For as long as I can remember, I have treated my body with disdain, disgust and disrespect. In every possible way; sambuca shot after shot after shot, once every day for three weeks in a row, self mutilation in various forms, being with people I didn’t actually know or like, barely paying attention to food as I shovel it into my mouth, long past satiating hunger. For as long as I can remember, my body has been screaming for a break in this abuse.
One week ago, I decided that enough was enough. I’m a mother now, so some forms of destruction have long since ceased (the alcohol and sex, for example), the self-harm I feel has latched itself onto me and has taken up permanent residence and I’ve all but given up believing that I will one day stop doing it. But the over-eating has continued and I have been using it to bury my feelings for too long; not only has my weight suffered from this, but I started to feel unhealthy and uncomfortable. I’ve been treating my body as if it is responsible for the turmoil that has unfolded inside of me, punishing it for deeds committed by my brain as a result of mental illnesses.
A few years ago, I watched a video of slam poetry that really hit home for me. My favourite line in this poem, “My body is a temple and I am the god it was built for”, has stuck with me but I have never truly exercised that fact. The poem itself is about slut-shaming, sexual treatment and expectations of women and misogyny and takes you through feeling like your gut has dropped to your feet to feeling downright empowered by the end of it. (It can be watched here.) But how can you stop thinking of yourself as trash when when you’ve thought that way for your entire life? How do you begin to treat yourself like a god, your body like a temple?
On Monday, I began with eating better and exercising. No sugar, no junk and essentially being mindful of what goes into my mouth. I haven’t exercised for a long while so I’m starting with 15 minutes high intensity and will build it up to 45. My body begs for respite by the end of it, but I feel like each time I complete my small goal I have accomplished something. On Wednesday, I decided to start to practise yoga too. I have always been an eye-roller about yoga (green-eyed perhaps?) and never expected to have the patience to try it, but try it I did and just taking 20 minutes out of my evening to focus on myself, my breathing and my body has already had an impact on me. I want to build strength not just mentally, but physically too. I want to work on my inner and outer self, to learn to take the time to breathe and relax, which is a concept so foreign to me, and be respectful of my body. After so many years of mistreatment, I’m sure that it deserves it.
As I’m sure so many others are, I am constantly mid-flight. I rush from here to there and back again. Being a mother – a single mother, especially – there is always something to do and I live in fear of forgetting something, of failing. In the evenings, when my daughter is in bed and the chores have been completed, the first thing I want to do is take my bra off, not put a sports one on. So I usually use that precious time to read or binge-watch something (I am smashing Mad Men), and usually this would be accompanied by my body weight in chocolate. Instead of thinking of exercise as taking away from my time to myself, I’ve started to think of it as adding something to my evening, so that when I do sit down with a book, there’s one more thing that I can say that I’ve done, but unlike the majority of other things in the day, it has been for myself.
So, here’s to learning something new. To trying and failing and trying again. To striving for achievement and not perfection. To being kind to yourself and practising self care, in whichever form is good for you personally. To acknowledging that you can’t live a life without setbacks, especially if you’re living with mental illnesses. To putting an end to punishing yourself for crimes that haven’t been committed.