Milestone

I stepped on the scale, and registered the number there:  215.

For a couple of days now, I’ve sat with that, putting it on the back burner, and going about my life.  Things are rolling on here at the house. I’m caught up in the settling, the anxiety of a new place, still getting my bearings, and so I really didn’t let the number on the scale really take on any meaning.  That is, until today.

I just got back from a walk/run of about 10k.  While out there, feeling the endorphins and all that comes with elevated heart rate and such, it hit me.  By reaching that number, 215, which is thirty pounds less than the last time I stepped on the scale, I’ve, in fact, reached about half-way to where I want to be in my skin.  I feel my best at around 185 or so, which if you do the math, is about 60 pounds less than where I was at my heaviest this year.  The fact I’m drawing in close to that mark, that midpoint along this journey, means that, actually, I’m doing something right.  I can, for just a moment, be proud of myself, and this morning, while I was putting one foot confidently in front of the other, I felt that emotion: pride.

No, I’m never going to be a skinny little otter thing.  I see plenty of that walking around town here – tall, lanky, barely 150 pounds, able to whip off their shirts at any opportunity, confident in how their flesh sits on their frames.  Typically, this only works to make me grind my teeth and self-loathe even more because, let’s face it, we’re all a little jealous of the pretty people we see.  Today, though, for just a few minutes, I allowed myself the feeling of being among those confident, head-held-high men.  I inhabited my own body, my own flesh, and while there was still plenty of jiggling and such going on under my tee shirt and around my thighs, in a white heat of euphoric endorphins, none of that really mattered.  What mattered, and what continues to matter, is that I’m effecting positive changes in my physicality.

Giving up sugar in my coffee, cutting back on the alcohol, swapping cereal for a green smoothie or scrambled eggs, drinking more water, paying attention to my sleep, getting out for walks when feasible – these are the steps I’ve taken.  Small, incremental, and at the micro-level, barely registering as change-making.  Taking a step back, though, and reflecting on where I was when I began to regain control of my body about five months ago, I’ve come a long way, and today I am proud of that fact.  The journey continues, though.  It is my life on the line here, after all.

 

While Out Walking

It’s been far too long since I posted an update on my fitness.  There’s a perfectly good reason for that.  I’m embarrassed by it.

I stepped on the scale last Sunday (about six days ago).  240 pounds spun up on the dial, and stared back at me as I leaned forward, looking over my belly to read the numbers and count the dash marks.  The red indicator dash aligned squarely at 240.

240.

This is precisely fifteen pounds less than I have weighed at my heaviest ever – a weight I carried during my first year of college.

I stand at about 5’9″ tall.  This, according to all scales and charts, puts me in a spot that is not one I ever wanted to be in again.  I am, official, obese.  I know, I know…charts and scales are not the end-all-be-all of a measurement of health.  I get that.  I also get, however, how I’ve been feeling over the past few months.

When I left Caleb’s house, just over a year ago, I was hovering around 170 pounds.  I was on a very, very restricted diet (because I couldn’t afford to buy food – I had no job), and spent my days sleeping or running to deal with the anxiety of the situation I was living in.  As soon as I had a job, though, I also signed up for the gym at work, and for a bit of time, it was exactly what I needed.  I hit the gym every other day during the week, and went running as often as I could.  I also moved into a new home, where nutrition and food to eat was readily available.  For the first month or so, I ate anything I could.  As long as I was going to the gym, I kept my weight at a manageable level, but more importantly, my clothes fit better than ever.

I met Ray shortly after moving and settling into this new life, and at first, he met me right as I was transitioning into this new life, new home, and new job.  He was attracted to my activity level.  Back then, he was also hitting the gym a couple of times a week, and had a decent yoga routine that he loved.  Neither of us were what you’d call athletic, but we were making the effort.

Sometime over the summer, and for reasons I still don’t know, we both focused more on eating well and camping and staying in with each other, rather than being as active as we had been.  For him, his workload increased a lot – working two restaurant jobs during the summer here in Portland means you’re always at work.  For my part, I simply sat behind the wheel and drove my bus, but continued to eat as though food was a precious commodity.  Then, I stopped going to the gym, as my schedule shifted from a structured Monday through Friday routine to one that was more all-over-the-map.  Instead of one garage, I began to work out of all of the garages in the metro area.  Some days I worked ten hours and had zero time/energy to get to the gym.  Other days, I just wanted to sleep.  On days off, Ray and I spent our time grabbing bites to eat, camping, and the occasional hike – but nothing too strenuous.

Through all of last year, the weight crept on.  Slowly, but over time, my waist expanded.  My work uniform grew tight.  I needed larger shorts.  My strength was waning.  Headaches.  Neck and muscle soreness and stiffness.  When I did try to go running, five miles seemed like a monster goal, when only a few months prior I  was doing seven to ten miles per run regularly.  I simply didn’t have the energy or drive.  In fits and spurts, I’ve tried and tried to restart the engine of me and keep striving to my Fit By 40 goal.  Instead, I reached for a slice of pizza, another peanut butter sandwich, a nap, a glass of whiskey – anything I could to feed this weird craving of always being hungry.  For his part, Ray never said anything to me about it.  He saw me getting pudgier, but as he was also growing softer – I coined the term “love pudge” to explain what was going on – we both agreed many times that something needed to change.

That all came to a head last Sunday, and it’s when I did something I’ve been meaning to do for a while now.

I’ve gone paleolithic – mostly.

I have done diet research for quite some time now.  I even bought the book “It Starts With Food.”  I have read countless articles about this kind of change in my approach to food, and while it all sounded great on paper, when the rubber met the road, I still found myself using cream in my coffee, along with lumps and lumps of sugar.

I still found myself reaching for bread and peanut butter when I needed a snack.

I still snacked constantly when I wasn’t sleeping.

I was still raiding the fridge upon coming home every damn time, no matter what time of day it was.

I still felt hungry.  I still felt run down.  I still felt more weight going on my bones.

So, I hit a reset button. I’ve started by doing the basics:  no dairy, no grains, no legumes, no processed anything.  So far, as of tonight (Saturday), it’s been nearly one week on this diet change.  So far, so good.  In fact, I weighed myself yesterday, and much to my glee, I found I’d lost five pounds during my first week of this new approach to food.  After some further research, I learned that 5-10 pounds lost during the first week or two is not unheard of because, it turns out, eating a lot of carbohydrates also means retaining quite a bit of water.

After just one week, I already have noticed that my hunger cravings have changed.  I only feel hungry after going far too long between actual meals.  I’m not feeling a crazed buzz after a meal, followed by a hard crash in a few hours.  I feel more balanced.  I feel like my moods are leveling off too.  Not putting sugar and milk in my coffee means I’m actually sipping my go-juice slowly, and thus not spiking my caffeine levels as high/low as before.

As far as actual meals go, my housemate (who does all of the food purchasing in our living situation), has done a really great job of keeping veggies and fruits stocked.  There’s plenty of the protein I need to eat available, and he’s always open to suggestions for food purchases.  I’ve had to turn down a delicious pasta dish, and instead opted for a massive salad with tuna on it.  Tonight, I said ‘no, thank you’ to pizza – something I truly loved – and had baked chicken and a garden salad.  Getting food that’s on the meal plan at convenience stores is next to impossible, so I am learning to pack better when I do head out the door.  I am, however, fortunate to be in Portland, Oregon, where the food options are plentiful, and every kind of dietary need can be easily filled, as long as I know where to look.

I know Ray is already annoyed with all of my chatter about how I’m feeling, but he’s being super supportive just the same.  Today, our conversation turned to actually going to the gym together and getting back on that fitness horse together, something I’m very happy to do.

I had a glass of wine with dinner on Friday night, which is not on the food list.  Truth be told, it was a decent red Malbec, and while I am used to having more than just one glass, it was all I needed.  Today, I countered that indulgence with a decent walk with Ray in the morning, and a lot of healthy foods all day long.  I’m not ever going to be militant about this – that kind of exactness is not in my nature – but I am going to make a real effort at this.  I need it.  I need the balance, the feeling of health, and to take advantage of my ability to move and be active for as long as possible.

This is a change, but I think, in time, it can just be what I eat, and not some sort of freakish experiment.  Perhaps this, in a way, is an extension of learning the power of the word ‘no’ and taking control over my life again.  Perhaps this, in a way, is me being even more of an adult.

 

 

Just Taking a Walk

I had a conversation this morning with my friend Amanda.  She and I, both of the same age and from the same hometown, are staring down the idea of being 40 years old in the not-too-distant future.  We both have body issues, and have both been caught up in the pursuit of acceptance and belonging based solely on how our bodies are formed; the more beautiful we are, the more people will want to get to know us.  Over the past year or so, though, we’ve both changed our minds.  Thankfully.

As I’ve shared before, I’ve put on some weight over the last year due to the conflagration of having a sit-down job and giving up a workout regime that had me lifting and running whenever possible.  Instead of spending my time chasing down what I think my body should look like, I’ve opted to spend more of my downtime getting to know Ray, and going on camping and hiking adventures with him that have brought me a true sense of peace and joy.  I’ve let go of the anxiety that drove me to the gym and out on the pavement to run in the first place, and in its place I have allowed myself to simply enjoy the present-tense of my life.  Of course, this has softened my body.  I’ve had fits and starts about getting back to my original goals, and pushing myself to stick to a plan that has me at the gym three times a week, with running added in there too.  I’ve had moments, especially when Ray was overseas, when I could feel myself falling back into that pattern as a means of dealing with my anxiety and worries, but each time I started, it was a mixed bag of emotions – good and bad.  Something had changed, and something wasn’t right about every time I’d started working out again, which is why I simply dropped the plan again and again.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been mulling over what I should do.  It’s clear, I need to keep exercise in my life, but it has to have a different reason for being part of my day-to-day existence.  I can’t exercise as a way to beat back anxiety demons, and then drop it once those demons are placated.  I need to do something sustainable, something that fits into my life, and is simple, and seemingly effortless.  One of the senior drivers I met the other week said something that hit home.  She looked me square in the face and said, “Get up out of that seat as much as you can.  Do not sit still for too long.”  I’ve taken that to heart.

One of the most basic movements that I am able to do is take a walk.  I’ve always been a walker, whether walking all the way to my grandmother’s house as a kid along a woody riverside path, to walking five miles to work simply because I was up before the buses were running.  I have always prided myself on being able to set my mind to right simply by putting one foot in front of the other and just walking.  It was in that spirit that this week, I set a project for myself.  My work schedule is such that I don’t go to work until 1p all week long, and I’m not out so late that can’t get up at a decent, reasonable time in the morning.  I took the opportunity to set a small goal for myself: go for a walk every morning this week, and just see how I feel come Saturday.

Today, Wednesday, is day three of this little project.  Each morning, I’ve walked about two miles through my neighborhood, at a steady pace.  There’s a little cafe along my route which provides a little motivation in a cup, and in my ears, I have the chance to catch up on podcasts and the news.  All in all, by the time I’m done, there’s a little glow of perspiration on my body, and I feel like I’ve started my day off on the right foot.  So far, this is a very doable, very manageable, very achievable goal of mine.  So far, it feels good.

I told this to Amanda this morning, and she said something that struck a chord.  She said her approach to exercise has changed too.  She’s decided that exercise is more about health rather than seeking to achieve model status.  This, for her, has added back the fun-factor when she goes to the gym, and when she can’t make it, she says she doesn’t go crazy with guilt and remorse.  I heartily agree with her.

I’m done feeling bad for not hitting the gym.  I’m done with beating myself up every time I take off my shirt.  I’m done with comparing myself to the hundreds of beautiful men I see daily, both online and in real life.  In the end, just taking a walk seems to be just what I need to do.  Working out is not an act of desperation any longer.  It’s me, being human, doing something at human-scale.  It’s not CrossFit or trying to prove to the world around me that I’m worthy of it’s approval.  It’s not military-grade intense.  Laying this foundation – by shifting my approach, along with setting small, fully-attainable goals, I think I’ve hit a button that suits me.  Finally.

Something Real

Yesterday, I decided to let myself go.  Around noon, on a gloomy Sunday, I opted to pour myself a stiff brunch cocktail – a simple screwdriver made with a bit more vodka than I probably should have – and I sat at my laptop and played a little more of a video game I bought about a month ago.  As time passed, my video gaming turned into sending out messages to fellas that I’ve been meaning to contact for some time, but for whatever reason, had not.  Eventually, I fixed myself another drink, and started to text Ray about the remainder of our day.  I was tipsy, but as it had been a really, really long time since I’d allowed myself a bit of indulgence, it felt good.  I meandered my way down to Ray’s, where I promptly took a little nap while he finished up his ballot for voting.

The plan was to hit up our favorite little bar here that has one of the best happy hours (and most affordable) that we’ve ever seen.  $2 cocktails and $2 snacks meant a couple of drinks and a couple of pretzels between us.  We then moved on to a cute little tea house just up the street a bit, which was absolutely adorable, and some place I definitely want to return to.  After tea and some light snacks, we made our way downtown to a drag show, something we both have enjoyed in the past, but hadn’t had the opportunity to see in a long time.  It was a pleasant experience all the way through, really.

What stuck, however, was the conversation that he and I had over the course of our afternoon.

It’s no secret that since meeting him, and starting my bus driving job, I’ve fallen off the wagon of health and fitness that I’d been on for some time.  I found myself diving into exercise and strength training as a way to cope with anxiety and all of the troubles I had in my personal life.  It was an escape.  It was a means to an end in that I could possibly garner more attention from the fellas I was seeking to date if my body was in better shape.  Nothing’s more basic than initial attraction, but that connection factor is solely based upon looks (like it or not), and I knew that I needed to at least look good.  I needed to at least appear like I had my life together, when nothing could be farther from the truth.  When I was living in that dark, cold house with the ex, without a job, and without a whole lot of hope and optimism, I struggled really, really hard to at least keep up appearances.  It was my Yankee training coming through in spades.  I learned really early in my life that even if you have nothing and your whole personal world is in chaos, you never, ever let on that this is the case.  You put on a veneer and smile and fake your way through the day.  You never want to be an emotional burden on anyone, and you certainly don’t want people talking about you or pitying you.  Pride is huge, and pride, for me, was always and forever based on outward appearances.  Looking good = everything is fine, even when it’s not.

The conversation Ray and I had yesterday surrounded the health and wellness of our lives.  He knows that he needs more activity, more exercise, in his life.  He’s mentioned his yoga that’s fallen to the wayside.  He has also voiced a concern about my health too.

He knows and recognizes that we both have put on weight and are not as active as we should be.  He is concerned about my cigarette smoking, which I’m loathe to admit is still a thing in my life.  The way he delivered these concerns about my health, though, resonated in a way that has never happened in my life before.

My previous boyfriend had been really callous about my body shape and his judgement towards how I looked.  He blatantly called me fat, saying that he thought I’d be further along with my fitness goals than I had been upon my arrival here in Portland, Oregon.  I took that insult, that deeply-cutting punch to my self image and self esteem, and turned it into the thirty pounds I lost in the time I was stuck at his house.  I used to run miles and miles and miles out of rage, out of resentment, just to prove him wrong, especially after he ended things with us.  I hit the gym hard, with a routine that was exhausting, but was definitely giving me the physical results I had wanted.  I wasn’t doing it for myself, though, even though I’d tried to convince myself that I was (and kept touting my progress across the social networks, and even here on this blog).  It wasn’t the first time I’d been called fat, or unattractive.  It wasn’t the first time that my body shape had come in between me and a person with whom I’d fallen in love.  My reaction has been practiced over and over again, too.  I’m well versed in exercise out of spite, rage, revenge, and to prove the other person wrong.  I did the same with Thomas.  I did the same with Nathaniel.

With Ray, though, something is very different.  With his concerns, they’re not coming from a place of judgement or resentment.  They’re not shared out of spite or bitterness.  When he told me that he’s concerned about my weight, and that he really wants me to give up the cigarettes, it wasn’t out of judgment or anger.  Honestly, and for the first time in my life, he told me these things because he actually cares.  It’s real.  This whole thing.  He wants me to be a healthy and vibrant part of his life because he actually loves me, and actually wants me to be the strongest, happiest, healthiest person I can be.  This is a very, very far cry from everything I’ve ever experienced with regards to judgment of my body and state of being in the past.

Going forward, there may not be many days where I “let go” and allow myself to indulge in alcohol like I did yesterday.  Going forward, I am resolved to make smoking a thing of my past – again.  Going forward, I’m not going to go running because I’m angry, or I’m going to ‘prove him wrong,’ or because I’m feeling worthless.  Going forward, any actions I take to improve my overall health will be because I want to improve my life as well as the life I’m now sharing with a person who really, honestly, and truthfully cares about my wellbeing.  It’s all different now; it’s a new reality.

I feel like I’m re-learning how to live my life and I embrace this kind of change.  I’ve needed it for quite some time.

(Re)Starting Over

I went out for a run today.  This is something I’ve not done since Ray got back from Europe over a month ago, and again, I’m back to square one with my body.  Honestly, and I have to always be honest here, I’m back to square one in a lot of ways.  The weight I lost while living under extreme conditions at my ex-boyfriend’s house is back.  All of it, plus some.  I’ve lost a lot of muscle tone that I once had under my flesh.  I’m not able to breathe as well as I once was.  Two miles of running today was a bit of a huge slap in the face.

What I’ve realized, though, is this: I run out of anxiety.  When my life is a nervous wreck, I run.  When I feel trapped, lost, angry, upset, worried, frantic, or all of the above, I run.  This is a habit I developed way back when, going on nearly twenty years ago, when I felt my life crashing down around me as an undergrad at college.  My grades sucked. I was depressed (and closeted).  I was broke.  I had no friends.  What I did have, though, was time, and a body I could seriously abuse.  I couldn’t control the things around me, but I could control how I looked.  The added bonus that came with running was the endorphins that I needed to forget all of my worries.  With running, I could channel all of that nervous energy into one more step, one more hill, one more mile.

While Ray was gone to Europe, I was super nervous about what he was up to, and how much of an effect the trip was going to have on our relationship.  Instead of just waiting and seeing what happened, I took to the pavement.  It’s really no surprise that I ran my fastest 10k ever while he was gone.  I was that upset and worried.  When I was living under Cal’s roof (my ex-boyfriend), the stress of not having a job, no income, and after he broke it off with me, no support system, it’s not a shock that I used to run upwards of 10 to 11 miles a few times a month (and was down thirty or so pounds from where I was when I arrived in Portland).

I need to redefine my reasons for running.  Today, as I huffed and puffed my way through a mere two miles – a test to see just how far I’d fallen – I found myself seeking a better answer to why I run.  I need to remember that the work I put in now, the way I treat my body now, will carry me forward to forty and beyond.  I need to develop this habit in a healthy way, and not as a means to escape or not face issues in my life.  I also need to untie my connection of body shape/size with self-worth and self-respect.  The truth is, I have a loving man in my life who, on more than one occasion, has expressed his concerns for my health and that he wants me around in his life for a good long time.  I want to be in his life for as long as well, and I don’t want to be broken down and unable to do the things we enjoy doing – travel, hiking, camping, etc.

Today was a test.  A check-in with myself.  I can still run under a 10-minute mile, but I certainly need to expend far more effort in doing so because I’m heavier, and weaker.  I need to combat my sedentary sit-down job.  I need to also look at my diet and take that side of my life seriously too.  I’ve got bad eating habits that need to stop – I’m a total grazer, and will eat a lot of little bits between meals.  I need to reconfigure all of this if I mean to actually make the goals I set out for myself.  I have less than two years now, and it’s gotta happen.  I will be Fit by Forty.

Running Over Myself

I’ve been out running every other day (minus yesterday – details to follow) since Ray took off for Iowa about two weeks ago.  This is a habit of mine that had fallen away since the first of the year for a variety of reasons.  I’d started working again.  I’d moved home.  I’d met Ray.  It’s taken some time, and some effort has been put back into it off and on, but the habit that I once had seemed to be elusive to me.  It just never felt right.  I was doing it for the wrong reasons, maybe, or I felt like I had to, rather than want to.  In any case, these past two weeks of running every other day have started to show, again, on my body.  In a constant state of flux, it’s clear to me that my body will never remain one shape or size for very long.

I started this running habit when I was nineteen and in college.  I was running away from my old self.  It was before I came to grips with the fact that I was a gay man, and I didn’t know why I was hating on myself so hard.  I ran about twenty five miles a week, doing a five-mile loop in Dover, NH (one of my favorite runs still), and found myself gaining some sort of control over how I presented myself.  It was, though, a bit of a knife-edge to be on for me, because it was also the time when I was being the worst with regards to eating.  My depression/self-loathing had turned my mind on my body, and I was using running along with caloric restriction and expulsion to pare away the old me.  Still, the running gave me a release from what was an ever-present grip of anxiety.  I managed to shave away lots and lots of my body, and in the end, though I got down to my smallest ever (155 lbs.), I learned that I could have control over my self, and that running made me feel good about things.

I picked it back up in England, where I ran my first 10k race ever.  I went from a mostly-stagnant couch potato of a new teacher, worked up and worried over everything about my job, to a person who used running to put things in perspective and to get out of my own damn way.  It was good to do with my coworker Chris, too, who inspired me to give it a go, and really shape up a bit.  Then, the running was a way of managing stress, and keeping me on an even keel.

I returned to running again, off and on, through my time with Nathaniel.  We had tried running as a couple, but the competitive streaks in us both proved to be too much.  Towards the end of things with him, though, I had turned to running as a form of escape.  I could shut out the bad and focus on my footfalls and the energy flowing through my body.  I could take a break from my constant worry and overthinking and just run.  Just put one foot in front of the other for an extended period of time.

I took up running once more when I was living in Portland, ME, after Nathaniel and I ended things.  At that point, I was feeling really rejected.  I felt like a broken man with little to no worth.  I had absolutely nothing but my health and a pair of sneakers.  It seemed that running, and the endorphins it brought me, were just what I needed to avoid the despair that seemed to be all over the rest of my life.  I was also up to my throat in school work, and running proved to be a great way for me to sort out the words I intended to put on the page.  It was a way for me to break away from the laptop and just exist with my thoughts over time.  I also learned that movement and thinking went hand in hand for me.  This was something that was never taught at Goddard, but when I mentioned this phenomenon to others of my group, many agreed with me.  Running, or even just taking a walk or a hike, seemed to clear the air, and shut off the forever-screaming critic that lived in us all.

When I relocated to Denver, it took some time to adjust to the altitude and oxygen at a mile in the sky, but I eventually returned to running once more.  There, my life was in quite a tailspin.  I was living quite fast, seeking and searching for a direction and path to follow.  I had a job, but it wasn’t fulfilling.  I had some friends, but I was almost always a wet blanket to their easy, care-free way of living.  I was too intense, too emotional, too much at times to be around.  I turned to running as a way of unburdening myself from my life and, again, just escaping into the wild for a while.  Along with hiking, the running in Denver was a soul-saver for me.  It gave me space to think and be.  It gave me release.  It gave me focus.

After moving to Portland, and having the relationship I moved here for fall apart, I once again turned to running.  I was in a desperate situation, living by my wits alone.  Running, again, proved to be the only thing I felt I could do with some sort of accuracy, and which would give me the space I needed in my head to stop chewing over things that were out of my control.  I was a long time finding work here, and living in a less-than-ideal situation in a house that was no longer my home.  I ran and ran and ran to prove to myself that I had value.  I used the tracking apps to share my progress because I needed the validation I’d get from those who followed along.  Honestly, as trite as it sounds, those little cheers in my ears were just the thing I needed to balance off the rejection and disappointment that crippled me during that time in my life.  Running saved me, again.

I’ve returned to it now, and it seems like it’s becoming another habit I can stick with.  I’m with Ray, who is an avid supporter of my health, in all ways.  He knows I’m trying to finally kick my smoking habit (yes, I’m still smoking, but it’s really, really close to being over).  He knows I’ve got these Fit by Forty plans for myself.  It was the other night – the night I ended up skipping my morning run – where this all kind of sank in and came home.  I found myself an anxious, emotional weirdo who needed some coddling and reassurance.  Any confidence I thought I had seemed to have drained away in the light of the full moon.  I had slipped into an anxious corner of my mind, and turned it on him in a way that was simply not okay.  He, of course, handled it like a champion, inviting me over to share some wine and a chat with him and his friend Steven while the night crept into early morning.  We eventually fell asleep at 3a, and I didn’t end up running that morning, but I wished I had.

Today, I made up for that skipped run.  I rolled out of bed and slipped into my sneakers once again.  After a cup and a half of coffee, I just set off.  I haven’t been tracking or sharing these recent runs, either.  I’ve stopped berating myself when I slow up to a walk – instead, I’m calling it interval training – and I’m not pushing myself for more miles, more distance, more, more, more.  Instead, I’m just running until I’m done.  Whenever and wherever that happens.  I do have a general idea of a route in my head, but when I set off this morning, that was subject to change at every corner, which proved to be just what I needed.  I caught myself in the reflection of a plate glass window, and saw something that is only evident to me when I’m out running or being active.  After straightening my slouch, standing fully erect, and taking deep, meaningful breaths, I could feel a certain power inside me.  It was a mix of adrenaline and endorphin.  It was confidence.  It is confidence.

Running, all along, has taught me so many things.  It’s offered me escape, comfort, pleasure, control, and now a sense of worth.  I feel good about putting my body through these paces, and I feel like instead of running away from something, I’m running towards something better.  Running has been there for me when I’ve needed it, and I’ve finally started paying attention to my body when it’s craving a bit of pavement and movement.  When I feel the anxiety growing, when I feel the darkness, when I am not happy about the skin I’m in, that’s when I need to get out and get moving the most.  I need to just get over myself and get out there.  I am a strong, capable, sexy, confident man, when I allow myself to be, and can put down the anxiety and fear for a while.  Running has taught me this.

Old Demon

Ray is proving to be something totally extraordinary.

Yesterday, he took me to a place here in the Portland area that I had already decided I hated.  Along the northern reaches of Sauvie Island, where we did some fantastic picking of summer berries – blackberries and raspberries by the pound – there is a quiet nature reserve that also has a sandy beach along the shores of the mighty Columbia.  Part of this beach is clothing optional, which is the part that I least wanted to know about. I knew, however, that he would go there from time to time, and really enjoyed being in a quiet natural setting in a quiet, natural state, simply enjoying the sun on his skin.  I knew this was important to him, and that if I wanted to experience this kind of thing with him, I’d need to put aside my own judgements and take the plunge.

It was cloudy, verging on rain, and being a mid-week day, there wasn’t a soul out there to bother us.  He suggested we take our picnic there, the one I had planned earlier this week.  In my backpack were some deli crackers, two types of cheese, and a bottle of wine.  I enjoyed the ride there, snapping some photos of the farms and fields, and keeping up a lively, happy conversation with him.  Still, as we drew near to the parking spaces for this beach, all empty, I felt my throat tighten and myself go a bit dizzy.  Something was not right about what we were about to do, and Ray could visibly see that I was in distress, on the verge of panic.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

My reply became something I’ve never shared with anyone prior to that very moment.  I told him what had happened to me the last time I had visited a clothing-optional beach.  An older man had been rather aggressive with me, and had crossed a very personal line that left me feeling really, really scared, vulnerable, and rotten.  I managed to get out of the situation, and fled home, upset and disturbed, but never spoke of my experience to a soul.  Ever.

As I told him this, the look across his face went from concern to sadness.  As I explained why this thing was standing between my enjoyment of a very beautiful, very natural setting with a very wonderful, very beautiful man such as him, and myself, I could see him, full of grace, take a very gentle and very peaceful turn of behavior.  We didn’t have to stay.  He was sorry this had happened to me.  I insisted that we go to the beach, so long as we kept to ourselves.  There was absolutely no one there, from what I could tell.  I was not in danger.  Ray was there to protect me.  That thing that had happened in my past was not going to happen again.  He promised me this, and I believed him.

When we got to the waterline, there were a couple of people also enjoying the breaks in the clouds, but they were far off, almost out of eyesight and totally out of earshot.  It was clear that I could simply ignore them and remain present, with Ray.  We did manage to enjoy a kiss of sun on our skins, but the clouds grew thick and the afternoon wind blew up the river, forcing us to leave a little earlier than we had planned.  Still, we’d managed to sip a little wine, and along with the food I’d brought, plus some of our berries, an experience that I dreaded and feared because of this old demon turned out to be something beyond romantic.  Yesterday was transformative.

Ray gave me back a part of me that I’d lost.  When I was a young boy, growing up on a rural farm in Maine, I used to always shuck off my clothes and play in the streams that ran near our home without any regard.  I was a boy in the summer enjoying a swim.  Innocent, relaxed, happy.  I have never been comfy in my skin, but when I knew I was safe, when I was alone, when I knew I could put down my armor, I was always able to enjoy myself and the kiss of sun and wind on skin that is usually covered under layers of cloth.  As an adult, and in that moment of darkness on that beach in my past, that innocence and purity was taken from me.  No longer could I expose myself that way.  No longer, and never again.  I simply shut that part of me off, and ever since then, have really shunned nudity in public spaces, distancing myself from spaces where it is either encouraged or simply allowed.  I forgot how nice it felt to simply be a human being in nature, being in my own flesh, being both exposed and unhidden – an honest visage of myself.  Yesterday, under his careful watch, Ray allowed me to find that part of me again, and for a short while, I was just a human boy in the woods along the river again.

Another demon has been slain.  Another part of me has been restored.