My last post, featuring the PostSecret submission that made me sad, despite how easily I could relate, prompted the following comment from Dan:
Dan writes this blog, which is totally awesome, btw. I’ve been meaning to add him to my blog roll for some time, and now I have.
So, at the request of this reader, here is a post about how I came to realize that I was worth love, no matter what my weight.
I wish I had a simple, light bulb sort of moment to talk about… I don’t. All through high school, I basically had one serious, tempestuous relationship with a guy I will call Jamie. Jamie was my first kiss, at the age of 13, and the other “big” first, four years later, the summer before my senior year. Unbeknownst to me at the time, and I suppose to him for much of the time, Jamie was also gay. That, however, is another story.
When I met Jamie, I was thirteen and about to start 8th grade. It was summer. He was a friend of a friend, and we first talked on the phone. He was skinny, gangly and had braces and spiky hair. He was also the only male anorexic I’ve personally known, but I didn’t know that yet.
What we had in common was a love of the color blue and a devotion to the band Bon Jovi. Also, our parents were divorced, our mothers were emotionally cold and distant and we both struggled with depression. He was bipolar in the very classic, stereotypical fashion. He’d get manic, and come rearrange my furniture after cleaning our entire apartment. He’d stay up for several days straight. Then, the crash would come, and as we got older, it would bring with it heavy drinking, drug abuse and frequent suicide attempts. Most of those were silly, not serious attempts (slicing his wrists with a paper clip, drinking cologne), but all of the attempts came from a lack of parental commitment, from a desperate desire to be the center of attention. He had a brother who was “the golden child,” and every once in a while, he felt the need to steal his brother’s spotlight… he only knew how to do that in negative ways.
A relationship with an untreated manic depressive is hard on an adult. It’s even worse when you’re 13, and struggling with all that teenage angst. Add in the fact that I had my own personal dragons to slay, and you can imagine the nasty mix it often caused.
Jamie was a chronic cheater. After our first kissed, he asked me to be his girlfriend. Desperate to catch up to my early bloomer friends, I said yes. They thought he was hot. The funny part is, at that point, I found him sort of dorky… he just had better hair than most dorks. He was so awkward at 14. But I can admit, without shame, that part of me enjoyed having a boyfriend my friends - and other girls - thought hot. I was, after all, the “fat girl,” the last one in my social circle to get kissed. Even if that kiss was a dare, there were plenty that followed that weren’t. Even if he told our mutual friend Kim that I was a terrible kisser (what the hell did I know?), later he’d admit I became one of the best.
I went away for a week in August, to the Jersey shore with my mother on literally the only vacation she ever took with us. Immediately following, I spent a week at summer camp where Kim informed me Jamie had cheated on me… with her! She was a bitch, very manipulative… and by then I knew well enough to not always trust her. However, when I got back, he confirmed it. I was crushed.
Not even a month into my first ever relationship, and already cheated on. It only got worse. He wound up going out with my best friend, and cheated on her with me (it was her idea that I try to get him to stray), and again with Kim. Still, they lasted on and off for a good year. Then she moved on to greener pastures, and he came running back to me, and sadly, I took him. I hadn’t had any other offers in the time we were apart, and fitting in on some level had become very important. Even in my group of misfits, my lack of a relationship made me standout.
It was a couple more years before things became “serious,” though, and in that time, I did date other guys. Two I only went out with once each… and one I dated for one summer. Jamie always wound up being the “fallback” guy, though, and by the time I was a junior in high school, he’d grown up, wasn’t nearly as awkward and for a short while, while his bipolar was under control, he’d stopped starving himself and calling himself fat (which at 5′9″ and 120 pounds he hardly was) and he even put on some muscle. He looked good. He looked good, could’ve had his pick of stupid girls, and he chose me.
So I ignored the comments. I ignored the “you could be so ‘hot’ if only you lost weight” comments that he made on a regular basis. Or rather, I wish I’d ignored them. Instead, I took them to heart, feeling that yes, indeed… I had a beautiful face, and when I was comfortable, a sort of sassy way about me, and these things could translate into some very serious “hotness…” Except that I was fat, and fat can’t be hot, right?
What was a girl to do? I could’ve developed some self-esteem and self-worth and kicked his arse to the curb… but instead, I dieted. I’d eat next to nothing, especially when with him. I’d journal all my food, the way I’d been taught as an inpatient on an eating disorder unit, and I’d proudly show him my journals. It got to the point, where given his own experiences with anorexia, he’d actually start to worry… he’d say, “Jules, you have to eat something.” Then he’d offer to make me mac and cheese or we’d go to a diner. I usually still wouldn’t eat, or I’d eat a salad. I loved the attention. He wasn’t the only one who excelled at getting attention for negative reasons. I liked the feeling that he wanted to take “care” of me, and I missed the fact that he was the cause of the problem to begin with, on a rather major level.
Ironically, it finally ended with him when I stole him away from another woman. Again, not a moment I’m overly proud of, and hardly a big challenge… but suddenly, I realized, that he wasn’t worth the effort or time I’d put in for seven long years. He was demanding, difficult, got me in trouble more times than I can count, and he was narcissistic and obsessive and jealous beyond belief, despite the fact that he was the chronic cheater. He also put me down because I didn’t drink, smoke or do drugs (and until we starting sleeping together, because I didn’t have sex). He would say, in a stupid falsetto, “I’m Juliet. I read.” Well, given that he could barely spell, I can see why the concept would baffle him… but I didn’t take those things too seriously. I didn’t like smoking, with my mother’s drug abuse (and she was just one of many in my life) there was no way in hell I was using drugs, and I wasn’t about to have sex until the moment I was ready… and I didn’t. Even if my choice of partner was questionable, my timing was impeccable, and here, I see the first signs of my burgeoning self-esteem.
I’d watched my friends lose their virginity (a silly expression, if you ask me), only to regret it five minutes later when the guy dumped them, or something else happened. I vowed to not have that be me. I wanted to think I was in love (though on some level, I don’t think I ever really believed I “loved” him). I wanted to know that it was my choice, what I wanted and that because of that, it wouldn’t matter if he dumped me the next day… oh, this wasn’t all this crystal clear to me in the moment, or in the years leading up to the moment, but looking back, I can plainly see why I’d waited. And even though Jamie wasn’t ever going to win “boyfriend of the year,” on some level, he was safe. I knew what to expect of him afterwards. I knew the odds were good we’d break up again… and two weeks later, we did. But I still didn’t regret the decision. It was under my terms, on a night of my choosing… and though some things about the night are fairly amusing (like the fact that Cheers had just come on and our friend was watching it in the next room, and so I lost my virginity to the Cheers theme song), I can still know it was how I chose for it to be… impulsive, a bit, but still, my moment, my night.
I was seventeen, and about to be a senior in high school. The world was my oyster, and I still believed that someday, I’d be that thin, hot woman hiding within… but for one moment, I was simply me, and I took control and made my own choices without regrets.
It would still be more than ten years before I found out about Intuitive Eating, before I realized I could stop the self-flagellation that was dieting and move on with with living. I still struggle. I’m happily married to an absolutely amazing man, who loves me for the person I am inside, not for what I look like or could hypothetically look like with a gazillion dollars of plastic surgery and some miracle diet.
And even today, there are moments where I feel absolutely hideous. Having to take my engagement ring off because I’ve gained weight in the past month would be one of those moments… even with my ever sweet husband reminding me that it doesn’t make us not married, it doesn’t mean we’re “disengaged.” But to me, it’s a sign of failure, a sign that I’m losing somehow… and I guess, in a way very different from what I am usually feeling, that is true. I am losing my resolve to listen to my body, and not eat if I am not hungry. But with everything going on with my family, my resolve has twisted into something ugly and cruel, and it tells me that I am fat, that I should just have WLS, that I should go back on a diet. It tells me things I know are lies, even as I hear myself think them or say them, or read them written in instant messages to my best friends.
At the end of the day, my resolve is no different than anyone else’s. At the end of the day, my resolve can be my saving grace, or it can turn against me.
And so, to respond to Dan’s comment, acceptance is not a light bulb moment. It’s not an easy explanation… it’s a struggle that does not end, especially in a world where we are so often judged by our looks. Acceptance is a journey, one that parallels our regular life journey, if we let it, and sometimes intersects when need be. For a lucky few, those intersections become permanent merges, that seemingly never end… but for most of us, acceptance is elusive. It’s there, but not always within our grasp, even when we know we want it, even when we welcome it… even when we know that to deny it, will only cause us pain.
It’s a process, one we must embrace rather than struggle against. Right now, despite my better judgment and best efforts, acceptance and I are not at an intersection, and I don’t know how much longer I have to travel without it… but I do know that this is a growth opportunity, chance to find out what I have to do to get back to that sweet spot.
So stick around, readers… I’m sure more posts on acceptance will follow this one.