“Never be ashamed of a scar. It simply means you were stronger than whatever tried to hurt you.” ~Unknown
My healing journey can be described through what I call the “self formula”:
Self-Doubt > Self-Loathing > Self-Destruction > Self-Awareness > Self-Love
Mine is the oldest story in the book. Adolescent angst. Mental deception. Physical revulsion. I feel fat. No, scratch that. I am fat. This girl in the mirror is ruining my life. Woe is me.
Groundbreaking drama, right? How original of me to “feel fat.” Surely, you’ve never heard that complaint before.
Except it wasn’t just a complaint. I believed every syllable of that negative mantra, blaring like a stadium sound system, from the darkest corners of my subconscious. I felt worse than fat. I felt worthless.
If the adage is true that “we are our own harshest critics,” then I could’ve written a Doctoral thesis on Criticism of the Self: How Personal Insecurities Trigger Harmful Instabilities. Hey, that’s not half-bad for a title. Maybe I should have channeled my inner angst into writing.
Or, at any rate, done something productive.
But there was nothing productive about my response to those painful emotions. I suppressed them, denied them, allowed them to fester behind a tenuous smile and cool exterior. On the outside, I was this tough, unflappable spitfire. On the inside, I was wasting away.
Quite literally, in fact. You see, I’d developed anorexia.
A misguided soul, groping aimlessly—hopelessly—through this maze of self-perpetuated lies, I began to measure my own value based on physical appearance. It seemed easier to stifle the voices, ticking off my endless inadequacies, if I could just shed another pound. Or two. Or ten.
But the more I pined for acceptance and validation in a superficial number on the scale, the deeper I sank into despair.
My relationships suffered. My social life dangled by a thread. My self-esteem was nonexistent. And here’s the irony: in the midst of feeling utterly out of control, I still believed the solution was losing weight. A perfect body would heal the pain.
It had to.
There could be no alternative.
So, I went to work. Sculpting muscle. Chiseling fat. Denying hunger. Training for the type of physique I hoped would bring me fulfillment. Ultimately though, I still came up short.
You may be wondering: Did I achieve my objective? Did that sought-after moment of staring back at a slender reflection ever arise? Well, the answer is yes. It did. But it came without fanfare.
Rather than basking in the glory of sleek thighs and toned abs, I gaped, horrorstruck, at the reality of this barely human shell trembling before me.
Those hollow eye sockets, sunken cheeks, angular clavicles, sinewy arms, fragile wrists, protruding hips and ribcage, knobby knees—where did they come from? Who did they belong to? Surely not…me? But it was me. This waiflike frame I no longer recognized. She had my wounded gaze and plastered-on smile.
My heart broke for her.
My brain scrambled for answers. How could a person shift from vibrant to vacant seemingly overnight? Why was I just now noticing such a drastic transformation?
And then I realized something. The missing link, which had eluded me for years, clicked into place.
I could alter my exterior, but no “thigh gap” would compensate for the emptiness suffocating my interior. Therein lay the real problem. I couldn’t be satisfied because I wouldn’t allow myself to be satisfied.
No wonder that image in the mirror felt bereft. Incomplete.
My sense of “self” was incomplete.
For the first time, I wondered: Who am I? I truly didn’t know. A lifetime of placing sole emphasis on outer beauty had conditioned me to discount inner beauty. Suddenly, the truth became glaringly obvious—I needed a fresh start, and a fresh set of priorities.
Integrity of character trumps physical attractiveness. In theory, this concept is simple. So simple, in fact, that I utterly overlooked its implications. Had I not relied on fleeting “good looks” to bolster my confidence, I might have unearthed some actual substancebeneath the surface.
Better late than never, though. Once I began digging, the discoveries revolutionized my entire perspective. Those misleading voices and nagging insecurities seemed meaningless. No more cowering behind a detached façade. The curve of my lips finally felt genuine.
I became intimately acquainted with my unique qualities, talents, and quirks. Even imperfections. For instance, I’m OCD. I can’t sing. I trip over flat surfaces. I cringe at the sight of math equations. I laugh too loud and lack conversational filters. I use humor and sarcasm interchangeably.
But I’m also witty. Intuitive. Compassionate. Artistic. A wordsmith. These traits are mine. They ignite a spark that makes me…well, ME.
Once I acknowledged both my flaws and fortes, the burden of loathing lifted. A free spirit was born. Individuality embraced. Identity found.
This healing process has introduced me to myself, which is, quite possibly, the most rewarding gift anyone can receive. As spiritual beings, created to desire purpose, direction, and significance for our lives, we need personal affirmation.
We need to believe in our ability to thrive and survive this turbulent ride.
Because, face it: when you feel powerless over any given situation, the innate human reaction is to focus the blame inward.
Rather than admitting some circumstances are simply uncontrollable, you punish yourself for not being strong enough or smart enough or skilled enough to overcome whatever hardship has reared its ugly head.
At which point, you cease being an active participant in your own life.
Throughout the loneliest periods of my illness, I had no assurance of belonging anywhere. Like a gypsy, drifting from ghost town to ghost town, I was alienated from my daily realities. All because I lacked self-acceptance.
If you don’t accept yourself, who will accept you? If you don’t belong with yourself, who do you belong with?
The answer, of course, is “nobody.”
And those are questions worth pondering whenever doubt pays an unwelcome visit. Consider this: when was the last time you eagerly sought the company of someone who radiated discomfort in their own skin? Not recently, I’d imagine. It’s like a “pity party” without an expiration date.
Which is the exact unpleasantness you inflict upon your sub-conscious with every disapproving head-to-toe scrutiny.
Until you embrace each facial contour, fold of skin, and mental idiosyncrasy that sets you apart from the crowd, you’ll never find contentment.
But when you do, something incredible happens. That piercing “I’m worthless” mantra fades into a softer, gentler phrase…
I am worthwhile.
Woman with arms open image via Shutterstock