about carrots. More room to ask, "Well, what could my day be about?" And before I know it, my day begins to be rich with things for which my soul yearns, not just my pitiful bell-curved self stumbling around out there alone. Sometimes that's love, sometimes that's work, sometimes that's rest, sometimes that's chocolate. I can also look at my tummy and think, "Hm. That's kind of nice," without the deep growl of pink scale. And when I'm happier about my tummy - when I AM happy with tummy - then there's not such a need for stuffing a bag of tortilla chips in solitude and more of a fountain of sweetness flowing from within to share with others.

I see so many parallels. Learning without constant grading and assessing...playing without the burden of competition...working hard simply to be well-pleased with an outcome...giving without taking...loving without conditions. Being soulful outside a bell curve.


Anita said...

With some great stroke of luck, I've stumbled over here from Michele's place.

Your writing style is fabulous, but I also really relate to what you are saying. I, too, am normal weight and a slave to my scale. And you've captured every thought I've ever had about it in a fabulous essay.

rosemary said...

Ditto what Anita said...If I gained a few pounds I was bad..lost a few I was good...good food and bad food...ruined many days. My weight has nothing to do with what makes me me....just externally.

Paul said...

I was going to make a cute remark, but your first two readers are so well-captured by your article that I'm afraid I'd be insulting them--and you, too.

[We're you being sarcastic on my blog? Please don't tell me that if we outlaw butterflies, only outlaws will have butterflies. Oh, boy. What next?]

Shephard said...

This post has to be why Michele chose to spotlight your blog. Very insightful and sincere and painfully honest.

I'm on a similar path with the Dr. Oz program for 6 months. I have struck a balance with it, and it's working. I'm on my own schedule, no bell-curve, no comparison, and no damn pink scale! The progress alone is not the source of my happiness, but the feeling of finally hearing my own internal guidance & measures. Reading your post was a nice affirmation. Thanks for sharing something that has to be very intimate and personal. I appreciated reading it.