September 14, 2020
Body Talk: Listening to my body while navigating PTSD
Quarantine has introduced me to my first belly stretch marks. The purple stripes crawl up my thighs and dance across my soft stomach. Though my weight has fluctuated over 100lbs in the last decade, I have never appreciated the way my skin makes space for me. I recognize my body working for me, and I’m trying to connect with that, but my PTSD makes it a struggle.
My childhood body was a wiry thing full of energy. I grew up thin, athletic, and privileged in what my body could do for me, and how it was viewed by others. I was powerfully connected to all my body could do. As a child, I learned lessons no child should: that my body was for others; I wasn’t in control. My power was taken away. My abuser taught me that the only safe place I had was my mind and my body was an unsafe home. So I fled from it, and put up a wall between my body and mind. Like so many coping mechanisms I learned then, I’d no idea what I’d done.
At 18, I moved away from home and was introduced to my adult life head on, complete with a resurgence of suppressed memories that have resulted in a life-long struggle with PTSD. My body gained weight during this time, and at 6’1 I grew to what I (wrongfully) considered to be a horrible, shameful, size 10. I saw betrayal in the soft hips and rounded face. My body wasn’t behaving as I wanted it to, and my mind was full of fatphobia, shame, and guilt. Thus began my journey with eating disorders.
My mind was a home on fire, but it was the only home I felt safe in, so I kept distracting myself from the flames in whatever way I could: relationships, school, work, restricting what I was allowed to eat, and purging when I felt I’d indulged.
I restricted calories and my body quickly shrank in on itself to be a size 4. This felt like success. It gave me the dopamine hit of goals met. I believed this was reclaiming control of my body, but targeting my body wasn’t controlling it; it required me to ignore my somatic responses to hunger and fullness, and to redefine them.
I thought I was controlling my weight but what I was doing was gaslighting myself, and becoming my own abuser. Your body is a great communicator. It will tell you when it is hungry, full, injured, tired, happy, and sad. Your body is meant to be a part of you. I dissociated from those sensations, and my eating disorder was a tool for that. I trained myself to believe that hunger meant happiness, that exhaustion was weight loss, and that fullness was painful. I stopped listening to what my body was trying to tell me, but my body never stopped trying to protect me. I gained back the weight, but my body was afraid. It knew that the last time we were this size, we had starved, so it added more weight to protect me.
I was then a size 14, and I was tired. Tired of feeling shame, guilt, and dissociation. I was tired of fighting myself instead of healing. At 28, I was finally ready to approach the pain in my mind through therapy and a strong community of friends and support. Mentally, I began healing. I was putting out fires. I was rebuilding rooms. But my body and my mind were still two separate entities, and I was only listening to one.
I lost the weight again, but not on purpose. I’d trained myself to mistrust my body’s natural cues, and I allowed my busy life to take priority over eating. I was learning how to retrain my mind, but I was ignoring the needs of my body because I didn’t know how to listen. The voices of friends complimenting my weight loss with envy and admiration seemed much louder, and much more rewarding. They asked me my secrets. I thought I didn’t have any.
When I gained back the weight again just two years later, I was terrified. If I hadn’t done anything to lose the weight, why was I now gaining it? What was happening? The guilt and shame and confusion rose up, as did the desire to find a way to make it all stop by targeting my body.
Something made me pause. Over the years, I’d begun to learn from body positivity activists and educators online. I was introduced to the negative impacts of diets, diet culture, fatphobia, and fat shaming. I knew that I truly believed in this work for others. Could I translate it for me? Could I learn to listen to my body?
This year my body has reached its heaviest weight and kept going, and I’m trying curiosity. What is my body trying to tell me? Why can’t I understand what is happening? Why am I feeling so ashamed of this body? I realized by surviving in my mind, I’d neglected the rest of my home. My body was still there, still wanting to thrive with me. I just have to re-learn it’s language.
I’m not healed or cured. There are days I grip my soft rolls with cruel fingers and shake them with disgust. My body never stops trying to protect me. I know I’m safe to sit and listen to it. Someone a long time ago taught me my body wasn’t mine, and I let that be true. I’m 32 now and I’m a small fat at a size 16. I’m learning to embrace the language housed in my body and it’s tactics for protecting me the same way I have learned about the ways my mind has protected me. Sometimes, I forget that I’m a body. I require not only my own attention, but my affection. I’m working to repair my relationship because this is where my true power lies. My body has made space for me. It is time I make space for it.
Intersectional Body Positive and Self Love Instagram Accounts I Recommend
Gabi Fresh https://www.instagram.com/gabifresh/?hl=en
Sonya Renee Taylor https://www.instagram.com/sonyareneetaylor/
The Every Man Project https://www.instagram.com/theeverymanproject/?utm_source=ig_embed
Your Fat Friend https://www.instagram.com/yrfatfriend/