Body Shaming

IMG_9676“Ok, you can do this,” I tell myself.

I’m standing in my closet. Naked. It’s a rainy Thursday. I open my eyes and look in the mirror.

I’ve struggled with mirrors since about eighth grade when I first realized my appearance affected my acceptance. We didn’t have the money for the latest and greatest fashions, I had crazy poofy hair, and no idea how to apply makeup. What I saw in the mirror differed drastically from the magazine covers of the day, it still does.

Of all the ways the perfectionistic voice in my head torments me, it is cruelest about my body. Whether I’m a size 2 or a size 12, it’s insatiable, rattling off imperfections with ease, finding fault with each lump, bump, or ding.

My hair? Too thin and curly.

My skin? Too bumpy and pale.

My teeth? Too crooked and dull.

My face? Too wrinkled and old.

My thighs? Too big and flabby.

My arms? Too weak and undefined.

My stomach? Not flat enough, never flat enough.

At times I’ve rebelled, over-indulging on chocolate and alcohol, defiant in the face of perfectionism’s unrelenting criticism. Other times I’ve over-exercised and counted each calorie, carefully tracking each morsel, whittling my waist to an unhealthy size as I tried to appease it. I’ve avoided mirrors so perfectionism didn’t have material to use, and I’ve studied style to find the best ways to camouflage perceived areas of imperfection. I’ve followed every fad diet and then disregarded them altogether seeking normalcy.

As the years passed, my pendulum swung wildly through behaviors, diets, and strategies as I tried to escape the pain the voice causes. To get one moment of inner peace and acceptance.

None of them worked.

Each one has failed to quiet the body shaming voice in my head. It is relentless. It is cruel. It uses evidence on the newsstands to back up its claims. It continuously compares me to my friends and strangers I don’t even know, always finding me lacking. It says things to me that I would never say to another human being. Biting, cutting things. It preys on my deepest insecurities.

When I started this journey, I didn’t think being brave would mean actively loving myself. And yet, it’s the only option left.

For I realized recently that in 30 years, I’ve never questioned the validity of the voice. I took its thoughts as gospel, the undisputed truth, and acted accordingly. But what if they aren’t? What if I can create a new truth, change their message?

This January, those questions led me to a new resolution. Not to lose 10 pounds. Not to get healthier. Not to fit into size two jeans. But to fight back.

Instead of quieting the body shaming soundtrack in my head, I’ve decided to put it to work, giving it something different to say.

So here I stand, about 90 days in, naked in front of my mirror, looking for three things I like about my body today. My new morning ritual. I write them down as I find them, collecting compliments to read another day. Some mornings the task is easy and I embrace things I’ve long hated about myself. Other mornings I struggle, managing only to write down that I have a nice earlobe or a well-placed freckle.IMG_9677

I often take two steps forward followed by a step back. It’s a process to undo the habit of self-criticism. A hard process, much harder than I thought it would be.

But slowly the soundtrack in my head is changing, inching closer to acceptance. And I find the closer I get, the less satisfying that ending is. For on the horizon, far beyond the acceptance I thought was my finish line, I see the true prize.

Self-love. Lumps, bumps, dings and all.

I’m determined to get there.

Restoration

yoga“Nestle up next to the bolster, almost straddling it. Now lean over it, turning your head to one side, resting your cheek on the pillow while allowing your arms to fall to each side as you lower yourself down.”

I’m in a candlelight restorative yoga class. The instructor’s calm instructions leading me slowly through unfamiliar poses.

I’ve suffered from anxiety my whole life, bound by worried, negative thoughts cyclically repeating in my head. For years, night after sleepless night, anxious “what if…” scenarios have cycled through my mind.

And over the last six weeks as I try to puzzle out who I have been, who I am, and who I want to be, they’ve twisted themselves into a giant ball of knots at the base of my neck. Repeated trips for chiropractic care and massage therapy failed to provide relief.

In a last ditch effort, I’m attending a restorative yoga class – a practice that uses props to make poses easier. It’s designed to realign the body, relax the body, restore the body. All while calming the mind. I came hoping it would help my neck.

The room is dim, lit only by small candles. The instructor’s voice calm and soothing, “Sink into the bolster, it is there to support you. Feel it’s presence. Trust it. With each breath, relax a little more.”

I take a deep breath. We are past the halfway point of the class and I’m finally starting to relax. To quiet my anxious mind, get in tune with my breath. I lean heavier on the pillow, allowing it to support my weight.

You can’t relax,” interrupts my mind, “we haven’t figured out what’s next. You don’t have time to relax. We have to do more, be more. What are you even doing here?”

“If you catch a thought slipping in,” the instructor’s voice breaks in, “acknowledge it. Thank the thought for coming and let it go.”

Humph! You can’t let me go. I’m what makes you who you are. Who else is going to push you to get things right, to work harder, achieve more? You are nothing without me,” perfectionism cuts in. It’s by far the loudest and most critical of the voices in my head.

I shake my head to dislodge the thoughts, refocus on my breath. Gingerly, I turn so my other cheek is on the bolster, wincing in pain as I twist my neck.

“Our thoughts distract us, disconnect us from our breath and our physical body. Make us less aware of the present. They are busy, always demanding more,” the instructor continues, tiptoeing barefoot around the room as she speaks.

“What does she know?” perfectionism cuts in. “I do it for your own good. Don’t you want to be the best version of you? To be that, you have to exceed all expectations set for you. Parents. Bosses. The church. Co-workers. Friends. We all want the best for you, we are only trying to help.”

I squeeze my eyes shut, try to refocus.

And then…

“We are human. We do the best we can every day. That is enough,” the instructor says.

Maybe it was the comforting cradle of the bolster. Maybe it was the candlelight. Maybe it was the quiet cadence of the instructor’s voice. Maybe simple exhaustion. But in that moment listening to her words, I felt a single tear slip down my cheek.

“We are human. We do the best we can every day. That is enough,” the instructor repeats.

No one has ever said those words to me. In 42 years, never once have I felt I was already enough. Just as I was. A human doing the best I can every day.

Her words stir my soul as another tear slips free.

Can it be true?

I allow my spirit to respond to the question. It sighs in relief.

“Now gently roll the bolster away, lay on your side, and bring your knees to your chest, wrapping your arms around them,” she whispers.

I do.

And there, curled up in the fetal position, I hear the words of the song playing in the background, “There is one sacred river, one sacred song, one sacred breath, one sacred heart beating.” I breathe in as I listen. Breathe out. Another tear escapes.

Time seems to stand still, unmoving. I feel suspended in the moment, part of the one sacred thing the song speaks of. My soul whispers its quiet comfort. My thoughts still. My neck pain eases.

I breathe in.

I am human. I am sacred. I am enough.

And out.

I am human. I am sacred. I am enough.

In.

I am enough.

Out.

I am enough.

I am enough.

I am enough.

Stillness

early morning snowThere’s a beautiful stillness to the early morning. I find that’s especially true after a snowfall, even if it’s just a light dusting like this morning. The world seems so peaceful and unblemished. I’m up early today, unable to sleep but relishing the feel of the morning now that I’m up. There’s a dog barking far in the distance and the rumble of the coffee pot in the next room as it too starts its day. But in all other ways there’s a deep, quiet, comforting stillness. I wonder how many people are up right now with just a dim light or two on, drinking in the quiet of the morning as they wait for their families to wake.

This morning I came across a bible verse that caught my attention. It tells of Jesus’ disciples fishing after his death. After fishing all night with nothing to show for their efforts, early in the morning they saw a man standing on the shore who called to them asking how their fishing was going. The disciples yelled back that their efforts had been in vain, they hadn’t caught any fish. In response, the man told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. They complied and hauled in more fish than their net could handle. In that moment, they realized the man was Jesus.

I had a restless night last night. I’m a light sleeper and the shuffling of my dogs, neighborhood sounds, and the thoughts in my head kept me awake. I’m standing at a fork in the road in my professional life, searching for the answer to what’s next for me. After nearly 20 years in sales and management, climbing the corporate ladder chasing the American dream, I’m craving something different. Something simpler. Something that feeds my soul.

Those things I know, but what job that actually is remains uncertain. My default is to sort it out, use my experiences and my intelligence to forge a path forward. To make something happen. So I try. I wrestle with with idea after idea, forcing them to fit into some semblance of a plan. It keeps me up at night, the searching for the answer. And in the morning, I find I have nothing to show for my efforts. I have no fish in my boat.

When I give in to the sleeplessness and get up early, cracking my bible, seeking connection and solace from my thoughts, I’m met with stillness. Quiet. There’s something peaceful about it, so peaceful it stands in stark contrast with the last eight hours of restlessness. It’s soothing. Restorative.

Perhaps that’s how the disciples felt that morning. After a long unfruitful night, in the stillness of the early morning, Jesus appeared. And gave them the answer. “Throw your net to the right side and you will find some fish,” he tells them. They immediately hauled in an overflowing net full of fish.

I wonder how often I’m like the disciples, sitting in a boat over a huge school of fish but fishing on the wrong side. How often do I cast my net in vain, trying to make something happen, to force answers to my questions rather than waiting for Jesus to guide me?

Too often.

I don’t think it was by chance that Jesus showed up on the shore in the stillness of the early morning, after the disciples had exhausted their own efforts. Perhaps that is the only time they would have been receptive to suggestions from a man on the shore, when the weariness of an unsuccessful night made them less guarded or prideful.

And I think there’s a message for me in that. Get some sleep. Don’t waste time forcing answers and plotting my course. Rest. Then seek Jesus in the stillness of the morning and cast my net where he directs me. For only there will I find my abundance of fish.

Truth

me hawaii black and white“Ok Sara, what do you hope to get out of this?”

“Ummm…to be honest, I’m not even sure what you do.”

I was on the phone with an energy shifter, an acquaintance of mine who had offered a free session with her after watching a video I posted. And I was way outside my comfort zone.

I am wired to be a thinker. I come from a long line of thinkers. I love to solve problems, create new things, and set goals to achieve. I was labeled “gifted” at a young age and praised for my intelligence early and often. Thinking comes so easily to me and I love it so much, more often than not I prefer to be alone with my thoughts, puzzling out problems. It fits my introverted nature. I have been a classic Type-A, left brained person my entire life.

As such, I put stock in all things logical and scientific. I believe in western medicine. I trust my thoughts over my feelings because they are safer and easier to control. More predictable.

Most of the time.

Until they go haywire and turn goal setting into perfectionism, analysis into self-doubt, problem solving into problem creating. That’s what I managed to capture on video that day; she had reached out in response.

A year ago, when I first read her invitation, my immediate thought was, “Umm…what? Shift my energy? What does that even mean?” Followed closely by an involuntary eye roll. I didn’t intend to be disrespectful, but I had poo-poo’ed all things feeling, creative, and eastern medicine for so long it was my go-to response. Well that, and polite dismissal.

Recently, something reminded me of her offer. And this journey reminded me to be brave. So I reached out and she graciously honored her invitation.

“What do I do?” she asked. “Well, I’m an intuitive, someone who is sensitive to the energy in the world and the energies surrounding people. Most people come to a session with a specific question in mind, a decision they’re facing, and I read the energy around it. It helps bring them clarity. Sometimes I do healing work, clearing bad energy to make room for growth and movement,” she explained.

“So, I need to ask a specific question?” I replied. “Dang, I should have reached out a few months ago when I was trying to decide whether to quit my job. But I’ve already made that decision.”

As I spoke, I began to panic. I didn’t have a question, I was unprepared. My thoughts raced as my words stalled. I felt my old friend perfectionism begin to creep in, ready to berate me for being less than perfectly prepared.

“Umm…”

“Take a deep breath,” she said. “What’s on your mind? It sounds like you’ve made a big decision recently. Are there any questions that linger as a result of that? We just need a place to get started, there’s no pressure.”

I found myself relaxing into the sound of her voice. “Well, I guess now that I’ve let go of the management portion of my job, I’m wondering about the sales portion, should I keep it? Focus elsewhere? The decision I made was right, but I’m left with the question of what’s next for me.”

So began a conversation that would last an hour and a half. We did answer my question, but not the way I expected. Not directly. Instead we talked of things that on the surface felt unrelated, things she sensed about my life, about me. We spoke of members of my family, of letting go, of standing at the precipice of the next phase of life and sinking into that moment instead of fearing it. We talked of making space for creativity, of sorting through which voice in my head is actually me and which voices need to go. We talked about the church and its effect on me over the course of my life, whether or not I would have been a good mother had I chosen to have children, and of finding the question behind the question.

As time passed, I realized we were tackling topics that stand as a barrier between me and the answer to my question. To any question I could have asked. They are all thoughts, voices, pressures, experiences that contribute to my inner dialogue, creating so much noise I cannot hear the answer that matters: the one my soul is whispering.

With each topic, each part of my story she sensed, we stripped away another unnecessary voice in my head. Unwarranted responsibilities and guilt I’ve carried for years lifted. One by one the voices in my head quieted. And in that process, as my thoughts silenced and my energy shifted, I met my soul.

It had something important to say.

“You are enough. You are already perfect,” it whispered.

“What?” I whispered back.

“You are already enough. Feel that truth.”

I nearly missed it. Wanted to dismiss it. My thoughts had never said such a thing to me, so surely that can’t be true.

But then my energy shifter said something that will stay with me forever, “Just because you have a thought doesn’t mean it’s your thought Sara, or even your voice. Not all thoughts are true.”

“Wait. What?” I asked.

I’ve lived in the world of logic and thought for 42 years because somewhere along the way I learned it was safer, more predictable, less painful. And the tangible nature of thought and logic convinced me of its truth.

But now…

“Not all thoughts are true,” she said again.

“Yes. Feel that truth. You are already enough,” my soul whispered.

In that moment, I felt it. Really felt it. Something clicked. I didn’t just know it in my head, I wasn’t trying to convince myself; I just felt the truth of it. It’s as if a veil lifted and I could see clearly for the first time.

I cannot be both. I’m either already enough or I’m not.

There is only one truth.