This house I live in — the one called my body — makes me happy. I really do love her. In all her spare, slightly sagging splendor. I treat her like a dear friend and she responds in kind. Mutual love fest with my sweet old et cetera and me. Happy sigh.
But there was a time when I didn’t love her. At all. Not a single imperfection escaped my vigilant eye. Mousey hair. Wide shoulders. Long torso. Average legs. Small breasts. Blah! Cool clothes didn’t look right on me. No matter the make-up, perms, wonder bras, or scoldings I administered for her own good, perfection remained out of reach. And boy, did I make her pay.
I felt certain that my physical imperfections reflected serious personality deficits.
Admittedly, my understanding of the body and mind connection was off.
At eighteen it was clear I had been born with few natural talents. The world was flawed and unfair; for proof I need only compare myself to the lip-glossed, designer-clad, golden-mained ideal: Farrah Fawcett. A conference call with Charlie and the other angels? Impossible. In case my body didn’t get the hint I verbally abused it in private and in public.
The school year I spent as a volunteer teachers-aid confirmed my body a traitor. At nineteen I’d never lived away from home and felt ready to prove, if to no one but myself, that I was grown up. HA. Teaching the alphabet and reading stories to kindergarteners didn’t cancel out my discontent or quiet my fears: Will I figure out my career/major? Do I maintain a long-distance relationship with my too-ardent boyfriend?
Will I ever be good enough for a real job? What in the heck IS a healthy relationship?
To say I lacked personal emotional awareness was putting it mildly.
That year I realized another shortcoming. My immediate family and a string of so-so boyfriends were my main references for friendship. Because of this insulated experience I missed social skills 101. While I did my volunteer work well, I felt isolated and miserable. Thinking maturity meant self-sufficiency I felt confused by my feelings and didn’t talk about them. I felt afraid my isolation and misery would seem needy and childish. The teachers I worked with showed warmth and interest. Kindness was all around me.
But according to my scarcity mindset I couldn’t accept kindness because I had done nothing to deserve it.
What I did deserve was a little extra at lunch each day, say, two cups of sugary yogurt and the entree. An afterwork snack? Sure, I’ll just turn a whole sleeve of vanilla cream cookies into sweet mush by dunking them in milk. Dinner with my host family? Well of course. I don’t want to seem rude. After all, more is more! By the Christmas holiday I’d gained 20 pounds.
My New Year’s resolution for 1983: lose all 20 pounds whatever the cost. The grit and striving birthed of self-loathing came to my aid as I
punished disciplined my body. I began running. For the record: I HATE RUNNING. No matter. I ran before brekky or I didn’t eat. I ran before supper or I didn’t eat. When I over-ate, I purged. I knew the pain of laxative bloating and the acid breath of throwing up intimately. I couldn’t do enough to lose weight. I felt deprived or gorged. Too lazy. Too ugly. Nothing about me or my life was ever just right or enough.
As often as twice a day I measured my self-worth in the numbers on the scales.
When I said farewell to my students in June, I congratulated myself. I’d lost 25 pounds.
At home, I kept running. Once the new semester began I lived on-campus. Believe me, I got my money’s worth in the flat-rate cafeteria line. For penance, I kept disciplining my body. Somehow my parents figured out something was wrong. Instead of their usual strong-arm approach, they gently suggested seeing a counselor. Exhausetd by my vicious system of never being, having, or doing enough, I accepted. I met with the counselor four or five times. I don’t recall what we talked about in our sessions. But she may have helped.
Whatever it was, within a year something clicked for me. (I still feel very lucky it wasn’t longer.) My personal struggle with scarcity was far from over. My love affair with my physical body still decades away. But the excessive eating and militant exercising gradually subsided. I discovered my love of swimming. For a while I pushed myself in the pool — but at least I enjoyed it. Over time I looked at food in a different way; I felt assured that I’d never starve. After all, this is America; grocery stores and fast food restaurants abound as if assured in our bill of rights. No need to eat like each meal is the last of a lifetime. Instead of three slices, three bites of cheesecake is just right to appreciate the richness and feel satisfied. There is enough.
Since 1983 I’ve learned many things. (Including a few social skills.) Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful. The world is still flawed and life often unfair, but beauty, kindness, grace and wonder abound. I no longer compare myself to Farah Fawcett. Or anyone else.
Most important I’ve learned that I am enough, I have enough, and I do enough.*
This realization has led me to love my body. Long torso and all. I don’t own a scale. I speak kindly to my body. While I stretch I whisper appreciation to my legs; after laps in the pool I tell my arms “nice work!” And the funny thing, the extra added bonus?
As I’ve learned to love my body I’ve learned to love food in new ways. Oh yes!
I love the feel of it: shucking corn on the cob, tossing leafy spinach, kneading the elastic of dough, crunching a crisp carrot dipped in smooth hummus.
I love the look of it: shiny black seeds clinging to brilliant orange papaya flesh, spiky green onion tops in my garden, grated cheese melting atop my tortilla soup.
I love the sound of it: the thwack of a knife dividing a watermelon in two, fresh ginger rasping softly against the grate, eggs hitting a hot skillet, the deafening crunch of granola.
I love the smell of it: fresh peaches, bread baking, sauteed onions, salad drizzled with my favorite coconut oil house dressing.
I love the taste of it! So, rather than shoveling it in to fill some endless void — I Savor. Every. Bite.
This Thanksgiving week I’m meditating on all of this goodness in my kitchen. Whether you’re roasting a turkey, baking a cashew loaf, or ordering sushi, know that I’m thankful for each of you. I’m feel blessed to be on this journey together. As you move through your week find a moment, perhaps at each meal, to pause and remember:
You are enough
You have enough
You do enough
Did you find this article helpful? Please share it with someone who makes you feel like your best and truest self. If you can relate, comment below. With gratitude!
*special thanks to Wayne Muller, author of the book a life of being, having and doing enough, 2010