I’m sitting in my new favorite coffee shop, waiting for my lavender latte. It’s unusually crowded today, full of mostly elderly men and women out for their morning joe.
I’m munching on some gluten free pumpkin bread as I wait for my drink. The woman at the counter asked me if whole milk was okay in my latte and I said yes, because I know now just how much more delicious that makes any kind of coffee drink. And if you’re paying five whole bucks for a hot drink, it better be delicious.
There was a time, though, when I wouldn’t have been able to say yes to whole milk (especially if I was also saying yes to the bread too). That kind of question would have raised an entire moral dilemma, a mini crisis that could have diverted the course of my day. And I want to put emphasis on “moral crisis” because that is what it always was for me: a decision between right and wrong, pure and corrupt, good and evil. There absolutely was no middle ground. I scoffed at “moderation” because that did not exist in my black and white thinking.
It’s challenging to explain why a simple drink could cause such a tremendous bout of mental anguish, unless I’m explaining it to someone who has also struggled with an eating disorder. It may seem silly, but the fact that I can now enjoy a whole milk latte without it ruining my day means I’ve done a 180 in my relationship with food and with my body.
So, what changed for me?
How did I go from counting every calorie, not being able to go a day without working out, self-harming when I ate what I thought was too much, having weight loss be my actual life goal, to now?
When I trace my history, it brings me back to my pregnancy with Auden.
I so badly wanted to be pregnant. I so badly wanted to become a mother.
But I was terrified of the weight gain. I was terrified of losing control of my body. I was terrified of becoming “big.” I had so much internalized fat-phobia that I was almost more concerned with becoming large than I was excited to be growing a human being.
And I did become large. Every single woman is unique in her pregnancy, and some have petite cute little bumps and some have big ol’ bumps you can see a mile away. I was blessed to be the latter.
I spent the majority of my pregnancy so embarrassed that I’d gotten so big and so quickly. How could I be eating healthy and walking every day and still get so big? I obsessed over the fact that no matter what I did, I gained more weight than I wanted.
I felt like I’d done something wrong, and felt shameful anytime someone commented on my size—on my belly, the one part of my body I’d been at war with for as long as I could remember.
For someone who had struggled with eating and body image for most of her life, having others comment on my size—on my stomach—was more than uncomfortable. It was devasting. All I wanted was to hide, but there really was no hiding that enormous bump.
I wanted to go back to my old habits—extreme dieting, over exercising, and self-harming. But because I was pregnant, I couldn’t do those things. For the first time in my life, my body felt like a sacred vessel because I was caring for someone else inside of me. I was sustaining life. By hurting my body, I’d be hurting my baby, and I couldn’t do that. I wouldn’t do that.
My mindset shifted a bit by the third trimester, and it became about caring for my baby, and therefore, caring for my body. It had a had a job to do, so I needed to treat it with respect. For the first time in my life, I started to treat my body with something that looked a lot like kindness.
Yet I secretly dreaded the postpartum period. I had a secret Pinterest board with all sorts of articles about postpartum weight loss and exercise, and I planned to hit the ground running, back into all my old habits, once baby was in my arms.
What I didn’t expect was the birth experience to change me so profoundly. Giving birth was the hardest physical feat I’d ever done. It was absolutely exhilarating and made me incredibly proud. The days following the birth, I was on a sort of “birth high.” I felt like a superhero. I’d just done something so amazing—my body had just done something amazing. How could I, then, start hurting it again? I couldn’t. It seemed unfathomable to go back to self-harm after nine months of such tender care, and after such a powerful physical birthing experience.
And I was nursing, nursing, nursing. My body had a new purpose: providing nutrition for my son. Exclusive breastfeeding is a full-time job—it feels all-consuming in the beginning. My mindset shifted yet again. I didn’t want to fall back into old habits because I wanted to breastfeed successfully. I can honestly say I have a love for breastfeeding as it was instrumental in healing my relationship with my body. My body had a renewed purpose and it was useful! Helpful! Breastfeeding gave me respect for what my body could do.
And I was also just too consumed with my new role as a mother to fall back into those habits. I simply cared less because the love for my son was, well, all consuming. My body obsession once was my number one priority (I once said to Rob, “I’d rather die than not be thin” and I sincerely meant it), but that changed after Auden was born. Obsessing over macros suddenly seemed not as important. Being a certain size lost the appeal because really, who cared when there were diapers to be changed and a baby to stare at? Everything, especially my body’s hold over me, shifted and changed when I became a mother. It’s as if there just wasn’t room in my heart anymore for the obsession, and I knew deep down it was time to start letting it go.
I became a happier person. Rob became a happier person. Everyone around me commented about how happy I seemed and while some of that had to do with my bipolar disorder being managed, it really had to do with my truce with my body. Before Auden, my body and food took up 90% of my mental preoccupation, and with that gone, I had happiness instead. I had some freedom.
About nine months postpartum, I decided to go to counseling for the body image issue. It’s not that I was dieting again, but more that I was curious about the hold it once had over me, curious why I still got nervous when I didn’t eat particularly healthy on a given day. Still had the occasional panic attack when looking in the mirror and not liking what I saw. So I went and it was hard. Hard and necessary and good. I discovered “intuitive eating,” which brought me back to trust and respect of my body—something that originated during pregnancy but I only came to understand later. Basically, intuitive eating allowed me to remove morality from my food choices and helped me achieve an overall balance I never thought possible.
In counseling, I discovered that I’d previously found safety and security in thinness, in that identity, but also came to understand that the need for that “the thin one” identity no longer served me at this stage of my life.
My past self-hatred was a form of idolization, with my body as the golden calf I worshiped every single day. I no longer wanted that. I no longer needed that. And removing my body from the altar has also allowed me to renew my relationship with God.
Then I got pregnant again. I mentally geared myself up for the comments about my belly and my size and made the decision not to know my weight for the entirety of the pregnancy. I even asked the midwives to not talk to me about my weight unless it became a medical necessity to do so. I won’t say that I never struggled. There were some days that were really challenging—being pregnant felt like I was walking (waddling) through a minefield of triggers, and just a small thing could set me off. But even with those triggers, I never fell into the bad habits or self-harm, and I treated my body with even more kindness than before. And once again, I rode the feat of birth into postpartum, so exhilarated from my birthing experience, proud of what my body proved it could do.
Now I’m ten months postpartum, and my capable body is breastfeeding another baby. I don’t love my body and I honestly don’t care if I ever do. I don’t think I need to love my body. I’m neutral about my body, and neutrality is the sweet spot for me. I respect my body and I treat it with that respect, and that is revolutionary.
I realize George may wean soon, though, and there’s a lot of feelings that go along with that. I’ve been either pregnant or breastfeeding for the past three years, and I don’t remember what it’s like to just be me, in my own body, by myself, and not hating myself. Can I continue to see value in my body? Can I continue to show respect, even when it’s just me? Just Anna? With pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding behind me?
When I first thought of weaning George, I had the immediate fearful thought: “Oh no! My body won’t be purposeful anymore! What’s my body going to do?” But I’ve had some more time to think about it, and I’m realizing it’s the necessary next step in my journey, whatever that looks like.
My body will still be sustaining life. My life. And I will honor it with the dignity my body deserves as the sacred vessel it is and always has been.
About six months ago, my counselor had me write a letter to the “thin identity” I once worshiped, once clung to. It helped me so much to write it out, and made me realize I could be Anna without it.
So I thought I’d end the post here, and share it below:
Dear “The Thin One” Identity,
We’ve been through a lot together, haven’t we? You’ve been with me for what seems like the entirety of my life, though I don’t think we became friends until eight or so. You’ve been my best and closest friend at times, but you’ve also been my worst enemy—my demon.
I needed you.
Yes, for a very long time, I needed you. Your protected me from my worst fear—the thing I most dreaded, the thing I really thought was worse than death. Being fat, that is.
You helped me survive in the culture of the 1990s and early 2000s, where people like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan set the standard. When, at school, fat kids got mercilessly teased and no adult—not one—put a stop to it. There was no body positivity. No plus size models. Not then.
When kids were mistreated, I clung to you for protection. I could be different, I could be special, I could be safe.
And then, in high school, when I felt so unloved and ignored by all the boys I’d decided I loved, it was you who gave me a sense of value.
In college, I didn’t need you as much, but we spent time together at the gym. Quite a bit of time.
When Bipolar hit, you were there for me. I felt as if everything was stripped from me. I felt like I lost everything—my dreams, my ambition, my sense of self, my identity, even my mind. I was an empty body walking around, searching for purpose and finding it nowhere. I relied on you more than ever. You gave me purpose—to be the thin one again, to be the thin one again, to be the thin one again—a goal, a drive, an ambition. I was empty inside, and you knew it, so you filled the hole. I guess you were still helping me survive. You were something I could focus on when I felt like I had nothing else.
Even when I felt like I lost you, when I thought they had stolen you from me, I still sought you out, obsessed to have you back in my life.
“If I’m not thin, I am nothing.” I said to Rob.
“I would rather die than gain weight,” I said to Rob.
I rammed my head into the wall, over and over and over, to have you back. I slashed my legs, over and over and over, to have you back.
You’ve taken so much of my life away from me: my energy, but most importantly, my time. I can never get that time back. You stole it from me.
…But is it stealing if I gave it to you?
I suppose we are both to blame.
And though I cannot forgive you, I can forgive myself.
At the same time, I need to thank you. Thank you for helping me survive. You may have tormented me, but you were always there for me, always faithful. So thank you.
But here’s the thing:
I don’t need you anymore.
I’m not the same little girl that I was—I’m a woman, nearing thirty, with hindsight—a true gift that comes with age. I have grown, I have born children, I will never ever look like that little girl again. I have a new body, you see. It is soft and supple and sweet. It was a home to my babies and it is, and always will be, a comfort to my husband.
When I die, no one will mention you. No one will mention my body at all.
I have this new little family. I have love and acceptance. I have value. I have safety. I have happiness. I have my sanity.
I. Don’t. Need. You.
It’s time for me to let you go. To finally release you, to swallow that sweet sweet freedom I’ve been taste testing over the past three years.
Something has been holding me back from letting you go. What? What is it?
It’s because I’ve loved you dearly, and you’ve loved me back. I’ve held onto you just in case I need you again. In case things get hard again.
I have to say goodbye to you, my first love.
You’ve been so ingrained in my sense of self that I once thought this would be impossible. It’s not.
I will stand, with my feet firmly planted, Rob by my side, and I will hold you in my outstretched fists. I will take a deep breath. And, finger by finger, I will open my hands. The wind will come and sweep you away like ashes, lifting you into the sky, and you will dissipate in front of me, and I will say goodbye.
Maybe you’ll blow by me again, when there’s a breeze or some bad weather, but I won’t reach for you. I’ll feel you pass, barely touching my cheek, and I’ll remember what you were to me.
“I don’t need you,” I’ll whisper. And I will turn away and move on, because it is true.
No longer yours,
2 thoughts on “September Reflection”
You are an awesome woman. I`m so pleased to be your cousin! Lucky me!
Amazing! And inspiring. I hope many many people get to read this