I adore looking back through vacation photos, even as soon as we return home from a trip. I smile and nod in cozy remembrance at each one; yep, we did that, yes, that was so much fun, wow, that was way cool! In an instant, I’m wistful and dreamy and in love with the trip all over again. Of course, this is only after I ruthlessly edit and crop, enhance and polish, or put a mob hit on any offending photo. After all, I want the best versions possible of the memories, not the shabby ones.
So when I saw this photo of myself, my immediate inclination was to delete it and then go about my life pretending I’d never seen it. But then I paused.
Because the only gear I can move forward in these days is real. And while I can almost always use the momentum of real to shift into sharing my story, I can’t access any other gear, I’m stuck in real. That’s why I’m posting this photo that for me was loathe at first sight.
I’d handed my phone to my husband and asked him to take a picture of me on this sweet piece of machinery. We were in Lake Tahoe, our happiest of happy places and we’d been careening around the refreshing, turquoise water on a jet ski, something we’d never before sprung for in ten years of vacationing in Tahoe on the cheap. I’d wanted to capture the moment so I could later recall the joy I’d tapped into. How exhilarated and feeling all the good feels I was from the ridiculously thrilling ride we’d just taken.
Instead, what I saw in the photo was I’d caught a cold at the start of the trip. That I hadn’t slept for more than a couple of good hours during each of the nights we’d been at the lake because our bed was a trampoline masquerading as a mattress. Also and mostly that not only is my belly refusing to let me button my jeans these days, it also intends to display itself prominently, like a boss, if I leave it uncovered. All this fuckery made my face fall when my husband handed my phone back to me so I could scan the photo for approval, as one does.
Him, sweetly: “Want me to try again?”
Me, IRRITATEDLY, but not at him: “Um, yeah, my stomach, oh my gawd.”
Him, empathetically, and because he knows better than to try to deny what is in PLAIN SIGHT FOR ALL TO SEE: “Mine too honey, I know how you feel.”
Me, desperately: “Let me put this life jacket back on first.”
Then I saw my legs don’t look like they used to, or like I want them to, or like they are living their best life in Tahoe. They do look exactly like the lack of prep I put into getting them shoreline ready though, a dead ringer for it. And I hadn’t had the wherewithal to zip up the life vest either, I’d just slipped it on and so the effect made my middle look even larger and more in charge and well, just, BLECK! These photos were not the corresponding visuals of the memory I’d just made. They were impostors. S-h-i-t-t-y representations of a moment in time I’d wanted to preserve in perfection for posterity.
These photos are the truth, though. Thus, part of my story and so I share them. Because it clicked how unfortunately my focus had shifted. Off of the joy and onto the imperfection. Away from God and everything good towards what I viewed as flawed due to the myopic astigmatism of my lenses. Far from the astoundingly gorgeous tandem of Lake Tahoe and the Sierras and up close to perceived unsightly and lacking.
“Snap out of it!” my brain screeched. And I listened.
I did not and will not delete either photo, though I still do not and will not adore either one. But they are an accurate account of what went down during our trip, what has gone down lately in my life and what is likely to continue. Some beauty and some ick, some imperfection and some happy, some challenge and some easy-breezy in the midst of less than what I had hoped for but better than what could be. This vision distorting kaleidoscope of real can sometimes give me vertigo, convincing me what I have, what I am is not good or enjoyable.
My truth revealed in these photos is I’ve not been taking good care of my body as of late, because my soul is its dependent right now and so my body has been working overtime taking care of its charge. I’ve been using the bulk of my available strength, willpower and determination to shore up my mental health, my marriage and my family. As a result, my body has been coming in last. By a mile.
Sharing these photos and how I view them isn’t meant in the shallow spirit I’m praying it’s not being taken in. I know there are many out there in a dire struggle with their weight because they feel they’re either too heavy or too thin for their skin. This part of my story is not meant to be used for comparison; the ultimate joy-killer that only ever makes us either prideful or pitiful. It’s meant to make at least someone else feel less alone, more appreciated and better understood. It’s meant to help at least one other set of eyes change focus in the powerful, life-serving way I’m determined to change mine.
For the incredible thing is a few years ago when I was at my best physically and feeling the most outwardly beautiful I ever have, at the same time my marriage had deteriorated to a deplorable state. My husband felt alone in my presence and unwanted in my arms and he made the choice to seek what he needed elsewhere. Our marriage was at its worst when my body was at its best, when I liked my portraits. And now that we’re rebounding and rebuilding by the grace of God, the miracle that is mercy and with the love still left in our hearts and our marriage is renewed with the potential to be at its best yet, I am at my physical worst. We both are, and neither one of us can be persuaded to bring that fact into focus. It matters not in the scope of us. Huh. Go figure.
I did, and what I came up with is that strong relationships are not built on taut butts, toned thighs or tight abs. Lasting love is not provoked by golden, even tans, carefully coiffed hair, unlined faces or unblemished limbs. The bonds worth forging and then maintaining are formed from the real in life. From sleepless nights, mistakes, stumbles, sicknesses, heartaches, battles, bravery, hindsight, and the ultimately beautiful but brutal rawness and truth of them all. Because of those things, we can cultivate real, enduring love. Not in spite of them. The real in life is the meaningful minutiae that matters. It’s real that paves a path towards deep, worthwhile connection.
Not the undesirable, less than expected and so then altered to perfect depiction of it, that’s a lie. Like the perfect photo that doesn’t really ring true. And I don’t want lies. I want real. I also want to be able to change my reality for the better if the real isn’t working for me or my marriage. But I don’t want to hide behind the illusion of perfection while I do it. That doesn’t help anyone. It’s a change of focus that helps. A shift of the eyes up and off of what bogs us down and back up onto the good that can always be found, even though.
Originally published on Blunt Moms.