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The Weight-ing Game

Admittedly, I have been blessed with “good genes” in the DNA of my physical self. My father is tall with a slim build and my mother, petite.

In my early 20’s I was bulimic.  I remember driving home 35 minutes to scarf down some lunch only to then throw it up in the comfort of my own bathroom.  If I was unable to make it home, my good friend and co-worker would serve as “lookout” so I could do the deed in the office restroom.  Early in my career, during a business trip to Chicago, our group had dined at a white tablecloth restaurant.  Fear ran through my veins as we sat and ate.  I felt trapped and the food seemed to choke me with each chew and swallow.  Eventually, I excused myself from the table and proceeded to violently vomit the pre-digested filet, and returned to the table with a polite smile.  I mastered this game of dine/dash/discard.

Both my boss and my mother began to express deep concern over my physical condition.  It was certainly different back then when your older, male boss could call you into his office and genuinely inquire about your health and wellbeing.  With the support of my mom, I received counseling and began a “healthier” relationship with food.

After the birth of my first son at the age of 31, it was imperative to lose the pregnancy pounds and I successfully was able to zip my size 6 jeans in time for my 6-week postpartum checkup.  Returning to work, I slid into old patterns.  The dynamic between myself and food was very contentious.  I viewed it both as means to live but also as a pawn in a game I could control.

One day, a colleague commented, “Laura you are getting so thin.”.  Instantly, my mind converted her words to mean “I am not thin enough if you can still see me.” Soon after, I was back in therapy.  Through several sessions and quiet reflection, I realized the food and weight game was collateral damage from my childhood trauma.  I had, in fact, been packing pounds on top of the excruciating physical and emotional pain from the sexual abuse by a family friend for many years.  Since my body was the scene of the “repeated” crime, I began to fight for control, tear down the invisible yellow tape surrounding my body and ultimately find peace.

Putting it together made sense.  The chewing, swallowing followed by an extreme sense of panic was consistent with the memory from the oral sexual abuse of gagging and not being able to breathe.  The intense task of keeping the bulimia a secret mirrored the devastating and dark game of the abuse.  In the same way, I successfully functioned as a child, I conquered the ability to return to many dinner tables and carry on the conversation.

Image courtesy of Shelley Brown

As a result of childhood sexual abuse, many survivors put on weight to “hide” in their bodies and not appear “attractive” to a potential perpetrator*.  However, as in my case, one could go the opposite way, wanting to become so thin and “disappear”, so the predator can no longer find you.

After years of therapy, I decided to obtain certifications in multiple areas and began teaching fitness classes. My objective was never about a number on a scale or the size of your thighs but rather to get healthy and have fun doing it.

Time moved on, my kids’ schedules became more hectic, and after 10 years, I made the decision to stop teaching fitness classes.

In March of last year, I was blessed to be able to donate one of my kidneys.  Two months prior, I had numerous pre-op medical appointments and for the first time in a long time, stepped on a scale.  The “number” was quite high, and in an instant, I became reacquainted with my past beast of burden.

With the surgery a success, I purchased a scale and weighed myself every morning.  I increased my daily exercise routine and decreased my food intake.  Magically, the number on the scale started to go down.  I began to assert and establish a real sense of control over my body, and I liked it. Each point, regardless of the amount lower, was a victory and inevitably set the tone for my day. A co-worker expressed concern over my weight loss and unknowingly triggered the “he can still see me” effect. I worked out twice a day and punished myself by eating less. So eager to hit a number, I would even remove a necklace or hair barrette before weigh-ins.

Each morning I behaved like a wrestler anxious to make weight before a match.

The routine became both challenging and draining.  I knew what I had weighed at my wedding 27 years ago and once I reached that number, I decided to see how low I could go.  That new number became my benchmark.  The seemingly never-ending cycle of weigh, work out, work, work out and eat a little along the way. Old patterns repeating themselves as they often do until we learn the lesson.

And so, this morning, 50 years after the abuse stopped and growing weary of the game, I woke and chose not to disrobe and place my value on a carnival contest.  Rather, instead, I made a conscious decision to go within, bare myself and write a piece reflecting on and respecting my journey with weight. Although it has felt very much like a game, I have discovered there is no win nor lose, only life.  No more weight-ing…only living.

Footnote* https://www.weightwatchers.com/us/article/connection-between-trauma-and-body-image

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Laura Gray
Laura Grayhttp://ipride.net/
Laura is the Founder/Executive Director of IPride, a self-esteem, empowerment program for youth which she created in 2015. A published author, living kidney donor, and a fervent advocate for sexual assault victims, Laura is a proud mother of 3 sons and 3 dogs. She strives to live each day with a grateful heart and feels especially connected to herself and God when she is in nature. For additional information on IPride, please visit ipride.net. Educations and Certifications; Bachelor of Arts in Communications, Bowling Green State University; Professional Life Coach, IPride Life Coaching, World Coach Institute, Miami FL; Social Emotional Learning and Mindfulness Teaching, Breathe for Change, San Francisco, CA.; The Science of Well-Being, Yale University; Personal Trainer, Athletics, and Fitness Association of America. Highlights; Living kidney donor, 2021; Featured author, “Mayhem to Miracles”, Sacred Stories publication, October 2021. IPride YouTube Channel, IPride in 5: Peace In, Peace Out; Presenter, Youth Leadership Summit, 2018, 2020; Panelist, “Sexual Assault: The Conversation Continues”, Bowling Green State University, 2020; Featured Story, “Seen + Heard: A series of photographs of men and women ending their silence with regards to sexual assault”, 2017. Published, “The Little Cloth Secret Keeper”, Women for One: Truthtellers 2017 Published, 3 poems, Luna Negra, Kent State University, 2012.

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20 CONVERSATIONS

  1. Thanks for your openness in sharing this experience. Many of us have had unhealthy relationships with our bodies, our weight and the food that goes into them.
    AS an addult my weight has ranged from 150-225lbs and I am 5”8” tall. I learn the magic for me-“eat less, move more, stay out of the Häagen-Dazs.” i don’t always manage it well, but the range is a lot narrower.

    • Thanks Alan for making time to read this piece which apparently struck a chord with many people. Although our reasons behind the challenge may differ, the common bond over balance, self-control and self-love seemed to permeate in the feedback I received.

  2. Laura,
    I just read your story. Wow! Thank you for your raw and brave sharing. I am grateful for you willingness to tell your truth and for the lessons your story teaches us all about our value. It is not the exterior physical reality, the projected image we manage that determines our value. Rather, it comes from deep within ourselves when we have the courage to look into the mirror with love and respect for every step of our personal journey. To recognize the gifts we bring that no one else can give. Thank you, you are a treasure and your story touched me deeply.
    With love,
    Catherine

    • Catherine, thank you for making time to read this piece. It definitely was one of many “spiritual nudges” I have been receiving lately. Thank you for viewing my story as perhaps lessons for others as I know how challenging, though beneficial, this part of my journey has been for me.
      Thanks..and I feel the love:)
      Laura

  3. Brava, Laura.
    For your willingness to stay true to yourself – even when it storms inside – and, in doing so, be in service to others who may see their reflection in your story.

    I hope that your body will be in service to your beautiful soul for many years to come and that all of your parts can be friends with each other, without judgment.

    • Thank you Charlotte. I suppose sometimes when I see myself as “broken” I take for granted that within my cracks are lessons I’ve learned that could serve to help others as well. I believe my body was growing weary of trying to keep up with my mind…a lesson needed to be learned as I continue my spiritual journey.

      Thank you.

    • Thank you John for making time to read this piece. And as I have stated elsewhere, it was many of your posts which have inspired my thought process and healing from guilt and shame.

  4. Bravo, my friend.
    Having a clear vision, especially of ourselves – rigorously honest – is a gift of love. And it’s not a free lunch. So what you have taken from the gift is action, and, at least for me, the other side of that action is a bit less ghost shoving me around.
    Be.
    Mac

    • Mac, thank you my friend for reading this piece. I completely love and can relate to your comment “a bit less ghost shoving me around”! Ahhhh yes! That was part of my lesson, to gain “control” over my own body, take it back from the many demons which had been playing games with me for far too long and ultimately manifested into a scale on a bathroom floor.

      I will Be! Just me.
      Laura

    • Thank you Heather. It’s “funny” how even at this stage of my life, I forget I am not alone, although secrets/battles like this with our past demons want us to feel exactly that sense of isolation. That is how it gains and grows it power. Grateful for your love and light in my life.

  5. Laura: Your courage amazes and inspires me. As a sex abuse victim myself, it saddens me to know just how many precious lives like yours are impacted by this horrific history. Stories like yours need to be shared, so others know it’s not their fault, and so this scourge can be exposed and erased. Congratulations on your success, and thank you for sharing.

    • Oh Byron, I know you have confided in me prior that we share this history. You and the love you share with your bride Mariah inspire me to journey well:) and to live my best life. Although I processed through “this is not my fault”, there are still a few kinks in my armor. At this point, I will count my blessings, not my kinks, and you, my friend are certainly one of them!

  6. Hi Laura,
    Thank you for sharing more of your journey. Being a therapist, as you know, I continue to be privvy to the unfairness of life. Your story is remarkable and most telling of the impact of childhood sexual abuse which I do not have to tell you. Thriving and not just surviving are emblematic of someone capable of overcoming an atrocity that I view as the worse to happen to a child.

    Cheers to your remarkable recovery, resilience, and tenacity. May you continue your travel of success. Well deserved. If we met in person, I would give you a hug. Here is a virtual one along with a smile.

    Thank you!

    • Darlene, I feel your kind heart and I will graciously receive your cyber hug as well! I guess that was a bit of the strange part for me, to realize and acknowledge that after all this time, I still had some damage and hurts being worked out of my body. Grateful for the lesson for what it has taught me, and perhaps others. And so grateful for the spiritual nudge I received to share it.

      Thank you!

  7. What a powerful story, Laura! I truly appreciate your candidness and transparency. Most of us face our own set of demons and tribulations. Some more difficult than others, of course. And though mine might differ from yours in many ways, the vulnerability and pain are still relatable. I genuinely respect and admire your courage in sharing it.

    • Thank you Mark. Yes! Most of us show up to the gate with packed/overstuffed baggage. And if love is love, then pain is pain. No judgment no comparison. And so important to #bekindalways ! Thanks again for your wonderful piece on smiling today with Michael Ray 💛😁! Just what the world needs. #lovesweetlove

  8. Laura,
    You continue to inspire me with your vulnerability, heart shares, life lessons and resilience. Your stories reflect the most sacred parts of being human and shows that there is life after trauma.
    💜 YOU are an amazing human, doing incredible emotional work and allowing us all to better understand what is possible. 💜 #onlyliving

    • Dear Carolyn 🙏thank you for your loving words of support and encouragement. It actually amazes me when I still catch myself in an unhealthy pattern after “all this time” and the inward work I have done. Hitting send and sharing this piece, like our bench discussion last Thursday, I felt incredibly vulnerable, like I was standing naked on social media waiting to be judged. Similar to standing on the scale. Thank you for your friendship and inspiring me along the way 💜🙏

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