If time “flies” when you are having fun, it enters warp-speed when you are grieving the loss of a child. It’s hard to believe that we are now in the fourth year of our mission to spread kindness in our late son’s name. It’s even harder to reconcile the fact that my little boy’s laughter has not filled our home for more than three years now. It has been more than one thousand days since I have held, tickled, teased or cradled him. The passage of all that time has done nothing to ease the pain of his absence. 1,000 days sounds like so much time, yet if I gauge that time based on my level of pain, it would seem no time has passed at all. Today hurts just as much as day one did three years ago.
When we first lost Rees time seemed to stand still. It was agonizingly slow, with every tic of the clock seeming to teeter on the edge of infinity. The pain was omnipresent and unrelenting; it marred every single waking moment. This is pretty much how things kept going right up until the one year anniversary. When October 27th, 2013 rolled around it paradoxically felt at once like it took an instant AND an eternity to get there.
Things changed after that day… Time started to accelerate, and it has not slowed down since. As I sit back and try to analyze why the time has moved so fast I can find only one conclusion: It’s all about distraction. I have distracted my way through these three years with things that keep me from focusing on my pain – and since the pain doesn’t go away I find myself constantly distracted.
I have become a master of distracting myself from my pain. It turns out that the foundation and movement we started in Rees’ name proved the ultimate distraction. Every moment I spent on building the movement and spreading kindness in his name was one less moment in which I had to reconcile with the pain. Ironically, in promoting kindness to others, I was actually proving to be most unkind to someone rather important: myself.
I really didn’t realize just how unkind to myself I was being until December 19th, 2015 – what would have been Rees’ fourth birthday. On that day, I found myself in a movie theater watching the newest Star Wars Movie for the second time in two days. Right before the opening crawl of the movie I vividly remember the feeling of anticipation that I had to see the movie again. It was such an odd feeling that I remarked to my friend who invited me about how weird it was to be this excited again. “Just imagine how excited you will be next year when the NEXT Star Wars movie comes out – or when episode 8 comes out in 2 years” was his immediate reply. I smiled in response, holding back the unexpected, and troubling, words that immediately formed in my head: Yeah, that’s if I live long enough to see them.
If I live long enough to see them??? Those words echoed in my head so loudly that they drowned out the blaring orchestra playing the Star Wars theme. For the first time in my life I questioned whether or not I would be around in the near future and right there, in the middle of a movie theater, I questioned why I had just thought that.
The answer wasn’t long in coming. In fact it was always there… hidden behind all the distractions that I so expertly created in the past few years. My subconscious finally had the nerve to tell me that with everything I was doing I had forsaken my own health and well-being in order to avoid the pain. I was hiding from that pain in every way possible and it was literally killing me. I was being unkind to myself and I didn’t realize it until that moment… As I look back now I wonder how it took me so long to recognize that I was hurting myself and, at times, others through my constant distractions. I was so hyper-focused on creating a legacy for Rees that I was shutting out some of the most important things in my life; all to the detriment of my physical and mental health.
It’s funny, but I know that if you could rewind the clock and talk to the me before December 19th, he would tell you that everything he was doing was helping with the mental/emotional strain that Rees’ death had created. By going out to speak to schools and writing books and maintaining a social media presence, past me thought he was doing what he needed to keep his brain active and channel his pain. In retrospect, I now know that all I was doing was hiding behind these tasks in a vain effort to shelter from the pain. In order to shelter yourself from pain, you need to isolate yourself. I didn’t realize what I was doing was isolating myself… I mean how could that be? I literally was speaking to thousands of people and putting myself out there.
The problem was that the part that was going out there was the facade built up to hide the pain I was sheltering. The problem with facades is that they are not inherently structural. Facades are meant to look good on the outside and that is all. The real me was hiding within. Afraid. Scared. In pain. What was worse is that the facade didn’t just hide the real me from the world… it hid the real me from myself.
Facades cannot last long if the the structure upon which they are built is unsound. As the stress builds, cracks form. If left untreated, those cracks grow into fissures that eventually will cause the facade to crumble. Sure, you can hide the cracks with filler and paint, but that is purely cosmetic. Eventually, the structure within will fail and everything comes crashing down. For some reason (I’d like to think it was Rees telling me on his birthday), in that moment of enlightenment in a dark theater I realized the structure within was failing and unless something was done right away, I was going to crumble.
That thought occurred in my head that was attached to an almost 400 pound body that was uncomfortably wedged into a movie theater seat not meant for my girth. I have dealt with weight issues almost my entire life, with my weight fluctuating by 50-75 pounds in any given year but always hovering near the 300 pound mark. That was until Rees passed away. After he died, I slowly started packing on the pounds. Sure, I would notice every once in a while and lose a little weight here and there but, inevitably, the weight would always come back and then some. I will be honest, I was never self-loathing or upset too much about my weight. There was never a sense of urgency to lose it. I always felt like I would get rid of it one day.
There should have been moments before my epiphany in December that got me to do something about it. A big wake up call should have been when a former Biggest Loser contestant contacted me right after Samantha and I appeared on Fox and Friends in December of 2013. When I look at that video, and really any other pictures – I wonder how I did not see it myself. I knew I should lose weight, but I never really wanted to lose weight. That all changed on that day in the theater. It was the first time I realized that I was not being kind to myself and my subconscious was finally realizing it.
Even though the realization that I was not being kind to myself came on the 19th of December, I realized that I couldn’t just jump into making a life-long change. I needed to plan this out and set realistic goals for myself that were slow and steady. That was more difficult than anything else – as I tend to be incredibly impatient and impulsive. Recognizing those faults, I made sure to plan out exactly what my goals would be and how I would do it.
I am proud to say that I am 60 days into my plan and have not faltered. I have either gone out for a run every morning or been to the gym for every single one of those 60 days… including the day of the big blizzard that hit us. Even though my heaviest was 400 pounds, I was not 400 when I started. I know I had lost weight over the summer – but sadly my scale couldn’t measure me at that weight. I estimated my weight to be between 360 – 375 lbs when I started the process. I am now down to 322. On my first day I was able to run a mile in 22:41. I have since cut that time to 11:23. The facade I saw in the mirror was literally melting away, revealing a reflection that was more in line with how I feel inside now.
I was hiding my pain in plain sight. It manifested in every cookie, donut, fast-food etc. that I put in my mouth. Every pound I gained in the last three years was a reflection of the pain I was trying to hide. I thought I could hide from that pain by being kind to others and spreading our message of hope. The problem was that I wasn’t being kind to myself at all – and even though I was accomplishing my goal of honoring Rees, I was hurting myself in the process.
When I think about where I am now, I find myself again amazed that I was able to keep true to my goal of being kind to myself for 60 days. Those 60 days seemed like such a long time when I set out to do this. It really shouldn’t have though. Time is still flying just as fast as it was before I realized I needed to be kind to myself. The only difference now is that instead of hiding the pain with distractions, I have turned it into the fuel that has driven me to not only make others feel better, but to do the same for myself. For the first time in the past three years I am fully prepared to make this world a kinder place, and I realize that the process must include myself. Take it to someone who knows it well… true happiness just isn’t possible if you can’t be kind to yourself. I’m done hiding behind the facade. I am ready to be kind to myself, one little piece at a time.