The echoes of my childhood are faint, but still there. Recent circumstances have made the echoes a bit louder, amplifying them to a point that I realized I needed to reground myself and recognize that I am stronger than I often give myself credit for.

When I was little, just another kid in a dysfunctional family, strong personalities and the authority of age drown out my voice and my willingness to stand up to what I thought was wrong. Like many kids that grow up in similar situations, I developed coping mechanisms to see me through harder times. The Fight or Flight response wasn’t an option for me; as the only daughter in a patriarchal household, fighting meant severe discipline. Standing up for myself accomplished very little and often left me feeling like I wasn’t entitled to my own opinions, regardless of age. Flight certainly wasn’t an option; not as a child.

Hiding in plain sight.

My choice was to hide. I spent a lot of time hiding, avoiding, trying hard to melt into the scenery. That particular coping mechanism, just like fight or flight, never really addressed what created the issue in the first place. I could hide in my room to avoid conflict. I could hide behind homework or my music as ways to not have to deal with a particularly belligerent father.

This, I think, is at the heart of why I first started gaining weight years ago. It wasn’t a conscious thing, really, and poor genetics amplified the effect of hiding behind my weight when everything else was stripped away. At some point, I couldn’t just retreat to my room and hide from the world; my safe places disappeared, and because I had to define myself by someone else’s ideas of what I should be, I struggled with who I thought I was.

It’s been a long trek back to cutting through the various insulating layers I built around myself over the years. While others might have dressed a certain way, dyed their hair because they just loved the look, or projected a certain attitude because it’s who they are, I was much more likely to hide in plain sight. Obesity provided the curtain to let me do exactly that; there’s no need for camouflage. Even with dyed red hair, I could become invisible simply by quietly existing.

When echoes of the pain I endured decades ago revisit, my first inclination is not fight or flight, since my experience with those was never that vast; instead, if something happens that makes me doubt myself, my instinct is to hide. My mental programming from so many years as a morbidly obese woman, trying to avoid making myself a target, has been to sabotage myself and start gaining weight.

Giving myself the permission to feel strong emotions that I wasn’t allowed to give voice to as a child, such as anger, has allowed me validation. I have been able to put much into perspective since fighting against the immediate instinct to apologize instead of stating my case. Facing strong emotions allows me to deal with them and move on instead of burying them.

Hiding behind food and fat has only kept me a prisoner to my own body, and digging through the layers means taking the risk involved in standing up for who I am. I don’t need that camouflage anymore.

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