I was 13 the first time I tried to lose weight.
I remember that I attempted to make it through a whole day at school with only an apple to eat. I remember I was famished by the time I finally got home, and gorged on whatever I could find. I remember it only lasted a week or so before I gave up.
It was the first time I ever felt hunger brought on by my own choice. The first time I ever thought of food as the enemy as opposed to the thing that I eat when I need it – the thing that gives me life and energy. It was the first time I ever felt out of control when eating. It was the first time I ever thought of my body as anything other than useful, strong and capable.
I was 13.
I had learned to be ashamed.
Shame was not something I had known. I was active as a girl, raised in the country on a hobby farm, next door to dairy farmers. I was outside most of the time, or upstairs escaping monsters and searching for hidden passageways in my parent’s closet, or playing in our library building massive forts, or in the chair near the fireplace reading our endless number of books. I was preoccupied with my brothers and fascinated with the world of my imagination. Apart from choosing glasses frames, I spent almost no time so much as thinking about how I looked. I was concerned only with what I could do.
But that all changed, and far too quickly.
I was 13. I had started to put on a little weight as many teen girls do. My body was growing up. I didn’t notice it myself however until it was pointed out to me. A training bra was recommended along with well intentioned words saying I would have to start paying attention to how I ate and what I did. In those few words I heard for the first time that my body was changing, but that it was my responsibility to make sure that it changed appropriately, and only in ways that were acceptable. It was my job to fit myself into whatever was deemed an appropriate amount of weight gain, to reign in my hips and my breasts and be sure they didn’t get out of hand. I had never thought of my body before but suddenly it had the potential to speak poorly of me if I didn’t control it.
My body was something to be controlled.
I spent my early teenage years trying to hide my developing body. I wore baggy clothes and wanted nothing to do with make up or high heels or anything else “girly”. In grade 9 I went in the opposite direction and wore mostly skirts for a year. I still felt out of place in my own skin. I was not huge, but I was heavier than many of the other girls in my class, and I felt ashamed of it.
As I grew older I became more and more self conscious. I put on more weight, and couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to dress. I didn’t know how to control my body, but I knew I wanted to. I remember one day in grade 11, I was walking out to the car after school when my brother looked up at me approaching and said “Brynn, you have boobs!”. Even coming from my brother I knew this was something that bestowed me with a new and different kind of power. I started to understand that my body was once again useful, though now in an entirely different way.
In grade 12 I met a man who was 10 years older than me. I was awkward and uncomfortable and had no idea who I wanted to be, but he paid attention to me, and at the time that was enough. We began dating. He drove a sporty car, and I started to wear tighter clothes because I felt it made me more attractive.
Then he cheated on me. I was devastated. I had no idea what to do. All I knew was that his cheating meant I was not good enough in some way so he went to someone else to get what I couldn’t give him. I asked him if he’d like me better if I was thinner. He admitted he would. I discovered it was incredibly hard to control what I ate, but I could easily control what I got rid of.
I was 18. I was bulimic.
That relationship ran its course eventually, but it left me deeply wounded. When I finally left him, I believed that I was not good enough for anyone. I believed my only worth came from my body, and my body was only as good as it was thin. I purged more and more.
I was 19.
I started to date another older man, a coworker who made me feel attractive. It was a toxic relationship in every way. I started to smoke, and realized it made me less hungry. I started to run and realized I was getting even thinner. My boyfriend liked it. He had told me once that if he ever got married and his wife got fat, he’d divorce her. I ran harder. I smoked more. I ate less. by the age of 20 I was working 2 jobs, 80 hours a week, smoking a pack and a half a day, running 2.5 hours 5 days a week and eating about 800 calories (if that). My boyfriend told me he hoped I wasn’t planning on losing too much more weight. I felt so good – I knew I was succeeding.
I was 21.
I returned from a solo trip to Australia and I was the thinnest I had ever been. I had gone there with plans to go on a road trip with an Australian friend I had met while he was living in Canada. When I got there and he found out I had a boyfriend, he cancelled the trip and I had to figure out what to do on my own for a month. He wanted sex and when he realized I wasn’t going to give it, he dropped me. Why wouldn’t he – it was the only thing of worth I possessed. My boyfriend dumped me soon after I returned.
I was lost.
I spent the next year with a series of boyfriends, searching for someone who would Love me, knowing my body was all I brought to the table. I drank too much, smoked too much, and worked too many hours trying to escape myself. At 22, I realized that if I ever wanted to heal I needed to get away. So I packed my station wagon and drove to Nashville. And I started over.
I was 22.
I met a good man within the first month and immediately started dating him. He was kind and generous and broken in his own ways, but he was the first man I had ever known who was genuinely interested in something other than my body, and he made me feel safe. I healed a little. I changed a little. But I still secretly threw up in the bathroom of his bachelor apartment.
I was 23.
We moved to North Carolina, a mutual decision and his attempt to gain some traction in his musical career. It lasted about 3 months before we both gained the perspective we needed to know what we needed to do. He moved back to Nashville 6 months later, and I returned to my parent’s home in Ontario to finish my undergrad. I missed him, but we both knew it would never work. I wanted a family and he wanted his music and our lives just weren’t meant to be together. We officially broke up in the fall. My heart broke too and I once again felt alone. I ate less, I purged more.
I was 24.
I desperately tried to find a replacement. I dated guys in quick succession, lost in a blur of recreational drug use and desperate attempts to give each man whatever it was I thought he specifically was looking for. I was rejected, time and time again, solidifying my belief that I was not enough, that I had nothing to offer other than a good rack. I was set up with someone who I knew was wrong from the first second that I met him, but I was so desperate to be Loved I went so far as to fly across the country for a week long kayaking trip off of Vancouver Island with people I had never met. In close, wet, cold quarters. An introverts nightmare. I just wanted someone to think I was worth it. It failed, of course.
I was lost.
I was 26, had just finished school, had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, or who I wanted to be and was working as a waitress. I made good money. I knew how to read people and give them what they wanted. And who doesn’t like a pretty girl. I smoked a lot.
Then one day, a tall, dark, handsome stranger sat down at table 42 in my section. And a voice in the back of my mind told me that someday I would marry him. It was weird, and impossible and I tried to forget it, but every time I saw him something happened to me. So I talked to him. And he invited me to see his show. And I went, and we went out for a drink after, and we talked and laughed and talked and 4 hours later I dropped him off at the house he was staying at. This happened every night for the next week. The more I got to know him, the more pulled I was, and the more conflicted. I found out he was married with 2 kids, and that the facade of his broken marriage had been kept together “for the kids”. I called him out on that, I said your kids deserve to see what Love really looks like. He didn’t run away. He cared about who I was. He cared about what I said. He wanted to know my mind, and didn’t care about my body. He was the first man I had ever met who I could talk to the way I talked to him. And he still technically belonged to someone else.
The more I got to know him, the more I saw his brokenness. He felt trapped and whatever was happening in his life, I could see it was destroying him. This talented, smart, kind man was dying in front of me, and I could see it so clearly. I didn’t know what to do. So I did the only logical thing and moved across the country to a city where I knew no one to help this man who I had met 3 months before find himself again.
I was 27.
I fought him, hard, day in and day out. I fought for him when he didn’t know how to fight for himself. I stopped thinking about me and started thinking about him and I finally got to the point where I told him I don’t care if you ever want anything to do with me but you have to end this sham of a life you have been pretending to live because you are dying in front of me and I can’t bear to stand by and watch it. And he did.
I was valuable to him, and not for my body but for everything else that I was. I thought I had it figured out at last. I thought I had found my worth.
I was 28.
I spent all of my energy fighting for him, and for his kids. I had found a way to be useful and I was on fire. I could think and Love and heal and protect. I could be all the good that they would ever need. Perfect partner, perfect stepmom. I wasn’t just more I was everything. I was so important.
I was 29.
And then I wasn’t. I couldn’t keep it up. I had tried to carry everything for too long, and I started to fall apart. I had a baby, and I didn’t sleep enough. I didn’t have the energy to cook healthy delicious meals every night. I couldn’t keep the house clean. I got angry and impatient. When I was hurt, I couldn’t hold it in. I took a lot of things out on him. I was sure he would leave now that my body was ruined from stress and pregnancy and all the perfect alternatives I brought weren’t so perfect after all. I was certain that once again I was not enough.
And the truth is? I’m not. I’m not enough. He’s not enough. Our kids aren’t enough. Our Love isn’t enough. But that’s the thing – we never were. And we never have to be. We aren’t called to be enough. We are called to do our best, and Love each other and give each other all that we can. Then give the rest over, and humbly live in gratitude.
I am 30.
My body is powerful, strong and capable. My arms are filled with little hands, two strong arms wrapped around me. My heart is humble and full.
My life is just beginning.