Thursday, February 12, 2009

For real: Claiming what is mine

I wanted to be able to look in the mirror. That was all. It seems simple enough. But it took me the better part of a decade to be able to do that one little thing.

My ultimate goal, I suppose, was larger than just the mirror: I wanted to not hate myself. Even more: I wanted to accept myself. But before I could accept myself, I had to accept my face. Before I could accept my face, I had to be able to look at it in the mirror.

And twenty years ago, I could not do that.

I hated the way I looked, hated myself, so badly that I couldn't even look at myself. I simply did not do it. I never looked at a picture of myself. (If you think you hate pictures of yourself, try being me for a moment or two.) And mirrors posed a problem. Of course, I couldn't avoid mirrors. But I developed an uncanny ability to look at only half of my face. Or to look at my reflection without really internalizing what was there. I could brush my hair or wash my face while literally looking at only the right side of my face. I learned to put on make-up without really seeing beyond the mechanics of the application. It became second nature. (The vision in my left eye is drastically worse than my right eye. Sometimes I wonder if it's because I just stopped using it.)

I knew what was there, of course, in the mirror and on my face: an ugly scar, a large hole, a drooping eye, an unmoving mouth. I knew these things. But I did my best not to associate these things with myself. I never really looked. I was scared of the details, terrified of the whole. In the mirror, and perhaps everywhere else, I was half a face.

This was not how I wanted to be. I wanted to look at myself. I wanted to see what others saw. I wanted to face the truth. I wanted to be complete.

So I fought.

It took years. I increased the scope of my vision in the mirror by literally a fraction of an inch at a time. I would take a quick peek at my sunken ear, or at my sagging lower eyelid, and I would be paralyzed. I would be ill. I would cry. I would be unable to look again for weeks. I was sickened by what I saw. I did not want this person to be me.

But as devastating as it seemed at times, as much self-hate as I was forced to own, as deeply as it challenged my sense of who I was... I did not give up. I fought, for years. And I won.

And I thought I was done.

My soul settled. I had a successful career. I married, had children. I flourished in loving and in being loved. I busied myself with the day-to-day issues that distract all parents. After a lifetime of grief and rage and hiding, the issues surrounding my face slid into the background.

And I was more than happy to let it go. I was happy to be at peace, happy to be normal, happy to be just another boring mom. I was happy to be able to ignore that part of myself. I was happy.

But it wasn't over.

As I said, my ultimate goal had always been self-acceptance. And I had come a long way. I could leave the house. I could tolerate the public stares. I knew what I looked like. These were no small feats.

But even though I had come a long way toward my goal, I had never told my entire story to anyone, not even to myself. I was finally able to look in the mirror, but I wasn't able to tell the story of the person who looked back at me.

So here I find myself. I have begun to tell the story. It is not easy. Sometimes as I write I shake. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I get sick. But I've done it all before. Just as I had to struggle to face the mirror, I will struggle to tell my story.

My silence about my face has been profound. I am putting forth memories that I have never shared. I tucked them away years ago, never planning to revisit them. I would much rather forget them.

But they haven't gone away. My story hasn't gone away. For three decades I have kept this story to myself. I can't be complete until the people in my life know me. For real.

I have been overwhelmed by your kindness and encouragement. I never thought anyone would care about this. So to those of you who have commented, here or on Facebook, to those of you who have e-mailed, to those of you who have called, to those of you who have just read in silence: thank you. That's all I can say. I'll keep telling the story as I am able, but in the meantime: thank you. You will never know what you have done for me....


  1. Hey there, found you bouncing around the blogosphere by way of Sarcastic Mom and 'Weekly Winners'. I live in the midwest also, just south of Chicago. I went back and read a few posts, I think you are an amazingly strong and beautiful person.

    Take care~

  2. I admire your strength and you are very inspiring. I can't wait to read more of what you have to say.

    Have a great weekend.

  3. I think you are beautiful.

    I stumbled across your blog earlier today at my office and still at 1:56pm, I am reading. Slowly, but surely. I am to the post where I think it is Jensen draws your boobs on your abdomen. My boys have done the same thing and I just knew I needed to talk to you!

    Your posts have been a great read. Different than a blog that just means nothing. I wish I could hug you.


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