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Why Side-by-Side Photos Saved My Life

Part of the problem with social media is the comparison culture.

The before and afters, the #TBT (throwback Thursday) and #TT (transformation Tuesday) posts and pictures. Worse than that is the focus on looks and lighting and angles.

Yep, I am a pro at this.

Look at these two pictures, taken seconds apart.

In one, my hips are “slimmer,” my legs firmer. My waist curvier. There is truth that you can make social media photos look better. But I also find that there is truth in photos… and it’s not a bad thing to take these pictures and put them side-by-side others.

I’ll explain.

At this point, I can admit that documenting every single second of my life is an obsession.

I don’t blame social media though; I used to run through traditional FILM in the same way as a kid. Much to the frustration of my parents. I have always loved photography and pictures–I take pictures of everything, and when I run out of subjects, I choose me.

I also take pictures to prove to myself that I am doing the right things.

Because the mirror is my enemy.

If I look in the mirror, I don’t see truth.

When I look in the mirror, I see a very very very very overweight, sad, angry, drunk girl who regrets so many choices, paths and things. Even though I am so far removed from that.

If I look at a picture, I see something different.

I don’t know why that is, but it’s from a long history of body dysmorphia, eating disorders, addiction and more issues than Sports Illustrated. I get that.

Mirrors are not my friend. Pictures can be. Though they are not always.

I can look at this picture and tear them both apart, just like you could do.

The stomach. Blech. The sag. Blech. What in the world is that stomach going to actually look like in 10 years?

But that’s not the point. When I put pictures side-by-side, I see progress. Good lord, I (like so many of you) have put in so much work and dedication and I can see it. And it’s been so slow. I am actually not saying, “Looooook at how awesome I LOOK everybody.”

The side-by-sides are evidence that I am trying, that I am showing up for myself. Because I didn’t always do that. I didn’t always show up to my life to live it. I didn’t always believe enough in myself to workout, to buy a wool shirt for sub-zero weather.

When I was in law school, standing outside the building smoking cigarettes, I would wear jeans and sweatshirt–and it could be 25 degrees, and that would be all I was wearing. My best friend, Beth, would say, “You need a coat! And a belt.” (because I was always yanking at my pants. I needed both. But I didn’t care enough about myself to get either a coat or a belt. I just wanted to get through the damn day at law school so I could go home, watch “The Practice” and drink bourbon.)

With side-by-sides, I see that I am moving forward. I am making progress. I am moving towards where I want to go–albeit at the effing pace of a glacier. So slow. So tedious. So freaking long and hard and slow.

I am saying, “This gal TODAY, on the right? Well, she’s not perfect. She’s STILL not at ‘goal weight.’ And she may never be. But look at this. Here is the proof that she is trying. Here is the proof that she won’t give up. Here is the proof that progress–even if it takes eight years (and it has)–happens.”

When I post side-by-sides, I am not living in the moment of body size, I am living in the feeling of the moment of those pictures.

For example, in that picture on the “left”, I felt _________.

Today, I feel ________.

Usually the pictures I choose are very, very personal. I remember exactly how I felt when that “left” picture was taken. I felt: hungover, sad, angry, hopeless, lost even though I was trying. Even though I was working out and trying to get to a place of self-love. I felt crushed and defeated. I felt that maybe I just couldn’t go on.

When I post the side-by-sides, I often think (and write): “Thank God the girl on the left feels and is different than the girl on the right. Otherwise, she would be dead.”

Instagram: Dec. 2017: This is not a weight loss post. This a LIFE gain post. It’s easy to hide A LOT behind cute pajamas. On the left, I was coming to a place of decision. About drinking. About my job. About life. About WTF I was doing with everything, all of it, including myself. I was really in a dark hole with the booze, with everything, really. Left was December 6th, 2015. I quit drinking six days later… Maybe the person on the left doesn’t look that different from the person on the right… But the crevasse between L and R picture? Is a difference of galaxies apart… Nothing is easy. But life IS easier when we COMMIT to stopping the process of destroying ourselves. I made a decision in 2010 that I would be a triathlete. I made a decision in 2015 that I would be a real-live human who stops destroying herself. In almost 2018, I am still working on that. But life IS better on this side.

I try to convey that I have changed as a person. That my choices have made me happier and healthier; that my choices and hard work has removed the depression and suicidal thoughts and deep, dark shit.

Is it all easy? Nope.

Do I still have darkness? Yes, sometimes. But like I have written before…. there is always light now. The light is not always blinding, but there is always, always hope, always a light.

When I post side-by-sides, I can see that hope is alive. I can see that the hard work is there. I can’t see that in the mirror. I can’t see it in my mind. But the pictures are proof that I am, and will be okay.

Last Thursday, I wrote for the above picture:

#TBT to that time I raced my second 140.6, developed diverticulitis, followed by two bouts of shingles… I ate like sh*t, put my body and soul through hell, and drank like Frank the Tank. Now? None of those things are happening (140.6 included ??‍♀️)… and I am okay. That’s a big thing to say: “I am okay.” I am also grateful. 2017 was a year of lessons that served me well; 2018 is a year of rebuilding, and I am already stronger than ever. I have learned the difference between a crack and a break, destruction and setback, nonsense and progress. It’s a beautiful day to just keep moving forward.

In this social media comparison culture, I have learned it’s important to remember a few things.

  • What someone else posts as their “AFTER” has nothing to do with our “BEFORE” or “START” or where we are.
  • We can choose who we follow and what we see.
  • No one has it perfect; everyone is flawed and messed up and it just depends on what you need in your life. Do you need the people conveying perfection? Or do you want something else? We can choose what we see. Don’t let anything get to you.
  • Take the good and let go of the “bad” – people have amazing stories to tell, and some people are just social media passive-aggressive jerks. Again, we can pick.
  • Pick someone who really inspires you, and look at them and absorb their messages. Forget the ones who make you nuts.
  • Negative energy is still energy spent. Instead of hating on someone, just move on. There are plenty of people to follow. Why bother with the ones who are not on your side?

I have walked through darkness, pain and addiction to get here where I am today. I have so much further to go, but I am fighting. I am still here, where I am not immune from pain or darkness.

Hope is all we need sometimes.

When I post I say: “I am okay. And you are too. Because I am okay. And together, we will get through this. Whatever this is.”

Together, we will make the “left” less important–we won’t feel that way any more.

The “right” will become a place we live, and grow and breathe. We can live in the “after” (more like the “during”) which is always changing, never really complete. The right is less about “I have arrived” and more about “There is always hope” or “I’m just not going back to the left.”

Love to you all,
Meredith

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