Updated: Jul 2, 2020
| This is the 273rd story of Our Life Logs |
Fall down seven times, stand up eight.
I was born in the winter of 1985, in the heaving metropolis of Joburg, South Africa—city of gold. I don’t remember much about it because soon after, we moved to the sunshine city of Cape Town.
My mom was 28 when she met my dad. He was 48—charming, smooth, and irresistible, so, of course, she couldn’t deny his seductions. But then…it was all over, and they divorced when I was just three years old. My dad moved on to yet another young gorgeous woman—and then another, and then another. I suppose he always had an eye for beauty. Whether it’s a lovely landscape or a beautiful woman, he could never resist a flowing, sensual form. But beauty was something that I felt I never had.
So, unlike my dad, I was a loner. Most of the time, I felt unloved and empty inside. When I saw my dad on weekends, he would introduce me to his wealthy “in crowd” by saying, “This is my daughter. She grows horizontally.” He may have been joking, but when you hear the same joke 200 times, you start to believe it. I became withdrawn. Maybe if I was skinnier, I could earn my dad’s love and approval…
The constant rejection and ridicule pushed me into a dark space. Depression started to sink in.
It took me a long time to make friends at school. When I finally did, my mom decided that I should follow her ambitions and promptly enrolled me in a private school. Changing school at the tender age of 13 only made me feel more isolated. That year, I went to see a psychologist for the first time and was told I had been depressed for quite some time. At 14, I was put on bipolar medication.
I felt completely out of control as if I had no choice but to follow my mom’s dreams and my dad’s expectations of a perfect “society princess.” And so, I began secretly controlling my food intake—to become skinnier and, well, more accepted. In doing so, I developed a serious eating disorder. By 15, I had full-blown anorexia. I lived off tea and a few bites of sweets, and on occasions when my family forced me to eat food that I didn’t want, I would make myself throw it back up afterward. I wanted my body to match the emptiness I felt.
All the while, I stuffed my emotions down, drowned them out, and escaped from them any way I could, whether through boys, starving, or boozing. Though it all left scars in my heart.
I graduated high school when I was 19, still depressed. Living in the bright sunshine of Cape Town didn’t help, because my mind and spirit remained dark and cloudy. Without a sense of what to do next, I headed to London, hoping the new environment would help me figure out the rest of my life.
After I drifted around for a year in London trying to work out my plan, my parents pressured me into studying architecture, and I gave in. Even so, I dropped out a year later because I hated it. After that, I floated purposelessly for a few years, living in the flats that my dad paid rent for and doing waitressing jobs here and there to kill my days. I knew I had skills, but I had no idea what I wanted to do.
Instead, I escaped into toxic, abusive men who had little empathy, something I direly craved. My mom was constantly worried about my mental health.
The truth is, I was too.
In the meantime, I was still living under the shadow of my dad and tried to play “perfect” for him. In 2009, I took up an office job for one of his shipping companies, even though I didn’t like it. But I was changing as the days went on. As “good” as I wanted to be for my dad, a mind of my own was forming. I began to challenge him, which he didn’t like, and his egotistical, tyrannical nature bore down on me, trying to force me to see things his way and do what he wanted.
All the pent-up anger from the years of verbal abuse led me to do one of the most shocking and liberating things I’d ever done in my life. I woke up early one day in 2010, wrote him a letter telling him exactly how horribly he had treated me and what I’d thought of him, and took off back to Cape Town. I had never felt freer.
I celebrated by getting a new tattoo on my wrist to remind me of my power. It was a symbol of spirit. Soon after, I got another tattoo which was a Japanese saying: Fall down seven times, stand up eight. It taught me to be strong, to be resilient, and to stand up from where I fell. It was the start of my healing.
But life didn’t change for the better all in one day. Although I had left my dad behind, his spirit stayed with me and my self-esteem continued to suffer. I was still allowing toxic men into my life. And on top of everything, I was suffering from Orthorexia (an obsessive behavior in pursuit of a healthy diet), developed from my early anorexia. To my friends, it just seemed I liked eating sparingly, but healthily.
By 2012, I was tired and again, lost. Encouraged by my friends, I started doing yoga to help cope with the dark feelings I had about myself. Every class, I would curl up in a ball and cry, trying to hide the emotional storms that seemed to come up. Little did I know that I was finally getting in touch with myself and my body. Yoga saved me from my self hatred and made me see myself in a brighter light.
I continued to fall in love with the ancient practice, and by the end of the year, I completed a 200-hour training and became an official yoga teacher. My boyfriend persuaded me to move with him to Bristol, England to start a new life. And there I went, leaving my friends and everyone else I loved behind.
The first year was hell. A combination of coming off my bipolar medication, which I had been taking since 14, and living in a new country caused me to crash. My obsession with food became all-encompassing, and I yearned for home. It came to a head when my boyfriend and I worked at a ski resort in France over the winter of 2014. After years of loneliness with yoga classes being my only form of happiness, I tried to tell my boyfriend that I wanted to leave Europe. His response was an echo of my dad’s unrelenting attitude, “You can’t leave. I forbid you.”
And that marked the end of yet another toxic relationship of mine. I looked at the tattoos on my wrist, gathered my courage, and left him and returned to South Africa in mid-2015.
I spent the next two years trying to find my feet in Cape Town, and in some ways, I was healing, but I was still restless. Then I decided to give Bristol another go in 2017—where I would eventually meet Jo, the man who showed me real love and helped turn my life around.
Through Jo, I began to love myself a little better. I fought to change how I felt about food and my body. In doing so, I realized that I had accumulated a lot of knowledge about food throughout all these years, and that I could use it to my advantage. So, I decided to study nutrition…at the ripe old age of 33 in 2018. I dove in headfirst and gained the sweet release of having some sort of focus and purpose. I felt at peace for the first time in a long while.
And in the spirit of healing, I decided to let go of the resentment and pain I had for my dad after I learned he’d become ill with liver cancer. In between semesters, I’ve been flying back to South Africa, to be the bigger person and to take care of him. Letting go of all the negativity in my life has transformed me into the best version of myself.
I am in a better place than I have ever been–feeling surer of myself and less…empty. My cup is now full. I have purpose, direction, love, and most of all, forgiveness. I realized that the anger I held onto was only poisoning me. And I have had enough of hurting myself. My eating disorder is a battle I still fight, but I’m learning to control and become the master of it. My scars are deep, but they tell my story, a story of resilience, of rising above, and of fighting back.
I look forward to a future in which I can help others to love their bodies, love their minds, and be brave enough to be who they are.
This is the story of Marie Henderson
Marie, 33, was born in Joburg, South Africa, and currently lives in Bristol, England. Her story is about filling up the emptiness she always felt, about loving herself and attracting the love she deserved, and about finding forgiveness and strength after growing up with a low self-esteem thanks to her father. She looks forward to completing her first year of studies in nutrition and hopes to eventually train celebrities and athletes and help them incorporate healthy diets into their daily habits. She will soon be “giving back” by offering yoga training to addicts in her area so that they can also heal. At the beginning of 2019, Maria decided to temporarily stay apart from her boyfriend Jo, who had left for a six-month martial arts training program, but she plans to reunite with him when he returns. In her spare time, Marie has started training in martial arts and recently also took up running. She’s learning to eat more consciously.
This story first touched our hearts on February 8, 2019.
| Writer: Margarita Celeste | Editor: Kristen Petronio |