Learning How To Reframe My Thoughts Is Healing My Soul

by Liz Petrone
Originally Published: 
petekarici / iStock

“So how have you been?” my new hairdresser asks as I settle into the chair. She’d just shampooed me, which is likely the most intimate I have been with anyone in quite a while, but she acts like it’s not big deal, so I try to as well because my goal in these situations is to be the least awkward I can be.

“I’m okay,” I say. “I started meds. So there’s that.” Being not awkward does not come easy to me.

To her credit, though, she nods like this is a normal thing people tell their hairdressers. I’m not sure. Maybe it is. We are new to this dance, me and her, but I like her so far. She can meet my wit halfway, which is my very favorite quality in a person, and she politely ignores how I have shit hair and tend to sweat when she blow dries.

I lost my last hairdresser in the same tragic way I lost my mother. I think because she was close to me in the way that only someone who washes the hairs of your whole extended family can be, but not so close that I ever had to live with her quirks or be affected personally by her sadness, her loss hit me harder than the one of my own mother,at least when it first happened.

I stood in the funeral home during her packed service and looked around at all the heads and hearts she had touched and wondered, again, how someone could feel so alone amidst all that crazy love.

How do we get so lost?

“And how’s that going for you?” my new hairdresser asks me.

I look at her in the mirror, and at her bird-themed art on the walls and at the tubes of dye lined up in neat little rows along one wall. I look at anything, really, to avoid looking at myself in the mirror, all soggy-headed in that black cape tucked just tight enough around my neck to create the slightest hint of a neck roll.

“Good. I’m good.” I look at myself by accident. That neck. “I’m putting on some weight though. I guess that can happen.”

It can, or so I hear. My doctor and my sister — who together with Grey’s Anatomy make up the full extent of my medical knowledge — say it’s more that the antidepressants take the edge off of that insane drive we have to stay thin at all costs. Like — gasp — when we get hungry, we just eat. Or when we don’t feel like punishing ourselves at the gym because Netflix just dropped a new season of House of Cards and cozy pants are calling our name, we don’t.

Crazy, right?

I tell her this, and then I say something that as soon as it leaves my mouth, we both realize is kind of revolutionary. I say, “You know, I think I would rather be happy and a little bigger than skinny and sad.”

She’s quiet then, maybe waiting for me to retract, drop a “just kidding,” or fall on the floor and roll around among the hair clippings roaring with laughter. I wait, too, and am probably even more surprised than her when I realize that I actually mean it.

I would rather be happy.

Now, maybe this is common sense to the rest of the world. Maybe everyone else is well-adjusted and loves themselves enough to always choose the happiness.

But I don’t think so.

I’ve been around enough women in my life to know that sometimes the choice is not as simple as it seems. I’ve seen the magazine covers and watched the shows and scrolled through the Instagram feeds, and for every strong badass Mama out there shining true to herself and her body, there are 12 more people selling me shakes and wraps and thigh gaps and telling me why I should stay at home or not stay at home or breastfeed or bottle feed or find their God or renounce another or change myself in just enough essential ways that I will become the person I always wanted to be — a completely different one.

And I’ve been there. I have lived in that place my whole life, that place where we tell ourselves the same awful lies of unworthiness and ugliness over and over again until they beat like a wordless heartbeat through the backdrop of every moment of our lives. I wandered in there when was I was 16 and nestled right in and made myself a home that after a while I became scared to leave.

I still am. Scared, that is. The idea of finding a new normal, of being comfortable in my own skin, is still terrifying.

I’ve been trying it on, though, wearing it around the house or the office, breaking it in the way you would a new pair of heels. Every time I start to think something nasty about myself, something derogatory about my belly or my face or my choices or my personality or my life, I stop.

I breathe.

And I reframe.

This is how “God, I look gross” becomes “I am grateful for this body.” Or how “I need to burn off that cheeseburger” becomes “I run because I like the feeling of movement.”

And it’s not just the things we say to ourselves about our bodies. It goes so much deeper than that. “I should be at home with my babies” can become “I am grateful for this job that allows us a comfortable life.”

Or “I really should clean this house” might be “look at all of the living we have done here today.”

Can the simple act of looking at something differently be a revolution? I think so. I think that everything big and beautiful and world-changing has to begin somewhere, and self-love is as good a place to plant seeds as I can imagine.

“If you’re being serious right now,” she says, affirming my suspicion, “then that’s a really big deal.”

I force my eyes to the mirror and take my reflection in. The same old shit comes bubbling up to the surface, of course it does, and I’m disappointed for a second. But I realize then that the opportunity lies right there. It’s inside the thoughts. So I try.

I am grateful for this time, I think. To sit. To chat. To be shampooed.

I meet my eyes. I look tired, I think, but couldn’t that just be another way of saying relaxed? What a blessing that is to be relaxed.

On the way home in the car, I run my hands through my shorter hair and remember my old hairdresser, like I always do. I remember how she had called me one evening shortly after my mother died, and I sat on the floor of my bedroom and talked to her for hours about nothing and everything until my breasts ached with the milk that Luca needed to drink, and I was reasonably certain she was going to be okay, at least for that night.

After she died, I had looked back on that conversation so many times and wondered if I could have done or said something differently, something more. I start to go there again, drifting into the habit, but I stop myself short.

Could I reframe?

So I try. “I am so grateful I had that time with her,” I say out loud to myself. And here’s the thing: This feels truer than any of the rest of it ever has anyway.

There’s more in here to learn — I know there is — but I’m only at the beginning of what is still a lifetime of healing. I’m starting with the neck roll because that’s where I am right now, and I’m working my way up to forgiveness and eventually, maybe, hopefully, that moment when I realize that I, too, live a life of crazy love and just a lot of the time can’t see it because I have tucked myself nice and deep and snugly into the dark places.

And let me be clear about this because it’s important: I don’t have a life of crazy love because I am special. I live a life of crazy love in spite of the fact that I am who I am. Like my old hairdresser did. Like my mom did before me. Like we all do, or could, in a truth that is both beautiful and terrifying. Beautiful because it means we all maybe have a chance at the extraordinary, but terrifying because it also means we have to open ourselves up to it.

We have to revolution.

We have to change the world, one reframing breath at a time.

(Also meds help.)

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