I would like to share part of my story and inspiration for this piece to hopefully help others with a similar struggle.
Dear 17 Year Old Melissa,
Being accepted by others is all you want. You feel if others like you, you will like yourself more. You feel that this will be where you get self-esteem. The problem with this idea is that you are always with yourself, hearing your own voices in your head- you only hear other voices from memory, not reality when you are alone. Your negative memories from others has been bullying, body shaming, feeling not good enough and they have left bruises.
These bruises haven't completed faded and you are now 39 years old, dealing with another identity crisis. You have breast cancer, you can't over exercise, restrict your diet, fix your hair (because it is gone now), make yourself feel better with the external appearance- because you have to save your life and eat, rest and do chemotherapy. You now have to love yourself at your core without all the frills. The real you. Years of programming and society telling you what beautiful is needs to go. Years of hating yourself because of an extra 3-5lbs lbs has to go. Years of craving the praise for being beautiful or too thin that you accomplished cannot be your only source of self-esteem. You have to work on re-training your brain as to what beauty is. You have to acknowledge your other attributes as more important. You have to stop trying to reach a level of perfection that will never exist or be sustainable. Take the steps now or this struggle will haunt and consume you throughout your life.
Intimacy with your partners will be affected. Co-dependency will rage because you will want to focus on fixing others and not yourself. Anxiety will consume you because you will strive for conditions to be "perfect" before you try anything new, therefore you won't take risks and miss out on things that will help you grow and gain real confidence. You will never be real with people because you will want their acceptance and praise instead of sharing your true feelings and being honest. You will lie because of this need to please. You will live in dishonesty. You will use drugs, alcohol and cigarettes to cope with being uncomfortable and destroy your health. You will do all these things because you never feel good enough. Because you base your self-esteem on external validation instead of from learning to love yourself. To be your own best friend. Through the journey of life you will hit your bottom, join therapy, Al-Anon, and find true love. You will learn to re-train your brain and old thought patterns. It will take trauma to get you to see your character defects and it will take strength and commitment to rid yourself of them. You will work so hard on yourself and see how much happier you can truly be, you will gain confidence you never thought you could have.
It will take breast cancer for you to work on your body image issues more than you ever have. You will work on them and it will give you a freedom you never thought attainable. It will give you intimacy you never thought possible. You will overcome self-hate and body dyspmorphia little by little and realize whats truly important and then start to believe that emotionally. You will win. So stop wasting time, be your own best friend and start living.