Kintsugi, or kintsukuroi, is a Japanese practice in which pottery which has been broken is repaired with gold in the cracks, the idea being that the item is more beautiful for having been damaged and repaired. Indeed, the images I’ve seen of this art suggest a silent form of storytelling. Flaws are highlighted by the gold such that they are no longer ugly ragged edges but rather a testament of resilience and beauty. The item isn’t just an item anymore, it has been transformed.
The idea of kintsugi is lovely and powerful. Applied to life, it metaphorically suggests that it is not only possible to mend from being smashed, but rather that it is possible to transmute the broken pieces of ourselves, and our lives, into something not only whole, but greater than the original vessel. And it implies that there is character and a story about this new entity, one worth sharing and celebrating.
This week as I met with Chelle I reflected on how very far I’ve come on my journey thus far. She suggested I write about my experiences, because I’ve been through a lot, and it’s been dang difficult, and, as she said, there are people who are watching me through this blog and some feel very alone. I know I sure did. I didn’t really know where to turn to achieve my aims – dreams of dancing when I was a walrus! Visions of being sexy when everything about me on the outside screamed “frumpy!”
This is a post to celebrate where I am and acknowledge where I’ve come from. I’m pretty proud of it. It’s the kintsugi of my life.
I suppose it’s best to start from the beginning, the very beginning, which for me means childhood. I’m going to share something that’s pretty personal. But the deal is, it affected me deeply in a very long-lasting way. And I share it because I know I’m not the only person who’s experienced or dealt with this, or other kinds of trauma. And I feel like it’s important to talk about these things – in fact, we don’t talk about them enough. That’s why they happen – because things, horrible things, are kept in the shadows. I have, at this point in my life, no shame about this experience. But it ties into why I got to the place I did of 313 pounds, probably why I had such low self-esteem, and why I really struggled with embracing my sensuality on the dance floor.
The big secret, which I kept from the age of 8 to the age of 24 or so, was that I was molested by my babysitter.
Which brings me to this amazing concept I learned about called Fact/Meaning.
You see, our brains are wired to assign a meaning to just about everything. Facts are the “what” – the experiences we have. Meaning, on the other hand is the interpretation of that experience. But here’s the secret. We make it up! Yes, that’s right. We totally make up our own interpretation of an experience.
So for example, let’s say you’re a kid and you want a new pair of roller skates and your parents say no. You could, in your kid brain decide that if your parents really had loved you, they’d have gotten you the skates. Maybe you’d decide that you weren’t very loveable. Or maybe that you weren’t worth the skates.
But could you have just as easily come to a different conclusion? Like perhaps your parents love you so much they don’t want anything bad to happen to you because they knew someone’s kid who got injured or killed in an accident with skates. In this case the meaning is totally opposite! You are very loveable.
Okay so here’s the deal. I made up a lot of really rotten meanings in my kid brain about what happened. It was pretty tough because I didn’t fully even understand what was wrong, I just knew it didn’t feel right. I didn’t even have the words to describe what was happening. My vocabulary didn’t include the things that happened, I had no prior concept of them. And when I tried to tell a friend, I got laughed at. So that shut me up pretty good.
Now feeling more alone than ever, my kid brain started working, trying to make sense of this thing that had happened. My unconscious must have been on overdrive and generated some meanings for me. The main outcome of all this was that I ended up feeling really bad about myself, to the point that I didn’t even really feel like I had a right to exist, much less to have safe, proper personal boundaries. And I decided there were some things that were really wrong with me, completely broken and worthless inside, and I tortured myself because I hated myself so much.
The long and the short of it was that I had zero self-confidence and I put on a really good show on the outside by being an overachiever.
Okay, so I kept that up for a few more years until I had a flashback, in stereo sound and full bright color and it was jarring. I knew I needed to address the elephant I’d shoved in a bag and dragged around behind me in the shadows for almost 20 years. So I sent an email to the women’s help center that very night for an appointment because I knew the next morning in the bright sunshine I would be able to convince myself that really things were fine when really they weren’t.
I got some counseling. I did some work. I told my secret.
And, well, nothing really changed. It was like, okay, so what? Because I was pretty functional, at least on the outside. And I think this is the point I really began to put on all the weight. I’d struggled with my weight as a kid as well, but this time it was more voracious and out of control. Honestly, it’s such a weird thing, because it’s like I went to sleep about it. I had to look at photo albums to figure out the timeline for all this because I couldn’t remember it. Yes, of course I was aware my clothes didn’t fit and I had to buy larger ones, and that I didn’t like the pictures I’d see of myself. And I kept thinking that I needed to go on a diet and exercise more and that the problem was my lack of self-discipline, my problem was my weight, but really, that wasn’t the problem at all – this was all a side effect of the real problem.
The real problem was the trauma that still had not been acknowledged after being voiced. The real problem was strengthening my voice after I’d silenced it for so long. The real problem was deciding I deserved to not just live but to lead a passionate life. The real problem was learning to accept, forgive and love myself. The real problem was healing this wound that I’d then compounded by eating myself into a huge, unhealthy body, and all the shame I carried with me for both the original trauma and how I was “coping” with self-destructive behavior.
So this is where I came from. So unhappy. So unhealthy. So self-loathing.
And it is from this place that I began to arise from the ashes as a Phoenix. It is from this place that I began the kintsugi of myself.
I walked into a ballroom lesson.
I really don’t think anyone who hasn’t been through it can really understand what it is like to be in a body that is so weighed down that it is difficult to walk, much less dance! Which is why it is all the more incredible that I did choose to dance!
Yes, I chose to dance when I was so large I got kicked off of roller coasters, and I had to ask for extenders on the plane. When I wore a size 2x. When I cried on every lesson for weeks and weeks. When I was so ashamed of myself and my body that I could not look at myself in the mirror. I danced then, when my feet had blisters on top of blisters and I had to tape over band aids to get my shoes on. I’d hobble out of bed like an eighty-year-old woman each morning because of the electric shooting pains and plantar fasciitis. I’d ice my feet each night.
And then I decided to do a competition! I paid to have a custom dress made because no dress off the rack would fit me. I survived 42 heats.
But something deep inside me, knew with an unexplainable certainty that I could dance. Even as I lay in bed with the light of YouTube videos flickering across my corpulent double chin, I believed in my belly that I was a dancer.
And I kept dancing.
And I got some weight off. I tried a physican-supervised diet (expensive starvation plan) for a while and made some progress. I stalled. I began taking Inna’s class, searching each night for the clothes that’d make me look least fat, and not being able to make it through, blubbering and shaking uncontrollably in my car after the first lesson as I faced the reality of how large and out of shape I was and how very, very far I was from where I needed to be not only to just make it through the class, but to compete on the level I knew I could.
And I stalled again. And the roller coaster continued to run up and down, up and down. Knock down seven times, get up eight.
And I tried a plan where they mail you frozen food to eat. And I tried Nutri System. And I joined gyms and had trainers, but what are you really going to do in 30 minutes twice a week – it’s really not enough for the drastic weight loss I’m after. But slowly, slowly, over 3 years I’m down 85 pounds.
And all during this time where the weight loss has been kind of a secondary thing, I’ve been doing a lot of internal housecleaning. I joke with Chelle that I’ve done this whole thing backwards. It seems like a lot of people lose a bunch of weight and all their issues come up. For me, I’ve had my issues come up and I’ve learned new tools to deal with them, but the body transformation was second fiddle.
Inside I was learning how to be me, and who exactly I am. Part of this I discovered through dancing and with a lot of help from Ivan who has pulled so much out of me. He could see there was so much dance inside me that wanted to be expressed. He could also feel the invisible wall I’d put up to hold it in and keep the world out. I can really never thank Ivan for what he did for me. He made it safe for me to be myself, to explore that long-buried dancer. He pushed me and got me out of my comfort zone. He accepted me and also saw a vision of what I could become. He believed in me when all external evidence suggested I’d never be a competitive dancer.
Inside I was learning how to get back in touch with what physiologic hunger felt like because I’d probably not truly been hungry for years. And I learned how to tolerate hunger pangs and to regulate my eating. I learned how to be satisfied and not be completely full. I learned how to enjoy kale and broccoli and to dislike fast food.
Inside I was learning how to tolerate being uncomfortable, not just emotionally, but physically as well. Doing 12 minutes on the stair stepper with Chelle made me cry it was so difficult. I learned how to push through feeling like I was going to die, feeling like I was suffocating. I learned how to laugh about my muscles giving out from fatigue (because that’s actually the goal) rather than to despise my body for being so weak.
I learned how to show up and dance and be comfortable with who I am. I learned how to shine.
And I processed my pain and I healed the trauma with various therapies and whatnot so that now it is a neutral experience. It is a fact. And I’m in a place of power around that because I know about Fact/Meaning, which means I get to make up whatever story about the whole thing that I want!
And my story is, that there was once a boy who was hurt and he hurt me. It wasn’t personal, it was just what he knew to do. But it did hurt me and I didn’t have the skills as an eight year old to handle the hurt. So I did the best I could with the resources I had at that point and all along during my life, which I think is the most any of us can ever really do. And then I found a way to learn some better skills and I began to heal the hurt. Because I am strong and courageous and worthy of being whole. And I began to dance, and that also helped me heal, and it’s continuing to help me heal and grow. And I discovered that I am beautiful and feminine and sensual and an artist. I discovered that I am creative and powerful and that I can move others through my art, both writing and dancing. And my story is that I’ve transformed and I’m continuing to transform. My story is that I have done kintsugi on my life and it is good. I’ve woven the tattered threads of my past into a new and beautiful tapestry.
And at the end of all this, I feel like I am much, much more than any story. This may be where I’ve come from, but it has nothing to do with where I am going. In fact, it has little pull on me these days. Because my focus is on the Now. And Now I am honing my instrument, my body, to a finely tuned machine. I am integrating my emotional, spiritual, and physical self and becoming healthy. I am no longer a hurt, voiceless, little girl. I am transformed into a wildly passionate, capable, powerful woman. I am me and it is enough. And I am excited about what the future holds.
So if you ever wonder why or how a person could just “let themselves go,” or why a person would ever get so fat, perhaps you might consider that they had their reasons. They may not have been healthy or rational reasons, but perhaps that is what the person needed to do, to protect themselves, to survive. Maybe that was the cocoon they needed to build to insulate themselves as they were transforming into the butterfly.
Me, I’m ready to spread my wings. And I think my dancing will be all the more beautiful, just like kintsugi, because the deep fissures in my soul existed. Only because I was smashed to pieces can the shards now be bonded with pure gold.
I am grateful. I am happy to be who I am. I am excited to discover who I am becoming.