The Progress Report – Learning To See Myself

By Alison July 13, 2022 8 Comments 7 Min Read

I was once crazy head over heels in love with a lovely man who told me that he showered in the dark because he couldn’t bear to look at himself and I remember feeling incredulous. Here was a face I could stare at for hours. A body I adored. And he hated himself.

For a long time I pondered on the discrepancy between who he thought he was and what I saw and I felt bewildered by it, because my self-esteem was high and crucially I liked myself and truly believed that everyone else held themselves in the same high regard. I was in my early thirties and felt strong and powerful, but over time that innate sense of esteem was eroded. Until in more recent years I found I could not look at myself in the mirror, felt sick if I caught sight of my own reflection, and refused to appear in photographs I think my family would liked to have taken of me. So had middle aged blindness not made it possible that I might kill myself dead if I took a shower in the dark, I would have done because I finally understood how someone could believe that theirs was a reflection unbearable to look at. Something too grotesque to be looked upon.

Slowly but surely I was ceasing to exist in my own head. Better invisible than to look upon a truth too terrible to be acknowledged. And so I stopped writing because I couldn’t string together that truth without revealing too much of it. The writing that was my lifeblood. The writing that had long helped me to make sense of my own feelings, and I hoped, helped those women who read me to make sense of theirs. I stopped writing. I stopped believing I could ever feel beautiful again. And I absorbed too many vicious words spoken to me in the kind of terrible rage that was never, ever about me but left scars regardless – scars that I am now working so very hard to heal so that I no longer believe them to be true, nor lie in the dark whispering them to myself like the most destructive of affirmations.

By the time Ste left, I weighed more than I have ever done, My hair was greying because I was just too stressed to attend to it, my eyebrows had fallen off again, my body inflamed and swollen and my face covered in an angry rash that turned out, rather preposterously, to be a reaction to the eating of too much cabbage, kale and broccoli. A cabbage rash!! I looked a wreck and I could barely think straight, because I had been last on my own list for far too long and I was trying to manage almost every aspect of our lives while barely sleeping and feeling so utterly wretched with endless reoccurring water infections, a body that ached from head to foot, and acid ingestion that was utter torture. And I was scared. I was scared all the time. I was so scared I didn’t tell anyone about the angry bruises that had spontaneously appeared under my right arm and scattered their way down the right side of my torso and there was no chance of Ste seeing them as he barely looked at me, let alone saw me naked. I was scared I was dying and so I kept my own secret, watching as the bruises flourished and made an angry rainbow out of my body.

I was scared I was dying. And above all else I was scared that Ste would leave because I didn’t know how either of us would cope. And then he did. Taking away the security of my financial future but saving my life in the process, because by the time I dragged my weepy, sorry self for blood tests, I had no thyroid hormones at all and my lovely doctor just kept staring at me in fright and saying well no wonder! As if everything going on in your house isn’t hellish enough, you must feel like death. And I nodded, And cried, and she held my hand and said, everything changes NOW. You have done enough and it is time to look after YOU.

And so I bring you the first of my Progress Reports, the follow up to my Put Alison back Together Plan, as I establish new routines and rituals for putting myself first, include selfies that FORCE me to look at myself as I am now, track my weight loss and share all that I am doing in an effort to create a life worth living, forge a path I am not crippled with shame about and slowly but surely open myself up to the possibility that I will be loved again. That I am worth loving.

First up then, my inch/weight loss for the week.

Overall weight loss: 37 pounds/14kg ( – four pounds in the last week)

Total inch loss: This week – 7.5 inches (bust/waist/hips/thighs/knees/upper arms – combined)

While thirty-seven pounds might seem extreme over two months, my doctor isn’t at all surprised or worried as she says that at least part of it is down to the reduction of the inflammation in my body and the kickstarting of a metabolism that was previously on its knees, so to keep on doing what I am doing in order to make real progress.

Secondly, the selfie above.

I went out last night, first to sit in the company of those who understand, and then on to a drink with a friend. It is taking all I have got to get ready and leave the house. To wear my hair down instead of the usual bun on top of my head affair I usually sport. To put lipstick on. But I did it and I took the selfie above in the car which almost always guarantees the kind of flattering light that makes me look a thousand times better than I really do!

I can see that my face is much thinner now, and my skin so very much better thanks to a dedicated anti-wrinkle/puffy regime, courtesy of my sister who sent over a selection of products that restored my skin in a jiffy (helped by a little less dedication to cabbage!), and a diet that has got me stuffed with good nutrition, and while I am still finding it hard to look at myself, I know how necessary it is to teach myself to look at my face with grace and kindness. To not see the laughter lines and grey hair already coming back, nor to consider it as vain as I long have to be able to look upon myself without long-imposed, deep-rooted judgement. Nor is it for validation: it is simply to help me see myself as I am instead of the grotesque image of myself I have conjured up as my self-worth took a real, and sustained bashing I was barely aware of.

And thirdly, my plan for the month ahead.

Of course so much of this is about my head above all else, and it is there that needs the most work. So, as always, I am reading in an effort to understand. But Finn’s Dad, Mark, told me the other day that it was time to stop trying to understand that which makes no sense at all and instead to decide right here and right now to live again. And those words keep ringing in my head because life is short isn’t it?

So now that I am eating in a way that is sustaining both energy and weight loss, sleeping better despite the outrageous heat and though I feel horribly shy, venturing out with whoever asks me to join them, it is time to turn my head back to writing again , to telling my truth, inspiring others to do the same and believing all day everyday that life is still stuffed with so much promise and joy.

So to those of you who are showering in the dark or utterly unable to confront themselves in the mirror, I say this: consider the possibility that you are more than you have put way too much effort into believing. See yourself as I saw the man who could not look upon his own body, see yourself with love and kindness and resolve every single day from now on, to treat yourself as gentle as can be.

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    Alison, I am so proud of you. You are so brave and courageous. YOU ARE GORGEOUS! You look amazing. I am praying everyday for you that your shattered heart will be put back together and be stronger than ever before. Don’t believe any negative lies, you are amazing. Thank you for sharing and trusting us with your heart.

  2. Karen Doerhoff says:

    Thank you dearest Alison, for your words of wisdom and gentle encouragement. I truly needed to read this now.

  3. Callista says:

    My dear Alison! This picture is STUNNING! It was the first thing I thought when I saw it before I read your post. I’m so very happy for you! It feels as if you have indeed turned a corner. Well done! And as always, thank you for sharing your truth. I’m so very sorry you went through all of that but I am ecstatic that you are on the mend. Sending you so much love and light. xoxo Callista

  4. Suzi says:

    You look so beautiful Alison! I’m so happy that you are taking good care of yourself and you’re feeling better. You are an inspiration!

  5. Katharine Hendren says:

    Oh Alison, I have followed you for many years – you are, without a doubt, absolutely beautiful, both inside & out. And you are brave and so very, very strong. You have an amazing gift to inspire through your writing and your wonderful heart inspires you to continue to do that, even now, when circumstances have been so very difficult. That is how old & how incredible your soul is. YES, of course you will be loved again. Yes, of course you are ‘worth loving’ – that is without question. Love yourself first though, yourself and your gorgeous boy. When the Put Alison Back Together Plan reaches its conclusion, perhaps consider replacing it with a Keep Alison in the Manner to which She has Rightfully Become Accustomed Plan – empathy, kindness and understanding are wonderful gifts to give somebody – give them to yourself in (at least) equal measure.

  6. Jennie says:

    Dear Alison,
    You look so beautiful! You look as though you have just turned thirty years young. So happy to hear your words again and I’m hoping that you continue to heal and feel better.
    Much love,

  7. Joan says:

    Dearest Alison!
    I agree with all of the above. Stunning was the first word that came to my mind when I saw your photo. You are so inspiring. And so honest, real and raw. Keep on keeping on.

  8. You look absolutely gorgeous! I am so impressed with everything you are doing to heal yourself. I too am in a newly-empty nest, my 19yo having moved to an apartment with a friend. I’m trying to get myself back after several years of difficult family stress — I’m hoping that if the holidays go well this year we’ll have turned a corner, and I’m trying not to hope too much. It would be nice if the stress-induced hair loss would reverse a little bit. So you are an inspiration as well! And you look amazing.

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