We all like to look in the mirror and see ourselves without fault. 

I don’t mean that every single person literally views their reflection and thinks of themselves as perfect, far from it, but it’s not human nature to want to recognize we’re in pain and need help. More often than not, we are unable to see our own emotions, much less identify that we’re not handling them in a constructive manner. It’s more likely that when we feel, we don’t see it as the call our subconscious is giving us; the plea from deep inside. Yet everyday these feelings that we each harbor, they manifest, via the cuts some make on their bodies, the finger down the throat or withholding of food, the anger and acting out towards others, a deep aching that we can’t understand, and the inability to know who we really are when we look in the mirror.

Whether happiness or sadness, we miss it, and yet we expect the world around us to stop and recognize the emotions within us that we, ourselves, fail to see. It’s a ridiculous expectation, and yet we’re taught via movies, and music, and advertisements that the people in our lives only love us if they can see what we ourselves don’t understand. So, when relationships aren’t as perfectly painted as we feel they should be, or when our spouse doesn’t see that somewhere deep we’re hurting, we act out. It’s one giant hypocrisy, thinking that ‘they should have known’, and yet we don’t even really allow ourselves to feel the emotions we expect others to fix.

As a teenager, I remember thinking that I knew who I was. Although my subconscious was giving me every red flag in the book, I argued with anyone who would disagree with me, and I took stands against injustices I didn’t even believe in. I judged expecting no one to judge me back. I was a child, that became a hurting adult. I was unable to recognize the emotions harbored deep inside, caused by events too painful to cope with, but I tried, and failed, to fit into the boxes that everyone around expected of me, thinking that if I could only be that person then everything would feel…normal, happy.

I’ve openly discussed in previous posts some of the events that have contributed and hurt me throughout my life. Prior to therapy I didn’t see those issues as weights tied to my ankles holding me back, and yet I now recognize them for the anchors they were; preventing me from progress, preventing me from becoming who I was meant to be.

Like most of the world recently, I’ve been completely wrapped-up in watching Thirteen Reasons Why.  Season 1 hit so close to home, I spent the better part of a week erupting into one ugly cry after another, ethralled with the way that Netflix has captured emotions and events that I, myself, have personally experienced. In season 2, one of the characters says something that I think is the single best explanation of why so many of us are blind to the feelings inside ourselves that ultimately prevent us from being fulfilled.

“Maybe it was too painful for her to talk about. Maybe she kept it all in to protect herself.” -Jessica (Thirteen Reasons Why) 

For years, I felt by ignoring the emotions inside of me, that I was somehow brave. I convinced myself that that person was a martyr to the injustices experienced, and in ignoring the feelings tied to each event which shaped me in painful ways, that I was somehow being the person I was always meant to be. But youth can be foolish, no matter how intelligent or mature you tell yourself you are, burying those emotions does not make you brave. True bravery and courage comes from feeling the pain and facing it; learning to cope in healthy ways and learning to truly know who you are.

Yesterday, after nearly a month, I met with my therapist to ‘touch-base’ and see how I’ve been and how I’ve been feeling since claiming the label of ‘recovered’. We spent a lot of time talking about how I no longer recognize the person I was last year. The person I am now knows who she is, what she wants, what she stands for and believes in. It wasn’t so long ago, that I was a different person, and because of that, I can look at who I was and who I am now and see how ED changed me.

So, who was I before?

Last year, I couldn’t see myself when I looked in the mirror. I saw the distorted image that ED planted in my mind rather than my own reflection; somewhere between Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” and Picasso’s “The Weeping Woman”. So quick to point out the tiniest flaws, I allowed ED to be my voice, my hearing, my mind, and when any emotion would threaten to sprout where my true self was planted, ED would find a way to squash it with tremendous force. I believed that I deserved all the pain I had endured. I believed that the world would be better, my daughter would be better, without me. Like a scab that wouldn’t heal, I continued to find ways to suffer by my own hand because somehow ED convinced me that it hurt less to hurt myself than to feel the emotions inside.

Who have I become?

Somehow, feeling has changed me; given me a voice I never knew I had. I spent hours analyzing, planning, counting, judging before every bite and step and never felt anything except pain and guilt. Now, while the hurt is still there from events in my life that I’m not sure you ever fully heal from, I am whole. Rather than spending my time buried in my own looking glass of pain, I spend it experiencing life and seeking out ways to help others.

In 35 years I could never figure out how to make friends, and I couldn’t figure out who I was. I felt lost, and didn’t recognize the reflection in the mirror because that person wasn’t me, and yet, I had no idea how to know who I was beyond that reflection. I’m nearing 37 now, and in the last few months I’ve started getting hot-flashes. Time has become a swift wind as it passes rather than a quiet rustle of the trees. In 35 years I couldn’t see anyone beyond myself, no matter what I wanted to tell myself when I was younger. I was selfish, and yet convinced I was faultless and the victim. Now, when life throws a curve ball at me, I’m not afraid because I know it will pass. The wave won’t drown me, and I’m okay with the fact that I’m not going to fit into everyone else’s box of who I should be. I’m me, a woman who wants to help others, a mother who wants her daughter to never doubt her beauty within, a human being who sees love in all places, and who seeks connection to others because that connection is bigger than any race, religion, sex, or emotion. I am an atheist, a democratic socialist, a rape survivor, a divorcee, a mother, a wife…a human.

Ironically, in this metamorphosis, I’ve learned that some of the very things about myself I used to see through the negative image of ED’s visions, are the very things that draw others to me today. They are the gifts that I have, the strengths that allow me to forge that connection in the world and leave behind something beautiful…love.

Where I once feared feeling, I now savor the taste, for without the bitter, how would I recognize the sweet?