#3: Goodbye Before and After, Hello Here and Now
Updated: Aug 23, 2019
I wrote my last blog post, Fuck Secrets and Shame, a month before I mustered up the courage to hit the publish button. The night I finished writing, I felt uneasy. I went to see Eve Ensler speak about her latest book, The Apology, about the sexual, physical and emotional abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. She said something I particularly needed to hear that night.
"I believe if you dive into the center of your deepest wound you'll find a door there. If you do the work you can open the door and on the other side is freedom. But, if you don't dive in, or you just sit outside the door and do nothing, you’ll get sick."
Freedom or sickness. The choice was mine. I knew sickness. For years I drank with abandon. I was treated for clinical depression. Most recently, since Trump was elected and the #metoo movement erupted, memories resurfaced, and I faced buried trauma from my past. In the process of reckoning, I had unbearable panic attacks. I felt trapped in my own home. I felt the need to escape even when I was free.
I had nightmares. In a recent one, Donald Trump was chasing me with a bloody chainsaw raised overhead. As I ran for my life, I glanced over my shoulder thinking, “He’s so big. How fast could he possibly run? He’s not going to be able to catch me.” But, he was closer than expected and approaching at rapid speed. He, like a privileged teenager, was on a hoverboard and I was on foot. The man who was supposed to be leading the country in which I live -- bloody-violent-rageful-impending-doom incarnate -- was on the verge of enveloping me.
I know I’m not alone in feeling the ripple effect of the terrifying times we’re living in, but I do not want to be sick.
I do not want to be enveloped by it or my own past. I want to be free.
By writing, I dived into the center of my deep wound. Between writing and sharing, I sat outside the door. I had more work to do to build up the strength to open it.
I did the work. I read it out loud to my partner. I sent it to a few close friends. I talked about it in therapy. I started to slowly share a piece of myself I had kept silent due to shame. Things shifted.
From a life informed by diet culture, I was trained to live in a self-induced mental state of deprivation. Constantly on loop like a broken record, “I can’t have this. I can’t have that.”
With newfound awareness, I forced myself to take note when these thoughts popped into my mind and consciously changed them to, “I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want.” I never allowed myself to think this way. Trusting myself with this level of freedom scared me.
I realized how much of my life was informed by deprivation.
“I can’t be this.” “I can’t go there.” I don’t deserve this.” “I can’t wear that.”
Forcing myself to think, “I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want,” in place of the restrictive thoughts, helped remove the self-imposed prison bars from other areas of my life. I can be in charge, taken care of, loved, seen.
Seen. I still held such a fear of being seen.
The work I do in storytelling requires public speaking. After every performance, big or small, I braced myself when it was time to look at photos from the evening. I berated myself for how I looked, canceling out any feelings of pride I might have had for what I had just accomplished.
“How could you be seen in public like that?” “Look at how fat you are. You’re disgusting.” “You really shouldn’t leave the house until….” Until what? Until I was smaller, more acceptable?
I thought back to my before and after pictures from fat camp and various diets. The before photo I was convinced should be kept hidden. The after photo I believed was worthy of sharing with the world. I thought of all the time wasted trying to become the unattainable image in the imaginary after photo instead of focusing on the perfection of the here and now.
I knew I was brainwashed by the images in the media. I also know we now live in an age where we can control what we consume. It was time to wash my own brain. I could look at whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I curated my instagram feed to feed me images of beautiful women’s bodies at all sizes.
I followed Ashley Graham (@ashleygraham), Tabria Majors (@tabriamajors), Lizzo (@lizzobeating), Dascha Polanco (@sheisdash), Danielle Brooks (@daniebb3), Lindy West (@thelindywest), Jessamyn Stanley (@mynameisjessamyn) and others.
I also started to follow women and pages sharing messages I need to hear and imagery I desperately needed to see. @i_weigh, @thecurvycon, @theintuitive_rd, @thefuckitdiet, @swimsuitsforall.
I saw beauty in places I had previously been blind to it.
And then, I bought a bikini. I bought a fucking bikini.
Or as the fat girls call them nowadays, a fatkini. Actually, I bought two. A red one with white polka dots and a black one. They are high waisted in true 1950s style, a time when my body type was more en vogue. I never thought I had a body worthy of a two-piece. That’s a lie.
My wife and I went on vacation to Provincetown. I wore them both proudly. They’re now my favorite bathing suits of all time. I let her take photos of me on the beach. I looked at them and didn’t feel judgment toward myself. Considering the abusive relationship I had with myself my entire life, this is nothing shy of a miracle. I liked who I saw.
No, I loved her -- and not who she could be, but who she is. Here and now.
The morning after the photos were taken, I woke up at the crack of dawn. I copied and pasted the content of Fuck Secrets and Shame into my Medium account. I procrastinated by surfing from one open window to the next for a good 10 minutes. Then I took a deep breath and pressed the button and immediately, I felt lighter.
I was on the other side of the door of my deep wound and I felt freer.
I share these photos with you because I’m scared to and because I know the only way to stop being afraid is to do the thing you’re afraid of. I’m sharing these photos with you because fuck before and after.
These photos remind me I can access freedom and embody joy any time I want to.
I don’t have to wait for anything.
And neither do you.
You are perfect today.
I invite you to use the hashtag #hereandnowpics and share photos of yourself, as you are today, illuminating freedom and embodying joy in the here and now. We can find more freedom together than we can alone. I know we can.