Wow, what a huge question. Today’s practice questions how we feel about ourselves, why it is we feel that way, and what would be different if we felt more self-accepting. This might be another rant-post. You’ve been warned.
The pic up the top of this post comes from a Google Images search of ‘multiple selves’ and I used it because I love trees and the things they represent: growth, strength, deep roots and connections, renewal, LIFE. It also resonates because I often feel like I have multiple identities- girl/woman, daughter/sister, victim/survivor, lesbian, activist, epileptic, student, worker and others- and they all feed in to who I am and how I feel about myself.
And yet- there’s always an ‘and yet’, dontcha know?- the first thing I think about when I think of ‘myself’ is ‘my body’. The multiple, complex, intersecting bits that make me ‘me’ are reduced down to this one thing. A body that I live in and live with, but loath so much and am so desperate to change that it dominates my day-to-day thinking.
Most days I look at myself in the mirror and I want to cry, or hide away from the world, or kill myself. I look in a mirror and I see a body so far removed from what society considers beautiful, or even ‘normal’, and I know I have to present this body to the world and it just feels awful. I also see the body that many others have ridiculed and abused over the past 22 years, and much as I want to move on from that stuff, it remains etched under my skin, a body memory that rises to the surface each time I am confronted with the sight of myself.
It’s the hot flush of shame that rises when I think of insults hurled out of passing cars, ‘Go on a diet, lard-arse!’. Or, far more hurtful, insults delivered from family members and friends. Sometimes they are veiled in concern, ‘you’d be so much prettier if you just lost some weight’. Sometimes they are outright nasty. It doesn’t make much difference because the underlying message is the same- I am only the value of my body, nothing else counts. And my body- short, fat, clumsy, disabled, an object for others to abuse- is not one that deserves to be valued highly.
I have felt this way- that my body, and by extension myself are disgusting and unworthy- for such a long time. It feels like the default setting but a very small part of me knows this to be untrue- I have not always felt this awful about myself. I was born, as we all are, with no judgement upon my body or my self. I think I held onto that neutrality until I was about five years old. And maybe- just maybe- there’s a tiny particle of that still floating within me, and I can get it back, nurture it and grow it strong again.
There’s a lot of contributing factors to why I feel the way I do now. A whole series of blog posts! Perhaps they will come. But in a nutshell- I lost the sense of my body being OK when I lost the sense that my body belonged to me, and saw instead that it was something often used/ abused by others. By the time of my diagnosis with epilepsy at 9- see the previous post- any sense of autonomy and control was fairly eroded.
My sister, older by four years, was emotionally and physically abusive towards me from her adolescence onwards- about ten years in total, until I stopped living at home with her when I turned 18. I now recognise this as ‘family violence’ but back then, in my kid-brain, it was as simple as, you are not worthy of protection. I spent over ten years being told, never tell anybody what’s happening at home. Thinking, it’s only happening to you so it doesn’t really matter. Seeing on TV, ‘real’ family violence is a man bashing up a women. Thinking, if you were different she would stop doing it. Thinking, it’s your fault.
Of course, this impacted hugely on how I viewed my body/self. My sister told me I was fat and ugly and useless, nobody stepped in to stop her, I had no reason or evidence not to believe her. My own puberty hit, my body developed, she treated me far worse than before- therefore I blamed my body, did not trust it.
I initially developed bulimia as a coping tool. My sister could yell and torment and hit but she could not control what I did or did not digest. And- in the beginning at least- it felt good, to have this secret part of my life. It felt good to test my body, see how long I could fast, see myself shrink away signs of puberty. Life might have been hellish on the outside but I could find calm in the rituals and control of bulimia, retreating from violence into a place where the biggest issue to face was the number of calories in various pieces of fruit.
Here’s the thing though- bulimia is a fickle friend, short-lived. No sooner was I hooked on it before it turned on me. And now I had not one but two tormentors- one in my sister, the other inside my head. Together they made a powerful, looping soundtrack to constantly remind me how shit I was. I could escape home and my sister temporarily- throwing myself into school and exercise- but there was (is) no escape from my head.
Wow. I’ve just sat her for a good half hour, deleting the text above, re-pasting it, deleting again, putting it back. It’s amazing how much the silence and shame of the abuse still has a grip on me. I’m not in physical danger anymore but my body still reacts as though it may, at any second, be attacked. The idea of posting this part of me that so few see- but which is so integral to how I see myself- is incredibly scary.
Like I said at the start of this practice, there are many aspects to my identity. Like a tree, I grow and change and grow again. I hope one day to be able to move past my body- and the traumatic memories it holds- when looking to define myself. I hope that in doing this, others will also be able to look past my appearance and see the truer, more important parts of me. It feels like that time might be a long way off but each day of thinking, reflecting, writing, sharing- breaking the silence- is bringing it closer.
Tomorrow’s practice is on body image, so strap yourselves in folks, because it will another long one, featuring ‘Bulimia- The House Guest Who Has MASSIVLY Outstayed Her Welcome’.
In 2012, I am doing a daily practice in self acceptance, guided by Rosie Molinary’s book ‘Beautiful You: A Daily Guide To Radical Self Acceptance’ Click through to her website to learn more about the book and join in yourself.