When I was a little boy, my parents had a membership at the local swimming pool operated by the V.F.W. Along with our mom, John and I spent many hot summer days at that pool. So many good memories of swimming with friends. A lot of memories of begging Mom for money so we could buy a treat at the concession stand.
Back then, John and I were your typical skinny boys. All of our running and play kept us that way despite having plenty of food at every meal and a seemingly never-ending supply of Mom’s famous cookies. You don’t know this, but my mom makes the best cookies in the whole world. If you don’t believe me, just ask John. He’ll tell you!
Anyway, we would don our swimsuits and flip-flops, and with towel in hand, hop into Mom’s convertible or the ride to the pool. No need for a shirt. After all, we were headed out to swim, and who wore a shirt swimming?
Those were some amazing summers. Carefree memories of a childhood that was so ideal in retrospect. At least that’s how I see it today.
As I approached puberty, my body changed in ways that I really didn’t appreciate. I gained a lot of weight. It seems like this started around fifth or sixth grade. Suddenly, Mom was having to buy my clothes in the “Husky” section at Sears. It felt so humiliating to see John’s toned, athletic body compared to mine.
Mom and Dad were encouraging, reminding me that it had not been too long since it had been John’s clothes that had come from the “Husky” section. Like him, they were sure my “baby fat” would burn away, revealing a toned young man.
Well, I waited. Not only did the baby fat stay with me, but the outward signs of puberty were nowhere to be found. Middle school gym class required that we boys shower at the end of class. Standing in an open shower room with my classmates offered a daily reminder that I was different.
While they would compare new and different places on their bodies where muscles were growing and hair was springing forth, I would do my best to enter and exit quickly. With no muscles or body hair to show off, the shower became a dreaded part of each school day.
High school promised to be better for me. Gym class was only required during my freshman year. Suddenly there was light at the end of the tunnel. I could see a day approaching when public showers were a thing of the past. Just one more year of daily humiliation, then all would be well.
Then it happened. It was announced that we would have an entire six weeks of swimming in our school’s indoor pool! No need to bring swimsuits boys, the school provides them. Just show up each day, and a clean fresh swimsuit will be waiting for you.
I was so thrilled that first day. I still loved to swim, but the V.F.W. Pool had long since closed down, and though there was a pool at the country club, we seldom swam at it.
As we waited in line for our swim trunks, my heart sank. Each of us was being handed a flimsy piece of black spandex. What the…
Yep, we were to wear Speedo style swimsuits. Wearing it was the closest thing to nakedness I could imagine. My mind ran through the dilemma I was facing. I knew the route down the corridor from locker room to swimming pool. Should be easy. Why worry, all these classmates saw me naked every day anyway. It’ll be fine.
Towels, we were told, were waiting at the pool, and would be available at the end of class. So, we just began to walk, twenty some naked boys, naked except for the tiny piece of cloth covering our privates.
Then it happened. As we made our way down the corridor, the girls gym class headed our way from the opposite direction. The boys in front of me preened, showing off their buff bodies to the passing girls. I, on the other hand, simply did my best to suck in my stomach and blend in to the crowd. “Oh God, please don’t let them see me.”
That became the daily routine for the rest of our six-week session of swimming. It became my daily walk of shame. A dose of humiliation that sent me deeper and deeper into insecurities about my looks and body image.
For whatever reason, that baby fat that had shown up at around fifth or sixth grade stayed with me through college. Finally, in my early twenties, my metabolism kicked in, and I began to shed pounds without even trying. Suddenly I was having to consume extra calories just to keep some weight on.
At its lowest, my weight dropped to 145 pounds. I looked unhealthy for my 6’1″ body. I was skinny, gaunt even. Yet, when I looked in the mirror, all I saw was that husky boy in an embarrassing Speedo. I didn’t know it at the time, but my dilemma was not at all uncommon. Today I know that many people struggle with similar body image issues.
As far as swimming was concerned, I never again wore a Speedo. Any time I did go to the pool, I was equipped with a towel and or a shirt to cover up my body. Somewhere deep in my brain, covering up, and staying covered up became the norm. I would only doff my shirt at the very last minute before entering the water. Then don it again immediately following my swim.
Until yesterday that is. After a full day together, Amanda and I decided to go down to the pool. As we both got ready, I put on my swim trunks, and began looking for a t-shirt to wear. That’s when the thought occurred to me. I didn’t really need a t-shirt for any reason. Why create unnecessary dirty laundry?
So, for the first time in over 40 years, I walked to a swimming pool with no shirt on. Unlike that corridor and its walk of shame, I simply walked, with my beautiful wife by my side. No sucking in of the stomach. No hiding from the world. Just a nice leisurely walk to the pool, in front of God and everyone!
My new found comfort, if it was ever going to be tested, was out to the test on the walk back home. We shared the elevator ride with the couple next door to us. We shared pleasant conversation, and I felt no shame.
At the age of 56, I have finally become comfortable in my own skin. What a long journey it has been. So many years of worrying about what others thought about my physique. So many years of comparing myself to others and feeling less-than. So many years of hiding my insecurities behind false bravado.
The spiritual principle of acceptance, practiced in the twelve-step program of Narcotics Anonymous, has so many applications in my life. Accepting that I am an addict, and that I’m powerless over my disease is but the first step in a much deeper journey. As I’ve worked the steps, I’ve found that humility is another principle closely aligned with acceptance.
I’m beginning to see myself as I am. Accepting both my strengths and my weaknesses. Able to see areas of my life that need changing and improving, as well as those at which I excel.
After getting clean, I gained almost 80 pounds. I know that much weight on me is unhealthy, and have begun the process of change. At 220 pounds, I’m still a big guy, but today I’m ok with that. Today, I don’t have to be perfect. I can love myself, and find comfort in my own skin.
Yes, Narcotics Anonymous offers freedom from active addiction. The message is very clear: An addict, any addict, can stop using drugs, lose the desire to use, and find a new way to live.
This new way of life isn’t just about the drugs. For me, it includes doing away with insecurities that have haunted me my entire life. Not only insecurities about who I am on the outside, but more importantly, who I really am on the inside.
This new way of life truly offers freedom that is beyond compare. It is a freedom that is available to us all.
Have a remarkable day!