My story is not unusual. If I gather 20 women in a room, my unscientific estimate is that 10 of them share some version of the same sequence of events, and have struggled to make sense of the aftermath. I hear it echoed again and again in the words of my clients, my friends and my colleagues.
This doesn’t make it any easier.
It started out innocently. As a teenager I developed a strong inner drive toward “better”. I wanted to be a better student, a better artist, a better friend. Nothing much wrong with that, is there? And though I didn’t examine it then, I believe the initial catalyst for my unrelenting quest to be better was simply to experience more love.
It’s sortof tragically beautiful. In hindsight anyway.
But over time, the equation got more complicated. In order to be worthy of more love, I had to be good enough. Who was judging me? I was. And it became more and more difficult for me to believe the feedback or the external markers telling me I was, indeed, good enough. Instead I believed the harsh inner voice who pronounced, again and again, “not good enough”.
And here’s where the pattern set in – the pattern I see in so many others as well. It takes the “not good enough” message and turns it into a self-improvement program. A lifelong self-improvement program. The teenager grows into a young woman battling to prove the inner voice wrong. She takes the battle onto the streets, using food, exercise, alcohol, drugs…whatever it takes to set up a system within which she mistakenly believes she can measure her self worth accurately. She goes looking for love in exactly the way that blocks her from finding it.
She can’t find it; it has to find her. And it requires her permission to do so.
She uses her body as a metric for how well she is doing on the “good enough” score. Thin and fat take on new meaning, and she becomes a woman whose body image and self worth are inextricably linked. This unfortunate misinterpretation of the facts poisons her whole life, impacting the persona she develops within her career, the partnership she cultivates with her beloved, and the mother she becomes.
This poison rarely dissipates on its own. It needs an antidote.
In my case, the poison ran through my veins for 20 years. There were times when the symptoms were obvious, painful for others to see in me and excruciating to treat. I starved myself into a pre-adolescent version of myself, then ballooned into an uncomfortably overweight one. Despite a high-functioning exterior (academic achievement, world travel, interesting career, solid relationships) I was after a goal which, in the end, eluded me completely. I wanted to muscle my way to the prize, which is entirely impossible. I was 100% in my own way, and blocking the path completely.
It took giving up the chase for me to come around to what was required to drain the poison from my body.
It took choosing love.
Miracle of miracles, I found myself in a position to lay down my weapons at age 35 and to choose to love my body. Finally, after so many years of treating my body as a criminal, I saw it in a new light. I had no idea I was capable of this sort of self-love. And in the years that have passed since, as my body ages and surprises me with physical changes I didn’t anticipate, this self-love has deepened and matured.
I chose love, and it changed the way I am in the world.
This is why I contributed to The Choose Love Project, a collection of letters to our younger selves that hopes to reach those struggling with some of the same issues I did. Read the letters, watch the videos, find yourself welcome. Add your voice if you’re moved to do so.
Choose love. You have nothing to lose.