Getting Real

It seemed like such a simple idea.  People would sponsor me to lose weight — I’d have a way of holding myself accountable, there would be sacrifice involved for a good cause (hunger relief), and my sponsors and I would have the satisfaction of a bigger donation than we might be able to make on our own.  My confidantes and I discussed pros and cons and it seemed like we’d looked at the idea from all the important angles…so I wrote a letter  and hit send.

Since then, I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said they could never put their weight out publicly every week.  And I admit, it was daunting.  Is daunting most Thursday mornings when I roll out of bed and approach the scale with trepidation.  But here’s something that has surprised me — letting everyone I love, everyone who loves me, even everyone who has a passing curiosity, know exactly what the scale says has been freeing in a way I never expected. 

My father’s family has a history of keeping big secrets.  One of the biggest was that my Dad had a half-sister.  I was 17 when I learned that the woman I thought was his aunt was actually his sister.  And while her story is not mine to tell, I think I can say that this family secret, intended to prevent shame, created more shameful heartbreak than any truth ever could.  And that’s the thing with secrets kept out of a sense of shame — they are toxic.  Even secrets that are not all that secret, like the fact that I’ve been obese most of my adult life.  I’ve known the toxicity of secrets in my family, I learned about it in counseling courses and have seen it in my work with students.  But in a classic case of “physician heal thyself”, I never applied it to my own life, to the sources of my own shame.

Telling the “whole truth” does not automatically cure the shame.  But, like letting an open wound get some air, it does enhance the healing process.  Energy that was bound up in maintaining the secret can be spent so much more wisely.  For example, I can get dressed much more quickly in the mornings now that I’m no longer trying to make everyone think I’m 120 pounds slimmer than I am.  (I mean, get real Jen, no one was buying it anyway!)  And now you know what I really weigh.  Although I am still a far cry from wanting you to see me (or to see myself) in a bathing suit,  I finally understand how the contestants on The Biggest Loser can allow themselves to be seen on television with their fat showing.  Covering it up isn’t the same as hiding it — I didn’t always get that.

Getting back to my earlier comment about feeling freer, its nice to no longer have an elephant in the room no one is talking about (NOT calling myself an elephant, just using a common metaphor!).  Some days it seems like I do little but think or talk about that elephant — but in doing so, the power it had to hurt me is diminishing.  First, because it can’t hold me emotionally hostage by threatening to let the truth out.  Second, because I’m learning that it is ok to feel vulnerable — something I’ve worked hard to prevent for a long time.  Finally, because in sharing my ups and downs with others I’ve received the gift of compassion and loving support which makes it much easier to stay the course.

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