Learning to Rely On Me
Guest post by Lori Bell:
About 6 and a half years ago, my world came crashing down. My mom - my rock, my best friend, my person, my go-to for everything - died in a car accident. My dad, who just lost his soulmate, best friend and the love of his life, had to come to my house to tell me and then watch as I collapsed on my bedroom floor in a heap of tears and hysterical crying. My babies were so young then - my son was 3 and my daughter was just 14 months. I remember their wide eyes as they watched me sob. We had just moved to Brantford from Mississauga, Ontario (my parents, who lived 6 hours north, had recently moved down the street from us). This was supposed to be the start of a wonderful life with all of us living close, a new city, a fresh start.
Losing my mom made me feel empty. It made me feel lost. And scared. And really, really friggin alone. It made me feel angry, too, which I hated. We all coped fairly well, it seemed - some of us going to counselling, others choosing to deal with the grief and loss on our own. I found a community of strong women who I was able to connect with through CrossFit, and soon, they became my people. I had resigned from my job in the Toronto District School Board so that I could stay home with my children, which I was incredibly fortunate to do. I had a supportive husband who was willing to help make sacrifices along with me so we could have a parent at home. I guess from the outside, everything looked ok - in some ways, being in a community where no one really knew us made it easier for me not to feel like I was “that girl whose mom died in a car accident.” The reality is, it’s part of my story and I can’t really hide from it. It’s a piece of me and has shaped who I have become - the good, the bad and the very bad parts of me.
The thing is, I lost part of myself that night on my bedroom floor. I was new at this stay at home mom thing, we had just moved to a new city where we didn’t really know anyone, I no longer had my identity as a teacher and I felt like I was unravelling. I almost felt unloved - which is literally the most insane thing ever, since I have the most loving and supportive dad, family and friends but I somehow found myself thinking that once your mom, who loves you more than anyone else in the world possibly can, is gone, that kind of love disappears as well. And I struggled. Hard. I found myself shutting myself off from the people closest to me, more specifically, the people who knew me when my mom was still alive. Not my dad - he got more of my attention than ever before, but my husband. He got the brunt of it. He saw the very worst of me, almost all of the time. I pulled away. We parented beautifully together but we essentially became roommates and the distance between us grew rapidly. I felt like a fraud - trying to look strong and keep everyone happy while feeling like a lost child on the inside. I was scared and felt like I didn’t have a clue who I was anymore. I remember waking up one day about 3 years ago and realized that my little suffer in silence sob story that played out in my head over and over again wasn't just impacting me but it meant that the people around me weren’t getting the best version of me either, particularly my children. And that became the real tragedy.
Part of my problem was my innate desire to please everyone. To always say yes, even if what I had just agreed to literally made my soul scream, knowing how much it would drain me. I was giving pieces of myself away, all the time, without ever really taking time to rebuild what I had just lost. More and more of myself was just gone. I was left with a shell of who I was, or who I had become and I didn’t like what I saw when I looked in the mirror.
I knew change needed to happen. Relationships needed to shift drastically or I would be lost forever. My priorities needed to include focusing on what would make me a better, happier, more fulfilled person because that is the kind of mom my kids deserved. And for the love of everything holy, I needed to STOP saying yes to things that drained my soul, even if it meant losing some friendships because I finally said no.
Frankly, I know the people who could accept my polite declines have also been the ones that have held me up along this journey are the ones that will continue to be strong enough to be with me until I’m old and grey and cranky, complaining about the “teens and their damn music.”
My marriage ended. That was awful. It ended amicably and with love and respect and there’s nothing more I can ask for at this point. My children are happy. They see parents who get along, still love each other, just not in “that way”, as my son says. We do meals and holidays together and this is the formula that seems to work for us so far. It’s going to evolve and change and that’s ok - it’s supposed to, and now that I have my feet under me, I think I’m going to be strong enough to roll with those changes.
I bought a house on my own, which was really scary but an important step. It’s a happy and loving space that represents my journey and my life moving forward. My kids love it and have made wonderful friends on the street, which makes my heart happy as they ride around on their bikes until it’s almost dark, their laughter echoing up and down the street as they pretend not to hear me tell them it’s time to come in.
Probably one of the biggest changes I’ve made for myself is around nutrition and food. In January, I joined a program called working against gravity (WAG) where they have you focus in on counting macros (carbohydrates, proteins and fats). I won’t get into all the details of it except to say how much it has changed my life. I have always struggled with eating my feelings, which is super lame, especially when you recognize what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and still can’t stop yourself. (cue the family sized bag of sour cream and onion chips that I hoovered in a 15-minute drive across town… a wee bit of rock bottom point - oh, and lest we forget the Pepsi chaser I had with it). My coach at WAG has helped me work through so many issues - the emotional part of eating, why I do it, the cycle of shame around it; learning to make good choices around food, while remaining flexible; learning to eat in order to fuel my body for my workouts and focusing on the road towards consistency, not perfection. I’m so much of an all or nothing kind of person, which has always made watching what I eat difficult. One of those people who when they have a little mess up during the day, says “Screw it! I’ve already cheated, so I may as well go to town and eat the bag of sour cream of onion chips now.”
WAG has helped me realize that this is mildly insane behaviour and that I shouldn’t be using food as a reward OR as a punishment. I’ve lost about 35 lbs. since January. I also started a strength program that has helped make me the fittest I’ve ever been in my life and I’m turning 40 in a week. My dad is proud of me. My friends are proud of me. And most importantly, I’m proud of me and so are my kids. One of their friends was watching me lift weights in my garage the other day and his mouth dropped open (it was a light strict press but looks impressive to a 9- year old). My son walked over to him and whispered “my mommy is the strongest person at her CrossFit gym AND her school, you know…” Totally untrue, but the pride in his voice made my heart melt.
It’s been a rough road to get here but I finally feel like I know who I am. Losing people in my life who I relied heavily on has made me realize that I need to rely and count on myself just as much as I do others. I know that I need to be fearless in the pursuit of what sets my soul on fire and each day, I find out more and more what that really means for me.
Lori lives and teaches in Brantford, Ontario. She has two amazing kids, 10 and 7, who remind her everyday why she needs to find the best way to balance her needs with those of the people around her. She loves her job, her family, her amazingly strong friends and lifting heavy weights.
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