This was one of the questions put to me by the spiritual director I’m meeting with, and it opened up a lot of thoughts. I need to preface this by stating that for me God is not a masculine Father Figure in the sky. God is the ineffable. Within. Without. God is more verb than noun. I am just as able to connect with God when participating in Druidry as I can in Christianity. I feel God’s presence in the Synagogue or in a pagan circle in the forest. I use the term God because it is comfortable for me, but really God surpasses any of the preconceived notions floating about .
I was discussing the issues I was having with my body. I told her how I was frustrated I felt with my body because I have fibroids and have been on the fence as to whether or not to get a hysterectomy or to manage them until menopause.
My indecisiveness surrounding the topic has caused so much additional anxiety recently because I dislike the issues fibroids cause but also dislike the options for them. Not being able to decide what to do has just caused me a lot of hate in general directed at my body and the various areas it feels as though it has failed me in. I also told her I really don’t like my body at all.
She asked me what I felt about my body, or what the disconnect/dislike was about, and I told her how it has been. Basically I’ve been uncomfortable with how I look since grade school. I didn’t learn how to swim because I didn’t want to be in a bathing suit. Just very self conscious. There were times that I did get in a suit for playing in the water but generally I’ve always felt uncomfortable in my own skin.
This was made far worse when I had my first child at 16. I am short, my son was a large baby, 9lb 10oz and 22 inches long. Given lack of internal space he grew outward of course. After he was born my body never went back to normal… whatever ‘normal’ is supposed to be for a teenager. I had scars, stretchmarks, (very severe ones) loose skin etc. It just furthered my dislike toward my body.
‘Ugh, you’re so fat. Look at you, gross! You’re disgusting. Those jeans don’t fit you right, that shirt makes you look even fatter. You big chested, big bellied loser’ — were the sorts of words I used toward myself all the time. For years to come. Sometimes I even self-harmed because I couldn’t bear how I looked. I would see girls my age and even though some of them were smaller and some were bigger and all various shapes – most of them at 17 didn’t have a saggy baby belly and so many stretchmarks, or breasts that had barely begin to mature fully before becoming ‘mom boobs’.
My self image continued to deteriorate while my anxiety about going out in public increased. It didn’t help that I was in an abusive marriage (both mentally and physically) and raising a small, colicky child that cried everywhere we went. I felt like a failure as a mother , and felt everyone would be staring at this incompetent, fat useless teenaged mom.
I got older, and I did get out of that relationship, but self love never came. The internal verbal abusive language continued. The effect of that further pressed me into not being able to go places without severe anxiety and reducing my participation in my own life.
I have been on Prozac, Xanax, BuSpar, Seroquel, Divalproex, Paxil and others. Paxil was the biggest help for me at the time, it helped with my anxiety a lot but by then I already had 30yrs of learned self hatred that was hard to leave behind.
Now, at 47 I realize I’m not that different from the younger version of me. Although the basis of my anxiety about going places is based on my fear of dying (afraid to be in cars due to possible accidents, afraid of going across bridges, afraid of the unknown) the depression and self hatred stems from berating myself .
My low image of self isn’t just about how I look anymore, it also has a lot to do with getting mad at myself for not doing the things I feel normal people ‘should’ be able to do.
When my director asked me “How does your relationship with your body affect your relationship with God?” I started by what I shared here above. As I went through my experiences I realized that the dislike for my body was only a part of it, that really there was an overall hatred for any part of myself that made me feel inadequate. Too ugly, too weak. Not pretty enough, not brave enough. Not enough willpower and not ‘normal’ enough.
I realized that with all that self hatred, I have a very hard time being thankful for what I do have, and for what I REALLY am. Our bodies are temples to the God that exists within us. Each of us – regardless of what we think about the sack that holds our soul – have our higher self, our purest essence inside. This is the part that we often can’t recognize because it is clouded by trauma, silenced by external/internal noise and made almost invisible by the way we inaccurately view ourselves.
My director asked if I’d tried listening to my body, without judgement. Allowing myself to sort of watch the internal dialogue go by on a screen. And suggested I stop using the word ‘should’ .
I SHOULD eat better. I SHOULD get more exercise. I SHOULD work with meditation more etc. Replacing it with ‘I’d like to…’ is a much kinder way of approaching it. Another part of that is if I make a choice based on fear, such as ‘I would like to go to that event, but I’m too afraid’ — instead of verbally abusing myself if I make the choice to not go, to just be ok with it. Because the thing is, if I decide I’m not going — I’m not going. And I can either sit there and mock myself for being a wimp, afraid, and pathetic or I can say ‘Okay, I chose not to go, so lets do something else good with that time. Read, meditation, or if that’s out of the mental scope for the day just curl up with a good book’ .
It’s one thing to make choices based on fear and anxiety – but the biggest part of the damage comes from self abusing via the barrage of verbal assault that follows. It’s one thing to eat way too much at a meal and another to also shame oneself for it afterward. Because in that lies NO joy. It’s no wonder that depression and anxiety and self image are all so tied together.
If I can wake up and say a prayer thanking God for my sight or my arms or my smile or any tiny thing that I can find, it’s a start. Addressing the Great Spirit of all for something about myself is a good way to recognize the gifts that I possess. The little blessings that I have. Honouring this temple, rather than hating it. And in this temple there is good food to be eaten, celebrations to enjoy and love to share.
Hating myself creates a disconnect between myself and God because I am a part of God. God is the highest part of who I am. God is always there, in the wind in the trees, the shadows of the sunset, the warm laughter of a loved one, and within myself. And that last place -myself- is the place that I exist in 24/7. Making peace with myself is the best, most authentic way to allow that connection with divinity. To allow it to flow through and enrich myself. Hating myself is akin to putting up a nearly impenetrable wall.
From time to time when walking and seeing each leaf dance and twist in the breeze, reflecting the light in various shades of glory, I am reminded that I am more than just this body. My body is a vessel in which my true being can interact with the world around me.
Being afraid is ok. Being anxious is ok. We need to love ourselves and not abuse ourselves. Love is really the greatest thing of all.