“You-you, sir, are playing a dangerous game! Keeping this much raw…
‘Viking-ness’ contained! There will be consequences!”
–Hiccup, How to Train Your Dragon
The fear was unexpected, but it was the fear which showed me that this moment was different. It hit me while sitting on a park bench at work, speaking to my dietician on the phone and idly watching and cursing the gardeners as their mowers and trimmers invaded my conversation.
“I think it’s time we started integrating fruit and vegetables,” my dietician had said. Then, like chill lightning through my excitement; fear. I was at a loss. Did I fear villainous vegetables? Fearsome fruit? The answer brought me closer, once again, to my patients.
I discussed the realization that I now had a treatment team to aid me in my weight loss endeavor earlier in the summer, in the I am a Patient Boy article. That realization proved to be the humbling, guiding force during these last three months. I embraced the reality that I had a problem large enough to require a team attack.
Anyone remember The Cane and I? That article drew an analogy between residential treatment and my need of a cane after tearing ligaments in my foot. That article mostly focused on the process of coming to rely and incorporate a support into your life, and how difficult and conflicted the process of extracting that support could become.
There was no fear in letting go of the cane. There was (and still is) significant fear in stepping “out of the box” after three and a half months and 71.2 pounds lost. I had made observations and analogies in The Cane and I. As of last Friday I stepped “out of the box” and straight into once again sharing a reality with my patients; the horrific reality of a successful discharge from treatment.
Out of The Box
“What about the Twinkie?”
-Winston Zeddemore, Ghostbusters
“Out of the Box” is a phrase that simply means “off the diet.” I imagine, somewhere in the structure of Health Management Resources there is some ironic wordplayer who is tickled by incorporating the phrase “in the box” to re-enforce keeping on a diet in which so much of what you eat comes from a box.
As of this date I have been out of the box by 10 calories. It was a mint in my first week and it taught me a valuable lesson on habitual stress eating patterns. The education was worth the calories—shh! Don’t tell my doctor.
We proud weight losers dream of being outside the box again. Especially when it involves booze, I’m not ashamed to add. The alcohol restriction in this first phase can sometimes be more arduous a bear to beat. “But it’s not eating, it’s drinking!” I’ve often said. Still, since April Fourth, no booze.
But we’re not talking about booze, we’re talking about fruit and vegetable. Heck, if this were Sesame Street they’d be smiling and dancing. But, I’ve done well at the program. I’ve integrated it into my life. I liked the weekly losses and their corresponding burst of confidence and dopamine. I didn’t—and don’t—want them to end. But that’s the problem with success. Success means a return to that which had once laid us low. In that return we should hopefully be armed with new skills, attitudes, confidence and determination to fight the risk, but that doesn’t mean anything when contemplating the steps back onto the grounds of your past failure. The ghosts are thick there. Outside the box, there be dragons.
On Ghosts and Dragons
“I wouldn’t kill [Toothless, the Dragon] because he looked
as frightened as I was. I looked at him and I saw myself.”
-Hiccup, How to Train Your Dragon
The ghosts of our failures may haunt our time healing—as mockers or motivators—but they lurk free outside of the safety of the treatment facility. For me, those failures are the snack cabinet which moans a late night siren song, my car where stress eating found a mobile home, and any time alone, where the free floating specters gnaw at my resolve.
The ghosts are born of the past. The dragons live in the present and can roar at any minute. Stress Dragons. Self Pity Dragons. The Ancient and Wiley “I Deserve This” Dragon of Self Indulgence. The red frustrated Anger Dragon to whom we all succumb. It is no surprise that I got this big. So many triggers and stimuli lead to “and then I eat.”
Abington Weight Management Center and the Health Management Resources No Decisions Diet have been my tower against dragons, but now I must arm myself. They have been my circle of protection against ghosts, but now I must don my proton pack and head into a raging spectral New York City full of Twinkies and worse.
Ghostbusting and Dragonslaying
“Why worry? Each one of us is carrying an
unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back.”
-Dr. Peter Venkman, Ghostbusters
Really, when we speak of ghosts, we’re speaking of negative personal history and when we speak of dragons, we’re speaking of triggers and stressors. These two categories of things have screwed up many a successful prognosis, but they also bring fear while in treatment. In the hospital which I work we try to have patients go on home passes to begin encountering ghosts and dragons—failing—then returning to treatment to plan strategies. I’ll allow you into my strategy planning session for my own terrors lurking outside treatment.
Ghostbusting: Just like ghosts are terrifying in the manner of the living dead, I have to remember that my past failures and patterns of over-eating are just as dead. Still, the idea that I could go back to that (and lose all I’ve gained—or gain all I’ve lost?) is horrific. But, I must ever remind myself that I give that idea life. It will be hard but if any of the ghosts of my past try to intimidate me and ask me “Are you a god?” I’m saying “heck yeah.”
Dragonslaying: Notice that there aren’t many quotes from the classic Dragonslayer here? It’s not that I don’t have a special 80s spot in my heart for the film, more that How to Train Your Dragon is more suitable to how to handle triggers and stressors. Some you smash and kill like any good Viking. Some, you need to outsmart or befriend, like Hiccup does. Stress is a dragon that you need to kill (eliminate) outsmart (change your stressful systems) and befriend (accept) all at the same time. Anger is a dragon you can befriend by finding a non-violent physical outlet. The wiley dragon of Self Indulgence or the mopey Self Pity Dragon? Kill them. They won’t help you and you’re better than them.
Here’s a secret; I purposefully wrote this article during my first week out of the box. It was partially to prepare myself. It was also to add an element of accountability. I said that I had lost 71.4 pounds when I began this article. I’ve been weighed since I typed those numbers. I’ve been in the world of ghosts and dragons. And I lost eight pounds this week. 79.4 down; take that ghosts and dragons.
Seeing that you can do it is the ultimate Ghostbusting and dragonslaying weapon. I did it, you can too.