Friday, November 10, 2006

A prison story, sort of

As many of you know, I volunteer at a women's federal prison, teaching a drawing class and helping facilitate an AA meeting. In the drawing class, the inmates definitely learn from me, with a lot of help from Betty Edwards' excellent book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. At the AA meeting, however, more often than not they teach me.

Inmates who violate the conditions of their parole are subject to immediate return to prison to serve the remainder of their sentences. Most returnees come directly from halfway houses; a violation can be anything from not filling out a form or being late for dinner all the way up to and including using drugs and alcohol.

Halfway houses are not usually in very nice neighborhoods; they're in the 'hood, where there's a liquor store across the street and a drug dealer on the corner. Temptation is ever-present, and it's my opinion that parolees are basically set up to fail.

Fortunately, most of them don't. The ones who do, and the few of those who come back to the AA meeting to share their experience, are powerful examples, role models and teachers.

I can hear you asking yourselves, 'What the hell does this have to do with losing weight?'

Patience, grasshopper.

Returnees invariably say the same things about how they ended up violating. I'm not advocating looking at the whole weight-loss process as a 'sentence' or even as 'parole,' but bear with me here. If you've never thought about your diet as some kind of punishment, I want you to start a blog. And I want your secret.

Anyway, here is some of what I hear from parole violators.

They got complacent
After a few weeks of good behavior on the outside, they start thinking they're okay again. They can handle it. Those drug education classes they attended when they were locked up? No longer useful. Support meetings? Thanks, but no thanks.

They started taking risks
Good behavior at a halfway house doesn't earn you anything more than the right to go to your minimum-wage job, do your halfway house chores and attend a support group meeting. [Some halfway houses offer more programs than others, so I'm generalizing.] When you're in prison, good behavior earns privileges; on the outside, you get to be just like everyone else who follows the rules. So they start rewarding themselves with risky behavior, usually just reacquanting themselves with their old friends, which frequently leads to criminal activity.

They thought they were different
So what if that old boyfriend still uses crack? That doesn't mean they will, does it? Sadly, it often does.

My weight-loss program works best when I pay attention to the details and follow the rules. I need support just as surely as I don't need sugar. But the compliments and attaboys after losing 43 pounds have led to my warped thinking that I'm fixed, somehow. My body, for whatever reason, doesn't use food very efficiently, and the less I weigh the harder it gets. I've learned this from you, from countless websites offering weight-loss information, from my doctor and from my own experience. If I ignore this little bit of wisdom, and risk a cookie here or a Tootsie Roll there, I'm going to fail.

And while I don't like admitting failure any more than an inmate likes taking that bus ride back to prison, I must admit it, learn from it and then do the next right thing.

I have one excuse that I think is legitimate, and if you want to challenge me on it, please do. I'd love to have it knocked down. I need to be knocked down.

As long as my major intentional activity included walking and running outside, I was eating nearly perfectly, following my plan and feeling great. Endorphins work, people! Since my heel injury, the little bit of exercise I do now [about a third as much on the days I do it] just doesn't provide me with that same feeling.

Therefore, I feel sluggish and incompetent and crappy a lot of the time. And when I feel like that, I find it very easy to take my pleasures wherever I can, and it's very easy to use food to make myself feel better. When I think of myself as an athlete, as silly as that sounds, that's the reward.

I've been trying to think like an injured athlete, but thinking isn't doing, and the little stretching exercises I'm doing for my foot and heel aren't helping condition the rest of my body for my eventual return to the road.

I love blogging. I just gave myself an answer, a plan, a goal. I need to be an injured athlete. They don't sit around the locker room moaning about not getting to play. They're in the training room, strengthening the uninjured parts.

That's where I should be, too.


Anonymous said...

Wow - what a great post today. Not only did I learn a lot about return to "old ways"... your metaphor to weight loss is very powerful. I've lost 70 pounds this year and stared getting complacent (as if I knew how to do this - have learned the lessons I needed to learn). Only to be shown that I have to work the plan and pay attention to the details to keep my progress going.

I found you off of ediets and I read you every day. Thank you for sharing what you are going through!

M@rla said...

Excellent post, Debbi! I really like that part about rewarding one's self with risky behavior. It makes me realize that, contrary to the stereotype, a lot of us don't reward ourselves for anything. We just exist, and don't let ourselves celebrate anything, and then eventually we have to cut loose with risky (eating) behavior. If we allowed ourselves more pleasure and happiness in life, we'd have a better chance at seeing food as just one possible treat out of many.

I know you've already figured out your plan, but the "injured athlete" idea reminded me of Pilates - wasn't that developed for injured dancers to recuperate and get back into shape? Might be just the thing for you.

Lise said...

I never thought about risky behavior as a reward -- it's always seemed like a rebellion. Well, for someone who's always been something of a goody-goody, rebellion *is* a reward. self discovery hurts, but I'm glad to know it anyhow. Thanks much for the insight.

NicoleW said...

Thanks for a great, thought-provoking entry. I heard a mental click right at the "complacent" part. Even though I know that this is what has undone my efforts so many times in the past, it's still so easy to fall into that kind of "Okay, I'm all fixed now!" mindset again.

BigAssBelle said...

wow, what a GREAT post!! i've been visiting people hunting for inspiration (something i do when i'm feeling pretty inspired, oddly, and when i'm not inspired, i don't even bother. what?) . . . and came across this post.

thank you for this. it hits me on every level.