Hello dear friends!
Don’t worry, I haven’t lit anything on fire since I last wrote. I am happy to report that things have been quite peaceful since the fire.
I listened to the latest Mind Body Stuff podcast, Creating Space for Healing, and it got me thinking about my own journey of healing. Sometimes I forget how far I’ve come. Then I remember teenage Amanda, and I realize that I have made some serious progress. I want to share part of my story with you, for my own sake and in hopes to create healing space for another soul.
One of my life’s biggest struggles has been with my body image. I can’t pinpoint when my obsession with thinness began, but it’s been with me for as long as I can remember. In 6th grade we were assigned a book report on a famous person we admired. I chose Cindy Crawford. Today I feel embarrassed at how shallow that choice was. Really…out of all famous people, I was only interested in a supermodel?! Sigh. I dreamed of that heroin chic look. I remember watching some made for TV movie about a girl with an eating disorder, and I admired the main character. I’m sure you can guess where this story is going.
In the 9th grade, I was swimming with a friend and we were hanging out in our swimsuits just having fun when she pointed out a stretch mark on my thigh. I was devastated, like wanted to curl up into a ball and never been seen again- horrified. She wasn’t pointing it out maliciously. In fact, I don’t think it meant anything to her at all. She had a stretch mark as well and didn’t even give it a second thought. She had no idea how insecure I was. In that moment, I decided that I had to get my eating under control. When I got back to my house that day I decided that my best option was to eat as little and as “healthy” as possible, and when I failed at that I would puke up my food. It was a great plan in my 15 year old mind. (Sidenote-in no way was this my friend’s fault. I was bound to choose this path).
This behavior continued throughout high school and college. I also decided to throw in exercise and punish myself for eating anything that wasn’t low calorie. I memorized nutrition facts and was even proud of my ability to recite serving sizes, calories, carbs, fats and sugars. I preferred baggy clothes and felt naked if I wasn’t wearing at least two shirts. I only wore bikinis in foreign countries where no one I knew would see me. I kept a tight rein on my food and exercise; often sneaking into a gym after sports practices to do another hour of cardio. I puked up my food whenever I felt like the exercise wasn’t enough, or if I wasn’t able to exercise. I made up my mind that this was just how my life had to be in order to maintain my body size. Everyone else was free to eat fries and pizza and enjoy life but not me. If I let go of my routine, I would surely spin out of control and balloon within days. I was certain this was my reality. This also meant that I couldn’t’ let anyone too close to me, for fear they would tell me I had to stop this behavior. Life carried on this way until I was 25.
When I was 25 one of my closest friends and mentors came out about being bulimic. She was in her 50’s. No one knew that she had been struggling with this. I had secretly wondered and had a feeling she was like me, but when you’re both sick it’s just not something you bring up. When she left for a treatment center in Arizona, I was left with a view of my future. That day I decided that I wasn’t going to puke anymore. I quickly realized that simply not puking was just the beginning, and I had a mountain of anxiety to conquer. I sought out a therapist and saw her weekly for about 3 years. I repeatedly asked her how to make my crazy thoughts stop. I was always so annoyed that she couldn’t give me a formula, like follow steps A, B and C, and you will stop having these thoughts. Instead she told me that this voice was part of me…not the answer I was hoping for. We slowly unpacked my feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and need for control. (There’s a lot more to an eating disorder besides thin-ideal internalization and body dysmorphia). I learned to accept my eating disorder voice as my own and to converse with that part of myself rather than just accept each unhealthy thought as an absolute truth. I don’t think it was a coincidence that OULA came into my life around this same time.
My experience with OULA went hand in hand with my therapy. I was around 24 years old when I started as a back-row, nervous participant. I felt so alive and free. For 60 minutes of my day, I would actually stop thinking about my body. To be honest, it was probably only once class got intense that I could truly stop worrying about how I looked. Still, any minutes spent without worrying about my body were such a relief. A friend recommended I become an Instructor, and something in me knew that she was right. It seemed terrifying. I wasn’t sure how I would stand directly in front of people, while wearing workout clothes and moving my body. That meant that participants would see all of my folds and imperfections, but I knew that I had to do it. My journey of becoming an Instructor brought all of these issues to the surface. I was certain everyone in my classes would think that I was fat and certainly wouldn’t want to take a workout class from someone who wasn’t impressively skinny. For about a year I had meltdowns whenever I taught a class that wasn’t perfect. It took me a long time, but I finally realized that no one in my classes cared about my body or expected perfection. I learned that I could trust the people around me, and that I was safe.
My fear of being seen was debilitating for so long. I am deeply saddened when I think about the time and energy that went into maintaining my false sense of control. I have mourned the experiences I missed out on and the lost time. I can see 15 year Amanda, and I wish I could wrap her up in love and security. There were so many things that I wanted to do and didn’t because I was too scared of being seen and heard. Unfortunately, there is no going back. I have done my best to make up for lost time by doing the things I always dreamed of, and those things (teaching OULA and theater) mean the world to me. Feelings of inadequacy and disgust with my body still come up from time to time. I can acknowledge those feelings, and I know that just because those feelings creep up doesn’t mean they are absolute truths. My progress report as of today: I now know what it feels like to eat a meal and feel full, I eat fries and pizza when I want to, my self-worth is not equated to hours spent in the gym, I take rest days and on really brave days I wear shorts and belly shirts. These are all things that I never thought were for me.
It is healing for me to share this story, and I hope that it brings another reader solace. There is a big beautiful world out there, and we cannot let fear and anxiety keep us in hiding. This quote was read in the podcast, and I love it so much that I have to share it:
“I’m holding space for you, sister. I’m not the kind of woman who will look away when you talk about rape, abuse or addiction. I won’t flinch when you walk in covered in dirt, muck, and inner shit. I won’t judge your story of neglect, betrayal or trauma. I won’t try to re-write your suicidal thoughts or self-hatred. I won’t ignore your cry. I won’t back away from your drool, vomit, or blood. I won’t deny the relationship you have with your womb, work, or the unseen. I won’t belittle your body image or self-wisdom. I won’t pretend I have an answer for you. I won’t compare your divorce, loss, or break-up to another. Because I believe you. I believe it you when you say what you’ve been through, what you’re in, and all that you carry. I believe when you say that you’ve tried, you want to, and that you will. I believe in you now, and I will continue believing in you. Because I am the kind of woman who holds space. For you, sister.” –Tanya Markul
May we all create space for ourselves to heal first, so we are able to give that space to those around us. How much more healing could take place if we just told the truth? None of us are getting out of this life unscathed. Let’s be real about it. I’m not saying I think everyone should go share all of the skeletons in their closets with everyone they meet. It is my hope that when something is on our hearts, when we are struggling or when we need help we will have the strength to say it. I’m forever grateful for this tribe of supportive souls and this space where we can all share our messes.
There is space for me, for you and for all of our messes.
“Today I asked my body what she needed,
which is a big deal
considering my journey of
not really asking that much.
I thought she might need more water.
But as I stood in the shower
reflecting on her stretch marks,
Her roundness where I would like flatness,
Her softness where I would prefer firmness,
All those conditioned wishes
that form a bundle of
She whispered very gently:
Could you just love me like this?”