I used to hate my birthdays. My dread of those days was not about getting older or about being single. (I like being single, but on birthdays I do wish I had someone who would make birthday plans for me.)
In years past, birthdays were the days when I felt I had to take my inventory. I’d wake up that morning and focus on what I had NOT accomplished that year. And, typically, that had to do with weight loss. Even if I had accomplished all sorts of wonderful things between birthdays, if I was still fat on the anniversary of my birth, in my mind, nothing else seemed to count. Could I…would I… eat a piece of birthday cake that day? Would I “break my diet”? Would leftover birthday cake, left on my kitchen counter, precipitate a binge that would last for days, weeks…until my next birthday? Worrying about birthday cake and “feeling fat” on my birthday was like opening Pandora’s Box. I’d feel scared and fat. Then, I’d feel unlovable, different, isolated and alone, even if I was with friends. As I write this, I remember who painful that was.
Truth be told, in years past, I spent much of my life feeling unlovable, undeserving, and “fat” (looking back at pictures, I realize I felt “fat” whether I was actually fat or not). Even though I was emotionally aware enough to know that “fat” was not a feeling, the judgments I placed on being fat (helped along by societal vilification of being anything but thin), sure ruled my days!
When I celebrated my birthday this past Sunday, I was struck by how different I felt. This year, I made it a point to make plans with friends I adore. We went to an outdoor antiques fair; more like a flea market with a lot of old junk. It was great fun! Amazingly, my friend Randy spotted something I had been looking for for years; an old brass watch part I needed to fix a broken bracelet that I hadn’t been able to wear for ages. I love that bracelet! And I sold a Victorian garnet pin to a jeweler for what I thought was a fortune! Happy Birthday to me!
But what really made this birthday so different was where I placed my focus. This year my birthday was all about connection; genuinely feeling connected to others. Sounds funny to say, but that’s all about ME…and my DECISION to feel connected.
Facebook also helped. While I’m not a big user, I love that Facebook lets people know when it’s your birthday. I got a real kick out of receiving birthday wishes from people who would not normally have known or remembered to send me happy birthday wishes. That was lovely! I took it all in and felt great about the fact that people from my past; close and distant relatives, colleagues, coaching clients, all took the time to say “Happy Birthday”. I felt every single wish this year!
I enjoyed a 2 hour phone call from my oldest friend, Frannie. We’ve been in each other’s lives since we were 10 months old. I got a quick call and an email from my BFF, Mary Beth. We met when we were rookie street reporters in Charlotte, NC. On Sunday, she was about to board a plane in California after attending her niece’s baby shower and found a minute to call me. Her daughter, Tara (whom I adore), had just called her Mom to remind her it was my birthday (she saw it on Facebook.) My stepbrother Warren and his wife called from Washington State to say “Happy Birthday”. Warren said they wanted me to know that they loved me. What a gift! At the end of the day, I was so struck by how I felt. Happy and content and loved!
What was different this birthday? Well, I wasn’t doing a critical review of my year, my business successes or failures, or my bank balance…and I wasn’t judging a single thing by what I weigh. Instead, I was just taking everything in; I was feeling how good it felt to feel connected. What changed? Me! I’ve learned to love myself…body and all..and to actually “receive” from people who have been in my life loving me all along. Today, I can hear and accurately feel how others feel about me; whether that’s positive, negative, or indifferent. I am mindful of and I appreciate what I give and what I get in my relationships; with friends, family, co-workers, and clients (I received the most beautiful hand made card from one of my clients this year. It made me cry. Thanks, M.S!).
Not one single moment that made me happy on my birthday this year had anything to do with my size.
It was a simple and sweet birthday! I am looking forward to creating many, many more just like it!
Ellen Shuman is a Life Coach who specializes in empowering people who are working on emotional and binge eating recovery. She is the founder of A Weigh Out & Acoria Eating Disorder Treatment, Vice President of the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), and Co-Chair of the Academy for Eating Disorders Special Interest Group on “Health at Every Size”, email@example.com