Home How OA Changed My Life Dancer in the Mirror

Dancer in the Mirror

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For years, I’d walk my dogs at a local park. Nearly every night, we’d pass a recreation room where there was a Latin dance aerobics class, and I’d watch from a distance. I didn’t want to invite the humiliation of being a morbidly obese woman watching people exercise. I had been ridiculed in public before.

In the mirrors, I saw reflections of people sweating unselfconsciously and dancing riotously. I also saw a shadow in a corner: me, watching them.

They didn’t seem imprisoned in their bodies. Their bodies seemed like places of comfort and ease rather than repositories of shame and anxiety.

For many years, I wondered if I’d ever be able join in: I was more than 100 pounds (45 kg) overweight and had many health problems. My doctor had cautioned me against any vigorous exercise, so every night, I’d simply walk to my car with my dogs and leave.

Eventually, I had a weight-loss surgery that separated me from overeating, but it had the unforeseen consequence of forcing me to confront what I thought, how I felt, and what I did when I could not overeat. I experienced an anguish so profound that I could not manage the challenges called “life.” I was completely despondent. I returned to OA and took the Twelve Steps. The Steps reunited me with a Higher Power that interrupted my cravings and obsession. Most importantly, this power led to a complete psychic change. Yes, I lost nearly 120 pounds (54 kg), but what I gained was the opportunity to live a life I had once abandoned.

One night, I left the park with my dogs, but then did something I never expected: I put on exercise clothes and showed up at that Latin dance aerobics class. I wasn’t terrorized by the prospect of being ridiculed or hindered by my memories of being made fun of. I learned that I am a dancer. I learned that my body is not a receptacle of shame. I learned that I could simply exist in an experience of my body.

I also noticed that when I looked into the mirror, I couldn’t see myself. But it wasn’t simply because I’d lost weight. Even when I was heavier, family members would show pictures or videos of me in group settings, and I couldn’t recognize myself. Flabbergasted, they’d have to point me out. I had never developed a body image because I didn’t relate to my body as anything other than a burden, a problem, or a source of potential humiliation. I didn’t see my body as me.

But instead of ruminating about this, I put one foot in front of the other and kept dancing, kept returning to the class. I trusted that if I did the footwork and followed the rhythms of life, everything else would fall into place.

I have a self in the mirror now. I’m conscious of how I move through life and how I move with others. I learned to dance, and I learned to see myself because I worked the Twelve Steps.

— Gerry P., Orlando, Florida USA

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