This is me. For me. F*** him!
July 6, 2010 7:10 AM   Subscribe

I don't want to see myself through my ex's eyes anymore. I don't want to compare myself to how I was then, because how I am now is healthy. I don't want to be afraid of my ex seeing what I look like now. Help! (Long)

I got together with my ex, who I loved to bits and thought was the man I'd marry, when I'd started to develop anorexia. We were long distance at first and I prided myself on the fact that every time I saw him I'd lost a bit more weight, and he always encouraged it by commenting. I'd always had insecurities with my appearance but until I started dieting I had always kind of taken it for granted that I was a curvy, thick girl and that having a waif-like, or super-lean figure, was just not realistic for my body type. My ex used to go on about how much he admired that I had lost 1/4 of my body weight in a year, and laugh at old photos of me, even commenting that he remembered thinking that I was quite a big girl when he first met me. I used to tell him that it upset me because "Big Anonymous" as he referred to my former self, was still me, not some other character for his amusement, or for him to joke with his friends about. He said I should lighten up because I wasn't like that anymore so I could laugh about it too, cos it's funny. One of the things that particularly stands out for me was that he'd often remark that in old photos of me, when I was "Big Anonymous", that my face was just a big round blob, all my features were swallowed up by the chubbiness, but the new, thinner version of me had really nice features, who knew that was what was under all that?

Fast forward a year of living together (I moved to be with him) and I found out he'd been cheating on me all that time. I left him straight away, moved home, and realised that I should have left him ages ago, cos he hadn't treated me well at all. That I'd been cheating on myself. He wanted me to give him another chance but I held my ground and he ended up moving overseas.

After a few months, I started really getting my life and self esteem back, and I realised I had a problem, and didn't want to live that way anymore, so I sought therapy and medical help. Gaining the weight back was terrifying because I was always afraid that if he somehow knew that I'd "gotten fat again" he'd have somehow won, and realise that he'd done well by cheating on me (didn't help that he'd cheated on me with girls who had that model type figure that I will never have). I think a part of me felt that as long as he still wanted me back (for more than a year he used to send letters to my parents house or phone or email me), I was still ok. Ultimately though, I wanted my life back, I wanted to feel good and be happy, and I put in heaps of work and have made so much progress that I can't get my head around the idea that not much over a year ago I'd ever tolerated such a horrendous situation, or thought so poorly of myself.

I'm now a "healthy weight" but I still sometimes find myself afraid that my ex will laugh at the very idea that I was ever anorexic, that maybe I was mistaken and not really that thin or sick, that he was right and that "Skinny Anonymous" is how I should be. I'm scared that he will somehow see a photo of what I look like now, or will show up again in my city, and will think I've just become lazy and disgusting again (that's what he thought of fat people) and that he's still better than me.

I hate the way he sees the world and other people. I hate the way he saw me. I think the idea that I have to be a certain weight or size to be happy or worthwhile is a lie and a trap. I think it's bullsh*t that anyone who doesn't look like a model is worthless or a failure, or that that's how everyone would look if they weren't lazy. I love my life. I like who I am. But sometimes that old thinking about what he'd think just creeps back and I am sick of it, cos he is not the sort of person I want in my life, and I don't want his thoughts to be my thoughts!

A month ago he flew to my country and emailed me to ask if we could meet up. I said no. I'm glad I didn't see him, but ashamed that I didn't yet feel strong enough not to be afraid that he might show up to work or something and see what I look like now. I am still afraid that he will somehow find out, through a friend's facebook account, or if something I do is publicised. I don't know how to explain to my workplace that I don't want my photograph included on their website with all my other colleagues etc if that happens.

I want to get to a point where I don't feel embarrassed for him to see me like this, because this is the happiest and most fulfilled I've ever been in my life. I know it's irrational but part of me feels like he will think he's "won" and I have "lost", because I'm now "fat and unnatractive" by his standards.

Even other people, who knew me only when I was skinny, I feel uncomfortable seeing them again now sometimes because I know the difference must be so noticeable and sometimes I worry that they'll think that I've just let myself go, and occasionally that'll trigger a mini-relapse. Sometimes I'll see my face the way he did, as a big featureless blob, even though other people seem to think it's nice.

Please help me conquer this final issue so I can relax and enjoy my life 100%, and be proud that I am healthy and functioning, rather than skinny and unable to do anything I enjoy because I'm too sick. I don't want to care what he thinks anymore, I don't want to care whether he's over me or not, I don't want to care whether he thinks I'm attractive or not. My therapist is having a baby at the moment so mefites, your input would be appreciated :)
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'll leave discussion of body image issues to others, but your post reminded me of something Po Bronson writes somewhere to the effect that, if you're going to live your life to please others, at least make sure they're the right "others".

What I take this to mean is: sometimes we get so focused on the need to "live for ourselves" and free ourselves from the expectations of others that we forget that it's not terrible to live to please others, at least to some extent, so long as they have our best interests at heart.

This isn't very practical advice, I realize, but maybe it just means: spend plenty of time with people who respect you; date people who think you're hot. Focus less on trying to get out from under his judgment, and more on forging bonds with people with better attitudes. That way, even if becoming fiercely independent takes a while, or never happens at all, you'll be helped rather than hindered by the people whose judgments you allow to define you.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 7:22 AM on July 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think what makes this question difficult to answer is that you're using adjectives like "skinny" and "big featureless blob." These adjectives have a very different meaning for someone with anorexia.

You say you are at healthy weight now but that you sometimes see your face as a "big featureless blob." You say this is how your boyfriend saw you and that sometimes you see yourself like that, as he did. But if you are at a healthy weight and still see yourself that way, that tells me that it's your anorexia talking. From your description, unfortunately, it sounds like your ex-bf was a jerk, and he had a bad opinion about people with weight problems. I think you're equating your ex and your anorexia. I think when you can really let go of the anorexia voice in your head, you'll also find you've let go of him.
posted by unannihilated at 7:31 AM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I won't try speak to your dieting issues but past experience of investing my self-esteem into bad relationships has taught me that eventually, time heals. It just feels like it's taking forever. Keep repeating to yourself, "He was a manipulative, worthless, shit".
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:32 AM on July 6, 2010

I can't really address the body issues, but I can comment on the mental element.

You've already done the really hard things - returning to a normal weight, leaving a bad relationship, and not getting sucked back into his Jedi vortex.

But he's still on your mind and you want him out. When you find your thoughts sliding to wondering what he might think...immediately call to mind comments by people who do love and appreciate you, just as you are.

I don't know if you're at loose ends, but you might fill some of your time with fun activities with friends and other people who you're comfortable with, to help keep your thoughts from returning to that old wound. It does take time, but finding ways of redirecting your thoughts may help you get him out of your head, sooner rather than later.
posted by canine epigram at 7:41 AM on July 6, 2010

Learning how not to care about other people's opinions of you is very hard. Maybe it would help to think of it like this: You had a body image dysfunction that caused you to think your body wasn't right & do unkind things to it. You worked really hard & fixed that (YAY!). Now you're well, but he's not: He's got a body image dysfunction that makes him think that perfectly healthy, beautiful human being aren't right, and do unkind things to them. His just reflects outward, whereas yours reflected inward.

Aren't you glad you've worked hard to get better? And now, as you say, you're so much happier in life. Move on and past him: He's still got the sickness; don't let it interfere with YOUR life.
posted by Ys at 7:45 AM on July 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

The simplest, shortest way I can put this is: the opinions of awful people are unimportant.

The time and energy you waste thinking about him are best put to other uses. And remember, all the abusive and cruel shit he said to you reflects *his* character, his flaws, his failures--not yours. The only feeling you should have for this guy is pity.
posted by tetralix at 7:48 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

This doesn't pertain specifically to your situation, but I think a golden rule of dealing with ANY breakup where you feel slighted in some way is "the best revenge is living well".

I love my life. I like who I am.

This is all you need. Be happy he's out of your life. There is no winning and losing in relationships. Neither life nor love is a zero-sum game.
posted by modernnomad at 7:48 AM on July 6, 2010

Even other people, who knew me only when I was skinny, I feel uncomfortable seeing them again now sometimes because I know the difference must be so noticeable and sometimes I worry that they'll think that I've just let myself go

This is so, so normal for someone recovering from an eating disorder. I hope you're still in therapy - this is an issue to keep working on. This thought is a distortion, and it takes a lot of time and work to correct this kind of distortion.

I'm also recovering from an eating disorder and one thing I have found really helpful is being in a therapist-led group. Perhaps you could seek out some kind of support group, therapist-led or not. Along with offering a lot of support, it would help you to see how very normal your fears and doubts are for someone in your situation, which might help you see them as eating-disorder caused distortions. That, in turn, might help you to overcome them.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:00 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

You don't ever have to be "strong enough to see him". Ever. He's destructive to you, and the way you move past this is just to cut off contact with him and concentrate on yourself and liking who you are just for you.
posted by Eicats at 8:00 AM on July 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

I think in this situation, YOU are the person who has won. I'm sure your therapist has been working on this with you if you've ever mentioned him (you should talk about him!), but he's a manipulative person. He was winning the game when he encouraged you to be unhealthy. He's probably a major reason you became the person you were.

Now, you are healthy and loving life. Of course if he saw you again, he would be upset. You BEAT him. You WON. You got away from his manipulation and control. You got away from a cheater and a liar. You got away from a terrible time in your life, and not only did you survive, you kicked ASS and came out of it healthy.

posted by two lights above the sea at 8:01 AM on July 6, 2010 [6 favorites]

I don't have any personal experience with anorexia, but I sure do know about breakups!

What I do know about navigating the minefield of body image and self-esteem is that for me, it's about function. I've gained maybe 40 or 50 pounds in the last couple of years, and even though I know and can see that there's quite a bit more of me than there used to be, I don't really think of myself that way. But when I felt like it was harder to reach my feet, I stretched (and got pants that weren't so tight!), because while I can define myself as "fat" or "not fat" whenever I feel like doing so, it's still the same body. I can do some things now that I couldn't do when I was in better shape, and vice versa, but it's the only one I've got.

Same with wearing glasses, which I've now done for almost as long as I'd been without them. When I couldn't see, I got glasses, but I still don't feel like A Glasses-Wearing Person. And I never see myself in the mirror like other people do, either (for example, the light above my bathroom sink shines down and conveniently shadows my chubby neck!).

You can do the same, and it sounds like you've started. You know your body works better now than it did when you were engaging in anorexic behavior. You're the only one who knows how your body feels as opposed to how it looks. Hell, how many times did your ex even see your body in person and experience it by touching you all over? You're lucky to experience every facet of your body, and you deserve someone who can do the same.

Yes, living well is the best revenge. Let "having a healthy, happy body" be a big part of that. Think about all you can do now that you're working on being more functional. You're capable and free! Isn't it amazing how everything works together?
posted by Madamina at 8:11 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just want to spell out for you that the things he said were way, way, way over the line and that he sounds like an abusive piece of shit.

It sounds like part of you hasn't accepted that yet, probably because his voice sounds a lot like your internal anorexic voice. Keep treating the anorexia and hopefully you won't care what that sociopath thinks if he ever sees you again.
posted by callmejay at 8:19 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you are doing all of the right things. You've come such a long way! I hope you really look at how far you've come and pat yourself on the back. Keep focusing on yourself and learning to love yourself. I don't know that there is a quick easy answer to the question you're asking. For me, learning to care less about others approval came when I accepted myself more, and that happened over time and with hard work. Making healthy choices on who to be around, understanding my limitations and accepting where I was at, and that recovery is a process and that things don't happen as fast as I want, but making sure to recognize and appreciate the progress that I was/am making on a daily basis. These things all help immensely.
posted by heatherly at 8:24 AM on July 6, 2010

First of all, can I just say how completely impressed I am by what you've accomplished in the past year? You've gone from a really bad place to a really good place entirely through your own will and resilience. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it's really inspiring.

I feel like many of the responses so far have been along the lines of "You're doing great! Don't care about what he thinks!" Which, while entirely true, wouldn't be all that helpful to me if I were in your shoes. It appears that you already know both of those things; the problem you're having is bridging the gap between what you rationally understand and how you actually feel.

I think the most important thing is telling yourself that his comments had nothing to do with what you actually looked like. Seriously, if you look online (which I don't recommend), you'll find people calling even the most gorgeous, slimmest actress you can think of "fat." It isn't about aesthetics; it's about control and superiority. If I can mock someone's appearance, then I can pretend to myself that I'm somehow better than them, that they're an object that I can just casually toss out judgments about.

It sounds like you already understand that his comments and mockery were a form of manipulation and control. Unfortunately, because his message (any woman with enough body fat to menstruate is a cow) is echoed by so many other people, it's hard to get from "he was only saying it to control me" to "what he was saying wasn't true." I wish I knew how to get there; it's a struggle for me, too, and I haven't been through half of what you've been through.

Maybe it would help to reframe this in your mind: when the specter of your ex shows up in your imagination and tells you that you've let yourself go, what he's actually feeling isn't disgust at your appearance -- it's anger and fear that he no longer has control over you. Maybe he's even able to convince himself that it's some kind of objective aesthetic judgment, but it's a defense mechanism to cover up his own insecurity and self-loathing. In other words, it doesn't have to do with you, it has to do with him.
posted by pluckemin at 8:29 AM on July 6, 2010 [6 favorites]

I am shaking mad at that jerk. Really, could he be more insensitive! You are so lucky you got away from him.

He cheated on you. Constantly. Forget completely that he was a huge ass about your weight issues. Look at Jesse James and Sandra Bullock. She is basically the most beautiful woman in America and she still got cheated on. Do you blame her? Do you really think it's because she wasn't beautiful enough? No, it's not her fault at all.

I just want to spell out for you that the things he said were way, way, way over the line and that he sounds like an abusive piece of shit.

It sounds like part of you hasn't accepted that yet, probably because his voice sounds a lot like your internal anorexic voice. Keep treating the anorexia and hopefully you won't care what that sociopath thinks if he ever sees you again.
posted by callmejay at 9:19 AM on July 6 [+] [!]

I think this is the main problem. He put a voice to all those nasty, pervasive thoughts in your head. You have got to cut those thoughts out of your life. Recognize him as part of your disease. I'm sure you watch yourself very carefully, when you start to obsess about what he would think stop and remind yourself that it is just your disease talking. Come up with some kind of ritual if you need too. When you start thinking about what Mr. Ex would think about you or somebody is getting ready to take a picture that you think may end up on FB, tell yourself that you are in a healthy place physically and emotionally and the only person who has anything to be ashamed of is the lying, cheating, judgemental jerk.

Falling back on the old MeFi standby, I think some therapy would be really beneficial. Consider yourself lucky, most people have their mother as the evil little voice in their heads. You can cut him out of your life and never look back, moms on the other hand tend to stick around.
posted by TooFewShoes at 9:02 AM on July 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I just want to say that I think it's a really good thing that you didn't agree to see him. Staying out of contact is the best thing for you. Not because it matters what he thinks of you at all, but because he still knows where all your buttons to push are, and he'd use the time you had together to make you feel as bad as possible. You don't need that.

You may have trouble reconciling all your current emotions, but when push came to shove, you did the right thing for yourself. I think you should take a moment and give yourself a light pat on the back for that. More importantly, develop some real pride in the results of your journey. Something that you'd never let anyone ever try to take away from you.

That's my $0.02.
posted by Citrus at 9:38 AM on July 6, 2010

Your title says it all. 'This is ME. FOR me. Fuck you!' Then again, I'm confrontational.

You don't need to see him. He's not worth it. Really, he's not even worth the worry about him seeing a picture of you. You're happy, you're healthy, you're good looking, that's good enough for you.

He can think whatever he wants; if he starts edging toward Facebook comments like 'Wow, she got fat again!' then that's abuse and reportable to FB. At the least you can request to your friend that the comment be deleted because it's abusive.
posted by Heretical at 12:00 PM on July 6, 2010

He was the embodied, incarnate voice of an eating disorder. He wanted you to feel torn down and weak, just like anorexia does. He wanted you to hate yourself enough to love him, just like anorexia does. But you conquered him, you conquered the disorder, you started to live healthily for yourself. You've already done it, you're already there! He's a speck of dirt, miles behind you on the road you have traveled so far along. What about writing this ex a goodbye letter, telling him how glad you are to be free of his sickness (and then keeping it for yourself, or destroying it in some way that feels good to you)?

Put yourself into the enjoyable activities and things in your life that make you feel successful. The key to not giving a shit about what idiots think about you is not having the time to care because you're too busy being awesome and successful, building yourself up. You're so far along in the game, and you've done so much. You've totally got this.

Therapy is a good idea for long-term maintenance, because it really is hard to get rid of some of those things you may have internalized from your experiences with anorexia, or with him (like the idea that you're holding onto right now). Having support in any form is always beneficial--try not to hide too much from your friends, because they aren't your friends so that they can criticize you, right? They're your friends because they love who you are.
posted by so_gracefully at 1:25 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

You know, the reason he liked you so skinny is because he's a controlling piece of shit who figured out that he could MAKE you feel like you had to be skinny. Skinny, fat, that's not the issue for him. After all, he started dating you and was presumably attracted to you before you lost all the weight.

You're under no obligation to see him again (I'm not sure why you'd want to--he sounds like an asshole) but please don't hide from the rest of the world just because he happens to still be in it. You're right that he probably won't like the way you look...but only because the way you look doesn't reinforce his god complex anymore. so think of it this way: Every curve you have now is another "fuck you" from you to him. Don't be afraid to let him see that.

As for the rest of the people you knew before...honestly, they will probably be really glad to see you looking healthy again. I know you're still self-conscious about it, but believe me, they are all worried about their own weight and bad hair and zits, too.

All this to say, if you're really paralyzed by this, by all means see a therapist. Life's too short not to address this stuff.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:02 PM on July 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

er, see another therapist.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:03 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is what voodoo dolls are for.

Seriously. You have a lot of strength and awareness, that is obvious from your post. He does not. His manipulations of you are his weakness. Create a physical item to represent him. Psyche yourself up with all your emotional strength and destroy the item with your thoughts, deeds and intent.

My last successful voodoo doll was a drawing of my nemesis on card which I proceeded to cut up and castrate while banishing the self-negative thoughts inspired by his being in the world. In real life he was still alive of course, however I erased him from my vision if there was a risk of seeing him because in my internal life he was dead to me.

The power this person has over you is the power you give him. Take back your power and destroy his hold on you.
posted by Kerasia at 5:09 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
Hey all,

Just wanted to say thanks so much to you all for your input. Until you guys pointed it out to me I hadn't even registered that his encouraging my anorexia was about control, I really thought it was just about what he thought was attractive, but thinking back now, that makes total sense. He used to say things like people that are overweight are really annoying and loud because they have too much energy, and that I was probably really annoying and loud back when I was "Big Anonymous" - well yeah, I am confident and outgoing when I'm not too emaciated to do anything, and of course he would find that annoying. I spent a year being timid and quiet because I was constantly exhausted and ashamed. Ack!

The comment about every curve being a big "f*ck you" was great, it is really helpful to see it that way.

This thread has seriously changed the way I see my former relationship and how limiting it was for me to buy into his games. Instead of being worried now that he might see that I'm "Big Anonymous" again and have the satisfaction of thinking I've ruined my life, I can see that being back to my old self just means I've got my life back, and I'm happy - so if he sees that, it's probably a good thing! And if he thinks the only way to be happy is to look a certain way then that's his misery - obviously if he sees my photo on my company website, it means I've got a job, and if he sees my photo on a sports ad, it means I'm playing my sport again, and if he sees my photo in a concert report, it means I'm out doing things I enjoy, and if my photo is on someone else's facebook, it means I've been out with my friends - things I can only do when I'm healthy - how can that be losing? F*ck him!

Thank you so much!
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:02 AM on July 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

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