2. My Journey Back to Me

2. My Journey Back to Me

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Curvy & Confident

My Journey Back to Me

We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.

~Jane Austen

I happily lived in my body until the person I trusted most in the world chipped away at that happiness, replacing it with criticism and shame. Every Sunday during my adolescence, while my brothers were in the kitchen talking and joking and eating a big Sunday lunch, I was in the garage sitting next to the ominous and dreaded stand-up scale, the kind you see at the doctor’s office. I always skipped breakfast on Sunday, nervously anticipating my weigh-in. The number needed to be “right” — not one pound more than 123 — according to my father.

My father himself was not slim — he filled the doorway with his tall, thick frame. When he stood behind me as judge and jury, slowly moving the indicator across the numbers on the scale, I held my breath and could feel his own hot breath on my neck.

The moments before the metal arrow slid across the bar and settled on a number were scary. I knew that if the bar moved past the magical number of 123, my father would make me skip lunch and I’d sit alone in my room all afternoon to avoid shaming comments from him. In those moments, I’d hear my stepbrothers laughing and having fun at the kitchen table, wishing I could be thin enough to join them.

I’d starve myself for the next week to avoid the same humiliation the following Sunday. If I’d starved enough, the number would show 120, 121, 122 . . . and I’d get a slap on the butt — the signal that I, too, could go have lunch.

My father did not want a “fat” daughter. The boys in the family were fed well, outfitted with golf clubs and all kinds of balls, boats and guns to keep them entertained and satisfied. I had the scale. The difference in treatment and expectations was striking.

I avoided telling others what was going on at home because I was ashamed. Plus, if I listened too much to others’ confusion or anger at why my father was weighing me, or if I believed their positive comments about my body and words telling me that I was beautiful, I might have stood up to my father. And that was not a smart course of action. I needed to be compliant to safely navigate those waters.

So, I kept the weigh-ins a secret. And I began to believe what they meant — that I was not beautiful as me, the way I was; I had to prove my worthiness to myself and others every week.

Needless to say, this was a rocky start toward loving and accepting myself, my body, and everything it provided me.

I spent over a decade, until my mid-twenties, exhibiting acting-out behaviors around food, exercise, and dieting before I realized I needed a new way of looking at myself and my world. That’s when I told a dear friend (cocktails were involved, for courage) about Sundays in the garage with my dad and our scale. She listened intently, at times crying, then wrote a name and phone number on a bar napkin and slid it toward me. It was her psychotherapist, whom she said was helping her to change her own life. I took the number and put it away in my wallet, not sure if I would ever make the call.

I was living in New York City at the time, working as a “full-figured model,” as we were called in the late 1990’s. But the industry did not know what to do with me. I was six feet tall with an athletic build, and while I met the size requirement to be “full-figured,” I didn’t have “the look” that the clients expected a full-figured model to have.

Even in the plus-size industry, I didn’t make the grade. I couldn’t figure out where I belonged, what was wrong with me, and how I could fix myself.

Months later, I still had the phone number of the psychotherapist safely tucked away. I wondered if she would make me stand up to my father and call him out on his inappropriate behavior. That still didn’t feel like an option for me. The most progress I’d made so far in dealing with him was to hang up on him, slamming the phone down when he upset me. But even that, I didn’t do well. I’d feel a rush of self-power in that instant, and then a day of guilt, followed by a half-hearted apology to him to ensure I wouldn’t be given the silent treatment for a month.

It wasn’t my own voice saying those hurtful things about me, it was his.

The familiar and destructive cycle with my father continued for a few more months until one day, I’d had enough. I was finished hating myself and feeling shame and not knowing why. Enough was enough. That day, after one year of carrying her number around with me, I called the therapist.

This wise, kind and persistent woman gently yet firmly guided me through the minefields of misguided beliefs and internalized criticisms I had accumulated and adopted throughout my life. And, shockingly, I came to realize that I didn’t actually believe the criticisms I’d berated myself with all those years — it wasn’t my own voice saying those hurtful things about me, it was his.

And so, I began the process of re-recording my own thoughts, opinions and beliefs into my mind, heart and soul. Those realizations propelled my journey toward appreciating myself and having confidence in my true voice and place in any given room or at any table.

In the fifteen years since then, I have realized many dreams. I am married to my true love; I am a mother to three show-stopping kiddos; I have a thriving psychotherapy practice; I have a body that works hard for me and does everything I ask of it; and I have loving and supportive friendships in my life.

We are all worthy of living a great life. And it has nothing to do with the number on a scale, but the plus-size love for ourselves and others in our hearts.

~Melanie E. Flint

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