“Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Friday June 30, 2017
“Why don’t you take off your shirt?”
I shrugged my shoulders and pulled my legs tighter to my chest.
We were in Naples, Italy. Sitting on the soft sandy shore of the Mediterranean Sea. The sun was shining bright and hot. A soft breeze blew just enough to keep everyone from melting on the spot.
I had just bought a bikini. The first one I had bought in years. It was bright green with little bright pink crocheted flowers.
I had bought it the previous week in Sardinia.
I was hitchhiking around the island, sleeping in the crevices of the rocks. Falling asleep to the sea as it gently sloshed onto the sandy-colored rocks around me. Waking up to the mot glorious display of colors in the sky all around me as the sun rose over the crystal clear waters. I took my morning swim… wading out over 10 meters… watching as the water distorted my feet beneath the surface… so clear…
The last day on the island, I decided to challenge my biggest fear.
Exposing my body
Exposing my scar
The giant scar
Running deep across my belly.
Just above the belly button.
The only traces left of the life-or-death struggle I barely remember from my early years.
Ending in a liver transplant.
I was born with a faulty liver and my first few years consisted of doctor’s visits, hospital stays and surgeries. In 1988 my medical team had run out of options and after being on the waiting list for far too long I finally got a new liver.
But this was before they got down the technique of stitching people up to leave behind a barely there scar.
This scar I was left with created a crevice deep across my tummy.
Revealing a deep crease in every shirt I wore
Which lead to many years of crippling self-consciousness, plummeting body image and resulted in a life-long battle with coming to terms with my body and loving myself.
I tried to starve the scar away.
I thought that if I lost a bit of weight maybe it wouldn’t show so much. My skin wouldn’t bulge above and below..
I slowly cut out this and that from my diet.
I stopped hanging out with friends
I stopped laughing
I remember my dad asking me at one point, “Is there anything I can do to see you smile again?”
I had no answer
It was always there.
It never went away.
I was never flat.
I thought I looked like an alien. Deformed.
And growing up… my brother… my classmates… all instilled in me a sense of being unattractive… unlovable…
Highlighted my defect
I still cringe when I catch a glimpse of it in the mirror.
A shadow curls over my thoughts as I catch my side view and leaves me in a damp mood the rest of the day
Yet… of all the people that have seen it… taking off my shirt… changing in locker rooms…
Not one person stopped and stared.
No one questioned what that thing was
That indent in my belly
In high school, in Newfoundland, Canada, we had a hot tub in our backyard.
Occasionally I would invite my friends over to relish in the warmth and filling our noses with the oddly comforting smell of chlorine
I always wore tankinis.
One night… one of my friends noticed my scar.
The force of the bubbles rising to the surface must have been enough for him to catch a glimpse.
“What’s that? What happened?” He asked softly.
He edged closer.
I pulled the swimsuit down. An uneasy feeling came over my previous carefree joy
I looked at him… trying to assess his reaction.
But instead of disgust and revulsion, his face was earnest and genuine curiosity.
I stood up
He bent down and gently lifted up the tankini.
“wooahhhh…” His hands softly ran over my belly… the scar…
I wasn’t sure how to react.
The rest of my friends in the hot tub grew silent as they took in the scene unfolding before them.
“It’s beautiful” He whispered.
He bent down and kissed it… barely grazed it with his lips.
“You are a miracle.” He breathed…
I was overcome with wonder… with confusion…
Why was he not grossed out?…..
That was the only time anyone directly addressed it.
Even when I was deep in the throes of want.
My shirt off
His hands softly grazing my skin
Never once did they recoil when they reached the scar.
It wasn’t until I brought it up did anyone acknowledge it.
It was glaringly obvious to me
but to them…..
Sardinia! 🙂 Just look at that water!!
Sardinia.. How can you NOT swim in that water….
So when I was in Sardinia, hitchhiking, sleeping on the sand or sandwiched between rocks… after months of being on my own backpacking through Europe…
I observed the people on the beaches I’d visited.
All kinds of bodies.
Old and young.
Big and little.
Pregnant and stick thin.
They LIVED while on the beach in their bikinis or otherwise skimpy suits.
They did not seem overcome with self-consciousness.
Hiding whatever flaws they thought they might have
I slowly gained the courage to try it out for myself.
I remembered all of the body image challenges from the various treatment centers I had spent time at
I decided it was time to try it again.
As luck would have it, there was a man with a rack of swimsuits right there on the beach. Selling them as the sea swept over his feet.
I hastily grabbed the neon green bikini that had caught my eye earlier and hurried over to the rocks to change in (somewhat) privacy.
And then I walked down the beach
Cautiously at first
Almost tiptoeing in the sand
My feet glued to my toes.
I took great big freeing breaths as I walked.
Inhaling the fresh sea breeze and exhaling fear.
I slowly got to the point I was able to look around.
No one recoiled in disgust.
No one stopped and stared.
No one pointed in horror.
They were going about their day. Playing with their children. Laughing with their friends. Lounging in the sun…
I walked to the water’s edge.
I let the sea lap my toes and as I walked deeper and deeper I let it cleanse my soul of inner fears.
It was pretty obvious that I hadn’t worn a bikini in awhile from the glowing white skin of my belly compared to the nice tan elsewhere…
Now here I was on a small crowded beach. The sea water in front of me was clear… so very clear….
And a beautiful shimmering turquoise
All of the bodies around me
Tight, model-like bodies. the ones with the muffin tops. the old men in speedos…
All a dark shade of caramel, toasted by the hot Italian sun
No one gave a second thought to me.
Of how I looked.
They were enjoying the moment.
the warm kiss of the sun
I wanted that
He nudged me with his elbow, “Come onnnnnnn..!!” He urged, “Take it off! Let’s go swim! I’ll take you to a sea cave!”
His hair was stringy and wet. He had already been in the water.
His green eyes glittered. His thick Italian accent gave his tone a soft, excited urgency.
I sighed and slowly stretched out my legs.
I took a breathe
I am me. I am at the seaside in Naples, Italy. How could I NOT swim in the water?
The sun beat down. My hot skin begged for the sea.
I looked around.
No one was paying attention to us.
They were all in their own worlds. Drinking. Laughing. Cuddling. Talking. Swimming.
I slowly pulled my shirt over my head and tossed it to the side.
His face lit up.
Grinning from ear to ear, he leapt to his feet and reached for my hand.
“Come on! Let’s go!”
I glanced around again. No one was paying any attention.
I remembered something I had heard at the eating disorder treatment centers.
“You may think everyone is staring at you. Judging you… but you are not that special.”
You are not that special
I always thought it was a tad negative of a thought.
But at the same time…. It is kinda true…
I am always fearful that people are constantly staring. Judging. Rejecting. Criticizing. But that is not the truth.
I am NOT that special.
People are all doing their own things…
I am not what they think about.., maybe in passing…
But when I think about it..
How many people do I see on a daily basis that make so much of a blip on my radar…
I am just another stranger to them.
I allowed him to help me to my feet and followed him into the water, weaving between the bodies stretched out on the sand.
I looked behind as we reached the water’s edge.
No one’s gaze was on me.
No one was pointing in horror.
No one was recoiling with disgust.
They were all going about their day.
Living their life.
“Come on! Enjoy the moment. You glow with the most beautiful energy when you smile.”
I closed my eyes and inhaled slowly, closed my eyes and let my breathe go slowly… expelling my crippling self-consciousness.
I slowly smiled. Opened my eyes. And entered the water.
Mirrors… self-reflecting or self-destructing?
The struggle is suffocating and constant still…
Perhaps by the end of summer I will allow myself to wear a bikini again…
Even though it has been years since I have set foot in a treatment center.
Recovery is lifelong.
The thoughts never go away
I live for the days I am able to drown them out with positivity. sunlight. friends. and inner peace.