Today is my 37th birthday, but it feels more like a rebirth.
I’ve heard people say they wished they could go back to twenty-five again, or back to their childhood. I don’t feel that way at all.
My twenties were a sad montage of failed weight loss attempts, insecurity, lack of self-worth, and pain. Throughout my childhood I wanted to escape. I’d ask Santa Claus to take me away, help me, rescue me, but it never happened. I’ll take turning thirty-seven all day long instead of going back to a time that represents so much heartache.
When I look back at those pictures of me in my twenties all I see is sadness. I was always on some diet. In every photo you see in this post I was on a diet. I hated being trapped in my skin. I didn’t think there was a way out. I believed that I’d be heavy forever, and I would have traded lives with another (healthier) person in a heart beat.
However, the truth was no diet could fix the problems that led to my poor physical condition. My body represented much deeper issues than “just being fat”. I was emotionally sick and it showed on the outside and the inside. I’d hated myself for so long I couldn’t understand what the term “love yourself” meant. But I knew, down deep, if I was going to fix my weight problem, I had to find a way to love me, the real me. I just had to find her first.
I had my first son when I was thirty. That’s when I understood what real love was. I realized the way I was treated growing up was wrong, but I didn’t realize how wrong until I looked at my son. I knew I could never do to him what was done to me.
By asking, “Could you, or would you, let this happen to Max?” I defined what healthy love was for myself. I loved my son with all my heart and knew how he should be treated. So why didn’t I love myself enough to expect the same standards?
I started dealing with those personal issues, the ones I’d buried deep within. I wanted to live. I wanted to feel real love, for others, and for myself. And I began, for the first time, to love myself.
Today, when I look at those pictures of the twenty-something me, I see all the extra weight, sure, but I also see the self-destructive thoughts and the self-loathing. That Heather wanted to be happy, but had no idea how to achieve it. She wanted to believe watching what she ate and exercising was enough to fix everything, but it didn’t. She thought everyone was judging her, but she was the one filled with judgement and negativity.
Discovering the real me these past seven years has been trying, exhausting, emotional, and scary as hell. I’ve done things I never thought possible. I’m proud of myself. Not just because of the physical transformation, but for the mental hurdles I went through to get here. I now know why I could never before achieve my goals– I wasn’t willing to do the hard work, the really hard work of digging deeper and facing my fears.
I challenge you to dig deeper. Look at your life. Ask the hard questions. Do you value your time? Really value it? Do you know where your life begins and the lives and needs of others end? Can you say no when you need to? Do you know what you stand for? Are you treating yourself with the same love and respect you show others? Until you can answer a loud and proud “YES!” to all these questions, you’ll continue to struggle, not living the full, rich life you deserve.
I wasn’t meant to live the rest of my life as the girl you see in those photos. It was a phase of my life I went through so I could end up here. And you aren’t meant to live the rest of your life struggling with yo-yo diets, back pain, and the usual ailments that go along with being overweight.
So by your next birthday (or before), I wish for you to see the old you through the eyes of the new you. It’s an amazingly rewarding experience. You’ll also realize if it wasn’t for that phase in your life, you’d never be where you are today.
And you wouldn’t trade it for anything.