I am writing this blog because I believe that it is possible someone might be able to extract some kernel of help from it. I have protected it for so many years because I could not see the good that could come from sharing it, but now I offer it up because my spirit realizes that keeping it tucked away is an act of self preservation. I hope it yields a benefit somewhere out there in the universe. It is certainly beneficial to me to release it.
Growing up, I was a dancer. I took lessons from 4 years-old until I was out of high school. (I even took a tap class just for fun in college!) I was on the high school pom squad (we called it "drill team" in Texas) and I performed at a variety of high profile festivals and competitions. I was an all-star, of sorts. I participated in every genre available...tap, jazz, ballet, modern, that Olympic inspired style with the balls, hoops and ribbons...you name it, I did it. Imagine my surprise when, at 16 years old, my dance teacher pulled me aside after a particularily difficult class and said, "Holley, you may want to think about giving up ballet. I know you try, but you just don't have the body type for it."
I responded the same way I always do when an authority figure is delivering bad news. I nodded and agreed. Of course, I was in no way equipped for a future in ballet. She was most certainly right - yes ma'am. Thank you, ma'am.
But, then I sat with it a while...again, like I always do...and the wound she had inflicted, that I had welcomed, began to fester. I stood in front of my full length mirror that night and examined myself. What was wrong with me that I wouldn't make a good ballet dancer? I was strong. I wasn't very flexible, but my dad was working with me on that - monitoring my nightly stretch routines. I wasn't overly tall - I was only about 5'5 at the time. (I have since grown a couple of inches) I couldn't figure out what she meant unless she was saying that I was overweight. Needless to say, I was crushed, but I tried to collect myself and move past it.
I never took another ballet class.
Shortly thereafter, my boyfriend of just over a year broke up with me. I saw it coming. Honestly, I was kind of relieved, but I quickly realized that the identity I had built in high school was lost when I lost him. I wasn't "Holley" in my own right - I was his girlfriend. That's how people knew me. That's the monicker I had embraced. And, suddenly, at 16 years old, I had no idea who I was.
I dipped into depression and the loss of appetite that accompanied it bore substantial weight loss. 14 pounds in just over two weeks. I had no energy. I was irritable. I hated myself and everyone around me. One day at lunch, one of my high school's "mean girls" chose my lunch table for some unknown reason. Upon placing her tray on the table, she covered her mouth with a shocked expression on her face and stared at me.
"Holley! You've lost so much weight! You look fantastic!"
At first, I took her comment as a compliment. I looked at the way the waistline of my jeans gaped and put my tupperware of carrots that I had been considering back in my lunchbox. (Yes. At 16, I still carried a lunch box. My mom made me healthy lunches every day. I had made a habit of returning them home, uneaten, and placing the contents back in their places in the refrigerator or pantry. I thought she didn't notice. She did.)
That unkind girl's comment took my loss of appetite and turned it into a weight loss obsession. I was trying desperately not to eat, but my family meals caused a problem. I was horrified at the thought of putting anything more substantial than jelly beans in my mouth, and I was being forced to consume pizza and stew. (two of my favorites) But, I didn't want to upset my family, so I would eat.
After about two weeks of grinning and bearing enchiladas, chili and my mom's famous "invention cookies", I came up with a solution. The first time I made myself throw up was terrifying. I sat on my knees in front of the toilet for an hour or so before I mustered the gumption to shove my finger down my throat. It was terrible and exhilerating at the same time. My eyes got all squinty, my nose ran profusely, and my skin turned all splotchy. I looked a mess, but I was quite sure it would all be worth it. No pain, no gain, right? I threw up nearly everyday from then on out until I went to college.
When I got to college, it was two or three times a day.
My dad had caught me in the act once just before I left for college, and with tears in his eyes, begged me to stop and forbid me to leave for OU if I continued the behavior. I promised him I would stop. When my suite mate and now best friend caught me in the act our freshman year in our shared dorm bathroom, she drug my to counseling at our campus clinic. I sat through one session because it was free and no charge would show up on the tuition bill that went to my parents, but I never went back.
I had a longterm boyfriend in college who broke up with me once because he didn't know how to deal with my "problem". My aunt recently revealed that she had become aware of my issue the summer I lived with her and my uncle during an internship. She thought I was doing it to look good for the same boyfriend who couldn't deal with my post-meal trips to the bathroom. It was impossible for me to explain to her the actual reason. So, I just said, "well, everyone in my sorority house was doing it."
The sorority, by the way, did not help matters one bit. Eighty-six desperately body conscious women all living in one house was a nightmare scenario for a girl in my position. Their insecurities became my insecurities, and all my neuroses escalated to dangerous heights. In an effort to keep my habit a secret, I would throw up in the downstairs bathroom behind the snack bar that was supposed to be for male visitors. When it was discovered that someone was throwing up in that bathroom, the door was locked during non-function hours, so I started throwing up in the shower. When I became too scared that someone was going to notice, I started taking laxatives.
The problem became slightly less pervasive when I moved into a three bedroom apartment with the aforementioned suitemate and one of her high school friends, but it didn't stop all together. I also had my own bathroom, so I could do what I needed to do whenever I felt the urge without anyone finding out. I found that when I was away from the constant influx of free food that seemed to make its way into the sorority house, a little of the pressure released, and I could go back to simply not eating. It is worth mentioning that my habit had caused my hair to become brittle, my fingernails to peel and my hands to smell a little weird. It is also worth mentioning that it was not acheiving the desired weight-loss I thought it would. Bulemia doesn't do that in most cases. Because lifestyle bulemics are at the mercy of their schedules as to when they can purge, most of the calories associated with food have time to make their way into the system. Digestion is a process, but when one is very young and has a high metabolism, it doesn't really take all that long.
After college, I continued to struggle. I had my own apartment and a rigirous schedule at my first television station which yielded virtually no time for eating. After moving to Florida, I began attempting to eat healthfully as often as possible, but I found that I was actually drinking most of my calories. (Even good girls have to rebel at some point!) I even mustered up the courage to tell my then boyfriend, now husband, about my habit because I had finally arrived at the realization that it wasn't a very healthy thing to be doing. He wasn't happy with the information, but he didn't run away like the last boyfriend had, so I at least felt like I had an ally.
After we got married, vomiting gave way to yo-yo dieting and frequent bouts of starvation. My husband was diligent about making sure I wasn't throwing up after meals, but he was less inclined to pay attention when I declared myself "far too busy to eat!" We moved from a small Florida town to a more metropolitan area, and I started a new job where people frequently took lunches together. They called them "lunch buses", and I always participated, though lunch for me was usually two bites of whatever I ordered and a whole lot of coffee or diet coke. I even got a gym membership despite the fact that we had one at our apartment complex, just so I could go there at lunch and avoid eating out where people might be watching.
It was a doctor's appointment for a sinus infection that set in motion the catharsis that would come some seven years later. The doctor listened to my chest a few times before asking, "has anyone ever diagnosed you with a heart murmur?" I responded that they hadn't, and she ordered a cardiac ultrasound. The technician couldn't pinpoint any particular problems, so I believed the diagnosis to be a fluke. However, when my OBGYN asked the same question during my annual visit, I became a little concerned. I told her about the ultrasound and my family doctor's diagnosis, and she told me that heart damage can some times go totally undetected unless one were to be opened up for surgery of some kind. She also mentioned that one of the primary causes of heart damage is malnutrition. She also wrote me a prescription that day for my unusually intense acid reflux.
Fast forward seven years. Seven years of some times eating, some times starving. Seven years of working out obsessively. Of training for long distance races on less than substantial nourishment. Seven years of living off of caffeine, popping insane doses of fiber and occassionally revisiting my old enemy in the bathroom. (I popped a blood vessel in my eye during one of my more recent visits. I told everyone I had done so via a violent sneeze.)
If you have read my limited posts on this blog, then you know that I visited a psychic at the beginning of the year. After spending only twenty minutes with her, I knew I had a resolution to make. It was time to become my best self....but within the parameters that genetics and the universe had set out for me. I wasn't totally sure what that meant at the time, but I was confident that a solution would reveal itself. I had also just attempted to engage in a "cleanse" that was more about weight loss than it was about spiritual awakening, which is what I told my friends. (In fact, I chronicled it in a blog here - if you read it, you'll see how very clearly I was still in the dark.)
A couple of months ago, I enrolled in a "Boot Camp" for charity. I began rising at 5 a.m. to engage in intense cardio and weight-lifting, once again, endeavoring to drop a few pounds and see myself looking tiny and svelt like my mind always believed I could. About two weeks in, I had an appointment with my doctor which necessitated a visit with a scale - an unpleasant one. I had gained weight. Two or three pounds. I was mortified. I almost didn't get up to go to boot camp the next morning, but something told me I should do it anyway. I was lifting weights. I was bulking up. I was becoming a hulk-woman. I was sure people probably looked at me and saw Popeye. But, I got up with my alarm anyway.
I told my trainer about my experience, and he told me not to lose heart - that women who don't lift weights often see a little bump in weight as their muscles are building. After all, muscle weighs more than fat. He took my body fat calculation, and it was actually pretty good. However, we made a plan to lower it which included eating more protein and fewer carbs. But, his main piece of advice was to make sure I was eating enough. This was a foreign concept for me. I even tracked my meals and snacks on a website, and we went over the results together. I cut back in certain areas and amped up others. I was diligent, and I ate. I ate plenty.
This morning, we took my weight and body fat percentage again. I am down about four pounds and 1.5 body fat percentage points. I had to take my shirt off and do the body fat test in my sports bra and work out shorts in order for my trainer to properly use the little measurement pinchers (there is a technical name for these...) and I got a look at my full physique in the giant mirrors that surround the gym where we work out. The woman I saw was chiseled. She wasn't overly bulky or hulky. She had definition in places she didn't realize she could have it. She was something of a specimen.
But, she wasn't a waif. She was slim but not slight. She had substantial triceps and the beginnings of a six pack. Her quadriceps were full and cut inward vertically down her upper thigh, and her calves were large but smooth. She did not look like a fashion model. She did not look like a Hollywood actress.
She did not look like a ballerina.
The woman standing in that gym looked like a warrior. It was in that moment, with me staring at her and her staring at me, that I realized how backward my concept of beauty had always been. For so many years, I had been trying to alter the woman on the outside to make the woman on the inside feel better about herself. To yield something that fit into my vision of loveliness. I was trying to bolster my insides with the help of my outer appearance.
But, in that gym, nearly naked, standing in front of those giant mirrors, it all clicked. In my life pursuits, I have always been strong, aggressive and poised. I fight the good fight. I stand up for the underdog. I am professional and proud. I am disciplined. When I offer a kindness, it is backed by everything I have. I am extreme, some times stubborn and a good leader.
I was never meant to be slight. My outside would not have been consistent with my inside. That mirror revealed a woman who was more herself than she had ever been - an outward expression of an inner power. I am becoming the best Me possible. And, now I can't imagine why I ever tried to do any different. My true self had to reveal itself to me before I could finally see that my body is its perfect counterpart.
I don't just look like the warrior. I am the warrior.