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 what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is 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 lives in Redding, California.
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33 Responses

  1. Hollyn Chase says:

    Thank you Doni. As usual, perceptive and beautifully expressed.

  2. Good stuff — I’d love to see this journey of yours as a book some day. We have a genuine human need to be needed – and asking for help and giving help completes a beautiful circle.   Enjoy it — what a lovely transformation for you AND your home.

    • Coming from a fellow writer, that’s an interesting idea. (Whenever I consider writing a book I see all the hardbacks at the Dollar Tree.) Thank you for your support and wisdom, Erin.

      • I picture you and Shelly collaborating — exploring physical, emotional, creative and artistic transformation.  And how much fun would you two have on a book tour?!  🙂

      • Beverly Stafford says:

        A plastic surgeon in Anchorage who weighed 500 pounds – had to be weighed on the animal scale at the fairgrounds – started a health and fitness adventure and shed 300 pounds in one year.  He wrote weekly progress columns for the local paper then turned the columns into a book.

      • Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

        The book you would write would in no way resemble the books at the Dollar Tree.  Here’s a thought.  Start writing  without an end product, or title in mind.  Everything you write doesn’t have to be connected to the last piece you wrote.  Keep them in one place.   Maybe throw in pictures or just ideas you have.


  3. Andrea says:

    SUPER PROUD OF YOU!!!  3 minutes is amazing!  Next stop 5 minutes, then 8, maybe 10 and beyond!  You are stronger than you know my friend!

  4. Beverly Stafford says:

    My favorite fitness guru – remember, I don’t have Matthew Lister for that honor – is the author of Younger Next Year.  (Actually, that should be gurus plural because it is co-written).  Among his/their many realistic suggestions is that we need people so huddle like puppies.  Doni, your year+ of fitness and health has brought you to that realization.  As an aside, not that any of the men you met during your online dating experiences was Mr. Right, but I wonder if you would feel differently about any of them now that you are more open – like, perhaps, one or more of them could have become friends if not date bait.  Just a thought.

    • Huddle like puppies. I love it!

      And, OK, since you brought up the whole online dating thing (omg, I’m having flashbacks!), you read my mind. And when you read Val’s Mistress of the Mix Valentine’s Day column tomorrow, there’s a part that she wrote with me in mind. It made me cry.

      I think I’m nearly ready to give it another try. I’m a different person than I was last time. And I’m sure I’ll have a different outcome.

      I may write about it. I may not. We’ll see. 🙂

  5. Charlotte says:

    I read you faithfully on A News Cafe, never been on Facebook.  If I had read your post for help with the opossum, I, too, would have “offered” my husband’s help.  We both had a good laugh this morning about this.  He knows I will always offer his help, when I certainly cannot do something myself.  Thanks for giving me another good laugh to start my day.

    • Hi, Charlotte. I’m glad you liked the column.

      Your husband’s a good sport to allow you to volunteer him, but you must know him well enough to know what he’d agree to. (Tell him thanks for even being open to it.)

      Thanks for being here.


  6. Cate says:

    True. I will remember this. Thank you!

  7. Barbara Stone says:

    Wow, some great and important lessons, Doni! By the way, are you planning on doing the one pull-up and the 8-minute plank back to back??? Not saying you can’t do it but it sound really hard!

    • LOL, right now my pull-up consists of just hanging there and pulling up a little bit. I have a ways to go. (But I can keep working on the plank.) And no, I probably wouldn’t try them back-to-back.

      Not yet. 😉

      • Beverly Stafford says:

        When I first checked out your column, I missed the pic of you and Erin.  Boy, what progress for him from the first time we met him!  Huge kudos.

        • You’re so observant. It pays to check back because the beauty of online is we can do endless revisions. I asked Erin for the pix (it’s about 1 month old) when we worked out today, and I posted it when I got home.

          Yes, he’s due for an update. He looks awesome and is doing great!

  8. Darlene Montgomery says:

    If I had known about the possum situation I would have brought Jim over .Remind me sometime to tell you the story of the possum ” condo ” Jim built when we lived on Lincoln St. I’m surprised he didn’t put in a possum swimming pool for him ( oh, yeah it doesn’t seem like they can swim )Please tell Erin hello  for me. He looks fantastic .We worked together at Safeway on Pine.( He used to sit on the shoplifters until the police got there.) and that was before he shed all those pounds!Great job Doni, very inspirational .


    • I will ask you about that opossum condo some time. Eek!

      I will tell Erin hi. It’s funny. I thought he was joking when he said he’d “detain” shoplifters at Safeway. I can’t wait to ask him about that!



  9. Joanne Lobeski Snyder says:

    Thank you for a beautiful article, Doni.   You covered a lot of ground: I’m going to have to re-read this piece a couple more times.  You’re strong on the inside and on the out.


  10. Karen Calanchini says:

    Tears rolling down  my cheeks. Did not know about the foster home.

    Your guardian angel is right there with you. You are blessed.  strong, and have amazing  power.

    • Yeah, I try to keep the foster home mention to just a few times a year. 😉

      I do feel as if I have a guardian angel, and I feel blessed and powerful. I know I’m lucky, and feel grateful.

      Thank you for being here. I appreciate you!

  11. Canda Williams says:

    Oh Doni, I absolutely love this post.  14 months of growing on the inside while you shrink your outside.  Wow!  I was so happy (and amazed) to read that you are no longer allergic to cats.  I was wondering how you survived at Joe and Marie’s house with their long-haired kitties.  That’s really cool.  So many incredible changes in your life.  I’m so happy for you I could cry.  I love your new bedroom.  Are you also replacing some of the black in your wardrobe with more color on your beautiful body?  I miss you so much!  Love and hugs to you, my friend. xoxo

    • I love the way you put that: growing on the inside while shrinking on the outside. (Wish I’d thought of it while I was writing this column!)

      I miss you, too! (I follow your beautiful snowy life on FB, of course.)

      Funny you should mention the black wardrobe. I bought a flowered colorful top on a recent trip – flowy and pretty and sheer. It stands out like a sore thumb in my closet, lol. One article of clothing at a time. (But I will probably always favor black clothes.)

      Hugs! xod

  12. Lori G. says:

    Amazing Doni.  The female students at California Youth Build Academy could really use your testimony.  I went last week as a guest of Girl’s Inc.  and was very glad that I did.  As I talked,  they went from not looking up at me and sitting like they didn’t want to be there, to fully upright and listening intently.  It was hard but I was very glad that I did it. Your story is so inspiring. I just know it could do those students a lot of good to hear from you personally if you get the chance. Thank you Doni.

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