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“As psychoanalyst Erik Erikson once noted, there are only two choices: Integration and acceptance of our whole life-story, or despair.” ~From Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning
I’ve been doing a new exercise lately, when difficult memories surface. I take a deep breath, and the in-breath represents full acceptance of myself and everyone in my past, my life story and theirs. Then I breathe out, and that represents letting go of the pain and trauma that I experienced, forgiving myself and others. Breathe in — acknowledge and accept; breathe out — let go.
In the spirit of accepting myself and acknowledging my whole life story, yesterday when I was posting some pictures from ten years ago I included a somewhat unflattering picture of myself — worthwhile because of my two adorable cousins.
I wanted to avoid the temptation to edit out parts of my life that I don’t like — like the fact that I was significantly overweight for most of my late twenties and early thirties. That was a part of me, and I can’t breathe out and forgive myself unless I breathe in and acknowledge it. I did so many fun things during that time, and it’s impossible to post pictures of them without showing that aspect of myself as well.
Ten years later, I’m thirty nine years old — about to turn forty. And I’m almost sixty pound lighter, and have been for several years. Significantly, I didn’t lose the weight by finding the perfect diet or exercise regime. I lost it by letting go of self-recrimination and shame. I lost it by forgiving myself each time I over-ate. I lost it by letting go of my identity as someone who was fatally flawed. After thirty-plus years of dieting, binge eating, and starving myself, I told myself that I wouldn’t diet anymore, that I would only have three rules for myself from now on:
1. Eat when you’re hungry.
2. Stop eating when you’re full.
3. Forgive yourself when you don’t.
Of course, this wasn’t just about weight. Weight was just a symptom and a red herring — a distraction from the deeper fears I couldn’t even face. I realized this when the pounds started coming off , and instead of being happy about it I fell into a deep depression. I realized that the feeling that there was something wrong with me, that I had a fatal flaw that would keep me from ever being loved, from ever being truly happy, went much deeper than my feelings about my weight. The weight was actually a protection for that deeper fear, and when it started coming off I was terrified that I would see — and others would see — the thing that was actually wrong with me. I don’t know what I thought it was. But I was terrified of it.
The story of the depression, the chronic migraines that abruptly worsened at that time, my experience of a dark night of the soul, and my slow but steady emergence and healing is too long to tell here. I’ve written about it elsewhere in this blog. But here, for the Monkees, and for my Messy Beautiful, I wanted to share one of the most important things I have learned:
You have done the very best you can, every step of the way. You have made mistakes, but you are forgiven. Accept yourself and your past, forgive yourself, and let it go. When you have learned to forgive yourself, it will be possible to forgive others for the times they have hurt you. Breathe in — it’s okay. Everything that has happened to you is part of your story — there’s nothing you need to deny or forget. It has all led here, and here is where you are supposed to be right now. Breathe out — Let it go. You are not defined by your pain or your mistakes, or the way others have hurt you. You can let go of all of it and live fully in the moment, and accept fully what this day and this moment have to offer you.
Here is another way of putting it:
“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” ~Brennan Manning
“Be confident — you are God’s beloved child. Be humble — so is everyone else.” ~Glennon Melton