I’m an avid skier. Or I at least I was an avid skier when my ski pants used to fit. On my journey to recovering from my eating disorder my pants started becoming tighter about 5 years ago. It’s been a slow, painful progression of growing out of my size. At first I was in denial. I zipped and buttoned the fly, noticing they were becoming uncomfortably snug. I chose to grin and bear it. After all, I’ll be losing weight soon and ski pants are expensive. These will work just fine for now.
I wore my ski pants until they gave me a rock solid muffin top. Over time, as the pants became increasingly tighter, my love handles erupted out of the waistband like a busted can of biscuit dough. Thank God for heavy-duty snowboarding jackets. I could camouflage my protruding belly with puffy coats. I was afraid to go up a size, afraid of having to look at that incriminating tag each time I pulled the pants on and off. I couldn’t bear the thought of seeing one more X on that matter-of-fact white square. I chose to feel like a sausage being stuffed in casein because my pride told me I deserved to feel uncomfortable.
My family takes an annual ski trip in the Rocky Mountains. Each year I find myself dreading my self-imposed “ski pant challenge”. I head down to the basement and dig through storage uncovering my winter clothing options. I have 3 pairs of pants to choose from: tight, tighter and tightest. My moment of truth arrives when I slip them on after a year of exile. Usually I put this chore off until it’s the night before we drive up to the mountains. Avoidance has been my main tactic. I’ve been disappointed with the outcome of this process for such a long time that the shame feels normal. What a lousy way to start a vacation.
The first night at our cabin we typically sit in the living room, awaiting arrivals and helping each other unload cars. On our last trip, it felt refreshing to sit down and catch up in-person. The next day, the first ski day of my ski season, always started the division in my mind. I’d come home from a day of powder, speed and excitement but I would feel fat, ugly and too big to be skiing in the first place. I would strip off the pants and see the mark they had left on my stomach, a deep red indentation of my secret. My family’s annual ski vacations ended up having a hellish flow for me while everyone else seemed to be having the time of their lives.
We skied in groups and cascaded down the slopes like a pack of teenagers, hooting and hollering over the speed and powder. I tried to have carefree fun. Yet it was hard to be happy-go-lucky when negative thoughts were raging within the privacy of my mind. All day long, each movement of my waist sent shrill messages into my head. Do you feel all that fat? Your stomach is being ripped in two because you have no self-control. This is ridiculous! You’re better than this! How could you let yourself get so big?
I more or less fell onto the chair lift because the pain was too immobilizing. I couldn’t fake gracefulness. When I exited the ski lift I had to take a deep breath before taking on any more pain from the sharp discomfort against my gut. I would race down the mountain worried that my buttons might pop open and mid-slope my pants might drop down to my ankles without my knowing. Then I would stand in line with all the other skiers and start the process all over again. As soon as my butt slammed down into the chair I was filled with embarrassment. The energy to put on a happy face faded by early afternoon because I was ready to go home and strip down. I needed to put on my pajamas so I could finally put an end to the voices in my head and the pain against my stomach.
Back at the cabin we would all change clothes and curl up by the cozy fireplace. I would try to be present, to be a good listener and a good story teller but my mind had been elsewhere all day. It had started the moment I forced on those awful ski pants. I had huffed and puffed while bending over and clipping into my skis. I should have sucked it up and worn jeans. No, I would look silly like someone from out-of-state. No, everyone would know I was too fat for my ski pants.
I lived in two worlds like this my entire life. My most memorable moments, like a ski trip, filled with fun and laughter were also filled with undisclosed self-hatred. The loving me was nowhere to be found. I’d be hanging out but my mind had been thousands of miles away. My moods visibly darkened or my efforts to stay happy became forced. I couldn’t win. The anxiety of having to put those pants on once again in the morning kept my hateful thoughts alive.
I no longer spend my vacations caught up in private conversations of hate. I’ve made it a priority to feel good in my clothes even if that means going shopping. This is the only way to tame the negative nonstop chatter. I’ve learned to address the voices head-on with love. Recovery is knowing I’m worth a new pair of ski pants.