• Jason Wood

Shirts vs. Skins

I recently wrote about my mother’s love for the little things and how that concept is helping me through recovery. Last night while lying in bed, one of those small moments occurred. A little something that brought a smile to my face and helped me gain the strength for another day on this road to recovery.


I am a lucky sleeper, you could say. My head hits the pillow, and I’m out cold. However, last night I had some trouble falling asleep. Instead of running for the melatonin, I took my shirt off—a rare occurrence during a winter night in the mile-high city. My shirt felt like a tight heating pad. I can’t explain why because it’s cold out and this old house doesn’t have the best insulation. But I still felt the urge to take that shirt off.


As soon as the yellow cotton tee hit the ground, my mind drifted back to the days when I used to sleep shirtless. The days before orthorexia took full hold. Sometime last year, I started sleeping with a shirt on again. I covered up because I felt ashamed of my body. I was embarrassed by the damage I inflicted on it from months and years of deprivation. The mirror displayed every bone. It did not hide the carnage from my eating disorder.


This was not the first time I feared my body. As an overweight child, I refused to take my shirt off in public. The embarrassment of my man-boobs and prominent love handles outweighed the comfort of heading to the pool or waterpark without a shirt. I hated those types of outings because I hated my body. Even worse, I hated the extra weight that wet cotton adds. It’s exhausting, but it was the only alternative to bearing my fat for everyone to laugh at and judge.


T-shirts represented safety. I often wore my gym shirt under a hoodie in middle school so I wouldn’t have to bear my body in the locker room. Even if this meant stinking the rest of the afternoon, I would rather be made fun of for smelling than being fat. At least sweat seemed manly.


As an adult, t-shirts took a new meaning of safety. Not safety from others, but safety from myself. I could quickly point out my imperfections in the mirror, so I started covering up. When shirtless, I kept the lights off in the bathroom to prevent seeing the fat I thought would kill me. The fat that devalued me.


Even in recovery, I’ve felt shame for the way my body looked at rock bottom. I never wanted to be that small; I just wanted to be healthy. I even dealt with the discomfort of sleeping with a shirt on to hide from my ghosts. But last night, something within had enough. It had enough of hiding behind that cotton fabric.


I ripped my shirt off and laid there in bed for a minute. I felt my body restoring itself after years of abuse and realized I am perfect just the way I am. I’m learning to love my body. A little more curvature doesn’t mean disease is lurking; it means the exact opposite. My body is becoming healthy again. The new muscle and fat provide warmth on a cold Denver night.


This tiny little act of taking off my shirt serves as a reminder that I am on the road to recovery. I fight those self-defeating voices every day and am still a long way from ever saying, “recovered,” but I am on my way. Like I always say, I trusted the process, embraced the process, and last night a part of me enjoyed the process.


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