Facing My Internal Demons
Wednesday, March 07, 2012
I joined a challenge called “30 Days of Awesomeness” recently that is a part of the Fit Fun Bootcamp I attend. It has us committed to exercising four times a week, using a food journal every day, keeping each other accountable on a private Facebook group that was created, coming to our workouts wearing outfits for various themes, and taking before and after pictures and measurements. It’s been an interesting rollercoaster ride so far. One minute I’m smiling because of all the great pictures of people in their 80’s costumes on the group page, and then next I’m depressed because of the fact I had to put my measurements out there for all to see.
I really can’t believe how much this is tied to my emotions.. One would think this is a fairly mechanical process at first glance… buy these groceries off the list, prepare the meals listed, complete 4 workouts per week, take pictures and measurements for tracking purposes. It all sounds very cut and dried, and not something that should make me feel like an emotional rag doll. And yet, there have been deep-seated emotions coming out that have completely blindsided me this week. It’s crazy.
One of the things that I found very depressing was taking before photos and uploading them to the group site. For the last 11 years I have hated how I look in photos, in fact I made my husband stop taking pictures of me with my kids after my second pregnancy because it was so depressing. My image of myself in the photos didn’t match the image I had of myself in my head. Maybe I still have that skinny 118-pound high school body in my mind… maybe somehow the camera really is adding 10 lbs. Finally I figured it out. I tend to have a double chin, and even though my face is wider in the cheeks than it was in my skinny days, it’s the double chin that really makes me look heavy. In the bathroom the primary source of light is coming from overhead (above the mirror.) So when I look at myself in the mirror I see a little of the double chin, but because it’s in the shadow created by the overhead lighting it doesn’t really show too badly. But when someone shoots a photo with a camera guess where the light is coming from… the flash off the camera, right in front of me! Suddenly the double chin is very noticeable when it is well-lit!
Now forgive me for discussing in full detail the ins and outs of lighting my facial features but I am getting at a bigger point here. Here’s what has happened. Because of the fact I only see myself in the bathroom mirror and because I rarely see photos of myself (with front-on lighting) I have had a distorted view of myself. When I was forced to see myself as everyone else does, it was an epic crashing of my self-confidence. Even though looks don’t matter and it’s what’s inside that counts… let’s face it, I am a female living in America and it’s hard to escape the message that women should look attractive. That’s not to say I was looking in my bathroom mirror and thinking to myself I was a beautiful knock-out… but at least I felt like I looked respectable enough to leave the house. Not only was it depressing to suddenly realize the world has been seeing me looking much heavier than I thought I looked- but then I had to upload the pics on the Facebook group too. So it was a kind of an emotional double whammy.
Then to top off a depressing weekend, I had an emotional revelation. We were watching The Biggest Loser we had on DVR from the previous week and it really hit home for me. A contestant on the show named Kassandra sat down with her trainer Bob and she read aloud from her journal, an entry she made a few years ago. In it, she talked about how she had always hated herself, felt that she was unworthy of anyone’s love and that she couldn’t figure out why her skinny friends liked her. Then Bob had her say some positive things about herself, which she struggled to do, and it was a very emotional moment for her. (And for me, as it turns out!)
As I watched that, I felt like I was hit by a truck. WOW. She could have been talking about me- she described my buried emotions to a “T”. It was extremely powerful. I couldn’t help it- I had tears streaming down my face and it was all I could do to hold it together and not start sobbing. Thank goodness my kids were already in bed. Try as I might to remain cool at that point, my husband looked at me and realized what was going on. Even though I was embarrassed about it, he was very comforting.
I think it was a huge breakthrough for me, because I was finally facing the internal demons that I try so hard to keep at bay. When I was a kid I faced an extraordinary amount of bullying from multiple kids throughout all my years from kindergarten through my sophomore year of college, and my parents never did much beyond telling me to ignore them. So I have always struggled with an especially impaired self-confidence. I realize that everyone faces some bullying in school, but for some reason I was a target my entire school career. Perfect storm perhaps- the lining up of many conditions that made it happen. A shy kid with a hot head when provoked, parents who missed my pleas for help and who didn’t give me the tools to withstand it, opportunistic classmates in an environment that made it easy to get away with it, and a school lacking any sort of policy on bullying as they do now.
Anyways the bottom line here is that I really have a huge problem with self-confidence. My central psychological struggle as a child was always, “Why are they picking on me?” My immature mind lacking logic (and parental guidance on the issue) decided there must be something wrong with me that elicited all the teasing from the many different kids over the years. Why else would they do it? So in my mind I decided there was something wrong with me that made me a target… something they could all see that made them want to pick on me. I often felt that I had a sign on my forehead saying “Kick me” that everyone else could see but that was invisible for me. So my internal dialog as child was always trying to figure out what was wrong with me that caused them to single me out. Was it my rail-thin and awkward stature, my freckles, my red hair, my uncommon name, the way my voice sounded… or perhaps it was simply me in general. Whatever it was, as a child I knew one thing was certain. I had very few friends, and the rest of the world outside my family hated me. That fact was reinforced on a daily, monthly and yearly basis as I went throughout the school years being degraded and beat down by scores of kids.
Does it make sense that all those people truly hated me as a child? No of course not. I am a rational adult now who can look back and realize logically it wasn’t my fault, my looks didn’t have anything to do with it, the bullies did it because they were insecure about themselves… and yet there will always be that emotionally scarred little girl inside me who believes to the core that I am not worthy of people’s love and respect. The little girl who thinks, as my husband often puts it, “The world is out to get me.” Even though as an adult I now understand why kids bully, even though I know it was them and not me with the problem, and even though I have forgiven them, I still bear the scars. And every once in awhile the self-hatred still rears its ugly head.
I have been through a lot over the years that I can basically attribute to all the years of being bullied. I was extremely depressed in high school and used to cut myself. It wasn’t that I was suicidal per se but I think it was more a way of trying to distract myself from the internal pain with external pain. I suppose I thought that the outside of me needed to match how the inside of me felt and bloody red marks on my wrists seemed to fit the bill. I don’t consider it a cry for help because I made sure I always hid it with my shirt sleeves- I didn’t want anybody to see it. In later years I battled depression several times again, the worst was post-partum after my third child was born in 2004. If there was ever a time in my life I could have been considered suicidal it was then. I truly believe that I am alive today because I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving my young children without a mother. I came close to making the decision to do it- and quite honestly another reason I couldn’t go through with it was because I couldn’t find an easy and pain-free way of doing it. I’ve been through counseling, a few years of anti-depression meds, and plenty of ups and downs with my husband. Luckily I turned it all around and pulled it together and I have been in a much better place mentally for the past five or six years or so.
I’ve done tons of soul-searching over the years and the one piece of the puzzle I’ve never been able to solve is why I am overweight. I don’t know how many times I’ve debated the issue as I soaked in the tub, wondering where I went wrong that resulted in the large belly that was staring back at me. Wondering why I never could seem to lose weight even though I was exercising and trying various diets. Wondering why failure seemed to be the only thing I was good at. I’ve always read about emotional eating and it seemed like it should be the explanation for why I couldn’t lose weight… but I could never figure it out. But now, I think I may have discovered the answer.
What if, all these years, it was my poor self image that caused me to overeat? Could it be all the self-hatred that made me want to find solace and comfort in eating? And ironically enough, over the years as I gained weight I found another reason to hate myself even more. I saw myself as a failure when I couldn’t slim down even when I tried dieting and exercising. I never thought that self-medicating with food was my problem… I never could figure out how that applied to me. I don’t run to a container of ice cream every time something goes wrong. I don’t sit crying on the couch gorging on chips.
But I did realize something about myself recently… Over the years, I have had many times where I have felt like the wounded dog. Between physical ailments like my chronic back pain and bad knees, and mental ailments like depression, I had learned that resting is how I take care of myself. Life is getting too stressful? Take some down time to relax and escape for awhile. My back is giving me severe pain? The key to feeling better is to lay down. So without realizing it, I had learned to retreat back into these sort of “protective” mechanisms. I suppose coming from my background of extreme verbal and physical abuse in my childhood I always felt like I had to do whatever possible to achieve self-preservation. And then I took this thought process a step further… what if taking care of myself also meant soothing myself with my favorite foods? What if I was looking for a way to de-stress (subconsciously) and for me, finding some way to give myself happiness and enjoyment was the right way to avoid depression? The more I thought about it, the more that seemed like a reasonable answer.
All this time I have been subconsciously thinking that resting, relaxing, and enjoying the pleasurable things in life (food) have been the key to keeping my sanity, to keeping myself happy, to keeping myself from sinking into depression? And yet, in a horrible ironic twist… this is what is making me MORE unhappy. How can this be? I have actually made this discovery about myself about a month or two ago… the thought that my wanting to “protect” myself was actually making my weight problem worse not better. How did I get here? I do realize that I have resisted giving up my favorite foods for a very long time because I feel that it’s one of the very few things I get to enjoy in life. I figured I work hard, I am pulled in opposite directions trying to run my business, care for my children, keep up the house, and keep my marriage going too. In all that craziness there is never anything left for me- except food. Food is how I get enjoyment, even if just for a few delicious moments.
It’s pretty crazy when you realize that you thought you were taking care of yourself but then you realize you’re actually sending yourself closer to the grave. Wow. How is that for a wake-up call? What’s weird is that there can be things you are doing to yourself without even realizing it. Behaviors that you can think make good sense but they become detrimental if you allow yourself to overindulge in them. I suppose it takes a certain level of self-awareness to figure it out.
I think that it’s interesting how my past relates to this whole thing, and I never really thought about it before now but it makes sense. Not only did I have survival ingrained in my psyche, but I had a horrible self-image too. I was trying to care for my battered self, but in doing that I was just making my problems worse. I gained weight, and I hated myself even more. What a vicious cycle. But it’s one I have to stop.
So where do I go from here? I am working on turning it around. The “30 days of Awesomeness” has given me the chance to make strides in the right direction. I am hoping that as I make small successes, they will give me the confidence to keep going and achieve more. I know as I lose weight the stress on my knees will lessen and it will be easier to take my workouts to a new level. I know I have to remind myself that self-preservation means getting up early to work out, and choosing the right foods. I can still enjoy a small treat but I have to keep it from getting out of control. I am hoping that as I slim down I can gain some more confidence… and who knows, maybe I will finally be able to feel worthy of my husband’s love.