We’ve all heard it before. “Be your own biggest fan!” “You cannot love someone until you love yourself first.” “The only opinion of yourself that should really matter is your own.” We see it all over billboards and the internet. We learn of how dangerous advertisements can be to young (hell, to everyones’) minds. In an age where my thoughts can instantly reach thousands of people, hate has the capacity to spread like wildfire. Cyber bullying is a terrifying reality. “Fashionable” options for jean shorts that are age appropriate are dwindling. Kids are in touch with all of their friends (and acquaintances and total freaking strangers), twenty four hours a day, thanks to smart phones, which have completely obliterated the hope for exploring things in the “real world” (the actual 3-D, mother earth world!!). Now, more than ever, the self love message is vital. Self love is not a side dish that you can pick if it sounds appealing, it has to be the main dish, every single day.
On the other hand, this same message is often used to extreme. I am a true believer of body acceptance; in just a few minutes, when I gather the courage, I will tell you the most embarrassing and dark tid bits of my battle with my own body image. But I believe that with body acceptance, there also needs to be a conscious effort towards health (not BMI- God someone please get rid of that chart in the doctor’s office- but holistic, honest to goodness, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health). Sometimes I think that people use catch phrases such as, “I am beautiful just the way that I am” in order to forgo giving their bodies adequate nutrition, stretching and moving the beautiful machine that is the human body, and striving for a mind-body connection. Instead of these two extremes (which, at their core, are identical), why isn’t the message… loving the person that you are, while trying to become even better, or loving every inch of yourself, while trying to become stronger/more accepting/kinder. Well, simply because that is easier said than done. This is very easy to talk about. We can all sit around and talk of how physical and emotional and spiritual health is the most paramount thing, but actually living this is a whole other beast.
Which brings us to my (self love) story.
I have fantastic parents. Truly, God could not have made two more loving and capable people to raise my sister and I. We went on more adventures in our first ten years of life than most grown people do in their entire lives. There was no abuse, no neglect, not even any hiccups that could have possibly lead to what happened next.
I know that my actual downward spiral started in high school, but I can distinctly remember being at a pool party in the fifth grade, and wondering why my belly couldn’t look like (we will call her) Danielle’s. I was acutely aware, at that moment, that there were differences between my body and that of some of the other girls. Of course, I knew people did not all look the same, but this was different. This time, I was jealous. I didn’t want to stare down at the pudge of flesh that formed when I sat down on the side of the pool. I wanted to be like her.
Okay, so now we arrive at my senior year of high school. I was a seriously happy kid in high school. I worked my ass off, knowing that it would get me down the career path I was headed. I had friends and was liked by pretty much everyone- I was even voted “friendliest” for our senior superlative section of the yearbook. Yes, my confidence had been rocked to it’s core multiple times (being teased for studying instead of partying, being teased for going to bed early, being teased for having good relationships with my teachers, being teased for not smoking pot with everyone else…see a trend here?), but I was generally a very happy kid.
And somehow it just happened. Pina colada cake is one of my mom’s specialities. It is abso-freaking-lutely amazing (second only to her key lime pie), and on one particularly yucky day, I took a bite directly off of the cake with a fork. And then another. And another. And another because hey, no one is home to see this and oh my godddddd this is good. Before I was even conscious of what I was doing, three quarters of the entire cake was gone. And then I was caught. My mom was shocked to find me stuffing cake into my mouth like a squirrel with acorns, but she just sort of laughed it off. I didn’t. I WAS MORTIFIED. I immediately went to the bathroom, turned on the water and made myself throw up until my insides ached.
Hook line and sinker.
I did not enjoy throwing up, in fact, I hated it. But the feeling of “erasing” my transgressions was too tempting to pass up. Starving, on the other hand, was something I lived for. Starving was self control. Starving was being “too good” for food. Starving was showing everyone who teased me that I was strong. That I was so strong.
By October of my freshman year of college, I had lost thirteen pounds. Okay, that may not seem like a lot, but on my five foot two frame, thirteen pounds in roughly a month was extreme. With all of the freedom to do as I pleased, I could eat (or not eat) whatever I wanted, without anyone being privy to the demon that was growing inside of me. I lied to friends when they asked me to go to the cafeteria, saying I had already eaten dinner. I developed rules for eating: if my “meal” couldn’t fit in the palm of my hand, it would bloat me, and therefore, it was inedible; I could not eat more frequently that every four hours, no matter how hungry I was. I LOCKED the public bathroom at a particular dining facility every day after lunch, so I could strip down naked to see where my food had gone. I worked out multiple times/hours a day (more than I ever admitted to), and was not satisfied until I could barely move. I sat outside my classroom building on a beautiful sunny day and sobbed shamelessly because I was convinced that I was “too fat” and did not deserve to be seen by my classmates. I idolized one particular friend (whom, I was convinced, had the perfect body and if I could just be like her I could
finally be happy), despite the fact that I later learned she wore jeans two sizes larger than me, and outweighed me by 25 pounds. Coffee was what I survived on, with a green apple and a packaged salad (split into lunch and dinner). I remember feeling real, palpable fear when my roommate said “you should go get one” as I eyed her donut hole at dinner.
I had zero love for myself. I tried desperately to get people to like me, because hey, someone had to right? I did, what most girls do. Spent hours getting ready, tried on every outfit before picking the one that made me look the tiniest possible, and talked to whatever boy looked in my direction. When I ate more than I thought I should have, I purged. When I drank one too many vodka/sodas, I spent the whole next day at the gym, paying for my sins. I saw myself as the sum of my cellulite in the sunshine and the rolls that formed when I stretched. I became involved with a boy who could never have loved me as much as he loved himself. I was lost.
Despite efforts to hide my secret, friends eventually began to suspect that something wasn’t quite right. I decided to “get help” after a friend sat me down and said that she was worried about me. I did not do it for myself at that point; I cared more that she would be at peace if she knew I was talking to someone, than my actual wellbeing. So when I got home from my freshman year of college, I told my mom that I wanted a counselor. I went to exactly three sessions before telling her that I could “do it on my own” and that I didn’t want her to waste her money. My mom relented. This was NOT her fault. She had no idea at that point how far gone I already was because I was VERY good at hiding my “college self” when I came home. I threw up in the shower, made excuses to be absent for meals, and used the infamous, “I’m just not hungry right now”.
Fast forward through college. The best time of my whole life, despite the demon that made me laugh and cry hysterically for no reason, pass out from fatigue at 8 pm every night, and told me that being alone was not okay. As I entered graduate school, I felt that I had somewhat gotten a handle on my “situation”. Being a Kinesiology major, I knew what I was doing to my metabolism, and I struggled to find a balance between satisfying my need to starve and my basic metabolic requirements. I started to eat somewhat more normally, got on a once daily exercise routine, ditched the boy (well, to be fair, he had been cheating so that wasn’t really a “go me” self empowerment moment), and settled into the high stress environment that was my daily life in school. And for a while, I was able to maintain; but, for anyone who has ever suffered from an eating disorder can attest to, maintaining is an active process, and pretty soon, I felt as if I was tightrope walking on a knife blade. I began to skip meals to fit into a new dress (purposefully bought in a size too small to “motivate me”), splitting packaged salads, and drinking (coffee and wine, to excess). I decided to take myself to counselling, and this time, I promised to myself that I would take it seriously.
And I did.
I will not bore you with the discussions, projects and lessons that led to my eventual recovery. I would be lying if I said I think that it was all counselling that got me through; in reality, it was a combination of counselling, support from friends and family, success in school, genuine, good relationships, and a burning desire within my belly to finally feel at peace.
I struggle today. I always will. There are days when I miss the perfect, unrelenting self control that I had during my darkest hours. There are days when I still feel that demon telling me that I am still not quite good enough. But what has shifted in me is my focus. I used to believe that the biggest indicator of health was a person’s outer appearance, and now, well, now I know that is just not true at all.
The first time I tried yoga, I left feeling infuriated. I have always been good at sports; if you gave me a few hours, I could basically be considered “good” at a variety of athletic endeavours. I walked into my first hot yoga class thinking that I was going to “rock it”, and left feeling like I never wanted to step foot in a yoga studio, or hear the word yoga, ever again. I was sick with anger that I could not get my mind to quiet, that my limbs were anything but flexible, that I could not hold the ridiculous pretzel-looking-pose the instructor so easily put herself into. The next time I tried a yoga class (years later, I’m not kidding when I say I was really turned off of yoga for a long time), I listened to the instructor’s words carefully: “Accept yourself wherever you are right now, and make it your intention today to push just past that boundary”. It was life altering. As easily as I had become addicted to shrinking my body, I became addicted to listening to my body, being tuned in to my body, and being grateful for my body.
I am grateful for my body.
Not for what it looks like (although, as a side note, thanks mom and dad, you made one hell of a looker!!!), but for what it DOES for me. My body is capable of speaking without words. It is capable of comforting others. It is capable of moving me throughout the gorgeous planet we have the privilege of living on. It is capable of one day, God willing, producing life.
If you had asked me what self love meant ten years ago, I would have said something catchy like, “putting yourself first”, or “knowing your worth”, and maybe, you would have believed me. Today, however, I am begging you to consider the fact that self love isn’t a destination. You do not get a gold medal or cross a finish line when you are done “loving yourself”.
Self love, to me, is effort.
It is NOT a destination, a place that we should hope to one day be. It is a journey. It is effort put into yourself. It is knowing where you are, accepting your flaws, and striving (kindly) towards something more. It IS knowing what you are worth, but it is ALSO, acting on that knowledge, using your gifts to enhance the world. It is giving yourself ten minutes to be angry or hurt or annoyed by a bad day, an argument with your significant other, or a downright shitty situation, and then rising above that. Counting your many blessings and continuing on to remind yourself that you have everything you need to be happy, right here. You are enough, because you are trying. You are perfect, because you are trying. You are beautiful, because you are trying. You can positively impact the world, because you are trying.
Until next time, #findyourpeace.