Image of tattoos showing a map; a theme in the Healthy Aging Series by Mark Neese

How to Climb Mount Grow-The-Eff-Up | Healthy Aging Series: Season 9, Episode 4

“The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America,” by Tommy Tomlinson

 I have tattoos. Don’t ask me why. I started getting them in my early 50s. Maybe I am a bit of a rebel. My son gave me my first two tattoos. He was learning to be a tattoo artist. He thinks one looks like a prison tat. I love them both. I have one that’s a quote from Larry McMurtry’s book, “Lonesome Dove.” It’s the Latin quote that Gus McCray put on the livery-stable sign, “Uva Uvam Vivendo Varia Fit.” People ask me what it means, and I answer, “It doesn’t mean anything.” That’s why I love.

The tattoo that I get asked most about is on my left forearm. It’s the solar system. The earth is blue. People ask, “What is it?”  I answer, “It’s a map for when you get lost. Just look for the blue planet.” They smile.

I love maps. I have close to a hundred. My office has them hanging from several walls. I have never felt more helpless than being lost without a map. I tried hiking a trail a few years ago in the Jefferson Memorial Forest. The trail was the Mitch McConnell Trail (no kidding). It had been decommissioned in lieu of a new horse-friendly trail. I had no map. I got lost.

Maps help me find order. Maps comfort me. They help me plan my hike and not only tell me where I’m going but tell me where I’ve been.

The Elephant in the Room

Tommy Tomlinson’s memoir, “The Elephant in the Room“ was a kind of map for me. The map might have been in titled, “How do you Find a New Thinner You?” Maybe not thinner, but at least healthier. Tomlinson weighed 460 pounds on December 31, 2014. He ends with his “Destination Weight” on Thanksgiving of 2017 at 375 pounds.

Food is an important topic of his book. I underlined every mention of and I’m guessing I underlined food in over 200 of the 243 pages. He writes a lot about food.

But his memoir is not a map for weight loss. It’s a map for self-discovery.

That’s what makes this such a good map. Tomlinson was lost in the obesity wilderness for 50+ years. He had a destination marked on the map: Mt. Weight Loss. He started out on that trail to the summit. He lost weight, but he ended up at a place that was unexpected. In the process of writing his story of obesity, his “fat story“ (his words), Thomason finds healing.

This is the second obesity memoir I’ve read for this season. I have three or four more to read. Thus far they are stories of healing from past trauma, and they are stories of personal growth that eventually lead to weight loss. What Tomlinson discovered was that he had  difficulty adjusting to the idea of being an adult.

“This in the end,“ he writes, “is what it’s all about for me. To control my weight, to get in shape, to become the person I am supposed to be, I have to shake the habits that I had clung to me since I was a kid.”

Tomlinson points out what Thomas Wolfe called a “loose life“ meaning, a life with shaky morals, bad habits, and ready-made excuses or a life that is lived without any concern for consequences.

For Tomlinson, the loose life, meant that all he wanted was with food, because food had given him more pleasure than anything else. “I knew how much it would cost me later,” he writes, “but I craved that moment of joy now.”

On top of that mountain with the thin air and 50 mph winds, with the unencumbered, 360° vista, he discovered, “That’s the way a child thinks.”

The name of this mountain: Mount Grow-the-Eff-up.

“I have lived to realize,“ he writes, “that Adulting is the only way I can beat my addiction to food.“

All of this is on pages 222 to 223. Brilliant insight. It took a year of wandering, or maybe 50 years of wandering. For Tomlinson, it felt like a year of hiking through those mucky sloughs and struggling through all those wicked switchbacks and backtracking to re-acquire the trail, and finally summiting the mountain that only those with courage attempt.

This past week I hiked Mount Sherman, which is 14,043 feet in elevation.

Afterwards, while changing clothes in the parking lot at the trailhead (people have no modesty at trailheads), I spoke with a couple about my age about the hike. We all agreed: 14ers, suck especially the last half mile. But afterwards, when you’ve finished, when you’re back at the trailhead, high fiving each other, you feel such a sense of pride in yourself, and may stronger. And then you start planning for another!

I’m not going to summarize Tomlinson’s memoir. He’s a professional writer. It’s good stuff. Lots of insight. Lots of pain. Lots of shame and embarrassment.

I am not obese, but I do struggle with weight management. I also struggle with personal growth. I struggle with not acting like a child sometimes. I’m 67 but act like six or seven at times. I’m at the mercy of the moment. Most of our problems, most of our addictions, most of our pain and turmoil our produced by self-manufactured misery, rooted in our childish appetites, and expectations or maybe what Wolfe calls, loose living.

Maybe it’s time to take out your map.

Mark a trail that leads to a place of growth. A mountain maybe.

Maybe a mountain called Mt. Grow-the-Eff-up!

To read more entries in the Healthy Aging series, click here.