I lived a normal kid’s life until I was about twelve years old. My father was diagnosed with brain cancer – living in remission for years – and my parents got divorced a few years later.
When I was about fourteen, I began to gain weight. The weight piled on, creating a wall of shame around an already shy kid. My desire to express my individuality in school brought only disdain and mockery from my peers. Despite making good grades and qualifying for Honors classes, I was an outcast and I just stopped trying. I withdrew from the world, which could have been an opportunity to look deep within my own heart and learn so much. But instead, I withdrew even from myself.
My mother lost our home, and I lost my way. I went to summer school and took correspondence courses to finish high school. However, due to a lack of discipline, I did not finish my classes. I was technically a high school drop out – part of a demographic stigmatized almost as deeply as that of convicted felons. I didn’t blame my mother; I was solely responsible for not living up to my commitment and getting my diploma. And I hated myself for it.
I got a job when I was eighteen, and eventually got my GED, but I still felt like a failure. Society measures success by pieces of paper- college degrees, marriage certificates, birth certificates, and mortgages. I had none of these things. There were times when I felt paralyzed by my desire to go back in time and change the course of my life. This regret left me unable to move forward and pursue my life; to find my passion. My perceived failures robbed me of my dreams.
About six years ago I got laid off. I was floundering desperately, so I changed the one thing over which I felt I had control – my weight. I became fit and for the first time I felt confident, worthy. I was no longer invisible. My weight did not create my self-loathing, but it did give me an excuse not to confront the person behind it. It was my only constant, my wall. With the wall gone, I experienced true love for the first time. This love was found with the right person at the wrong time and my heart was shattered. Still, it was an honor to have given my love to someone, and to have allowed myself to receive it. Loving him was a big step in learning to love myself.
I still go to a job I hate every day, but I no longer feel that I am stuck there, or that I am unworthy of having more. I have recently made the decision to self-publish a collection of my short stories. I am considering going back to school to pursue a degree as a registered dietician. If I could help one woman step proudly out into the world embracing her inner and outer beauty for the first time, or help a man become the first in his family not to die young of a heart attack, I will have accomplished more than I ever thought possible.
I spent years of my life wallowing in a quagmire of self-loathing and self-doubt. To say that I wasted these years would not be accurate, for all of our choices, all of our ups and downs, shape who we become. I will never again say that I am a failure. I have looked behind my wall and have come face to face with the woman within. She is a woman of intelligence, good humor, compassion, empathy, courage, strength, and – dare I say – beauty. And I love her.
Self-love is indeed the most difficult love to give, but the most rewarding to receive. This I believe.
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