A Conversation

I was chatting with my good friend Michelle about bodies and weight loss and self-acceptance and love the other day.  I'd sent her Nourishing Wisdom a couple weeks ago, a follow-up to an evolving conversation we've been having since she came to visit me in February.  With her permission, I'm sharing parts of our conversation here, because it's a good one.

Love who you are. - superbalancedlife.com

Love who you are. - superbalancedlife.com

Michelle: Getting down to my lowest weight did not magically take away any of my self hate. It just meant I was very small, which frankly looked weird, and I was cold ALL the time.

It's just difficult when you're a very goal-oriented person not to think of yourself in that way. How do we balance a healthy desire to achieve goals with self-love and acceptance?

Kelly: I think the first step is to make the goal loving yourself.  So the goal becomes 1. Read this book about self-acceptance,  2. Make an art journal, 3. Listen to this CD series about self-love,  4. Go to yoga x times per week, etc.  You slowly move the goals to be more self-loving things, and you focus on behaviors, not outcomes.

When you do these practices enough, it becomes easier to think of your body in a different way. It's the attachment to it "having to be this way" that's causing you pain.

I've noticed it a lot with clothes, like, "I want to wear these pants again." And that's totally fine. However, it's my attachment to that idea that's causing drama. It's fine to want to wear them. But it's not okay when I base my happiness on being able to wear them or not.

There are other pants. There are other vintage dresses. There are many ways to be, all worthy of love and acceptance.

Michelle: It's like a kind of refocusing . . . every time I feel myself becoming anxious over the competing priorities in my life, I remind myself to think of loving myself first. What does it mean to choose the loving option? Frequently, it means backing the eff off of the absurd expectation that I can fit it all in without causing harm, and choose the path that will bring the most peace. Today, that means not going to the gym in order to focus all my time on my paper tonight.

And clothes are so tough. I feel like we define ourselves by them in so many ways.

Kelly: Yeah, absolutely. It helps when you realize that today is only one point on a long journey. My body has changed so much because of derby, CrossFit, hormones, pregnancy, non-pregnancy... I just can't hate on it anymore. It's so nice to me. It carries my soul across long-distances. It stretches and bends to accommodate whatever I need. It doesn't complain overmuch, given what I ask it to do all the time.

And when it DOES complain, I need to listen. Last week I was super not feeling CrossFit or eating any particular way, because I was just so emotionally and physically tired. And this time, I listened. I took the week off in a sense. I did what I felt would serve me and my body best. I went to the chiropractor, I got a massage. And I did end up doing one day of lifting, because I felt good that day.

And as it turns out, giving myself the room to do what I needed and wanted meant that this week, I am feeling much more like killing my workouts and eating salads out of mason jars. Now, everyone's mileage may vary. But that's how it was for me.

All this was made possible though, honestly, by a moment where I just threw up my hands and thought "I'm done. I cannot walk another step in self-improvement fueled by disappointment in my body any fucking longer. I surrender. Even if it means that I'll be chubby the rest of my life."

It was that surrender, that total acceptance - even at rock bottom - of myself that's made everything work.

Michelle: I love this: I cannot walk another step in self-improvement fueled by disappointment in my body any fucking longer.

And I could alter it for myself by substituting disappointment in with “fear of”...and hopefully the surrender part will just happen. I'm only just understanding what a traumatic couple of years it has been, for me and for so many of my friends. Things are hard enough already without piling self hate on top. It helps no one.

Kelly: It really doesn't. And honestly, when you told me "I'm happier in a smaller body", I took it at face value. But a small part of me asked, "Yes, okay, but what are you doing to get there? What is the cost of it?" Because I look at pictures where I was my thinnest, and I know that that girl was "happier", but only to the extent that happier meant "more free of the crushing weight of my fear of being a larger person in this world".

I was more free of it, because I was smaller. But my own self-acceptance and okayness with being a plus-size (well sort of - I'm an inbetweenie) woman is a harder-won, better, and harder victory.

My point is: being fully in your body, accepting its wrinkles, curves, dimples, freckles, age spots, bunions, stretch marks, rolls, whatever ... it's really hard. But it feels fucking awesome when you get there. Because you can go out to dinner and really ask yourself: what do I really *want*? What does my body feel like it *needs*?

And it tells you. When I get home from the South I crave piles of vegetables. I like having a lot of vegetables every day because I grow them in my garden, and that relationship with the earth and soil, combined with creative cooking, has changed my relationship with plants.  Now, I like them. But I also like ice cream. And either choice is fine. I just have to listen to what’s best for me in that moment.

But when you accept your body as okay, those choices become about you. Not about what all the other external voices have to say. The body has a wisdom to it, a deep intuitiveness. And we can tune in, or we can tune out. But the choice becomes less fraught when we know we are okay.

Being There, Being Here

The shitty thing about eating disorders is that they are the ultimate self-absorption.  You become so convinced that your body is unacceptable that you have to create a whole narrative framework to make yourself okay.  And you become so attached to that framework that anything that doesn't reinforce it feels like a threat.  You lose sight of people you like, people you care about, in the process of feathering that odious nest, of building walls around yourself brick by brick.

It came to my attention today that I'd been a schmuck to one of my friends.  Rather than building a fortress of fragile self-righteousness to protect myself from the pain of being wrong, I've decided to examine where I went off the rails and open myself up to that discomfort.  

I was dismissive and judgmental of this friend because what she wanted to do in her own fitness journey contrasted strongly with mine and I perceived that as a threat.  

Not competition, as I think would be easy to assume.  I know other people are thinner and prettier than I am - after all, there's always someone better looking and more fit than you, isn't there?  But more because it felt like if she went that direction, she would no longer be one of us, part of Team Finish. And that felt sad and scary.  I felt a little abandoned, concerned that the support network I'd tried so hard to build would crumble.

I also felt a bit lost, because the tack she was taking was something she'd warned me off in the past.  It took me awhile to remember that just because one path is right for one woman, it may not be right for another, and that that is always okay.

You may not know what it's like for someone in recovery from an Eating Disorder to be exposed to someone else's restrictive eating plan, no matter how awesome or well-intentioned it may be.  This article from Choosing Raw really helped me get some clarity about what I was feeling.  

When I hear about these regimes, I feel two things. The rational, mature half of me feels a sense of sympathy, because I know that flirting with deprivation is almost always bound to backfire. There’s also an irrational, petulant, and stubborn part of me that hears these things and feels an instinctual urge to compete. To interject with my own nutrition expertise, or (much worse) to prove that I’m no less capable of incredible feats of self-discipline. I don’t act on the impulse, which is good, but the whole thing leaves me unnerved and insecure.

You can have a great relationship with food, a restored relationship with your own body, and many years of recovery behind you and still feel triggered by what I call “food noise”: that great nimbus of conversation that includes, but is not limited to, detoxes, weight loss initiatives, slim downs, tone ups, dietary reboots, and/or lessons in why a particular food is the devil, or why a bite of some other suspect ingredient is sure to make you fat, sick, and nearly dead. And if you’re anything like me, the fact that these moments make you feel anxious becomes yet another source of grief, because there’s nothing more frustrating than realizing that you’re just a little more tender and vulnerable than you thought you were.
— Choosing Raw

Ultimately, I want to be the best friend I can be.  That is hard, sometimes, as I grapple with my own insecurity about my recovering body.  It can be hard to figure out what is right for me, independent of everyone else, especially if that person is someone I look up to.  

It also just goes to show that you're always at the bottom of one mountain, even if you've just scaled another.  I'm always learning.  This is still new to me, and that's okay.  

I feel badly that I hurt my friend's feelings by being unsupportive.  I've apologized, and I hope she accepts.  After all, we all need a little support when things are hard.  I think I'm ready to be there for her now, even as I honor where I am right now.