Growing up I never felt I belonged. I had friends but there was always something, imagined or otherwise, that kept me from believing I was one of them. Instead, I took solace in the thing I knew I was good at, athletics. My natural capabilities and affinity for sports served as my north star by which I navigated my adolescence. A guiding light amidst clouded confusion and feelings of alienation.
Distraction equalled comfort. I wasn’t ignorant to feelings of “otherness”, but there was a kind of bliss in being so focused on a part of my life where I could seemingly control how successful I was, and by extension, how I felt about myself. I threw myself into softball, as well as my school work, in an effort to avoid undercurrents of insecurity and pain. All I wanted was to belong, which I early on decided I would never have, and instead, strove for overachievement.
Now, amidst the tangible pressures of adult life, I mourn those years. I wish someone had pulled me aside and given me permission to put myself out there, to take risks, to fail. I long for more time, or for time to move slower. For the chance to be stupid, to make the mistakes of a drunken high school kid playing hooky or experimenting with pot for the first time. Layers of judgement, what I like to call meta-judgement, prevents me now from allowing myself the space to fuck up. There’s an interior dialogue of “you should know better” that reigns me back each time I reach for that freedom.
Most painful is that there’s a part of me that feels I’ve let my teenage self down. There’s an inescapable sense of guilt and shame that I feel when I think about a bracket of time between college and my early 20’s when I finally felt that I had in fact constructed my own worthiness and belongingness with the unnatural thinness of my body. On the other side of a shitstorm of a year, having also gained greater self awareness thanks to professional treatment for an eating disorder, major depression and anxiety, I still can’t help but feel an incredible sense of loss because of the extra weight I now carry. I didn’t just give up the superficial satisfaction and validation from those around me admiring my thin, modelesque figure. I lost the sense of fitting in that felt incredibly necessary and precious. The foothold to acceptance I’d worked so hard to find suddenly pulled out from beneath me.
Again that meta-judgment sneaks in, telling me to correct these unhealthy and unhelpful beliefs but I can’t help it, they are undeniable. Part of me wants an escape, the kind I had discovered in athletics. I drink more than I should and rely on drugs to help me feel comfortable in my skin when I go out with friends. I’m aware that It’s a slippery slope but for now it feels like an acceptable bandage for overcoming “otherness”.
I’m tired from holding so much guilt and shame when I’m trying my best. That’s all we can really ask of ourselves. However, my inner child still sees these forces as a way to keep myself in check. Shame is the tool it uses to help me avoid pain. Backwards as fuck but it was a mechanism I adopted at a very early age.
I’m trying to push past the feelings of discomfort and the belief that I’m less acceptable at my current size. That I’m no longer normal or free to show the full range of my personality. But it’s difficult, it’s my trickiest edge. I find myself wishing that I was small again for the dual purpose of being my uncensored self, while also safely blending in with the crowd.
For now, on the days when my body feels unbearable, I try to focus on the self-awareness I gained along with the weight. While maybe the two are unrelated and not interdependent, it’s a helpful reminder that I had to undergo a transformation of sorts to better understand myself. And while there are days where I think I’d rather be skinny and oblivious, deep down I know that I wouldn’t trade my new found awareness for anything.
I had some hesitancy titling this piece “Outsider” recognizing my own privilege as a straight white female. However, it captures how I’ve felt about myself at various moments of my life, not necessarily how others or society at large may see me. It’s this discrepancy that is important.