Thursday, November 21, 2013

My Ego has been Stroked...

WOW!  I feel good about myself!  People looked at my blog!  No one commented, but people looked!

I thought I was writing to myself (and my seven dedicated followers), but I signed on tonight out of curiosity (and insomnia, let's be honest here), and people had looked at this little blog of mine! I almost feel like a real writer. It's no wonder all those stay-at-home moms write about every detail of their day, post all their recipes online, and link every post on Facebook! It makes them feel important.

I feel a little like The Grinch, except instead of my heart growing, my head has grown three sizes today.

Speaking of all things holiday-related, the holidays are looming. Yes, that's right, looming. They're like a big, ominous black cloud over my head, threatening rain, sleet, hail, thunder, lightening and all other sorts of mischief. The only problem is, unlike other storms, the holidays involve everyone and they last six weeks.

I frequently enjoy a scenic drive from my house to my parents' house. I hop on crowded freeways, fight angry California drivers in luxury cars they can't afford as we race over the grapevine on I-5 into Central California's heartland. At the fork in the road, most of those lovely cars head for the scenic vistas offered in San Francisco. I, however, veer left and look towards oil fields and smog as the San Joaquin valley beckons me. Increasing my speed, I hover slightly above the ground zipping around silly farmers who think 70 miles per hour warrants driving in the fast lane.

Today I enjoyed a special treat. As I neared my halfway marker, I pulled over to get gas, some Butterfinger bites and a Pepsi Max, stretch my legs, and continue on my quest to beat my personal record time from downtown to my parents' house. As I walked back out to my car, it began to rain. Three hours later, I arrived, grumpy, frustrated, wet and one hour over my expected arrival time. My fellow travelers forgot how to drive this evening. Holiday cheer left my soul, and I hollered at them from my car, knowing that my exasperation coupled with my sharp remarks would improve my driving conditions.

As I neared my destination, it dawned on me. These people were most likely not traveling for yet another round of doctor's appointments like me. They were on their way to a relaxing holiday vacation. They were making memories, dang it. I passed one minivan where the passenger, most likely a mother, was reading a bedtime story to the children in back. My comments to that car are not exactly suitable for this forum. I'm embarrassed to admit that I did not find this family togetherness I was witnessing to be sweet. It was a nuisance. It was, to me, too quaint, too perfect, too happy.

You see, in many respects the holidays bring back some painful memories for me. They remind me that my life isn't exactly the way I'd like it to be. I don't have that picturesque family in a minivan. I'm not reading stories to my children. I'm reading creepy crime novels to myself at night and hoping I don't have nightmares. I'm not cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for my family, I'm going to be the female version of Dan in Real Life sans disgruntled children in tow, sleeping in the corner, woeful about life, listening to advice about how to be happy. Last Christmas I slept on an air mattress in my sister's home office. I had to deflate the thing every morning so people could get to the shower.

I didn't sing one carol last year, I didn't put up a tree, there were no halls to deck, no turkeys to carve. I spent most of Thanksgiving in my room, peeved that my cousin had to cook everything HIS way and that my gluten free food was taking up space in the kitchen. In a valiant effort to help me feel the holiday spirit, my aunt bought me a hot pink tree with beautiful ornaments and begged me to help her trim her own tree. I acquiesced. She'd just had shoulder surgery. How could I say no? I'm not THAT cruel.

Fast forward to this year. Disgruntled as I was with all the merry travelers this evening, I decided I needed both a sanity check and an attitude adjustment. Rather than going to my parents' home directly and spreading my cheerful outlook with them, I went straight to a support group held on Wednesday nights at our church. It's geared towards family and friends of addicts. Tonight's message was about coping with the stress brought on by the holidays. Apropos, no? It was just the dose of holiday cheer I needed. It worked almost as well as Xanax! I realized that, rather than focusing on the past, I need to look at the present, enjoy the good, and do what I can.

I'm hoping to spend half a day in my room this year.

Maybe, just maybe, I'll trim a small tree for good measure as well.

The moral of the story? Be kind to others this holiday season. You never know what kind of battle someone is facing. If you see a scrooge or a grinch, show some compassion, some love, and give the poor guy some chocolate!

If you are a scrooge or a grinch, put on your bah humbug hat and try to be a good sport. Don't be too hard on yourself. Just do the best you can. Enjoy the good things about the season, but don't rehash the old, bad memories. Talk to a trusted friend, have a good cry if you need to, drink some hot coffee or cocoa by a warm fire, read a crime novel, regroup and then try again tomorrow!

Now, let's hope the next six weeks pass quickly!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Social Media's Inundation - A Blessing or a Curse?

A close friend of mine has been having a rough year.  Let's face it, we both have. We both use social media - Facebook, Twitter, name it, we have an account.  And as many people do, we post - not so much about the hard stuff, but about the mundane, the interesting, the funny, sports, current events.

Partially because of stress and partially due to my delightful neighbors, I enjoy a nice dose of insomnia almost every night. Next to my mattress on the floor lie my phone and my laptop, readily connected to wi-fi and fully charged. I know what you well-rested folks are saying, John Tesh told you that electronics in the bedroom are not conducive to good sleeping habits.  Too bad, John Tesh! I have to have something to do during the night that's quiet. My roommates won't appreciate me going downstairs and whipping up some yummy cookies at 3:00 AM, so I peruse my favorite social media apps, JUST IN CASE someone else might also share my love of Facebook at random times!

Thankfully, my friend does not read my blog. If this friend does, he will know my secret. (It's one of the few he doesn't, so I guess it's not that big of a deal.) However, since I rarely blog about the Giants, 49ers or FIFA, it's as likely as snow in the tropics that he's enjoying this delightful little rant. AT ANY RATE, I logged on to Twitter, hoping to get some good satire from The Onion, learn something that hadn't been repeated lately on Uber Facts, or see something less trashy from TMZ. To my surprise, my friend's Twitter posts were no longer showing on my feed. I thought, that's weird.  Now, I'm not super Twitter savvy. I'm more of a Facebook gal because I'm a little verbose. So, I went to my home page to make sure I hadn't accidentally unfollowed his page or some nonsense. When I got to his page, it said that, GASP! he had blocked me!!

(Segue to a little background.) We have been friends for about 10 years. Good friends. He's helped me through college, my church mission, marriage, divorce. My scruples prohibit my from airing his dirty laundry online, but trust me, after 10 years, there have been plenty of things on his side of the fence too.

So I put down the old iPhone, rolled over in bed, and thought WHAT AN $%%! After all, I'm a mature adult! One little block on a social media site has no bearing on a real friendship, right? We just talked on the phone this afternoon about real life STUFF! We had a genuine conversation using a 1980's communication medium. So why did something so small as a block on a site that I don't really use that much (I have 15 followers, people!) cause me to mentally curse, pick up the laptop at 4:00 AM and actually blog about it?

After I cursed at my friend in my head, I had to physically stop myself from writing a scathing email about how I'd been such an angel friend, a true saint, and he had the gall to block me, to take away my all-access pass to his Twitter world. Once I'd stopped myself from hiding behind my keyboard, I had to say, Aimee, don't you dare send that 3-page text message in the middle of the night. That's worse than an email.

I know I'm not alone in this. Another friend frequently posts on Facebook statements like, "Oh no, lost another friend. What did I do this time?" And how many of us have excitedly logged on to our social media accounts, seen that little icon saying someone wants to be our friend, follower, etc., only to realize it's THAT person, and rather than deny the request, we just ignore it? The virtual world is just that, virtual. It allows us to do and say things we would NEVER do in person. Ethics, decorum, and etiquette are abandoned because it's easier to simply ignore someone, delete that request or not comment back.

Then when we are the person excitedly awaiting a response from an old friend or hoping our new friend will accept our request, our self-esteem lies crushed on the floor when we don't get a response back.

I come from the last generation of kids to grow up without social media. I know what it was like to put myself out there and ask someone, "Do you want to be friends?" "Do you have plans this weekend?" "I like you." and do it all in person. I remember what it was like to have to use a cell phone to call people because texting cost an astronomical amount of money. Yet, when someone blocks me or unfriends me or doesn't like a post or picture that I think is AMAZING, I feel it.  When I have a real relationship with that person, I feel it even more. That's the most ironic part to me. Shouldn't it be less of a "big deal" because I know that my friendship with that person is real, because I know that they know I'm beautiful, special, congenial, important, smart, funny, and all the things my friends, and more importantly, I know I am?

Interestingly enough, because I thought my real friends knew those things about me, when I posted things I expected them to like, there was an expectation to see more little Facebook thumbs, more hearts on Instagram, more retweets and stars on Twitter. When that expectation remains unmet, the fallout is even greater.

My mom says she LOVES social media. She is on Facebook more than any person I know. She uses it to keep in touch with her siblings, cousins, friends from high school and college. She sends me little inspirational messages, comments on every picture my siblings post of their kids. She thinks it's the greatest thing ever. In contrast, my oldest niece and nephew have both had a tremendous amount of trouble with their Facebook accounts. They both have been bullied online. My niece, who is in 8th grade, is currently being home schooled because the bullying was so severe she could not continue at her public school.

So is social media really all it's cracked up to be? Does it really enhance our friendships? Does it enrich our lives?

I have found people, on Facebook especially, who I haven't seen in years. I love seeing pictures of their families, hearing updates about their lives, careers, and being able to support them from far away. I love seeing my niece and nephew, who live far away and are now teenagers, develop their own opinions, ideals, and stand up for their beliefs. I adore being able to see pictures of my little niece and nephew throughout my day. I find joy in the little tidbits of information others share online.

Conversely, I find that, unregulated, I spend an exorbitant amount of time browsing meaningless matter that doesn't stimulate my mind or enhance my life experience. I'd much rather curl up with a book, talk to a friend (a real live one) on the phone, visit someone I care about, help someone out or take a walk outside.

A little social media is great! It's a fun way to keep in touch with friends, explore the world from our fingertips, and learn about virtually any subject. Left unchecked, we begin to base our self-worth on our social media presence, when really our real world presence is the legacy we'll leave behind.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Since it's October, Let's Talk PURPLE!

I decided to write this now, before I chicken out.

I am deeply grateful for all the attention that breast cancer receives during the month of October.  Three friends are either currently battling the disease or are in remission.  Two other dear friends have mothers who have battled the disease, and my ex-husband's grandmother is a survivor. The money raised to fight breast cancer, fund support groups and outreach programs, help fund treatment centers and provide early intervention is literally life-saving to those who benefit from those programs.

I am not here to detract from or belittle that cause in any way.

I am here, however, to talk about a cause that deserves some attention.

Silence is the great perpetuator of domestic violence.  That being stated, I am and have always been a fairly private person. As I've gotten older, I've become more private.  My life is just that - mine. My choices, and their resulting consequences, are mine to bear.

However, this is an issue on which I cannot remain silent.

Domestic violence took the life of a former co-worker this year. I have seen, first hand, how it destroys marriages, children, and innocent bystanders.  October is Domestic Violence Prevention Month. For some reason, it doesn't receive the tweets, Facebook posts, or Instagram pictures that flood our feeds like a vibrant pink parade all month long. Teams don't don purple gear, there are no parades, no walks, no telethons to raise the millions that could fund the non-profits who spend countless hours trying to save the one who has the courage to pick up the phone, leave in the middle of the night, or tell a confidant what is REALLY happening.  This begs the question: Why not?  Is this not an equally worthy cause? Domestic violence deaths occur daily. There are thousands, probably millions more survivors who stay silent, their wounds either covered with sunglasses, turtlenecks and coverup or a Crest White Strip smile.

The key to the perpetuation of the domestic violence epidemic is simple - it lies in silence. If a perpetrator can keep the survivor (the reader might insert the word "victim" here) SILENT, he or she will maintain absolute control over the survivor. The formula is that simple.

Violence is not always physical. Once the violence becomes physical, the survivor is actually in grave danger and has likely been suffering for an extended period of time. Most domestic violence starts with manipulation or a sense of control. The perpetrator tells the survivor that they are stupid, no good, fat, ugly, that his or her family aren't good enough, etc. The perpetrator questions the survivor's judgment, motivation, strength (either physical, spiritual, mental, or emotional), and slowly whittles away his or her sense of self. The emotional and/or verbal abuse then escalates.

After a while, sometimes weeks, sometimes months, sometimes years (this depends on the survivor's personality - it took me about two years to really start breaking down), the survivor will lose his or her sense of self, acquiese to the perpetrator's requests, agree during arguments just to keep the peace at home.

The problem is that it doesn't stop. Like breast cancer, without treatment, it gets worse.  It matasticizes, seeping into every part of the survivor's life. My relationship with my nuclear family suffered. My sister told me at one time, "Every time I talked to you on the phone, it was like you were interviewing for a job.  You put on your best self, you hid what was really going on." 

My health rapidly deteriorated. Always prone to migraine headaches, they began to worsen, becoming almost chronic. My myofascial pain developed into full-blown fibromyalgia. I was diagnosed with four autoimmune diseases, which were all exacerbated by stress. Consequentially, my job performance suffered. For more than a year, I did not work a full five-day work week. I had great insurance, but the medical bills overwhelmed me, controlling my life.

But my marriage was "a private matter." One girl at work knew that my marriage was fiery, but hers was no better, so we merely swapped war stories, swearing that things would change, it would get better, that we could FIX them, CHANGE them. Sworn to silence, I trudged on.

After a particularly scary incident after work one evening, and a subsequent incident on the car ride home, I woke up sick (again), and trudged to work on Friday morning. My husband drove me as I was unable to do so, crippled by pain. We were living in Hanford, and I worked in Fresno. Exhausted from work and sore from my commute, we planned to stay at my parents' home for the evening. I convinced my husband to stay overnight due to plans in Fresno that weekend.

Saturday morning came, and alone with my Mom in Target, everything that was going wrong in my marriage came out like verbal vomit - the horrible arguments, scary car rides that nearly resulted in accidents, screaming, everything. (As I said, I'm a very private person, so no, dear readers, you don't get all the details.) Sobbing in the middle of the toy aisle (it was my niece's 1st birthday), I was shocked when, rather than being met with shame, ridicule, embarrassment, judgment, and every other negative emotion I thought I would receive in return, my mother hugged me, cried with me, and told me, "Aimee, I will help you in whatever way I can. I love you."  No judgment, no shame, no blame. Nothing but love and acceptance.

NOTE: For those of you who suspect you may have a survivor in your close circle - PLEASE follow my mom's example. In addition, she respected my privacy and kept my confidence. She did not tell a soul, not even my Dad. She let me tell him when I was ready. She acted totally normal when she returned to her home, where my husband was still sleeping.  I cannot imagine the restraint and love that took.

I stayed at my parents' home that night and went home and taught a Mother's Day lesson at church on Sunday. I decided to give it one last-ditch effort. I talked to my bishop (he's like a pastor), and told him that my husband and I had been arguing. He encouraged us to make amends, make the marriage work. Frustrated, I decided to ask him to do three things on Monday - look for a job, schedule a meeting with a counselor, and build a resume.

None of those happened.

That same Monday, my husband had scheduled to go camping with his dad and his best friend.  After work that night, scared to death and with my mom at my side, I went to my apartment, took my most prized possessions, and didn't look back.

I left.

I thought that would be the hardest part.

The hardest part was dealing with the subsequent trauma.

The hardest part was grieving, not blaming myself, not feeling like a total failure, and not going back.

For those of you who are in this type of situation.  I cannot tell you what to do. I could barely tell me what to do.  I knew for at least a year before I left that I deserved better, that God wanted better for me, and that what was happening was NOT okay.  Had anyone told me that, I would have defended my husband to the death.  I still say that he was a good man who made bad choices and didn't know how to turn things around.  

That being said, there came a time, after much prayer and soul searching, that I knew that if I stayed things would NOT get better.  So I left.

So to those who are in this situation, know that life will most likely suck for a long time after you leave.  Know that you will want to go back.  Know that you will think you don't deserve better. PLEASE ALSO KNOW that you DO. It will get better. You will look back and it will feel like it was a dream (or a nightmare).  The nightmares will get better. They'll be less frequent, less intense.  Get a good therapist, someone you can trust implicitly. Have a good support system. Change your surroundings.  I had 4 jobs and lived in 2 different states in one year. (That was just what worked for me.) Don't be afraid to ask for help. My parents let me sleep in the spare room, my job gave me time off to cope, my siblings still have an open door policy when I need to get away. Once you feel like you're moving along, once the flashbacks don't happen every day or every week or every month, reach out!  Help others!  Share your story!  Remember, silence perpetuates violence! Don't be afraid to tell others. You don't have to share all the gorey details, but let someone know that you made it, you survived, and they can too. It somehow makes the suffering worthwhile.

I'm a huge advocate of getting a counselor. But in addition, find a support group. Many non-profits have FREE groups, and they're all confidential. There are listings on both websites listed below, and you can find a list of 12-step programs for friends and family members of addicts on I found that stopping co-dependent behaviors and learning to use Jesus Christ's atonement will help in the healing process tremendously. This is the program I used, but you can find one that works for you! 

To the family and friends, be patient, understanding, and loving. Be patient.  Did I say be patient? I didn't listen very well for about six months. It's a grieving process. Let survivors feel their emotions. Encourage them to cry, scream, yell, talk. They haven't been able to do that for months, maybe even years. The survivor doesn't see himself or herself the way you do. So just be patient. Celebrate every success. Remind them that they're worth it, that they're special, and that they can succeed. One of the best things my mom ever said to me was, "You need to have a success experience."  And my brother, bless his heart, said to me, "You can either let this define you for the rest of your life or you can let it make you a better, stronger person." Best.Advice.Ever. Encourage survivors to be strong.

If you read this, thanks.  Share it.  Please raise awareness!

Visit for information about how you can get involved in raising awareness and preventing sexual assault. It's a great organization.Visit for information on the domestic violence awareness project. They've been doing great work since 1981 to help end domestic violence.

If you need someone to talk to, please call 1­-800-799-7233 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Someone is there to help, and it's confidential.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Someone asked, so here's a quick, sweetened condensed version of my weight loss journey - the G Free way!

For those who have been asking, "Aimee, how did you lose 50 pounds, what's your secret, what program do you follow?" here is my story.  I've hesitated, hummed, and hawwed about this.  Believe it or not, I've even prayed about how to explain what brought about this major change in my life. I am a private person, and my new blog has no readers.  It's just for me. I am, however, at the request of a fellow chunky girl, writing this down. Perhaps someone will benefit from my candor.

In that spirit, I must confess that as I listen to Regina Spektor on iTunes and write, I have M&M's on my headboard and a Diet Coke opened next to that Valentine's bag with my rotund boyfriend's face smiling at me. Blue M&M has always been a favorite.  ;) Now, let's get serious.

I married in December, 2006. I was 23.5 years old. I weighed 218 pounds at my last Weight Watchers weigh-in before I got married, and I was in a size 18 (not women's, misses) on my wedding day. I don't have a picture to post of that. Trust me, though, I looked good.

I was married for 6 years, including the 6-month waiting period before my divorce. (SURPRISE to those of you reading this who didn't know!!!  Yes, I got divorced.) Partially due to the toxic nature of my relationship and LARGELY due to my inability to cope with the immense stress under which I lived on a daily basis, my weight soared to 280 pounds at my heaviest.  I've always carried my weight well, but I was heavy....obese.  A couple pictures to illustrate my point.
Thanksgiving, 2011. Left to right: Me; my little sister, Emily; my cousin Lindsay; My cousin Keri (5 months pregnant); my cousin Spencer)
I was at about 277-280 in that picture, wearing size 22 pants.

I am third from left in the back row here. Again, about the same size. This is at my Central California Children's Choir reunion on July 31, 2011. 
Now, I do have health problems. I was suffering emotionally and physically in my marriage, but I used those as excuses to hide behind my weight, to suffer in silence.

When I left what was a toxic situation on Mother's Day, 2012, I weighed 260 - 265 pounds. I could not walk through Target or Walmart without extreme exhaustion and fatigue from my weight and my fibromyalgia. I followed a gluten free diet but still experienced exhaustion, frequent headaches, digestive issues, depression, mood swings, and other issues that can be attributed to Celiac Disease.

This picture was taken about a month after I separated from my husband. I was living with my mother. I had started exercising as part of my therapy, and I was walking on a daily basis for approximately 30 minutes. I began eating real meals - breakfast, a small snack, lunch, and dinner. I started drinking water. I started eating fruits and veggies. The stress was intense, and I didn't want to continue with destructive behaviors, so I walked. I walked on my breaks, my lunches, in the morning, in the evening. I would walk and talk to my confidants.
At the beach with my nephew, June 2012. Approximately 10 pounds lost.

After returning to work in June 2012.  I've lost about 12 pounds in this pic.
This is something that many people may find difficult.  I started attending a 12-step program for family and friends of addicts.  This is called the Addiction Recovery Program, and it is similar to Al-Anon, but it is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There I learned to let go and let God, that I was powerless without Him in my life, that I had to admit that I had problems that needed to be fixed.  I needed to rely on Him to overcome my own struggles. It was only through the Atonement of Jesus Christ that I could gain control over what was an addiction to control and an addiction to food.

I started working those steps and setting boundaries for myself. I would say, you can have 1 dessert at a party or one dessert on the weekend. You need to eat a fruit or a vegetable with every meal. You must eat breakfast, even if it's yogurt at your desk. You need to buy groceries, but after you've had dinner.

Those boundaries helped me start to develop a healthy relationship with food, helped me realize that I didn't get gratification, trust, comfort, love, or any other emotion from food. Food wouldn't fix my problems. Heavenly Father would help ME FIX MY OWN PROBLEMS if I would be HUMBLE AND GO TO HIM for support and strength. It takes work, hard work, blood, sweat, and tears. Yes, I had to tell myself no. Yes, I had to say I'm only going to eat half of my food because I know I serve myself too much.  Yes I had to cook every day. No, it wasn't what I wanted to do after 8 hours of work and dealing with PTSD from a bad marriage, but I did it because I knew I had to take care of me or no one else would.

When things got too overwhelming and I wanted to eat a half gallon of ice cream or a bag of M&M's in one sitting, I put on my tennis shoes, grabbed my iPod, and walked until I could sort out my feelings.  I remember the first day one of the guys at work whistled at me when I walked by. I looked over my shoulder to see what pretty girl was walking behind me.  There wasn't anyone else around.  I just about cried. He was whistling at me. He thoguth I was pretty. I just about jumped in the air! Those good feelings I got from exercising kept me going. Pretty soon, about 2 months later, I was walking 2-4 hours a day. This was how I looked in September.

I didn't even look like that as a missionary, so needless to say my family was shocked when I posted these pictures on facebook!

I felt good about myself, so I kept following the formula, meeting with my doctor and therapist, writing in my journal to discover what roadblocks I would find, how I would overcome them, and in October, this is how I looked:

I modeled for a local retail store, showing their fall line. This was always a dream I'd had!  I was thrilled when I bought my first size 1x and size 18 at that show!! I was down 30 pounds here.

My brother came to visit me in November, and he didn't recognize me when I came to get him at the airport.

 I was down 35 pounds here. Notice that the double chin is almost gone!  :)

By Christmas time I'd lost 40 pounds, and I felt great, so I bought a belt.  I hadn't bought a belt since high school. I wore my shirt tucked in to church for a piano solo I had to do.

The shirt I'm wearing I bought right after high school, and the skirt I bought just after my mission. I continue to walk 4-6 miles a day, eat healthy, and love myself. Most importantly, I work the 12 steps, putting God first in my life. It is beacuase of Him that I am here, breathing, healthy, and happy. I now (as of Friday) weigh 217 pounds and wear a size 16 pants and xl shirt. I cannot fit into my "favorite store" Lane Bryant anymore, except for pants and some T-shirts. My new favorite store is The Gap.

I bought my first shirt at Anthropologie last week, a promise I had made to myself 8 years ago.

It was so exciting to go into that store and buy clothes instead of nick knacks! The ability to have my life back far supersedes what any person might say about how I look.

I will continue to work hard on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.  I'm looking into barre method classes as well as cardio boxing, and I'm hoping to start eliminating some of my maintenance medications in the near future. This has been the biggest challenge of my lifetime, but the rewards have been the greatest.

Best of luck in your pursuits as well!