Those two little words are the biggest lie in all of history.
When I was entrenched in my anorexia, that was my motto. End of story. Everything was always, “I’m fine.” Maybe you can relate. But with those two little words, I was able to keep everyone at arm’s distance. I wasn’t letting anyone in to see what was really going on in my heart or in my mind. No way, Josè. My world was literally spiraling out of control. I was on the edge, dying on the inside, yet everyday I would put on this mask of, “I’m fine.” This mask of, “I’m smiling. I’m happy. There’s nothing wrong here. Everything’s just peachy.”
You see, part of my (Capital L) Lie was that in order to be loved, I had to be perfect. That my worth was linked to what I achieved. That I had to earn love through a performance.
So for me, that mask that I would put on everyday — that smile, that “I’m fine” — was a performance that I thought would merit me love. Merit me value. Merit me worth. I would perform for everyone that I was happy and that I was “fine.” I would perform that I didn’t have an eating disorder.
But this mask was killing me.
You see, I was what you would call a “bottler.” Every emotion I was feeling, be it good, bad, disappointed, hopeful, doubt, etc. Any feeling that I had, I would stuff into a bottle and screw the lid on tight. I would never share my emotions with anyone for fear of showing weakness. For fear of showing vulnerabilities. For fear of revealing that I’m not perfect.
And for a while, it would work: I’d forget about certain insecurities or fears I would have. I wouldn’t dwell on feelings of being hurt or being inadequate or even feeling a little bit left out at some times. Nope — those feeling were in my bottle, far far away. I chucked that bottle out to sea. And in the meantime, I picked up my mask and put it on for everyone to see. And for a while, that worked.
But here’s the thing with masks: I was wearing this mask because I thought it was going to make me be loved. I thought wearing this picture-perfect, smiling, “I’m fine” mask was making me worthy of being loved. But in actuality, by wearing the mask, I was preventing myself from receiving love.
Let me say that again: the mask created a barrier, so that I could not receive love. I was preventing myself from being loved.
I was putting on this mask, and doing everything in my power to hide who I really was. To hide the deepest parts of my heart that were so desperately in need of love and acceptance. The parts of my heart that needed to be nurtured: my insecurities, my fears, my struggles, my anxieties, my wounds, my Lie – those parts of my heart so desperately needed love. But by wearing a mask, and concealing those things from the world, from my loved ones, from my friends, from God – by hiding those things away and wearing the mask that “I’m fine,” I prevented those things from seeing the light. I prevented them from receiving the love that could heal them.
“I’m fine” is such crap. And it’s such a common lie we tell each other. It’s incredible how widespread that bullshit is, seriously. There are so many people walking around hiding their brokenness with a smile. Or hiding their brokenness with alcohol, or drugs, or sex, or shopping, or cars, or an eating disorder. We do everything in our power to hide that brokenness for fear of exposing the real me: the imperfect me. The broken me. “No one could possibly love the real me.”
Here’s what I want you to hear tonight: The imperfections are what make you lovable.
Your brokenness is what makes you beautiful. Your imperfections are what make you strong.
When we take off that mask — When we expose those things in our hearts that we are afraid to show people for fear of rejection or for fear of disappointing someone, or for fear of being less than perfect, we are inviting them to love the real you. We’re revealing a sacred part of our heart that we so often conceal behind a smile — conceal behind a mask of “I’m fine.”
Because here’s the other thing about masks: When we wear a mask, not only can we not receive love, but we cannot truly give love either. There’s a barrier there. There’s something in the way of giving your heart away. And giving love is just as important as receiving love. For it is in loving others, that we are truly allowing ourselves to be loved. In giving love to others, we are multiplying the love that has been given to us from God. In loving others, we are sharing goodness, sharing joy, sharing love. And in loving another person, we are loving ourselves, and driving out the Voice of ED. ED wants us to draw into ourselves. ED wants us to be isolated and ignore phone calls from our friends. ED wants us to stay home from social engagements for fear of there being food there, or for fear of having to eat in front of people. ED wants you to curl up in isolation and cling to him in self-destruction. But when you love another person, when you give of your heart, you are driving ED out. You’re waging a war against the fears and anxieties ED’s placed in your mind.
1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. Love drives out fear.”
When we give love to others and accept it in return, we are driving out the fears that ED is spewing into our brains. This is the single most important thing for silencing the Voice of ED. When we accept love from others, as well as from God, and then in return, turn around and give that love to others, and give love to ourselves, ED can’t win. He is driven out of our lives, because we are living in love. There can’t be any fear there. We are loving ourselves and allowing others to love us and giving love to others. It’s a cycle, and there’s just no place for ED there. But the first step in that cycle of love, is to take off the mask.
And here’s the final thing: yes, there will be people that want you to wear a mask to fit in. They’ll want you to conform to their standards or ideals in order to be “popular” with them, or be seen as “acceptable” in their eyes. And frankly, those people suck.
But hear me when I say this: they don’t deserve you.
You have so much to offer and you deserve to be around people that love you for exactly who you are. Around people that love you for the person you are underneath the mask. In actuality, those people that want you to be someone you’re not, or encourage a “masked” existence, are toxic relationships, and should be expelled from your life, just like ED. That’s hard to hear, and may shake you up — You may think, “Gosh, how am I going to go back to school and be around my friends who all expect me to be this way?” Well, frankly, this is the time for you to carve your own path. This is your recovery and if your “friends” tear you down, maybe you need to rethink those relationships. That’s some pretty tough #realtalk right there, but it’s something that you really need to think about if protecting your recovery is going to be the number one thing in your life (which it should be).
You don’t have to wear a mask. You are wonderful and worthy without concealing the real you. You don’t have to walk around being “fine” all the time. You don’t have to wear the painted smile all day, every day. Letting someone in is incredibly scary, but it will be the best decision you ever make. Revealing the real you begins the healing process. You don’t have to start by telling everyone on the block, either. Start in a journal. Reveal your inner self to yourself. Maybe you’re like me, and wouldn’t even be vulnerable with your own mind. I just didn’t want to face the truth or have to deal with my emotions at all. Journaling is a great way to practice letting out your emotions instead of bottling them up, and showing your true colors. Journaling makes your emotions more accessible, and makes sharing them with another person less scary.
Living behind a mask isn’t truly living. We become hollow, hiding behind a painted smile, afraid that our brokenness will prevent anyone from loving us or wanting to get close to us.
Take off the mask. Your brokenness makes you beautiful.
But what do we do when we feel that our brokenness is just too much to reveal? What then? To be continued in Part 2.
We put on masks to be loved. But when we wear masks, we can’t receive love or give love.