Posted by: innerpilgrimage | April 12, 2011

Body Imagination

      Bad body image. I don’t really think one can have an eating disorder without a painfully clear lack of sense of physical self-value. If we’re willing to abuse our bodies through binge eating, bulimia, or anorexia (or a combination of any of these, including exercise obsession)? I really think it comes down to the objectification of ourselves.

      I find it odd that I vacillate between being hyper-judgmental of others’ bodies yet also completely without judgment. It honestly depends on the day. What’s even worse is that there’s not even a sense of “perfect body” any more for me. Everyone is flawed. This is both a good and bad thing–though depending on how recovered or how affected by addiction I am? That’s when it manifests. Oh, and my own body? It was, is, and never will be aesthetic to me. I do not think there is a place (in my current mindset about my physical appearance) where I can potentially find peace with it if I am trying to control it.
      Body dysmorphic disorder, aka bad body image, is theoretically treatable. Sadly, I am frustrated because I really want to have an OA meeting where I can sit and find a sense of okay-ness with my body. We have no body image meetings in my metro area. If I want a body image meeting, I’d have to start one. And to start one? I’d have to actually know what I was facing, combating. To be honest, my body image issues are deeper than I imagined. I think to excise them, I really would have to do some serious honesty work. Brutal honesty work.
      My Higher Power is very good to give me miracle moments in my down time, ones which create a big-picture view from the puzzle pieces I am collecting along the way. I got access to a book entitled Tree of Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar. As I was having a pause-and-serve life moment (doing something else while I am thinking or doing something), I came across the concept of Pratyāhāra–the “bark” of the yogic tree.
      Though it is extremely complex in many explanations, he simplified it quite well. We are guided by our impulsive memory. This impulse to act based on what once was enters into today. We don’t discriminate our rational thoughts when we use this sense-based motivation. To discriminate is to use pratyāhāra. We leave our sense of body and mind, the things anchoring us to the events in our lives when we discriminate between our impulsive drives based from memory. We withdraw from the spiritual when we live based on chasing our memories.
      That’s all it is, really. Our suffering in relation to pratyāhāra is about giving in to the thoughts of the past and acting on yesterday rather than observing what’s happening in the here and now. There is no discrimination between what is right and wrong for our whole selves today when we use memory (which has no discrimination) to drive us. We want what we want when we want it, and it’s always something from our pasts which drive us.
      In my past, I have a lot of body-image messages which drive me. The messages are internal laws of what is, and I do not consider if they are damaging me whatsoever today until after the fact. Or, in the case of recognizing my body dysmorphia, I do not know how to act because I have not taken the time to consider how to act. I am seeking external cures for an internal, spiritual problem. The solution (not cure) is to examine these messages in today as they happen and discriminate between what grows me as a whole person and what stunts or stops or even atrophies my growth as a whole person. To actually find peace with what was, I need to allow the fruit of memory to ripen out of yesterday and have it grow to maturity in the now. I need to let it grow and become part of today, examine it as it is today, and release it in order to grieve everything associated with it (not being “enough” for the person who generally set the message in motion, understanding that to make that my motivation means I am making that person my Higher Power whenever I turn toward that impulsive memory). The fruit has to ripen and gain enough weight in order to leave the tree–to drop to the ground and rot and become part of the cycle of life again. Within that fruit are the seeds of a new life. To allow it to rot away on the ground is to allow something new to grow–in essence, a life after letting go of such a damaging thought process. I’ve frozen green fruit I cannot use today, but the fruit of the mind can be put back on the tree to ripen. I can’t just toss it out like I can in the physical realm.
      I hope this makes sense at all to me in the future, because I am writing from a place barely filtered from the spiritual right now. And I think I have an answer as to how to actively do footwork on my body dysmorphia.

      First, I have to accept that I have memories which are damaging me today. Among these disturbing memories are the equation of fatness and ugliness, and the firm belief that perfection can be found at 125 lbs. Both of these memories stabilize a sense of control, of stopping growth, of keeping the real problem unripened. What is the real problem?
      I give authority to everyone but myself about myself. From how I think to how I act to how I look? Other human beings can tell me what to do. As long as their messages align with that core, those messages get in and prop up the belief I don’t know how to live my own life. Messages which go counter to that–only I know what’s best for me because I’m the one living this life, I’m thin, I’m beautiful no matter what my body looks like, I am not an object but a spiritual being in human form–all bounce off this core belief that I cannot be trusted to think for myself when it comes to me.
      To ripen this belief, I need to examine some simple truths.

One: I am the only expert on me because I am the only one who exists in this body and mind. No one can be me, and if I must say, “Education is authority,” then the years of being me have qualified me for a PhD in Jessness. No one has examined or studied me as much as I have. No one can get into the depths of me as I have and can. Therefore, they have no expertise on how I should be living because they cannot access the deepest part of me with the intimacy I can. They do not exist as my soul, and therefore they cannot know me.

Two: The beliefs of others have to do with their own sense of selves and control of others–their desire to direct and move the world around them so they can live their lives how they want. I have come to believe that when I give advice, it is advice I need to take. To honor this belief, I have to extrapolate it further–when others give me advice, it is advice they need to take. The power of the message they give me has only what I give it. And by accepting that when advice leaves anyone’s lips, it is meant for a mirror? The words they say to me do not apply to me. Those words are about manipulating me into a position where I can be set dressing for their lives, not to help me in my own life.

Three: My Higher Power knows the messages that help me grow and brings those into my life. Those are imparted with deep and peaceful meaning, or excitement into action. They do not hurt. They actually never hurt. The criticism-as-advice always hurts. That comes from a place of insanity. Pursuing those unachievable or pain-driven goals for a painful and shallow purpose harm me. And since the person is not there to repeat the message? The person doing the harming is me. Whenever I repeat messages which affirm that I am not good enough, I am doing harm to myself. The initial harmful message was said once (maybe a handful of times) by the other person. But right now, as I am sitting here writing, that person is not standing in front of me repeating those words. In fact, if they were, I would probably be motivated to get offended at their persistent insistence that I am inferior. No, I am repeating this negative affirmation and making it my addict-mind truth in order to sabotage any recovery I might have because of it. So if having the person standing in front of me repeating those words every time I say them to myself would cause me to be offended . . . why am I not bothered when I do it to myself?

Four: Self-sabotage takes nearly no time at all. I don’t even have to think the words slowly enough to hear them in my mind’s ear in order to feel the effects. It’s as fast as a cobra strike, a blur of poisonous fangs and speed. The poison courses through my mind slowly, spreading and causing pain and severe illness as the toxicity flows through me. I try to soothe the pain of the poisoning by turning toward hopeless quests to find miracle cures. Most times I know these cures are failed folk remedies I’ve tried. A piece of me dies as I try to treat the symptoms of the venom instead of try to draw the poison out as quickly as possible (awareness), use what I know does work (recovered footwork), and wait out the pain (let go to my Higher Power and accept it will pass in HP’s time–not mine).

      Well, these messages are all still in my past, right? I have to live in yesterday to manifest them today as part of today; I have to examine them as they were back then, in then, to make them as strong as they were then when I bring them back to act on today. That means I have gotten yet another message that my searching and fearless moral inventory is the key to healing . And they say “You got to feel it to heal it.” Well, this slogan runs headlong into one of my most powerful coping mechanisms–shutting off my feelings in order to not be hurt any more. This touches the core of the survivor in me. They can’t hurt me if they can’t get in, so bar the door and prepare the defenses. If I’m always in siege mentality, I’m not using the time to grow. I am always at war, always ready for the attack. Always on alert. And definitely always exhausted by the permanent state of war I exist in.
      I just rested, and I am a little woozy from playing catch-up on needed sleep. But some of this is really making sense, so I’m going to conclude here:
      The messages from my past are part of my addiction. They pain me and allow me to act without conscious deliberation, without accessing the prayer and meditation to my Higher Power. I’m lazy in the mind when I do that, not wanting to take the time to think about how these messages affect me. I become driven by the desires to make right what went so wrong in yesterday, trying to unravel the past and make it not happen. The past is a cloth which cannot be unraveled. It cannot be undone. Reality is set behind me.
      The only thing I can do is bring those thoughts into today and work on them today with a mindfulness that it’s time to let those thoughts come forward. They may have had use for me back then. Just like I can’t relive the chaos of my adolescence because of what was happening biologically at the time (the change from child to adult and the resulting initiation of the puberty-related chemicals to prepare me for adulthood), I cannot entirely go back to the mindset of a time before twenty years of events passed. I have 35+ years of experiences to draw from, now–not just 10, or 15, or even 20. Life lessons are piled up behind me, all ready to be honored by being given their time and place in my conscious thoughts. The events need to be processed, whether or not they were driven by impulsive memory when I acted then. Had I been aware, had I been ready to understand how to process them at the time? I could have then. Well, I couldn’t, just like I couldn’t control my hand in my last big binge. Deep habits resided within me in addiction, and addiction was all I knew. It was my normal. It was how I lived.
      Today, I have enough recovery to be able to set these things in front of me on a table and use the strength of mind to examine them and discard what is unusable. These green thoughts are unusable. Some, once ripened, can be usable. Many must be allowed to drop to the ground and rot and release the seeds within them to grow or not grow as reality sees fit. Not every seed germinates, but what is grown is not entirely up to me. If I do consciously take a seed and plant it, if I take effort to grow a new idea from an old thought? Then I have affected change within me. But I have to release those seeds in order to even start the growth process. The seeds lay dormant and immature in the messages of the past I disallowed from growing beyond the moment they were first taken from the tree far too early because I worried they would change me enough that I might move from survival to something worse. That fear has kept me in a bushel of green fruit for a very long time, picking through them in order to keep things the same in hopes I can return to the day I picked them and will them to be ripe when I did. I can’t will them to ripen. I can only do the work necessary to perform the miracle of returning them to the tree of today to grow naturally then fall on their own.
      Meh. I barely understand what I wrote, except that I understand the purpose of Step 4 for myself even more. Searching and fearless, I have to comb through my past and see what resentments I plucked green from my tree of life and held to them like treasures to my heart because my tree–at the time–was all about survival. Well, my tree is life, now. A complete and full life. Survival has no place in my life any longer, therefore the fruit of survival has no place in my life.
      I survived on the hope that the future would be better than the present back then. That there would be a time in the future (eighteen, when I was young, because it is a cultural bright line which moves a child into adulthood–even though nature does it in its own time organically) when the basket of green survival thoughts could be thrown away. Well, my body matured, and no green fruit was plucked early in my physical. My spiritual self matured when I decided that I could not recover without a Higher Power, a Higher Self, to guide me on a deeply spiritual journey into a spiritual adulthood. My mental self, however, is still that child. I am hoarding green thoughts, hopes, and ideas, waiting to turn 18 in my brain. But, like the physical and spiritual, there is an organic component to the mental process. I must let things mature as they will. And to do so, I must examine what ideas I did allow to mature and what ideas I held on to far beyond their usefulness. Perhaps it is about tossing out the bushel and picking the new fruit of life instead of survival. To examine the fruit of survival in comparison to the fruit of life and choose one over the other. I don’t really know which metaphor will work best–allowing green ideas to ripen or discarding green ideas for ripe ones. Honestly, it doesn’t matter, since it’s not about fruit.
      It’s about recovering a life from the drowning in addiction. It’s about living today and knowing that tomorrow will be easier because the survival mechanisms I built during addiction won’t be accessible any longer. That there will be a bright line between now and then, like there is when it comes to picking up a bag of mini candy bars and eating them all. I don’t even pick up the bag any more because a bunch of yesterdays ago, the truth, “It’s just not worth the nausea and overfull feeling and irritability from the sugar blitz and chemical preservatives, and the numbness from oversaturating my body with those things.” Something that, two years ago, was part of my daily life is unthinkable today. I can’t pick up a pound-sized bag of candy and eat it all. It’s gone beyond “pray I can resist” to “don’t want to” to simply “can’t”. It’s not part of me today.
      And if I can abandon something so much at my core that I couldn’t exist a day without it? I can abandon the thoughts that I am “fat and ugly” if I don’t weigh 125 lbs.
      My name is Jess, and I am a food addict and approval addict. I’ve got errands to run, social activities to perform in order to take care of daily needs of my family. I have a page of fourth step resentments to complete in order to have made real progress today. One page a day until I intuit from my Higher Power that I am done this time.
      That’s an achievable goal, one that’s not a mountain stopped by time and space and real life demands. And life today is about achievable goals in the name of progress . . . and some day, I pray I can resist my desire to hate my body. But today? It’s part of me. And I know in my Higher Power’s time, I will eventually treat that body dysmorphia like I treat those pound-bags of candy–I can’t turn to it any more because it’s just not a part of that today. And I look forward to what I will be able to do with all that freed-up time, like I was surprised pleasantly by having much more time when my life stopped being about planning, seeking, shopping for, returning with, hiding, fighting, and then simply completing a binge cycle.


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