A lot of the pain I have felt in my life has come from wanting to be someone and something better. From a very young age, I longed to be stronger, smarter, thinner, more resilient, more disciplined, prettier, more athletic, less emotional, more consistent, wealthier…I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. It never even crossed my mind to discover, accept, embrace, (or god forbid celebrate) who I was. Instead, I spent about 3 decades trying to be an emotionally, physically, mentally, structurally, genetically improved version of myself.
At the ripe age of 37, I still don’t know why, but I never quite felt good enough until a few years ago. That lack of enough-ness drove me to push myself far beyond healthy limits when it came to work, travel, fitness and commitments to the people around me. I think deep down I was always a little afraid that people would discover how unremarkable I was and love me less or leave me. For some reason I still don’t understand, feeling like and being just an average gal felt awfully insufficient sometimes. So I pushed harder and harder and harder to be worthy of the love and acceptance and accolades I thought were required for happiness. I pushed and pushed to be worthy of being everyone’s favorite person. And then I pretty much snapped.
I was barely 30 before my body started telling me in ways I could no longer ignore that it was done. Done being chronically stressed, hungry, stretched to the limits in the pursuit of being someone and something I wasn’t. I was mentally and physically unwell. Back surgery, infertility, gut problems, depression, anxiety, skin rashes and a laundry list of diagnoses made it painfully obvious that it was time to step back and reevaluate.
Since my own personal shit show 7 years ago, I’ve been putting the pieces of my life back together in a deeply intentional way. I took some time to decide what truly matters to me, and realized quickly that external validation and approval is far less important than I had led myself to believe. Also, they are far, FAR less important than mental and physical health, a happy marriage, meaningful human connection with friends and family, purpose-driven work and somehow learning to love and accept myself regardless of how thin, wealthy or popular I am.
One of the most challenging side effects of finally prioritizing what actually matters to me has been significant weight gain. Without constantly living in a state of striving, and thanks to some hormone and medication challenges, I gained back all of the weight I lost in my nervous, anxious, overworked 20’s. Every ounce of it.
At first, the weight gain shook me to the core. I had so many negative associations with living in a bigger body – not because I think there is anything inherently wrong with that AT ALL – but because for ME, living in a bigger body was associated with my history of depression, low self esteem, and unresolved childhood trauma. It was also associated with behavior and choices I was deeply ashamed of, and a tendency to sooth and numb all of the aforementioned away with completely out of control behavior around food. I didn’t quite know how to reconcile the fact that living in a bigger body in the present moment meant something entirely different. It meant that for the first time in my life, I was prioritizing my mental and physical health above weight and above all that damn striving.
To be honest, I am still a little surprised by the resistance I felt every step of the way to accepting myself in whatever shape or form prioritizing health created. Intellectually, I knew it was the right choice, a no brainer. Logically, I knew there was no other choice but to put my health first. But emotionally? That was a whole other story. All of a sudden, I became painfully aware of all the negative associations I, and society, have with bodies that aren’t slim and tight and taught and perfect. It took a lot of therapy, hugs from my husband, reassurance from a few dear friends, reinforcement found in my work as a health coach, journaling and more therapy to free myself from the limitations of those associations.
While I was doing this work over the course of about two years, I was still squeezing into my old clothes. I was still holding on to hope that by making the right choice, the choice to prioritize my health, I would be rewarded with a skinny body again some day. In retrospect, I realize how absurd the behavior and the motivation was, but it took me some time to see that constricting my body in clothes that no longer fit was my last defiant act of striving to be “better”. After the 4,626th popped button, I finally started asking myself some “high mileage” questions. Why torture myself by igniting a fire of self criticism every time I put ill-fitting pants on? Why fuel resistance to healthy change every time I open the door to a closet of clothes that don’t fit me as I am? Why not just learn to love and accept myself in this healthy, happy, bigger body?
Finally, a few months ago, I opened up my drawers, armoire and closet and got rid of 90% of my clothes. As soon as I ditched the mentality that I should be fitting into my clothes and embraced the idea that my clothes should fit my body as it is now, and my life as it is now, I immediately felt a sense of relief. By letting go of all the old clothes, I was removing the opportunity to compare or shame myself back into a body that was never truly mine to begin with. By letting go of all those clothes, I was finally letting go of the idea that I am supposed to spend my life striving to be better, thinner, stronger, smaller, or anything other than what I am today.
I won’t say it was easy to stand and watch strangers sort through and assign arbitrary values to dresses lined with memories of dancing at friends’ weddings. It even made me a little sad to watch them so easily discard mounds of Theory that reminded me of standing proud as a strong business woman in my first well-tailored suit. But those sentiments were nothing compared to the sense of liberation I felt. On that day, standing outside Crossroads on Fillmore Street in the sunshine, I finally understood how letting go of what no longer serves you can be the ultimate form of self acceptance.