Chrystina: Co-Parenting With Love

“This is story 9 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

This is Chrystina’s story, written in her own words:

“There were so many emotions when I found out Justin was in a new relationship. Sierra is from the south and when speaking with her, her southern accent was soothing. However, I of course went through the typical jealousy (why can you get it right with her and not me), fear my daughter would replace me, and awe that someone could grow to love my sassy princess as her own. At first, I was hesitant, but I’m now very comfortable co-parenting our daughter, Marlowe. 

I found out about Sierra right when Justin met her. Justin was always upfront about any women he was dating. He told me about their first date. I was always informed about how their relationship was progressing. He has always been an amazing father, very protective and loving. We were both on the same page about how anyone we were in a relationship with had to accept Marlowe as well. It would be a package deal. 

It was hard for me to accept that my ex had a new partner. At first, I buried my jealousy deep inside me. I wasn’t in love with him any more and hadn’t been in a very long time. My jealousy was mainly centered around the fact that he got to find his life partner before me. I have not been in a serious relationship since we separated and eventually divorced. I dated some but it always ended. That was hard for me. Seeing Justin get married and move into a family was hard for me, but I focused on how it benefited Marlowe and I tucked my pain aside. 

Being a single mom was so hard on me emotionally, and I had no one to share it with. I was also limited in my ability to date because I was a single parent. My life revolved around a child. I gave up myself to parent her the best way I knew how. I couldn’t go out and make new friends, so dating was not even really possible. They say as a single mom, you have no life until your child is grown, and I was finding that to be very true. My mom was a single mom, and I swore to myself I would never have kids so that I wouldn’t  be in that situation. Life had other plans for me. 

I was pressured to remain single. People close to me warned of the dangers of bringing men around my daughter, so it was advised I don’t enter a relationship until she is all grown up. That wasn’t what I wanted for myself but in the end, it didn’t matter because nothing serious developed with anyone. 

Moving past being hurt took some time. While I had nothing but platonic feelings for Justin, I felt like it was unfair that I had practically nothing and he had moved on to build a family that had everything. The moment I remember most vividly that I had stopped being hurt was when Sierra’s parents sent Marlowe a gift in the mail that had clothes in her size and shoes that she wore until they had holes in them. They were all items that Marlowe loved. To know that there were people out there who knew and loved my daughter made me feel not so alone. 

Justin and I both didn’t grow up with our biological fathers. Justin and I always said that even if we didn’t work out, Marlowe would always know her dad. While he has always been a great father, his relationship with Sierra has made him better. She completes him in such a way that he shines better as a person, and that in turn, makes him a better man to be a father. I’m so happy Marlowe gets to experience what we never had. After long, it just stopped bothering me. Marlowe has me and she has the ideal family she has always wanted. And since I just want to see her happy, I let it go and praised his relationship instead of bashing it. 

In the beginning, Marlowe tested Sierra I’m sure. She was used to having her daddy’s complete and total attention. Marlowe has a strong personality and doesn’t hold out about being herself. Soon after spending time with them, she would come home with stories of all the things they did together, such as getting nails done and going shopping. Soon, Marlowe warmed up to her. 

They had been together almost a year before I met her. To me, they seemed really interested in each other from the start. I wasn’t so much hesitant as I was curious to finally meet Sierra. We had conversed through text and messaging on Facebook only. We weren’t very close but we were friendly. I really wanted to know the woman who had charmed my daughter into loving her so much. In the beginning, I wanted to meet her so I could make sure she was someone I wanted around my daughter. Marlowe was a handful so I was looking for any help I could get!

I don’t know exactly when we first met, but my very first memory of really talking with her was when I was meeting them to pick up Marlowe. Sierra was pregnant with their son, Sean. I remember asking Justin if it would be ok if Sierra got out of the car so I can see the belly. My favorite part of being pregnant was my belly, and pregnant bellies have always been special to me. Sierra was carrying someone who our daughter would be connected to, and I wanted to be a part of it too. And she looked absolutely adorable. 

I think I surprised them that I was interested to see her pregnant belly. Sierra got out of the car shyly and I squealed so enthusiastically. Her face broke into a gorgeous smile and I remember Marlowe just dancing around happily. This meeting set the tone for mine and Sierra’s friendship. I wasn’t a jealous ex-wife, even though we were still legally married at the time. I was someone willing to make this work because I truly cared about everyone involved. I tried to make it very clear I had no romantic feelings for Justin at all whatsoever. 

It did take me a long time to trust another person to be in Marlowe’s life. Marlowe is my life. Sunup to sundown – and I was so used to doing it alone. I knew Marlowe and understood her best. I didn’t want anyone to come along and hurt her. I was trying to protect her from my hurt. But I’m very glad I let my guard down. I finally did when I saw pictures of them together. My daughter was very slow to warm up to people when she was younger. Seeing her smile bright and wide let me know that she felt ok with Sierra, and I began to trust her. 

Sierra began to address Marlowe as “our daughter.” She was consistently there for Marlowe, ready with love and advice. Marlowe is very feminine and I am not, so having a feline bonus mom was such a plus for Marlowe. We do not talk often, but when we do it’s always centered on Marlowe and it’s very respectful and loving. I would like to think we are friends. She contacts me when Marlowe reaches a milestone in her life and we share input on how to deal with it. We recently had a FaceTime time chat to talk to Marlowe about starting her period. She makes sure I get Mother’s Day gifts and I sent her a Christmas present. I’m sure we would be closer if I didn’t live so far away. 

Justin lived in Las Vegas. The Bay Area priced us out, so we decided to move where she could still see him easily. We checked out Reno and loved it so we moved here. It was originally just summers and school breaks when Marlowe got to see Justin. Marlowe would typically fly unaccompanied minors to Vegas. It was a 40 minute flight and she had a cellphone. It made it easier because someone had to be at the gate to pick her up so I knew she was safe. 

Almost two years ago, Marlowe went to live with her dad full-time. When Marlowe first moved in with her dad, it was supposed to be just for a year, and at that time they lived in Vegas. I lived in Reno so it worked out. Like I said, we used to just have her fly on school breaks to see her dad and Sierra. But Marlowe then formed a strong bond with Sierra and her baby brother, Sean, that she didn’t want to keep leaving them. She always seemed to start back up at school before his birthday and she hated missing his birthday parties. 

When COVID happened and jobs dried up, they received an offer to move back to Sierra’s home in North Carolina. At the time, Marlowe was living with them in Vegas. Marlowe called me and begged me to let her go. Her eyes were full of tears, afraid I would say no. She begged me to ‘not bring up the custody thing.’  She spoke of the experiences she would have and how she didn’t want to leave her baby brother. I died inside. Vegas was far enough away. The other side of the country was too much. I felt if I let her go, I would lose her, she would never come home.

 However the Lord had other plans. Before I knew it, I was agreeing to it. My heart shattered but I let her go. I knew she was being given an opportunity to have the family she dreamed of. One that I couldn’t provide. Saying yes was the hardest, most hurtful thing I’ve done to myself. Yet it was the most beneficial thing I could have ever done for her. She now attends the same school her grandmother and bonus mom attended and made friends with so many people. 

Justin explained to me their situation (having a house in North Carolina). Having already spoken to Marlowe and knowing how much this meant to her, I agreed. The ultimate deciding factor was the tears in her eyes. I could never say no to that face. I had days to decide if she could move with them to North Carolina. It was not long at all. It was probably a good thing because if I had a lot more time, I probably would have changed my mind. 

Marlowe living in North Carolina is very long term. They own their own home and Sierra has her own business. Also all of Sierra’s family lives there so they have a huge support system. There is no reason for them to move back out here. She has adjusted very well. She loves living there with all of them. She misses my cooking but that’s about it. 

I want to move out to North Carolina, but I am afraid. I love Marlowe more than life, but I fear that we have been apart for too long and it won’t be the same as when she was my mini-me and we did everything together. She is older and angry that I haven’t been able to move out there yet. I was supposed to move out there by her birthday in October. Financially it hasn’t been possible. If I just moved out there I would be on the street, literally. My bills here prevented me from saving like I want to to be able to move to North Carolina. 

 I couldn’t be there by the time I said I would be there, and that has caused the rift between us. She has mentioned that she feels I have lied to her about moving out there and that now it’s ok if I don’t. She doesn’t expect it anymore. She blames me for the fact we aren’t as close anymore. That hurts a lot because all I did was what she asked for. I still want to move out there but moving across the country is not as easy as it seems.

I feel like I am missing out on so much of her life. I’m heartbroken. We were very close. She is an amazing gymnast and I have been to one of her competitions. I have missed others. I miss her incredibly. She is still too young to understand that she asked for this, not knowing the ramifications it would have. It leaves me feeling very hurt and confused. I try to talk to her as much as I can as both our schedules allow, but I know that isn’t the same as me being there. 

Marlowe has her own iPhone and I got her an Apple Watch. We text and FaceTime. She is a very active gymnast, so we don’t talk as much as we did when she first moved. Since she has moved to North Carolina, I have seen her twice. I stayed a few days each time. I sobbed until I was on the plane. She cried as well. When we are together it’s so loving and fun. She’s my mini best friend again. We talk, laugh, and hang out. It’s so hard going back to FaceTime after I’ve had her arms and basked in that sweet Marlowe glow. But the only peace I have is that she is very well taken care of. She is surrounded by a family that loves her and she’s growing up to be a fantastic and wonderful young lady. 

Being on good terms with my daughter’s bonus mom is important for many reasons. The first one that comes to my mind is that it helps forge the bond between them. Sierra is a wonderful woman who loves Marlowe very much, and my acceptance of her means that my daughter doesn’t have to feel guilty about allowing another woman to be in her life in such a major role. It also allows me to breathe. I don’t have to worry when Marlowe is with her. I know she is safe, loved, and well cared for.

 I’m thankful that Justin, Sierra, and I are able to communicate and do what’s best for Marlowe. At her ninth birthday dinner, she was afraid that Sierra had taken her dad from me, that I didn’t like her, and we couldn’t be friends. We cleared that misconception up right away and Marlowe was immediately happier and pleased that she didn’t have to choose between us. To clarify, I was visiting Vegas for her birthday. She was living with them full time. I’m also very thankful that their relationship is solid enough to be a good example for Marlowe. 

I’m very blessed we have similar views. Communication is so important because there isn’t just one person involved. There are actually 5 because their son, Sean, is included. We need to be able to talk about what is best for Marlowe. Boundaries are needed too. There is a three hour time difference between here and there. I work the night shift. Marlowe has to be off her phone by 8:30 PM. That’s what time I typically wake up because it’s 5:30 PM here. I have to respect that because those are their rules for her and it is their home. Boundaries like those show Marlowe that there is mutual respect among all of us. 

Some advice I can offer for others out there who are co-parenting – Don’t make this about you. Of course there are hurt feelings that will try to rear its ugly head, but is the child happy? Do they glow in the presence of their bonus parent? Is your child’s life better overall because they have a huge support system full of love and acceptance? If so, let that be what guides you. Let your love for your child be the focal point of your co-parenting. Parents always claim to want to do what’s best for their children. Maybe this is what’s best for them. It’s not easy, but bringing a person into the world was never supposed to be.

And lastly, IT’S ABOUT THE CHILDREN!!! I cannot stress that enough. Please put aside pride and hurt feelings and allow a relationship to blossom between the child and the bonus parent. It is scary, but the benefits are so worth it. Marlowe would not be the amazing girl she is without Sierra and her family. Communicate with each other and know that the common goal is raising a person to survive in this world. Marlowe now has many adults around that love her and care for her. She has gained another set of grandparents, aunts, and family friends that care for her. Her foundation is very strong and supported. She confidently navigates her way through life because she knows she is so loved.” -Chrystina

Temporary Goodbye

This is story 9 of 9 of my Tatay’s Series. This is my way of honoring Tatay’s life and legacy. It wouldn’t be right if I DIDN’T give him his own series and avoided writing about his passing all together. But I’m also aware that this is something I need to do for myself – to put my grief, anger, and emotions all out on the table, instead of distracting myself with work and other things to avoid the reality that he’s gone.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

This is the last story of Tatay’s Series but I highly doubt this is the last time you’ll read about him. When I was planning out what each story would be about for Tatay’s Series, it really forced me to sit down and think about every idea, every memory, every feeling I wanted to express. I wanted to write about everything but at the same time drew blanks. It’s like that feeling when you know something so thoroughly, whether that be a show, book, subject, but when it comes to getting tested on that knowledge you question if you ever really knew all the answers, even though you know it’s there.

I arranged the stories in a way that I thought would benefit me most – let out all my anger in the beginning of the series so I could start to heal. I feel like all of that bottled up anger I have was blocking me from accepting Tatay’s passing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still angry and carry a lot of resentment, but it was a relief to get those feelings out into words and not just have them be thoughts in my head. As cliché as it sounds, I really felt my heart get lighter with each emotion I analyzed. I tried my best to have the stories somewhat come out in order, so you could follow along with me how fast, yet slow, his declining health was. I know this series has been 100% for me – giving my personal thoughts, first hand experiences, and memories with Tatay. But I hope whoever has been reading – especially my family – that this has helped you process your emotions around Tatay’s passing, even just a little.

Grief is very overwhelming. It’ll have you feeling a variety of emotions, then suddenly feel nothing at all. It’ll have you reminiscing about the past, hating the present, but trying to feel hopeful for the future. Grief will have you detach from the present day and desperately clinging onto memories. There are days where you want to be comforted, but would much rather be alone. You’ll start to panic at the fact that with time, there will be things that you will forget. It can be a lonely and exhausting process. Like me, grief will replay the same things in your head over and over again until you get it all out into words. And there are times where you purposely block out or avoid thinking of certain things because you know it’ll take you to a place that you’re not ready to face. That’s especially true for me, but when I close my eyes at night, I replay the same scenario. The day Tatay passed.

July 15, 2021 –

It was a Thursday night, and I was so relieved that the next day, Friday, would be the last day of work. This wasn’t just being excited for the weekend, but being excited for the long anticipated 2 week summer break. I was so excited to finally kick back, relax, sleep in, and do whatever I wanted for the next 2 weeks. The clock was winding down for summer break, but little did I know the clock was ticking for something else as well.

It was a typical Thursday night. I still had my hair wrapped up in a towel after getting out of the shower moments before. I went into my room and picked up my phone that was on the charger. I had left it charging during dinner time, even though I usually have it with me at the table. While it’s charging, I usually skim my notifications quickly to see if there’s anything I need to tend to as soon as possible. I saw a notification that I missed a call from my mom, and another notification saying my mom texted me.

“Tatay died @ 6:10 PM ,” the text read.

I stood there, staring at my phone. Kind of frozen. I didn’t cry. I didn’t react. I just stood there.

“Tatay died,” I told Christian.

I honestly don’t remember how he reacted or what his response was. I just said that I was going to call my mom. I stepped out of the room and dialed my mom’s number. She said that Tatay passed away about 30 minutes prior. I asked if I should make my way over to Tatay’s house, but my mom said that it was okay, there was no need to because he already passed away and my aunts, uncles, and dad were already headed over there. I asked if she was heading over, but she said she wasn’t. My dad is the only one who drives, and he was coming straight from work to Tatay’s house. We got off the phone, but I didn’t know how to react. I didn’t feel anything. I was in total shock, but not surprised at all. This was something we were prepared for.

It was really upsetting to me that I didn’t get a chance to sleep over Tatay’s house and help take care of him. All of the aunts and uncles were taking turns and having shifts to help care for Tatay. They finalized a tentative schedule during his 98th birthday, and they were going on week number 2 of the new routine. My dad and Auntie Salvie had the weekend shifts because they both worked throughout the week – the only 2 siblings that aren’t retired yet. My younger sister and I were trying to convince my younger cousins, Michael and Shawn, to sleep over with us while their mom and our dad did the weekend shift. We wanted to help care for Tatay, even if it was just letting my dad know that he needed something throughout the night. We had planned to sleep over Tatay’s house that upcoming Saturday, and I was excited. Not your typical excitement, since I knew that his health was declining, but excited in a sense that I would be useful in caring for him. It was just 2 days away. We never got the chance, and that really upset me.

I went to the bathroom just to sit down on the toilet and plan out my next move. I know my mom said there was no need to head over to Tatay’s house, but I knew in my heart that’s where I felt I needed to be. I opened the group chat with my sisters and Ate Nina. “Tatay died,” “I know, my mom told me,” I read on. I asked if anyone was planning to head to Tatay’s house because I really wanted to go but didn’t know if it was appropriate for me to go. Ate Nina said she was willing to go if we were going as well. Usually with us 4, it’s a group effort. My sisters quickly responded and said they wanted to go with her. Ate Nina let them know that she was going to start getting ready and pick them up. When my mom learned that Ate Nina was going to give a ride, she wanted to come as well. That was all the information I needed. I went to my room and told Christian that I was going to Uber to Tatay’s house.

Being that I live so deep in San Francisco, I knew I’d probably be the last one to arrive. So I quickly got dressed. I get pretty anal about my routine sometimes, and you’ll never catch me leaving the house after I’ve already showered and started my night routine. Of course, this was the exception to my rule. I threw on whatever was comfortable, and pulled my towel off my head, my hair still dripping wet. Christian was hosting his usual game night that night, so I let him know that it was okay to stay back and host it. I knew he was conflicted because he thought he should go with me for support, but I didn’t know what the tone would be like at Tatay’s house. I thought it was best if I go alone and report back on whatever was discussed. I just felt like I had to get out of the house as soon as possible. I needed to see Tatay, I had to be there.

I started to tear up as I waited outside for my Uber. It was cold, foggy, and my hair was still wet. Everything about the scenario fit the gloomy mood. I started to text my close friends that Tatay had passed, as I kept them in the loop throughout the last couple of months regarding Tatay’s health. I think typing out “My Tatay passed away,” made it feel more real. However, it still didn’t register completely. I was originally texting people that I was okay, that we as a family were expecting his passing. And at the time, I really meant it. I really felt “okay.” I wasn’t reacting the way I thought. I thought the moment I found out, I would be balling my eyes out. But that wasn’t the case. I feel like it took me a really long time to process everything. Everything that I prepared myself for went completely out the window. I would soon realize that as much as you prepare for the worst, you will never know for certain how you will take things until you’re actually living it. I thought I knew myself well enough to predict how I’d react, but that wasn’t the case.

My Uber finally came. I was fine the first couple of minutes, occasionally wiping my tears away, still really slick about it. The kind of tears that could be played off as something in your eye that you’re just wiping away. But then I started thinking about how things would be once I got to Tatay’s house. I was going to see his body. How would I react then? Would it be too much? Then I really thought about it. It dawned on me, holy shit, I’m going to see Tatay’s body! The tears started flowing uncontrollably. My nose started to drip under my mask, and there was no hiding my obvious discomfort anymore.

God bless my Uber driver’s heart, he didn’t ask if I was okay, he just rolled down the window for some fresh air, continued to drive, and tried his best not to look at me in the mirror. He probably thought that I got broken up with or something, and I felt a little embarrassed to the point where I wanted to call someone and be like, “Hey, Tatay died,” just so I didn’t look pathetic. But I thought, fuck it, Tatay’s dead, looking like a fool to a complete stranger is the least of my problems. I’m thankful that he didn’t try to talk to me because my Uber ride lasted about 30 – 35 minutes. It was a true 5 star experience because he minded his business and kept it moving. Literally.

During the Uber ride, I just kept mentally preparing myself to see Tatay’s body. I’ve only ever seen loved ones’ bodies during viewings and funerals. So this was something new to me. I’m also a huge scaredy cat and I get uncomfortable being in those settings. So I had no idea how I was going to process seeing Tatay lifeless in his bed, the same spot that I last seen him in. The same place where I saw him time and time again, week after week. I really had to process it and mentally prepare myself for what going to Tatay’s house really meant. Was I going to be hesitant to approach him? Was I going to be scared? Would I keep my distance? I didn’t know. But at the same time, my worst fear was that they would have Tatay’s body be removed from the house before I got there.

When I got to Tatay’s house I opened the door and said hello to everyone that was in the livingroom, but quickly went upstairs. I got upstairs and saw my Auntie Lilia and Auntie Luz in the hallway in front of Tatay’s room. I said hi, and kept it moving. In Tatay’s room stood my dad at Tatay’s bedside and Tita on the other side. My dad was holding a napkin or cloth under Tatay’s chin. When I asked what he was doing, he said that he was trying to have Tatay’s mouth be closed as much as possible because he didn’t want whoever would be handling his body after to force his jaw closed and break something. I walked over to Tita and blessed her.

I looked at Tatay laying down before me. It just looked like he was asleep, but I knew that he wasn’t going to wake up. I burst into tears and started wheeping audibly, holding onto Tatay’s arm. Tita hugged me and she started to cry as well. Together, we wailed over Tatay’s body as my dad’s eyes began to water. What made me even more sad was what Tita was saying to me as I cried. “Tatay’s gone now. No more Tatay. Now there’s no reason for you guys to visit on Sundays anymore,” she cried in Tagalog. That broke my heart. I’ve always prepared myself for what life would be like without Tatay, but I never really considered what it would be like from Tita’s point of view. It crushed me to hear that she feared that we wouldn’t visit her anymore because Tatay was gone.

I wasn’t scared to be in the same room as Tatay, I wasn’t afraid to hold him, I wasn’t distant at all. I wanted to be next to him, and I was sad that I didn’t get to see him one last time. I was miserable to know that in just 2 days, we planned to sleep over and keep him company. It finally hit me. He was really gone. I asked my dad if he was okay, and headed back downstairs to join my cousins. I’ll never forget the hug my Kuya Ryan gave me after I sat down teary eyed. He didn’t try to hide his pain, he didn’t try to “be strong,” he was feeling the same exact feelings I was. It was a silent comfort and a mutual understanding of shared grief.

We stayed at Tatay’s house for a couple of hours. Almost every immediate family member that lives in the Bay Area was there that night. At one point, the story of the blue bird was told to us. As Tatay took his last breath around 6:10 PM in South San Francisco, a blue bird entered his house in the Philippines around the same time. This bird was flying back and forth in the house – curiously observing its surroundings. What’s even more crazy is that the family members who are living in the house took a video, not even knowing that Tatay had passed away. We were all shocked to learn this information, but it brought peace to our hearts.

All Tatay ever wanted was to be back home in Batangas. It’s all he talked about – wanting to be back home in the Philippines and live out the remainder of his life there. It hurt me to see him in his bed during the pandemic basically pleading with anyone who would listen to let him go back. With our hearts heavy, hearing the story of the little blue bird who entered Tatay’s house in the Philippines brought us great comfort and peace. Tatay finally made it back home. Of course that’s the first place he would go to once his spirit left the physical world. That’s what you wanted all along, Tatay. And I’m glad you’re finally there.

Losing a loved one is never easy, and nothing about it is pleasant. What I will say though, is that in times of need and tragedy, the family came together. Family came from all over to grieve with us, to lay our Tatay to rest, and be there for us in our time of need. The Cabillo family leaned on each other for support, plunging ourselves into the thick of planning to make Tatay’s service one that he deserved. In Filipino families, when someone passes, the next couple of weeks are anything but lonely. It seemed like we were always together, always at Tatay’s house, always discussing what we needed to do next. Even though they were under these circumstances, it felt good to have the family be so united.

And I know that’s what Tatay would’ve wanted. A few years ago, after his 95th birthday, we all sat at Auntie Lilia’s dinning room – aunts, uncles, cousins, grandchildren, great grandchildren – and interviewed Tatay. We wanted to know what he was most grateful for, what he wanted to be remembered by, and any messages he had for his future generations to come. Tatay was a man of few words, but he did let us know that he just wants us to be happy, to enjoy the company of those we choose to be around, and be together as a family. He just wanted his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and all the family that he will never get the chance to meet, to be happy, have good health, and be united.

Even though Tatay’s passing was “expected,” it didn’t lessen the pain of having someone you love be gone. It took me a really long time to process Tatay’s death. Even at his viewing and funeral I still felt like it was an out of body experience. I felt like I was watching a movie and no way was this real life. But it is. And I still find myself choking up at the thought of seeing Tatay on his bed, or how he looked during his viewing. Just when I thought I knew the meaning of life, reality threw me a curve ball. I feel like I’ve learned so much, and I really view life in a different way.

Tatay, this is my temporary goodbye, because I know I’ll see you again one day. This has been the hardest “see you later,” to date. Just know that your family is holding it down, and we’re trying to make you proud and live out your wish. Until then, you will find us at your grave every Sunday. Like old times, “Byeeee, Tataaaayyyy,” until we meet again…

Trixi: My Post-Bodybuilding Journey to Intuitive Eating

Story 4 of 10. This Body Positivity series is a project I hold dear to my heart. For years, I’ve struggled with my body image, and since reviving this blog, LoveYourzStory, I’ve shared so many of my personal stories, internal battles, and insecurities. This time, I wanted to hear your stories. I took to social media and found 9 individuals who were willing to share their body positive journey with not only me, but my readers as well. I collaborated with two Bay Area photographers, Missdirected (Instagram: @missdirected.art) to photograph these amazing people. Missdirected did not photoshop / alter any of the models’ faces or bodies. These stories are entirely written by them and in their own words, because after all, who can tell their story better than them?” -Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

This is Trixi’s story, written in her own words:

“Growing up in a stereotypical Asian household, I was expected to be above average. I had to be better than the best. I always felt like I had to give 110% percent to prove that I am worthy. Anything less than perfect made me feel like a failure. I meticulously planned and created lists to make sure I got into a good college, and secure a job after. I took the advanced classes, became board members for clubs, and made myself look like the best candidate in writing. The last thing I wanted was for my parents to think I was slacking. 

So ever since I can remember, self-doubt loomed over me like a dark cloud. I always had negative thoughts in my head telling me I couldn’t achieve anything even if I tried my best. After graduating college, I expected the negative thoughts would die down, but they continued to weigh down on me. Regardless of what I achieved, I still felt like I didn’t accomplish enough. 

Then, I decided I was over it!!! To overcome my insecurities and prove to myself I was capable, I decided that I would complete a challenge soo hard that if I achieved it, it would immediately squash all the negative notions I had about myself. This was the very first challenge I took on for me, and not anyone else. I was so used to performing to meet the expectations of others, but this is something that I wanted to do for myself. 

Disclaimer: We are not defined by our achievements! We are all inherently worthy. But, I didn’t know that then. lol So in June 2019, I signed up to compete in my very first bikini bodybuilding competition…and this is where the plot thickens: what I initially thought was simply a test to boost my self-esteem turned out to be the beginning of my body positivity journey and healing my relationship with food.

For 6 months, I followed a strict meal plan and training regimen. I completely cut out sugar and dairy (two of my fave things), I drank 1.5 gallons of water a day (which was already a challenge in and of itself) and gosh, I said no to pad thai more times than I can count, and I fucking love pad thai. Training included fasted cardio in the morning, about 2 hours of training in the evening, followed by 30 mins of post-training cardio. In addition to changing my physical activity and nutrition habits, I had to learn to better manage my money (cause bodybuilding ain’t cheap) and my time to juggle a full time job and somewhat have a social life.

I took it day by day. I showed up and eventually these tasks became habits. I began to see myself as an athlete and I started to believe that I could really win this competition. There were a lot of temptations (food, drinking, sleeping in). Executing the plan wasn’t easy, but making the right decision was simple. I know that most may have difficulty with following very strict rules but having a plan and checking off boxes was what I was used to. I had the mentality of “If I want this, then I have to do that”. And if I don’t, I won’t get it. This time, the goal was to win, and all I had to do was to execute the clear-cut plan that was given to me.

November rolled around and it was finally competition day. I placed 1st in True Novice, 2nd in Novice, and 4th in Open. But regardless of my placing, I already felt like a winner. I proved to myself that I was strong, I can show up no matter what, no excuses. Even before I hit the stage, I was so proud of what I accomplished. I didn’t even care if I didn’t win or not. No judge could have told me that I didn’t bust my ass to get here! While bodybuilding helped me gain confidence, it also brought to light my complicated relationship with food.

After my competition, my training and meal plan became more flexible. But this flexibility really threw me off. When I stuck with my meal plan, I wondered if I was being too strict, and not giving myself time to enjoy food. When I did enjoy food, I wondered if I was letting myself go. I fell in a loop. My mind would switch between “Follow your meal plan or else you’ll gain weight too quickly” then restrict myself from eating anything “bad”. But then I would think, “Enjoy some treats! Live your life!” and I would binge. I would eat and eat, waiting for my stomach to tell me that I was full, but it felt like my stomach was a bottomless pit that was impossible to satiate. I was waiting for my brain to tell me, “ok that’s enough,” but it never came.

This battle led me to explore my eating habits growing up. When my family went to restaurants, we would always order like an insane amount of food and get absolutely stuffed! Even when we were so full that we could barely breathe, we always made room for dessert. “Food is nourishment!” they justified. But rather than focusing on nutrition, food was mainly for comfort and celebration. Even when my body told me to stop eating, I ignored all satiety signals to continue celebrating. So even before bodybuilding, my satiety cues were practically nonexistent.

The cycle went on for two months. Restrict and binge. Restrict and binge. Restrict harder, binger harder. I looked in the mirror and saw I was no longer lean. Looking back, I didn’t gain much weight but at the time I hated what I saw. I felt big, I felt out of control. Mentally, I was slipping.

I knew this eating pattern was unhealthy but I felt like I couldn’t get out of it. It got to a point where I no longer trusted myself; the body that once triumphed on stage was now failing me. It felt like my body was hijacked by something else, and I was stuck in this vessel, just watching myself derail. Naturally, the scale started to go up and I felt like I was gaining weight all wrong. I spent so much time looking at myself in the mirror and criticizing myself. Front angle, side angle. I would hold and pinch my fat, wishing I was lean again because lean meant I embodied discipline and hard work. It meant that my behavior aligned with my goals. Back then, the goal was to get lean to win a competition. Now, the goal was to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle, but I had no clue what that meant! It isn’t so straightforward. There is no clear-cut plan for that.

People began to notice that I refused to eat and drink anything that wasn’t outside my meal plan. Comments like “Just one bite won’t hurt!” and “It’s only one shot” really bothered me, because at the time, I felt like one bite or one shot can really ruin my body. Following my meal plan gave me a false sense of security, and I didn’t know how to transition out of it post-competition. 

Christmas was my all-time favorite holiday, but that year, I dreaded it. Thinking about all the food that will be at parties gave me so much anxiety. And just my luck, that year, our annual Christmas potluck was held at my apartment. Even at my own party, I was so scared to eat the “wrong” thing. I felt overwhelmed and paralyzed, but on the outside, I pretended I was okay with not eating or drinking anything. I tied so much of my identity to being disciplined and put together that I was terrified my friends would find out the confident athlete they saw on stage just a few months ago wasn’t there anymore.

That night, I eventually caved. I started to eat, and again, I couldn’t stop. By the end of the night, I felt so uncomfortable that I went to my room to change to less fitting clothes. When I took off my shirt and saw how bloated I was, the self-loathe set in and I started to cry. Never in a million years did I think I would develop body dysmorphia. I was 10lb up my stage weight which actually put me in a healthier weight, but in my eyes, I gained too much. I hated myself for being out of control and I hated myself for having such a fucked-up relationship with food. I felt disconnected with myself and with others. I felt alone and overall a fucking mess.

My friends saw me breakdown. “I didn’t want you guys to judge me.” I admitted shamefully. But as one of my friends put it, “The people who love you will always be there for you unconditionally, and the people who do judge don’t matter.” Seeing my friends concerned was my wake up call.

After that night, I decided it was time to heal my relationship with food. The first step I took was to destigmatize foods as being either “good” or “bad.” I learned that restricting myself was just as harmful as indulging which often led me to binge. Opening myself to all foods lifted constraining thoughts. After this shift in mindset, I felt liberated and empowered to trust myself again.

Next, I adjusted my eating habits to not only be healthy but also sustainable. Fitness is a huge part of my life and to improve my performance, I need to fuel my body properly. At the same time, I love to hang out with friends over drinks, and eat with my family at the dinner table. Finding balance was a whole lot of trial and error. Eventually I learned I feel my best when I eat nutritious foods about 80% of the time. I meal prep most of my food and occasionally I use Door Dash (aka my best friend during quarantine). This may not work for everyone. It is completely subjective and depends on your own goals and lifestyle. 

Lastly, I evaluated and reset my intentions. I learned that my beliefs around food were rooted in self-loathe and punishment. I felt like I had to be perfect all the time or else my efforts didn’t count. It was an all-or-nothing mentality. Now, I see it as a journey of self-discovery. I know that I am going to slip up occasionally, and that’s okay! I have learned to respect my body and to love myself no matter what stage I’m in. If I am making an effort to honor my body, I know I am on the right path.

Despite the mental roller coaster that bodybuilding put me through, I would still compete again. I came in with the intention to build trust in myself, and looking back, it taught me to do just that and more. Next time around, I won’t be competing to prove I am enough, but simply for the fun of improving in this sport. I’ll be coming back with a better mindset, and a healthier relationship with food. It’s been a year and a half since my competition, and I am just now feeling comfortable with my eating habits and my ever changing appearance. While my relationship with food is a work in progress, I am really proud of how far I’ve come.” -Trixi