I have never seen Donovan angry before Friday. I was talking with Trainer Fred about pictures and how I really want to see a before / after image of myself because I am hoping when I see the two side by side it will let me see my progress. I said something along the lines of “because I still can’t see the progress everyone else is seeing in me.”
Donovan was standing nearby but wasn’t really in the discussion. I don’t remember exactly what he said at that moment, only that it was a spark of anger that gave me flashbacks to a conversation with Tony seven years ago; the first time I ever saw anger in Tony.
Tony had been working for me in the computer lab for about a year at the time and we had developed a friendship. In that year, I never saw Tony angry. Very recently he had moved into more of a mentoring role for me and was helping me sort through some emotional baggage that was keeping me stuck.
I don’t remember how it came up but I will never forget what happened. Tony was driving and he asked me something along the lines of “Jenn what are you worth? Like if you were kidnapped and I called your parents for the ransom, what ransom would you set?”
There was a moment of silence as I contemplated then I said, “Well, my first thought is $500. My second thought is you want a higher number than that. My third thought is that I probably wouldn’t be ransomed for any amount of money and would just need to share the Gospel with my captors.”
Just a little side note here: at the time, even as a college student, I had more than $1000 in the bank. I was literally saying that I wouldn’t pay half of my savings account to rescue myself.
I don’t remember Tony saying anything… like for the rest of the drive. There was uncomfortable silence for the 5 or so minutes and I could tell he was furious with my answer. He didn’t drive to the campus, instead pulling in at Whataburger wordlessly. We both got some food and headed to a booth.
The first things I remember him saying to me after the question in the car was, “We are not leaving here until you tell me 5 reasons that you have value.” It sounds simple but y’all it took me over 2 hours and I cried so much the staff at Whataburger thought he was an abusive boyfriend and asked if they needed to call the police.
We later called this “our Game” and played it many times in the following months before I graduated. Anytime I would start talking negative or disparagingly about myself or my abilities Tony would look at me with a smirk and say, “Let’s play a game.” Regardless of how I felt about it, he wouldn’t let up till I listed off 5 “real” reasons I have value (“none of that ‘my eyes are pretty’ silliness” he would say).
I have come a long way from that girl unwilling to cash out her savings account to save her own life. Like a really long way. Mentors like Tony, Stephen, Sherri, Jessica, Matt, Katy, Robert … have all encouraged and pushed me toward recognizing the value I have inside of me.
But my external appearance… that has remained, for the most part, something I tolerate rather than celebrate.
So back to my chat with Fred… Donovan said something like “Do you really believe that?” and then started rapid-firing questions like “Do you see the clothes that don’t fit? Do you see the empty space in your closet?” and so on.
A fellow classmate walked by, not realizing the conversation going on and heard me insisting “Yes, I see those things I just don’t see any change when I look in the mirror,” and she chimed in with, “well I can definitely see the progress.” Donovan shook his head and walked away. (Again, not 100% sure about the details because I primarily remember his emotion and how much it mirrored Tony’s all those years ago.)
I asked him after class about it. He told me I am a prisoner in my own mind. There is so much life right outside the box I have built for myself but I can’t touch it because I keep pulling myself back into what I believe to be true.
When I got home I was processing through this experience and I realized it’s time to play a new game. I looked in the mirror demanding I identify 5 improvements I have made physically this year. After a few minutes, I was frustrated and gave up. (I only made it through that first game with Tony because he drove and I couldn’t get home without finishing.)
It was immediately after that first “attempt” that I wrote Wandering Eyes Cause Blindness. And I absolutely believe that comparison is part of what is stealing my ability to see my own progress.
But now, with more time to process, I realized there is another element that had to be rooted out emotionally 7 years ago, and now needs to be dealt with physically: Identity.
Part of breaking free of the addiction that imprisoned me from 2nd grade till early this year was learning to see myself differently. I had to be willing to let go of seeing myself as an addict and learn to see myself as a new person, free of that lifestyle and living in the abundance of God’s grace. Sometimes guilt or shame still try to pull me back in. I had to learn to refocus on the picture of who God has declared me to be: Forgiven and Free.
Physically my identity since 2nd grade has always been the unattractive, fat kid in the family. All three of my siblings have always been skinnier and more attractive than me. And in a military family built on competition and labels, I gave up fighting it and just accepted that as my role.
That false identity has held me back many times before. I can distinctly remember being freaked out when guys started hitting on me after I lost 50 pounds training with Ninette. Having never been the recipient of that kind of attention, I quickly started putting on weight and had gained over half back less than a year after I stopped training with her.
Psycho Cybernetics teaches that your mental computer will take you wherever you direct it. For a period of time, discipline can re-route your course but if your mental image doesn’t change then any external change is temporary. As long as I see myself as the unattractive, fat girl and reject the strong, confident woman, any change Donovan helps me achieve physically will be temporary.
The author of Psycho Cybernetics was a plastic surgeon who would fix disfigurements of people’s faces. What fascinated him, resulting in the book, is that even after facial reconstruction, they would still see the disfiguration when they looked in the mirror. Their perception remained their reality. He had to work with a psychologist to help retrain their brains to see the reality of their newly formed face.
What I am saying is it’s time to get in front of the mirror. It’s awkward and uncomfortable and I would pretty much rather watch paint dry than look at myself in pictures or mirrors. But if I don’t reprogram my mental computer then all the work I have done this year will be meaningless and temporary.
“Let’s play a game.”