Update: Becoming Who I Am – What has happened since I did the 5K.
Running a 5K wasn’t ever something I expected to do. I don’t even like to run. And truth be told, no actual running happened during my first ever 5k experience, just a sort-of-half-jog toward the very end of the course because I was so ecstatic about actually finishing. My motivation, on the surface, was to be eligible for a $50 incentive to be deposited in my HSA for the quarter. Also, I was on a team at work for our values week, and we would get points for participating, and I wanted to help my team.
But those weren’t actually the real reasons. The real reasons have more to do with my body image and my journey toward understanding, accepting, and changing how I perceive myself. I see myself in so many ways — depending on my mood or perhaps the personality I’m wearing that day.
Sometimes, I simply feel like me. The inside me doesn’t match the outside me. The inside me doesn’t have the overweight, world-weary body I see reflected in the mirror or in pictures of myself. The inside me is the one who ran full speed down the dugway at the Pine Tree Place, who climbed to the tops of trees, who ran races (and won), who walked for miles without pause, who played softball, who ran lightly across the top of the fence. It’s the me who felt confident, fun, and whole.
What happened to me? What happened to this body of mine? My self-image started changing when I was young. Before junior high in fact, but junior high was awful. I was molested by a teacher at the school. I thought I was ugly. I was told, repeatedly, by a guy in high school, that I was “an ugly, b*tch.” Later I was raped by someone staying at the motel where I worked during the summer. I didn’t tell anyone what happened to me. I just knew I was damaged goods.
The church lessons, instilled in me, confirmed it. No one wanted the stick of gum that had been unwrapped and handled by others. I was the stick of gum no one wanted. I was ruined. I was ugly. Worthless and ugly. But, I buried it all. Deep inside. Unfathomably deep. I escaped into the world of books. When I was reading, I was the heroine — strong, brave, invincible.
I am a fighter. I fought against the sentence I received. I became someone else. I worked hard. I focused on school. I was smart. I was succeeding. Then I was told I was stuck up and that I thought I was better than everyone else. Did no one know? Did no one care that I was just painfully shy? Despite my inner feelings and self-doubt, I dated. I flirted. I had a summer romance. I fell in love, had my heart broken —several times— and lived through it. I graduated a semester early though. I was done. Finished with high school. I left it behind.
When I went to college, I reinvented myself. No one knew me. There were no already applied stereotypes. I was no longer pigeon-holed. I became the me I had dreamed of being. I was smart and it was admired. I was accepted. I flirted. I dated. I fell in love. I got married. Sometimes, I felt beautiful and whole. Yet, in the back of my mind, at times I still felt like that awkward, gangly girl; lonely, and afraid. My biggest fear was that Kelly would find out. That he would see the real me and not the woman he fell in love with. That he wouldn’t love me anymore if he knew who I really was — a girl, filled with pain, shame, and guilt.
He found out. He found out about the past that was locked up inside of me for so long. And still, he loved me. Beyond reason and my understanding, he loved me. But I, I couldn’t love myself. I was coming face-to-face with the truth of what happened to me, and I couldn’t handle it. And so I ate. I ate for comfort. I ate to numb the pain. I ate so I would be fat. So no other man would ever want me. My fat would protect me. It would make me repulsive to men. I buried myself in fat. But still, Kelly loved me — despite my self-sabotage.
I worked hard to heal. To process all I had been through. To learn, to accept that I didn’t have to remain a victim. That I could be a survivor, and eventually, that I could thrive, even with — or perhaps because of —my past. Thousands of dollars and years of therapy later, I had finally pulled myself relatively together emotionally. I was thinking about doing something about my physical self. Then Kelly died.
Part of me wanted to die too. It felt like my whole reason for living had been ripped away in one fell swoop. Not only did I lose my husband. I lost the man who loved me knowing all of my flaws. Knowing my flaws but loving me anyway. And he was gone. I was alone. I gave up. I gave up on my body then. I no longer cared whether I ate too much, or what I ate. I figured I could simply eat myself to death; that I would get diabetes, or cancer, or simply die of a broken heart. I didn’t want to be here anymore. But, my kids needed me, and that was my saving grace.
Time heals. The loss of Kelly will always be with me, but I have healed. It has been a long, hard process, but I have hope and I feel better than I ever have. I no longer want to die. I have too much to live for these days. I have a beautiful, amazing family. I have delightful grandchildren that I adore. I have a job I love. I have so many people in my life who care about me and want me to succeed. I care about myself. I know God loves me. He walked beside me the whole way. He carried me when I could no longer hold myself up. He strengthened me and taught me, patiently, gently, that I have worth, that I have value, that I am enough.
My life hasn’t been easy. I have walked some rough paths, but I have learned so many valuable lessons along the way that I do not begrudge the learning curve I traveled. Unfortunately, my body has not shed the years of pain and self-discovery — yet. But recently I had a wake-up call at a doctor’s appointment. He was concerned about my heart and at that moment I realized it was time for me to make some changes, to let go completely of that hurt, scared, defeated girl inside, and become who I am. Who I was meant to be.
Part of becoming who I am is finding joy in my body. Accepting it and not feeling shame about the condition it’s currently in. Fat shaming is a thing — I’ve felt its sting when asking for a seat-belt extender on a plane, when ordering ice-cream in a restaurant, in seeing a picture of myself labeled “the fat lady” left behind on the desk when I was a substitute teacher — I no longer will be held hostage by fat shaming.
I will love myself enough to do something about my health — whether or not I lose weight is secondary — I will eat foods that are good for me. I will keep exercising, even though I’m uncoordinated and clumsy. I will be grateful my feet take me where I need to go, that my hands can serve, and that I can hug and hold my sweet grandbabies.
So, why the 5k? I walked it to prove to myself that I could do it. I walked it because my body, my beautiful amazing body is worth taking care of. And one day I will climb a tree again, to see the world from a leafy perch.