How to Love My Body, Without Fight or Flight

Today was shower day.

I hate shower day.

I have been an anorexic, bulimic, body dysmorphic for as long as I can remember.  I remember intentionally overeating at my seventh birthday.  I remember testing to see how long I could go without food when I was eight, faking a stomach ache to ensure I wouldn’t have to eat dinner.  I remember hating my body before I even knew what all my parts were for, feeling fat inside my still-from-the-little-girls-section jeans.

The sexual abuse started at age six.

The physical abuse started at age seven.

The scars and stains that you cannot see, the ones I’m JUST NOW starting to see myself, are still there.

I really, really, REALLY hate shower day.

On shower day, I have to get naked.  Despite every attempt to the contrary, I have to strip off all my clothes and spend a good ten minutes with my own skin.  I have to look at my body (all of it), I have to touch my body (ALL OF IT), and for that showery, shivery ten minutes I am unable to hide from what I know is there, but what I so very much do not want to see.

Ugly, fat, gross, hated, disgusting, stretched, flawed, dimpled, brokenness.

After years of practice, I have gotten to the point where I can shower in the dark, and I prefer to.  I can shower with my eyes closed the whole time, and I can finish a shower in six minutes flat.  I know I have to do it, the cleaning of the parts, but I don’t have to like it, and I don’t have to look.

Today is shower day, and just like every other shower day I woke up feeling irritated, somber, exasperated, and defiant.  I got up and made my bed.  I helped the kids make their beds.  I watched them to be sure they were getting dressed, and I started breakfast.  I checked to be sure there were no naked butts running around, made a cup of coffee, fed the family.  I did not eat.  Eating is even harder to do when I know I have to see the result later that day.  I got dressed in the clothes I wore yesterday.  I drove the kids to school, drove myself back home, hit the front door, and beelined for the bathroom, shedding clothes along the way.

My deliberate intent could easily be confused with desire or excitement, but it shouldn’t be.  It is how I shower every time, and it is how I react in the face of fear.  I FORCE IT.  I run.  “Giterdun.”  PUSH THROUGH.  Go fast.  No time for thought, just DO.

Like a dive of the top platform at the pool, when it’s time to shower, I don’t think.  Just go.  Start at the bottom of the ladder and do not stop moving until your toes leave the edge, when weightlessness and the freedom of the fall take you to the water.

On shower day, once it’s go time, I do not stop moving until my hair is wrapped in a towel and my body is hidden away inside my clothes.

Today, though, there was a moment of pause.

I got naked without looking.  I got my towel and let my hair down without looking.  I took off my watch and ring without looking.  Then, as I whipped aside the curtain, gripped the faucet handle, and tipped it up to turn on the water, I caught a glimpse of myself in the shiny chrome plate.  All warped and wonky, I saw my overly large forehead, the scar I got when I was two because I was jumping around in the parked car, the black roots that are starting to grow out and take back the purple hair that surrounds my face.  I saw my eyes, and my arm, and then waaaaay back in the distance, even farther away than real life because of the curve of the handle, I saw my skin.

All of it.

My breath caught in my throat, and in that one moment of suspended clarity, I realized that I felt fear.  Serious, legitimate, absolute fear, the kind that stimulates Fight or Flight, and I realized my Real.

“I am afraid of my body.”

I am afraid of my body, and I have been fighting-or- flighting it for all of my life.  ALL OF IT, and all of my life.

My size.  My shape.  My gender.  My sex, the passion and frequency of the kind I have, dealing with the kind I want.  The way I look.  The way my face is completely asymmetrical.  The size of my hands.  The size of my feet.  The length of my waist.  The shape of my nose.  The length and color of my hair.  The stretched, pouchy, poochy, fat-filled skin left behind after growing three children.  Saggy, foldy, spent breasts hanging from my chest, emptied out by tiny mouths eager for thousands of meals.  The copious and seemingly endless expanse of my lower back and butt, once trim and tight, now soft and spreading.

Today I realized that I am afraid, and that I have been running and fighting my body for almost all of my life.  I have been afraid of the scars, afraid of the damage, and afraid that “this is what you’re worth.”

See, my worth has always BEEN my body.  My body was me, and I was my body.  I did not, and still struggle because I do not, recognize that my worth is not my physical self.  As a Christian I know that my heart and mind and soul are what matter.  As a lover of Jesus I know that my intention is equally important, that my true worth is flawless because it was scrubbed clean with blood, and the flesh I live in will stay behind when I go.

I know all of that, but I don’t understand.  My body got the attention, while my soul and heart and mind did not, and so I have been taught that my body is what matters.

Without consideration of my intent or reason, my-body-that-is-me was punished for existing.  My body was in the way, and so it was beaten.  Without consideration of my desire or innocence, my-body-that-is-me was used to deliver pleasure to someone else.  My body was desired, and so it was assaulted.

I was taught with fists and fingers, skin and hate, mouths that engulfed and mouths that spewed words, that the body I have is what determines my worth and existence.  Nothing else, nothing more.  And I carried that thought and foundational belief into every year of my life, and I carried it into today.

I am afraid of my body, because I am afraid that it is my true worth.

I am afraid of getting old.  I cannot keep my body young and beautiful, and I am afraid that I will not be worth keeping when I am gray and spent.

I am afraid that if I am not wanted for sex, I am not wanted.

I am afraid that unless I am pleasing others with my physical presence, I am not worthy of love.

I am afraid that I deserve pain and neglect and dismissal the second I am in the way.

I am afraid that my body has earned and is deserving of every ounce of abuse it has received, because it is not and has never been perfect.

I am afraid that it will never be perfect,

and I am afraid because deep down, for that last part only, I know that I’m absolutely, 100% right.

For the most part, I am a brave person.  I teach my kids that bravery is not an absence of fear, but doing what needs to be done anyways.  I thought of this as I pulled up on the shower lever and returned the curtain to the wall, listening to the water hiss against the stall and tub.  I thought of this as I flipped on the bathroom fan, and I thought of it as I stepped into the tub, closing the curtain behind me.

I thought of my fear, and I thought of bravery, and for the first time in a very, very, very long time, I decided to look.

In the shower, the light of morning streaming in through the high-set window and lighting up the bathroom like an interrogation room lamp, I stood in the water completely naked, I held my arms out to the side, and I looked.

I watched the water run in rivers down my purple hair, chasing strands and bundles down my shoulder.  I watched the water amble across the folds of my breasts, over the generous hump of my stomach.  I looked at the stretch marks that love left behind, running my fingers across the bumpy, feathery impressions.  I moved my hands down and out, over my trimmer hips, then up and across my not-even-a-little-bit-trim waist.  I grabbed a large handful of fat and stomach in each hand, fat and stomach I have railed against and tried to destroy with purge and starvation, and I thought to myself,

“This is not me, this is a result of the choices I’ve made.  I have the power to choose differently.”

I pulled my stomach in a bit with my breath, smashed it flat with the palms of my hands, and looked lower.  I looked down at the curve that led to my womanness, the patch of dark hair, the arch of my inner thigh, the subtle mounds and folds of fleshy, pink skin.  I ran my fingers over my legs and in between, and I said to myself,

“This is not me, this is a tool and a toy, an expression of myself, it’s been used and abused, and it has created life.”

I tipped my chin up, let the water hit my neck, felt it run over my collar and back across my shoulder, down my nape, and felt it flutter down my back.  I wrapped my arms around myself and let my hands follow where the water led, then untwined myself to put one hand on each buttcheek.  Timidly, and with a bit of baited breath, I ran my hands up a few inches to the part of my back just at the waist.

Of all the places of my body, this one brings me the most grief – some cruel words and heartless comments by one that should have loved and accepted these parts left instead some deep, permanent scars.  I am most afraid of how I look when I walk away, of the width and stretch of my ass and lower back.  It’s a silly thing, probably, but I’m positive we all have that ONE THING, that one place, that causes us to cringe most easily.

I ran my hands across my back and butt, and I said to myself,

“This is not me.  This is part of me, but this is not who I am.  I am better than whatever is here. I am worth more than any judgment I’ve gotten because of this part of me.  I am more than this flesh and fat and skin.  This is enough just as it is, no matter what the size.”

I ran my hands around to the front of my body, up over my stomach, across my breasts, across my chest, down opposite arms, and said,

“I am enough, no matter what the size, and with my scars, not in spite of them.”

The rest of my shower was spent with my eyes open, and my mind elsewhere.  At some point along the short mental journey I’d started crying.  Water mixed with tears to rinse away soap.  Some of the fear remained, but not as much.

The rest of my day today has been spent in thought.  When you remove both the fight and flight, what remains?  What do I have left, when I’m not fighting against or hiding from the body I live in?  What in the world am I supposed to use as motivation for ANYTHING, now that the fear is leaving?

Fear, it turns out, is much like revenge.  When we live our lives to serve and bow and scrape to the purpose of that one, sweeping emotion, what is left when it’s gone?

I am afraid, and I have no idea what’s left of me when I’m not.

I’m done with my shower.  My hair is in a towel, the inside of my ears are still wet.  My clothes are on, my body is tucked safely away inside fabric and darkness, and I have honestly never felt more naked and bare than I do right now.

From right now until the fear is gone, I pray.  I pray that what empty will be filled, and what is broken will be fixed, because I am so tired of being afraid.  I am so tired of running, and I am tired of fighting.

I am ready to be enough, just as I am.


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