Image: @kenyeeToday I turn 43 years old, and as I sit in a coffee shop, sipping a mocha and indulging myself in a morning ALL TO MYSELF, I can’t help but look back at my life. Birthdays are such an interesting phenomenon. When we are younger we can’t wait for them to come. Then, we suddenly hit a number and flip to dreading them.
Birthdays are a marker in time when we measure our “successes” and look back at how far we have come. We are introspective and nostalgic. Like many people, with out even realizing it, I attached certain goals to specific ages. I “should” have my first great job at 23. You “need” to be married by 25. I “have” to have my first child by the time I’m 30.
The trouble with numbers
It’s funny though how focusing too much on numbers, any numbers really, has gotten me into trouble. The problem is, I was attaching my worth as a person to meeting these benchmark goals I arbitrarily assigned to random ages.
When I graduated with my Master’s degree I had my first taste of things not going according to my plan. Instead of having a job right away, it took me 9 months to find my first job in my field. But I got through it and still clung to my goals.
When I got married just one month shy of my 25th birthday, I breathed a sigh of relief as I met my imaginary deadline. And yet, this is where my path took a hard left and I was suddenly off track of my goals. As I approached the dreaded 30th birthday, not only was I NOT going to meet my goal of having my first child, but I was in the process of getting divorced.
Can you really control them?
Needless to say, I spent several of my next birthdays in a dark place. But as I sit here, 13 years later, it is finally starting to sink in.
That these number games have done nothing but hurt me. Because age, just like weight, just like calories, just like miles run… are just numbers.
And when we attach value to these numbers, and when we assume we can some how manipulate and control them, we are always setting ourselves up for failure. Even if we reach the goal with the number, it rarely satisfies us for long. A new goal with a new number surfaces. It is never enough.
Then there are the times we don’t reach our goal. Because while life is full of many amazing and beautiful blessings and gifts, it is also unpredictable and uncontrollable. The more I tried to control these numbers, the harder I fell. I didn’t merely turn 30 while going through a divorce. In my mind I was turning 30 and had was way off track for whole life. These failures meant I would never have the life or dreams I had hoped for. All because having a divorce at 29 was not in my plan.
Those looming numbers…
When I approached the dreaded 40th birthday a few years ago I found myself once again staring a number in the face. I had been in and out of various levels of treatment for an eating disorder that at best stood at bay and was “controlled’ and at worst led me to very dark and lonely places. I had trudged through recovery and pieced together a life together with an amazing husband. We built a family that looked nothing like the one I created in my head. Yet, I loved it.
Through it all, the eating disorder loomed underneath. Numbers still held power and space in my head. The fact that I was going to be 40 when I had our third son loomed heavily in my mind.
Worse, as I approached 40, I realized I had spent more than half my life hating my body and struggling to change it or accept it.
But honestly, I wasn’t sure there was any other way.
The messy truth
Here is where it all comes back to the numbers, and letting go of the meaning attached to them. As much as I would like to write that when I turned 40, I finally let go of my eating disorder, lived in the moment, and focused on my family… if I wrote that, I would be lying. The truth is much messier.
The truth is after having my third son I was not only utterly overwhelmed with having three small children, but it was complicated by postpartum depression and anxiety. Is it is not surprising that once again, I turned to controlling my weight as a way to cope.
As the number on the scale and my pants size went down, instead of feeling better, I felt worse. I sank to a place where I was not present with my own children, family, or friends. It was like being underwater; I could see them, but I couldn’t reach them. I realized that I was living my life-long dream of being a mother, and yet I wasn’t really even connected to my children. And worst- I was not the mother I wanted to be for my family. I was not present. I wasn’t even enjoying it. The thing about children is they grow and change so quickly, they are a constant reminder of how quickly time actually does go by.
Finally letting go
And so, once again, with help from my therapist, my husband, and some extraordinary friends, I found my way back to treatment and to the world of recovery. Finally, at 43, I am really realizing that in order to reach true recovery from an eating disorder, and in order to find peace and joy and live in the present, I have to let go of the numbers and the meanings I have attached to them.
Once and for all. All of them. The calories, weight, age… This battle can only be won by letting go of the meaning we attach to the numbers.
Today, at 43, for the first time in my life, I am truly working on loving my body at what ever number it settles on.
I am focusing more on love and on living life joyfully than I am on my pants size. Now I can honestly say that I am excited about what is to come this year. I am thankful for my health and for the health of my family. I am hopeful and curious about what is to come. For someone who has spent her life anxious about what is going to happen, imprisoned my the fear of being fat, and always fearing the worst, THIS is the biggest shift and the most valuable one.