Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Ladies in Waiting: GIVING UP AMBER; Part 2


When I was in Thailand in 1988, we missionaries shared a film strip projector. There were very few televisions and VCR's in the homes of the people we taught. Occasionally we would get to teach a family past the initial Joseph Smith filmstrip so we could talk about our relationship to God. I loved to show the filmstrip of Johnny Lingo. Most of you know what I'm talking about. But for those that don't - here's the 50 cent version in a nutshell:

In the story, Johnny Lingo is a well-like Polynesian trader. He comes to an island to bargain for a wife. Mahana is the girl he loves but everyone on the island considers her withdrawn and ugly. Her own father calls her "Mahana, you ugly!" (Which is what we used to call each other when we were kids.) As the bargaining begins the women of the island brag about how many cows they "sold for" and they are sure that Mahana's father probably ought to give Johnny Lingo cows just to get rid of her. But when Johnny comes the next day he brings eight cows! Unheard of! He gets his wife and they go off on their honeymoon. When they return, Mahana is beautiful, confident and happy. Johnny only had to prove to her that she had incredible worth and it had nothing to do with what other people thought and everything about what she thought of herself. In the end is was Johnny Lingo that got the bargain.

Makes me cry every time.

Isn't there a little Mahana attitude in everyone? For so many years of my life I wondered, when I was asked out on a date, WHY this guy asked me out. I knew for sure that there was something wrong with him - and that was my marker. I gave them no credibility in their choice, because not even I would choose to go out with me. No matter how hard I worked, or how much education I got, I wasn't taken seriously because I didn't take myself seriously. I never let my eight-cow self out from under Amber...who wasn't real. I considered myself a no-cow wife.

Having recently written the blog about my mission and seeing all those pictures of the 22 year-old self, I can see the fake over-achiever in those pictures. Since it was, at the time, a stereotype that sister missionaries were only serving because they weren't/couldn't get married, I wanted to be taken seriously. I studied like a fiend; I made goals and lists. We took referrals that were all the way out in Laos. I never told anybody about those....since Laos was, well...Communist and not in our prescribed proselyting area. But we were working, and in Thailand at the time it was just us little girls and 50 million Buddhists. It was hard to stay busy teaching in Thailand. Just as I imagine it's hard to be a proselyting Jehovah's Witness in Provo, Utah. I wanted everyone to see the worker bee beyond the fat. In every picture I can see the slight distortion in my face as I "suck in," lift my double chins into one and open my puffy eyes. I look the same in every picture - like Amber is trying to grab my face from behind and pull herself to the surface.



I want to be able to kick my carb addiction. It's bad. Easily as bad as any hard drug or alcohol. My favorite thing is any bread with a crusty outside and a chewy inside and there must be butter. Not margarine. S.a.l.t.e.d. b.u.t.t.e.r. I have been known to buy a loaf of bread, sit in my car and pull it apart while sucking on a stick of butter crying over loneliness. Kneaders, why ya gotta be so good? Why ya gotta give out that free bread sample? Why ya gotta have real butter on ice free for the taking?

I blame Kneaders.


Depression makes you punish or reward yourself for everything! And since we have no children, it's very easy to say "We made it through first term! Let's go to Outback tonight!" Or "you passed your Praxis test! Let's go to Brick Oven tonight!" "We worked 15 hours yesterday, we deserve The Pasta Factory..." "It's my birthday," "It's so and so's birthday!, It's the ward party!, it's Christmas, It's the Fourth of July, "It's Thursday, we're almost to Friday - let's go eat...

Then's there's the: We don't live next to a (Wich-Wich, Texas Roadhouse, Brick Oven, Lehi Bakery...etc.) so we'd better take the opportunity while we're in town. What kind of sick rationalization is that?

I have tried giving up carbs as often as my friends try to quit smoking. But you have to eat to keep yourself alive so the temptation is always there. Right now I can tell you that there is a See's Candy caramel sucker in my purse that I am saving for the next movie night. I think about it often. The sucker... not the movie. I think about carbs more than I think about retirement. That's saying a lot.

SO in an effort to gain self-confidence again, Andy and I completely cut out flour and sugar for nearly 4 months this summer! I felt so great! I lost about 25 pounds, my joints didn't ache, I even slept better just to name a few of the benefits.

Then Oscar season arrived.

In the fall when all the great movies come out, I am in a movie theatre at least once a week and the temptation...the smell that meets you in the parking lot... the racks of Raisinettes, Jordan Almonds a warm hot pretzel with cheese... you see the problem.

I blame Larry H. Miller...I blame loneliness...I blame unfulfilled dreams...I blame miscarriages...I blame the Petroff boys...I blame my old boyfriends....ya seeing a trend here?

So here it is post Oscar season - in fact, TONIGHT the Oscars are on television. I'm kicking off a new resolve to give up sugar and flour again...after tonight.

I used to say to myself that it surprised me how much I weighed because I took such care not to eat. I never ate breakfast because I didn’t have time and why make breakfast for only one person? I ate a fast food lunch…every day. Then 12 hours would pass between lunch and dinner which always happened at midnight on the way home from school. To keep myself awake I drank Diet Coke. I considered getting a pic line and a backpack for Diet Coke. I drank maybe a gallon a day. Or more. I justified it because I felt the Diet Coke was keeping my migraines at bay. Ha! I credit my addiction to caffeine as the impetus for a lifetime of migraines. I kicked the caffeine out of my life and I have to admit, I have fewer migraines and they are easier to manage...still, when Andy gets a Diet Coke, after years of being without it - I always have to smell it. A good whiff over the popping ice and bubbles still sends me to heaven and back.

I digress.

I was so hurt after that failed engagement that I thought I would die. I had laid so much of my own happiness at the feet of a man that I, emotionally, crumbled into little pieces and it took me ten years to reassemble myself.

And I did it with food. The feeling of eating a grilled cheese sandwich felt exactly like the post make-out, sleepy, warm, wrap-its-arms-around-you-last-kiss...LOVE!

Food created happy times. Food created a diversion. I decided that I could create my own family using my friends to fill those roles. I tried to create a family around a dinner table by buying food for, and inviting, an army. I wanted to prove that I could provide…for everyone…and we would sit around and eat and talk, laugh and dream and plan the next play. I still do that. Food is interesting, fun and comforting. It gives us a reason to come together. So since I needed a fake family, I would just invite people over and feed them. I became everyone's favorite "aunt," "sister," "the grandmas they never had", but no one's wife. Amber pulled on her fat suit again and animated it with fake smiles and all those tools I had learned in acting school.

So to pick up where Part 1 left off...I was engaged and I was on Phen-phen...but I feared that I wasn’t getting skinny enough. I was desperately trying to hold onto him because… because I loved him and he asked me to marry him and no one else had. I was so happy to be getting married. I was so baby hungry and that goal eclipsed sanity. I feared he’d find out that I was really Jan. And at the time, Amber was lookin’ pretty good. She was fit and her eyes were as blue as the sky in June in his reflection. But then he found someone younger and I threw the ring in his face, and the weight came back on. I called that weight “anger weight,” food the consolation prize.

Forward TEN YEARS. It took me ten years to get up the courage to give myself to someone again.

Then one of those boys that was hanging around decided to try out for a play I was directing and I cast him in the lead and we carpooled to rehearsal all summer. This precious time in the car, and after rehearsal at Denny's or wherever, solidified our respect, our mutual empathy for each other and an enduring trust. Because we were able to look past each other's fat (I'll talk about that in Part 3), we found the hidden prize inside and eventually, because of him, but for me...I let go of Amber.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Why did it take me 40 years to get rid of Amber? And can you see that it was the death of Amber that marked my engagement to someone that didn’t acknowledge her existence? Because she was gone. Jan didn’t give a damn anymore.

How do we come to that? Did the fat go away?

Ha! No.

I finally found someone that didn’t like Amber. He’s the only person that doesn’t ask me if I’m okay when I just want to be me: unfunny Jan sitting in her chair watching The Walking Dead and drinking…water.

At 41 years old I married a man that was 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed more than two of me. I was ecstatic! And he had the bluest eyes. I just got lost in his eyes. Because when he looked at me, he looked at Jan, not Amber. And he would hold his gaze like I was the only person on earth. And he would say things like, I can’t believe I’m marrying THE Jan Shelton.” And it should have flattered me but I genuinely didn't understand his adoration, because I disliked myself so much. I guess I had worked up quite a persona out there in our theatre world trying to hard to be someone I wasn't and giving my life away to worry, insecurity, bitterness and w.o.r.k., w.o.r.k., w.o.r.k. I didn't know that he was watching so closely. To tell you the truth, I thought he was pulling the old Mahana trick - and it was scary at first, there were risks to take and attention to be paid. I surely wasn't worth eight cows at the time.

I was running and reaching every day to the bottom of my soul to be brilliant all the time. There was no down time. But when I was around Andy, I was able to be myself and relax. Because we were around each other through community theatre for so long, we became friends first. He taught me that it’s okay to be yourself. He is never anything but himself. If you’ve heard Andy fart in public consider it a compliment. You are part of his world and he loves you…followed by a long face and “sorry, don’t want to bruise my colon.” This is the real guy. And one day he asked me to "go with him," the real guy, forever. And I took a giant risk, something I was never comfortable doing because Amber had...left the building.

If there is anything in my life that I am proud of, it isn't the teaching awards that are gathering dust, my blog or even my immaculate pantry organization...hehehe....it's the fact that I still deal with the self-doubt and the worry and the guilt, especially the guilt, when I sit down to my Kneaders Bread Bowl ($5.99 - can't beat that price) BUT now I am now able to see that food is not love. I am to blame for my weight but I am human. My reaction to my circumstances, good or bad, is about me. Not Amber. That bread bowl might kill me, but eventually, I will test my self-control again and go without for a while and then I will crack and eat one in the car...and start all over again. But I WILL start over. Jan starts over all the time now. And it's o.k.a.y. It's not the end of the world. The important thing is that I tried and every time I try, I get better at it.


I'm going to stop at this intersection for today because the story isn't over but I have to go to work. Part III of Giving Up Amber is about Jandy's journey through the Fat-lands of prejudice and what we can do to help each other give up the Ambers that rob us of our ability to love ourselves enough that other people will want to love us too.