telling a story

I want to preface all of this by saying that only on one or two occasions was I invited to tell some kind of story. I’m recalling a movie where a woman sat in front of a group of children at a library and took her story-telling to a level exceeding inappropriate for the little ones – she was dealing with … things. I had to applaud her, though, because in that moment she needed to voice her story. I think that’s what brings me here today. I’m not telling a story for an audience. I’m telling a story for me. Because I’ve learned that in my own journey, there is no better way for me to get it out other than to write (type, I know).

Some of my story rests on a timeline, however, the journey is not linear. What I can distinctly recall that forced me into this place of battling putting words to paper was a quote that I stumbled upon a couple months back during a training at work.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

– Maya Angelou

I’ve been wrestling since. And today? Well, I’m at the point of overwhelm in that solo fight that I can’t keep it locked up any longer. So, I guess I have a story to tell.

Speaking of battles, I’ve been in one with my body since I can remember but in all of the recollection of the past, I’ve come to realize that it started around the age of four. Strangely, it was in the visual of me amongst other sweet little ones vying for our local princess pageant. That would be the first time that I looked back on an experience and saw myself as different and wondered how I could have won the crown in amongst the other girls that were smaller. I also realized in that moment that I could obviously find ways to please those judging me by telling them what they might want to hear. (If you’re wondering, ‘cherry pie’ is the crowd-pleaser in that context.)

I realize that it would have been in the month of July THIRTY.SEVEN. years ago now that I won that princess pageant and while I tend to do as many things as fast as I possibly can (like driving), apparently finding freedom is something I take very, very slowly.

The other challenge I had was that I also really loved cherry pie. Or rather, anything food-related. Give it to me sweet. Or savory. Or salty. Just give it to me, actually. What I didn’t realize at that age and as I entered elementary that there was actually a limit to what was healthy to eat so I would also begin the road to what would be considered ‘overweight’ by the standards set by scientists who actually study astronomy (I can’t even with that) when I was in my freshman year of college. But back in elementary, they asked you to step on a scale at school. I remember as friends reported their numbers and all I could think was how mine was higher and that I should probably just smile and accept the read-out as another sign that I was different.

But then weight started to matter. As my peers and I entered into later elementary and middle school, there was this matter of boys. And relationships. I mean, I’ve been completely boy crazy since I was roughly five. But, it wouldn’t be until later that both boys and girls would get more vocal about looks. About why they mattered and what was acceptable. And, that my body did not meet the standard. Some of my friends would be honest with me about what they thought about that and in today’s world, we would call the words and actions bullying. But that was less of a thing then. I would come home and cry and my parents would remind me that I was exactly enough as I was. (I also probably ate a significant slab of braunschweiger inside a sandwich including cheese, mayo and mustard. I know it sounds awful but holy man, good call on that one, daddy-o.) But in those moments, I did everything I could to continue to smile and take the comments in stride. I might have even said mean things in reply. I hope I didn’t but I’m also not going to pretend that I don’t know about retaliation.

We went on the first diet I recall as a family when I was around eleven. I lost several pounds in two weeks on the plan that simply outlined the specific foods you ate. We were more intentional about movement as well. It wouldn’t be long that I found the weight again after the diet concluded #springbreakbody but I didn’t think much of it because I didn’t have a bad relationship with food at that point. It was food and I liked it.

Thankfully, I grew four inches between sixth and seventh grade so while I didn’t lose weight, per se, I appeared a little thinner as I got into middle school. But at this point, I had accepted my place in the circles I was in and that meant … I was the girl who would out-perform and excel at school work becoming always known as the teacher’s pet (I still hate that term), the friend to the boys (who I had a crush on nearly all of at some point), and the one who played sports not to be the stand-out but to enjoy the camaraderie of the best girl friends. So while the first two were roles I’d started become familiar with and worked hard to maintain, the third was fairly new. I loved (love) sports and always worked to please the coaches I would play for, but that didn’t mean I was going to be the MVP. And, looking back, I know I was mostly fine with that. The real challenge was that playing sports also meant exposing more of my body. And as I realized more and more how different I looked than some of the young ladies I played along side, it became more challenging to the point that I quit playing some sports entirely (‘bye, volleyball and your spandex. i’ll miss everything about playing you.’) and covered up as much as I could in others (‘hi, knee-high socks in basketball to show no more than 1.5 inches of leg’).

Fast forward to college. Recall that was the first time that ‘overweight’ was mentioned to me from someone in the medical profession. It wasn’t long after that a friend expressed her desire to join a program that I hesitate to even mention. All I will say is that any food was actually acceptable; it just had to be accounted for based on what the protocol outlined that you were allowed to eat. I can’t recall how long we were officially on the program but in the course of about six months I saw my body change significantly for the first time well … ever? And how did I do it? I counted and meticulously tracked every.single.morsel. of food I ate.

And in that timeframe, my relationship with food was altered forever. I no longer saw it as something enjoyable but simply as something that, by controlling, would finally help me reach the point where I could be like all of the other young women I aspired to. I would be ‘skinny.’ (And, isn’t it funny how things change depending on the decade (sometimes even the dang year) we find ourselves? In that timeframe, women did ONLY cardio. And did NOT lift weights. And ‘skinny’ was the ideal.) And if I were skinny, I would be accepted. And worthy.

Here’s the problem with where I was, though. Looking back, I didn’t realize I’d already disconnected from my body. I had no idea how I actually ‘looked’ because what I saw never seemed to reflect what others shared with me. I just remember being at a number on the scale that others would say was good and while I didn’t like what the mirror reflected back, I had seemingly arrived. If only I could keep it under control.

Looking back on my 20’s and 30’s, it was that control that became my safety net. The first major change was pregnancy. I’ll admit that I was absolutely terrified of being pregnant because of what that would mean for my body. How much weight would I gain? What would people think of me? Would I get stretch marks? Would I eat without abandon? And so on. So, for that (and other reasons that don’t belong in this story), I held off as long as I could. What I didn’t anticipate was that my body didn’t know how to work quite right so it actually took almost a year to conceive and when I did, I was thrilled. As one would normally be. I was also excited because soon after, I had a chest again. That was an unexpected and happy surprise. For my husband at the time. (sorry, #levity)

I’ll share that I adored my changing body for the first time since I was that little girl standing on a stage. Sure, that part between when you appear bloated with a food baby instead of the little miracle you’re carrying and when that bloat starts to take shape as a basketball was hard. But, I knew that God had gifted me with something pretty amazing and I was there for it. I would gain back the weight I’d lost in that program after college. After I gave birth to the most amazing human I could ever have imagined, there I was again. I think I felt alone. For that ten (yes, it’s ten. all lies.) months, I had purpose to nourish and grow someone else. My disdain for my figure was just muted for that time. It came rushing back when he arrived and immediately, I started chasing the ‘before.’ I had to track the food and watch the weight. I started running then to aid in the speed of shedding the weight and in the same number of months it took to put it on, it came off.

Then, more life happened. The end of a marriage that left me feeling more ashamed than I knew could be possible. In all of it, I can safely say that the true disorders surrounding eating found me. There was history in exposure and again, it became a way to control what I could not in the chaos surrounding me. Being on my own for the first time in a long time and navigating being a single mom, having time I didn’t have previously and being terrified of what all of it meant was more than I *should* have been handling on my own. It would take me a while to recognize that and reach out for help for the first time. Side note: I can NEVER say enough good things about counseling. And no, I’m not ashamed of having seen several in my lifetime.

In that first few years after my marriage ended, I struggled to feel safe. My body image issues were exacerbated by that and I couldn’t help but feel disconnected from all of those who wanted to surround me and love on me. But, if different is how I’d felt before, I now felt like it was different on steroids. All of my friends were married and were just having children of their own and I didn’t know how to connect. So, I started isolating a bit more and of course as the saying goes, ‘wherever you go, there you are.’ And I was in no position to be alone. But, that’s where safety was. No one could hurt me. And I didn’t really feel at that point that I mattered much anyhow.

My trip to Guatemala in 2014 was the first time I felt forgiveness for the divorce. And I desperately needed that. I also just allowed myself to feel some joy and acceptance by a group of people who reminded me (on the daily) that I was good. Just as I was. It was so life-giving and I came back to Michigan on freaking fire. I was going to do a 180 and change all the things! It would be weeks later that I was met with that accident that brought me safely back to the reality of needing things like a job. And insurance. I was pretty gutted, to be honest.

But then in early 2015, a new relationship. Again for the sake of this story, I’m not going to say much other than the feelings for the human associated were stronger than any I’d known and the dream associated with where it would lead was enough to make me giddy. It was also in that relationship where some of the darkness came to light. Hard conversations, vulnerability and truth-telling were forcing the cracks to open further and see for the first time how damaging my thought patterns and behaviors were. I felt safe to say the things I couldn’t say. And, I’m forever grateful for so many of the things.

I found myself in September of 2019 in an empty home that I’d put more hope in than I should have. Home is, after all, not a structure. But this home was to be the dream I had for family. For forever. And it was in that empty home that I realize now I decided that I couldn’t allow myself to feel for a while. To feel anything. Because everything was, again, out of my control. I needed to break away from the feelings and the chaos.

So in October, when I was back to the reality of being alone in a home that wasn’t mine, I decided it was time to lose weight. Because surely, I wasn’t thin enough. Now mind you, I’d started working out at the gym a couple years prior so I’d built some muscle and most would have considered me healthy. But doggone it. The number on the scale was too high and I would change that. And I would add more walking to my workouts so I could 1) listen to podcasts and tune out life and 2) burn more calories. So I slowly worked up on that front and worked down on how much I was eating. Sadly, at the same time I was going through the course to receive my personal training certification as well as one related to nutrition coaching. I. knew. better.

It wasn’t until February of 2020 that I realized how much weight I’d lost because someone voiced it. Granted I’d been cocooning since early fall so few people had actually seen me and it wouldn’t be but a month later that coco roro would force isolation. So while some of us can look back on this pandemic with pride that we accomplished big things, I survived. And for me, that’s kind of a big deal.

I saw a doctor for the first time last March and would begin the journey to purposely gain some of the weight I’d lost. I didn’t realize then how scary of a place I’d reached but there are days in that timeframe I actually don’t remember. I encountered physical challenges I’m still dealing with and to be honest, have never been more afraid. Of myself and everyone else.

Thankfully, it would be in that same couple of weeks that I finally ‘looked’ at myself. And it was the first time I was just so disappointed. Again, shame screamed at me and I sat and cried for hours the day before my parents were to return home from Florida because the change would be obvious and I could no longer hide from the reality. So, I wrote them a lengthy email about my state and shortly after they arrived home, wrote a contract about the incremental steps I would take to become well.

It’s been just over 15 months now. Some have gone well; others have not. But I’ve fought like hell (sorry. #swearjar) to find my way back. And as I’ve expressed to a couple of those most dear to me (hi, mom), I feel like I’m not even looking for who that sweet and frightened girl was because I don’t even know who she was. If she actually did. Because for the most part, that old version of me was pretending anyway. She couldn’t even look at herself in a full-length mirror. Or wear clothes that were seasonally appropriate and well-tailored to her actual body. She dressed in a way she felt most would accept her without seeing too much. And she ate in a way that appeared healthy. Or at least had others believing she’d already eaten or would shortly so she could avoid eating in front of others at social gatherings. And like I’d mentioned at the beginning, these last couple of months have been the hardest-fought.

I started working with someone not long ago to whom I am surrendering control when it comes to eating and my workouts. I realize that, in both arenas, the control is not something I want any longer. I am addicted to it. And it’s not safe or healthy. So, I’m working on giving that up. And, like Paul, I may always have this thorn. I don’t know. I may never not be able to avoid some of the things I am challenged by but I’m aware of them and fighting for my freedom. The beauty in that is that it’s also forced me into this place of acceptance. I can ‘see’ my body for what it is right now. And it’s just not good or bad. It just … ‘is.’ And while body positivity is a major topic for the day, I can get on board with the concept of body neutrality. I think that’s safer for many of us who have struggled with eating disorders and body shaming for the majority of our lives. That allows me to accept I will have days that I don’t like her. And days where I like her very much. And yes, my body is a her because I would NEVER treat someone else the way I’ve treated myself so as I’ve shifted my perspective to thinking of her as a friend, I’ve shifted the way I talk to her as well.

I’ve also realized that I have a choice here. And that’s been the other side of what’s happened this past couple of months. It’s seemed like so many interactions and events have culminated in leading to this place of desperation to just get over my dang self. I moved into a new home my son and I (and only God) built, I (finally) got a dog and she and I are saving each other, I saw someone I care deeply about go through a major health crisis, I started taking cold showers and I got braces (dear Lord, help me).

I’ve also just forced myself to get out. To see some of my people. To wear shorts. And I realize that what I’ve heard is true … your brokenness, pain and scars that serve as cracks to let the light in allow more space for others. I have such empathy for those in any kind of pain. I love and see the hope in humanity. I believe that all women are beautiful. Interestingly, I’ve never seen another body and felt like it was less than. I’ve never looked at another woman as flawed or with any sort of negativity like I’ve seen in myself. And I want those women to see that in themselves, too. Honestly, I’m anxious to find the spaces where I can be a light. And a friend. And maybe even … someone who can bring healing from a wellness standpoint. I am a coach, after all.

Finally, I’ve realized that I am forty-one-freaking-years-old. I am at that point where I can no longer allow the approval of others (or my perception of that) to fuel my behavior. I deserve not to survive, but to live. Through the process of loss in relationship, I’ve also come to terms with the fact that I am simply enough on my own. To be clear, I have no desire to close out this life without some hot firefighter standing next to me. But, if that’s where God decides my path leads, I’m really ok with that. I’m actually pretty awesome on my own recognizing that I have all of the beings I need in this safe place here with me. Granted, only one is a human but he more than makes up for any sense of lack.

I’ll close in sharing there was a quote I read recently that punched me in the face. It’s intro read, ‘eventually you just have to decide to be ok …’ So, I’m ok. And I’m here. And for right now, that’s enough.

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