The beach is restorative; the wind, the waves, the unrelenting tide. The rhythmic, persistent motion sets everything in perspective.
I have set up camp here just a few feet from the shore and tonight I walked. For a decade now I’ve been coming to this same place. Ten years ago I was in a very different place in life – the mere fact that I was in my late thirties rather than my late forties is huge. My eldest was only eleven, the current age of my youngest.
Life has progressed in surprising ways.
Most every time I have walked this beach, I have done so with questions. This is the place I come to open the floodgates, to dump the truck, to do the internal work that is impossible to do in the quick pace of life. On many occasions there have been rich conversations with those who know me best as we walked together; my mom, my dad, my brother and sister-in-law. My husband. My kids.
Tonight, I walked and tried to assess exactly where I was, emotionally and physically. Looking at My Life, I began to consider which act I was in, what scene was playing out….I came to a few conclusions:
- In a few short weeks, I will be 48 years old. That sounds so old, but perhaps that is because I am considering that number from a 20-year-old’s perspective. Back then, 48 WAS old. Now, it just is what it is. I have lived every one of those years, and as I walked the sand tonight it occurred to me that it might be entirely possible that I have only lived half of my life. It would be a stretch, for sure, but I could make it to 96. In which case I have a lot of time left!
- For the first time in my life, I feel and look my age. This is disturbing to me. It probably shouldn’t be. I imagine it’s a matter of pride, perspective and priorities.
- I have carried a cloud with me daily for the past few months. It is a constant source of mild depression, discontent, sadness; a feeling of disappointment. It is always with me. I have wondered if it is, indeed, depression. Tonight, I think I came face to face with the truth. I think it is a cloud of disappointment centered on my physical health and appearance.
- Item one: Around the age of 10 or 11, I was exposed to pornography; naked women in seductive (and airbrushed) poses. The expectation was set early on in terms of what a woman ought to look like. The images seared into my brain, and though somewhat dimmed, the impact on my young, impressionable psyche has never completely faded. A women should be slim, voluptuous and taut. I’m a LOT healthier than I used to be regarding my self-image, but some things never completely fade away. My ideal has always been skewed.
- Item two: I’ve always been tall and relatively slim. For most of the last decade, I’ve been pretty consistent with exercise and I’ve been healthy. Never quite matched up to the early messages about body image, but I was slim, healthy and content.
- Item three: In the past two years, I’ve added about 20 pounds to what was a healthy weight. Exercise hasn’t been a priority. I’ve had some pretty stressful life passages, and I’m a stress eater.
- Finally, here’s the deal: Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I think to myself is this: I am fat. I’ve never “had” to lose weight. I’ve never dealt with a metabolism that didn’t function at a high level. Now suddenly (but not really; it’s been a slow creep), I am buying the next-larger-size and feeling uncomfortable in my clothes. And I find myself dumbfounded by it all. Which is sort of ridiculous; I know the formula. More food+less exercise=more calories stored=heavier weight. It’s a no-brainer. But for me, it’s become this huge emotional anvil.
I feel like a failure. I’m so far from that ideal woman that I don’t know exactly what to think of myself. If I can’t stay fit and trim, am I still valuable? People have always said to me, “I can’t believe you have FIVE kids! You look GREAT!” But nobody says that any more. And what if I never hear that again?
(I think I have some pride issues to deal with here).
And here’s another big issue for me, what started to unfold as I walked tonight, and what – I think – is behind the sudden tears that have been lurking (and sneaking out) behind my day-to-day composure. I feel like everybody I know is looking at me and thinking, “Damn. That girl is letting herself go. Beth is putting on some weight. Beth is getting fat.”
It’s ridiculous. I have an over-inflated sense of my own importance. But part of this time away has to work through the layers of what is keeping me from being healthy, and this is huge. I have this feeling that everywhere I am – work, home, the grocery store, teaching, shopping – people are looking at me and wondering why I’m letting myself go. I realize that this is about my own insecurity, but at the bottom of all of this paranoia is the sense that I’m letting everybody down. People are disappointed in me. I’m disappointing the entire world.
I think this has something to do with being in the public eye, in a large church in a small community. I sometimes feel so responsible, in an unhealthy way. And that, I think, is part of what I need to work through tomorrow morning. And I am responsible, for many things. But when it comes to my health, my self, my responsibility is to me, I suppose. And it just confounds me.