Lifestyle

Thursday 10 July 2014

'As I looked in the mirror, looking back at me was what can only be described as a pair of tits; and I don't mean moobs'

I shaved my chest recently. Relax, it was for work. And relax. Not work in the sex industry. Anyway. I shaved it. I didn't wax it. Because obviously if I waxed it I'd get ingrown hairs. Now it wasn't exactly Glendalough on my chest, but I had a respectable bit of vague thatch there. And it turns out it was more than earning its keep.

I looked at myself, bare-chested, in every way, and there was something wrong with it, something a bit weird and creepy about it. Something I couldn't quite look at. I actually felt a bit upset. I felt as if I had mutilated myself, as if I wasn't me.

And then I figured out what it was. As I looked in the mirror, looking back at me was what can only be described as a pair of tits. Don't I mean moobs? No I don't. They were moobs when they had a smattering of hair on them. Back then, they looked almost manly, not so smooth and clearly defined. Now, shaved, they are no longer moobs, they are just boobs.

The hair on my chest took me a long time to grow. There wasn't much of it, but it was covering a multitude. I don't think it's going to take quite the same amount of time to grow back, but it looks as if it's going to be a while.

And, frankly, it is too disturbing to look at these shapely bosoms every day when I shave (my face, which has better growth than my chest). So I think it's time to get rid of them. Or at least to lose some weight so they get smaller.

Luckily something else happened recently, too. I had an operation. Relax, I'll live. And relax, it was not any kind of gender realignment surgery. It was just a small thing, from too much talking.

As part of the recovery, I had to shut up for a while. The main danger was that, after four of days of not talking, my initial frustration had given way to a kind of Zen place where I was thinking I wouldn't bother resuming talking. Except that that was driving people crazy. They could not accept my silence.

Anyway, the point being that after the op I initially thought I was grand. I was back into work the next day happy as Larry, apart from the silence. But then I noticed I felt really sick after lunch, which had been a bowl of soup. Gradually over the next day or two, I realised that if I ate anything apart from one, or maybe two slices of toast, I would feel really sick. So I would just eat a slice of toast now and then. I would really enjoy the piece of toast, but that was all I needed. I reckon I even lost a few pounds.

But something more fundamental than that happened. I got to step outside my habits. I got to see everything afresh. It's as if this minor operation gave me a new lease of life. And while I know it takes time to build new habits, sometimes the hardest thing can be to step out of the old ones in the first place.

But I was handed that bit on a plate. There was an intervention that stopped me and forced me to break deeply ingrained habits. I've been reading a lot about habits recently. They're powerful stuff, whether in people, organisations or society. And they are all bound up in little rewards.

I had never really properly considered that I used food as a reward. But of course I do. Who doesn't in this country? I did it unconsciously, without ever thinking about it.

That's the power of habits, too. They happen unconsciously. They are dug right in there. I was using food as reward for a hard day at work, for when the kids were gone to bed, for getting through a day with a hangover, for anything.

Like the alcoholic, I ate when I was happy and I ate when I was sad. In other words, I was rewarding myself with food, I was also comforting myself with food.

So now, with the toast-related wasting disease, I couldn't really reward myself with food, so I had to think of other rewards. So instead of looking forward to a meal in the evening for that week, I would look forward to watching a movie, or buying a book or the new My Bloody Valentine record or whatever.

And all it takes to see all that, to see what your dynamic with food is, is to go off your food for a few days; for the thing you crave, the thing that comforts you, suddenly to start making you sick. And all at once the whole structure of your day, the whole relationship with food, is thrown into question. It is profound. It is pretty much a meaning of life question. What's it all about? Where I am going? Why am I doing anything? What's the point of it all if I'm not getting that tasty reward at the end of the day? You realise that your whole life is built around food.

And for me it's worse. Because the meal isn't really the reward. The meal is really only the beginning of the reward. The real reward is when the meal is over and the Maltesers or whatever come out. And then you get the reward for the reward.

All this might seem really obvious to you, but I had never really thought about it before. Because I didn't want to. Because it would have upset my eating habits, my cosy little food-obsessed day, all revolving around the next meal, like a baby, or an animal.

You are expecting that the next bit of this is where I tell you that I have now lost three stone and I am full of energy and confidence and hopped up on self-esteem (or ignorant courage, as we call it in my family).

You are perhaps expecting me to expound a bit on mindfulness, too, the new craze of being aware of your breath and the noises around you and the present and whatnot. (Actually, I have my own take on the mindfulness craze. I call it wakefulness, but that is for another day.)

But in fact this story does not have a happy ending. There is no closure. Closure is something else we all demand these days. I'm with Michael Grosz, author of the current best-seller The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves. If you haven't read it, you should. He's great. He's a psychoanalyst and these are stories of his patients (with their permission). Anyway, one of the points Grosz makes is that closure is a myth sold to us by the grief industry, roughly lifted from the stages of grief, which were actually not originally meant to be applied to grief at all, but which were the stages of dying, so they don't even correctly apply to grief.

And there is no closure, Grosz says, because pain does not just go away.

Anyway, no closure for you here. I didn't lose three stone and we didn't all live happily ever after. But you know what? I think I might try to lose those titties. I think I might try to be more aware of what I eat. I think I might try to reward myself in different ways. I think I might try to comfort myself in different ways, too.

I might try not to medicate with food and I might try not to use it as a crutch. I will continue to enjoy it, but on my terms. As spring comes, I feel the strength to stop eating stodge anyway. And what do we want from stodge but to knock us out? So we can sit, or preferably lie, there, belly full of sleepy, comforting carbs, our tummies working overtime to digest the meat.

So I am going to try to be aware of it, to not make food my heroin, to change our relationship. I'm never going to go on a diet at this stage of my life, and I'm never going to pay some east European ex-army psycho to force me to do unnatural things to myself in a gym to get the boobs harder.

I'm just going to try and change slightly and slowly. And maybe that will cause some weight to fall off. But I'm not going to obsess about it. But maybe I will just enjoy engaging with the process of eating and of life in a slightly different way. I will never get to the end of the road – to closure, or perfection – but maybe I will try to change the way I walk for a while, just for a different buzz.

The sad thing is that we all know the reality of this: even if some weight does fall off, the boobs probably won't. I'm just going to need to wait a few years for the hair to grow back and cover them up again.

Irish Independent

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