Image: @kirenOnce upon a time, when I was extremely overweight and was killing myself with food, I believed that if I lost x pounds, my life would be perfect. I would be perfect. My world would look like a glossy, pastel-colored romantic comedy in which everything looked fabulous and everyone was in love with me.
Eventually, I crawled into recovery with the willingness to do whatever I was told. For the first time in my life, I followed directions, and watched myself transform. Slowly, slowly, the weight began melting away, and year and a half later, I was thin. Thin: that magical word that encompassed all my hopes and dreams of a perfect life. I was ready for my fairy tale to begin.
Here’s what actually happened.
For a long time, I could not get warm, no matter how many layers I wore or cups of tea I drank. (It didn’t help that I lived in New England, where winters are evil and last eight months of the year.) I bruised constantly, the slightest bump against a desk corner or dining chair surprisingly sharp without the padding my body was accustomed to.
My spatial sense was imbalanced, as I was used to taking up more space than I did now. And each time I looked in the mirror, I would do a double-take, shocked at seeing a stranger reflected back at me.
I bought a brand-new wardrobe, which was thrilling, and spent too much money. That was not quite so thrilling. It was an adventure discovering my taste in clothes, as I had only ever been able to wear things that fit me, rather than what I liked. I relished in the endless options of colors, patterns, textures, and cuts that suited, rather than camouflaged.
People who hadn’t seen me in years greeted me with shrieks of amazement and gushed at how “AMAZING” I looked.
It made me feel marvelous – and uneasy. What had they been thinking about me before?
Certain friends shied away out of jealousy or a sense of betrayal that I’d left their “camp,” so I made new friends with whom I had things besides illness in common. They hadn’t known me when I was fat, and so assumed I’d had the same civilian life they had: boyfriends, dances, parties – things I had only watched from the sidelines. Although I looked like them, I felt like an impostor.
Why do I still feel the same?
After a couple of years, my weight loss was no longer a novelty. The compliments slowed to a trickle, then dried up altogether. It seemed I was simply like everyone else now – something I believed I always wanted. But I was still the same. I realized that the loneliness, the fear, the anxiety, and the longing I’d attributed to my obesity had not disappeared with the 100 extra pounds. I was just as terrified as I’d been before; the only difference was that I wore a size two.
My experience in human relations was limited, having spent most of my life in a hot and heavy relationship with food. All I knew how to do was use and discard, so that’s what I did with people: I burned through them like cigarettes, then tossed them away when I was done. Over and over again, I found myself alone.
I crawled back to the people who had first shown me the path and begged them to help me again. They told me to look backward, at the past, and clean up the wreckage I’d caused. They told me to tell the truth, no matter how ugly it was, as long as it didn’t hurt someone else. And they told me to remove myself as the center of the universe. I would always be alone there, as there was only space for One.
It’s an inside job
I did what they said, and slowly the empty crevices in my soul began to fill.
This is what I had been looking for in every shiny bag, box, and package. This is what I had needed from every sweet, salty, and crunchy bite.
I thought that thinness would fill my soul, but I was wrong. What I’d wanted was an inside job, completely disconnected from how I looked on the outside.
Being grateful for the past
After that, I began to settle into life, moving through it with a bit more humility. I now have an inner anchor I hold onto during the inevitable rough tides. The moves, job changes, marriage, motherhood, and the loss of my own mother in my late twenties. Even successes like publishing a book would prove to be treacherous, as joy could be even more of a trigger than sorrow.
Twelve years later, it’s hard to remember what it was like being 100 pounds heavier. But I never forget that I was.
I remember the pain every time I see a fat-shaming post on social media, or see someone overeat.
I know them, I was them. On some level, I am still them.
But today, I am grateful for the time I had in a fat body, because it gives me the gift of compassion. It gave me the gift of recovery. It gave me a story to tell. And it gave me a fellowship and a Guiding Force that literally saved my life.