For years, I struggled with an eating disorder. Actually, I wouldn't call it struggling. I didn't see it that way. I saw it as management. Control. It was just the way things were for me. Years of starving. Binging. Purging.
Nothing glamorous about that.
But when you're caught up trying to live your life to please people around you, people who maybe don't even really care all that much about you in the first place, you aren't thinking clearly or seeing straight. If you were, you might realize the people who really matter, the ones whose opinions might mean something in your life don't care what the tag on the inside of your jeans says.
The closer I get to 40, the more clearly I begin to see, and yet, some of it lingers. The guilt when I eat something I "shouldn't," the constant nagging that I need more exercise, the knowledge that I have to regroup or I'm going to let things get out of control. But most of that stems more from a desire to be healthy and less from a desire to be thin.
I've come to a point in life when I can actually say that honestly.
You know how you try to put on that "I just want to be healthy" to justify eating next to nothing? I actually do want to be healthy, so when I succumb to the Dr. Pepper, the guilt is not because of the number of calories but because I know it's toxic for my body.
About three months ago, I realized I hadn't weighed myself in weeks. Maybe that's why I was so much happier. I was thinking more about the way my clothes fit and less about numbers on a scale. It wasn't a new revelation--this isn't the first time I've gone scale-less--just the first time I didn't do it intentionally.
But I have a full-length mirror in my bedroom. Mostly I have it there so I don't leave the house with two different shoes on, but when I walk past it, I don't ever look at my face. Shoulders down. And I started to hate what I was seeing. Every day, I'd stand in front of that mirror and I'd feel a little less happy.
Suddenly clothes that fit great looked terrible, and before long I was on the verge of burning everything in my closet. The truth is, my weight fluctuates a lot. Sometimes I notice, sometimes I don't. But that stupid mirror in front of me every time I walked out of the room sent soemthing shifting inside of me.
My mood changed. I approached my days based on how that mirror made me feel. I'd replaced the numbers on the scale with the image in my mind after passing by my own reflection.
This internal self-loathing went on for a few weeks, and then one day, I stood in front of it, lamenting the fact that things weren't neat and smooth in and around my waistline. My legs were even shorter and stubbier than I remembered. Nothing--and I mean nothing--looked good.
Adam walked in. The look on my face must've told him how I felt inside. I've never had much of a poker face.
"You know that's bowed, right?" I think at this point he shoveled a heaping spoonful of cereal into his mouth.
I frowned. "What do you mean 'it's bowed'?"
He set down his bowl and picked up the mirror. "It's bowed. Like a funhouse mirror." He showed me the way the mirror sat, and I cringed at the sight of my short, stubby self. Then he took the mirror and straightened it. "It's supposed to be flat against the wall, but it's not."
More frowning from me. "You mean, this is what I really look like?"
Now, let me stop a minute to say I do, in fact, have stubby legs and I know there is nothing smooth about my midsection, but I've come to accept those things. The difference between what I'd accepted and the distorted version of myself was enormous...and I'd believed that distorted version was the truth.
"I don't know why you bought that thing in the first place." He picked up his bowl and walked out of the room.
And I started to think about all the hours I'd wasted with a distorted image in my head. An image that haunted me, shackled to my shoulders, determining how I responded to my family, how much I accomplished, how I saw myself. And I realized I've been walking around with distorted images my whole life.
Images of the way I think other people see me. Images of the person I've decided I should be. Images of how far off target I am, whether in the way I look or how I parent or what I've accomplished on any given day.
Distorted images are nothing more than lies. And I realized if I continually believe lies about myself, I'm allowing a funhouse mirror to determine my future.
And really, when you put it that way, it seems a little ridiculous, doesn't it?