From April 7-20, I’ve asked some friends whose hearts I trust to participate in The Authenticity Project. The goal? To share something true. I gave these folks very loose parameters — no word count, no guidelines, no rules to follow — and I asked them to be free with what’s real for them these days, whether that reality is thoughtful or funny or poignant or ridiculous. I hope you enjoy meeting these people as much as I enjoy counting them among my friends.
Is My Bulimia Showing?
An Authenticity Project guest post by Nathalie Hardy
This girl, twenty years ago:
Is feeling so uncomfortable in these senior pictures.
The caption might read: Is my bulimia showing?
I ache sometimes to see old pictures and read old journal entries because I’ve blocked so much out, and yet carry much of it with me still.
Some of this is coming up due to floods of memories coming back as my high school reunion just came and went.
I would’ve loved to go but there were too many other things to budget for and I couldn’t make it work. But just thinking about connecting with people who knew me (to the extent that was possible) two decades ago, brought up some …. stuff. Good stuff. And also, not so good things.
After nearly two decades though I look back on this girl with more kindness and tenderness than anger and anguish. I see now that it was just all part of the plan, maybe not my plan, but …
There is so much I’d say to her to perhaps ease the journey. But then, it would be someone else’s story and if nothing else I have learned to own my story. All of the parts. And to be willing to be vulnerable, to tell the truth and to allow another to feel less alone. Or, perhaps to give insight into a loved one that baffles them. I don’t know the why, exactly only that I feel called and compelled to do so by something larger than my ego. Which, by the way, prefers I keep it a little less real up in here.
So, in no particular order and in a totally disjointed fashion I send these words to me, 20 years ago. And to you, and whoever else might need to hear them.
(Really? Twenty years?!)
I would tell her she is so not fat. And that even if she is, because she will be, the number on the scale is just information. A gauge by which to measure how she’s feeling on the inside. (I am not saying that’s true for everyone, just know that it was for me. And by was I mean is.)
I would ask her: What makes you feel good? Do more of that.
Also I would tell her to be honest with herself, especially with herself. And, if you’re telling the truth binge eating actually does not make you feel good. Ever. It just makes you feel empty instead of full of feelings you can’t digest. And that will feel like a relief.
Until you bloat again with all the big stuff you can’t handle and then need to binge them away again.
But they don’t go away. And you can’t eat the big, scary stuff away and you can’t barf it out of your system either.
You have to deal with them.
Yeah. I know, I would tell her. Sucks, huh?
Except it doesn’t.
Dealing with feelings, the actual messy part, is not so fun. But it beats avoiding them every single time.
People will tell you it’s not pretty to cry. They will say it’s not okay to be angry over something so stupid. They will tell you you’re making a big deal of nothing. They will tell you you’re being too emotional.
That, dear girl, is code for they can’t handle your feelings. But you? You’ve got this. Keep going. The anger will turn into sadness which will turn into acceptance and you will do things with that acceptance. You will “get” people. You will know without knowing. You will be okay with other people’s big, messy feelings and the world needs that.
You will learn to stand in the presence of hard feelings and let them be, yours or those of others. And you will learn to breathe through them. You will help other people feelokay. And that will mean something to you. It will mean everything to you.
You will learn what belongs to you and what does not. And you will learn to stand in the space of someone else’s disappointment in you and be okay. For real.
I wish you got there faster, but you’re here now, and that’s all that exists anyway. Just, right now.
It will take you till you’re running out of thirties but it will happen.
And p.s. that stuff you think you can’t handle? You totally can. Not all at once, but you’re not alone and you never have been.
It felt like it because you didn’t trust other people to be there for you. You didn’t tell them what you really needed. Because you didn’t know.
If you only help others without ever letting them return the favor, you’re not being gracious and you’re not letting people love you back. Do that sooner.
I would tell her if you have to smoke to get a break at work, get a different job. Those quick cigarette breaks between bussing tables turn into 12 yeas of smoking a pack a day. Which, if you were being honest, you’d have to admit didn’t make you feel good either.
I would tell her you will never be “popular” until you stop caring about being popular. This will baffle you until you realize that no one ever really feels “in.” Ever. Even in the in crowd someone doesn’t get the memo that collars are being turned up today, but you won’t know that because on the outside looking in it seemed pretty perfect at that table. Later you’ll remember just as fondly the fun you had with your friends eating lunch on the floor by the band room (but will wonder why there?) And by lunch I mean hot pockets, Diet Coke and Sprees. Every day. For a year. It will be a long time before you stop trying to punish yourself for being born. And you’ll wish you did it sooner.
But now you know. And, again, now is all we have.
Oh, also: He won’t call you back unless you don’t care if he calls you back.
And, you’ll do better in the interview if you don’t care if you get the job, by which I mean if you don’t seem all nervous and desperate because you know you’ll be okay either way. Nothing truly important ever hinges on one thing outside of your control. Nothing. Ever.
Those are all lessons in irony. Also, non-attachment. That’s a thing. This will be one of your life lessons, at least from this vantage point there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. You will come to loathe the expression: “You just can’t get attached to the outcome.” Because you will. And then you’ll let go. And then magic happens. Every. Single. Time.
You’ll know this because you kept a journal and there is proof that this pattern is a Thing.
I would tell her to skip the glamour shots, you’re just not that girl. A ponytail with a pen in your hair is how you roll.
Someday, after a lot of therapy, you will decide you might, after all, be a good enough mother. And you will have kids even when it starts to seem impossible. And those kids will actually form a habit of looking for something to write with and then come to you to bend down so they can pluck your pen out of your hair. And this will make you oddly proud.
Take notes, on everything. You’ll never regret that. Even when looking back makes you cry and cringe. Even when your mom reads it, even when your best friend reads it and even when your boyfriend finds it. You might consider getting better at hiding it. Just sayin’.
Those notes are how you will remember where you’ve come from and lay track for where you’re going.
Because, you see, right now turns into yesterday in a blink. And yesterday informs today but without your notes it’s easy to forget the story of how you got to here.
Nathalie Hardy is a national award-winning columnist and reporter who majored in journalism when she realized she could make a living talking to strangers.