“Wow, you are really beautiful!”
It was the moment that changed everything.
Seeing an old friend after 27 years was a huge surprise. Sure we kept up on social media: her life, my life, her job, my job. We were “friends,” like most of the people we knew in high school are “friends” now in their 40s. But one day, we came face-to-face and mid-conversation she uttered those words.
Something about the sincerity in her voice made me stop.
Before that moment, I would have said, “Oh, thanks, but…” and continued with a litany of all the reasons her statement was completely unfounded. Before that moment, I would have thought, “Man, you have no idea what a mess I really am.” Before that very moment, there is not one part of me that would have believed any part of that statement. It would have fallen into the abyss of compliments I did not deserve and chose to forget.
But this friend really knew me at one time. Before my marriage, my son, my divorce, my move, my degree, my second marriage and my daughter—this person knew me. I was standing in front of her, 50 pounds overweight, depressed, embarrassed, self-conscious and completely lost. But she didn’t see any of that because she knew me.
I heard her words and they meant nothing about who I thought I’d become and everything about who I really am. And she was right—I am beautiful! I had just forgotten and needed someone who I trusted, who knew where I came from, who knew my authentic self, to remind me.
I believed the sincerity in her voice and fell in love all over again…with me.
In talking to my friends, I find that many of us feel like we lost ourselves somewhere along the way. Becoming so many things to so many people made the reflection in the mirror secondary to the way others saw us. We people pleased, neglected ourselves, ignored our connection to the world around us and just survived day to day.
And though I would not give up a step of the journey I have taken, I sure wish I would have brought the real me along for the ride. She is so damn cool. She would have made this much more fun.
When I fell in love with myself that day, I had to leave some other relationships behind. The me I was getting to know so intimately again would not turn to food for comfort. She was not interested in shallow relationships or appeasing the masses. She did not have as much time for the news, because she started hanging out with Anais Nin and Henry Miller again. She stopped allowing negative posts on social media to interrupt her sharing of beautiful words and positive messages. She did not have time for feeling sorry for herself, because she remembered she was a writer, that she used to meditate, that she loved poetry and Pilates. She loved to laugh.
She didn’t have time to be embarrassed or self-conscious because she was proud and self-aware.
As I spent more and more time digging to excavate the authentic person I’ve always been, I started becoming less recognizable to those who didn’t really know me. When people asked how I lost 40 pounds in a short amount of time, all I could say was, “I just didn’t need it anymore.” People say I’m different and I want to say, “No. I was different. Now I am the authentic me again.”
The walls that sheltered me from vulnerability had also sheltered me from feeling joy. For decades I had been told I was too sensitive, too emotional, too much—and it kept me afraid to feel at all. But now, I choose to feel everything again and am intimately connected to all my emotions because I remember they are neither good nor bad, they just are. I am neither good nor bad, I just am.
When I told this old friend—who is a significant friend in my present life—the impact those words made on me, she laughed and then cried. She is taken aback when I tell her stories about my deepest depressions and my lack of self-confidence. She didn’t recognize my weight loss, because she never saw that former version of me standing in front of her. In the same way she is surprised by the stories of who I once was, the people who never “knew me when,” are finally hearing stories of who I am.
“Wow, you are really beautiful!”
And now I own that truth. Not so much because someone said it, but because I finally remembered.
Author: Andrea Byford
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Image: Ryan McGuire/gratisography