My struggles with my weight are sure to surprise nobody. I am a 43-year-old mom of two teen boys who can eat whatever they want; in fact, they eat no less than six times a day. My husband wears pants that are one size larger than those he wore 25 years ago, with very little consideration of what he eats or drinks.
Me, though? I have been up and down (that’s what she said) the numbers on the scale so many times that I am busier and more reliable than an elevator in a Las Vegas casino. I was my ideal weight…once…when I was nine. For the last ten years, I am sure that I have weighed more than my husband, but I’m too afraid for his life to ask for confirmation.
Over the last year, my weight struggles have become more serious, turning into a game of “Would you rather?” As in, “Would you rather have this cake or fit into your pants?” And, “Would you rather overeat or avoid diabetes?”
And most importantly, “Would you rather be skinny…or sane?”
Food Was My Drug
My emotional and mental breakdown started at the beginning of the summer. It doesn’t matter why, suffice it to say that it was A Big Thing That Shook My World. The Big Thing had a ripple effect on the rest of my life, and by the fall I was suicidal, living with a friend, and shotgunning candy bars and potato chips, when I ate at all.
A survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I grew up in survival mode. Food was my drug, helping me cope with the worst of the abuse and my repressed feelings. The calming effect of food on the brain is a physiological certainty, and for me, sugar is the path of least resistance. Like any drug, however, there’s never enough. I craved and ate and craved and ate, and I could never get enough.
And I Hated Myself
One of the results of long-term abuse is shame. When I was ten years old, I looked in the mirror and felt shame for what my father had stolen from me. In my ten-year-old mind, I was ugly and fat, and would always be ugly and fat. But I was smart enough to figure out that I could use these beliefs, reinforce these ideas, to deflect attention away from me. Nobody wants to pay attention to an ugly, fat girl who wears baggy clothes.
Regardless of how much healing work I have done and continue to do, these beliefs persist. When I was suicidal and living with friends, food became my drug again. It didn’t matter if I was fat, because I was unlovable anyway, just like when I was younger. It didn’t matter if I slowly killed myself with food, because I was in so much pain.
But I Fought Back
This was not the first time I fought back. Diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, and anxiety, I can make a convincing argument that every day, to some extent, is a fight to survive. Not only that, but to thrive. At the end of September, I was under the care of what seemed like a battalion of healthcare professionals: a naturopath, therapist, acupuncturist, osteopath, massage therapist, personal trainer, and more.
My naturopath came to the conclusion that the antidepressant I had taken for ten years was no longer working, and prescribed me a new one. As I began taking the new meds as prescribed, I got more stable.
I also put on weight.
A month later, I moved back in with my family. And gained even more weight.
And I Chose Mental Health
I clearly remember a brisk morning in late December. Wavering sunlight seemed to drift through my bedroom, covering the bed like a blanket. I was putting clothes away, still warm from the dryer.
I was also silently beating myself up. Reminding myself that I was ugly and fat and wondering if I would be able to take this extra weight off. What if the weight gain was due to the new medication? The new medication that had helped me get back on stable ground and move back into my house and be a mom to my kids. Did I want sanity, or did I want to be thinner?
This is the wrong question.
A better question is, when would I start to love myself? When would I stop believing lies that I grabbed onto when I was a girl? When would I know that I am lovable and beautiful and amazing? That no mirror can accurately reflect what my mind and soul and heart and – yes, even my body – already gives to the world?
When would I consider that maybe it was more important to be stable and alive than to follow the advice of an evil man who used me for his twisted needs when I was a child? When would I remember that “skinny” is a goal set before me by some privileged dude in some boardroom, and that my body ideals are more important than anyone else’s?
That even though I don’t really know what it means to be “body positive” or to “love myself,” maybe I am worth the time and effort and energy to find out. That maybe I could learn to stop using food as a weapon against myself, to keep learning what it means to “eat healthy,” to live with food.
So what if the weight gain was from the new medication? I had not found healing in weight loss, and I have tried, again and again. But I have been able to tread more purposefully down a path of healing with antidepressants.
I choose sanity. Maybe choosing sanity is the first step in building this love for myself, to really start believing that I am worth it.