He was right too. I was dark skinned and fat. But being dark-skinned never bothered me. I had decided earlier on in life that anyone who had an issue with my complexion had color issues of their own. So when someone made negative references to my skin color, I recognized that they were telling me more about themselves than anything else. I’d remind myself that “I owe no apology for my black skin.”
But I was fat, and that did bother me because it meant that I was no longer in control. I no longer played sports after shattering my kneecap, and my once athletic frame was softening. Because I worked in the cafeteria and had access to free food, I was eating all the time. Although I tried to work out, I was living off of cheeseburgers, waffles, and sandwiches. In no time, I gained the dreaded Freshman 15. Then 20. And then 30. When I dressed up, to make myself feel better, The Jamaican laughed at me and told me that I looked ridiculous.
Once again, I retreated into food, drugs, alcohol, and sex. And of course purging. But this time, I added bingeing to the vomiting.
Despite the added weight, I was malnourished. I was suffering from mal-absorption too. I was so used to vomiting up food after eating, that I could will myself to do so without actually sticking my fingers down my throat.
Within a few months, I ended up in the hospital after overdosing on caffeine pills and Motrin which I washed down with malt liquor. It was definitely not a suicide attempt, but it was most certainly, I cry for help. I was held for a 72-hour psychological evaluation because I was suffering from the effects of an eating disorder. I began therapy again, going three times a week to one-on-one sessions and to out-patient group therapy once a week.
Still, during college breaks at home, my mother’s criticisms and verbal attacks became harsher. She never ceased to remind me that I was a fat whore (something she decided based on the number of male friends that I had in college). She reminded me that something was wrong with me and even the time spent with friends and The Bad Boy couldn’t keep me from sinking lower.
I was in a full-fledged depression now. Again, I self-medicated with sex, alcohol, acid, and occasionally, weed.
The path to recovery is paved with love.
I met Andrew a few days after meeting The Jamaican. They were part of the same clique. We became friends quickly, and he defended me when The Jamaican was being mean. He’d say things, like, “I’m friends with such beautiful women,” when referring to my roommate and me. He’d compliment our clothes, hairstyles, even our make-up if we tried something new.
And unlike most boys in our lives, he never attempted to have sex with us even when we weren’t sober. And when I was drunk, and throwing myself at him, he simply took me back to my dorm room to sleep it off while he watched over me.
As my friendship with Andrew grew, we had some serious conversation about what I allowed others to do to me. He encouraged me to continue therapy as I was prone to skip weeks at a time. Andrew also advised that I reach out to my dad, who had always been my biggest fan.
His friendship, the kindness of the therapists at U of Albany’s health center, and the caring staff at Planned Parenthood saved my life. They gave me the strength to disconnect from my mom, whose abuse continues even now as she struggles with dementia.
I’ve learned so much from this experience.
I tell my daughter she is beautiful every day. And smart too, but I make sure that I tell her that she is beautiful. Andrew, who I went on to marry and have a daughter with, tells her that too, and I know that this will be one of the reasons that she will grow up with a healthy dose of confidence.
We try to speak kindly to her and about her, ensuring that she know that her errors are lessons from which to learn. We remind her that she is not defined by her mistakes. And more importantly, we support her freedom to discover who she really is.
It is never too early to help build up your child’s self-esteem. A child with a firm sense of self will have the confidence to be herself. Children who love themselves may be better equipped to combat the harshness of the words other will use to break her. If my mother had laid a foundation of self-love, I would have been different. I would not have looked for affirmation of my attractiveness in seedy and empty men. And, while more than likely, I would still battle mental illness daily, I may have felt more protected in my journey to treatment.
I do not like boxes- being put in one. Boxes hide the whole. They force people to only look at a small portion of a person, and that is damaging to the soul. I look at my daughter and I want her to be herself without fear. To teach her that I labels are so limiting because words hurt so much.
TL;DR: Words Hurt
What we tell our children is so important. We may not see the results right away. Words burrow down deep inside and fester away at one’s self-confidence. There are so many things in this world that can beat our children down. Parents should not be one of them.
What will you tell your children? How will you build them up and prepare them to handle the world that so often wants to break them? Because words hurt. Remember that.
image: Adam Birkett/unsplash