Love the pitcher less and the water more.
– Sufi saying
Trigger Warning: Eating Disorder, Self Harm. Perfectionism. This story may be triggering for those with eating disorders or tendencies towards self harm. Please be mindful of your emotional state if you have these tendencies. If you feel triggered, stop reading and reach out to someone in your support system.
My heart is with you.
There is a mean girl that lives in my head. Maybe you have one, too? When I try on clothes hers is the loudest voice telling me I look terrible, I’m too fat, I should just give up and wear sweatpants all the time, No one looks at me and no one loves me anyway, so why try.
The mean girl in my head has been there almost longer than I can remember. Almost. But, I can remember trying on clothes and feeling pretty or liking the way I looked in certain things when I was a little girl. When I was 8, I had an acid washed denim skirt that flared out when I twirled and a chambray shirt with silky white fringe across the chest. When I wore that outfit I *knew* I looked good right down to my white leather fringed boots. There wasn’t a mean girl in my head then. It was just “this fits”, “this doesn’t fit”, “this feels scratchy”, “this feels good”. “I love this outfit. I love me in this outfit!”
After the mean girl moved into my head, there was always someone there to tell me I wasn’t good enough. After she moved in, I was never alone, nor was I at peace. Anyone who has lived with an abusive person will tell you that there was never peace in their home, there was either walking-on-eggshells tension or bewildering raging chaos. For a long time, that is what it felt like with the mean girl in my head.
The mean girl in my head made me do a lot of hurtful things to my body. She made me binge eat junk food for days on end and then work out twice a day for two hours a day, permafrown in place. No endorphins for you, fatty, work harder, she’s say. I’d enjoy watching sweat puddle around my spin bike. I liked being able to wrap my hands around my thighs and have my fingertips touch and then for a few brief weeks overlap. And she would say, well don’t be too happy, look at your waist. Look at your chest. You can’t even see your collarbones or ribs. You’re just gross. You shouldn’t eat for days. And so, I wouldn’t.
I found people to keep in my life that echoed the things the mean girl said. Those people felt familiar and comfortable, they felt like my family. They reminded me of my grandparents who told me I was eating too much or pinched my sides or stomach and never told me I was beautiful or smart. They felt like my mother who shamed and hated her own body and pointed out how I was made in her image, a worse replica though, because I was heavier and always had been. I realize now, I was friends with the mean girls in their heads, too. We were all just puppets of those angry voices, picking at each other. My best friends in high school and college were both anorexic and were delicate and frail looking, walking talking reminders of what I could never be: tiny, thin, skinny, slender. Even at my thinnest I’ve had curves. “Curves” is a bad word. “Curvy girls” are just being nice to themselves, my mean girl would say. They don’t want to admit they are just fat.
“Foolish Ever, don’t you realize there’s no longer any difference between you and your-monster? You are the monster. It’s your dark side, your shadow self, and you’ve now joined as one.”
-Alyson Noel, The Immortals.
For a long time, I didn’t call her ‘The Mean Girl In My Head”. That was just my inner voice. *I* was the mean girl who hated myself, the way I looked, the way I thought and acted, the way I existed in the world. I discovered that meditating made her quiet. Yoga made her quiet. MDMA therapy nearly shut her up completely. And when she did speak up, I thought right away “this is not ‘Me’ talking, this is some “Other” part of myself.” Giving her a name gave me some space to see her as not Me, but a part of me. Creating space to see that part of myself allowed me to hold that part of myself separate and to see who I was without her.
Funny things happen when you start to pick yourself apart in that way, not in the way the mean girl did, but in the way a mathematician solves a problem, step by step. First, I gave her a name and set her apart from “me”. Then, I started to really look at ‘her’ and ‘me’ as separate parts of my whole self. (This should go without saying, I’m not talking about multiple personalities, just different aspects of my personality and how I came to be “Me.”)
When you analyze an aspect of yourself like this, it is important to ask questions. The obvious ones are easy to start with but might be hard to answer:
Why am I like this?
Can I change?
Do I want to change?
Then, there are other more nuanced questions to ask:
What purpose does this part of myself serve?
What purpose was this part of myself created for or to serve?
Can this “bad” part of me serve a “good” purpose? Has it ever? Does it now?
Can I control this part of myself? Do I need this part of myself to exist?
Sometimes, when people get hurt, instead of hurting others they hurt themselves. I don’t want to hurt anyone else. In fact, I want to please everyone (because otherwise no one will like, much less love me.) So, instead of hurting other people, or even just being honest about my feelings about nearly anything, I started hurting myself. That is where the mean girl came from. She was born of people pleasing, self loathing, and perfectionism. As a child, she parroted to me all the things the adults in my life said about their bodies and the bodies of other people, but she spoke straight to me, both in my childish body and now in my grown woman body. If I am this terribly mean to myself, then the things other people say won’t hurt as much, right?
When I am hurt or scared, there is literally one thing I want more than anything else: a simple hug. I might be uncomfortable at first, but I am one of those people that melt like a glacier in a hug. Slowly, slowly, slowly, and then BOOM, all at once, full body contact melting into your arms. It’s a weird quirk of psychology that the things that become our love languages are often the things we were denied the most as children. My mom is a ‘no touch’ person. Still, to this very moment, if I want a hug from my mom, I have to gauge her emotional state and I have to ask for a hug. She isn’t a scoop you into her arms and soothe you kind of mom. And that’s, you know, it’s ok because it’s just who she is. My dad… I dunno. It’s funny, I have vague memories of him giving me kisses as a little girl, like 4 or 5, and how ticklish his mustache was. And also how his breath smelled like bourbon and coke. My parents were not touchy cuddly people so maybe that’s why I feel most loved when someone hugs me and fills that great big gaping need that the little girl inside me has.
The mean girl in my head is at war with my body. She didn’t get enough hugs, so she tells me I am unlovable. She didn’t get told she was beautiful, so she tells me I’m ugly. Anything positive I can find about my body, she can compare it to something or someone else until the light is snuffed out in me.
I saw my body as a broken pitcher. It was broken, I was broken. The water inside was foul and stagnant. The mean girl in my head deepened the cracks and I let the nastiness of her view of me pollute how I saw myself. No matter how fit I got, how strong I got, no matter that I wore a size 4 and Petite Small, I was a thick calved lumbering ox of a person. Not even a girl, I was too gross to be feminine. I was hunchbacked and top heavy, slump shouldered and crooked. The mean girl in my head told me that the inside of my was just as ugly as the outside, too. No one loved me, no one ever would.
Hurt people hurt people, my higher self said. The mean girl inside my head shivered at that. I saw she was naked without her meanness. I saw she was small, and scared, and deeply wounded.
I decided to hug the mean girl in my head. I started telling her that she wasn’t mean, she was sad. I told her her anger was understandable, but that it could be tempered. I continued meditating, doing yoga (the inner kind as much as the outer kind), and therapy…. lots and lots of therapy.
When she would speak up, I would ask her what had made her sad, what made her afraid or angry. I started being honest with myself. I started expressing my fears to myself and sitting with them, giving them space to be felt and acknowledged but not enough space to grow.
“No one likes me”, she would say. That’s not true. Try smiling at someone and see if they smile back. They do. See, it’s easy to be likable.
“No one thinks I’m pretty”, she would cry. Look in the mirror and find one thing you like. Even if it is a small thing. Now, write it down. “I have nice eyes.” “I like the shape of my hands and my fingernails are naturally strong and healthy and look nice without polishing.” “I’ll never need butt injections like the Kardashians.”
“No one will ever love me for me. I’m not good enough.” Ok, admittedly, this one still takes work but, I am loved. I am loved by my children because I’m a good mom and I try so hard for them. I love that I try so hard for them, it’s the thing I do best. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be. There is no ‘enough’ so take a deep breath. Ever and never are a very long time, so probability is in your favor. My best friends love me and they tell me so. Even better, because I have been learning to speak my truth, when I tell them I feel unlovable they tell me just how much and why they love me. I love them for that.
“I’m just really angry about all these things and feelings.” It’s ok to be angry. Let’s use that for good rather than self destruction though, shall we?
Now, the mean girl still lives in me head, but she knows her place (for the most part.)
This weekend, I was walking out of a store and a man said something creepy and gross about my body. Specifically, he said something about my breasts. Since most of you don’t know me personally, I’ll just say… I’m “blessed” in that area. I have never considered it a blessing. My mom and grandmother constantly bemoaned their own buxom figures, and commented endlessly and mercilessly on how I dressed, that I would “get a reputation”, and that I should always, always stay covered up. It was part of what fueled the mean girl in my head for so long. This one part of me that I had especially zero control over seemed to define me. I know that several older brothers and fathers of my friends referred to me as “the busty one”, “the top heavy one”, “the redhead with big tits”. The mean girl used this specific trait to torture me. I could lose dozens of pounds but this one thing would never change and if it did, it actually got worse, because then I wasn’t just big chested, I had saggy boobs on top of that. I couldn’t win.
But this time, the mean girl in my head served a different purpose. This crusty old geezer said this nasty thing to me and she came roaring to the front of my mind.
“What did he just say? Did he really say that to you? What is HIS problem? Has he not seen a mirror? Does he not KNOW BETTER than to say shit like that? It’s 2019 for gods sakes. What a jerk, what an asshole. What. A. Pig. Someone must’ve really hurt him for him to be that ugly.”
She did also say her typical mean girl things, “well, yeah, even in a tee shirt it’s obvious. You haven’t been working out very hard, he could have said something about your tummy. Maybe don’t eat that oatmeal cream pie?”
This was the first time she came to my defense. I was seriously shocked. Shocked by what the man said, for sure. Disgusted by him, of course. But, more so, I was surprised by myself. My mean girl was fucking INDIGNANT that some chump on the street thought it was just right as rain to make a comment about MY BODY. My body is mine to critique and control, thankyouverymuch. And in fact, I like it most of the time.
This pitcher isn’t broken and my water isn’t foul. In fact, my water is brave. My water is honest. My water is reflecting that the mean girl that lives in my head can be a real bitch, but that’s because she is real and has feelings and is an unhealed and healing part of me. She serves a purpose now when I put her to work. She isn’t quite so mean when I give her enough glacier melting self love hugs. Living with her takes work, but she is worth knowing. You can only become whole by embracing your shadow.