Step One: We Admitted…

About six months ago I admitted to you all that it pissed me off that the joy of a big accomplishment like running my first marathon was muted by my poor body image. A little over a week ago, I promised I was going to finally take some action to try and improve this mental and spiritual ailment that has plagued me since I was a young girl. That’s what this is: THE ACTION. Almost ten years ago now (I can’t freakin’ believe that!) I used the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous to get sober. To this day I still use them to stay sober–this shit is a disease and the recovery from it is an ongoing process. It occurred to me a while ago that I might try and use the 12 steps to repair and reconfigure my body image as well. After all, groups all over the world have adopted and adapted these steps for pretty much every issue you can think of: gambling, sex, food addiction, you name it.

In order to establish and maintain a commitment to this process, I have decided to document it here. I invite any and all to join me–especially those struggling with something themselves. Ten years ago, alcohol was literally destroying my life. My health was failing, I had been arrested, I’d lost jobs and friends, I was having mortifying and highly regrettable sexual experiences on a regular basis. Things were bad. While it was great to find groups of people that I could relate to and who offered me support, that in and of itself was not enough. Just not drinking was not enough. I had to intrinsically change the person I was inside. If I didn’t, I knew eventually I would go back to being that person who lied and stole and couldn’t be depended on. I also knew that I couldn’t bear being that person without a drink–the shame of that life was too much to live with. So, if I wanted to not just get sober, but stay sober, I knew I had to rewrite the constitution of my being. Enter: The 12 steps.

While the situation I am facing now with my body image does not outwardly appear to be nearly as dire–the inward ache in my soul is similarly agonizing. I don’t believe that not starving myself is as good as it can get. I don’t accept that “feeling fat” is just a part of being a woman. I’m determined to fight the system that upholds a culture where women are expected to be obsessed with how their bodies look. In order to fight that system though, I need to resign from it and actually live and think differently myself. I am hoping these steps can help me move in the right direction.

Quickly, about me: I’ve struggled with my body image since I understood that not all bodies were the same (about 5 years old). From the age of 12 till about 25 I struggled with both anorexia and bulimia. I spent about three months in a treatment center for eating disorders and self harm when I was 22 years old, but didn’t completely abstain from those behaviors until I got sober at the age of 25. If you’d like to read more in depth about my experience with eating disorders you can do so here–or with sobriety, here

If this is your first introduction to any type of 12-Step recovery work–welcome. I hope in witnessing my journey you’ll find something useful for yourself. In my recovery I have found it more productive to relate to what I can in someone’s story, rather than needlessly compare. Take what is valuable to you–and share it, and leave whatever is not. 

Seeking only progress in this space, not perfection. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Here we go… 

 

Step One: We admitted we were powerless over our body image–that our lives had become unmanageable

What does it mean to “admit” something?

I just looked up the definition of admit and not surprisingly it felt spot on–confess to be true or to be the case, often reluctantly. It’s the word reluctant that really hits home for me. When I share something, I’m usually doing it willingly. When I “admit” something, it’s usually with some hesitation–the admission feels a bit like a defeat. I usually only admit when I feel like I have to. Not coincidentally at all that that’s the spot I am in now. Instead of feeling defeated though I instead feel encouraged that I am no longer in denial. I’m not blogging or posting on social media about how body confident I am or only showing the best pictures of myself and acting like it’s all I see. Admitting means coming out of the darkness of denial and into the light, and I’m happy to be out and seen.

Why do you think this steps says “We” admitted, rather than “I” admitted?

I think the step says “We” rather than “I” because we are not alone. That is the entire basis of the 12 step program–it is the foundation of how it worked from the very beginning. It was one alcoholic helping another alcoholic by sharing their story. In some ways, it rarely has to get more complicated than that. I think the “we” definitely applies to the issue I am trying to tackle here as well–body image. I know I am not the only one struggling. While I’ve been in the camp that’s taken that struggle to the extremes at times (i.e eating disorders, self harm), I’m now a part of the broader population whose become accustomed to a general dissatisfaction with their bodies.  I am not the only who feels this way, and I don’t have to try and get better all by myself. There are others. There is help.

What does the term “powerless over body image mean?”

To me, “powerless over body image” means that I am unable to control the percentage of my brain that is occupied by thoughts surrounding the physical appearance of my body. The fact that many of my actions are guided by my thoughts surrounding my physical appearance (although these actions are not as severe as they once were), also indicates that I am powerless over my body image.

What does the term “our lives had become unmanageable mean?”

To me, “Our lives had become unmanageable” simply means that we have gotten to a point where the way we are living is no longer sustainable. When I first got sober, I had some trouble with the idea of my life being unmanageable– (although once I went through ways it was with a sponsor it became very clear). The truth was I was “getting by”, so I thought I was ok. Then I entered recovery and learned that there was another way to live. That thriving–rather than just getting by–was an option. I discovered that actually wanting to get up in the morning, and wanting to LIVE, was actually a thing–that not every person was just surviving like I was. Once I understood that there was more than one way to live–I was able to look at my life and realize how unmanageable and unsustainable it was. With my drinking, I knew I couldn’t continue on that way and not eventually want to kill myself. With my body image now, I know that I can’t fully be the person I want to be and really possess the full autonomy I desire, if I remain on the same path.

 

  • List examples of your powerlessness (try for at least 10)
  1. I can be having a perfectly lovely day, and one glance in the mirror can steal my joy.
  2. I can’t seem to walk by glass doors or windows without scrutinizing my appearance.
  3. I have body dysmorphia. There are women who I know factually weigh more and wear larger sizes than me, yet I still see myself as “bigger” than them.
  4. Tied to the body dysmorphia…I can think I look fine and even “thin”, but then what I see in the mirror physically changes if I eat sugar or a lot of grains.
  5. I almost always order one or two sizes too big when I online shop because each time I go to purchase new clothes I don’t believe I really wear the size I wear, and I always assume I’ve probably grown in size.
  6. A person’s comment about my body–whether positive or seemingly negative can disrupt my train of thought for LONG periods of time.
  7. I wake up in the morning, determined to engage in only positive self talk–but many days, I’m not able to sustain that and the negative thoughts about my body become the most prominent in my mind.
  8. Less so now than in the past, but still, feeling “fat” often leads to actions such as not eating a certain food or pushing it harder in a workout–or even adding an extra workout, when I had previously planned to rest.
  9. I am generally averse to flesh–whether it’s my own or that of other people. If someone has what society has deemed the appropriate amount of flesh or fat on their body, I find their appearance generally acceptable. If however I see someone in short shorts or a crop top that has more than the acceptable amount of flesh hanging out, my immediate thought is that they should cover up–that their exposure of their flesh is somehow offensive. My second thought is more power to them for living free and not being inhibited by society’s norms but I am definitely powerless over that very automatic first thought.

 

  • List examples of how your life became/is unmanageable (try for at least 10)
  1. The joy of major life moments is sometimes dulled due to thoughts surrounding my body image. Examples: During my wedding, I thought my arms looked fat. After I ran my first marathon, I thought I looked chubby in all of the photos.
  2. I put things off until I look “fit” enough. Examples: Taking photos for my blog, wearing a dress that I love.
  3. I focus less on how I will feel when I accomplish athletic goals, and more on how my body might look once I’ve done the work that might allow me to achieve them.
  4. When I picture being happy in the future, it always includes being “fit” enough.
  5. When I picture being successful, it always includes being “fit” enough. So in my mind I guess I couldn’t ever be truly happy or successful if I wasn’t also “fit”.
  6. I have a lot of things I want to accomplish, but often feel like a good portion of my energy, resources, and brain power are being spent on my body image.
  7. Obsessing over how I look takes from me, but it never really gives me anything back–and yet I continue to engage and go back for more torture. I don’t really do that with other things. I’m allergic to pumpkin seed oil (really random, I know). It makes me feel like I can’t breathe. Because of this, I don’t eat it. Similarly, obsessing over my body makes me feel like I can’t breathe–yet I go back to it over and over again. There’s that powerlessness again.
  8. I often dress in a way that desexualizes my body and tamps down my appearance in order to disappear and not provoke attention. It makes me feel disconnected to myself as a woman, but is also often a relief. I feel a daily choice of whether to be an “attractive” woman that is objectified, or an unattractive one who no one sees. This choice often originates from the perception of my weight and physical form that day.

 

Reflection:

#9 on my powerless list makes me feel ashamed. I hate that my first instinct is to judge other women. I contribute to my own objectification when I judge someone else’s skin and how much of it they choose to show. I am glad though that I can feel this changing. That first thought is always there–but my second thought is coming behind it more and more quickly and it’s much more loving and accepting, and reveals a certain admiration for women who can live out loud and freely in their own skin–regardless of their size.

#8 on my unmanageable list is a whole lotta shit to unpack. Another day…

I’m fairly embarrassed to write just one post about how much space body image and weight take up in my brain. The fact that I have eleven more to go isn’t easy to think about. I don’t want you to see me as a basket case who doesn’t have her shit together. I want you to see me as a strong and confident woman. The truth is though, more than I want you to see me as that–I want to be that. If I’m to become the badass I want to become, then I’ve got to be open and vulnerable and honest about what’s really inside. In some ways, it does feels good to put this all down on paper and say it out loud. It reminds me of when I was first just going to AA meetings because I was court ordered to. I wouldn’t say I was an alcoholic. I’d say my name and then something awkward about how I was sent there. Finally, when I ran into a woman from my past at a meeting, a woman who would become (and still is) my sponsor, I asked her what the hell she was doing there. She laughed and answered, “I’m an alcoholic, what are you doing here?” Finally defeated and teary eyed, I sat down on the picnic table next to her and replied, “I’m an alcoholic too.” If I would have known the relief that would come from saying those words, “I’m an alcoholic”, I would have said them years before. So sure, there’s some defeat in all these admissions–in the revelation of my powerlessness. But there’s freedom too–and you better believe that’s what I’m here for.

 

xo

cat h. bradley

 

 

header: Jennifer Burk

39 thoughts on “Step One: We Admitted…

  1. I also think when it comes to body image we need to start telling our young girls “what a great idea that was”, “I love the colors your but together.” etc . Comments that relate to character, rather then with physical appearance.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, what a post. Coming up on double-digits is a big deal. Running a marathon is a big deal. Congratulations. Coming to accept and understand ourselves is, for me, an ongoing big deal. I am 27 years sober through AA. I too look forward to reading more of your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Elva! Wow, 27 years! That is freakin’ incredible. I love hearing from people who have spent a large part of their lives in AA cause they usually have had the most fascinating and colorful journeys. So much possibility–our lives get so much bigger, right?
      Really glad to have you along for this journey, thanks Elva! x

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What an insightful, emotional, and I’m sure hard-to-write post! Your thoughts about your immediate judgment of other women were really interesting. I feel that all women regardless of shape or size or level of comfort with their body do this instinctually. We look at the overweight woman in a bikini with disdain the same way we look at the supermodel with large boobs spilling out of a top or a “skin and bones” girl as “not eating enough”. Our society is so strange in that it glamorizes sexuality at the same time condemning it and encouraging modesty. I look forward to reading more of your posts as you go on this journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you SO much TN! It really was more difficult to write than I thought it would be. I think of myself as a pretty open person but this was sort of a new type of vulnerability for me for sure.
      I think you are so right about how we as women judge each other’s bodies–and i really love all the different examples you give because they are all across the board! No one is ever just okay right? We are too fat or too thin or too slutty or not curvy enough–it’s exhausting. You also point out that ultimate hypocrisy–glamorizing sexuality/encouraging modesty–I think it’s all a bullshit trap that we really can’t win in. They’ve got to trap us with both those sides because you’re always going to have women who feel more comfortable on one side than the other–all the while we have the wool over our eyes not realizing we are really working against each other and creating less freedom overall.
      Glad to have yet another woman who i can hear really gets it. I think that’s the first step–all of us realizing that the system we are living in is bullshit, and then taking individual responsibility to change ourselves.
      Love your thoughts, thanks girl! x

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for sharing! I’ve hit a similar point in my own journey and reading this is helping me clarify some things. Your honesty here has me addressing my own thoughts and bodyshaming. Thank you, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading Kim! I’m glad my journey is helping you reflect on yours. Sometimes i think that’s some of the best that blogging can do–I am always understanding things in my own life in a different way when I get to see them from someone else’s perspective. I hope you stick around here and chime in often–look forward to learning from you as well! x

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  5. You’re brilliant and brave and honest and I bet this helps a lot of other people as well as you.

    I’m going to take a back seat on this theme because I have a dear friend who has a severe enduring eating disorder and I’ve had to reach acceptance I can’t “save” her but it’s an on-going struggle for me to do that and it’s difficult for me to read about others’ issues right now. That’s MY issue, not yours, just felt I should explain a little as I’m quite vocal on your yoga and running posts.

    You take care of yourself through this and shout out loud when you need support. Your community of commenters and friends will be here for you. I hope you don’t mind my honesty and reticence here; I felt it better to explain than fade.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Liz, I really hope it does help someone else besides me. That’s the only thing that got me to hit the green publish button the other day. It can’t be all about me–there’s got to be others out there that need this too.

      I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you letting me know about your friend and your struggle with this topic. I completely understand you taking a step back from it. I’ve had people fade away without knowing the reason and it is hard. Thank you so much for being honest with me and still ensuring me of your love and support. You’re kinda the best. Lots of love to you…and to your dear friend. x

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, you have written some amazingly hard stuff here, huge points to you! I remember writing stuff like this in therapy but the thought of sharing it is so scary. It’s so sad that we’re ashamed of sharing stuff like this – maybe if we could all talk about it, it wouldn’t be such a big problem. I hope that by getting it out there and reflecting you can make progress, and overcome your issues. x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Heather. It was surprisingly harder than I thought. I usually feel free to be pretty open on here, it was interesting that this was more difficult for me to publish. I think it mostly has to do with that wanting people to view me a certain way. Coming as you are–that’s not the easiest, but I am trying!
      And you’re right, so much of this type of stuff would probably be less of a problem if we could all talk about it. I hope you feel free to share some feelings about this stuff that you have in this space going forward–I am sure your voice and experience will help others as well! x

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m moved by your comment Zulikha–thank you. It actually came at a time when I was feeling like “why the fuck did i publish this, it’s embarrassing!” So your comment was very reassuring. I really needed it. Thank you for being receptive to this and for letting me know it meant something to you. It means everything! x

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is an incredible post. I have often thought that the 12steps can work for so many different issues – it’s probably why we hear over and over that it’s a spiritual program to be applied to life.
    Thank you, for reflecting on some matters that are highly sensitive. It is incredibly insightful and I admire your willingness to level with yourself. And I am thankful, because I also have body image issues, and other things, that go beyond alcoholism.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The 12 steps are a pretty incredible system I think and I am already feeling pretty confident that this is going to work for me just like it did for my alcoholism. The freedom I feel already from starting to work through step 1 is pretty amazing–and i know the more work i do, the more freedom will be available to me.
      Thank you for chiming in here and admitting that you have these issues as well–it’s always good to hear that I am not alone!

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  8. Thank you! I always knew I had a body image problem but I didn’t realize how deeply it has been affecting my life. So much of what you’ve said here resonates.

    One thing stood out to me: “I don’t want you to see me as a basket case who doesn’t have her shit together. I want you to see me as a strong and confident woman.” I’ve been reading a lot of self-improvement books lately and I’ve realized that many of my problems relate to me wanting people to see me in a certain way or view me as a certain type of person. I am doing a lot of work to find that satisfaction from within, not from others.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Rachael! I feel like so many of us don’t realize the impact all this has on our life because it’s just been the norm for our whole lives–it’s what we are bred to expect as women–that this is one of our feats, something we all must struggle with always. It’s complete bullshit!

      You’re also right–it is about finding that satisfaction from within. I think it’s also about figuring out who you really want to be. It’s quite something when we understand who THAT person is–rather than trying to understand a myth–a person we think we want other people to think we are. Lately I’m been trying to just take one day, and even one moment at a time and think “live right now like no one is looking.” When I can do this and I am true to myself–I like myself–and that’s a really good feeling. I think I’m better for the world when I am that person.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Cat, SO much appreciation here for the vulnerability and strength it takes to write about these topics. Please remember that body shaming is a cultural problem mostly toward women and it is not an accident. Entire industries would collapse (as Brene Brown cites) if we woke up in the morning, looked in the mirror and said “omg, awesome!”

    It is at once a very personal and shameful secret some of us carry, and at the same time a highly constructed and highly lucrative process to keep us in a scarcity mindset with regard to our self-worth. As you work through these issues and opt to share your experience, I hope that many more will join you in rejecting the damage done by the beauty, fashion and diet industries to women’s self-esteem.

    Power on, you rock. Never forget that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for this Cristy. It’s crazy because your mention of the industries that would collapse and how this is all not an accident has really been part of the impetus for this change i want to make. I feel angry. I’m a strong, athletic, healthy woman–it shouldn’t be so fucking difficult to see myself clearly. The balance of power and the history of the obtaining that power within both gender and racial dynamics infuriates me beyond belief. I think I finally got to the point where I felt like I at least needed to take responsibility for the part I play in it–the part I have bought into. If I can’t do that, then really, I am lying to myself.
      Honestly, your whole comment means so much to me cause I just hear that you get it. You’re there with me. You fucking get it. Really grateful to have you as an ally. Thank you for your support!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! We are speaking the same language and it is empowering when other women are able to speak it out loud as well. This beauty sickness is a product of patriarchy, and is no accident. I am angry too, and I am awake. Helping others to wake up to it as well is an act of service. When we can fully show up as ourselves, courageously and full of courage, the world will continue to become a better place. A lot of men know this as well, and more are becoming supporters, especially of wives and daughters. But clearly this is an ongoing awakening and not everyone will get there at the same time. Thanks for your leadership on it!

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I think this was the first time I cried with one of your posts because I was sad. Usually I am exited and kinda proud of you. So…I am not sad because of the situation you describe. Instead, I cried because I wish you could see yourself through other peoples eyes. I wish you could see what an amazing example and leader you are. I wish you could see the strength you give others as you pave this difficult path that others are afraid to face. I wish others could kick the boulders aside like you do, and tell about it with grace (ok and a little spunk) and let others know its ok.

        That, my friend, is beauty. I do understand you will still be your own worst enemy, but know next time you look at yourself in the eye…you matter so much. XO

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m not sure I have the words I want to respond to this at the moment. All i may have right now is my most heartfelt ‘thank you’.
        I hope this post does not make you too sad–I feel like I am in a good place. Admitting these things about myself–though they may sound harsh–they are true, so I feel a great sense of freedom in letting them out and sort of baring them for all to see. it’s not pretty, I know that. But I think it’s something I have to go through to maybe be able to see that person you talk about seeing.
        I hope you know how much your encouragement means to me–I live off of it. Other people really carry me through and pick me up when i feel saddled down by all the fear and doubt. Thank you for being one of those people who gives me the strength to try and help other people. We are all in this together for sure. Thank you for your constant example of beauty and strength, each and every day. x

        Liked by 1 person

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