I’ve spent 54 years living in a body I’ve tried to ignore. Every day I wake up and my first thought is that today will be different. Many days are better than others, but underneath that there is always a little girl that has lived in fear since before her first breath. Before my brave mother knew I was growing inside her, she decided to leave her abusive husband who was my father. He worked the night shift so her bags were packed to leave at 10:30pm with her 3 children and her own Mother, but she wasn’t feeling well so she waited for the next day and the next. She wasn’t sick. She was pregnant with me so she stayed.
She never told me this story herself, but I always knew it inside me. We loved each other dearly until the day she died. When I was 31 and pregnant with my first child she admitted she hadn’t wanted me. Babies know. They are wise because they are pure like fresh snowflakes before they touch the trodden path.
She didn’t mean to hurt me nor was it about me. Our home was not a safe place. It was adorable though on the outside and full of pretty people on the inside. Pretty perfect and very Christian. Still, it wasn’t safe for me as a little girl. My Dad had never grown up. He didn’t know the boundaries of marriage, his own body, or others.
What I know is that I learned from my parents how to ignore this precious body of mine as they ignored theirs. They taught me to not speak my truth and encouraged my silence. Even now as words flow through my tears, I hear their rules splash to the floor around me. I feel my chest tighten and hold my breath as if the noise of the air I exhale might stir the sleeping giants in their graves.
I am grateful they both found their own truth and spoke it before they died including profound apologies to me. I will always respect them for that and have forgiven them fully. Still I heal.
I asked this question of myself last January, “How could I be 54 and still fat?”. It was harsh, but it led me down a path of unfolding answers that I continue on today. My first stop was a romp in reality. That included climbing back into this beautiful body and taking inventory of my strengths and the damage I have caused through choices I made. I started a renovation program and decided to make internal home improvements as they felt honorable.
I had always loved movement from my early days as Shirley Temple’s shadow in front of the TV on Saturday’s to later riding my lime green and flower covered banana seat bike. Even as I ate my way to morbid obesity by age 10, I loved to dance as my body felt the beat of every song. As a teen, I loved walking from my high school in New York City on West 63rd to my home at 34th and 3rd. When aerobics and disco took over the late 70’s and 80’s, I became a queen of spandex and leg warmers.
The first move I made last spring was a phone call to Energy Fitness on Main Street here in Memphis. The owner, Tonya Tittle, listened to my very long babbling speech on what I was willing to do and could hear much resistance from me regarding what I wouldn’t do. Based on my history, she assigned me to Lisa Sanchez Sullivan, Personal Trainer. To say I was resistant about changing anything with my food would be like trying to drip molasses quickly from a spoon on a winter day.
Lisa listened and offered me the chance to immediately witness my physical strength that I thought was gone. The first few weeks I cried almost every time I went through the door because I couldn’t hide the way I was feeling about life and the many roles I played. Some days she pointed me towards the punching bag and other times she stood by me as I peddled the bike as sweat and tears blended midair keeping my truths safe between us.
Soon my habits got in the way of the wings my self longed to grow. My body kept getting sick until finally my food addiction took over my system and it exploded with a systemic yeast infection. What appeared to be something stuck in my esophagus was actually inflammation from the yeast. As the nurses tried to keep IV’s going, my veins would shut down. I was scared so I crawled back in my beautiful body and responded to my needs. I had just had blood tests done that revealed food sensitivities so I followed the plan perfectly.
Between Lisa’s guidance and nutritional changes my body dropped the inflammation and my BMI changed drastically within weeks. My little part of the world took notice of how different I looked which was not a comfortable way of being for me, but I felt like I was home inside me for the first time in many years.
As with any crisis, as time moves on I became acclimated to what had been acute sensations and wandered back to some of the old habits. I’ve acted like I am doing ok, but what I haven’t said is that I have been afraid. It’s a twisted loop, but when one is taught at birth to not be seen and heard, it’s a constant battle between ego and self-preservation trapped in a game of hide and seek because feeling seen has not been a comfortable place for me.
That’s what prompted me to weave words today out of the tangled threads that can either choke me or grow into something that will lead me forward. The first thread begins with honesty. Living in this body is still very uncomfortable to me. My body needs me to let go of more of the armor I wrapped around me and the habits that keep it there supposedly to keep me safe. I prefer to do my best to better take care of me so I can hopefully live to see my son and daughter step into the next phases of their lives.
Today, I went with my son to his weekly visit at St. Jude with his oncologist. He has been a patient there for 27 months. In the first year when he got chemo, I ate cake to not deal with my emotions. That’s not the case most of the time now. In fact, thanks to a great support group, my body fat percentage has dropped by more than 10% and I weigh 40 pounds less. That’s not my focus, but a romp with reality needs to include the facts that effect my health.
Still, today, after feeling great connection with life because of talking with three amazing St. Jude families, our beloved nurses and nutritionist, breakfast with my son, coaching one of my favorite friends in my life, and sitting by the mighty Mississippi River, I realized I was ignoring emotions that were tugging at my heart to be heard. I found myself instead in a choice between turning left into my home or driving one block further and going to an inconvenience store to numb my truth. I chose the latter where no one would know the intention behind my deliberate choices of sweet and salty to satiate the little girl inside that was taught to not feel anything if at all possible. The challenge is that I feel everything. I just haven’t said so enough.
Now I choose to speak. I was telling myself this morning and believing that the next stretch of weight loss was scary and dangerous, because of things that happened in my past. I was already beginning to feel afraid inside of me when even more crazy things started happening in our world. Last week I kept singing in my mind over and over, “Let There Be Peace On Earth and Let It Begin With Me”, but that wasn’t happening because I was not feeling peace. Today, I was in active reaction mode to things I cannot control. So be it. What I can to is tend to my own business, keep my boundaries firm, and anchor myself in love…the most powerful emotion energetically.
I have an eating disorder. Sometimes it is subtle and tries to slip into the driver’s seat of my mind and careen us off a cliff. Other times it rests quietly by the door until I open it to just one bag of M&M’s that invite all their friends to join us for a month or so. I don’t want my truth to be that my body has been abused so much that I now have insulin resistance issues. I don’t like that Lisa has to adapt my exercises to accommodate my left knee and lower back. I really don’t like that until I lighten the load I carry a little more, dancing makes both knees hurt. I could go on and on, but these are my truths.
Last spring, I broke through the resistance because I asked myself what one thing am I willing to do to move me in a better direction. For me, that was a call to Energy Fitness to ask for help. It wasn’t a smooth first step, but it shifted my perspective enough to get me unstuck. Now I look forward to showing up there twice each week.
What I love is that I am alive. I have my walking shoes on and today when the sun goes down I am going to go for a walk with my husband and pups through the streets of downtown gazing up at the super moon and remember how much my parents loved me even though they were both struggling with their own issues. I will begin again and again, not until I get it perfect, but until I learn all that I can and take the next steps based on those lessons.
For many decades, one of my favorite quotes written in the 1700’s by Japanese poet and samurai, Mizuta Masahide is “My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon.” Here’s to letting go of all that I store in my barn and welcoming more moments to stand in awe of the beautiful moon.