Jeans

I rejoined Weight Watchers last week.

Weight Watchers and I have had an on-again-off-again relationship for the past fifteen years. Weight Watchers and I get along great each time we come together. We are committed to each other. Then, I get frustrated and need space. Or I decide to go back to my “buffalo wings and pizza” ways. It’s not you, Weight Watchers. It’s me!

I paid my forty-five big ones last week and attended a meeting with my favorite coach, Nancy.

Nancy, “Welcome, Mary! What brings you back today?”

Me, “Umm, I broke the zipper on my jeans twice.”

Other weight watchers, “Giggles.”

The following Saturday, My Michael and I went off to the mall. Jeans were our mission. We started at Nordstrom where he patiently sat and critiqued about twenty-one and a half pair (I could shimmy one pair just to the knee). Over an hour later we found the perfect pair that cost more than our monthly cable bill.

Then, we trekked to the other side of the mall to continue our mission and found ourselves at Lucky Brand. This time, I tried a mere ten styles of jeans and landed with a pair of adorable “boyfriend jeans.” How fitting!

The most delightful thing happened.

I tried my usual size that were enormous on me. After a few attempts, the adorable sales girl finally brought me a pair that perfectly fit. They were a size two. I have not been a size two since I was starving myself in high school. My Michael gave me the “VA VA VOOM!” and it was all settled. I was a two-jeans girl.

There are two things worth mentioning here.

First, Lucky Brand has a brilliant marketing program.

Second, the jeans were appropriately named “boyfriend jeans.”

For years, I dated guys who were so very wrong for me. Most treated me poorly. Almost all of them cheated on me. So many times I found myself in “negative Marymorphosis.”

If I were not thin, enough I would starve myself eating only celery and cabbage soup. If he preferred blondes, I would go off to the salon for highlights. At one time, I even changed my political party to appease a boyfriend. It’s a good thing we broke up before the Presidential election.

I tried over and over to fit into that size 2 “boyfriend jeans.” Standing in the fitting room, I had a moment of “Ah-HA!”; I did not have to force myself into those size two jeans. They fit me just as I was. My Michael would love me at any size, no matter what. The fact that I could be myself and wear a 2 was freedom!

It has taken me so long to reprogram my brain. I have had to learn how to change the voices in my mind prattling that I was worthless and terrible. It was brutal to myself. My Michael often reminds me to put down the bat with which I repeatedly beat myself.

My grandfather did not see me as a beautiful little girl full of delight, innocence, and wonder. He saw me as a physical object that he chose to dominate. I was not a person to him. I was not the sweet child of his eldest daughter. I was the vulnerable baby emu in the herd. Harsh but true.

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(I was so very little)

I was a physical object without emotion or blood running through my veins or a heartbeat. That is what I accepted as my role. That defined me. I, in turn, started treating my body as an object of control. That, my friends, is why I almost starved myself to death.

The aftermath of sexual abuse rears its ugly head in numerous forms. Victims suffer from a warped sense of body image, we develop eating disorders, we accept ill treatment in our relationships. We suffer from depression and anxiety. We are prisoners in our minds and bodies.

Look at media. In so many cases, images used in advertising are about appealing to one’s physical attraction and desire. Gorgeous, stick thin women with bedroom eyes and wearing little more than that sexy pout infest the pages of countless advertising campaigns.

Sex sells.

When you are robbed of your sexual identity before you hit puberty, it is highly unlikely to learn what self-respect and self-love are. Then, you see beauty and glamor and sex appeal all over, and that is such discord. How does sexy feel good? Why did I feel so undesirable and used?

Almost forever I have felt powerless, ashamed and distrustful. That is why I inserted myself comfortably in abusive relationships repeatedly. As survivors, our comfort zone is to be that object.  It is to be a nonperson- it is to be undesirable.

Many years ago I dated a man who was a big golfer. I spent many weekends at his summer home and enjoyed the summer social events, many of which were held at his country club. There was a particular group of guys who could be equated to the “popular clique” if we were still in high school. One of them included the club manager.

He was charismatic, good looking, a tiny bit curmudgeonly and “happily married” with an infant son.

One afternoon I was shopping in Boston with my good friend and we were at the Chanel counter. The woman was a talented makeup artist and even better salesperson. I left with a heavy bag of cosmetics and a lighter wallet.

Club manager called and said that his meeting in Boston ran late, and he missed his train. Would my good friend and I like to join him for dinner? After dinner, could he crash on my couch? We had a delightful time as friends do. We dropped my good friend off and went back to my apartment where I made up the guest room and said goodnight.

Use your imagination.

I was able to escape to my room and lock the door eventually with several bruises, but the next day I woke up covered in hives. I was convinced that I’d had a reaction to Chanel.

No, I truly did believe that.

Then, I drove him to the train. We barely spoke. I am not kidding.

I never mentioned it again. I was so ashamed. I had hives from that darn makeup.

It was upsetting, but I just passed it off and ignored it. I was ashamed of my naiveté in allowing this “friend” to stay with me. I never imagined that he would do what he did. What I SHOULD have wondered is why Club Manager could not book himself into the Marriott.

After the aftermath of all this trauma, I feel very lucky that I was able to get help. I have invested years in therapy, and I cannot tell you how many journals I have filled. It has been a painful, grueling road filled with hives and poor decisions, but I got out. I changed it. I shed the shame.

I met My Michael.

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(Happiness is….)

Now, despite my Weight Watcher on-and-off relationship, I do see my body as a vessel that holds a loving and compassionate soul. My Michael tells me over and over all the time how beautiful I am and how he adores me. I believe what he says although it is a conscious decision to do so.

After my son was born, I was drunk in love with him. I created a saying that has become my mantra.

“Love yourself with the heart with which you love your child.”

I wish that for survivors. I wish that for all.

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My wonderful boy!

“Perfectionista!”

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“Hi! My name is Mary and I am a perfectionist.”

(Others in unison) “Hi, Mary!”

Being a perfectionist is a thankless addiction. That is because you can never truly succeed at it. Think about it. You can be a very successful alcoholic, drug addict, compulsive gambler, under eater, over-eater, shoplifter (well, that is debatable.) You get the picture. Try as you might, becoming a successful perfectionist is just, well, perfectly impossible.

Life’s little twists and turns have an irritating tendency of getting in the way of living perfectly. Just when you are on your way with a spring in your step, swinging your arms with great determination, whammo! You fall flat on your face. Owie.

I have strived to ensure that the world sees me as someone who is significantly pulled together, juggling a career, a home, getting the kids to all their activities and baking a batch of cookies at the end of long day.  You know, the one who never, ever, has a snack stuck in her teeth? Her. Despite my best efforts,  I have been derailed on many occasions while life chugs on. How dare you, life?

I am finally at a place where I am reasonably comfortable in my skin and accept that I am indeed enough and that “said skin” does not look the same as it once did.  Writing that feels like a relief.

Now, I can openly talk about my new job at home taking care of my loving family, waiting for the Geek Squad, organizing the junk drawer that refuses to close and picking up my dog’s doo doo in the back yard. Now, I don’t need the sexy, successful career to define me as it did in the past. I define me. Furthermore, my dress size and my self-worth are measured on very, very different scales. And I don’t floss. There. I said it.

There are days when I make a pork tenderloin for a post-op neighbor, throw a quarter in a stranger’s flashing meter and patiently listen to an elderly lady in line at the registry talk (slowly and in great detail)about her 17 grandchildren. On those days, I feel like a breath of fresh air.

Then, I have the days when I become impatient with the customer in front of me for chatting to the clerk about her guinea pig’s asthma, don’t allow someone to pull out in front of me or I beat myself up because it’s a fat pants day. Those are the days that I feel like, well, bad breath.

It is so much easier to accept that I am imperfect. I will share a story with you of how the pursuit of perfection almost killed me.

I was a senior in high school and felt as if my world was out of control.  To be specific, it was I who was out of control. The negative self-prattling in my head had me convinced that I was bad,  unlovable and on my own. My sexual abuse robbed me of many things including my self-love and respect, security.  I was filled with doubt and confusion and self-loathing. I was supposed to be able to trust Grandpa! As a little girl, I was rotting inside. And I was so ashamed. My self-worth was paper-thin. Don’t confuse self-esteem with self-worth.  They are two different animals.

Self-esteem comes from the confidence in one’s ability to achieve a visible and remarkable accomplishment,  outside ourselves.  That kept me alive. I could accomplish superficial things like good grades, good “high hair” and singing “We Got the Beat” in a Belinda Carlisle-ish way.

Au contraire, self-worth comes from a feeling within, a feeling of believing in oneself.  Within, I felt like that dog doo previously mentioned. Looking within meant shining a floodlight on all my secrets.  I could not tell my secrets to myself, let alone to anybody else. So I put my sight on that OUTSIDE accomplishment. I could trick everyone by giving the impression of being in high self-esteem. And so I did.

I was not overweight, but I decided that I wanted to lose weight.  Friends thought that I was a little lulu, but I convinced them that my plaid uniform skirt was getting snug.  I started dieting and learned pretty quickly that I was really good at it.  For the first time,  I was in control of something: food.  Weight loss was an endorphin, and I became a junkie. The more weight I lost, the better I felt and the more I wanted to lose.

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I remember my dad saying to me with a big smile one day, “Skinny Minnie!” I was SO PROUD of myself.  It was another motivation me to kept going.  Finally, I was skin and bones. My family and friends and teachers noticed and were gently suggesting in what felt like an adamant way that I had gone overboard. I was fine! Instead of listening I started layering. Layering allows you to be skinny and keep it a secret.

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“Layering”

(I was wearing two pairs of pants and, at least, three sweaters- effective!)

My mom took me to the doctor because I had become so thin that I had not had a period in over a year, and I started to get baby chick fuzz all over my skin. The mirror reflected an 103 pound,  5′ 7″ 17-year-old.  But all I could think of was that I looked so FAT. Oddly, that morning I  hit my head on the piano when I fainted from hunger.

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What does it take to be perfect? Everything. And it can even take your life. But Sugar, you will never, ever pull into that station because it just does not exist. I was eventually able to get control of my anorexia and recover from it.  It did not kill me, but it did not make me stronger, either.

Perfection is a hopeless aspiration, and the pursuit of it manifests itself in so many different ways.  This was one of the many ways I tried to get there, but I didn’t and I never will, and I am finally ok with that. While I am still very conscious of my weight today, I know how to keep a balance and live a healthy life that includes buffalo wings and pizza.

So, that is that.

“Hi! My name is Mary and I am a recovering perfectionist.”

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That’s all.