I have rarely been called beautiful.

Beautiful is not for girls like me, so I have been told.

I have felt beautiful a few times – but it is not something that I am, so I have been told.

Pretty. Yes, pretty.  

I have been called that often enough that I even believed it sometimes.

Cute, adorable sometimes.

Sweet has been uttered more than a few times in reference to me.

All words that others have used to describe me, to describe who I am.

What I am really, not who; because who I am is what I am of course – and that is wrapped up easily in descriptors of my physical attributes.

These are the words that sprinkle my life like garnish.

Garnish that the entree that is me needs to be adorned with if I am to really be complete.

“Make sure you wear something nice for your first day of school. No one is going to want to talk to you if you don’t look approachable.”

“Smile. You’re prettier when you smile. You’re not going to make any friends if you don’t smile.”

“How are you ever going to find someone if you go out looking like that?”

“You could be so much prettier if you just put in some effort.”

 

Helpful words of advice to the younger me so that I could learn how to perfectly present the commodity of me for approval.

For purchase.

For acceptance.

For friendship.

For love.

I was the best student of these lessons – I always aim to be perfect so why should I not be perfect at this learning after all.

I have known since as far back as I can remember that I am worth something to someone if I am pretty, cute, quiet, polite,well-behaved…good… but mostly if how I look and behave is “right”.

That “right” though is the slippery, elusive, mist-shrouded image always just out of my grasp.  

It is a picture made by someone else that I could never seem to bring into focus.

A picture that I knew held the secret to me feeling “right”.

For so many years, every incarnation of me was shaped to try to fill the nooks and crannies of the boxes that I kept trying to fit into.

Girls that looked like me did certain things – and didn’t do certain other things.

Girls like me behaved a certain way.

They lived inside very specific boxes.

Boxes that fit girls like me.

Except that they didn’t fit me.

They hurt.

Trey pinched and chafed and suffocated.

I tried to pretend that I poured into them effortlessly and perfectly but I could never live that lie for long before the boxes just hurt too much.

Over and over again.

So many times that after a while I didn’t even know what shape I was and what the box would look like that DID fit me perfectly.

 

I felt wrong.

Wrong in a way that can’t ever be made right.

 

It didn’t occur to me that I didn’t need a box to live inside of.

I had learned the lessons so well that I knew – not just knew but believed so deeply that it was truth – that I was not complete if I wasn’t framed in someone else’s parameters.

It never occurred to me that the package that I came in was complete and perfect and whole.

That there is no such thing as “girls like me”.  

That the real truth is that I am the box.

And it is not wrong.

It is right, perfectly right.

And it’s rightness has nothing to do with how it looks.

And that is fucking beautiful.

I wondered today, as I weighed and measured myself, what it would be like to be free of all this. To just be done with the impact that all those numbers have on me. What would it be like to just look at my body and not measure its value or worth or how I feel about it based on anything other than how it simply IS. What would happen if I saw the little extra here and there and just shrugged and went about my day and felt fabulous and sexy and desirable and strong and all those other feelings that get snagged in the daily net of “not good enough”?

I have days when I feel great… then I weigh myself and all of a sudden I don’t feel like I did a few minutes before. Yet my ingrained sense of self-image is so tied to achieving what always is a work in progress that I am addicted to tracking and critiquing myself. Sure, part of it is that I do feel, physically, so much better when I’m a few pounds down. I feel stronger and lighter and more in shape and that translates to me feeling less inhibited and less insecure. A large part of this all though is the unknown of how do I measure my self-worth and my self image outside of the constraints of scales and measuring tapes and waist sizes? That’s something that I’ve never been exposed to. I see people who do this; I see their freedom and I envy that. I strive towards that. I feel bound by my inhibitions and self judgement of physical self – to the point where I hate the limitations it has had, and continues to have, on my activities and my life.

There have been times, when I am so IN and OF my body that I cease to BE my body. Experiences that are deeply and profoundly physical but are so emotional and intense that my body is nothing so inconsequential as a physical thing, but rather, it becomes what it actually is… a vessel for Me. Times when the phrase “coming back to earth” is perfect for capturing how it feels. My body, at those times, is simply and beautifully, nothing more than something that holds my Self. It gives me movement and expression physically for the wonderfulness that is all inside. Those times have been rare but oh so memorable.

I hold onto to those memories with a strong grasp knowing that if I can get there once or twice, then I can do it again. To dance, to love, to move, fly, swing and swim and everything in between. Freely, openly, abundantly even. Yes. It’s there, I’ve seen it and felt it and will again.

My body carries the adornment of its experiences.

The permanent crease of my brow as it has furrowed, years of squinting because of eyesight less than perfect and a forgetfulness for wearing my glasses.Leaving behind a deep wrinkle that tells that story, silently like all the other marks and notes in my flesh.

The lines around my mouth and eyes , the deeper ones on my forehead all speak,if you know how to listen. They tell of a life full of rambunctious laughter and giggles as well as simple smiles and kisses that have puckered my lips more times that my mind can remember.

A love of lifting my face to the sun to feel its warmth and embrace has left its kiss on my skin.

My belly sings with a gentle softness and shines with the shimmer of marks from the story of people who were conceived and grown there. Four wonderfully miraculous souls who shared my body for a while before they embarked on their own journeys.

My scars each have their own moments to share. The loudest voice that they speak with though is the one that whispers that I survived and am still here to wear them.

I am all of this on the outside.

The vessel that I live in gives a glimpse of where I’ve been.

As the years come and go, my life leaves more impressions on my body.

I see it, far from imperfect or flawed… I see the beauty and expression of a life lived.

A rerun from a few months ago but a good one and it’s fitting for today…

A love letter, from me… to me… because really, it all starts and ends with how you love yourself.

Closed eyes and a gentle touch
to the heart

arms felt wrapped around
wholly and fully, enveloping in comfort and love

whispered words…why I love You…

it’s Your strength that’s Your beauty
how You stand back up again, every time
it’s not that You never falter or sink down
but that You always rise up
breath in, breath out, move forward

the way You glance back to honour what made You who you are
without having Your gaze locked in the past
a past that holds no grip on Your future
shaped, but not cast in stone by your past
Your belief that who You are now and tomorrow is up to You
not decided by what anyone told You in the past
or by anything that happened to You

the way Your head and Your sight is firmly on the potential
and the silver lining of tomorrow, always visible to You,
even through the fogs that roll in and sometimes settle for a while
the way You run, forcing the fogs to retreat
how You know that You can always make that happen
and You do, over and over again
and that You will… as many times as You need to

I love You for your resilience and Your softness
I love You when You are weak and defeated, in moments of hopelessness
I love You for the way your brokenness hasn’t broken You
and for how it never will
And I love You even when You don’t see any reason to be loved
You are mine and I am Yours
I love You for You

little kiss on the nose and a nibble, cause I love that 😉

Introvert. Out-going.

Two words that seem to contradict each other yet I consider myself to be both.
An introvert is generally seen as someone who is shy and tends to keep to themselves; someone who prefers solitude or just their own company over being around others; someone who is usually overwhelmed easily in crowds and large gatherings of people, even people who they would consider friends or family. A pretty standard description and one that fits me perfectly.
Being described as out-going generally means that you are someone who reaches out and connects with others socially, whether it be one on one or in a group setting; someone who’s comfortable in a setting involving many people; someone who seeks out companionship and enjoys interactions with others and even craves it seemingly.

Both very different, but both me…and I think not that uncommon.

Growing up, I was almost debilitatingly shy. Switching schools almost every year did nothing to get me over the fear of being in unfamiliar places and having to meet new people. I remember being physically sick every year for many years on the first day of school. Stopping to throw up as I walked to school because I couldn’t stop my body from reacting to the stress. Racing heart, tunnel vision and frantically trying not to cry (because that would just draw more attention to me when I already felt I stuck out as the new kid). Being afraid to speak up when asked direct questions… never volunteering answers in class because then people would turn attention to me and people would look and listen. Terrified at the dreaded book report time of the school year. I would do anything to get out of it.
I was called a snob, told I was stuck up because I didn’t talk or try to make friends. It wasn’t that I thought I was “better than” like they said… I was scared and shy and had no idea how to join in or to connect.

I went on this way for years. Then something happened. The start of grade 7, I decided that I was going to try to fake it. I reached out one day and found that it was easier than I thought it would be. A comment and a laugh and I had a new friend. And I liked it. I had someone to spend time with and talk and share and laugh. I still coveted my alone time and wanted it – a lot – but I also wanted to be around people. My circle of friends grew slowly. I ended up staying in that school the longest I ever did – 3 years – and I found a comfortable thing develop. I made friends easily. All sorts of friends. This was when the schools were made of very defined “cliques” and found I didn’t really fit in any one in particular. I had friends who I hung out with in science and others in shop class, others that I went for lunch with and smoked in the alley with after school. My closest friends that I spent weekends with roller-skating or going to the mall… I loved it, but I was still shy.

I was always the quiet one in the bunch when new people came in or we met up with others. I would then revert back to “me”. Quiet and shy and timid. But it got easier as time went on to start to open up.
Carrying through as I left that school and life marched on. I found that in new places, jobs, schools, I would take a deep breath and fake it on day one. Try to hide the discomfort and the unease that was clawing at my insides… and it worked.

I even specifically chose a career based on how much it terrified me. When I was 20 years old I decided that public speaking would never be ok with me; so I decided to become a fitness instructor. Not only public speaking but doing it in spandex! Not bad for an introvert with severe body image issues and an eating disorder to match ;). But I did it. Sure I threw up three times before my first practicum class, but I did it… and that set the path for me to keep going.

I’m still usually the quietest one in a group. Although people are usually surprised if I describe myself as shy because that’s not how I tend to present as now. Yet underneath, the constant desire to just sit and be quiet and unobserved is always there. That’s my default. That’s who I am. Not what I am, but who.

Which means… While I have grown to love that closeness and connection with those I call “mine” in my life; my chosen family, my friends, my loves… I still am the happiest sitting and watching and being part of it all but alone and separate and just “me”. I may burst out with a joke or be the giggly centre of attention for a moment but then I retreat again… eventually making a full retreat to solitude and an aloneness that will give me what my introvert spirit needs to restore and recharge. Quiet, solitary time with just me, my Self and I.

November is my birth month and I’m not usually a big celebrator of my birthday but this year I’m feeling a different spin on it.

I’ve been going through a bit of a shake up recently and the past year has been one of tremendous awareness and self exploration and growth. Discovering – and rediscovering – my Self and what makes me tick has been a roller coaster this year…and it’s just the beginning 😉

So I was musing over the past couple of months in particular and seeing that the stressors of life since the beginning of September have taken their toll. The basics of eating and sleeping and self-care have fallen by the wayside as they have a tendency to do with me. Bad habits that I thought I had set to rest have reared up again, a couple of them with a vengeance that’s frustrating. The worst part is that I’m no longer ignorant of the changes that I want and need to make. I no longer am able to ignore the lacking that sits inside of me when I slip up. But that awareness is also the best part; because it gives me clarity.

Clarity to ask myself what can I do? What do I need to do? I have struck upon an answer…and if you read my last entry you’d know that the awesome thing is that the answer was already there, waiting for me 🙂

I’m giving myself a birthday present this year. I’m going to celebrate Me. My Self gets a gift. The gift of freedom.
The gift of feeling not just good, but amazing. To eat healthy and wholesome so that my body feels nourished and cared for and valued by the Self that lives in it.
The gift of feeling strong physically. To know sweat and pain and the joy it brings me again…often and as much as I can. To know the serenity that comes from well worked muscles as they relax and soften after exertion. To feel the peace and the strength that flows through my Yoga practice again. Energizing and restoring me in a way nothing else can.
The gift of being challenged and to know the joy of achievement. To also give the gift of acceptance of knowing when my best is enough.
The gift of feeling nurtured. To experience a mind and a body and a spirit that is treasured and cherished.
The gift of expression and non-judgement. To follow where my Self meanders and explores and wanders. New paths and experiences are boundless and I give my Self permission to indulge and experience. Without judgement. With a knowledge that fear can’t and won’t hold me back.
With love, from Me to My Self.

A month to not just have a birthday but to have a celebration of the knowledge that I can, and do, chose to actively create and live my life. A life that embodies and embraces what fulfills me and expresses my Self. I put to rest those things that hold me back and move forward with those things that fan the flames of my fires.

Living Openly, Living Abundantly.

I learned something this weekend. I learned that I can not only love myself but I can be thankful to my body. This is a pretty important thing for me to learn.

Early last week, as I was getting ready for this past weekend’s race, http://muddsweatandtears.com/ , I pulled a calf muscle. This, after still dealing with an ongoing issue of a hamstring tear from 2 months ago and to say I was feeling frustrated would be an understatement. I am blessed to work in an environment that I have, at my disposal, physiotherapy, massage and acupuncture so I worked with them all to try to get my leg in some sort of shape to just make it through the race. By Friday, my calf was functional for walking but I knew it was going to be a really rough go for the Saturday morning race. Not a big deal though… I have a great pain tolerance and routinely work through injuries and such.

Friday night in the hotel room; 12 hours before the race… my nerves are on, I’m worried and scared a bit… and the unthinkable happens… while putting away my laptop, it slips and falls on my foot. Cutting my toe and breaking it. Bruising and swelling comes up instantly and the pain is searing. Not once do I even think I won’t race though. For the first time in a very long time, I connect. I breath and I talk to my body. Really talk… and not with hate or anger or disdain like I usually do.

My attitude with my body has always been one of me against my body. Out for a run and a muscle starts to go… do I stop or slow and make sure to not injure it? Not on your life… I push on, all the while berating my body for being weak and for betraying me when I need it. I have spent my life starving it, hating it, cutting it and purposely hurting it… why? Because at the root of it all… this body houses someone that I don’t like and, at times, hate. Harsh words, and an even harsher reality when I realized that this weekend.

As I stood there Friday night and stared at my swelling and swiftly bruising toe I silently told my body that it was ok. That we would deal with this, together. That I knew that we could handle it and that it wouldn’t stop us. Something shifted. I don’t know if it’s for good but it’s a start.For the first time in a long time, I treated my body with kindness and compassion.

The next morning as I got ready to shower and get ready, I was alone and quiet in the bathroom and I took some time to actually talk to my body… it sounds odd but I haven’t done that for a long time… not in a connecting way. It wasn’t a pep talk or a “let’s go get er done” sort of thing. It was an intimate and simple few moments of acknowledging what it has done for me and thanking it. Of expressing that I know the demands and the unthanked expectations that I place on it… and letting it know that, deep down, I honour it and do love it. I saw my body in the mirror for the first time in a long time as a part of me that isn’t something to be judged or tolerated or demandingly ordered about, but as a part of me that needs love and acceptance and acknowledgement.

I saw a body that may not look like the “ideal” but that is strong and capable and always, always, always rises to the demands I ask of it – to it’s best ability. Never giving up or giving half best. A body that carried and birthed and nursed my 4 children. A body that has the scars and stretch marks that tell the stories of my life. A body that has carried me through the experiences that have made me who I am today and will be there as I experience what will shape who I am tomorrow. A body that deserves so much more love than I have given it. A body that is, simply, my vessel for this life and all that I have and will ever experience.The home to my spirit and the harbour that my Self resides in.

And something amazing came out of this weekend. A lesson that is still a work in progress, but a lesson that is clearer than before at least. As I ran and climbed and crawled and battered myself through the race – it was as one with my body, not once did I think about whether I was 10 pounds lighter or if my thighs were “too big” or my breasts “too small”… not once did I criticize my body… I ran that race and actually consciously thanked my body as I did… taking time to stop and say to myself how great I was doing and how strong I was – and how proud of myself that I was – how proud of my body that I was that it was doing what I asked and needed of it, like it always did. How as I pushed it, it came through…time and again, even when it was injured and sore and more exhausted than I can remember it being in a long long time. And I loved myself, body and spirit. And it felt good.

As the days pass from Saturday and the race, I’m reminded that it is very much a work in progress and the old habits are still there and the disconnect is still present… but… to have had that taste of what it feels like and how I can be with my body, I know that it’s not only possible, it’s going to be more and more like that.

To be able to have joy and abundance in my life, physically,  is too important to miss because of an inability to love myself.

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” – Buddha

I have spent most of my life dealing with and trying to have a normal life despite, anorexia and bulimia and body dysmorphic disorder. But what happens when someone who sees herself as gross and disgusting and fat actually *becomes* truly overweight and “big” and it’s not just in her head?

Even at my worst with starving myself – or when I was “better” and just throwing up the food that I ate – I knew, rationally that I was not the size and shape that my eyes saw and my hands felt. I was logical enough to be aware of my distorted view. It didn’t change how I saw myself or how I felt but there was a sliver of talking myself off the maniacal ledge of self-hate with reason and logic. I am first and foremost a logical person and emotions can, and have been, simply put on hold to listen to reason.

But here I find myself 18 pounds up in the last almost 2 years. Time after time trying to lose the weight and finding myself now heavier every month. A body destroyed from years of abuse of starvation now metabolically messed up. Eating a “normal” amount of food causes weight gain. I have had by basal metabolic rate tested and it is well below “normal” range. A caloric intake that would maintain on most, on me packs weight on fast. A simple fact and one I am trying to change with regular, structured eating but it appears to have no impact. I exercise 6 days a week and workout hard. Sweat dripping off of me. 60 plus minutes of cardio plus weight training… all to simply watch the scale and the measurements slowly go up over the last 2 years. I have had every blood test imaginable to check hormonal function. Nothing. Everything not only normal but , according to my doctor, better than most people in their twenties. So it’s not medical.

A closet full of clothes that no longer fit, no matter how I try to squeeze my ever-growing, disgusting body into them. Mornings filled with shame that I can’t wear my work clothes and seeing another summer come toward me knowing that none of my dresses or skirts fit properly. A week of down 2 pounds followed by one of up 3. Down 3 pounds, up 2. No changes the best I can hope for. Any hope or belief that I can actually make a change seriously faltering and giving way to the realization that no matter how hard I try, I can’t love myself like this.

It’s not all in my head. Clothes don’t lie. Sizes on labels that are up 2 and 3 sizes from what is “normal” show that yes, it’s really me getting fatter and fatter and more and more gross to myself every week. This is not case of me just needing to decide to love myself how I am. I can’t and won’t. I can’t be bigger every week and just shrug it off and declare that I’m beautiful no matter what and I’m fabulous. I shrink from the idea even of anyone being near me physically.

My intimate life non-existent and with no prospect of that changing starting to devastate me. I can’t fathom the idea of anyone touching me or having their eyes on me. It’s not as simple as what people tell me… your body is a vessel etc. Yes, I know that… and I have brief flickering nanoseconds of feeling that… but the actual ability to be naked in front of someone, anyone… is an impossibility to me. The disgust and self-hatred that I have for my body and how it looks and feels trumps any desire to be close or intimate with anyone. Factor in that there is the underlying base feeling of such intense loathing for my body that why in the world would I want to have it feel good when it (and I, by connection) don’t deserve to feel good… and you have a recipe for celibacy and isolation which is where I have been for a very long time now.

There is no happy ending to this. A lifetime of wanting so badly to be free of this and now facing the reality that I am not only no closer, but in fact getting worse almost daily. At 42 years old my potential to finally find the self acceptance that I’ve yearned for is slipping away quickly. I can’t even tell myself that I need to just move past what’s in my head because now, it sure as hell isn’t just in my head anymore… and that isn’t something I can just get past.

So I put people off, I turn down offers and dates and don’t even want to casually socialize most of the time anymore. I can’t explain fully enough that really and honestly, it’s not you, it’s me.