I have these vivid memories of my childhood where I am standing in the middle of a group of children, all of them yelling different taunts at me, throwing dirt & stones. There was always this one girl, a tiny slip of a thing, who was the ring leader. Always her.
“You’re fat!”. “You’re ugly!”. “You’re weird!”. “No-one likes you because you’re such a blimp!”. “You’re so fat & spongy, we can use you as a punching bag!”
And she did, so did some of the others. I would stand there, my eyes running with silent tears. THUD, in the right arm, the pain of knuckles on flesh making me grit my teeth to force back the sob trying to escape my mouth. WHACK, to the left side of my face, the sting spreading heat across my cheek & creating a fresh wave of tears as I scrunch my eyes against the impact. WHOOF, to the stomach as I double over, the breath stolen from my lungs as the punches land over & over until I fall to the ground. A swift KICK in the back as I lay curled in a ball, tasting dirt on my lips, dust heaving into my lungs as I hitch in my breath from the impact. I do not cry out, beg them to stop, or fight back. I just take it, all of it, day after day, week in, week out.
Looking back now, I desperately wish I could hug tightly & tell the child I was, “take a stand”, “fight back”, “you are more than this”, “you are kind & sensitive & beautiful”. I want to tell her that eventually the bullying will stop & you cannot let it define who you become. But, I can’t &, even now, 30 odd years later, I still feel the blows & hear the taunts. I still, in my darkest moments, let it define how I see myself & how I imagine others see me. It fills me with self loathing & a sense of weakness of mind & body. I walk with my head down, avoiding eye contact, constantly pulling at my clothes to try to feel ‘covered’. I seldom look in the mirror & avoid cameras as much as possible. There are even still times when I think people are laughing at me as I walk past, snickering about my size, or looks, or clothes, or all of the above. Even at 42 years old, there are times when I revert to that scared, vulnerable, fragile & confused 9 year old. Despite being surrounded by people who love me for who I am, I still question the legitimacy of this love & doubt my worthiness. It is hard to let anyone in, harder to let go & trust, hardest to love & be loved.
Frustratingly, what these early experiences have done is contribute to unhealthy relationships with both food & exercise that are so deeply entrenched in me that I feel trapped by them to the point where change often appears insurmountable. It is a cruel & vicious self-perpetuated cycle, fuelled by years of insecurity & low self esteem. I hate it, but truth be told, I am comfortable there. In this cycle I can make excuses for not pushing myself, I can wallow in self pity & doubt, because that is who I am, that is who I have always been. It is NOT who I want to be any more.
I watch my children, so bright, open, trusting, loving, unaffected, innocent, vulnerable & self-assured all at the same time.
I know I cannot protect them from all the struggles that life will bring, but I want them to accept what I did not – that they are loved, they are supported, that they are worthy of all this & more. I want them to know that happiness comes as much from their choosing it, as it does from what they draw from the world around them.
What I realise is that I cannot do this if I do not feel these things about myself.
Instead of believing I am not pretty enough, not skinny enough, not passionate enough, not driven enough, not unique enough, not important enough, not talented enough, not creative enough, not valuable enough, not worth enough, I need to learn to accept that I am enough. Only then will I be able to conquer my lethargy with regard to my own health & well being & my dependence on things like food for comfort. I am still grappling for purchase with this – clinging to the idea, but not able to get a firm grip to turn the idea into a belief.
Don’t mistake me, I clearly know that my life is not by any means to be taken for granted, nor my contribution dismissed. I am fortunate in so many ways & do my best to appreciate this. My struggle is internal, it is with self acceptance & fear of failing, it is the wedge between me & a more authentic life. How do I overcome this? I am not completely sure, but everyday I keep chipping away at that wedge – hugging my family, going to the gym (even when I dislike it so), swapping a piece of cake for an apple (even if it makes me pout), reflecting on the good aspects of my life rather than dwelling on the bad (even when they want to take control). I am hoping that if I keep gradually chipping away, eventually I will crack that effing wedge wide open. Then you will see me, dancing wildly over the rubble, shouting victoriously, “I am enough!”
That’s who I want to be. Enough.
Do you struggle to see yourself as enough? Does your past experience weigh heavily on how you think now? How do you know when it is ok to accept that you are enough?
I would love to hear your thoughts.
Cook! Eat! Enjoy!