Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of eating disorders that may be triggering to some.
“Coming home to myself and feeling confident in my own skin has been a wild and bumpy ride. I will be 30 in a couple of weeks, and I’m truly just feeling comfortable in my body. In my, as I always say, ‘f*ck yes’ self. And d*mn does it feel good to be in a body I can genuinely say, most days, I love. But it wasn’t always that way.
I’ve spent most of my life being at war with my body. From my years of eating disorder cycles, to finding out I have the BRCA 1 gene and navigating the emotional and physical trauma around my preventative double mastectomy, to coming out as a bisexual woman in my late twenties (and the shame and questioning that went alongside that as a married woman who had, for 28 years of her life, identified as straight).
My twenties have been a journey of unbecoming — of peeling back the layers and finding my unique light. The one I knew had once been inside of me. That bold, bright, curious, uninhibited, creative soul who loved so big and moved with such unabashed knowing. That confident human that stood in the truth of ‘this is who you are.’ I saw moments of her. Sparks of confidence. But it existed amidst a sea of shame, exhaustion, and a whole lot of not enough-ness.
I couldn’t pinpoint the moment when I had started to lose myself until I started writing my book, appropriately titled, ‘I Chopped Off My Tits,’ and a vivid memory came flooding back to me… I was 6 years old and I was getting ready for my very first ballet class. I was so excited to go, and boy, was I ready. I had my tights and my leotard on and a smile plastered across my face. I bounded my way down the hallway, holding my little duffel bag in my arms, kissed my mom goodbye, and went to find my spot in the studio and meet all the other girls. There were a bunch of girls standing in a circle already and when I went to put my bag down, I heard one of them utter the word: pig. I turned my head and noticed they were all staring at me. Me. They thought I looked like a pig.
For the first time in my life, I looked in the mirror and realized I didn’t look like them. I was different. I spent the rest of the hour at the back of the class, trying to get through the plies and first positions without the other girls seeing me cry. As soon as my mom picked me up, I told her I never wanted to go back. And I didn’t.
That was the start of my journey of not feeling good enough in my own skin. And that pattern continued for 20 more years, in various cycles of eating disorders — something I didn’t even accept was the truth of my story until I started the process of recovery. You see, I didn’t have the ‘typical’ eating disorder signs and symptoms. I wasn’t anorexic, really. I did have a phase in college where I ate like one during the day. More on that later. And I also never purged. But that’s the thing about eating disorder cycles — they are not all made the same.
For me, it started by looking like years and years of body dysmorphia. Looking in the mirror and picking my body apart, ‘Mean Girls’ edition (except picture a 9-year-old in their shoes), having emotional breakdowns in the changing room every time I needed to get new clothes to fit my ever-changing preteen body (and only buying baggy things that covered up my tummy and arms because I was so self-conscious) and sabotaging every potential romantic relationship in my life as a teenager because I was convinced nobody could ever love someone like me. When it was time to go to college, I decided to step away from my path of becoming a lawyer and I courageously followed my dreams (one of the momentary sparks of my f*ck yes self crashing to the surface) and moved to Chicago to get my BFA in musical theatre. It was amazing in many ways, but also wildly exacerbated my feelings about my body and, before I knew it, I was knee-deep in a vicious cycle of orthorexia and binge eating.
In other words — I was eating like a bird all day, and then my body would be so starved for nourishment I would come home and binge eat beyond my body’s limit and break down crying because no matter what I did, I couldn’t stop. It was such a period of self-loathing for me. And that cycle lasted for years, although nobody would have ever known it. I hid it from everyone — even, somehow, my then-fiancé. I pretended like I was happy. Put up a brave face even though I was crumbling inside. For years. Until, a week after I got married to my husband, and we came back from our mini-moon, he found me having a full-fledged bathroom breakdown sob fest and I told him everything.
That moment? I always call it my quarter-life crisis moment. It’s actually what sparked the idea for my podcast. But really, it was the moment I decided to start to come home to myself. I knew there had to be more to life. More than trying so hard to be everything everyone else wanted me to be. I could find peace with my body and, at the end of the day, find the light behind my eyes again.
And I did, in so many ways. I learned what true self-compassion looked like and adopted positive coping mechanisms for the first time in my life. I started going to therapy. I deep dove into the world of self-development and healing. I stopped living my life on automatic pilot and moving so fast I could hardly breathe, and I gave myself the permission to slow down and get in touch with what I really want, and who I really am. Were there bumps along the way? Of course. We all know healing is far from linear. But I was moving the needle forward towards the version of myself that finally was breaking free from the boxes I had felt so confined by for so many years and slowly moved towards my liberated self.
A big part of that exploration and questioning ended up somewhere I never anticipated – questioning my sexuality. I had always identified as straight. Did I acknowledge that other women were attractive? Of course. But I never acknowledged my attraction to them. At least, not in any way that felt valid at the time. You see, I’ve been with my husband for 10 years. We met when I was 19 and had one of those movies like romances you never hear about anymore I genuinely never imagined I would find. When I met him, I knew I’d met a person I wanted to know and love for the rest of my life. As so many of us are programmed to do, once I met him and committed to growing within our relationship, I stopped looking at other people from the lens of ‘I want to date you’ or even ‘I’m attracted to you.’ I was very black and white back then, which isn’t inherently wrong, but it was for me. You see, I’m anything but black and white. I love to live in the grey of life. And what I now know is that way of thinking was my shame coming to the forefront. Not only was I navigating the fact when I truly asked myself where I felt attraction to other human beings, I definitely identified as bisexual (or pansexual), I was also sifting through what that meant since I was happily married to a man.
I spent many years in my early to mid-twenties suppressing that part of myself, both consciously and unconsciously. It wasn’t until I really started my path to healing and peeling back the layers I admitted to myself I not only was attracted to women, but I really wanted to explore that side of my sexuality. I’m so grateful to have such an open-minded and accepting partner like my husband, and our relationship was built on the foundation of deep communication and celebrating each other’s unique and individual growth. With the love and encouragement of those closest to me and a whole lot of learning around the vast spectrum of sexuality, I was able to really come into my own around my bisexuality as I stepped into my twenty-seventh year.
And, of course, as life often does, my birthday that year also threw me a massive curveball when I found out I was positive for BRCA 1 (the gene mutation linked to breast and ovarian cancer). I had lived in fear for years getting breast cancer was going to be a part of my story. My paternal grandmother died from breast cancer when she was 44 years old, and my dad had tested positive for the BRCA 1 mutation years earlier. I’ve always been someone who lives life with as much optimism as possible, so coming to terms with the fact I had the gene mutation was really hard for me. I had been at war with my body for so many years, and had finally experienced deep healing there. I was really scared all of my progress would go out the window and I would hate my body all over again. But that wasn’t my experience.
Did I struggle a bunch leading up to my preventative double mastectomy? You better believe it. My decision to get the surgery? That, for me, was simple. I had already come to terms with the fact I would once I decided to get the blood test for the gene and finally know my status. I had an 80% chance of getting breast cancer in my lifetime. Having my breasts removed reduced those chances to less than 1%. It was a no-brainer for me. But it also opened up a whirlwind of anxiety and fear. I had worked so hard to heal my body dysmorphia and feel confident in my own skin. Would this surgery change that? I didn’t have the answers, but I knew I finally had the strength to get through it with intention. I also knew, for the first time, I needed to document my journey publicly in real-time. Everything around my eating disorder cycles I shared about years down the road because it’s what I needed. But when I knew BRCA was going to be an inevitable part of my story, and I saw so few resources available for women my age about how to navigate any of it, I felt a burning deep within my bones to share my journey in real-time. So I did.
December 3, 2018, was one of the scariest and most empowering days of my life. All year had been leading up to this moment — the day I would, as I so lovingly call it, chop off my tits. I was terrified and anxious. I didn’t know how I was going to feel on the other. But when I woke up after the 6-hour surgery, loopy from the anesthesia, surrounded by my support system who had already put Coco playing in the background to cheer me up, all I could think about was how relieved I was I didn’t have to be scared anymore. That fear I would wake up one day and be diagnosed with breast cancer was gone, and at that moment, I cried tears of gratitude. Gratitude for my courage to make the decision to know my status and advocate for my own health. Gratitude for the gift of even being able to have the choice in the first place. Gratitude for all of the rock bottom moments that jump-started my journey to healing and taught me I could do hard things.
It’s been a little over 2 years since my surgery, a year and a half since I came out publicly on my podcast and on Instagram as bisexual, and I’m 5 years into my eating disorder cycle recovery journey. And as I’ve continued to navigate my own process of unbecoming and owning my unique magic, I’ve learned there will always be fears and big feelings that come to the surface. It’s what we do with those fears and feels that matters. We can choose to step into each moment and experience we’re met with a curious and thoughtful moment of pause, and ask ourselves, ‘What am I really feeling here?’ or ‘Is taking this step/saying yes to this/insert whatever you’re thinking about/ something that is in alignment with my soul?’ From there, we can slowly but surely break free of the chains that have held us back from being our unapologetic selves and own everything we are.
If you’re struggling with loving your body, navigating your sexuality, coming to terms with a diagnosis in your life or beyond, know you are not alone and you already have everything you need inside of you. You’re stronger than you know, love.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Amanda Katherine Loy from Chicago, IL. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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