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I’m 42 years old and I’m heavier than I’ve ever been.

There. I said it.

Over the course of the last decade, I’ve gained 40 pounds. I’ve had a lot of beer, my share of chicken wings, fried cheese, late-night carne aside burritos and chocolate. I’ve spent hours on the couch instead of working out, chosen naps over yoga sessions and generally did my best to live the life of a lazy bastard. I probably couldn’t run more than a minute or two at a time if my life depended on it. My belly touches my upper thighs when I’m sitting and I haven’t looked at my torso in the mirror in as long as I can remember. In fact, I could have a giant tattoo of Santa riding a unicorn above my belly button and I wouldn’t know because I have, both consciously and unconsciously, refused to acknowledge my thighs, ass, stomach and hips exist.

Two nights ago I stepped on the scale and found that after two weeks without soda or energy drinks, I lost 6 pounds. In an incredible act of sheer will, and at possible detriment to my mental and emotional integrity, I ended up naked in front of the giant, mirrored closet door in my bedroom. Finally the veil of denial was lifted and I took stock of what I was working with.

Fear turned quickly to shame, followed by sadness and finally guilt. How could I have done this to myself? When did I stop caring about the body that carries me around every day? More importantly, how did I get to the point where I am so wrapped up in body issues that I’ve neglected to even take the most basic care of myself but beat up on myself daily?

I wondered this as I surveyed the curves of skin teetering on folds on my lower tummy. The excess flesh continued around the sides of my waist and flirted down past my thighs. A visible double chin winked back at me in the reflection and my matronly upper arms loomed nearby. I barely recognized myself.

But a large step was made. It wasn’t a secret anymore. I revealed the monster and I didn’t cry. In fact, aside from some negative self talk, nothing happened. The world kept spinning on its axis. Screams of horror were not heard by passersby. A giant fist of shame did not thrust itself down from the sky at me. Not a sound was made, except perhaps the quieted hush sound of my thighs rubbing together.

It was then I decided I had been wrong this whole time. My body was the thing I should be caring for, not hiding from. It needed love now more than ever-how could I not see that I was neglecting the thing that needed me most?

Later that night, we watched TV in bed and I, again, removed my clothes. I laid down in the dark with nothing but the flicker of the screen illuminating my skin and in an almost clinical fashion, began applying lotion to my body. God knows the last time anything but my arms and lower legs had seen lotion! Before I couldn’t look at my body, much less touch it lovingly. I tried to quell the snarky comments firing off in my head and concentrated less on what my hands were feeling and more on what my body felt like being felt. I noticed after a few minutes that not only did my boyfriend not wrinkle up his face in dissatisfaction at my naked mass but didn’t notice this ritual at all. Truthfully it felt pretty good. Freeing almost. Why had I not thought of this act of self-love years ago? Could kind words and moisturizer be the big step in self-acceptance, abolishing dry skin while calming an all-too-often ignored part of myself?

I felt remarkably better the next morning, and improved as the day went on and so on into the next day. Everything was improving too fast though, because a photograph of me was posted on Facebook today and remorse and self-doubt wedged its foot into the door once again. But for once, I didn’t let it stay. For long.

I have quite a road ahead of me. Getting back to being comfortable with myself is going to take a while. There is a lot of work to be done, emotionally and mentally as much as anything else. I need a combination of a self-improvement regimen and loving myself for what I am and what I’m going to be instead of what I was. But for now, I got past the denial stage. I should get some sort of chip or medal or at least a ‘fat sponsor’ for looking at myself without clothes on. As my friend Ellen says, there are two things you don’t want to see me: mad and naked.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a beer.

A light beer.