Through the Decades: A Journey in Search of Self-Love and Acceptance.

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As far back as my memory reaches, I’ve never felt adequate.

I think it must have been around six or seven years old when I began hating myself.

Like a fish out of water, I felt out of place most everywhere I went; I felt less than. I worried about what I wore, what I ate, and every word I said. Second-guessing every move you make is exhausting, especially for a child.

I’m not really sure why I had these feelings. Maybe they’re just another puzzle piece in our complex DNA. Eye Color: Hazel; Hair: Dirty-Blonde; Confidence: For Shit. Regardless the root of my self-hatred, it was an intricate part of me and ever-present.

In my teens, the self-doubt wrapped itself around my neck, choking me, and sat on my chest like an elephant, making it hard to breathe most days. Keeping the secret was worse. Feigning self-confidence was a full-time job, but one I’d become very good at.

I spent those years acting out and self-destructing. All those hidden feelings needed an outlet and I gave them many – bulimia, giving too much of myself to boys while demanding too little, and hitting the bottle instead of the books.

559273_10151978936005494_732167603_nBy the time I reached twenty, I’d become a stranger to myself. I faked it, pretending to be the girl everyone thought I was – fun, confident, without a care in the world. I lit up brightly when I entered a room, over-compensating for how dark I felt. I still hated my body, still felt like I didn’t fit in, still second-guessed everything I said, and I was still terrified of standing up for myself if it meant letting others down. I would have sold my sad-soul if it meant everyone liked me.

I spent the first half of my third decade in unhealthy relationships. I settled for everything, believing I deserved nothing. There were many nights spent crying before my then-boyfriend, spinelessly begging him to take me back, after he’d done wrong. It was pathetic and I knew it, but nothing else measured up; nothing made me feel loved like attention from the opposite sex.

Then, one day, something changed. It wasn’t dramatic, and I didn’t recognize it at the time, but it was profound. I found a picture of myself when I was sixteen, and the first thought that popped into my head was, “That girl is beautiful.” Ten years had given me the clarity to see all that was invisible to me back then. I wasn’t fat, my nose wasn’t that bad, and twenty-six year old Allison would have given anything to rock sixteen year old Allison’s body.

But, that moment, no matter how powerful, was fleeting. I still had more bad days than good, and more disdain for myself than acceptance. Nevertheless, I held tight to that picture, reminding myself that one day I may once again kill for the body I still hated so much.

Enter my thirties.

When I hit the big 3-0 I was finally in a relationship with a man who treated me with love and respect…much more than I’d ever given myself. I gave birth to our first born, and began writing lighthearted, funny-to-me stories on my computer.

One night, up late with our son, I shared what I want most for him – happiness. And, that above all else, he should always try to be kind, compassionate, honest, strong, weak, and vulnerable.

Yes, weak and vulnerable, like every other person on the planet. I told him he should strive to be open and honest about all that made him feel weak, because this is the very thing that would help others find their strength, which would eventually lead him to his own.

And, then, it clicked.

The realization that I could not try to raise my child one way, while living my life in another.

So, my stories became a little less lighthearted and a lot more real. I began peeling off the layers that had been buried under shame for so many years. The kind of shame I never want my kids to know.

I didn’t rip the band-aid off all at once, though. I gently tugged at it, revealing the least-gruesome parts of my wound first.

So what if I like the way Spam tastes, straight out of the can?

I tugged some more…

So what if so and so doesn’t like me for voicing my beliefs, or sticking up for others? So what if I’d screwed up and failed a million times. So what if life scared me?

More tugging…

So what if I feel insecure with my weight or they way I look sometimes?

Finally, I took a deep breathe, and with one last tug, I ripped the band-aid off completely…

SO WHAT IF I USED TO HAVE AN EATING DISORDER? SO WHAT IF I BATTLED DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY?

And, just like that, I laid my guts out there for everyone to see. And, more importantly, for myself to see. I stopped avoiding my reflection and actually started liking it a little. It wasn’t so bad after all.

This was precisely the moment I felt the true connection I’d always craved, with myself and with others. I was not alone in my struggles and self-doubt. Instead, I was a part of something bigger, and much fiercer, than those demons that had haunted me for so long – the human condition.

Yesterday, I sat with my husband over a late lunch at our favorite restaurant. We spoke of our New Year’s resolutions and, oddly enough, mine had nothing to do with losing weight.

For the first time in my life, I’m content with my body. Happy, even. I don’t want to look like someone else. I want to look like exactly like me.

The irony makes me laugh.

Halfway through my thirties, I have soft lines around my eyes and more cellulite on my thighs. Physically, there are parts of me that are less perky, and much softer. Sometimes, I’ll even find an odd hair growing from a place it shouldn’t.

Yet, despite the toll time has taken on my body, I have never felt more at home in it.

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Bring forty on.

The Evolution of Our Dirty Little Habits

When I was younger, in my high school and college days, there weren’t enough fingers on my hands to count all the bad habits I’d acquired in my angsty teenage years.

Chain smoking, binge drinking, and other unmentionables that could have gotten me arrested, were a common theme in my life back then. And by back then, I mean five years ago.

After getting married and growing up, somewhat, I replaced those habits with others…those considered acceptable when you’re someone’s mom.

The chain smoking was replaced by overeating. The binge drinking was replaced by drinking too much wine. You know, because wine is much more of a mom drink than red bull and vodka and cheap tequila shots.

Added to that list over the years?

I drink an insanely excessive amount of Diet Coke, never finishing one. My husband walks around the house throwing half-empty cans away. It’s so bad, I fear it may lead to irreconcilable differences one day.

I’ve also become a total night eater. A food vampire, if you will. Once the sun and the kids go down, it’s possible you’ll find me sitting cross-legged on the kitchen counter eating peanut butter right out of the jar, and washing it down with a giant turkey sandwich.

Did I mention I also cuss to much, and sweat too little?

Misery loves company, so I looked to my peers to spill some of their own vices.

Daisy, Chicago: I let the hot water run in the shower for a very, very long time before I actually get in. (Up to 10 minutes).

Greis, Houston: Nail biting, totally guilty.

Tena, St. Louis: I bite the skin on the inside of my mouth, especially when I’m stressed or anxious.

Holly, Toledo: I drink coffee pretty much all day and never eat breakfast.

From blowing noses in the shower, cussing, skin picking, not sending thank you notes, to shooting up heroin (not really the heroin, but now the blowing our noses in the shower don’t seem so gross, does it?), our CGG staffers held nothing back.

And neither did you!

Amanda told us: I am horrible about doing my laundry. I will buy extra underwear, socks, whatever, so I can put it off another day. Then when I do wash it, it sits unfolded in the basket. I never put it all away. If it’s wrinkly? I just shove it in the dryer with a damp towel and hit start.

Stacey shared with us, too: I chew on my lower lip when I’m bored, frustrated, or concentrating very hard on something. Not attractive!

Bernice ruminates about: Ruminating over and over about things over which I have no control.

I came away feeling slightly better knowing I wasn’t alone in my wine drinking, Diet Coke guzzling, cussing, food vampire ways. There’s nothing quite like comparing yourself to others to make you feel more normal.

Now spill it. What is your worst habit?

5 Things We Can Do to Help Our Children Develop A Positive Body Image

Raising my children with a positive body image is so important to me.

I used to joke that I was happy I had boys, because, “I totally feel like I can screw them up less than a girl. Ha Ha!”

The only funny part of that is how wrong I was.

Because boys suffer just as much as girls do with how much they like or don’t like themselves, with fitting in and looking a certain way, and with the flailing self-confidence that accompanies adolescence.

Body-image issues are not unique to girls and women. Boys and men struggle with them, too.

But, as parents of either, there are things we can do to cushion the bumpy ride of growing up, and help our children complete this journey with love for themselves, being healthy and confident in who they are. We have an enormous responsibility to help our children develop a positive body image while they are young.

developing a postive body image in childrenThe Weight of Our Words

Before I had kids things like, “I look so fat today,” and, “I’ve gained so much weight,” flew out of my mouth daily, without a second thought. This isn’t surprising, considering I spent much of my life hating my body. But, in my pre-pamper days, this negative self-talk was only hurting me. Now, I have little sponges shadowing me all day long, absorbing everything I say and do, even when I’m sure they aren’t paying attention. I’m so conscious about what I say around my children, especially when it comes to weight and body image. Sure, I still have days when I feel so fat after eating a big meal, only now, I change the so fat to so full if I must say these things out loud.

We have to stop and make sure we aren’t passing on our own insecurities to our kids. We can tell them all day long that they’re perfect, and beautiful, and just right. But, if they see us constantly ripping ourselves apart each time we look in the mirror, then that is the only thing they’ll come away with.

If my mommy isn’t good enough, and she is beautiful to me, then I must not be good enough, either.

Listen to Their Words

I binge and purge solely because I want to be skinny. I am in absolute control and can stop anytime I want. I don’t have a problem.

These were things I used to tell myself, as I was kneeling before the toilet after a night of purging, sweaty and exhausted, with mascara running down each cheek. And, for a long time that’s how I saw my illness: solely as a mechanism to lose weight; a means to an end.  I had no idea it had also become a way to numb myself, my emotions, and a way to cope with the things that life throws at us all.

It’s always been difficult for me to express my feelings, particularly during my teenage years, when no one likes to talk to their parents. Not surprisingly, this was the same time I began my relationship with ED. Add to this the coping skills of a newborn when life handed me lemons, and you have a recipe for disaster. When I was throwing up those monster tacos, I was throwing up every negative feeling and stressor along with it. I hated to feel and and I hated to talk about those feelings, so I dealt with them by not dealing with them. I just didn’t know how. Unfortunately, what I didn’t realize, was that I was purging and numbing all the good feelings, too.

So, we’ve started a nightly dinner ritual here at home. Every night, we each take a turn sharing the best and worst things about our day. Thankfully, my four year old’s worst part is usually not being allowed just one more Caillou. But, my goal is to get him started talking, opening up, and sharing the little things with us now, so when Caillou turns into broken hearts, self-doubt, and the bigger things, he’ll be more inclined to open up about those, as well.

Get your kids used to talking to you. And, listen to them, even when they’ve told you the same stories over and over again, because one day it will be a story you need to hear.

Put the focus on the inside.

It took a while, but I finally succeeded in cutting the word fattening from my vocabulary, specifically as a descriptor of the foods we eat. Sure, we discuss nutrition and health, but I always come at it from how it affects our insides.

We don’t eat junk food all day long, because it’s not good for our hearts.

Vegetables are good for keeping our brains focused, sharp, and in shape.

Exercise makes our legs strong, so that we can run and jump and play all day long.

Do I let them have donuts on Saturday mornings? Absolutely! Our house is an everything in moderation house. And, they love broccoli just as much. Okay, maybe not just as much, but enough.

Restricting certain foods all the time is not an effective way to teach kids about balance. And, telling our kids that these things will make us fat, rather than hurt our hearts or not give us enough energy to get through the day, is putting the focus on how they look, rather than how they feel.

Make it a point to exercise as a family. And, I don’t mean putting your five year old on a treadmill for half an hour. I mean, be active, and play outside, rather than sitting around watching TV all day. Making this a lifestyle for them will ensure that these healthy habits stick.

Discuss television and media messages.

Keeping fashion magazines that celebrate unrealistic body expectations out of your house is a great start, but it’s not enough. Because, as careful as we are about the things our kids are exposed to at home, they’re sure to see these things elsewhere. I mean, we can’t keep our kids in a bubble. Can we?

So, rather than trying to hide these things, we are much better off discussing them. Having an open and honest conversation about society and some of it’s unrealistic expectations, will go a lot further than turning a blind eye and simply hoping they don’t see these things.

Social networking exposes our kids to so much more than we were exposed to at their age. Technology makes these messages impossible to escape.

For example, the other day on my Facebook feed I saw this picture, aimed at empowering women.

Only, the more I thought about the message it sent, the less I approved of it.

I don’t want my kids to want to be anyone else. I want them to be want to be who they are. Because, being unique is so much more interesting than being like everyone else. And, that’s the message we need to be sending to our children.

So, I changed the picture to a message that’s empowering to me, and something I would want my kids to see.

We can’t ignore television and media ads. It’s impossible, because they are everywhere. Rather, we must discuss and challenge the messages they send with our children.

Love yourself and lead by example.

Finally, the single most important way we can help our kids have a positive body image, is by having one ourselves. You can tell them until you’re blue in the face that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. And, that all that really matters is how healthy we are. But, if we still haven’t embraced our own bodies, and learned to love and accept ourselves, it’s all for none…total lip-service.

We can’t tell them that exercise will make them feel better from the inside out, if we’re sitting at home in front of our computer monitors all day. And, we can’t tell them that ice cream and donuts are perfectly fine in moderation, when all we’re eating is lettuce.

The way we see and treat ourselves, is far more powerful than telling them how they should see and treat themselves.

So, listen to your kids.

Be open.

Be willing to challenge and discuss things with your children.

Have an open dialogue.

Be honest.

Be supportive.

And, above all else, be there.

My Struggle to Stay in the Moment

My day begins with an obscenely early wake up call, courtesy of my children. On weekdays, the chaos starts immediately. I chase my three and a half year old around the house. First, trying to get him to eat something… anything. Then wrestling him to the ground, placing him in a loving headlock, and forcing clothes on him. I promise him world peace and a monkey in exchange for brushing his teeth. And I plead with him to get your shoes on!

Our mornings are predictably unpredictable and anything but easy. But, one thing stays constant during that hour of mental noise. My eyes stay on the prize. The promise that, in just a few short moments, I will be alone sipping my hot mom crack and enjoying the silence. And, by silence, I mean the unmistakable sound of five woman sitting around a table, discussing current events.

The action picks up again a few hours later, when I set my new goal – just make it to dinner and bath time. Once we’re all in our pajamas, we curl up together and watch Dinosaur Train. I can finally exhale a bit, I’ve almost made it through another day with a toddler and a baby.

After I get both boys to sleep, feeling like I just climbed Mount Everest, or at the very least hiked a large hill, the wine is opened and the much anticipated relaxation begins. We’ve all made it to the end of the day relatively unscathed.

I find most of my days fit this blueprint, always rushing to get to the next step, inching closer to the end of the day when I can stop waiting on everyone. As much as I love my children, they are my life, I find myself willing the time to pass faster each day.

“Oh, if we can just make it through this I can relax.”

“My God, I can’t wait till we are out of diapers. I’m so sick of wiping someone’s butt all day!”

“I’ll be so relieved when we can stop buying formula!”

All day long, these are things I tell myself and others.

And then, a funny thing happens, usually prompted by something seemingly ordinary. I’ll look at my son, putting on his own shoes, talking to me about animals and his best friend, Colin, and the panic sets in.

How can he be this old already? Where has the time gone? It terrifies me that I have no control over it, and that I can’t keep my babies… babies forever.

Along with the despair at my inability to stop the clock, or turn back time (Cher was on to something), comes the regret of not staying in these moments more. The irony does not escape me. I spend my days willing time to speed up, and then when it does I am devastated.

My mind moves fast and in a million different directions. Even when my body stops, my mind forges ahead frantically, looking for something to wrap itself around. I’m always jumping ahead, the type of person who bites into a peppermint immediately, failing to savor it for even a moment. I always regret that.

Relaxing my body comes easily to me, relaxing my mind, a much more difficult task. I am terrible at things like yoga, which is exactly why I need them. I must find a way to stay in the moment, fully and truly. Right now I’m using one moment as a building block to get to the next. Finding a way to let these moments stand alone, is important to me. I’m just not sure how to do it.

How do I slow down my mind enough to think about the just now? It’s something I have always struggled with, but now it’s not just me anymore. I owe it to all of us, to appreciate all of it. Even those moments that are hard.

I need to stop, breathe, and soak it all in. Before it’s too late and it’s all slipped away.

The here and now is so elusive sometimes, and I need help finding it.

How do you stay in the moment?

Post image for My Struggle to Stay in the Moment.