During this week filled with love, we’re honored to run this introspective essay by AMR’s director of communications Maggie Palmer (with a guest appearance from Oprah!).

“You will love again the stranger who was your self.”

We’ve all been there. You get a notification from Facebook that you’ve been tagged in a friend’s photo. Cautiously, you click on the link.

It’s been some time since I’ve been ok with being in photos or even wanting to be seen. I’ve embraced the “mom of young kids phase,” which means I’m the photographer, not the subject.

Truth be told, I’ve avoided being in photos since our youngest, who’s now 5, turned one. We had a family photo session, meeting a photographer at a park and spending about 2 hours together.

The shoot that sent Maggie to a spot firmly behind the lens for years.

I had a wonderful time that day, but when the photos arrived in my inbox I didn’t recognize the woman in the pictures. She looked tired, and her hips were bigger than I remembered.

I picked apart everything. I didn’t see a mother and a wife who was loved and adored by her family; I only saw my flaws and my faults.

My butt looked too big. Why did I have so many chins? What a terrible angle—what was the photographer thinking? The only photos I bought to hang on my wall were the ones of my kids.

No one saw the photos the way I did. But I’m hard on myself, and like most mothers, my body has changed over the years.

After three kids, things are not where they once were, and time is not my friend. I spend my days working and my evenings running kids to activities. I always had an excuse for why I couldn’t get my fitness to the place it once was and where I longed for it to be.

Back to the “you’ve been tagged” notification from Facebook. I quickly clicked on the link. It was a photo from last January, one year to the day, at my dear friend’s beautiful wedding in Cancun in 2019. She had posted a series of “one-year anniversary” images from the wedding and tagged some of the guests.

At the wedding, I had squeezed into an orange dress and covered the top with a black sweater to hide what I felt were arms that were too large. I immediately recoiled at the photo. Not only did I feel I looked unhealthy, but it was also the worst possible angle: I was on a chair in the front with nowhere to hide.

Side by side: both the same lovely, smart, strong Maggie.

As I untagged myself from the photo I noticed my current Facebook profile picture: Our recent Christmas themed photo session we did in December of 2019.

Something stopped me in my tracks. I put the two side-by-side and allowed myself, for the first time in probably 10 years, to be proud of what I saw. I noticed the change and the work I’ve put into making healthier food and drink choices after making a renewed commitment to fitness in the summer of 2019.

At the same time, I felt ashamed to think of this as a “before and after” photo: something I hate about the weight loss industry. Before: you aren’t worthy of love. After? You deserve all the compliments.

For me, it’s not about weight loss. It’s about feeling better from the inside out—and radiating that.

The truth is, I didn’t feel good in the photo from Cancun. I’d been drinking too much and working too late. I had been putting off going to the gym or running as much as I wanted. I was so tired in so many ways, both physically and spiritually, and it all shows on my face.

I was so upset with how life had gone the past 2 years, and because I felt guilty even sharing my disappointment with others, for fear I’d be labeled “selfish,” I let it fester inside.

Three weeks of days of island bliss before the storm(s) hit.

In 2017, we moved from Portland, Oregon to St. Maarten to chase my husband’s dream job. The move was 3 months in the making, as we got rid of most of our belongings, said goodbye to friends and family, and made the myriad of international move requirements. Within 3 weeks of arrival, we watched our dreams—and most of our belongings—get washed out to sea with Hurricane Irma.

We landed in Chicago, where the parent company he was employed with was located, with little stuff aside from donations from our amazing family and friends. After months of limbo, we finally settled in Ohio in July of 2018, when my husband accepted a different job. We decided we couldn’t put the kids through another move back to the island and another potential hurricane.

By this point, I was sick of people telling me everything happens for a reason. I was mad at my husband’s job for not helping us more after they dropped us off in Chicago and giving us a clear idea of how long we were expected to stay in the states, and when or if we were to go back to the island.

I was angry that we sold our house in Oregon and couldn’t go back. I was upset that my husband finally had to quit his job and look for a new one just so we could get some stability for our kids. And I was irritated that everyone in Ohio, where we finally settled, kept commenting about how bad the weather is, and that we must miss that amazing Caribbean weather.

I was sick of people feeling sorry for us. More than anything, though, I was sick of feeling sorry for myself. I was wallowing in self-pity and disappointment.

But this past summer, I decided I had enough. Mentally, I had enough of feeling sorry for myself. Physically, I was over feeling tired and lethargic. It was time to accept what had happened and make the best of it.

So I got my diet in check, I gave up drinking wine and all of the other bad habits, like negative self-talk, that made me feel trapped in an endless cycle of depression and resentment.

I re-joined OrangeTheory in our new city and committed to going at least 4 days each week. I stopped thinking about what my life was supposed to be like and accepted what my life is.

Yes, weight was coming off—but that’s not what was worth shedding. I was shedding my walls and my armor I had built up to be the strong mother my family needed me to be as we moved from Oregon to St Maarten to Chicago to Ohio. Walls and armor are, not surprisingly, quite heavy to carry around on a daily basis.

To continue on my journey, my Christmas present to myself this year was a weekend in Atlanta and a ticket to Oprah’s 2020 Vision: Your Life in Focus Tour. She would be interviewing Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who inspires me with his commitment to fitness and positive outlook on life.

I went into the weekend with no expectations, but I came away finally understanding the path I’ve been on this past year and will continue into 2020.

I am pretty stoic. I don’t get too emotional; sitting with a journal or a workbook to get my feelings out on paper is not for me. It’s a downfall I have, but that’s who I am. I have always been someone who worked hard on my own and hasn’t allowed anyone to help me. I take great pride in my independence and non-emotional way of dealing with things.

Oprah looking into Maggie’s soul.

As I was sitting there in the audience, watching women around me crying and allowing their emotions to run down their faces, I thought it was all a bit much. I remained a bit unmoved, and above it all, until a woman in a jumpsuit—Oprah!—came down the aisle and locked eyes with me.

Oprah took my hands in hers, and said, “Thank you for coming.” I was in shock that I was holding hands with this icon. Someone I had seen on TV as I was growing up, someone who so publicly shared her struggles with the whole world.

In that moment, though, she was just a beautiful, kind woman with confidence and knowledge, holding my hands in hers, thanking me for being there. A warmth that felt like a hug from within spread over my entire body. I almost felt my shoulders relax, my teeth unclench, and my body release a deep sigh I’d been holding onto for years.

“Thank you for showing up,” she said as she moved on to the next person who was jumping up and down, squealing with joy at her chance to touch Oprah.

I didn’t really realize how much this weekend meant to me. Yes, I got to hold hands with Oprah and hear Dwayne Johnson express his deepest feelings about the passing of his father, someone with whom he had a challenging relationship. He spoke a way that was so relatable to so many of us, especially when he told us, “It’s important to accept people as they are, and know that he loved me as much as he was capable of, even if to me it wasn’t enough.”

Really, though, the sheer beauty of the day was that I sat with 12,000 other people (mainly women) and realized I’m not alone in feeling the ups and downs of life.

The final presentation from Oprah for that day of wellness and meditation was “Love After Love”, a poem from Derek Walcott that Oprah read aloud, as the words appeared on the screen behind her.

And for the first time in probably forever, I allowed the words to wash over me, fully take them in, and against all of my instincts, I felt the hot tears streaming down my face as the full meaning of her words washed over me.

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
-Derek Walcott

As I listened, I welcomed those words into my soul and forgave myself for being so hard on myself.

I accepted me right now, at this moment, for who I am.