I have been playing with y’all over the past several weeks. My blog posts have been light, silly, puffy pieces about the weird turns my mind takes and the random ironies of life. They definitely reflect the quirkiness that is me.
Behind the scenes, though, I have been struggling with some darker, heavier issues. I have told you a little bit about my work with my life coach, Todd Payne (www.toddpaynelifecoach.com). I have shared some of the fruits of that work in terms of decreasing my anxiety, increasing my flexibility, and embracing more joy in my life. When I started working with Todd, I was not completely sure what I wanted to accomplish. I only knew that my brain runs in the redline area all the time. My mental “check engine” is ALWAYS lit. My brain exists in a dangerous internal world. I try to plan, prepare, avoid, and hope away all the potential perils to my psyche. This is, of course, impossible. I have always been a pretty functional individual. Many people would say, in fact, that I am highly functional. These two realities- that I am highly functional and that my emotion of choice on any given day is fear- are difficult to reconcile. Long ago, I learned that I had to manage my fears if I wanted to have any kind of life at all. I work very, very hard to overcome my anxiety. I end run my anxiety so that I can accomplish what I want to accomplish. I end run my anxiety so I don’t annoy people. I end run my anxiety so that the world won’t know how anxious I am.
All that running is exhausting. When I reached out to Todd, I wondered if it was possible to take my emotional management a few steps further. Instead of learning additional coping strategies to help overcome the fears, was there a way I could make the fears stop? In other words, was there an antibiotic that would resolve my infection of fear rather than just an aspirin that would mask the symptoms? The fear management techniques I have used most of my life were the equivalent to an emotional aspirin. If there was a way I could resolve the tendency to terror at its core, I believed I would not have to work so hard to function happily in life.
I believed this was a bit of a pipe dream, but I decide to give it a try. As I have shared with you, I have seen amazing progress. I could not be happier with the outcome.
On the other hand…
As I worked through my fears and anxiety, I realized there was something much deeper that has been eviscerating my self-worth most of my life… my perception of and relationship with my body image. I have talked a little bit about this issue in passing (retirement lifestyle blog; body image; life coaching – Terri LaBonte- Reinventing Myself in Retirement), but I have not shared much detail about it. I am not sure I can. I do not think it would be very helpful, anyway. Everybody’s story is different. My body image journey is unique to me. Most people, women especially, have challenges around the way the world sees them and how they see themselves. Physical beauty is such a high value in our society, yet its parameters are so narrow. It is hard for anyone to resist the messages the society crams down our throats about beauty.
I have always been so far outside the parameters. It is common for me to feel shameful and apologetic for simply taking up space in the world. I think even people who love me and who have some understanding of the emotional challenges of body image pain do not realize the breadth and depth of the damage in me. Writing this feels overly dramatic and I am truly not looking for anyone to pity “poor me.” I am just trying to outline a little of the effect so that maybe some of you who might have faced similar feelings will not feel so alone. And also, to offer some hope.
My work with Todd is helping. I am cautious about saying “to offer some hope” because I do not yet know where my journey will take me. I have a long way to go, but I am heartened by the success we have found with the issues that were overlaying the weight and body issues- decreasing the ever-present anxiety, freeing myself from self-imposed limitations, more confidently owning the parts of myself that I think are valuable, and compassionately embracing even the least attractive parts. I also feel some shifting when it comes to the weight and body issue. It is not yet enough to label a success, but I can label it as hope.
The other day, a group of the women from my church were discussing the benefits that the church gets from continued online streaming of services, even though congregants are now coming to church in person. Many of the ladies offered great insights. They can continue to participate in worship when they snowbird up north in the summer. They can rewatch the service to hear the sermon again. They can fast-forward to the part of the service where the children’s choir sings so they can get a better view of the kids. It occurred to me that I often rewatch the service so I can see how big my butt looks when I am standing in line for communion. Clearly, my star is not at its apex. However, I can feel the zenith getting further away.
Todd tells me that I will always have to struggle with loving myself, accepting that I am beautiful, and doing what is healthy for me. It is not that one day, I am magically going to lose fifty pounds, feel great about how I look, and become a militant advocate for the body positive movement. It took me 62 years to get to this place. I do not think I have 62 more years to reclaim my beauty and sense of value. It is not realistic to believe that I am ever going to be the most beautifully and naturally confident person in the world. At this point, my goal is to feel “not unfortunate looking.”
The work I am doing is about health- physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. I am trying to learn how to believe that I deserve to do the things that make me healthy- whether it be a choice to have a chocolate bar because chocolate is sweet, creamy, and delicious or a choice to eat a turkey sandwich because it is fresh, crunchy, and nutritious. Neither choice is morally wrong. It is good for my overall health to sometimes choose the chocolate bar and sometimes choose the turkey sandwich.
The next step is for me to figure out how to be more intentional with those choices… to understand them for what they are and what they are not. If I am making choices that do not strengthen my health in some way, why am I making them? Is there a need I have that I am using my food to address when whatever I am missing has nothing to do with food? I wish I knew the answers to these questions. The work I am doing now will help me answer them. The thing is… finding those answers is apt to be pretty uncomfortable.
So, why am I doing this? Why now, when I have spent 62 years living in this body and coping as I have? The truth is, I should have dealt with this long ago, but I was too scared and did not have support I trusted enough to storm this particular castle. Now, at this late date, I still believe I have something to gain. As I said, all the end running I have been doing to avoid this issue has become exhausting after all this time. Also, health is a lifelong pursuit. As we age, many of us find that we are compelled to take better care of our physical health. The goal is to be physically active and live a long life. As we get older, most people need to be more intentional about their health to meet that goal. For me, I do not know that I necessarily need to live longer, but I do know that I want the remaining years God gives me to be joyful, productive, and satisfying.
So, what advice do you have for me as I open the door to the dragons? Please leave a comment to share your perspective. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a beautiful day!