The Weight is Over – Week 63: Strength, Meet Vulnerability

I come by my strength naturally. I am the eldest of four girls (yes, I’m a twin, but those seven minutes make a huge difference). From about age 9 on, I assumed the head paternal/maternal role after our father split and our mother grew increasingly incapacitated. And after our mother died, and my sisters and I entered a foster home when I was 12, I was still the eldest; this time of 15 kids.

I was strong and self-sufficient. I was loathe to ask for help. Granted, it was a fairly masculine way of dealing with the world, but it worked. I was tough and I got stuff done. I trusted myself more than anyone.  I preferred working alone to being part of a team. I knew I could count on me; not so sure about the others.

If someone – especially a stranger, especially a man – asked if they could help me, I had a pat answer: No thanks, I’ve got it. 

I write all of the above in the past tense because I’m pleased to say that in addition to embarking upon this life-saving health-and-fitness journey with Matthew Lister at Align Private Training, these last 14 months have taught me that one of the best things I could do for myself was to let go of the idea of going it alone.

Little by little I’ve experimented with asking for help. True, the most recent times were because the situations were so dire (to me) that they pushed me far beyond my comfort zones. The first event had to do with rats that found their way from beneath my house through the sub-floor knotholes into a drawer full of carb-foods I’d not eaten for more than a year.

I could hear rats – plural rats – chomping inside that drawer. By the way, did I mention I had Airbnb guests coming in less than 48 hours?

I. Freaked. Out.

I called my son in the Czech Republic who talked me off a ledge. I called my twin who drove over right away. I called one of my favorite handymen after hours who came late in the evening to patch the rat entrance. I called my eldest son late at night in Cottonwood after I realized that both rat traps had snapped. (He arrived with a gun, for dramatic flair.) And when I trapped a rat in the garage, and couldn’t bring myself to deal with it, I called upon a friend/neighbor who sauntered down the street and asked me to hold his cup of coffee as he disposed of the rat. Everyone I called upon came to my rescue in my hour of need. I felt – I still feel – supremely grateful.

Most recently I had another similar situation, but this time the “emergency” was a dead opossum in my swimming pool. No amount of self-talk could convince myself to fish that opossum’s dog-sized carcass from my pool.

My solution was to post a plea on Facebook that offered a homemade coffee cake and a jar of lemon curd to whomever would deal with the opossum cadaver for me.

OMG. That post had more than 100 comments, many of which were from people (mainly guys) who said they’d gladly take care of the opossum. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t figure out why someone would actually step up to do that. Many of them even said I didn’t need to give them a coffee cake, that they’d just dispose of the opossum without promise of any gifts.

What the what!?

It was as if it made them feel good to be needed. I know that feeling, because I like to help others, but setting myself up to be a recipient of someone’s help and generosity was a foreign matter.

As it turned out, the most-lovely Lori Whitmore kindly volunteered her most-handsome husband, T.J. Whitmore, who did the deed.

Look at this photo. Have you ever seen a guy look so happy? (T.J., not the opossum.)

TJ Whitmore was Doni's hero when he fished this dead opossum from her swimming pool.

T.J. Whitmore was Doni’s hero when he fished this dead opossum from her swimming pool.

Here’s what I know about myself: If I learn after the fact that someone close to me has struggled with something that would have been up my alley to assist with (preparing food, for example; not dealing with rats or dead animals), then I feel kind of ticked, even hurt, that they didn’t reach out to me for help.

It never dawned upon me that others might feel the same way about me. Obviously, I was operating under a double standard.

And here’s what else I’ve noticed: The more I ask for help – and receive it – the stronger and yes, even more secure, I feel. It’s bizarre.

My first baby step to asking for some of the most serious help of my life happened in December of 2015 when I reluctantly/fearfully/hopefully walked through the doors of Align Private Training and asked Matthew R. Lister for help. I was unfit, pre-diabetic, overweight and underhappy. doni-at-her-worst-2015

When Matthew told me it was time to shift the focus from helping others to helping myself, I cried.

No doubt he gets that a lot. (If you missed last week’s enlightened conversation between Matthew R. Lister and Diane B. Hill, they touched a bit on the whole topic of vulnerability and trust there, too.)

The bonus to my work at Align is that my 14-month transformation is about so much more than weight loss and fitness.

doni at the sundial bridge jan 2 2017

In addition to the 35 pounds and nearly 40 inches lost, I’ve observed some other unexpected changes. For example, weirdly, for the first time in more than 36 years, I’m no longer allergic to cats. Also, inexplicably, my eyelashes are longer. I have zero insomnia. I no longer need naps. I literally cannot remember the last time I was sick with so much as a cold. I can do military push-ups. And yesterday I held a 3-minute plank, which is my record. (My ultimate goal is to do one pull-up – ala Carl Bott – plus, an 8-minute plank, like Andrea Charroin.)

But one of the biggest, most surprising changes I’ve noticed in myself is something that seems paradoxical: The stronger I become on the outside, the softer I feel on the inside. The softer I feel on the inside, the more vulnerable I feel, and more receptive I feel to allowing outside help. The more help I accept, the less lonely I feel.

I might even take this thought one step further, and speculate that perhaps the very reason I packed on the pounds was because I was comforting myself with food because I felt so isolated. The more I turn to people for comfort, the less I rely upon food to feel better.

I don’t mean to take this to a weird place (which means I probably will), but somehow, this vulnerability and softening has made me feel more feminine, too.

Case in point, I suddenly felt led to completely redo my bedroom (it helped that I had a mold issue that required chemical treatment, Kilz, retexturing and repainting).

mold in doni's bedroom

The hot pink was the former color before the house remodel, which was where Doni had the contractors install the bottom half of a cabinet taken from the kitchen, which she recycled and turned into her dresser. The white is texturing mud. The blue is Doni’s previous bedroom color. The black is mold.

For the first time in my life, I wanted a really pretty bedroom; a restful sanctuary with flowers and soft colors.

As an aside, I realized that it was probably bad juju for me to continue to sleep in a room that was the exact color formula as my bedroom from my previous marriage: Blue. (Figures.)

For my new room I went totally girly. I had my bedroom painted a pale pink. Pink! That’s not a color I’ve ever worn, or particularly liked. This was coming from me – she who has a 98-percent black wardrobe. But suddenly, nothing but light pink would do for my bedroom. I bought new bright pink flowered sheets, and a vintage pale pink dresser, one that has legs and lots of air circulation all around. I also switched to sleeping on the other side of the bed. Just because. Seemed like a good idea.

doni's new bedroom

I mentioned that 3-minute plank. You know how I was able to do it? Because my workout buddy, Erin Lundgren, coached me through it. My eyes were clenched shut, my body trembled and sweat dripped onto the mat. Everything in me wanted to flop to the floor.

Come on. You can do it. Go five seconds longer than you thought you could. OK, another five seconds. Hold on. Another five seconds. You can do it. 

He was right. I could do it. I did it.

Doni Chamberlain and Erin Lundgren, Align workout buddies.

Doni Chamberlain and Erin Lundgren, Align workout friends/buddies.

And that’s the other part of this workout program: I’ve finally fully embraced the idea of working with others, and not going it alone. I actually prefer to work out with others now, than by myself.

Doni and Diane do a trick where they both fit inside a pair of pants Diane outgrew after losing 100 pounds.

Doni and workout buddy/friend Diane do a trick where they both fit inside a pair of pants Diane outgrew after losing 100 pounds.

I got myself into trouble with my weight and health all by myself. But my success – whether it’s getting healthy, throwing a dinner party or dealing with unwanted critters – depends upon admitting that sometimes I need help, and when I do, it’s not only fine to accept help, but it’s perfectly OK to actually ask for it.

Behold, my bonus prize: I’ve lost weight. And I’ve gained trust in others.

We need each other. And we all need to be needed. When I help others, I feel good, necessary, productive, vital.

When I cheat someone from the opportunity to help me, I prevent them from experiencing those feelings. I keep them from being my hero, and giving them the sense that they have worth and purpose as a fellow human being, that I’m counting on them.

Such a simple concept. Such a wonderful outcome. By some magnificent design, it turns out we’re better together.

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded A News Cafe in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain holds a Bachelor's Degree in journalism from CSU, Chico. She's an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She's been featured and quoted in The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Washington Post, L.A. Times, Slate, Bloomberg News and on CNN, KQED and KPFA. She lives in Redding, California.

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