When we criticize ourselves, we are both the attacked and the attacker. ~ Dr. Kristin Neff
One week after my high school graduation, my parents sent me to an in-patient treatment facility with an Eating Disorder diagnosis. After years of using various purging methods including laxatives, vomiting and excessive exercise; I was treated as a combination bulimic/anorexic. Back home, awaiting my return, was a verbally and physically abusive boyfriend encouraging me to "lose some weight" while I was there, along with a father who was suffering acutely from PTSD and a co-dependent mother desperately trying to hold the family together.
Labels Don't Tell the Whole Story
Looking back, it's still painful to see how young I was - turning 18 years old while in treatment - and how very confused. Lots of things had caused me to grow up too quickly while I was also making the normal transition into a more independent phase of my life. There was so much I didn't yet know or understand about human nature and about myself. If only I'd been completely honest about everything going on in my life, I'd have found a path to healing a lot sooner. Instead, I compartmentalized the different parts of my life and focused on revealing enough to justify ending up in treatment and work a bit on some traumatic childhood issues without revealing the ongoing, bigger issues of physical and emotional abuse I was currently facing.
The psychologist at our treatment center often gave people self-labels to use when introducing themselves in all group settings. A pleasant, older woman named Doris used to have to say, "I'm Doris and I am wonderful." Another middle aged housewife had to say, "I'm Nelly and I'm outrageous." It was fun to watch them to learn to embody the positive statements they made about themselves. There were other labels, though, and they were not so fun to hear like Cheryl who had to say to everyone, "I'm Cheryl and I'm a worthless piece of shit." Every time she said it, I shivered inside. When my session with the doctor arrived, I spent it holding back, afraid to reveal too much because I didn't want a label like Cheryl's. The truth is that even without saying it - I really felt like a worthless piece of shit. After a month in rehab, I was released.
Giving Up the Fight Against My Body
Upon my return to reality, I moved from the home of my emotionally and mentally abusive father into the home of my emotionally and physically abusive boyfriend where I stayed for two long years before finding the courage to get away. Fast forward through a few more years of abusive boyfriends and co-dependent friendships before I finally realized how tired I was - tired of fighting with my body, tired of giving way more than I received, tired of my needs never being met, tired of being disappointed by everyone I was loyal to and just plain out of energy to fight anymore.
My body completely shut down and my doctor gave me the non-specific diagnosis of having a "viral syndrome". He then "grounded" me (took me out of my flying job) for six weeks while encouraging me to rest and then get my life together. It was then I began to understand, finally, that I needed to reconnect with my body in a healthy and loving way. In addition to offering myself plenty of forgiveness, I started exercising daily, drank less and ate more to give my body the nutrients and attention it so desperately needed.
Rebuiling and Dropping the Baggage
As I began to rebuild my life with considerate friends and a loving and supportive husband along with a new focus on overall wellness - I became energized. Eating healthy and exercising regularly became a joyful pursuit and I returned to running then added cycling and swimming. Before long I was competing in running and triathlon races. Finally, I was able to start dropping the baggage I'd accumulated through years of abuse at the hands of myself and others. No longer feeling overwhelmed by shame and self-blame, I started to view my body as worthy of love and acceptance.
Wellness is a Work in Progress
To be completely transparent - I sometimes still find myself slipping back into negative thought patterns and contemplating self-destructive behaviors when I'm too tired or feeling overwhelmed. During those times my "viral syndrome" (which turned out to be chronic Epstein-Barr Virus) comes roaring back with a vengeance forcing me to stop and rest whether I want to or not. The key for me is learning to listen for the whispers of what my body craves and taking the time needed to rest, repair and reset my perspective. Defining and enforcing my boundaries also helps keep me balanced both physically and emotionally. Today I finally feel as if I'm no longer at war with my body. We've become friends and together we're actively seeking the people, places and things that bring us peace.
Originally published November 2016