Self Destruction

I Didn’t Want to Be Who I Am

I’m a hypocrite. My rational self tells me obviously true things about my self-destructive habits. Yet I continue on my road to nowhere health-wise. I came pretty close to dying of cancer. I want to be healthy for as long as possible. But you couldn’t tell that by how I act.

Thankfully I don’t chain smoke, drink vodka by the quart, abuse pain pills, or drive recklessly. My self-destruction is far more subtle, socially acceptable, and shared by millions.

Moving But Staying in the Same Place

I graduated from college with a degree in broadcast journalism. I enjoy talking to people, writing, I’m curious, and I have a good voice for radio (I really do), so I thought it would be a good fit. Another reason was I thought this career could get me far from my hometown and parents. For a while I thought I’d be a foreign correspondent, but the allure of getting killed in someone else’s war or catching typhoid waned over time.

I couldn’t ask for better, more loving parents. My hometown was a safe, and in many ways blessed, place to grow up. But both my parents and hometown were about as unpredictable as tomorrow’s sunrise. Life didn’t seem to be endless possibilities, but railroad tracks headed off into the horizon. I couldn’t imagine a life so set in its ways. I followed my brother and sister out of Dodge.

Fast forward 30 or so years later. My time in broadcast journalism was short-lived, and I’ve changed careers like some people change socks. I live about 150 miles from my hometown. We’re about halfway between Philadelphia and New York City. I’m much happier here than if I stayed in my hometown, but fundamentally both towns are not very different.

Living Inside a Robot

Though my location’s changed, I’ve inherited a life that’s a collection of habits. What I’ll do this week is pretty much what I did last week, 24 weeks ago, and 132 weeks ago. Even my days seem largely identical. For better and worse, in many ways I’ve become like my parents.

Habits, in and of themselves, aren’t bad. Weight’s always been a problem for me. I diet, I give up, my weight goes up, it goes down, it goes up. When I’m stressed I eat. I eat out of habit, whether I’m hungry or not.

Unexpected weight loss is a symptom of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. But not for me. I had to get white hot fevers, drenching night sweats, and skin that felt covered in poison ivy. I gained weight with all the steroid-induced three-course meals I ate. Between that and the hair loss, I had the Uncle Fester look down.

About 20 years ago, I went on a low-carb diet and lost a lot of weight. Beer was not an option, so I thought of something else I thought might be fun to drink and wouldn’t cause more weight. How about diet soda? I’ve been drinking it just about every day since, slowly embalming my kidneys.

When I take a break from work, I drink diet soda instead of smoking a cigarette or getting another cup of coffee. Sometimes it physically relaxes me, like my body finally got something it needs. I usually plan errands so I can go to a Wawa and get a giant, ice-filled cup of sweet, bubbly happiness.

Habits are Comforting Until They Destroy Your Life

Being overweight, sedentary (I’ve been in a chair most of my working life), and ingesting unhealthy food and drinks can cause a number of potentially fatal diseases, including cancer. Yet here I am, living a life as predictable as the Earth circling the sun, coasting into health oblivion.

I know I’m setting the stage for something I’ve lived before, and dread happening again, a health crisis. But my conscious, rational self is a spectator as I live life on autopilot. Why can’t I change?

Am I just weak? I wouldn’t say no. The more past failures, the more future efforts seem doomed, so why bother? I know how finite life is, which is a double-edged sword. Should my life be as healthy as possible to enjoy the time I have more fully or should I indulge in Coke Zero, coffee ice cream with Health Bar bits, and corned beef and enjoy the fleeting, if ultimately poisonous, pleasures while I can?

The Washington Post has a personal advice column. A recent piece was an inquiry by the adult child of a father in a downward physical spiral, living an unhealthy life, impervious to the advice of others. It reached the point where the person said they lost respect for a father who apparently lost respect for himself.

I don’t want to be that guy. All I have to do now is figure out how to avoid a fate I seem programmed to achieve. You can’t solve a problem you don’t admit to. Maybe writing this will help.

Rodney Warner is a freelance writer, cancer survivor, and cancerphobe.

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