Just before I turned 40, I had changed one of the things about my life that I didn’t like. My car. This seemed like an easy thing to do and fairly trivial. Something that I didn’t have to think much about. Just figure out what you like and go find one you can afford. But that seemingly little change actually lit up a slew of other issues that needed to be dealt with. You see, the elephant that I was ignoring was my “hideously ugly” complex. I’d ignored it for a very long time, and let’s just say, elephants have a way of getting noticed... eventually.
It’s not that I didn’t know I had this issue. It’s that I never treated it as being at all serious or even relevant. At some point in my nature or nurture, I became convinced that I was hideously ugly. That became my fact and no one really disputed it. I’m not sure exactly where or when it happened. It just was. It’s part of the reason I hated mirrors so much and also part of the reason for my panic attack during the first topless Jeep ride.
Let me say this... knowing something isn’t rational and letting go of that belief are two totally different things. But fate has a funny way of slapping you in the face with something just when you’re convinced your denial is impenetrable.
My 40th birthday was just a few days away now and God knows why, but I decided I would take the day off from work to treat myself to a massage and then spend the day with my dog.
I’ve never had an actual massage before, but I decided part of this new life should include at least acting like a was a normal woman and doing "woman" things. One thing that normal women did was to pamper themselves on occasion, right? I had learned this from watching “Dallas” and of course from listening to the women I work with.
Also, a few months before, I had started seeing a brilliant Chiropractor whom I called Dr.
Hannah. I’ve had this theory that I was in constant “fight or flight” mode for quite some time
now, but Dr. Hannah confirmed it. Clench your fists as tightly as you can and hold it. Now
imagine your whole body feeling like that for years. Turns out that this kind of stress can affect
a lot of body systems, including digestion. Wasn’t that interesting? Turns out that digestion is what
computer people would call, a secondary or non- essential system. That means, when you’re in
danger, it gets turned off basically to conserve power. If you’re in constant stress mode, like this
fight or flight thing, well, your digestion is FUBAR!
In the same office as Dr. Hannah, there are massage therapists. I made an appointment with one. I figured my muscles could use the attention and frankly, so could I. I was, however, quite worried about how I could possibly go through with it. I was still around 340 pounds and I would have to be at least partially naked. The mere thought of that sent me into a little state I like to call Catatonia. I purposefully set that thought aside. I could panic later. I was simply making the appointment today. One tiny step at a time.
Massage Day, aka My 40th Birthday: The day started off alright. I was trying hard not to really think about actually going through with it. I turned on my internal auto-pilot and the Jeep and headed to the appointment.
When I arrived, I made my way inside and checked in. There was paperwork. There was
ALWAYS paperwork, wasn’t there? I completed it and handed it over. The only way I was going to get through this was to tune-out, right? "Tuning out" was something I used to do a lot. If I simply turned off my emotions, nothing could hurt me because I was numb. In fact, "tuning out" was so second nature that sometimes I didn't even realize I was doing it.
Sitting in the waiting room, I was scared to death and desperately trying to look normal. But inside, the fear was mounting. What was I thinking? Why did I ever think I wanted to do this? I could picture the massage therapist cringing in horror at the sight of me and running from the room screaming at the top of her lungs. It was inconceivable that anyone would want to touch me even if I was paying them to do it. It's why I hadn't let anyone touch me for nearly 15 years. It would be too humiliating to deal with, of that I was sure.
I honestly don’t know how I made it from the waiting area to the room, let alone disrobing and getting on the table. Inside I felt horrible. I felt ugly. I felt defeated. What a way to
spend your birthday, you idiot. There’s that little voice again.
But then, Dana came into the room and started chattering away. In fact, she talked so much, I didn’t have to. This isn’t normally what you'd want in a spa experience, I’m guessing? But I was grateful. She asked me a couple of questions and I nodded or shook my head depending on what was appropriate. This actually made me laugh a little considering I was face down in the head rest-y donut thing in the massage table.
“Have you had a massage before?” Dana asked. I shook my head. “Well, she said, some people like deep tissue massage, some don’t. If at any time I’m pressing too hard or it’s uncomfortable for you, you just let me know, okay?”
So far, I loved Dana. She was a little chatty Kathy, but thank God for that! She was busy telling me about her job and her recent dates and I thought maybe she’s so occupied with her conversation that she won’t even notice how hideous I am!
Then she put her hands on my shoulders and started working on my back. Oh my God. It was all I could do not to cry. It didn’t hurt. Not physically. I’m not sure how to describe what happened to me in that moment. I wanted to thank her, to hug her, to pay her mortgage. It wasn’t anything sexual, far from it. It was a validation of sorts. It was like in the act of touching me, bare hands to bare skin, she
acknowledged that I existed. It was honestly the first time I hadn't felt completely alone in the world. How could I ever think that wasn’t important? How could I have ever think that I didn’t need it? How had I lived without it for nearly 15 years?
A few tears fell, but I had to stop them or I would be blubbering and snotting into the pretty spa pillow and I couldn’t have that. So, for the rest of the massage, I concentrated only on the sensory experience and when that was too overwhelming, I concentrated on Dana’s chattering, bless her heart.
When it was over, I held it together long enough to drink my obligatory water, pay the bill and get myself to the Jeep. Then, I promptly broke down. Right there in the parking lot, I let myself feel what had just happened. I let myself absorb what it felt like to be touched again by another human being.