Aside from the death of my mother, those were the hardest years of my life.
My desperate words, often used to describe the tenor of our children’s early years. I, of course, adored our little ones believing them perfect, the most precious of dictators. But, inside I was a wreck. I could no longer continue with this impairment, the pressures of a traveling husband, small house, poopie pants and sleepless nights. All of this combined with my unruly insides, my expectation, my wrestle was too much. The tyrannical pattern of proving and earning, taking its toll. It was time to choose my greatest personal struggle.
It was time to choose my own suffering.
Raising children to become decent grown-ups is tough work. This grand experiment of parenting offers the most tremendous and rewarding of challenges. However, I suspect the task may have been less daunting and fearsome if I was whole-r. Not holier. Whole-r.
Our worth, our ability to love ourselves and therefore experience the love of God is a lifelong journey. There are no shortcuts. We must slog through the valley of the shadow of our figurative death before abundant life can be ours.
And so, at the birth of my second child, my only daughter, I commenced the work of tackling my food issues. I took the leap, I chose the hard road of walking through my greatest personal struggle. I chose the valley of suffering.
I could lay the blame of these tough years at their little toddler feet. I could eliminate the need for my own accountability, but I will not. It was me. The years were rough. I was compromised, my limp so pronounced I was incapable of any grace or mercy towards myself or anyone else. I was a walking measuring stick, ticking my value, my better or worse-than against those that presented a threat. I was defined by the striving, the need to win, the power of performance.
I learned how to eat according to my intuition, governing consumption by my physical hunger and fullness. While I found the practice beneficial, moving me toward a useful understanding of why and how much I ate, the greatest gift was not a pant size or a number on the scale. The greatest gift – I was introduced to God, through the portal of desperation and surrender, letting go of my need to control, my fear of living as I was created. This God I discovered was one of love and generosity. This God did not base rewards upon performance. God showed up. God filled me. God revealed that food is just food, a beautiful way to celebrate and honor and experience life. But the food, the clothing size, the number on the scale could not determine my worth.
I wish I could claim all my problems were solved, that I was fixed. No, in fact, I still plod through The Valley. The work can be treacherous, uncovering bit by bit the coping, jealousy, competitive drive, scarcity. Fourteen years in, I still experience days sacrificed to the demand of my body’s fantasy. These days are now fewer and farther apart, grace rushing in, dispensing the balm of relief.
Last night, Claire and I went to Target. She needed a new swimsuit. Claire is our middle child bookended by brothers. Generous and kind, confident and determined, she amazes me. Claire’s body is her own, carrying herself with a presence foreign to many at 14. Inhabiting her skin with grace and pride, she holds my foremost parenting fear – the fear that I might somehow pass to her my deepest wound, this hatred of my body.
You can blame your mother, you can blame your father and his father for the problems with which you are destined to wrestle, but ultimately you are the one in whom they have made a home. You are the one who must say Thus far and no farther, and then go down and confront them yourself.
-David Whyte, A Heart Aroused
This fear claims nothing.
I did it. I blamed. I wrestled. Insecurity and hatred squatted in this space for far too long.
I stood firm. I announced: Thus far and no farther.
I went down. I confronted.
I confronted my problem with imperfect ferocity. I confronted my problem with appropriate anger. I confronted my problem with a defiant, No more, damn it. I will no longer live under your tyranny.
I pulled Claire aside in the shampoo aisle. I looked her in the eye, demanding she return my gaze. She needed to know the weight, the power of my request. I insisted: Claire, do not try these swimsuits on and hate yourself. Do not pay attention or give power to the voices. Be kind. You are loved, your body is beautiful, you are beautiful.
The cycle of disorder and proving, earning and striving stops with us. For all of the daughters and sons, let us stand firm, and with authority say:
Thus far and no farther, damn it.
Whatever power I hold, the starvation and binging, the self hatred and drive for perfection stops with me, with us. Her beauty, my beauty, our beauty is not a threat. Our desire is not a threat. We have been created to feed the world.
We are loved and we are breathtaking.