Still trapped in the cycle of body-hatred and shame? There’s hope.

For those of you who feel trapped (and yes, I’m aware that not everyone feels trapped)… but for those of you who DO feel trapped.

This post is for you.

I want to instil a bit of hope. (Hopefully).

There is HOPE for those who feel trapped in a place of self-loathing, low self-esteem and body-hatred.

A couple of years ago… this is what life was like:  I hated myself.  There is no other *nice* way to put it.  My self-hatred was so extreme, I would self-abuse.  I  believed that I needed to be punished.  I believed that I needed to hurt… because I deserved that hurt… I deserved that punishment because I was bad, bad, bad… BAD. Here’s how I punished and self-abused:

  • I binged.  And binged.  And binged some more.  Slabs of chocolates, bags of chips, 3-cheese-pizzas, tins of coke, anything and everything I could stuff down my throat in an attempt to numb or anaesthetise myself against the disappointment I felt about myself – and about the state of my life.
  • Bingeing (naturally) only brought on extra large doses of shame about how “weak” and how “pathetic” I supposedly was.  So I would cut myself (mostly my forearms or my stomach)… or I would pull out the hair on top of my head (one by one)… or I would take a wooden baton and beat bruises into my own legs whilst repeating “I hate you!  I hate you!  I hate you!”.
  • I so desperately hated my body and my appearance – that I lost all interest in taking care of myself.   I wore baggy, faded tracksuit pants and old T-shirts.  I never bothered with hair or make-up… I always used to think:  “What’s the use?”.  I couldn’t even raise my eyes to look at my own reflection in the bathroom mirror when I brushed my teeth in the morning.

Extreme?  Yes it was.

It’s hard for me to dwell on the memories of that time.  They’re not pretty memories.

Here is a photo of me during a really shitty season of my life (at the time – I was cutting):

sad heather5

And here’s a photo taken a couple of years later.  I wasn’t cutting any more… but I was still bingeing and filled with feelings of shame and self-loathing:

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But there’s hope!!!!  Change is possible.

Today…  I can honestly say… that I no longer hate myself.  I like the person I see in the mirror (and I’m not just talking physically… I’m saying that I like the “me” that I greet in the morning)… and I’m slowly starting to learn to even LOVE the person I see in the mirror (baby steps).

  • I haven’t binged in 3 and a half years.
  • I haven’t cut, beat, plucked-myself-bald… since early 1999.
  • I greet myself with a genuine, self-loving mirror-smile in the morning.  I’m not ashamed to look myself in the eye.
  • I no longer shame my body.
  • I’m not afraid of wearing bright, colourful clothes… of celebrating my me-ness (I even cut my hair short and dyed it pink a while back)
  • I no longer desperately need or seek the approval of others.  If I want to swim in the sea with my kids… then I swim in the sea with my kids.  I no longer fret about irrelevant things like fatness / cellulite / big bum and not wanting to appear in public in a swimsuit.  Those days are OVER.  I don’t give a damn about whether other people *approve* of me – or my body – (or not).

Here is an illustration that I have created for my book, “How Heather got her HAT’ness back”.

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The single most important decision that I made with regards to my journey towards inner-healing… was when I decided to love and respect myself – exactly as I was!!

This was a HUGE departure from my shoot-myself-in-the-foot mentality of the previous 25 years… which was:

  • “I will only like myself when I’m thin”
  • “I will only nurture myself and treat myself with respect when I’m thin – because right now, I’m too fat and revolting to *deserve* love and respect”.
  • “I will only buy myself nice clothes when I’m thin.  But right now, I’m shameful and I need to hide… so I will cover my body with black, baggy clothes and hope that nobody will notice me”
  • “I will only pamper myself with treats like trips to the spa, pedicures and new hair-do’s when I’m thin.  Because – at this size – what’s the point?  You can’t disguise an ugly thing”

Yes… well.

You can probably imagine how *well* that worked out for me… (*insert sarcastic snort here*)

To cut a (long) story short… when I decided that I was going to choose self-love and self-care over body-hatred, fat-shaming and self-abuse… it was the beginning of my journey towards healing.

You can not hate and shame yourself into change.  It doesn’t work.  It never works.

Change only came when I slowly started adjusting my toxic attitude.  Change only came when I slowly learned to stop hating and shaming myself – and my body.  Change only came when I began to believe (a slow journey – by the way)… that perhaps my weight didn’t determine my worth… and perhaps I was worthy of love and respect exactly as I was (flaws, fat and all)…!  Love and respect by others – sure… but it had to begin with love and respect by ME.

Here’s a recent photo / artwork of me (also going in the book)…

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I’m not “perfect” (in fact, I have completely disentangled myself from the very idea of “perfection”).  The journey towards healing and self-love continues.  I still have feel-crappy days… and shroud-myself-in-black-baggies days… and food remains my Kryptonite.  But, in spite of those things, I’m happy-to-be-Hat.  I wear bright colours.  I pink up my hair.  I don’t skulk along in the shadows any more.  I don’t hide any more.  I’m not ashamed any more.   I have learned to embrace my uniqueness… my HAT’ness… my quirks… and yes – even my flaws!

So much wonderful change has taken place… but I haven’t “arrived”.  Nobody has.  The journey continues – and I’m more than willing to walk alongside anyone who is still struggling with the issues (mentioned above) that I struggled with for such a long time.  Feel free to e-mail me and send me your story…. heather@themadhat.co.za

Perhaps we can learn from one another as we journey together?

And finally:  maybe low self-esteem, eating disorders and body-shaming is not your *thing*… So – here’s another area where you may feel trapped… where (I can assure you)… there is HOPE:

There is HOPE for those who feel trapped in shitty, life-sucking jobs that they hate!  There is HOPE for those who feel trapped by debt.

(But I’ll discuss that in my next post!)  🙂

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UPDATE on the progress of my Crowdfunding Campaign.  I’m raising funds to print my illustrated book, “How Heather got her HAT’ness back”.   As I write this post… I need to raise the remaining $2500 by the time the campaign closes on the 29th June (Eeeeeek!!) If I do not manage to raise the full amount – Indiegogo takes a commission of 9% (instead of 4%) on the funds already raised.

I can’t print and produce this book without YOUR help…. and I would be so very grateful if you could CLICK HERE… visit the campaign website… browse the photos… have a read of my splurb’ing – and (if you resonate in any way) – you can pre-order your copy of the book – thereby simultaneously backing the campaign and my project.  A gazillion thanks to you (and – of course – to every person who has already contributed!!)… X

Why (and how) I stopped shaming my body

Once upon a time… I was a carefree, happy, confident child.  My body was something wonderful that helped me to climb trees, ride horses, have rotten apricot fights, run through the khaki-bos fields and build forts.

It never occurred to me that I should be concerned about how I looked… or how much I weighed.

I was simply free… and happy…

I'm the one on the right.

I’m the one on the right.

linda & Sue 1981 at plot

With my Mom. Behind me is the ladder leading up to my tree house.

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Swimming in an icy pool at the bottom of a waterfall.

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My tramp-themed birthday party.

As time went by, a couple of friends and relatives began to make concerned remarks about my weight.

It was no longer “puppy fat”, they said.

“Something needed to be done”, they said.

I was told that I should stop eating chocolate… and start eating salad… and stop being such a “greedy little piggy”.

I was eleven at the time.

Continue reading

What I now know about myself (only took me 40 years!)

Okay, so I’m turning 40 tomorrow (the 8th November).

I know how everyone says that you only really KNOW yourself once you’re over the age of 30 – and in my case, it’s certainly true!  I can honestly say that I am very comfortable with “Heather” – all those wasted years of low self-esteem and self-doubt… I’m finally in a place where I can comfortably embrace who I am (AND who I’m not)… and, you know what – it’s awesome!

So!  In honour of my 40 years on this planet – here are 10 truths that I have (finally) come to love and accept about myself:

1.  I WILL NEVER BE NORMAL.

 And when I say “normal”, I mean that I will always be an up-stream-swimmer… a rule-breaker… a person who deliberately rebels against the Status Quo… someone who just doesn’t WANT to do things the same way as “everyone else” seems to want to do them.  It’s in my DNA to take risks.. test the limits… and do things differently.  I have always been like this (ask my mother… ask my school teachers) – but, I have (finally) come to accept it and embrace it (instead of worrying too much about whether people think I’m a nutter).

2.  I AM NOT A PANICKER

You know how… if the lights suddenly go off in a public place – that one or two (or irritatingly more) people (usually women) let out an ear-piercing scream?  Well, I am not that person.  I am not the “screamer” when the lights go out.  I’m not the couch-hopper when a mouse scuttles past.  And even when disaster actually does strike – I think calmly and rationally under pressure.  I’m not the flustered person running in circles screaming and weeping and flailing arms.  I know this because it has been put to the test a few times.   I was a victim of theft in the city fairly recently.  While stopping our car at a red light, we were approached by a man who suddenly smashed the passenger window (where I was sitting in the passenger seat).  He wrenched my cell phone out of my hand and took off.  Sitting in the seat, covered in glass, my hand still in the “shape” of the missing phone… I turned to Nick and blandly said:  “Well, that’s a great start to the evening”.   I seem to be missing the PANIC!! gene.  (My sister seems to be missing it too – and she’s had considerably more reason to panic than me).  And yes… I have seen dead bodies… bleeding children… and other horrible things – but still – my first reaction is to respond rationally… almost dead-pan robot-like.  So, either I’m a heartless psychopath… or I’d make a good candidate as a war-zone reporter.

3.  FOOD WILL ALWAYS BE MY KRYPTONITE

I don’t like admitting this.  I always dreamed of the day when I would be 100% free of the lure of food (but then again – I wonder if any of us are free of the lure of food – especially unhealthy foods that taste so ridiculously yummy!).  But I think that food will always… tempt me. That said,  I am in a much healthier and happier place regarding my response to food (I no longer FEAR food or obsess about food… I no longer diet… I no longer own a scale… and I no longer hate my body).  Does that mean I can just binge on nutella and carrot cake indefinitely?  No.  Does it mean I’ve quit eating nutella and carrot cake forever?  No.  It means I enjoy the nutella and carrot cake… on occasion… without obsessing about it.  And for now, it seems as though a treaty has been struck between myself… my body… and The Food.  And that’s a good thing.

4.  I’M A “QUESTIONER” – NOT A “KNOWER”.

I wrote a post about this (from a religious perspective) here.  But, even aside from the religious perspective, I am the annoying person who questions everything… and ESPECIALLY The so-called Rules (any rules!).  I’m the person who asks:  “Why do we eat cereal for breakfast?  Why not cereal for supper?  Why does the pudding come after the main course?  Who invented courses and meal times anyway?  Why do little boys wear blue and little girls wear pink?  Is pink a “girl’s colour” – why?  Is blue a “boy’s colour” – why?“….. (and many, many more)

One of the most frustrating ways that a person can respond to one of my ‘why’ questions, is to say the following:  “Because that’s the way it’s always been done!”.  Grrr.   If ever there was an infuriating ‘answer’ to a question, it’s that one!

5.  I’M AN ADVENTURER AT HEART AND I THRIVE ON CHANGE

Perhaps my parents thought it was a passing phase.  I was the child who was seldom indoors.  I was always outside, exploring, digging up “hidden treasure”, building forts and tree-houses… pretending that I was stranded on desert islands…

As it turns out, I have a deep thirst for adventure – and especially adventure that takes me to new places and allows me to experience new things and meet new people.

I realise that there are many people on this earth who are settlers.  They feel comfortable and secure with a daily, predictable routine.  They plan ahead.  They don’t like unexpected “surprises” disrupting their schedule.  They take comfort in being in control of all aspects of their lives.

I am the polar opposite to that person.  I feel trapped by routine.  I become depressed when my life is predictable.  I become miserable without regular injections of change and newness.  As a teenager, I would re-decorate my bedroom almost every month.  I’d move my furniture around… put new pictures on the wall… change everything I could.  It was my way of trying to escape my daily routine of sameness that I loathed so deeply.

I’m still that “Heather” – and that’s why the prospect of an unplanned (and indefinite) journey around the world with my family fills me with a deep sense of excitement – but also a sense of acknowledging that, yes – this is who I am.  This is how I’m designed.

6.  I’M NOT SCARED… BUT I AM…

I’m not scared of snakes, spiders, rats or other creatures.  I’m not scared of heights or depths or swimming with sharks – or visiting poor and desperate communities that other people label “dangerous” .  I’m not scared about selling everything I own.  I’m not scared of hanging with the “dirty” people… or holding and hugging people who are sick or dying.  I’m not scared about “my future”.  I’m not scared for my children… or my husband.

In general, I’m not scared.

What I am scared of is this:  your poisonous tongue.  Your harsh, critical words.  Your troll remarks on my blog.  Your vicious attacks on my character.  Your mean, hateful words.  Yes – I’m scared of WORDS.  I admit it!

I do NOT like that I am scared of words.  I deeply and desperately wish that I could be completely unaffected by the negative words of other people.  I wish they didn’t infect me… and affect me… the way they do.  I wish!

But I am one of those people with a Words-of-Affirmation Love Language.  I’ve always been this way.  And as much as words of love and encouragement are like beautiful balm to my soul….. so negative and critical words have always hurt me… deeply.

Again – I wish it weren’t so.  But, after 40 years… I think I’m finally coming to the realisation that it’s who I am.

You know that childhood rhyme:  “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”...?   Well – my version goes like this:  “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will break my heart”.

7.  I’M A PACIFIST… UNLESS…

I hate… loathe… war.  Guns and weapons and people killing each other – it makes me sick to my stomach.  I can’t understand how someone can justify blowing someone else to pieces – and especially innocent civilians… and especially children.  The way that children suffer in war-torn countries breaks my heart… and makes me deeply, deeply angry at the injustices suffered by those considered “collateral damage” in times of war.   One of my favourite quotes is from Francis Fenelon:

“All wars are civil wars because all men are brothers.  Each one owes infinitely more to the human race than to the particular country in which he was born”  

(and I would add that each one owes infinitely more to the human race than to any particular religion that he believes in).

I’m also a pacifist in my personal life.  I don’t like fighting with people.  I don’t like arguing.  I try to avoid (as much as possible) fights and arguments… (and probably also because I fear the mean words which may be fired in my direction)…

BUT…

Interestingly, I speak up (very firmly) when I witness injustice.  I got soooo angry with an ex-boss after he had humiliated his factory staff by screaming at them and insulting them (in a way that was so vile, that I still get angry when I recall the scene).  When he returned to the office area (where I was) – I was filled with such a deep rage that I was… literally… shaking.  I slammed my fist so hard on my desk (that my pen holder toppled over and rolled off the table) and I said:  “How DARE you!  How DARE you treat those people like that!  How dare you scream at them and humiliate them like that!”

My boss was offended that I had told-him-off in such a manner and suggested that I leave.  I agreed, and quit my job that day.

So yes… injustice infuriates me.  Bullies (of all kinds)… whether the bullies at school… bullies at work… bullying corporations or bullying nations… make me ANGRY.  But – (because I’m a pacifist and it’s not in my nature to seek death / destruction or deliberate hurt… even to the hurtful) – I try to approach the situation from a more positive, solution-finding position.  I don’t believe in revenge.  I believe in restoration and reconciliation.

9.  MY FAMILY MEANS EVERYTHING TO ME

I am very fortunate and blessed.  I’m not only married to a wonderful man, I’m happily married to a wonderful man – and we’ve been married for almost 8 years.

I come from a family plagued by divorce.  My parents are divorced, my sister is divorced.  All of my aunts and uncles are divorced (except for ONE couple on my Dad’s side of the family and ONE couple on my Mom’s side of the family).  On Nick’s side of the family… his sister is divorced and his brother is currently in the process of getting divorced.  And – let’s not forget – that I’m also divorced.  I was previously married myself.  So I totally “get” what it feels like to be in a shitty marriage… and I also understand the pain and heartache of divorce.

Because of all this relationship turmoil that I have witnessed and been a part of… it has made me deeply, deeply grateful for my relationship with Nick.  Marriage is something that either has the potential to make your life absolutely wonderful – or absolute hell.  There’s few things more lonely and disheartening than feeling trapped in a horrible marriage.  And, at the same time, few things more beautiful than spending quality time with the love of my life and our children.

I don’t want to waste this.  I don’t want to waste our lives away with crazy-busy schedules where we barely have any time to spend with the people we love the most.  One of the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying was the deep remorse they felt over having worked too hard (and for too many hours) and neglected spending time and truly sharing their lives with those they loved the most.

I am determined not to die with THAT regret!!

And that’s why it’s top priority to treasure my family… and spend as much quality time with them as possible.  Because, one day, the kids will grow up and start their own lives.  And one day, Nick and I will get old.  And life will grow shorter… and I do NOT want to be saying:  “If only….”  “If only…”  “If only….”

10.  I WANT TO DO SO MUCH MORE THAN JUST “SURVIVE” THIS LIFE…

Life is a precious gift.  And it’s short.  And so few people follow their dreams or do the things that make them come alive.  I know what’s important in my life – and I know what’s NOT important.

My family is important.  Driving a fancy car is not important.  Being happy is important.  Attaining a higher ‘status’ is not important.  Following our dreams is important.  Following fashion is not important.  Raising confident, creative, happy children is important.  Buying my children the newest toy and the latest gadget is not important.  A happy marriage is important.  A big house is not important.

You get the picture.

Nick and I have decided to focus on the things that are important (to us).  And not to waste time and energy (and money) on the stuff that isn’t.

Additionally, we both want to contribute to this world in a positive way… and use our talents and abilities for the Greater Good (and not ONLY to make money).  We’ve found it to be such a rewarding way to live and work.

I want to leave this world after making a positive impact – some how – some way.  I don’t want to “survive” this life… or “get by”… or “make do”.  I want to LIVE!

And finally… for fun… here are some interesting facts I bet you never knew about me!

  • I once secretly wee’d in someone’s shoe (whilst sitting in the back seat of his car).
  • I still have my tonsils… but I no longer have my wisdom teeth or my gall bladder.
  • I can rap “Ice Ice Baby” in an accent of your choice!  🙂
  • I love the smell of window putty!
  • I can eat a medium-sized jar of Nutella in one sitting.
  • I once bit a Rotweiller’s ear (out of sheer desperation, mind.  I was trying to get her to release the Border Collie she was viciously attacking).
  • I’m qualified as a NAUI Open Water 2 Scuba Diver (and I love diving!)… (and I love the sea!).
  • I got fired from my first two jobs (it quickly became clear that I didn’t like being told what to do.  I still don’t).
  • Nick and I met in a band.  I was the keyboardist / vocalist… he was the bass guitarist.  I still get weak at the knees when I watch him play bass.
  • I can sing every song from “The Sound of Music”, “My Fair Lady” and “Camelot”.  I also know the words (and all the verses) of countless Christmas carols.  I seem to have a knack for retaining useless information (i.e.:  the lyrics of various songs – especially the oldies!).
  • One of my dreams is to go husky-dog-sledding in Alaska.  And I want to see the Northern Lights.
  • And I could type this random stuff forever… so I’ll end off for now!  🙂