I love Parks and Recreation. Like … LOVE love.
I have watched every season at least 6 times through (with exception of the final season which was too hard for me to watch again because tears). I quote Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope often, and it is literally the one show I could watch on repeat and never get tired of.
Which brings me to one of my favorite episodes. In the season 5 finale, Leslie plans a Founder’s Week public forum to help celebrate her first year in office as a Pawnee councilwoman. She asks the people of Pawnee a simple question: “Are you better off now than you were a year ago?”
But the forum does not go as planned as most people showed up just to complain and air their grievances. You see, Leslie has some strong beliefs. And while her heart has always been to try and improve the lives of those who live in her beloved city, unfortunately the people of Pawnee don’t always see things the same way. However, even though she’s a bit heartbroken when she learns that there is a committee to recall her from City Council, Leslie ends the episode by standing behind her choices. She’s proud of her record and the work she’s done. She believes she (and the people of Pawnee) are indeed better off than they were a year go.
As this year (and decade) come to an end, I feel like that’s the very question I should be asking myself. Am I better off than I was a year ago? Am I better off than I was a decade ago?
Am I better?
The answer is both simple and complicated.
There have been many moments when I have gone back to revisit the person(s) I used to be and wondered if I’d made the right choices … if I was indeed better … happier.
Let’s start with 6 years ago. I was 31 and married, with a beautiful, remodeled home in the burbs. I was almost out of debt, with the exception of student loans. I was ok. I had a good job and a decent life. But also … I spent most nights indoors, binge-watching TV and overeating. I’d never traveled and I rarely tried new things. I was lonely and deeply unhappy, but didn’t really know how to change that.
If I compare that person to the person I am now, then I would say yes, I’m definitely better off than I was a 6 years ago.
However, in leaving that life to become the person I am today, I made a lot of mistakes.
Six years ago I made the right move in leaving a relationship and yet I carry deep regret for the way I chose to leave. I caused pain, chaos and I was really disappointed in my character … and the way I chose to build a new life for myself. There’s so much context behind why things happened the way they did and why I made certain choices … but at the end of the day, I simply made the right choice in the worst way. The main thing I learned through that ordeal was how important it was to be honest … with yourself about who you are and with others about how you’re feeling. I learned that stuffing your unhappiness in a relationship is a very dumb choice that will have lasting consequences. And I learned why it’s important to end things as best as you can, with as much kindness as you can.
When I look back at the first steps I took to become who I am today, I often wrestle with guilt … but rarely doubt. I am happier, hands down. I am a braver, more open, more full person than I was 6 years ago. I know I made the right decision even if it was the wrong way. And when I look at that … that flawed but right choice … I am grateful I made it and I am grateful I learned from it.
Now let’s look at who I was 4 years ago.
I was in the best shape of my life and enjoying a host of new experiences. Dancing, dating, traveling, new friendships … things I was too socially anxious or nervous to try before. On the exterior, that girl looks amazing. I was fit and cute and feeling beautiful maybe for the first time in my life. And I had this slowly growing confidence.
And yet … at the same time, I was still riddled with insecurities. I was at my fittest but terrified of losing it. Terrified of what it meant to gain weight. I equated gaining weight with being forced to be miserable and alone … with being worthless and unattractive … which I sadly must’ve believed I was when I was heavier. And so I would often punish myself regularly for eating poorly. If it was the holidays and I had too many sweets, I’d start to do pushups and squats to try and counterbalance … regardless of whether I was at a party or at home. It seemed funny at the time, but I go back and realize, nope, that was some very unhealthy behavior. I constantly felt torn between being healthy and being happy. I felt like I couldn’t find a balance between the two. And I hated myself for it.
I would often pinch my soft parts when I would gain weight and if I overate one day, I’d try to starve myself the next. I was never bulimic (I can’t stand throwing up) or anorexic (I’d never go too long without eating), but I was something else. A hybrid of binge eater and food hater.
It was pretty brutal physically. But the really sad part was the mental aspect. I think for a long time, especially after I endured some serious heartbreak, I associated my weight with why I might not be lovable. Or worth choosing. It’s always been something I’ve carried as … well … gross. I could go into the ‘why’s’ … the various things I’ve been told in my life, most especially from men, that have been carved into me … burned into my vision of how I see myself … but even though people have said or done things that were cruel, ultimately it’s how I viewed myself that mattered. It’s whether or not I thought I was beautiful, sexy, worthy … that mattered. And for a long time, I wasn’t very kind in how I talked to myself.
The silver lining in gaining this weight at this age and in this season in my life, is that I’ve had to actually face these unhealthy behaviors and find a way to be happy on my own at whatever weight I was. I used to try and hide my figure, in bulky clothes, in loose pants and baggy sweaters. But now, even with my ‘extra’, I wear short shorts, I even started wearing a crop top (sort of) recently and while I MISS my toned arms and firmer backside, I am making peace with who I am right now.
She is beautiful.
Bitch loves to eat and drink too much wine, but she is beautiful … she is full and she is happy. And that’s a good thing.
Even though there were some serious issues with how I treated myself in regards to eating and exercise a few years ago, I had quite a bit more discipline than I do now and that is something I still want to work on. Being healthy from a different perspective. One that loves myself and isn’t trying to prove my worth to anyone. Doing good things because they are good for me. Not a system of rewards and punishments. I have learned that I wasn’t more valuable or lovable when I was fitter. But I did FEEL better. And that is something I want to feel again.
So … am I better than I was 4 years ago? 6 years ago?
Yes. In so many ways I am better, mentally and emotionally. I have made major strides in learning to love and accept myself exactly as I am. And this includes all the baggage I carry, all the bad choices I’ve made and bad/good food I’ve enjoyed. I’ve gained weight and I don’t like feeling like I’m not in my best shape BUT I have learned that being in great shape didn’t necessarily equal happiness. That takes a different kind of work. I’m not less sexy or beautiful. I’ve made mistakes but I’ve learned to love myself in spite of them. And in some ways, because of them.
I’m not exactly where I want to be but I am in a better place overall. I’m closer to my goals in life, I’m happier than I’ve been in a really long time, I’m more at peace with my past and all the choices I’ve made.
Am I better off than I was a year ago? Am I better off than I was a decade ago?
Yes and yes.
And it feels really good to know that.