My latest program is called Love Your Body. Helping women love their bodies is obviously something I feel strongly about, and it’s probably because I didn’t always love mine. Not by a long shot. Not too long ago, I was feeding it junk food, junk thoughts, and junk sex. And on top of that, I was judging myself for it. Not a great combination.
Today though, I can honestly say I love my body and do my best to treat it well. I’m not militaristic about it, as I believe that defeats the purpose, but I do my best to tune into what I need in any given moment, and then do it (or schedule it in for later). This self-love has translated into a beautiful marriage, where I can now share that same love and respect with another human being. But this isn’t a post about romantic love. While my husband is, yes, the most important person in the world to me, I had a long, bumpy journey to go through before I could even learn to properly love someone. I know it’s cheesy, but the thing is:
Before I could ever hope to love another human being the way they deserved to be loved, I had to learn to love myself first.
Why? Because until I truly loved and respected myself, it was impossible to extend that compassion and care to someone else. It was focused on what I could get from the other person, rather than give. I wanted to get a certain (happy) feeling from them, I wanted their attention, and I wanted people to see that - hey, look at me! I deserve a boyfriend! Someone is into me! It was about external validation, rather than an overflowing inner well of love that I couldn’t help but share with those around me.
The funny thing is, I didn’t expect there to be boys around who wanted to date me, but there were. So I decided to give it a shot. And you know what? As soon as they got too close to me, I would become overwhelmed with anxiety. Real, physical anxiety that bordered on terror. I wanted to crawl out of my own skin and run far, far away. Strange, isn’t it, that when the thing I wanted finally showed up, I couldn’t handle it?
It was because I couldn’t handle myself. I couldn’t handle the dark, murky aspects of my psyche that I was too afraid to shine a light on.
The shame I held that was tied to my sexual abuse, my religious upbringing, and my often dysfunctional familial relationships were too much for me to bear. Or so I thought.
Until I got curious.
Until I decided to open Pandora’s box and really take a good, hard look at what came out of it. (Oh, and by the way, this didn’t just happen one day. My anxiety had gotten so bad that there was truly no other choice: drown in a sea of anxiety, or finally face my past.)
Pain, shame, grief and confusion was the first wave. I couldn’t talk about it with anyone, because it was too big. Too scary. So I wrote about it. For months and months, I poured it all out onto paper - my only safe space where I knew no one would ever read it. And no one ever has. Then I cried about it. For months I felt raw and vulnerable - like a crab without its shell, walking among jagged rocks. Indeed, I was shedding my shell in a sense. I was shedding the old me that had held onto all this shit for way too long. I was finally learning to let go, after 25 years.
The second wave included books. Lots and lots of books. Self help books, books on psychology, shame, vulnerability, and healing from sexual trauma. This is also when I began to meditate and practice yoga twice a week. For that one hour of yoga, all of my fear fell by the wayside. It was just me, my mat, and my breath. Sure, the anxiety might kick in again as soon as I got home, but that brief reprieve is what kept me going.
The third wave was a big leap of faith. Sharing my story with others. This involved talking to a therapist, conversations with friends, hours of Facebook chats with other women who’d had similar experiences, and of course more tears and more journalling. Through sharing my story with others, and realizing how many other people had similar experiences, the shame began to fall away.
And now, here I am, sharing it on the internet for anyone who cares enough to read my story (I thank you if you’ve made it this far). I can do that now because I’ve completely owned it myself. The negative feedback from others doesn’t matter anymore, because I’m okay with who I am. I don’t need outside validation anymore. (And yes, I have had people ask me if my abuse was “really that bad” or if I had remembered it correctly.)
In time, the light started to creep back in. Through the process described above, I learned compassion for myself. And soon enough, that morphed into compassion for others.
I truly believe that once we come face to face with our dark side, learn to acknowledge it and even love it, we can’t help but do the same for others.
Don’t get me wrong. This is a process. While the majority of my healing took place over the course of one year, there have been countless times since then that I have burst into tears over the difficult memories, and my amazing husband has just held me and loved me through it. Having someone like that by your side can make a world of difference. And that is something I am eternally grateful for.
It wasn’t long before I was treating myself better. I knew that I deserved my own love and respect, and that translated into feeding my body the right foods, giving myself a day of quiet rest when I needed it, giving my body the movement it craved, and feeding it the right thoughts. I forgot to mention, part of my healing journey involved putting sticky notes all over my apartment with fun messages like “you’re beautiful” and “you’ve got this!”. Definitely a critical piece of the puzzle. Affirmations can start to sink in at a subconscious level and “rewire” your brain to believe new, more empowering thoughts. Read more on that fascinating topic here.
And that, my dear readers, is the story of how I learned to love myself. And my body. Yesterday I celebrated 6 months of marriage with my incredible husband Jason, a milestone I honestly never thought I would reach. Now my journey is learning how to truly love and hold space for another human being, and be that safe container for anything he needs to process. I suspect that I’ll be working on that for the next 50 or 60 years. If I’m lucky!
If you’re currently dealing with the pain of past trauma, please know that things can and do get better. Help is always available and you deserve to live a happy, fulfilled life. More information on sexual trauma can be found here.