I was 11 when my grandmother began teaching me to hate my body. Puberty had just hit and I had breasts and hips practically overnight. My grandma called me fat. I believed her. At the age of 12, I wrapped my body in a girdle to hide my fat and wore it every day for over 10 years. In high school, I'd call my grandma after school for my daily dose of abuse. That was my version of cutting. It was not until college that something clicked and I realized she was abusing me.
It was the end of my sophomore year of college when I had just finished telling a friend what my grandma had told me the night before. "Jennie, a boy would be ashamed to take you home to meet his parents. You're not good enough or pretty enough." My friend said, "You know that's abuse, right?" I did not believe him at first, but I soon would.
It would be another eight years before I began therapy and took my first step on the path to forgiveness. My grandma not only taught me to hate my body, she taught me how to be mean to myself, to tear myself down, to blame myself first for whatever was happening in my life. For my birthday one year, she gave me a huge can of Slim Fast. It was expired and she had ripped the UPC code out to get the rebate. That was my value -- a big, old can of expired Slim Fast.
Before I could forgive, I had to learn to be angry though. Anger was never an emotion that was acceptable for me. I thought anger meant that someone would get hurt. Instead of getting angry at people where I might hurt them, I would first hurt myself emotionally and mentally. Through therapy, I learned that I was allowed to get angry and I could find healthy ways to deal with that anger without hurting anyone. One session, my therapist asked, "How big is your anger towards your grandma?" I responded, without hesitation, "It's as big as my house." She suggested I build the house. I collected art supplies: foam board, dowel rods, butcher paper; and built my house of anger. I made a screaming papier mache mouth for inside the house. I lined the floor with pictures of Slim Fast. The butcher paper walls were covered with my screams and anger expressed through my writing. I carried that house around in my car for weeks. I would carry it into my house to work on it, but I stored it in my car because I could not look at it when I was not working on it.
Each year I choose a word to guide me for the year rather than making resolutions that become impossible to keep. In 2011, my word was "transformation" and it would truly be the year for it. Shortly after the new year, the house was complete and I was ready to release my anger. I cleared the snow and built a small altar of bricks, lined with aluminum foil. I perched my anger, manifested in the paper house, on top of the bricks and then I lit it on fire. I stood and watched it burn. As the house was consumed by flames, my anger was released through the rising smoke.
A few months later, summer arrived and I realized I had forgiven my grandma. By releasing my anger, she no longer had any control over me. I felt lighter. I was happier than I had ever been in my life. By August, she had become very ill. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and refused treatment. A few days before she died, I visited her, for what would be the last time. My mom and sister and I were standing around her bed when my grandma asked, "What's going to happen? Is someone going to come?" She was crying and very fearful and I still do not know why, but she looked to me for an answer. I knew she feared her death, so I reached out, took her hand and said, "Yes grandma, everything is going to be fine. Someone is going to come and get you and you won't be alone." That seemed to ease her. I knew that I had truly forgiven her, when, in that moment of her pain and fear, I was able to give her comfort. I am beyond grateful for my last encounter with her and very grateful that we both found healing and peace in our own ways.