Sculpting the Real Self
I once read that Michaelangelo was asked how he managed to create the magnificent statue of David, and he replied that he carved away all the stone that didn’t belong. He knew what he wanted his David to be, so it was a process of whittling away what wasn’t David in order to reveal what was.
I thought of this as I sat with a woman I’ll call Gwen who has been experiencing dramatic shifts in her identity following weight-loss surgery. She has shed over 130 pounds, and in the process has also, without expecting to, shed relationships that no longer fit with how she appears and how she experiences herself.
Although her journey has been a visibly dramatic one, I believe the process of shedding out-moded ways of being and seeing ourselves is one way of understanding how to reveal more of the essence of who we are.
Gwen mentioned being troubled by what’s happened with her best friend Kelly. Despite a decades-long relationship, Kelly has ceased calling and staying in touch through Facebook, and Gwen is unsure about how to handle this. I asked her if she misses Kelly, and she acknowledged that she doesn’t. She said that Kelly even admitted, before all of Gwen’s weight loss, that she didn’t know if she could handle being friends if Gwen was no longer 100 pounds heavier than she is. Gwen realized that she played the role of being Kelly’s “fat friend therapist,” often listening for hours at a time to the on-going drama of Kelly’s painful relationship with her mother. They had bonded over their mutual mother-issues, but that bond was dependent on each of them maintaining the same role as before with one another. Kelly was secure if she was “thinner,” and Gwen’s value lay in being the ever-available helper. This was a role she tended to play with others, as well, because she felt she had to compensate for being so heavy.
As Gwen continues to shed her “fat me” persona, she marvels at how “normal” she feels now that she no longer stands out because of her size. Although she always knew she was smart and creative, those qualities were often buried beneath the self-consciousness that came with being heavy. She’s attracting friends who enjoy and can celebrate who she is and who don’t need her to be less in order to have a mutually rewarding relationship. She also has a new job that she enjoys and utilizes her gifts.
There are still days when she is tempted to grab a bag of one of her formerly favorite binge foods. However, those days are few. Even more important, with her current level of emotional awareness and commitment to maintaining the gains from her weight loss, she usually finds that after a few bites, the desire for more is gone. She knows the difference between true stomach hunger, mouth hunger, and stuffing feelings, and she celebrates the freedom of choice that this awareness has given her—the freedom that has her “Real Self” standing tall and unobscured.
“Instead of figuring out ‘who you really are,’ unknow who you have been conditioned into being. Image, persona and identity are the boxes of limitation.”