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.
By 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?
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.
Bring forty on.