There I was, trainer next to me, big mirror right in front of me, 10 kilos being hammer curled with strict form, biceps burning with a sort of deep, soul-level, tissues aglow lactic burn…

And suddenly I saw myself differently.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not there yet. Have a way to go.

But I saw myself differently. Not the shy me. Not the me that compensates for how I look with loose, flowing clothes. Not the me that keeps my shirt on at a pool party or a beach or a thirty degree day.

The guy looking back was still me. But it was a different me. A new me. A me that could, given another few months of progress, take off that shirt on the beach and feel the sun on my skin and be totally fine with it.

For a second, the tears threatened to arrive.

I stuffed them back quickly, and efficiently. No way I was going to have an Oprah moment at a gym full of people. And my trainer – a sweet guy who errs on the side of being a gentle soul – well, I couldn’t do that to him.

I know. Big surprise. This callous, tough, opinionated, strong, don’t-need-nobody-for-nothin, self sufficient, laissez faire libertarian has tears in there.

A soft little heart.

Complete with body issues. Body issues I’ve had for as long as I can remember. Still there, despite therapy for PTSD (fixed that, check) and smoking cessation (Pfizer fixed that for me instead, check) and dealing with family issues (just accept that EVEN the Cosby show was never the Cosby Show). The body issues lay deeper than all of that.

At war with myself.

Hating the way I looked and felt.

At a pool party, a well meaning friend tells me not ‘to worry about it’. No one cares how I look. They’re not applying for the job of boyfriend, I already snagged one. So what’s the big deal?

There it was, though… it had nothing to do with other people. It had nothing to do with whether other people found me attractive or not.

It was being uncomfortable in my own skin. For my own sake.

But here I was, sticking to my routine, rockstar trainer doggedly at my side…

Here I am, in a sane country, where I can walk, eat healthy, get outdoor time, breathe fresh sea air daily, and working out. Like a beast and like a boss.

No being cooped up in a ‘security estate’ darting from gated office park to gated shopping mall to gated park – but free to roam and wander at the pleasure of Her Majesty the Queen. No stress hormones fucking me up. Adrenalin driving me round every bend and up every wall. And it is finally starting to change.

I trained before. But no matter what I did, the mirror always came at me like a judge confirming a life sentence.

I would lose heart. I would stop.

But not this time, baby.

This time, it’s not about ‘losing weight’, becoming smaller and smaller as my person shrunk inside a flabby shell that wouldn’t change no matter what I ever did to change it.

No, no.

This time, I’m pushing through the flabby shell. I’m growing out of it. Firm muscle, rock solid, lifting up my skin like a canvas.

All kinds of psychological defences and unhealthy barriers and issues – ones you are aware of and ones you aren’t, some you can articulate and some you can’t, accurate ones and preposterous ones – all sitting somewhere inside the brain, heart or kidneys. Being shaken. Being defied. Being conquered.

This time, it’s different.

This time, there is joy in the process.

I do have a way to go. But achieving it, is not only possible, but in sight.

I emancipated myself at a very young age. There was always the risk that early achievement would dwarf all others. Then I went ahead and achieved things anyone reasonable would have bet against: wrote books, earned a living writing, got a degree, travelled the world, escaped an awful country, found a great partner, built a healthy relationship… all of those things betting men bet against.

I’m proud of everything I’ve achieved.

Next year, summer time… there’s one more thing coming. The biggest achievement yet. Bigger than conquering the abuse. Bigger than liberating myself from overwhelming odds and circumstances designed to cut me off at the knees and snuff out whatever chances I might have had.

Next year, summer time… I’m going to be on a beach somewhere, and I’m going to take off my shirt.