The tattoo artist returned from her quick smoke break to begin my branding. My ankle was the canvas this time and the word being painted for life was “free”. She began her artistry and the twinge of pain that a tattoo undoubtedly brings was almost over as soon as she had started thanks to the four letter word. I was 37 and neck deep in my struggles with an eating disorder. Through some unction of my will I decided to tattoo the word “free” as a direct reminder of what was to come of this struggle. Additionally, I remember repeating to myself routinely “Once I turn 40 I’ll finally be strong” and ultimately free from the death grip of this thing. In the meantime, this tattoo would serve as a bespoke comfort.
At age 37, 38, and 39 I continued to grapple with my disorder. I repeated the mantra “When I’m 40 I’ll be strong” as if predicting the future or deciding ahead of time when enough would finally be enough.
At age 39 I sat alone crying on the eve of this epic birthday. I had arrived at 40, but strength was anything but a badge I wore. Not only was I far from strong I was 45 pounds down in body weight and anything but free. Had I somehow missed the magic of the waving wand? Had I taken an irreparable turn for the worse at the dawn of my supposed awakening? My current weak status was a daunting reality. The way forward seemed difficult to bear considering I barely had enough energy to stand upright in the shower let alone fight against this thing.
The epic birthday came….. and went. My predictions for freedom were null. At 40, I decided to face the music head on and reach out for help. I checked myself into a program for individuals struggling with a myriad of disordered eating. This would be my third trip to this very program and suddenly my ankle tattoo felt more like a mockery than any level of encouragement. Session after session I trudged through the why’s, the how’s and the habits… again.
Where was the magic of 40? How had I bolstered this benchmark age and the strength it would serve me on a silver platter so incorrectly? Where had I gone wrong in my expectations of this coming of age into real adulthood?
In hindsight, I can confidently say I’m glad that I arrived at 40 struggling, broken, weak and distraught. This platform of emotions served as a backdrop to the real truth. The real magic began as I realized that benchmark ages hold no promise of freedom. We don’t suddenly learn or become who we want to be simply because we turn a day older. There is no process of osmosis that trickles in all you need to know in order to be strong. There is no special, magical 365 day calendar year that will transport you to freedom. Freedom is a thing that is fought for. It is fought for in 24 hour windows of time no matter the day or the year. Freedom is a thing acquired through grit and grace and leaning into others around you that you emulate. Freedom is a commodity of sorts that can be had so long as one takes a long, hard look in the mirror of truth and decides to get to work. The truth: anything worth fighting for is worth fighting for and waits only for the victor to step into the ring.
As I write this post- I am the ripe age of 40 and a half. I suppose in a twist of fate I did find my magic. Little did I know however that it was there all along sitting right inside of my choice to fight for me. Little did I know that the unfolding of strength and resolve to stand strong was actually right where it needed to be. The real magic happened when I simply decided that enough was enough and I was worth more than the cards I had dealt myself. That resolve didn’t come overnight from the eve of 39 to the dawn of 40. It came on a random day as a sheer act of my will to decide that I was worthy of more than hanging my head over a toilet or starving myself into utter weakness. Strength and healing came as a choice to change and not through the magic of turning 40.
Moral of the story: You are there all along. You have been there from the beginning. There is no magical age that will serve you with the strength and maturity to change. This strength sits right inside of your desire to get inside the ring and fight for you. Stir your desire, lace up your gloves and fight for the worthy and beautiful you. Change is hard. Change is slow. But change does come.