At the Waterpark

At the Waterpark 150 150 Nathaniel Lee Hansen

I could be substituting “you” for “I,” but it is more important that I use “I” with confidence, with boldness.

Sunday night, my church hosted a free evening at one of the local waterparks, just as it does every first Sunday of June. Church volunteers sold hot dog plates as a fundraiser for the youth and kids’ ministries. The event was an outreach to the community as well as a chance for the church to gather in a time of play.

Last year, my son was sick the day of the event, running a slight fever, his behavior off. Although I wouldn’t wish illness on my children, I was secretly glad to stay home with him while my wife took our daughter to the event. I had tacitly been hoping for a way out. I didn’t know at the time that I was on the ledge of a dramatic revelation: that I have an eating disorder.

Last year, I wasn’t aware of how much joy was missing from my life.

I was dissatisfied—as I had been for decades—with my body shape, whether that was being super-skinny in junior high, or overweight once I graduated college. I was a believer in the lie that one’s body image directly correlates with one’s value, that if my body wasn’t lean enough and/or muscular enough I was not valuable.

Last year, the thought of the extra weight on my body made me sick to my stomach, made me want to rip it off somehow. To go to a waterpark would be to reveal to everyone present my failure and lack of worth.

But Sunday, I was almost a year into therapy. When I took off my shirt, I didn’t wince as I had last year and all the years before. I didn’t glance around to check if others were gawking at me. I descended into the water with my son, and for the next half an hour, we raced on inner tubes in the lazy river.

I was caught up in those moments, having so much fun. I felt as though I were a kid myself. I don’t like crowds, but Sunday night I was unfazed by hundreds of people. I wanted to be present and “in the moment,” focusing my energies on being with my son and enjoying myself.

We laughed so much that evening.

When I think about last year, and the years before, I think about all of the potentially joyful moments of which I robbed myself, all because of an eating disorder.

A year later, I am still seeing my therapist, and I am still making progress. I am recovering. There are truths that I daily repeat to myself so that I do not return to negative thoughts and harmful behaviors:

My body is not chiseled, but I am loved.

My body is not slender, but I am loved.

My body is not free of scars, but I am loved.

My body is not all that I am—it is not what defines me.

I am loved.

My body is not slender, but I am loved. My body is not free of scars, but I am loved. @plainswriter Click To Tweet

Nathaniel Lee Hansen

I’m a poet, fiction writer, and essayist. My chapbook, Four Seasons West of the 95th Meridian, was published by Spoon River Poetry Press (2014). My work has appeared in Christianity and Literature, Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland, Blast Furnace, Driftwood Press, Whitefish Review, The Cresset, Midwestern Gothic, and South Dakota Review, among others. I currently serve as an assistant professor of English & Creative Writing at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas. I also edit Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature and direct the annual Windhover Writers’ Festival. When not writing or teaching, I run, read, play piano, listen to music, and play disc golf. My greatest joys are my wife, my son, and my daughter. I was born in southern Minnesota, but while growing up, I had little interest in the Plains and opens spaces. A stint at a rural state liberal arts college in southwestern Minnesota, as well as grad-school stints in northwestern Minnesota and southeastern South Dakota, altered my interests. @plainswriter,, &

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