Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Change The Voices

So I’m on this journey to get healthy and stop bingeing, I’ve got my doctor, I’ve got my therapist, I’ve even got a nutritionist on my team. And I was worried. I just knew I’d have to stop doing... well, everything. No salt, no sugar, no caffeine, no trigger foods. I just wasn’t sure that I could do it. But as it turned out, the first thing I had to do was even worse.

The first thing I had to do was to stop hating myself...

Ummm.... Okay, sure!

Al Franken's SNL Character, Stuart Smalley

Of course it isn’t that easy, or my therapist and all of her peers would have a whole lot less to talk about with folks like me. So, we started with the good old daily affirmations. I couldn’t get the old Stuart Smalley character from the Saturday Night Live skit out of my head: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggone it, people LIKE me!” It felt.... really stupid. I didn’t get how this would work. I could say it, but I didn’t believe it, and what good would that do?

But, you know, I didn’t know that I was fat until I went to kindergarten. Then the other kids started to tell me that I was fat, and eventually I realized that they were right.

And, you know, I didn’t realize that fat was ugly until a little bit later, back when boys began to seem a little more interesting and a little less infested with ick. But they were happy to tell me that fat was ugly, and eventually I realized that they were right.

And, you know, I didn’t realize that I was abnormal, a freak, until my Freshman year of high school, when all the girls I hung out with in middle school suddenly didn’t seem to know me anymore. And my mom felt that I constantly needed reminding that I “would be so pretty IF” I could just lose some weight, wear some makeup, change my clothes, try to talk to people, fit in, and change everything about myself.... and eventually I realized that they were right.

I didn’t know that I was stupid until I started working for a living, when I realized that nearly every adult I encountered at first assumed that being fat meant that I was also not very bright. That one took a lot longer to sink in, but a failed marriage and a series of dead end, mind numbing jobs helped drive that point home, in time.

I wasn’t born believing that I was a fat, ugly, stupid freak. I convinced myself over time. I accepted the story I was told and I absorbed it, repeated it to myself over and over and over again, and then I believed it. I remember with perfect clarity the day I walked toward my 8th grade English classroom, where a group of three boys were hanging out by the door, and I knew that the degrading jokes and laughter would begin as I tried to make my way past them. So I made the first strike. “Ooops, better clear the way, here comes Fatty Boombatty!” I laughed and grinned. They laughed and grinned. They moved out of my way without another word. I had won!

Sort of.

There isn’t much that I can do about the rest of the world. I don’t buy fashion magazines or read celebrity news. I don’t watch commercials and I generally try to ignore advertising as much as I can. I try to educate myself to understand that diet and fitness products use fitness models - as in, not even regular models, but people who dedicate their lives and careers to sculpting their bodies - and that magazines use altered photos to make famous people look thin, tan, and totally unnatural.

What I can do something about is me. And oddly, daily affirmations really are a good place to start. I wrote them down in my journal every night and I would laugh at myself as I did it. At first. But then, eventually, some nights as I poured my heart out in a journal entry I would end it with a different affirmation or a variation on one I’d been using for a while. I knew it was true. I fucking believed it, if only for that one night. “I think I deserve this pain, but I DO NOT!”

Every time I would see myself in the mirror and think “Ugh, I look awful!” I would halt and replace it with something else. I didn’t go wild. I didn’t start with, “No, you aren’t ugly, you’re beautiful!” I wouldn’t have believed that. I started smaller. “NO, you aren’t ugly. You might be kind of plain, but you aren’t actually ugly. Quit doing that!”

Sometimes now I actually catch myself in a mirror and think, “Hey, you’re looking pretty good today!” This is a whole year later. I have had to stop myself from saying the bad things thousands of times over the past 365 or so days. That’s thousands of times of replacing “ugly” with “good enough” or “okay” or “nice” or any other word that wasn’t fat, ugly, stupid freak.

Do I still sometimes call myself names? Sure, sometimes I still have to halt and change the voices in my head.

But not today. Today I’m beautiful.