Though it seems contradictory, there are many examples of moments when we must embrace and reject the same thing at the same time. Maybe our job can be something that fulfills us and provides us with a living, but some days we want to drop everything and quit. I recall arguments with boyfriends, friends, and family members, and though I love these people in the moment, sometimes it is best to step away from them in order to gain some space and perspective. These ideas are not new and unheard of, but lately I’ve been realizing that they apply to certain aspects of myself and my identity, things that are with me all of the time.
Due to my mental hang-ups and the way in which my depression has manifested itself into self-image issues, I struggle when thinking about my body. I find myself wondering why people have to first notice my physical features when they meet me, and not my openness or my sense of humor. I’m not calling other people superficial, but it is simply a fact that we notice the way that others appear physically. Some place more judgment and attachment to that fact than others, but it is a human interaction that cannot be avoided.
I am often angry with my body. I blame it for many of my problems. This has happened in two different ways throughout my struggles. During my first couple of years in college, I compared myself to a standard of perfection that was unattainable when it came to grades, relationships, and any other aspect of life I could think of. Constantly trying to be the perfect student, friend, and girlfriend didn’t exactly keep me relaxed. As an outlet for my stress, I began to abuse my body, because counting calories eaten and miles ran was easier than facing the fact that I am flawed, that I am human.
The second way in which I have blamed my body still occurs now that I am in recovery. I sometimes find myself in the space of thinking that if it weren’t for my body, I wouldn’t have many of the difficulties that I do. Obviously, this is somewhat ridiculous; my problems with my body are symptoms of much deeper-rooted issues. However, body issues do contribute to some of my slip-ups today. I can’t really avoid thinking about what my figure looks like, especially living in a city where I’m encouraged to buy a juice cleanse set on almost every corner and my gym tells me I need to “burn off those holiday calories” (Who do you think you’re talking to, New York Sports Club?). I have at times found myself acting on those tempting thoughts.
This is why I must reject certain ideas about and even aspects of my body, while at the same time embrace and appreciate it. Lately, I have made a conscious effort to detach myself from the importance of weight. I avoid the scale and try not to have an “ideal” or “goal” weight, because for me, there can be too much negative emotion attached to those things. I also make a conscious effort not to focus too much on individual body parts, since I have a tendency to scrutinize. Finally, I realize that despite messages I am given every day about how diet and excessive exercise are healthy, I have to remember that my own health depends upon a different reality.
Recovery would be a bit easier if this is all I had to do. However, my body is a part of me. It is a function of my identity and therefore will always somewhat affect my self-worth. This is why I am learning to appreciate my body in new ways. My body is strong. It carries me through my day, allows me to walk extra distances when I need to, dance around my room when I want to, and run across the street before the walk signal ends. My body is healthy. Despite years of abuse, it continued to function and keep me alive, even when the odds were against it.
I used to want to disconnect from my body. I shivered in the cold and felt my muscles ache with every step. Now, many days I find myself walking through the city streets in the middle of December thinking of things far more enjoyable: the joke my friend just told, the new song playing through my headphones, or what’s lined up on my Netflix queue. These are the moments in which I am accepting my body and appreciating it for what it is, but rejecting the negative thoughts that berate my self-esteem.
One of my goals in writing these entries is to relate my personal journey and steps in recovery with more universal human experiences. I know from my interactions with the world that everyone dislikes or doubts certain aspects of him or herself. Maybe one person thinks they’re not funny enough and another person thinks they’re not smart enough. But thinking about it now, it all seems like bullshit to me. You may not be a comedian but you can probably make your friends laugh, and you may not be a genius but you’re probably a hard worker. When you look carefully at the aspects of yourself that you criticize the most, there is most certainly something to embrace.
Peace and love,