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Uncovering a blind spot

Let me start off by telling you that I don’t want to write today’s post. But I’m going to because this is a blog about our lifestyle redesign and how it can help you with yours. So that means the mistakes get in here, too.

This is a story about how I discovered a very big blind spot in my life, begrudgingly allowed someone to point it out, and had a real “oh shit!” moment when I knew I had to deal with it. Sort of like a “lifestyle design” firecracker exploding, actually. Maybe my experience will help you unblock one of your own.

Photo by Lukjonis via Flickr

The stories we tell ourselves

The problem with self-editing is that you tend to leave the bad stuff out. And by bad stuff, I mean the stuff that you do to cause pain, misery, and discomfort to yourself and others. In our own minds, we are almost always the savior/victim/bystander, never the guilty one. Or at least we come up with good reasons why we are the guilty ones. You know, because *something else* made us do it.

I’ve been doing a lot of self-editing on a particular chapter lately and Warren called me on it.

A little background

A few years ago my brother had a heart attack. Bo is a big strapping guy who works as a welder and has always been pretty physical on the job. He’s only a year younger than me, but he’s been taller than me since he was a toddler. Even though he’s my younger brother, I’ve always looked at him as this unstoppable force. He works very hard to make a good life for his family, and he has an independent streak that makes him one of a kind. He is an honorable man, loyal to his friends and family, and a devoted father. Plus he’s funny as hell.

In short, I love him dearly.

I’ve talked before about how his heart attack a few years ago was one of the events that spurred our lifestyle redesign. I can barely even write this without crying at the memory. It doesn’t get any easier with time, and every day I hope that my brother is taking better care of himself with the second  chance he’s been given.

This is where I admit I’m kind of a jerk

You know that last sentence I wrote? The one about hoping he’s taking better care of himself? Well, I’ve actually taken it a step further. When I’m visiting I watch everything he’s eating like a hawk. I monitor what my relatives are giving him and how often he goes out to eat. When we talk on the phone I pepper him with questions: Is he getting enough sleep? Exercise? Are his kids stressing him out? How are things going at work? Is he taking his medication? Has he been to the dentist lately? Surely he knows dental health is tied to cardiac health? And so on, and so on…

Granted, I mainly take my “concern” out in private with Warren, but my brother and family can probably sense that I’m a little bit of a nutjob about it.

I’ve created whole conspiracies in my head of people who don’t love him enough to step in when he strays from his eating plan or encourage him to exercise. Obviously they don’t love him as much as I do. And he doesn’t get off the hook, either. I’ve gotten really mad at him before for joking about his heart attack or toying with bad habits again.

(This is just one part of the stuff I don’t want to write. It gets worse.)

Jerk is the wrong word. Maybe “hypocrite” fits better.

Bo’s heart attack did have something to do with his smoking and health habits, but he had the deck stacked against him already. Our biological father and his family have a very strong history of early cardiac disease. Which we didn’t know until shortly before Bo’s heart attack.

Do you see where this is leading?

Yeah, I have the deck stacked against me, too. Not only that, my last two rounds of blood work have shown something wrong with my cardiac profile.

The first time I didn’t do anything, thinking it was a fluke. “I’ll just eat better and exercise and it’ll be fine,” I reassured Warren. And by nothing, I mean nothing. Not only did I not lose weight, I actually gained weight.

Ahem.

This time the level came back elevated again, and my doctor told me it was time to see a preventive cardiologist. That sort of freaked me out, though I put the card aside and didn’t schedule it right away. My friend Betsy Moore kept bugging me about it, and since I see her 5 times a week to run, I knew I couldn’t hold off. So I scheduled the appointment.

And then I went back to life as usual. I’m running, aren’t I? What more could I be doing? Really, it’s just a stupid test and everything else looks okay. And I feel *fine.*

Tough love hurts

We settled in to watch a movie a few nights ago and I got up to get pretzels. No, this wasn’t a snack. This was going to be my dinner.

That’s when Warren lost it.

He said he was tired of standing by while I worked at making myself sick, and the mere fact that I’ve been running since November without losing weight should clue me in that my eating was out of control (ouch).

He asked me how I would feel if Bo had gotten that lab test and then had pretzels or blue cheese or any of the other ridiculous things I’d been eating for dinner.

Well, I wouldn’t like that. But he’s the one who’s had the heart attack, not me.

That’s when Warren said the thing that stopped me in my tracks: I’m having the conversation with you now that you wish someone had had with your brother before his heart attack.

Holy shit. There’s no comeback to that. 3, 2, 1 – I’m out.

My confession and redemption

My  name is Betsy, and I’ve been abusing my body with food, alcohol, and lack of exercise for most of my life. And now that there are signs it could kill me sooner than I wish to leave the planet, I’m going to do something about it. You know, all the “somethings” I thought my brother should be doing.

I can’t guarantee I won’t be a hypocrite anymore, but on this issue you guys can feel free to call me out.

How this applies to you

The more I think about this, the more I realize that what I’ve been focusing on all this time with my brother is also the thing I’m most scared about for me.

Do you ever do this in your life?

  • Look down on the “cheap” guy in your group because you have a problem controlling your own money
  • Say catty things about friends who have gained weight when you know you should lose a few pounds yourself
  • Tell your go-getter friends that they are working too hard when you know you aren’t working hard enough

There are tons of examples, but you get the idea. A wise friend once told me when we get bothered by a person or situation we should look in the mirror to see what is reflecting back that makes it such a problem. It is an incredibly eye-opening exercise, if you actually do it.

Thanks for reading my story. It was truly a watershed moment for me this week – one of the biggest realizations in my life, actually. Your story may differ, but I encourage you to look inside to find out where you may be a hypocrite and why. The why is the really important thing.

And hey, at least you don’t have to write about it on your blog. (Though you are welcome to anonymously share your hypocrite story on mine.)

Tell me, what do you think?

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About Betsy

Betsy Talbot can't live without a Moleskine notebook, her passport, and happy hour. She sold everything she owned to travel the world with her husband Warren in 2010, and she's been enjoying her midlife crisis ever since. Betsy writes about creating the life you want from the life you already have in her books and on the Married with Luggage website. Drop her an email at btalbot (at) marriedwithluggage (dot) com and check out her Google+ page.

Comments

  1. Good for Warren for having enough love for you to say it and good for you for being able to receive it. He’s not enabling you anymore. Thank you for being so honest. I think a lot of people will relate to this so you’ll help others as well.

  2. Thanks for writing this. My husband just went through a bad car accident and since then I (and my in-laws) have had similar reactions–being overly protective, not trusting him to take care of himself or each other to take care of him. Luckily it doesn’t happen all the time or we’d make each other insane. Occasionally one of us oversteps our bounds and the others kind of huff and raise an eyebrow until the offender lays off. We’re all doing it. It’s so hard not to! But as my husband’s health improves, we’re all relaxing a bit more.

    It’s always a good thing to make sure you’re not judging others for the things you do yourself. It happens! I can’t think of anything in particular I’m doing right now(other than the above), but that is certainly not a sign that I’m NOT doing it. Hah! . .it’s what you don’t notice that’s the most obnoxious usually.

  3. Hi, Simple in France. I think your last line is perfect – we really don’t usually notice these things until we get a wake-up call. It is so tough to watch someone you love suffer, and we only want the best for them. Why don’t we want that for ourselves?

  4. anonymous says:

    Betsy,

    I noticed you did a word play on the 12-step, “Hello, I’m so-and-so and I am a ______ ”

    If you’d like more info about real support for over-eating and bad food choices, let me know. (or delete this comment. whatever works!)

    Big hug from the friend you gave the cashmere coat to.
    JUST CALL ME “ANONYMOUS”

  5. Hello, my dear anonymous friend. Thanks for the suggestion. I am actually falling back on my Weight Watchers training for this and sharing accountability, and it seems to be working. But if I hit a slump, I’ll be sure to call you. Thank you so much for reaching out – you really are a fantastic person in about a 1000 different ways.

  6. Thanks for stopping by, Shannon. Warren does deserve a lot of credit for speaking up. Too often we don’t because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, even if it is for their health.

  7. So proud of you for sharing, Betsy. So proud of Warren for loving you enough to call you out. And so humbled to see my own blind spots as well.

    I will share a (slightly less) watershed moment with the blog family, if it will help advance the cause of looking at ourselves in the mirror:

    A while ago, I was at church where I sing in the choir. It’s a Catholic church, and I have had issues with the institution for many years now and have struggled with my overall strong faith in God (which got me through some dark times in my life) against the construct of this archaic institution that I don’t always agree with and that, while doing a lot of good at times, has also caused much pain and intolerance. For me, I can’t just “let go” of being Catholic, as it’s as much a part of me as being Italian, so I try to reconcile things in my own mind. I’ve also met some amazing people (including a new friend who is a very cool nun!) who agree with my perspectives and try to change things from within.

    Anyway…one sunday, the priest (whose sermons I normally love for their humor and no-BS) talked about it being okay to go to God with the “little things” like doing well on a test or making your plants grow and not feel guilty about it. But to make his point, he tried to “joke” and say, “Don’t pray about war or earthquakes. There is nothing you can do about them. They are not to be worried about.” He said this, a FEW DAYS after the devastation in Haiti.

    Shaking, I went up to him after mass, told him I thought it was irresponsible to tell the congregation to not be concerned or pray after what had happened in Haiti. My exact words were, “People don’t need another reason or excuse to be selfish.” To which he said that peole had been anything but selfish and had outpoured love and aid and asked about what more they could do. He said the congregation knew when he was “kidding” to make a point. I told him he did not sound like he was kidding at all and to remember his words have impact.

    As I thought more about this, I immediately saw my own blind spot. For some reason, I had a bias that ALL THE OTHER people in church are hypocrites and selfish people while I am not. I assumed that they needed to be told to help, to be caring, to be concerned and that the priest was just “giving them a free pass” not to do anything. I had this stereotypical image that these people go to church on Sunday then lie, cheat and steal the rest of the week. Where the heck had this holier than thou attitude come from? Who the heck was I to pass judgment on THEM? Why did I think I was better or more elightened than another person just b/c I gave a measley donation to Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF? After all, I wasn’t getting my butt on a plane down to Haiti to help. But other people I knew were, including many from the Catholic charities.

    I realized that the issue was ME, not the other way around. That many of the people there were generous and kind and wanted to do more. Just like me. No worse and perhaps no better either.

    It was actually very freeing to let go of my anger and realize everyone is just trying to do the best they can, including me. When we take off our judgment blinders, we can be a lot more productive!

  8. Maria, that is a powerful story. My friend Lori is so generous with other people’s mistakes and often says “People show up in the best way they can at that moment.” When we realize that we sometimes fit in that scenario it can be a moment of clarity.

    Your story really spoke to me today. Thank you for being so open.

  9. I commend you for sharing this story, too, Betsy. The fact that you were willing to see this “blind spot” means you’re ready to change! How exciting!

    I know that I still come to many situations with way too much judgment. I still find it hard to remember in those times when things really get under my skin or when I feel extra high and mighty, that the people/situations that are allowing me to feel that way are exactly what I needed.

    They are showing us “shadow.” Showing us those parts of ourselves we don’t want to look at in the mirror, that we don’t want to accept as part of ourselves. But only when we accept them will we be able to change and move on. In the light of awareness, things never take as much of our energy. That leaves more energy for joy and thankfulness and enjoyment. I hope realizing your blind spot has helped you to feel more this way! And thanks for the reminder that this is still something I need to work on.

  10. Julia, you sound like a very wise woman. I like the phrase “light of awareness” when talking about shadows.

    Today was a very stressful day for me due to the death of a loved one – a day when I would normally have indulged in too much wine and bad food – but I didn’t even want to overindulge. I can’t believe how powerful Warren’s statement was for me. The shadow is definitely in the light of awareness.

  11. Chase in VA says:

    Betsy –
    This was my favorite posting thus far – you had me in tears by the end. You know me well enough to know I abuse my body in the very same ways you do and it’s hard to admit that down the line (or sooner) there truly are health consequences. I recently had a life changing experience that put a lot of my choices into perspective and I have since vowed to make this my time to start making exercise and good food choices a part of my everyday life. As for the wine – I’m going to try to treat her as an acquaintance and not so much a best friend :)
    Thanks for your continued inspiration.

  12. Chase, that was the best line I’ve heard in a while: “I’m going to treat wine as an acquaintance and not a best friend.” That is my new mantra.

    Kind of hard to believe we’re old enough for life-changing experiences, huh? Glad to hear you are on the right track with food and exercise. In 30 years we’ll be the healthiest old broads at the winery.

  13. I must just say to you – how much I admire your courage. Thank you for continuing to be an inspiration.

  14. Betsy, Good for you for owning up to something that you want to change. I quit smoking cigarettes years ago after 15 years of smoking, knowing full well that cancer ran in my family and that my grandfather had died at 59 from lung cancer, from smoking cigarettes. Talk about denial. What worked for me was to focus on what I’d be gaining (the lifestyle I always wanted) and not what I’d be giving up (the cigarettes). It’s hard to believe now that the cigarettes were ever in the running, compared to a healthy lifestyle I love with a man I’m crazy about (we never would have gotten together if I’d still been smoking).

    What’s great about your issue is that you don’t have to give up food or alcohol entirely, just make them more of a special treat. And luckily, nowadays there are all kinds of delicious ways to enjoy healthy food.

    Also interesting to me: you chose Warren, who called you on this problem that puts limits on your lifestyle plus actually puts your life at risk. Many people would have chosen someone who shares their problem, so they wouldn’t be called on it. You picked someone who shares the philosophy and lifestyle you truly want.

    Bravo Betsy.

  15. Hello my friend. That entire story is exactly like my life and it’s even worse because I am an aerobics instructor. I am suppose to inspire my students and how can I at over 100 lbs overweight even though everyone tells me I don’t look it, or it’s all muscle, etc. I should have know when my friends called me and said “Biggest Loser is in Boston doing auditions – you should go!”. But yet, here I sit putting off getting on the treadmill for over an hour now and eating leftover spinach risotto for breakfast. They even put me on highblood pressure medicine which I knew was coming since my Mom has been on it for years. I don’t know what I am waiting for either, but it needs to change. Okay, I am going on the treadmill now! Miss you. Anna

  16. Anna: First of all, you have so much personality if you did Biggest Loser you would end up with a reality show of your own! It is hard to be motivated to lose weight when you are bigger but still fit enough to do so many things. I feel your pain. Blood pressure is nothing to fool around with, and I hope you find the motivation to get that under control. Thank you for sharing your story. I miss you, too.

    Angela, your comment brings up an old memory. My ex-roommate was dying to quit smoking, and I was trying to lose weight. We got into the argument about which one was harder. She said hers was because she could never have it again. I told her mine was because I *had* to eat and would fight to control it 3 times a day for the rest of my life. We never decided who had it harder. And she still smokes and I’m still fat. Good point about Warren, though. It is nice being married to someone who has different weaknesses and strengths than me.

    Debb, you’re the one who got me to run this half-marathon, friend, so you are the big inspiration to me!

  17. Often we try to stir the water, causing ripples in the lives of those around us because if we let the water sit all we have to look at is our own reflection.

  18. Cornelius, that is a powerful statement. I’m going to hold on to this one. Thank you for sharing, you eloquent monkey.

  19. Oh, sorry if it sounded like I was saying it’s harder to quit smoking than lose weight. I guess I was just trying to put a positive spin on it, but I can see how it would be harder in a way, because you still have to eat and always be aware of it, but when you quit smoking you say goodbye for good and after awhile hardly think about it anymore.

    I still say bravo, Betsy, for being honest, admitting you’re not perfect, being willing to change, and choosing a partner that will help you be the “you” that you want to be. That doesn’t have to mean slim, but more about taking care of your health.

  20. Oh, Angela. I didn’t think that at all. It just brought up a funny memory about struggle and how we all have it in one way or another. My roommate never had a problem with her weight and couldn’t understand why I did, and I never had a desire to smoke a cigarette and couldn’t believe she did. But we did understand each other’s struggle to overcome bad habits. A universal thing, I think.

    Thank you for your encouragement. I’m sure your discipline muscle is much stronger after your year on the Compact. Does it translate well into other areas of your life? I’m hoping my discipline with running will be a transferable skill. :)

  21. Thanks Betsy, I don’t know where that point of clarity came from but now that I re-read what I wrote I wish I could find a way to use that quote somewhere. good luck in your quest, and remember just like traveling it is the journey that gives us character not the destination.

  22. Mickey Kampsen says:

    Wow, what a powerful post. Thank you so much for the writing…I want to print this out and post it in my kitchen to remind myself every day about looking for blind spots…..this touched mine and I am going to remember it!

    • Mickey, that was a great learning day for me. Not all life lessons are fun, but this one was especially impactful. I’m glad you found it useful.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] March I discovered a blind spot, and then I had a 24-hour meltdown. We had some good conversations around these [...]

  2. [...] effort in the early golden period of our relationships to build on our communication skills and resolve problems, we will struggle mightily when a big test comes our way. In hindsight, this is completely logical [...]

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