A Final Farewell to Shame
A few weeks ago I received the following email from a 23-year-old in Germany;
“Dear Jennifer, I am from Germany and came across your story one week ago and I think I read every article you have written. So touching and so inspiring and I can relate a lot especially with the “one day I will be the best version of me”, but actually the years go by and nothing changes but even gets worse…. This could be also the way I start to focus on self-love and not only on body image, healthy living and weight loss. Please keep sharing. I still don’t know how exactly you learned to love yourself from reading your articles but I hope that you will write it down one day. Thank you!”
The past few months have been an amazing whirlwind. I wrapped up my first Happy Body Project then launched not one, but two more Happy Body Projects and took on some incredible individual clients as well. I am working harder than I ever have in my life with long hours and I am loving every minute of it.
I wrote about my compulsive overeating for myself. Then one day I got brave and put it on my blog. Then I got even braver and let Thrive Global publish my story on Medium. Each time my story was read by more people, I got stronger. I got stronger because I owned my behavior. I was telling the world my obesity was a result of my own actions. There was no blame, no excuse, and nothing I could hide behind other than admitting it was a series of choices I made. I released myself from the shame. I was free from the shackles that my abuse of food had kept me chained down with as I forged towards health and healing. Still, l had an escape hatch. In the back of my mind, I knew I could delete my blog post. I could quietly step back from my health, and health coaching…there was still room to be small.
Being small was exactly what I had spent my life doing by being fat. Ironic isn’t it? My weight was how I hid from my authentic self — my authentic voice. The voice inside me that would guide me towards change, urge me to speak my truth, share my emotions, apply for THE job, plead with me to challenge myself. The little whisper that would say, “You can do that. You are capable. You are worthy.” Every time I heard that voice, I would flood with emotions, with fear, and I would eat. No, I would binge. I wanted to quiet that voice down and make the noise in my head stop. I wanted to play it safe. Why? Because I didn’t love myself. I didn’t believe I was strong or capable. I did not believe I deserved to have success, happiness, or unconditional love.
The day Sheryl Sandberg shared my story of being a compulsive overeater with the world, I knew I had been freed forever. I felt like someone had thrown the old me a farewell party. I woke up the next day, sat on the beach, and just sobbed. I let the ocean wash over my feet and take away my tears along with any remaining space where shame could grow. It was at the age of 43 that I said a final farewell to the little girl who felt so abandoned by her Father’s death, and the woman I grew into who chose to be a victim of her circumstances rather than the architect of her life. On that day, on that beach, I felt like I finally knew my purpose: I would spend the rest of my life helping people feel less broken. When I looked up a rainbow had appeared.
I had already begun the process with my Integrative Nutrition degree, but I am now more resolved than ever that this is what I am here to do, and that is exactly what I have been doing for the last 8 weeks of my life. Helping people feel less broken. I start after my kids leave for school and most days I end around 10 pm. There is so much I want to teach these beautiful women who have entrusted me with their greatest fears, their insecurities, and their absolute despair that perhaps they will feel “less than” their whole lives, broken and in need of repair.
This work that consumes me has been the most rewarding work I have ever done. I sit in awe each day and think how time really is our friend when we surrender the control and start to feel the world around us. Time is our friend when we release the fear, the shame and embrace empathy for our journey. It is hard to believe that somebody who sent me an email inquiring about working with me on the first of January is now 30 pounds down and it is only March 1st. Or someone who had a BMI of 32 now has a BMI of 29, and is no longer medically considered obese. In these short 8 weeks someone who is prone to binging on a weekly basis can tell me they’ve gone 4 weeks without a binge. Someone who hasn’t slept longer than two or three hours in a row for the last 15 years has now had some six and seven hour nights.
And then there are the emails and conversations where women actually thank me for saving their lives. Of course we all know that they are saving their own lives, but I understand what they mean. They are grateful for the roadmap out of a situation that has suffocated them for years. I know what it feels like to live in a body you don’t recognize when you catch yourself in the mirror. I understand the despair one feels thinking they may never feel normal-ish. I can empathize with them.
What I can’t find the words for is the immense gratitude I wake up with each day, and go to bed with each evening, knowing that I get to share my passion for health every single day. My gratitude toward each of them for trusting me when I said jump. For believing me when I tell them it’s okay to eat food, to nourish their bodies. For believing me when I tell them that they are good enough, strong enough. For believing me when I tell them that they already have everything they need right inside of them. For believing me that they are enough. For believing me that I will catch them when they fall. For believing me that when they feel they have failed they’ve actually laid one more stepping stone toward their ultimate success. I have no words to adequately explain what this feels like for me each day. Witnessing women learn to love themselves is an amazing miracle. I am overcome with gratitude for their trust.
I don’t know if everyone I work with will make it at the time we do the work, but I do know they will all have the tools when they decide it is the right time. That is the beauty of this process, ultimately we all decide when we are ready to choose self-love.
I have also gained so much strength from all the kind souls that read my story and reached out to tell me “Your story is my story.” 362 to date! 362 letters, emails, Instagram DM’s, and FB messages telling me it was like I had written their story and taken their truth, their thoughts, and shared them with the world.
In those 362 communications, one question prevails: HOW? How did you get to where you are today? The answer is simple, but it is far from easy. I look forward to sharing my roadmap with all of you who want to know. The opportunity to help others love themselves, feel better physically and emotionally, and to see that instead of looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, they actually ARE the light in the tunnel, they just need to decide it is their time to shine…and this is my “why”. Together we are better, we are stronger and where there is a conversation there is no place for shame to persist.
I am Jennifer. I am @HappyBodyFood. This is my journey from unhealthy to healthy…but more truthfully this is my journey from self-hate, to self-love.
Originally published at happybodyfoods.com on March 8, 2017.