April 2017 archive

Lent

When I was about 2 years old, maybe 3, my dad was pulling the basket out of our swimming pool filter. It was dusk and we were leaving for dinner in a few minutes. I was wearing a cute little jumper and my dad had on a nice collared shirt (which never stopped him from tinkering with high-risk shirt-ruining activities). He leaned down and, as he did, I leaned over to watch him grab for the basket. I remember leaning just far enough to hear him say the beginning of the word, “Oh!” Then I heard a big swish. My eyes were open and I remember a feeling of spinning. Before I could really figure out that I was under water, my dad’s huge arm plunged into the water behind me. His hand wrapped almost twice around my little arm and yanked me to the surface. He stood me up and my mom was screaming.
Keep in mind, I’d been swimming since I was about 6 months old. I regularly swam all summer long in Ohio, so there was no real chance of me drowning.
My mom immediately wrapped me in a towel she apparently always had within arm’s reach and my dad kept semi-shaking me asking, “You ok? Y’alright?” I think I nodded I was fine, but either way they knew I was ok.
Most importantly, I knew I was ok. I knew from the second I fell from the edge into the pool, while I spun down into the water, when I opened my eyes and saw the white wall…I knew that within seconds my Dad’s hand would wrap itself twice around my little arm and I would be back at the surface. I didn’t worry or panic, not even for a second.

Growing up, I usually gave up a food for Lent – one that I liked. Sometimes I gave up something I didn’t like because I didn’t feel like giving up anything I actually liked, but most of the time it was frozen Snickers bars or cookie dough. As an adult I didn’t observe Lent. In fact, I haven’t observed it for about 15 years. So this year, while standing in church on the first day of 40, I prayed hard. This is going to have to be a good one, I thought to myself. I prayed and I listened and I didn’t get the answer until the car ride home.
What do I give up for Lent in exchange for bigger faith in God?
Worry. You give up worrying.
How in the hell am I supposed to give up WORRYING?!
There weren’t any answers after that…
Having a dad for 7 years who was my protector, was my savior, was my personal God (yes, we went to church but he was still sort of God-like to me), it never even occurred to me to worry. About anything! I didn’t worry when it thundered, I didn’t worry in the dark, I didn’t worry when he was late coming home, and I didn’t worry if a bully on the school bus picked on me because I knew my dad would size the 9-year-old up in an ice cream shop and tell him, “Never go near my daughter again.”
My dad’s favorite song was, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” He used to call my mom on the house phone when it came on the radio in his office and put the phone up to the speaker, shouting, “This is that song! This is it!”
The night he died was the very first night that I ever experienced worry.
I have probably experienced worry every single day since.
The idea of not worrying for 40 days was completely impossible, but I felt really driven to at least figure a way to try. I decided that when I began to worry about something, I would actively pray for God to take it from me. Take my money, my self-esteem, my career… I’m turning it over to You. Take it from me.
In other words, “You figure it out.” 
I probably prayed that prayer 1,000 times in the first two days. I tried to rationalize away fear, I tried to write about it, I tried to sit with it and let it take over my body (I would not reccomend this if you don’t know what you’re doing…I don’t know what I’m doing). The ONLY way I could stop worrying was to turn around and walk away from it. If I was balancing our budget and I started feeling panicked, I would set it down and walk away. I’d come back to it later and if I felt the same way, I’d walk away again. I just kept doing that until the fear subsided enough that I could get something done. Sometimes it took hours, sometimes it took days. But eventually I walked away praying my prayer enough times that I could come back and face whatever was worrying me.
I was successful at this about 70% of the time.
There were still days I completely lost my mind. There were still days I crawled into bed and stayed there. But a 70% improvement is damn good coming from where I was coming from.

I think if you grew up for any period of time, be it 18 or 7 years, with parents who made you feel safe and protected, worry isn’t as ingrown in your DNA as it is in mine. You have natural worries. But you don’t worry constantly that no one will pull you to the surface if you slip into the water; you assume eventually you’ll float to the surface and breathe again. I don’t have the innate ability to trust I’ll breathe again. In fact, most days I just assume it will be the last day I could truly breath.

So what happened after 40 days?

I now have longer stretches of breathing. I still panic or remind myself that I haven’t worried in over 27 minutes sometimes. I get myself back into the routine of waking up and beginning a list of things I have to worry about before I set the list down and try to wake up again with a different list, or just a prayer. I am still turning and physically walking in another direction when the all-too-familiar gut punch threatens to reverberate for an entire day. I’m practicing replacing worries with best-case-scenarios, and writing my ideal day out in my notebook at least 4 times a week to focus my energy on something I do want instead of something I don’t. I’ve even caught myself letting loose as if there’s NOTHING to worry three or four times!

But the best part is, in 40 days, I never once drowned. Even when I fell in, I just bobbed up to the surface like an invisible hand was lifting me back to safety. I’m still here, and still breathing.

Why You’re Still Fat and I’m Still Broke

Did you ever watch the TV show The Biggest Loser? For those of you that live in yurts: these were people who were severely overweight (we’re talking major health afflictions related to their obesity) that got hooked up with personal trainers and nutritionists and doctors for a few months, and video cameras recorded it all. As expected, this reality show made losing weight a competition and the winners walked away 30, 40, even 50% lighter than they were when they started. HUGE health improvements. HUGE emotional breakthroughs. HUGE wardrobe overhaul (I’d imagine).

But what happened to a majority of those people once the show was over?

Of course. They gained (at least some of) the weight back.

There are a billion reasons “experts” could give for this phenomenon, but I’ll add mine to the mix because I am also an expert. Not at gaining and losing and gaining weight, but…well, let me explain.

Thoughts are just beliefs that you keep thinking. If you think your neighbor is a jerk for long enough, you’ll be right. If you think you’re fat for long enough, you’ll be right. If you think you’re broke for long enough…guess what?

I’ve been broke my entire life. I grew up wearing nice clothes and going to good schools. I got a car when I turned 17 and my mom sent me on a trip to Paris with the French club, too. I went to an amazing private college. I lived in Los Angeles, flew to New York on a whim a few times to see Broadway shows… I’ve bought two houses as an adult and am the proud owner of a (real) Louis Vuitton purse (thank you, Bear). My last luxury car was paid off before I bought my new luxury car. I never have enough money for anything and at least one night a week, sometimes two, we eat out.

See how broke I am?

I’ll bet you thought this post was going to be about carbs…

Here’s the thing: when I was 7 years old, my dad died. He was the bread winner. Like, all the bread. He won a SHIT LOAD of bread. After he went to heaven, my mom sat one night at her dressing table with a calculator and a check book register. I remember looking at her furrowed brow and stiff hand. I watched her push the buttons on the calculator and then write numbers down. I finally got close enough to her for her concentration to break and I asked her, “Do we have enough money?”
“Oh. Yes, honey. We’ll be fine.”
That was all it took. My dad, the protector, the leader, the winner of the bread was gone. And my mom was worried. I could tell. Just that one interaction (along with my interpretation of about 1,000 more interactions) became a belief: we don’t have enough money.
I don’t have enough money.
That belief has never left me. It is a thought I keep thinking. Despite never having starved or living in anything less than a beautiful home and never missing a vacation (we just took our kids on a cruise), I’m broke. Always have been. And always will be, unless the belief changes.

So every single one of those contestants on The Biggest Loser who gained the weight back didn’t do it for lack of willpower or because they’re lazy or because they weren’t educated: they did it because they never changed the BELIEF that they were fat. They just removed the fat. So eventually, the beliefs made things “right” again. They ended up putting on some or all of the weight they’d lost.

To truly change anything in life, you have to change the thing while slowly changing the beliefs. You can’t go from broke to rich in one thought – it’s too big of a jump. You can’t go from overweight to perfect healthy weight in one thought either. You won’t believe yourself. You won’t believe your own thoughts and so you’ll continue thinking the same thoughts you’ve always had, and the patterns will repeat. But if I can convince you to change your THOUGHTS, I can help you change a belief. Then.
Then you can change your body, your bank statement, and whatever else you can use to fill in the blank – “I have always been ______”.

My thoughts are different today than they were even a month ago. I truly believe I’m covered. I still wake up scared every now again because damnit if that isn’t the deep groove I thought myself into over a lifetime, but I’m able to gently lift myself out and start reminding myself of what’s true: “I have enough, there is enough, and my income continues to increase everyday.”
What new thought can you replace your fill-in-the-blank statement with? Need help coming up with a new thought? Just let me know in the comments or an email.

Erin.salem@gmail.com