Making Peace With Your Old Self: “Why the Y?”
My uncle Wayne looked at me as if I were a stranger.
“It’s Becky . . .” I said. No response.
“Your brother’s daughter . . .” I offered.
A warm recognition appeared in his eyes, and he opened his arms wide to hug me. “Well, I’ll be!” he said. “How are ya, gal?”
It happened a lot in those days. As I lost weight, I gained a sort of invisibility. Old friends, co-workers, even family didn’t recognize me. I had to go out of my way to jog people’s recognition. “Remember me? Becky? Becky Tench?” Once I saw an old college friend who asked me if I knew myself: “Hey, have you ever met Becky Tench?” I cracked up. ” Why, I am Becky Tench!”
That dissonance wasn’t only something that others experienced. I felt it every time I looked in the mirror. So much was different about the new me that I divided my self-identity into before (Becky) and after (Beck). I was Beck, Becky was her, and I wasn’t her anymore.
In fact, I feared her — her habits, her future, her fat. Most of all, I feared her return. I starved Becky — of attention, connection, and even sometimes food — in order to distance myself. At one point, I felt so separate from who I used to be that being called Becky felt like an insult. And after years of neglect, it was if she was erased. Hardly anyone I interacted with knew me before I lost weight, and I wasn’t telling. I was okay to live a life without a past if it meant my future was one where I wasn’t fat.
But then I met Frances.
Frances is the sort of friend who told me after our first meeting that we either needed to be best friends or never speak to each other again. Mere minutes after meeting her, I shared the story of my weight loss. She asked me questions and seemed entirely unfazed that I was formerly fat. She still liked me, and respected me, and found in me all the things I feared others wouldn’t have found in Becky. She noticed that I talked about my past as if I were talking about a separate person. She brazenly invited me to resuscitate Becky. I brazenly decided to take her up on it.
But I had no idea how or where to start. And I was, quite frankly, terrified. What if by giving Becky a presence in my new life, I lost control and gained all the weight back? What if the folks who liked me now didn’t like who I used to be?
I did what any reasonable member of Generation X would do: I went and got a tattoo. I wanted a way to embody Becky, I wanted a reason to tell her story, and I wanted it to manifest physically. I got a lowercase “y” tattooed on the inside of my left forearm.
I suppose the only thing I can say about this admittedly impulsive, but also entirely gut-based, decision was that it was right. Immediately after the tattoo artist was finished, I felt something sync up within me. I wasn’t cured of the dissonance or disassociation, but the door was open to a reunion. As slowly and surely as I took steps to be a healthy person, I took steps to integrate my former self with my current self — from her, to us, to me.
It took years, and the process continues, but chief among the lessons I’ve learned is that Becky was the one who decided to start this journey in the first place. Together, we have lived, and made this life the phenomenally enjoyable thing it is. All the things that happened before and after I lost weight are what make me who I am.
We all experience profound change. Sometimes we distance ourselves from the before for good reasons. And maybe in my journey, I needed some time away. But there is much richness to a life where we acknowledge the whole of ourselves. The parts we are ashamed of are also the parts that make us interesting and beautiful and wise. Some of the most loveable parts of me are parts I would’ve once labeled Becky. And now when a stranger or a new friend inquires as to why I have a “y” tattooed on me, I get to tell them about my past in the context of the present. I get to experience the courage it takes to move towards the uncertainty of the future, and the courage it takes to revisit the past. Inviting Becky back into my identity has shown me that I could only go so far without her.