You can learn something new every minute of every day.
Yesterday afternoon for instance I learned that the manmade concrete structures on some beaches (apparently used to prevent erosion caused by weather and longshore drift) are called tetrapods.
I’ve always abstractly wondered what they are – and now I know thanks to a knowledgable mine of information who explained what I was looking at as I admired the coastline in Seaford.link) and I’ve loved both of them.
Seaford is just as charming and not much further down the coast. The character of it is very different though. It’s far less commercialised, a lot sleepier and way more picturesque.
This town (as nice as it is) wasn’t the purpose of my visit though – because if you park up at it’s seafront, head up and along the nearby chalky cliffs above the tetrapods and take a delightful cliff walk to the nearby estuary you’ll find the seven sisters.
Making your way to Cuckmere Haven (by the arrows on the map) is pretty easy going. It’s only a couple of miles via some grassy and easily navigable paths (there’s a bit of elevation to deal with though) and when you arrive there you’re treated a lovely view.
This region has some really interesting geological history – and a board at Hope Gap (as well as my companion) answered a lot of the questions I had about why the landscape looked the way it did before I asked or even knew I had them.
I particularly liked the idea on the board of imagining where the cliffs used to be when the Normans invaded in 1066 and I bet it looked a lot different to he way it does now…
The whole place is filled with warning signs about chalk cliff falls – and the edge of the coastline is roped off to about 12ft back, so it’s clear that it’s eroding pretty quickly. It’s not advisable to get close to the edge, but if you stay well back it’s a great place for a picnic.
You peacefully can sit and admire the wonderful view whilst watching the various seabirds as they casually float past on the breeze along the cliff edge.
When you’ve finished your healthy snacks and walked back along the cliffs to Seaford there’s also a lovely little snack and coffee shack at the end of the beach huts near a small museum – which was sadly closed when I visited.
This is a perfect place to have a coffee as you watch the sun slowly disappear into the distance. It’s even better if you can chat with a twalking buddy.
The whole experience makes for a grand day out and while I was there I learned a lot (much like the last time I visited).
It’s great to feel that there’s always something or somewhere new to suck into your brain – and this morning the theme continued when I learned yet another fun fact.
I discovered that it’s not a good idea to try and top up the oil in your car with the engine running. This results in everything under your bonnet and your lovely orange North Face snowboarding jacket being sprayed liberally with hot, dirty engine oil.
I’m clearly just not that smart.
It seemed like such a good idea at the time.
This epic personal faux pas was definitely a sub par start to my day. At any other time it may have managed to set the needle of my mood-o-meter to ‘grumpy and expecting the worst’ for the rest of the day.
However things like that only have an impact if your emotional reservoir is dry. Frankly that couldn’t be further from the truth because for the last couple of months I’ve almost constantly been in a great frame of mind.
It seems at times like nothing can dent my positivity and I’m wearing a full suit of emotional armour.
Today I felt particularly resilient though – and that was partially because in the dark of yesterday evening I had a sudden flash of blinding realisation. It hit me like a truck, and moved me profoundly – because suddenly, when faced with how at peace I am at the moment I had to accept something.
I’m no longer running a solitary race.
Something special has arrived and because of this I feel alive.
For the longest time I thought that there was no way out – and that my life would be curtailed early. I thought I’d die before I reached the age of 50 because of my lifestyle choices – and furthermore I actually wanted to.
I’d begun to believe that the only logical conclusion to my life was a huge early heart attack – and instead of working to avoid this I was actively trying to hasten its arrival. I was so low back then that I genuinely just wanted to eat and drink myself to death
Furthermore I had begun to believe that the world would be a better place without me in it because I contributed nothing and consumed everything around me.
I saw myself as a parasite.
Things change though and practically without any warning I suddenly gave up drinking. Then I started going to Slimming World. I focused all that I was and all of the strength that I could muster and funnelled it into turning myself into someone new.
While I was doing this though all I could see was the near horizon – and perched upon it was an award for reaching my target weight.
Maybe because I needed to believe that reaching this milestone this would fix everything in my life (how else do you find the motivation?) I didn’t really think past it.
All I knew was that I had to reach it.
I felt that my life depended on me getting there and if I didn’t then I was sure that it was definitely over. I couldn’t take another gradual climb back up to my previous weight and I couldn’t face yet another failure.
Deep down I knew that this was my last chance.
So I gave it everything – and because of that I made it.
I eventually stood on top of my own personal mountain as Slimming World Man of the Year – having lost almost two thirds of my body weight. I felt fit, alive, vital, strong, independent and successful. I was now a man who accepted awards, appeared in the media and spoke to groups of people who were inspired by his actions.
I’d done it.
I’d fixed everything.
Only I hadn’t.
Right up until I hit target (and even for a little while afterwards) my literary brain had been constructing a fantastical narrative. I had always imagined my ‘Cinderella story’ as one that was bookended by a dark start rooted in death and then ended with life.
When I thought of my magical end point on the horizon I abstractly dreamed that reaching my goal weight would open up the world for me like a flower blooming in springtime.
I thought that all of this was happening when against all odds I became Slimming World’s Man of the Year. I thought I’d made it to the end of my journey and that everything good would now come my way.
This was all a delusion though – as anyone that’s lost a significant amount of weight will tell you – because life is still life and it’s still filled with both ups and downs.
When all the dust and hullabaloo settles you’re still left with your (often self critical) thoughts – but now you have removed all of the excuses you previously had for not living a full and complete life.
The ‘problem’ (if you can call it that) is that you then realise very few things around you make sense any more. Almost without warning you’ve woken up in someone else’s life and it appears to belong to someone else.
Your home and its furnishings seem like they were designed for another person.
You don’t know what kind of ‘style’ you have because you never had the ability to choose one before.
You can’t determine for sure what any of your opinions are because your choices in the past were almost all based on mobility and shame rather than personal beliefs of preferences.
Furthermore you’re confronted with the fact that in the past you just accepted a life that slowly grew like fungus around you as you sat inside the protective bubble of compulsive behaviour.
Over and over again after I reached target I looked in the mirror and struggled to determine who I really was.
As I grew bigger and my life shrank so did my aspirations. Before I knew it I’d lost sight of who I was, what I wanted, and how I really felt. I’d slowly closed myself off and all of my real emotions, desires and needs had gone into ‘low power mode’.
I ceased to feel the loss associated with having no-one to love, and I no longer recognised that I felt alone. I didn’t experience isolation or sadness any more though because I had constructed an excuse.
I was huge.
I’d eaten all of my pain away and no-one would want me anymore.
People ceased to ask why I lived alone because it was obvious – and that suited me just fine because I didn’t have to confront reality. My best friend (food) always had an answer to make my pain go away.
It filled emotional gaps for many many things – but it was a false prophet. It promised comfort and love when all it brought with it was destruction and pain.
Continually it told me that it would make everything better – it would soothe me temporarily – yet again and again it lied.
It made everyting worse and worse until there was no-where left to go but an early death.
I managed to turn it around though. I fixed everything.
Or at least I thought I had.
Suddenly I found myself, standing at the top of my mountain having tasted victory but feeling completely empty. After all what had I really achieved? In reality I’d just levelled the playing field and put myself right back at the start where everyone else was.
Sure – I now looked like everyone else and was anonymous for the first time in my life. I could walk into a room and no-one would pay any attention to me. I wasn’t a freak of nature and I didn’t invite lingering stares or insults.
However it quickly dawned on me that I was still twenty years behind everyone else. I had (what I considered to be) a ruined body, had never been married, had no children and I didn’t know how to begin fixing this problem.
I felt alone.
The realisation of this pushed me lower than I’d felt in a long time – and for quite a while I didn’t know how to get over it.
The universe listens though – and you just have to watch for the signs.
Yesterday I admitted to myself that almost a year after I reached my target weight things have finally changed. I have entered a new chapter of my life and here my whole story begins anew.
There’s hope, and with it comes a tangible sense that things are truly different. I’m beginning to feel long dormant emotions and think in ways that I haven’t for decades. Each day now seems to be fresh and new because of this and I finally feel I can begin move away from the wreckage of the past and live firmly in the future.
It’s better than that though because I don’t just have a future that didn’t exist before.
I have a future that doesn’t have to be lived in solitude.
I may be at the start again but I’m poised on the blocks, ready to run, with hope in my heart and a smile on my face.
The world is out there and I’m reaching out to take it every single day.