Not too long ago, I reflected on how I felt about my body after training for and running the marathon, and how it made me realize that just not engaging in eating disordered behavior was not enough for me anymore. Despite the certainty that starving myself and purging the contents of my stomach are actions I never plan on participating in again, the mental and spiritual ailments of these diseases linger and take up valuable real estate in my mind and my heart.
When I looked back at photos of myself during that time, 80% of me saw my achievement. 20% felt some shame over what I perceived to be a softer, less lean body that made it across that finish line. It pissed me off that two weeks after fulfilling a dream, the memory of it was tainted by my insecurities–ones that have haunted me since I was about 5 years old when I started to understand that having a flat belly was better than having a round one. I told you all I was determined to fight through this, that I no longer wanted to accept that I would never be completely happy with my body.
Some might remember the comparison I made to my recovery from alcoholism. At the beginning of that, each moment was a struggle to stay sober. I thought about alcohol every single day. Now, almost ten years later (and for almost all of this time) I almost never think about drinking. While the fact that I am an alcoholic stays at the forefront of my mind and is probably the clearest lens through which I view my life, my desire to drink has been extinguished and no longer presents itself as a strain. Throughout these years and even now, I continue to do the work that allows me to peel back the layers and experience even greater levels of honesty and freedom. Just not drinking was and is not enough–my recovery consistently offers me a perspective on my life that allows my world to grow in beauty and in size.
So why haven’t I had the same success in my battle with body image? It’s been an equal number of years since I’ve halted all physically damaging behaviors, but still there are days that my world is small–where happiness and opportunity are blocked by the only thing I’ll allow myself to see–my supposed imperfections.
When I last spoke to you all about this I told you I was determined to fight it. I was fed up with the patriarchy, with the system we’ve all grown accustomed to living in that convinces us that life would be better if we were just a little more toned, a little less gray, and of course, never wrinkled. Unfortunately as women, many of us have bought into the lie that our value is slipping away from us as we age. In reality the opposite is true. With each year we gain wisdom and grit and depth that not only reflects in our physical beauty, but radiates to shine a light on the bounty we have to share with our families, our friends, and the other women who will come after us and look for our guidance.
I think I fought for about two months. I set out resolute to change the tone and the message of the voices alive in my head each day. The problem is, my mind can be a pretty dangerous neighborhood to hang out in. After a while all the voices get muddled and I’m not always sure who’s talking–my healthy, recovery self, or my sick self who manipulates, controls, and ultimately tries to bring me down. I fell into a trap I’ve been falling into for years and years: The waiting for the weight game.
I’ve been honest and I think even healthy and constructive about how my body responds to heavy endurance training. I don’t believe that I am really made for it physically. With the help of my mom, who is a holistic nutritionist, I’ve come to understand that when I ask my body to perform long distances like what are required to train for a marathon, it responds by storing weight–ensuring I’ll have the energy I’ll need to complete the journey. Carbohydrates to a marathon runner from Kenya are pure fuel, their bodies are made to take them in and burn them out just as quickly. My body works differently. I’ve accepted that. It doesn’t mean I won’t try and run a marathon again. However it has meant that I’ve been eager to get back to shorter distances, more yoga, and a focus on strength training. This combo is what I believe gives me my “happiest” body–it’s how I’m most lean and fit.
As I’ve focused on this regimen for the past few months I’ve noticed the dialogue in my brain has shifted into a familiar but unhealthy place. I love fitness, I want to get faster and stronger, and more limber. But without realizing it, I grow incredibly attached to outcomes that are linked less to what my body can achieve, and more to what it might look like when accomplishes said goals. I’m no longer meditating on loving my body for exactly how it stands at this present moment, and for what it allows me to do. Instead there’s a lot of “next week” and “two weeks from now” chatter. Every time I look in a mirror I see a part of me that I’m “working on”. I think being kind to myself is reserving judgment on that body part for a week or two while I bust ass in the gym to slim it down or tone it up. It’s fucking bullshit. I’ll love my body for exactly what it is…just as soon as it looks exactly how I want it to look. That’s not being kind to myself. It’s torturous. It’s waiting for the weight–waiting for my body to look a certain way before I can be completely happy. It’s what I told you guys I didn’t want to do anymore. But it’s the cycle I fall into over and over again.
The truth that we all know is this: If we want something different, we have to do something different. For years I woke up in the morning hungover with plenty of consequences and told myself, ok, that was bad enough, just give it a rest and don’t drink today. Although I’d spend the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon shuffling through all the logical and right-headed reasons I wasn’t going to drink that day, somehow, by 4 or 5 pm (or even earlier) that first sip always found it’s way to my lips. Eventually, I found a group of people that explained that my thinking was the problem–that I couldn’t rely on it and I would have to take some actions and trust that my brain would come along later.
I told you all before that I might try and use the twelve step approach to help me with my body issues, but I never actually started that. I thought, I didn’t act. My mind told my mind that it would take care of everything. Just repeat a few mantras each day–oh and work really hard at the gym–and everything will come together. There goes my stinkin’ thinkin’–yet again.
Truth: I do want something different. I want to stand in front of a mirror and see my whole self–not just parts. I want to walk around the streets of my city with confidence–a confidence unattached to whether I’m having a “skinny” day. I want to relax my belly out in the world like I do at home with my hubs; I don’t want to live “sucked in” anymore. I want the parts of my brain that have so long been preoccupied with being thin to be freed and available to join forces with the other parts of my brain that are trying to accomplish badass shit. When I see other women out in the world with bellies that aren’t flat, and legs that aren’t cellulite free, I don’t want my first thought to be that they should cover up. I want to break down that truly perverse patriarchal crud that we are all covered in, and start to see the true and full and wide range that is a woman’s beauty. I want to see my own beauty–to stop relying on the version the world tells me it sees.
If I can’t love me, I can’t love you. If I can’t see me–I can’t really see you.
I want to see the world.
So here I go, ready to take some actual ACTION. I am going to start going through the twelve steps as they apply to my body image. As a commitment to myself and to the idea of real and tangible change, I am going to try and document this process here. Although I’ve never had trouble being honest with you guys, I’ll admit that bringing this type of exposure to my recovery could be tough. If you’ve ever done any type of twelve step work before then you know that you really have to dig down, uncover, and bring to light some of your most personal and even shameful waste. I’ll admit it now–I am not even sure it’s wise to document this type of thing publicly. However at this moment, I know it’s the only way I will truly commit to doing the work. If as I go and get into the nitty gritty, I need to limit what I share in the interest of protecting myself or others, I will of course explain that to all of you while still trying to keep things moving in a way that might be helpful to others. If you have some vice or behavior that is blocking you as well, I hope you follow along and maybe even think about joining me–not publicly of course, but on your own, or in whatever way that’s helpful and healthful to your own recovery.
I’ve finally reached that spot–where the fear of staying in the same place is greater than the fear of the unknown. I’ve seen plenty of women carry these issues that started in their teens, into their forties, fifties, and sixties. That’s not what I want for myself. At last I am willing to do the work–to put myself out there and start my quest for something better. I’m ready to face exposure and be vulnerable, to clear away the wreckage of my past even when I’m unsure and and uneasy about what I may find laying behind it. Ironically, I’ve recently reached this point in other areas of my life as well. Big changes happening. More on that to come.
As always, thanks for reading. Even more, I appreciate you being a part of the journey…
What’s an area of your life that you’ve wanted to change for a while but have continuously swept to the side? What do you think it will take to get you to take some action on the subject?
How is your body image? Has it improved or gotten worse as you’ve aged?
Have you suffered from any type of disordered eating? Do you consider yourself to be in recovery? What does that mean to you? Is it simply not acting on old behaviors, or are you wanting more?
Have you changed your body image without changing your body? Have you done work on the inside that’s changed what you see on the outside?
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