In one of my earlier posts, Birthdays, I mentioned that I was engaged in a battle royale with myself to figure out some substantial, long-time “straight edge” issues that cause me a great deal of trouble with my emotional health. I said I would tell you more about these issues once I started figuring them out. As I sit down to write this, I am uncertain as to whether I will publish it. I am not sure that a discussion of the dysfunctional workings of my psyche will be interesting or helpful to anyone. These are all my neuroses and insecurities. Why should you have to struggle with them, too? On the other hand, I did say I would spill the tea and I am a woman of my word. It is a pickle. I decided to write it out and see if my words decide for me.
When I started sorting through all the crap in my brain that forms my decisions and perceptions about myself, I realized that there is one big, ugly, menacing issue that I have been trying to hide from myself and the world for decades. It is ironic that I try to hide from it because it is all about what people see.
Somehow, somewhere along the line, I inextricably linked value with physical beauty. My appearance is the litmus test by which I assess my value and worth in the world. I have never been good-looking. I have never been pretty, desirable, or sexy. I have never even been average-looking. I have always been overweight, under tall, and dowdy. I would say I have no shape, except that round is a shape. I truly have no waist and no neck. The various parts of my body are completely out of proportion. My skin has always been dull and mottled looking. My lips are thin and blend into my face. My eyes are not bad, but my cheeks and my glasses kind of obscure them. I have decent hair, but it doesn’t do what I tell it to do. My measuring stick of worth has become physical appearance. I fall so short, I have trouble feeling worthy of anything.
As a child, other children were often cruel because of my weight and looks. They called me unkind names and yelled at me. There were times when there was even physical bullying. This went on consistently from about third grade through high school. I did not want to upset my parents, so I carried all this hurt on my own back. I have never really downloaded it because I am so embarrassed and ashamed.
For years in my life, I believed I was the ugliest person on the face of the planet. I did make progress. I do not believe that anymore. I just believe my appearance would rank in the lowest one percentile.
I do not say all this because I am looking for pity or asking you to reassure me. It would not help. You could tell me that I am completely wrong about my level of unattractiveness, but I would not believe you anyway. To be honest, I have never really dealt with this issue because no one I have ever talked to about it took it seriously. They tend to not believe the depth and breadth of this belief within me nor understand how painful it is.
The thing is that my looks are not just my looks. I wish I could just accept that I will never be pretty and move on. I have such a sense of shame and unworthiness and fear wrapped up in my perceptions of my appearance. I truly do not want to be overdramatic, but, if I am honest, I think I do many things in my life to “make up” for imposing myself and my ugliness on the world. I want to be as little trouble as possible because my looks already mean that I am getting more than my share of generosity from people. I do not deserve to come first.
My head knows that this perception never made sense. Now, at 62 years old, it makes even less sense. Even the most beautiful people in the world usually do not look like the most beautiful people in the world once they hit their sixties.
I started this whole journey of figuring all this out as part of a coaching process I joined a few months ago. I am working with Todd Payne (Todd Payne, Life Coach (toddpaynelifecoach.com)The process is based on the enneagram. I am not going to try to explain the enneagram worldview because I am no expert. You can get better information from other sources by looking it up on the internet. Todd, the coach who is collaborating with me, is excellent. I do feel I am progressing quite rapidly in overcoming anxiety. It is a very practical approach. It has helped me strategize how to manage many specific situations. I was flying quite high over the whole thing, as I became more proficient in managing myself in stressful situations. However, I think I have just been practicing… and, perhaps, testing the coach and the process… before facing the most powerful negative forces in my life.
I finally broke the wall a couple of weeks ago. Todd asked me to contemplate what in my life has caused me to embrace the unhealthy strategies I employ in managing my life. In other words, how did these strategies occur and how have they served me over time? Truly, many of my life skills do have benefits. It is just when I apply them in an unhealthy way to inappropriate situations that I sink my spirit. Over the week I was thinking about these life situations, I felt awful. I thought of a few things- mostly easy to face- and we talked about them. I did mention the weight/looks thing, but I let it skitter to the corner of the conversation. After the conversation, I still felt unresolved and dodgy. The hopeless feeling was there. I came to a revelation, which led me to a fundamental question.
Obviously, I have struggled with this issue for decades. I believe I have grown and improved. Normally, I am now a pretty happy person. That has not always been the case. There have been times in my life when the melodrama of my mind took place on a dangerously dark stage. Today, after much maturation on my part, I do not walk out onto the dark stage very often. When I do wander onto that stage, however, it is awfully bad. My revelation was that I have not resolved my issues around body image; I have simply learned how to manage the pain they bring. The question I had for my coach was whether it was possible to actually change my perceptions completely instead of just learning to deal with the scarring… and, if fundamental change is a reasonable goal, is it too late for me?
I found the courage to revisit the coaching session, show this very damaged part of me, and ask for help, I felt terrified. It was irrational fear, but that irrational fear refused to listen to reason. I pushed it all away and avoided contemplating it until the night before the next coaching session.
I thought that my coach might try to convince me that I was wrong about how unattractive I was. I thought my coach might try to help me lose weight and improve my appearance. I thought my coach might be flummoxed by the whole issue, as others have been. What he did instead was plot out a course of how we can get me to completely change the measuring stick. Mind blown.
First, he normalized this huge, deep, dark, monster of a secret that lives in my mind by pointing out that the world is going through a huge transformation in trying to see beyond how people look- color of the skin, age, disabilities, ethnicities. He did not say body type, but I could fill in that blank. Then, we spent time talking about inherent value and God’s plan for each of us. Intellectually, of course I could understand what he was saying, but I was still having a tough time kicking the monster to the curb. What really tells the story was when he was asking me about what I wanted to be able to truthfully say about myself, I honestly could not realistically visualize any goal beyond believing I look “fine and not off-putting.” I am still a work in progress.
We did talk about simple things to do to fight my way into the light when I feel myself pushing onto the dark stage. We also discussed that I will often just need to trust and have faith and step into life without the certainty that I will be okay. One of those things was to produce a prayer, mantra, or system of words that would remind me of my worth completely apart from physical appearance. I was not firing on all cylinders on this activity. Nothing was resonating with me.
That evening, as I puttered around in my brain, I remembered something someone had once said that made me feel very, very good. When I was received into the Episcopal Church, I was talking to the archdeacon who was coordinating the ceremony. She said to me, specifically to me, “You are a precious child of God, and we are so happy you are here.” I adapted that message to “I am a precious child of God and I bring joy to the world.” Immediately, I knew this is what I had to tell myself.
The next morning, I woke up feeling even worse than I had been feeling. I was dull-spirited and dull-minded. I felt completely worthless, unlovable, unattractive, undesirable, and hopeless. It did not take me long to go back to bed, where I stared through dull eyes at the walls, with no real trust that anything could ever get any better. Then, I remembered my epiphany of the night before and began to tell myself, “I am a precious child of God and I bring joy to the world.” I truly did not believe it would work, but I was trying to follow my coach’s advice to do something just on faith.
It did not sink in right away. I said it ten or twelve times before anything changed. When I did feel the change, though, the wave of power and well-being was palpable. As I kept repeating the words, I felt better and better. My eyes were registering objects and motion. They sparked up instead of looking deadly out into space. I am sure my brain chemicals changed.
Maybe hope is possible. Maybe change is possible. Maybe killing the infection instead of just taking aspirin is possible. Maybe I am a precious child of God and maybe I bring joy to the world.
I’m not sure what question to even ask today. I am feeling wicked vulnerable right now, so please be kind. If any of you have ever felt the way I do, please feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d also recommend that you think about contacting Todd Payne if you think you could use some help moving into a more joyful way of living.
Have a day you deserve!