Brutal + beautiful = bru-tiful.
Here is some of my “Bru-tiful Truth”.
1. I lost a bestie-friend six years ago, and when we went to create a photo slide show for the memorial, we didn’t have a single picture of her with me. Not one. This is one of my biggest regrets. I now take pictures of me often. I’m trying to make up for lost time. I take and share lots of glorious pictures of me with friends and family, or just of me. No one that really knows my story projects any negative feelings about my photos. My transformation is a mind bender for me, something that sometimes still feels surreal, and somehow, these photos help me to mentally process how much I’ve transformed and who I am now.
2. If by sharing this, I can help others to raise awareness for the pain and suffering other girls go through, then maybe it’s worth all the scary feelings I’m having as I hit the “post” button on my blog.
Here we go…
I grew up in a highly abusive home. I knew that one of the adults in my home wished I didn’t exist at all, as in it would have been better if I hadn’t been born. I was barely in kindergarten but I was extremely sensitive to that then, and I’ve remained extremely sensitive for all of my life. I sensed it. I felt it. It was palpable. My childhood was filled with regular physical abuse as well as being told almost daily how horrible and unworthy I was. The words used were, for the most part, screamed at me in profanities attacking me and my value and calling me all sorts of sexually illicit names. I remember this from age 4 until I left. Many times, I didn’t know exactly what these sexual words were and my siblings and I would have to figure them out. I would feel shame and degradation. I think of the two types of abuses, the screaming by destruction and shaming of my esteem was the worse.
Since I can remember, I mothered and nurtured my siblings, a role I would have with them for most of my life. One day, when I was about nine years old, five Sheriff cars showed up at our home to take all five of us (my four siblings and me) away–and save us. Five neighbors had called them because our beating that day had been so terrible, and public, many neighbors heard it and called the county Sheriff. We lied to the Sheriffs–no one had ever told us to do that, it was pure reaction to fear on all of our parts–and we minimized the horrible beatings we’d just experienced, fearing being separated from each other. And as described in Stockholm Syndrome papers, we were worried about what would happen to our abuser. The Sheriffs interviewed us and reluctantly left. Things were okay for a while, but abusers always go back to their patterns. I left home before my 15th birthday because it was killing my soul to live there.
I credit my heroes for keeping me in some semblance of sanity through the days of my childhood, my beautiful altruistic school teachers. They often made me their favorite student, maybe because they knew I needed it, maybe because I was also smart and sweet, and because they recognized a quality in me that I felt no one else did. One day, God also sent us the most amazing Christian youth group. These beautiful ministers and their wives took us under their wing and loved us hard through our tween and teen years. They taught us values, kept us busy and made us feel so special and worthy. I learned from these loving generous Christian people, and my teachers, that my life could have more meaning, and that it could be gentle and kind. It gave me hope. I’ve been the loving non-abusive mother to my children for all of their lives, partly because of these beautiful souls. And because as I was growing up, after every time I was hurt and abused, I would promise myself that I would never ever be like my abusers. And I’m not.
It’s become important for me to share this hard part of my life, because it’s part of telling the truth of my story. And two, because maybe when you see that “big girl” seated next to you on the airplane, that maybe you can skip judging her, and realize that maybe she has a story. Maybe you don’t know the pain she’s been through. And maybe you can just connect, at a human level.
We can’t save people, they have to save themselves, but one of the most healing and loving things we can do is connect.
And if you’re the “big girl” or the “drinking too much girl”, or you’re the “doing drugs girl” or you’re the “NOT eating girl” and life is out of control and you feel you just want to disconnect and numb from life and others because it’s so painful: Girl, you’ve got a story. You can do this. You got this. Really, you do. You have it all inside you already, enough to deal with it. God made you with all of it. Your work is to find it. And maybe you need to find the support people that have some maps to help you navigate your way back to you. Maybe you have to un-become and un-learn some things to be what you were meant to become–YOU. You, in all your perfect imperfectness, beautifully messy and healthy and well. You are so worth it.
3. I still feel like I’m lying when I’m in a clothing store and ask for my jeans in a size 10. I feel like a total imposter when I try them on, and I then ask for a size 8. I still expect someone to say, “You’re cray-cray, girl! Get out of here, we don’t carry your real size.”
4. This happened a lot for a while, and now it only happens infrequently: when I’m walking down a street, thinking my own thoughts and I suddenly see myself in the reflection of store windows. It still surprises me, that that’s me. Really. Really. Surprises me. This part has been something I’ve had to process. Sometimes I just stand there and stare.
5. Losing the weight and changing my life was about two things for me: self-care and healthy behaviors. Over five years ago, doing these two actions became the priority of my life. If I wasn’t sure about something I would review it against whether it was self-care or a healthy behavior. That alone nixed crazy fad diets, because they’re just crazy behaviors. There’s a point about six months into it that I realized that I was gaining newfound respect for myself. For the first time in my entire life, I respected myself by myself. Not because another person did, but simply because I felt good about me.
6. I was really really mad shortly after the beginning of my transformation. I was especially mad at a guy friend. I didn’t know how to deal with so much anger, but I knew my anger had powerful energy. One day, after I’d already lost about twenty-five pounds, I took all my anger to the treadmill at my gym. I ran for two hours, until I felt better and I wasn’t mad. Imagine me about 150 more pounds heavier than I am today, running for two hours. I was practicing taking the HIGH ROAD about my upset so I ran everyday that I was mad at my friend, which was almost daily. One day, after about a year of this, this friend showed up at my house while I was making Sunday breakfast. We talked, and talked, and talked. He stayed for dinner. It wasn’t lost on me how hard it must have been for him to show up and talk to me. We made things right. And over time, we got back to being friends again. The funny thing is after we made up, I didn’t know how to run without my anger at this dude. I had to find my way with this. Now, anytime I feel mad or upset, I know to get my running shoes on, and take that anger for a big ole run.
I learned how to channel the power of anger, and I also learned that love and friendship can be rebuilt, even when we thought that would be the most unlikely thing.
7. People sometimes cry or get the the chills on their arms when I tell them how much weight I’ve lost. It still surprises me. I’ve run into people that hadn’t seen me in a while, and even after I said hi, they didn’t recognize me. One man, Mark, whom I’ve known for about twenty-five years, and his wife, absolutely didn’t recognize me until I said, “Mark, it’s me, Mari.” The look of shock. Wow! It’s a mind bender for other people too.
8. I feel that people are more accepting of a drug addict or an alcoholic, than they are of a “fat woman.” The reverse also seems true to me, from my experience: people are more praising of someone that’s lost a lot of weight than they are of someone that’s in recovery working hard, daily, to overcome drug addiction, or alcoholism.
The gift of sobriety, and the gift of health are equally amazing. Overcoming these crippling diseases, through hard work in recovery, makes us all superheroes.
9. When I hit what I call my rock bottom, I was in so much pain and so disconnected from my real life. Changing what I did, how I did it, and what I believed about myself took a huge act of courage. I refused to have a batch of brownies, or a cupcake to numb the hurt. Broiled fish and steamed zucchini didn’t numb a thing. I learned to sit with pain and learn from it. Pain is a great teacher, if you can see your way through it without a glass of wine or a cupcake. I learned many things from pain but it’s greatest teaching to me was deep-seated empathy, and compassion for others in pain. I’m embarrassed to admit that for all my life’s extensive spiritual studies, I lacked empathy and compassion, and this lacking kept me so disconnected.
10. Jealousy: for all the crazy wiring and emotions I have, jealousy is not something I experience. I’ve experienced serious jealousy only once in my life, and that was as a child when I knew a little girl that was just like me, who had the exact name as me but she lived with loving, supportive and kind parents. Even now, I’m not even sure that was jealousy or serious longing. As I’ve lost weight, I’ve encountered some jealous reactions. I actually lost a friendship with a friend that wanted to lose about 125 pounds. She couldn’t tolerate the attention I was getting for my healthy changes, that she wasn’t changing for herself. We drifted apart.
About a year and a half ago, a bestie girlfriend called me and vulnerably and honestly told me she had felt jealous when she’d run into me at a mall because she felt I looked so good. You’d have to know this girlfriend to understand how surprising this was to me because she’s lost a lot of weight herself, she’s blonde and attractive, smart and kind. We stayed with the conversation to see what we could uncover about this for us. And I came to one of my biggest realizations.
The jealousy my friend had, had nothing to do with me. I was simply a trigger. My friend felt that she wasn’t doing her own work, caring for her business by doing something she wanted: to lose another ten pounds. She lost those ten pounds and has been happily rocking her body since. I consider her one of my sweetest friends.
I realized that when someone doesn’t feel they “have game” by their standards, they can be triggered by someone that does. So dealing with jealousy is easy, and it can be dealt with lovingly: it requires having our own game on. Unless there are personality disorders involved, it’s that easy to fix.
As women we deal with plenty, and we need one another to inspire and build each other other up. We rise by raising others up.