Take It Off! Take It Off!

Take it off!As if you hadn’t already noticed, I’m a beer-loving and occasionally wine-dabbling habitué of all manner of bars, pubs, taverns and adult watering stations. They’re the only locales on Earth where I feel truly comfortable.

But there’s even more to it. Emulating other renowned Falstaffian trenchermen in fact and legend, I live to eat and not the other way around.

Given these compulsive proclivities of heightened caloric intake, potential weight gain tops the list of occupational hazards. Fortunately, my above-average height has been very useful as parlor trick, enabling me to creatively distribute many of those inconvenient excess pounds on an angular frame.

While remaining aware that inexorably advancing age brings with it varied and sundry health-related booby traps, my fitness motto has remained unchanged: If I feel good, then it’s all good.

Six years ago in late autumn, one or more variables suddenly shifted, and I didn’t feel good. A subsequent battery of medical tests didn’t point to any one pressing issue, and yet the gist of the findings was that it might be a good time to heed the oft-ignored advice of my sawbones and seek to lighten the load.

My weight loss methodology wasn’t exactly innovative. It involved eating less of better quality food, exercising regularly – and by far the hardest of all – keeping my absorption of alcoholic beverages to a minimum. This forced reduction of libational lifeblood could be just barely rationalized through gritted teeth. I was compelled to keep muttering to myself that somehow, the sedative deprivation regimen was going to be worthwhile.

And so it was. I proceeded to lose almost 50 lbs, although in the years since, roughly half of them have found their way back … well, maybe more like two-thirds. Alas, a professional beer drinker hardly can be expected to shun beer forever, so long as his liver remains marginally functional.

However, neither dieting nor drinking is the primary point of today’s digression. Rather, it is the variety of personal health most often ignored, namely the mental side.

If you will, consider the unexpected consequences of the 2012 summer’s drought at selected Indiana reservoirs. As water levels dropped to historic lows, “ghost” towns re-emerged from the formerly murky, flooded depths. Old-timers once again could see the foundations of their childhood homes, hidden for decades beneath the waters.

This makes for nice human interest copy, except you can be sure that for some of these elderly observers, memories long forgotten became unexpectedly re-animated, rising from the previously submerged bricks and stray ironwork. It’s a good bet not all their youthful reminisces were joyful, and that among the reveries were less flattering recollections.

Bizarrely, I experienced a similar phenomenon during the winter of my weight loss program. In some obscure psychological way, as the pounds came off and my physical well-being improved, a sense of anxiety became pervasive, soon shifting into a melancholia that far exceeded previous short-lived bouts. Winston Churchill’s black dog arrived lathered and panting on my doorstep. He unpacked and moved into the guest room.

Previously, I’d dismissed depression’s intrusions by blaming an oblivious and hostile planet for my angst, citing the immortal literary figure of Ignatius J. Reilly, who nailed it:

“The grandeur of my physique, the complexity of my worldview, the decency and taste implicit in my carriage, the grace with which I function in the mire of today’s world — all of these at once confuse and astound them.”

Perhaps the weight I’d gained over the years was a self-defense mechanism, simultaneously protective and lending itself to the theatrical, something meant to shield inadequacies and weaknesses, but whatever the cause, my own foundations became uncovered, metaphorically, just like the ones beneath long demolished houses at the reservoir.

I’m forever grateful to my lovely and intelligent wife, a highly skilled and committed social worker, for refusing to accept my customary bluster and bull. She rightly insisted on my seeking professional counseling, an idea first grudging, then irrefutable.

Why not? We don’t think twice about seeking a physician’s assistance to bind physical wounds, but asking for help with healing one’s distressed noggin elicits manic bristling, especially among the males of my own generation.

We were raised wild and wooly just outside Mayberry, where life was about action, not words. If we’d just quit being sissies, hitch up our trousers, work even harder and maybe give the Bible a cursory glance, everything would be fine, and even if it wasn’t, there was a sure-fire, fall-back strategy: Just shut the **** up, and take it like a man.

Well, I learned better, and professional counseling really was a life-saver for me. I cannot point to any single moment of epiphany, or to an impassioned “Eureka!” I did not emerge from the experience like Ebenezer Scrooge, freshly renewed, purged, and all touchy-feely to inaugurate a peachy new life.

Rather, there was a slow, intense and necessarily gradual process of question and answer, in search of a few small items to unravel a riddle. The process lasted a year and a half, and when my footing was firmer, it paused. It’s been a while now, and I know it would be a mistake to pronounce myself cured, because no complex human brain works quite that simplistically.

What I’ve learned is to be more consistently self-aware, and to recognize certain symptoms of approaching drought. When the lake dries up and those foundations stare back at you a second time, the hardest rain (or voluminous alcohol) might not suffice to place them back beneath the waters. You must learn to look at them – at yourself – dispassionately.

Why the public confessional?

Another cycle of weight loss starts now. This time it doesn’t need to be 50 lbs; just 25 or so will do. The first phase is slated for January 1 through Gravity Head (February 22), and then after a break, there’ll be a second push from mid-March into June, prior to what I hope will be our first overseas vacation since 2009.

Losing weight is a lifestyle change, but I’ve learned that the beer needn’t necessarily be thrown overboard so long as the nutritional and exercise portions are scrupulously observed. I also have far greater insight into the mental side of the process. This time, if the black dog shows up, I’m chucking his mangy ass into whatever is left of the nearest reservoir.

Wish me luck, and have yourselves a wonderful beer year.

  1. Glad you listened to your wife. Thanks for being another person to let people know that sometimes you just can’t ‘get over it’.

  2. Nicely written.
    I thought you were going to go the route of alcohol being a stress reducer for some reason. I do think a couple of drinks a day can provide some of that relief. But I also recognize that a person may actually be in need of meds for anxiety or depression and shouldn’t have any more stigma attached to that than a person with hypertension or high cholesterol.
    I, too, am struggling with the whole calorie/exercise vs. enjoyment of life dynamic. Though I don’t think I’d enjoy life obese and with heart problems either.
    I’ll still have a couple beers a day just to be safe.


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