11:28 p.m. – I’ve been glancing at the clock for the past fifteen minutes. Now my focus is laser-like on the digital countdown before me. It’s like a two-minute warning. The game of waiting is about over. It’s almost time.
11:29 p.m. – My stomach senses it’s nearing time to eat. My head begins the visual mind mapping of the trek out of my room and into the kitchen. I imagine all the cheeses: pepper jack, Colby, baby Swiss, and cheddar. I envision the oat wheat bread I love so much. Tonight, it will be a cheese sandwich.
11:30 p.m. – It’s time!
11:30 p.m. and I have a history. When I smoked cigarettes, 11:30 p.m. would’ve been the moment I’d step outside onto the patio and light up a Camel Turkish Gold. How this became a routine I can’t exactly remember, but somewhere in my life 11:30 p.m. was when I allowed myself a final drag of nicotine. I loved it.
Fast forward. Instead of cigarettes it’s food. The truth is that I’m never really all that hungry. Food is my habit, and I need a fix. I’ve brought together pepper jack and baby Swiss on two slices of oat wheat bread, dressed with mayo, mustard, and four bread and butter pickle slices. Yum! My lifelong Pavlovian training of late night consumption is hard to kick. In retrospect, this nighttime pattern should’ve been my Lenten sacrifice.
The past three years have been saturated with coping with the death of my mother, self-doubt, and comparing and despairing. In response, I developed debilitating patterns of preoccupations, choosing to prove to everyone what I already believed to be true. I saw myself as fat, so I got fatter. I believed my identities marginalized me, so I attempted to detach myself from meaningful relationships. And, I’d concluded I was stupid because of my learning disabilities, so while I still worked hard, I was despondent nearly all the time. At the center of all this was God. God made me defective so God was the one to blame. There were stretches when I intentionally stopped praying and avoided going to church. This was my middle finger to God: “Screw you!”
I was wounded. The darkness of my suffering was so dense I could not see anything else but the pain. It was easy for me to fixate on my deficiencies, giving them legitimacy by living into them as irreversible facts. Like a dehydrated person in a desert, it took desperate determination to locate courage and faith to regard myself worthy of life.
But I crawled along. I held onto the habits I’d formed I knew were actually good for me. Therapy. Spiritual Direction. Journaling. Supportive friends. Time, patience, gentleness. I got through it.
Even though I’m on the other side of that self-deprecating period of the past three years, what remain are bad habits. Residual darkness holding firm in the light, like late night cheese sandwiches and critical judgments of my own appearance. Habits all of them. Habits I now know I am able to unlearn.
7:00 a.m. – The morning after my pepper jack and Swiss sandwich. I’m readying myself for a shower and I glower at my naked body in the bathroom mirror. My eyes study the fat rolls, cellulite, stretch marks, and width of my frame. All I see is a very fat man. I wrapped my arms around myself, embracing my flabby and inflated body to comfort the pained reality in front of me. This is a body unattractive and undesired. I regret that cheese sandwich I had at 11:30 p.m. last night.
7:03 a.m. – My mind wanders back to a frequent thought I’ve had lately, Jesus carrying his cross and falling three times. The pain of hitting the ground, the load of the cross atop his battered body, and the labor to rise and continue moving forward. It’s an illustration of life: the torment and then the work to keep going. When there’s a cross there’s a resurrection. Sometimes, before there’s light, there’s a bit of darkness.
7:14 a.m. I consciously pause and rework the thoughts of disesteem between myself and my reflection. Instead I redirect my attention on the nude body looking back at me. This body is raw and vulnerable, with bed head and sleep in the eyes. The man in front of me is a work in progress. Looking past the mental distortions I can tell I’ve lost weight. The last time I lost 64 pounds was … I can’t even remember. But more than that, I have energy, a new found confidence, a brighter outlook on life. I’m slowly beginning to love myself again. Or maybe for the first time. And loving myself, I’m learning, is a habit I never want to break.
Image from the author, taken at 11:30 PM or so.