You know what I find fascinating? The mind-body connection and how that can change throughout your life. It is so highly important to nurture a strong and intentional connection with your mind to your body, but it’s not something you can just decide to do because you read it somewhere. You cannot simply think yourself into a connection to your body. You cannot poof it into existence. Maybe you can be born into it, but I certainly wasn’t. Or if I was, it was lost.
For most of my adult life I think I was someone who truly thought she had it all covered – the mind, the body, the insides and outs of me – up until last year. I never thought I was immune to help and change, but I did think I was pretty solid on who I was. I can say now that’s because I had achieved certain physical goals of mine. And when that happens, it’s easy to believe that everything else naturally falls into place. The goal being to get your outsides to a place they’ve never been before means the other voices inside of you get trained to think they’ve reached theirs as well. But I have never felt more inside of my body, and connected to it with my mind than I do right now.
That feels like something I, as the writer, would like to repeat.
I have never felt more inside of my body, and connected to it with my mind, than I do right now. And it’s not because I am holding onto, or continuing to strive for, that physical goal. It has nothing to do with my outsides… and yet it completely and utterly does all at the same time. I feel as if I have just met me. And it makes me wonder if this is how all the light and ‘normal’ people I observed as a young girl felt. But it just recently happened for me. I admire my bare body every day of my life now and thank her for everything she has done for me. I don’t apologize to her, as we have a certain agreement where we don’t do such things, but she knows for what I would say I’m sorry if I did.
I had never done that prior to last year. I looked at myself, sure. Daily. But I looked at myself to find the problems and then figured out how to fix them. Like a project. A lot of times in more recent years I liked what I saw. It impressed me. But it wasn’t incredibly often, it was definitely not consistent, and was always coupled with the pressure to keep it that way. The fear. If I didn’t repeat the same pattern, follow the rules, I feared it would go away. I didn’t have a body that looked like this as a child, it’s the only thing I wanted and pleaded for every night before I fell asleep- disgusted with the body I had. So finally being able to look at it in the mirror was a great achievement to Young Abbey.
Before last year I was always in a fight with myself. I was never truly satisfied, nothing was ever enough to allow me to rest and accept. Even when I liked what I saw in the mirror as Current Abbey, and Young Abbey was finally able to fall asleep without sadness and disappointment, the pressure and the fear Current Abbey felt wouldn’t allow peace. So I was always fighting with myself. With the young and the current, the inside and the outside, the front and the back, the top and the bottom. Always fighting. I never knew this at the time because my mind never told me what was truly going on and what was missing.
I used to be fixated with being as small as I could be.
Small. There’s a difference.
Smaller is easier for someone to receive, love and appreciate. Small is simple and is accepted. I just wanted to be small and easy because what I felt was just so clunky and difficult.
I wanted to be stronger than you, while also being smaller than you.
It’s a tricky business.
I felt justified for desiring to be stronger as an adult, because I never felt strong when I was a child. Strong with the kind of strength that truly matters. I felt weak, meek and inadequate. My first memory is being taken advantage of by a man who wanted something from me and didn’t care to hear my opinion on the matter. And throughout my childhood I felt I never had a space for expression and opinions. I felt I was always fighting. Fighting for my voice, fighting for an excuse to feel the way I was feeling, fighting to fit in / grow up / look right / be heard.
So I learned very quickly that being a strong girl could win me points. I was never the most, or even the closest to the almost most athletic person on any of the teams I played on. But I knew my body was strong. My thighs and my ass (and all the people who freely commented on my thighs and my ass whenever they felt entitled to do so) told me I was strong. Physical strength became an easy goal for me and I used it to cover the weakness I felt on the inside.
But no, I never felt small.
I always felt supremely uncomfortable in my skin as an adolescent. I wasn’t in the body I was supposed to be in, surely. This must be a mistake. I always felt there was more of me than necessary, extra flesh and folds and lines curved in ways I couldn’t define. My belly button was surrounded by cushion, like a tufted pillow. None of the other belly buttons I saw in the wild were cushioned like mine. So it must be a mistake, this body. I lay awake at night hoping to wake up the next morning in a different one. Then the disappointment I felt when I saw it again was another fight I had to fight that day. And my surroundings perpetuated that belief. Or rather that belief was perpetuated by my surroundings. Maybe both.
I never felt comfortable after the age of 9. My body had started to change and it was a problem I needed to fix for everyone around me. So I began my journey in discomfort. I was always sucking in, hiding the parts of me that didn’t make sense, silently loathing, regretting, wishing. Never was I able to relax after the age of 9. That’s a fairly easy thing to type now as a 39 year old – it sounds clear and precise and can be labeled and looked at from afar. It’s a diagnostic sentence coming from the fingers of an evolved human. But when you’re the 9, 12, 15 year old feeling that perpetual discomfort, you’re unaware of its existence. And also its magnitude. Being uncomfortable is normal, and you slowly build your own comfort around that discomfort in order to keep pretending you’re relaxed.
I learned at a very early age that pretending was my key to existing.
I was uncomfortable in my skin for a variety of reasons. The simple one being that I felt like no one else was built like me. There was no one to look to and think – oh, that’s a grown-up, polished version of what this unbakedness feels like. I felt entirely disproportionate and lumpy. I now look at pictures of young me and it’s miraculous how small I look compared to what my mind was telling me I was. What my surroundings were telling me I was. My mind now sees a beautiful, regulation sized child in those photos and I want to hold her and tell her she doesn’t need to fix herself. But my mind and my body were not taught how to be in a functional relationship as a child.
I felt pretty from the neck up. Pretty was easy. I was always told I had a pretty face. And that my waist was the smallest part of my body, so I should accentuate that whenever possible. I felt moderately confident there. I could do a lot with that bit of confidence. There’s makeup and belts for those things.
But being told you’re pretty as a compliment while also being reminded of the list of the other things that aren’t noteworthy about you is heavy. (Pun noted.) It’s difficult to know where else to go on the days when you don’t feel pretty in the face because there’s a pimple or a scratch or a sunburn, or your waist doesn’t feel small that day because you’re on your period or your belly is full of gas or ice cream or both. As a child I felt the pressure to look a lot like anything other than what I looked like, while also feeling like doing so was an impossible goal. Therein lies the discomfort.
Therein lies the fight.
Food was never able to be fully enjoyed. Food, and eating, were the ideas that I had to constantly dissect in my brain. Every bite was debated, calculated. If I enjoyed too much of the food, it was bad. I was bad. Restricting the food to the point of being incessantly hungry was exhausting and could never last. And then the guilt took over. I either felt hungry or completely stuffed to the point of discomfort. There was so much of a pendulum swing on the food culture when I was growing up, and I felt lost within it, and didn’t know how to navigate it on my own. I would watch other people eat the food with such ease and joy, around other eating people, carrying on conversations while doing the eating. As if it was a normal thing, eating the food.
So many foods were bad foods.
But I wanted the bad foods. There were fun commercials for the bad foods. They had songs and animals attached to them. Children my age on television were telling me how great these bad foods are. In between scenes of Captain Planet I would be reminded of what I could not have. It was very confusing. I watched other people my age eat the bad foods in real life and I couldn’t understand why they were happier than I was if they were doing something bad. When I would be away from home and around the bad foods, all I wanted to do was eat them. It was an obsession. A conquest. Eat the bad foods in secrecy and do it quickly because pretty soon you won’t be able to have them anymore.
It was primal.
I was lost.
I didn’t know what balance was until I was in my 30’s. I had to retrain my brain to learn how to exist around food. It was hard. It was hard trying to unlearn the things I was taught all of my life, while still being immersed in the culture and atmosphere of where it existed. And I had to learn on my own how to not use exercise as a tool or in direct response to a negative personal feeling.
As a child if I spoke my mind or broke a rule, or ate too much, or if someone around me ate too much, my punishment was to run. I so desperately wanted to speak my mind as a child. I so desperately wanted to be heard and understood and listened to. I yearned to not feel weak inside anymore and try to be strong instead. I tried constantly to get those things across. I yelled my words, I cried my words. When I did so, my punishment was to run.
I ran a lot as a child.
Running, sweating, and moving my body because someone else told me to move my body when I didn’t want to move my body was my punishment for trying to find my strength. I ran through knee cartilage damage, told to run faster and better and in grateful silence. I ran through period cramps and blood stains. I ran through full belly aches and I ran through hunger pangs. I ran through friends gathered, having fun eating the food around other eating people.
I ran through most of my childhood with a lot of shame.
It took me a very long time to have a good relationship with food, my body, and moving it. And as an adult I found myself in prime physical shape. My belly no longer tufted. It was a great achievement for my 9, 12, 15 year old self. But I didn’t recognize I still had work to do on myself until my mind woke up last year. Things happened in my life out of my control that granted me the permission to stop trying to be a certain version of myself for the people around me. And then my mind and my body met for the first time. I felt it happen. I felt the connection, the love affair, the stories being told between the two of them. I felt a lightness I had never felt before.
All my life I was striving to be smaller, I didn’t realize my mind was carrying so much weight.
I’m 39 years old and my body no longer allows me to run like I used to. All of those miles logged for penance for so many years have led me here. What was once used as a punishment for clinging to the chance to be the Real Me now is something the Real Me isn’t able to do. The old me would be fighting against it – running for the punishment, running through the pain and daring surgery to challenge me, running to rebel against what my body was telling me. But the new me, the Real Me, listens a hell of a lot more than the old one did. I’m thankful my mind and my body finally got to meet each other, and that my fighting has stopped. My mind is able to finally communicate things to my body in a way that makes sense. I love my body even if it doesn’t let me run.
Perhaps because it doesn’t.
I am 39 years old and have never felt more alive and in tune with my insides AND my outsides. I have never in my life been able to say ‘I love my body’ until now. Not I love how I molded that muscle and chiseled that section. Not I love the shape of it as if my body was an art installation for another’s pleasure and. But I love my entire body as it stands, sits, exists, moves, what it represents, how it feels, all that it has done, what it has created. All of it. Every single day when my hands feel her shape, I tell my body she is loved. For the first time in my life I understand what it truly means to be comfortable in my skin. I no longer have to bend and twist myself into a digestible shape for others to comfortably swallow. I feel heard and respected for precisely who I am.
I am no longer striving to be the smallest one in the room, and I’m totally at peace if I’m not the strongest one in there either. But thanks to my mind, I am now the lightest version of me whenever I enter one.