If you can’t tear down your wall, build a ladder instead
penned by the fabulous Lyndsey Hafer-Williams
I have a weird tooth. When I was a kid, my mouth connected with someone’s fist, and one of my front teeth was shattered and knocked out. To this day when I look into a mirror, even though the dentist did a nice job of building me a new one, it’s all that I can see. The discoloration, unnatural gap, and weird gum line are front and center in every photo. I actually used to cover my smile, or not smile at all, in a self-conscious attempt to keep it hidden.
And then there’s this…
That unforgettable day in my mid-20s where, in a tiny dressing room, I was valiantly attempting to try on a pair of jeans without looking at myself in the three-way mirror. As I craned around trying to get a glimpse of my backside, without using the mirrors, I felt a little dizzy, but it vanished when I stood up straight. Unfortunately, as I was taking the damn jeans off, I lost my footing and crashed, ass first, through the wobbly dressing room door. I made a fabulous scene landing on my tush with said jeans down around my ankles. I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life. I was so obsessed with not looking at myself in the mirror, so preoccupied with avoiding my reflection, so concerned with all the ugly thoughts about the way I looked, that I inadvertently advertised every single thing that I was so desperate to hide. The irony doesn’t escape me.
In my early-30s when I topped off at 301 pounds, I used to duck and run from any mirror in my path. I would cover, shimmy, and shake in order to avoid seeing any part of my reflection. Department stores were a nightmare, with my reflection on full display every time I turned around. Even my shadow, outlined by the sun on the pavement below as I walked my dogs, never failed to keep my gaze straight ahead in deadlocked aversion.
For years, whenever I dared to look, all I could see was an out-of-control, obese, broken woman covered in regret and burdened with guilt. I carried deep, intense, soul-blistering shame around with me like a toddler clutches her baby blanket.
Shame is one of the hardest emotions that a human can experience. It tends to burrow down under your skin, invade your thoughts, weave around your heart, and scrunch up next to your soul like a parasite. Shame bides its time, hiding, like a predator just waiting for the next opportunity to come rushing forward to knock you down, demolish your confidence, zero out your self-control, and viciously devour your spirit.
I was truly miserable. Poor self-esteem which collided with an irrational belief system, that continually whispered in my ear that I was unlovable and unlikeable, was a particularly potent combination that kept me weighed down under a mountain of burning shame for many years.
I needed change. Significant, earth shattering, soul altering, permanent change. Somewhere, deep inside, I knew it was the only way to stop existing in a world steeped in shame. My mind was a tidal wave of question after exhausting question. Did I really want to live this way? Was I worthy of true love? Could I even find a life filled with joy and security instead of one lived in fear and worry? A tsunami of doubt and fear clutched at my heart and held fast to my spirit.
Making these huge changes seemed insurmountable, daunting, and utterly impossible. It felt as if I would shatter into a million pieces if I tried at all. And like Humpty-Dumpty, I may never be put back together again. I may never be whole. There was a wall in front of me and it was fucking enormous.
So, I built a ladder…
I started by making one easy, good choice and sticking with it. I started with drinking more water. That’s it. Then, I cut out all fast food. After several weeks, I cut out all soda and junk food. Next, I started eating fruit and walking 20 minutes a day. On and on it went, until my ladder not only had a framework, it had several bottom rungs to start climbing. One choice, one step, one rung at a time until I could move up that ladder steadily and confidently.
It wasn’t easy. In fact, sometimes it was excruciatingly difficult. At times, I faltered and slipped and occasionally came crashing down. But! I got up, dusted myself off, straightened my tiara, and kept climbing that ladder.
Real change, especially that searing soul-work of transforming from the inside out, doesn’t happen all at once. I knew I couldn’t tear down that wall in one swoop, but I suspected that I might be able to slowly climb over that bastard. And so I started.
As I climbed that ladder, I also started looking at my reflection in the mirror…
If you let it, the mirror can be a barometer of sorts. It can gauge pretty accurately your emotional, spiritual, and mental health. If you let it, the mirror can tell a story, complete with shapes, lumps, bumps, scars, stretch marks, tattoos, a bad tooth, and even cellulite. If you let it, the mirror can create a whole narrative about why and how you proceed through this crazy life. The marks upon your body are what make you perfectly imperfect. The mirror can be your greatest ally!
I want you to try something:
Go take a selfie, or have someone snap a photo of you, or go take a good long look in your mirror.
Take note of the things you like about your appearance.
Acknowledge your muscles that keep you upright.
Give thanks for the breath you just took.
Think about how resourceful your body is for keeping you going throughout the day.
Find wonder in how your blood flows through your veins carrying all those nutrients to the organs that need it.
Marvel at your nose, eyes, ears, and tongue and at how those senses provide such important information about your environment.
Rejoice in those juicy womanly curves that your significant other can hold onto for love and support.
Gaze upon your hands and celebrate how they so ably care for your children and others in need.
And then, be your own champion!
Now in my 40s, one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life was the day I crossed the finish line of a 15K race at the Biltmore Estate here in Asheville, NC. In a few years, I had gone from a miserable human being who couldn’t walk to the end of her driveway without gasping for breath to a strong, fierce woman who jogged 9.3 miles without stopping! That was the monumental day when I mightily crushed shame with every step and let guilt powerfully fall from my shoulders with every breath.
I wasn’t initially thrilled with the official race day photo that was posted online because I didn’t think it captured what I really felt on the inside. At first, all I could see was the imperfections. I saw the sagging skin, the half-hearted smile, and the poor lighting due to a dreary day. Then I looked at that picture with my heart and I saw the fierce, resilient smile of a warrior! I saw a well-trained body that had survived years of abuse, yet was thriving! I saw pure, unadulterated, uncomplicated joy.
Today, there isn’t a mirror I pass by without giving a look and a smile. Sometimes I even give a wink and a kiss for good measure. I’m not perfect and I can still find fault at the drop of a hat. But, now I remain aware and I am conscious of the internal messages I send myself.
Mostly, I see a luscious, fierce, healing woman who carries scars inside and out. I see a survivor and it thrills my soul.
Are you ready to build your ladder or have you already started climbing? Talk to us in the comments below, we want to hear about it, my dear.
Now that you’ve read Lyndsey’s sweet words of hope and inspiration, swoop up this recipe for delicious (oil free and vegan butter free) Plant Based Alfredo Sauce. Like our Plant Fueled Meal Plans, it’s perfectly suited for building ladders.
Plant Based Alfredo Sauce (oil and vegan butter free)
Plant Based Alfredo Sauce (oil and vegan butter free)
- 1 cup cashews, soaked in water for at least 10 minutes (130g)
- 1 1/2 cups water (355ml)
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
- 1 teaspoon mild / yellow miso
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper (about 10 turns)
Drain and discard the water from the soaked cashews and place the cashews in a blender, along with the rest of the ingredients. Blend until creamy and smooth. The sauce will seem thin but no worries, it will thicken up as it heats up.
Transfer the sauce to a medium-sized saucepan, turn the heat to the lowest possible setting and cook for 10 minutes, stir often so the sauce doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
This sauce is super yummy served over cooked whole wheat or whole grain pasta and topped with steamed broccoli and roasted cherry tomatoes (as photographed).
Wishing you a happy week. May it be filled with building yourself the best damn ladder ever.