Many people have told me that I am brave. I will let you in on a little secret; I have not felt brave. I have simply felt called upon to share my story. However, writing this specific post is taking all the courage I possess.
I would be lying if I said I have never questioned why I got sick. These have not been questions full of self-pity, but rather a desire to find my purpose in all of this. I have thought that maybe this happened because I was strong enough to handle it. Maybe it is because it would not devastate us financially they way it could have another family. I think a big reason is because Marc and I are in a position to spread awareness. One of my dearest friends, Mel, sent me this quote the other night and it really resonated within me.
I think that in one way this illness has been a gift to me. I have never been the most confident person but there is no good reason for all of my self-doubt. I grew up in a great family with parents that told me they loved me and often. I have always known that I am a kind person but I never felt that was quite enough. College was the most difficult time of my life thus far, including the past few months. I left my very sheltered life and learning independence was initially a big struggle. In the begining I became friends with people who maybe were not the best fit. I was young and made some big (at the time) mistakes. I apologized for them but they were also young and did not give me grace. Because they would not forgive me, I could not forgive myself. I lived the last two years of college anxious of the next drunken outburst or terrible voicemail, luckily there were only three of four instances that occurred but in a school of only about 6000 people I always knew it was a possibility. All of this led to much self loathing, specifically of my body. I began to purge, clinging to the endorphins that rushed through my body every time I hung my head over that toilet. I punished myself everyday for the things I could not control. I sought counseling but it did not really help. Even now, 10 years later, when I think of this time in my life I get a horrible knot in my chest. Graduating was liberating and I have never had any desire to go back for homecoming because there is not much about that place that feels like home.
When I came back to Virginia Beach things improved exponentially. I found a good job, I worked hard and I bought a townhouse at 22 years old. These are things I am proud of and I found happiness in new friendships and strengthening of old ones. Despite this happiness I never could find an acceptance of my body. I stopped the purging almost as soon as I graduated but I could not move past the body shaming. I have lived for the past ten years always trying to lose weight, sometimes succeeding, only to gain it back. Finding a man who loves me just as I am did not heal this and just proves that you must love yourself. I have tried cleanses, pills, drinks, wraps, and lotions but I still always found myself in front of the mirror tearing my reflection apart. I compared myself to every other woman, never thinking poorly about the women larger than me, but always feeling like I should work harder to be like the ones who were thinner. One day Harvey looked at me and said “Mommy, I’m fat.” I sat there stunned and ashamed. For once it was not shame about my body but shame of what I was teaching my son at such a young age. I decided it was time to change and I started looking for positive role models. I found The Body Image Movement started by Taryn Brumfitt and took their online Unstoppable Program I discovered Jade Beall photography, her A Beautiful Body Project and ordered her book, The Bodies of Mothers. I have listened to Meghan Trainer’s “All About that Bass,” Colbie Calliat’s “Try,” and John Legend’s “You and I” and “All of Me” more times than I care to admit. I started to speak the right words, but just like a smile sometimes does not reach the eyes, the words never touched my heart. I was kind to everyone around me but I could not extend myself the same courtesy.
Then the worst happened…and you know what? This body of mine did not fail me. After years of listening to me tell it that it was not good enough it proved that it was. I survived when the odds were most certainly not in my favor. I woke up and I was finally thin!!! I was 13lbs lighter, finally my pre-pregnancy weight! A month prior and I would have told you that I would have given anything to lose that much weight. I just never imagined that the cost could have been my life. For the first time I saw a flat stomach and arms that did not jiggle and I did not care one bit. I would have gained it all back over night if it could have taken away the hell I had just been through. I’m lucky I felt that way because I have gained it and crazy enough, I’m really okay with that. I used to say things like “Oh if only I just didn’t love food so much,” then my medications took away my taste for food. The hospital nutritionist came to me because I was only eating 20% of my meals and they started making me drink Ensure. I learned that I don’t want to live a life where I cannot enjoy food. I am thankful everyday that my taste buds came back to life and for the first time in fifteen years I do not feel guilty when I eat a piece of chocolate. I do not associate food with labels like “good” and “bad.” I finally understand that you can have fat and not be fat. Ironically, now that I am finally at peace with food I find myself making the best choices I ever have. I want to eat healthy foods to feel well instead of look good. Now that I don’t see any food as forbidden I can leave those Oreos sitting right where they are. They’ll be there when I want them and I do not feel the compulsion to eat them in one guilty binge. What an amazing transformation.
This body that I have hated for so many years loved me so much that it fought fiercely to survive. I am now in wonderous awe of what it can do. These lungs that filled with so much fluid that my x-ray was completely white are now breathing every second of every day without any assistance. These eyes can look at my children, these lips can kiss them, and these arms that have one busted vein and picc line scar can hold them. This scar on my chin gets kissed by my children who refer to it as “mommy’s boo boo.” These legs are weaker than before but for once I could not give one damn that my thighs touch. If I get excited and clap and my arms jiggle a little, that’s okay, because I am happy and celebrating life. I used to think that running was some sort of punishment for weighing too much. Now I am anxiously waiting for the day that I can do so again. And I will run. I will chase my kids in the backyard. I will come out pink and blue and purple from color runs or covered in mud from Dirty Dashes. I will run because this spectacular body of mine will be able to. Right now I am focusing on exercises that will fulfill me spiritually and heal me physically. And this belly of mine, oh this belly. It has always been the thing I hated the most. I used to grab it and pinch it, and talk about getting it sucked out. Nowadays, I thank it. It carried my two most precious gifts. It is marked with a few stripes of pregnancy and I have a bit of a cliff that hangs over my c-section scar but it expands and retracts with my breath. It grows with an amazing meal that I no longer berate myself for eating. And one day, when I am feeling better, I hope it will grow with another child. I will not care if I become more marked than I am now because I ache for the feeling of another life kicking and punching me from within. Any new marks will just be evidence of my blessings and joy.
It took me almost dying to finally love myself fully. This is the silver lining that I cling to when the days are rough. This was my gift.