Like someone cannot learn to be brave without first being fearful, I really believe that it is the negativity I have shown myself that has informed the nurturing, forgiving and loving relationship I have with my body today.
I have torn myself down for most of my life.
I have lashed out at my body and recruited almost every daily function as a destructive technique to hate on myself with: food, alcohol, physical self-harm, body shaming, sex, internal criticism, drugs & medication…
And I’ve been through YEARS of learning myself differently. I didn’t just decide to love my body one day. That would be too easy. And as I have told many "Nothing worth having ever comes too easily"!
Beginning to make the change became crucial for me around 12 years ago, when I was aggressively encouraged to cease self-harming - both physically and with substances - by just about everybody.
I had to become more mindful of my inner voice (the things I was repeating to myself ALL THE TIME) and my abusive actions toward my body, if I was going to be able to do this. Starting to examine whether the way I was treating myself was an acceptable way to treat anybody (it definitely was not), and moving towards accepting myself, meant that I had to lovingly pick apart my poor miswired head, replacing my words and actions one at a time.
And I’m still working on that. Every time I think I’m ‘done’ I quickly realise this sh*t is never done with!
So I bargained with my achy brain.
And realised that I spoke to myself in a way I didn’t think was cool for anyone else to speak to me! I was bullying, punishing, and belittling myself constantly.
On top of this, I had been ‘checking out’ emotionally by harming myself physically, for years – so I had to look at that too. For the most part it wasn’t even supposed to be hateful. I had desperately wanted to ease my emotional pain and make myself feel better. But the truth was, in attacking my body, I never really addressed the heart of that pain at all. It was a very consfused sort of kindness.
So: 12 years ago, I undertook a cease fire (mainly because I wanted to be released from the hospital where I was sent for ‘rehabilitation’).
I remember feeling dangerously fizzy on the inside. Like a bottle of sparkling water, shaken up by life. Each one of those rising bubbles contained more toxic thoughts: ‘I’m unloveable’, ‘broken’, ‘ugly’, ‘fat’, 'ruined'...
Continuing with my abstinence meant fighting hard in every seemingly quiet moment. To see off my both comfortable and harmful coping mechanisms. Because continuing to harm my body would have meant jamming the lid back on tight, and starting over.
Sitting with the anxiety that my toxic thoughts brought, was loosening the cap on my feelings, and understanding – instead of running away from – my feelings towards myself and my body.
This is another decade-long story!
When I am asked to sum up how I stopped drinking and self-harming, now, I simply say I swapped self-hate for self-love (oh, and I started meditating to take the edge off). Which sounds so simple right?
Sarcasm doesn't always translate. I hope you got that?
So, skipping forward a bit, I wasn’t physically attacking myself anymore. That was a step in the right direction.
But, even after I ceased attacking it, I still wasn't putting my body first FIRST.
My eating was disordered, my body image contorted and, in the absence of self-harm and alcohol, I still searched for comfort, love and attention in all the most horrendous places.
And I lived a ‘normal’ life.
I mean, I still pounded myself with exercise, prescription medication, and unreasonable standards. But I worked in a stressful job, and nodded in the direction of meditating everyday, although most days I told myself that I didn’t have the time to meditate, practice Yoga or even prepare food for myself.
Who has time for that uh?
My life was a rush of socialising, studying, working, eating convenience foods from the bakery underneath my office, smoking, necking painkillers, and fuelling my birdlike figure with black coffee and Diet Coke. Sigh.
The relationship I have with my body had to take another violent twist. 3 years ago. I was suspended from the job I worked impossibly hard at, and did what any sane person does.
I disappeared on retreat. To submerge myself in the practices I knew full well worked when I got myself backed into crisis point corner. Healthy eating, Yoga, meditation, peace and quiet, and kind company (just being nice to myself)!
And I left with a job there.
It was bizarre. I didn’t feel stressed.
I stopped smoking because it didn’t sit well with the whole ‘healthy retreat centre’ vibe and in the two years that I worked at the retreat, I ate a primarily clean diet (no wheat, gluten, diary, chemical or artificial additives) and slowly transitioned from 50% to 100% plant based / vegan. I saw massive improvements in my energy levels, mood and skin and it all made me feel much more congruent!
It was during my time working at the retreat that I became ‘ill’ though, and was diagnosed with the chronic illnesses I live with today. Of course, there aren't any breaks, remember?
So now it’s really frickin' easy to HATE my body.
I felt completely betrayed. I became unable to work, drive, concentrate and stand. And my body still gives me pain and nausea daily.
I can no longer regulate my heart rate, blood pressure, or temperature effectively. I bloat until I look heavily pregnant. And I am unable to do the things I would desperately like to.
BUT I just can’t bring myself to have ill feelings towards my body anymore.
I have to be so invested.
And becoming unwell/poorly/disabled (pick a word, I still don’t like any of them) has pushed me to protect myself.
Last year that began to dawn on me. I sat in an emergency department with my mum, not knowing what was happening to me. And all I wanted was the best for myself. As I would for any one else. For all of that week, whilst staying with my mum - surviving with no answers and crying with desperation every night - I prayed for a doctor to listen to me. I willed myself to feel healthy. And wished to be able to go back to my life, to do ‘normal’ things.
Then I became angry; for myself, towards myself. Angry for ever having harmed the skin I live in. Angry at others for judging me or making comments about me based on my appearance.
This time in my life, I was in and out of hospitals because I fiercely wanted to be well. Whereas I had been in hospital on numerious occasions in the past because of the actions I had taken against my body.
I cradled myself at night. I vowed to love myself. Like a lover begging forgiveness and one last chance. I apologised and wept sorry tears.
I had to work to forgive myself and start working with my body.
And there is such a long list of things that my body DOES NOT APPRECIATE and will kick off at now (talk about karma). So I have learnt again, much more deeply, how my body needs nurturing in order for it to ‘thrive’.
And I can tell you, literally NONE of it is about what my body needs to look like!
This isn’t a luxury that costs a lot of money or unobtainable (like most of the bullsh*t super skinny ‘beach body’ beauty images you will be drip fed this summer).
It’s an understanding that most of us show other people effortlessly.
A loving relationship towards the vehicles we live in.
The #iweigh and Weigh Free May campaigns, as well as new television series and films, such as I Feel Pretty, and social media accounts like @bodyposipanda are all starting on touching upon how important the relationships we have with our bodies really are. And it’s so refreshing. Go check them out.
Instead of using ‘I have to go to the gym because’, ‘I don’t deserve’ language, insulting and shaming: we can consider how strong and beautiful are bodies really are.
I tell you: Everyday I was laid in bed, I wished I could wash, cook, leave the room I was in and spend time with my loved ones. And it was never about what I looked like for anyone else. It was because I wanted the absolute best for my body and I was suffering.
I would like to make myself strong, healthy, and enabled in future. Not just muscly, skinny, or someone else's definition of pretty.
So chronic illness is good for something! Perspective.
Nowadays, I check in on my high maintenance body by looking at how well I am serving it (and how well it is doing at serving me). I ask myself if I can do anything more for myself. Including: feeding my body and brain with the things that it wants or needs, letting up on talking down to myself, and never making myself uncomfortable for appearances sake. Picture me cleansing my life of over 50% of all my clothes and all of my bras.
We are beautifully complex individuals, living inside bodies. The vehicles that - for the most part - serve us unconditionally.
And this summer season, whilst we are drip fed messages about what we should look like to go to the beach, wear that skirt or get married. Messages that are designed to get us to go after an ‘image’.
I would like us to think of ourselves as ART. Not all art is made to be simply ‘pretty’. It’s made to allow us to experience something much more powerful.
And remember, in a world where everyone seems to want to look ‘beautiful’ in a very similar way, that most of us carry badges of honour on our bodies that tell a story of who we really are and are truly stunning.
The scars we have been left with. The features we have been teased for. The parts of ourselves that others have made us feel aren’t (small/big/smooth…) enough.
That is what makes us. Wave the white flag and make peace with it.
I have realised, through years of hate and fighting, that if I am lucky enough to have my body take me to a beach this year. My beach body will be my body, on a beach.
My body. Which I have mad respect for.
Watch This Beautiful Space.
I will be posting about ♥️ How to start feeling yourself in upcoming blog post ‘Your Care Instructions’ ♥️ My experiences of loving myself first in throw back blog ‘Sober & Single’ ♥️ & My experiences of using meditation to overcome addiction in 'Trigger, Behaviour, Reward’ ♥️