Part of my trauma came from many authority figures and adult sources making fun of, criticizing, and shaming my body. The messages about being fat and so beautiful I am ugly and that because of my physical appearance I deserved the abuse dished out to me made me hate my looks. The way my mother brushed and styled my hair for me; then punished me and criticized me until I failed to style and care for it myself made me believe I couldn’t groom myself. The insults and shaming that came from being made fun of for wearing mascara and lipstick, and always being told that I’m not strong enough or skinny enough or pretty enough or smart enough to be as good as my brother and cousins took it’s toll on my self-esteem and self image.
I thought the negative self image and body hate had to do with having so many different alters and being anorexic. Some of my alters are male; some are female. They are all different ages, and many will never go through puberty – they are child alters or symbolic alters (aka non-human living beings). And each of them hated the body that houses us for many years, possibly decades. And back in the nineties/early 2000s, many people thought anorexia was all about looking and feeling fat and wanting to lose weight. It’s not all about weight loss. My anorexia had to do with punishing myself and denying that puberty happened to please others. It might also have had to do with hating my body, but I prefer to believe that seeing my adult body triggered bad memories that made me feel anxiety, hatred, etc.
Main point is that I don’t actually see what my body looks like in the mirror. I see fat, red rashes, cellulite, scars, big butt, wide hips, thunder thighs, bad teeth, and so on. It took 4-5 years before I could acknowledge that I am not ugly, just plain. And another 7 years before I could acknowledge my physical attractiveness and stop hiding. But multiple times every year I get to a point where all of the body hate comes flooding back. I start seeing a big belly where one doesn’t exist. Instead of my body, I see one that is wider than tall with a spare tire and fat, jiggly thighs. I see double chins and yellowed, crooked teeth with halitosis (bad breath) that never goes away. And not even looking in a mirror, these visions come as I look down at my body.
Then come the critical thoughts inside my head (voices). The voices bring back memories and feelings I’d rather not face right now. They always seem to come at times when I feel most vulnerable and stressed out and physically ill. Also during spring and winter when a) people start wearing less and showing more skin because of the nice weather; and b) people start obsessing about holiday goodies and overeating. When I get stressed out, I forget to eat. Sometimes I deliberately don’t eat. I forget to hydrate or just don’t bother. And when I do eat, the food is not stuff I enjoy or even crave – it’s food that will ease the obsessions and compulsions in my mind.
And if I lose enough weight, my body automatically starts going into the “she’s starving herself; we need to start feeding off of the available fat and muscle sources, then replace with water (bloating)” response that makes me feel 2x my actual size and about 4-9 pounds lighter than I was before the triggers turned me inside out.
Learning to cope
I don’t have a lot of ways to cope with this.
Mostly I force feed myself using blender smoothies, soups, and savory/sour/slightly bitter/umami flavored foods that are nutrient dense and easy to digest. I also make appointments with my dietitian to go over any food struggles and anxieties I might be experiencing. And I stop trying to “eat healthy” or according to any of my past rules. Instead I try to enjoy my food and eat a variety of flavors.
If I get a compulsion that won’t go away, I eat the food without shame; acknowledge that parts of me did want that food while others did not; and then tell myself that it’s ok to eat certain foods even though they are taboo in my mind or might make me feel gassy or sick afterwards. The consequences are worth the enjoyment – like with ice cream and cheese and red meat for me.
Sometimes, I practice gratitude too. This helps with the shame and body hate feelings, but is not something I can do all the time without feeling backlash too. I remember how thankful I am that my body is healthy and not diseased in spite of the trauma it’s been through. I am thankful that my body is strong enough to get me to work and exercise without pain and suffering. I am thankful to have fingers that work and feet that can support me as I walk through life and so on.
And I increase my self care rituals.
I might not be able to stop my body from going into automatic routines that saved me in the past every time, but I can do my best right now in this moment. So even though I’m still in a bad place where my body hurts and I hate going outside because I keep having to deal with my past, I am working towards coping better and getting ready to enjoy at least part of my day. Then maybe I can relax and sleep long enough to rest and be ready for the next day.
Thanks for reading