There are certain places and certain chores that I perform that are more conducive to practicing mindfulness than others. Washing the dishes. Folding the laundry. And…showering. The hot water strikes the taught muscles at the base of my skull, gently thumping against them, coaxing their relaxation after a tense day spent sitting in front of a keyboard with my shoulders pulled up toward my ears. I feel the rivulets and streams as they run their course along my scapulae, my low back, down toward my brightly painted toes. This week, they are pink. Steam and heat build in the air around me, filling my lungs. The soap bubbles grow into a frothy, white lather that slips and slides smoothly over my hands and wrists. The scent of the soap is clean and refreshing. Sometimes, I bring my bottle of shampoo just under my nose so that I can take it in. I reach around my side, and into my head pops…Hmmm…it’s been awhile since I checked in the mirror to make sure I can still see my ribs and my sternum. I instantly recognize this as a disordered thought. It’s an eating-disorder thought, I tell myself. Damn it!
Fortunately, after entertaining this thought, I quickly managed to counter with the following: If I look in the mirror, and I can clearly see the bony outlines of my ribs, I will be reassured, but what does it mean? It means nothing, because the important thing is that I’m healthy. I’m at a healthy weight, I’m following my meal plan, I’m eating a variety of foods, I’m exercising moderately, and I’m remaining in recovery. I’m living a full, vibrant, balanced life, and it has nothing to do with whether or not I can see my ribs in the mirror. If I look in the mirror and I don’t see my ribs, what does it matter, because all those statements I just made about being healthy and balanced and happy are still true. So, if I can’t see my ribs, I will be making myself feel bad without reason. Therefore, I choose not to check. Hooray!
I tend to be rather forward-thinking. I’m always worried about stalling my progress and am constantly anxious about the status of my recovery. It’s difficult to stop myself long enough to appreciate the obstacles that I managed to overcome in the last 11 months.
Gone are the habitual practices of carefully examining my abdomen from every angle in any reflective surface, like the glass of storefronts or the shiny surfaces of cars. There was a time when I couldn’t pass a reflection without scoping out my appearance and using it as an opportunity to shame myself. Inspecting my stomach, I would pinch, poke, and prod myself cruelly, saying (sometimes screaming) terrible things to myself about how I was a worthless, fat, disgusting waste of life. I “motivated” myself toward improvement by undermining my value as a human being. It took hitting rock bottom for me to finally realize that it doesn’t work that way – my recovery now depends on radical acceptance, self-compassion, self-forgiveness, and the cultivation of my imperfections.
“There’s nothing interesting about looking perfect.”
~ Emma Watson
One afternoon during my stint in partial hospitalization, I called the friend who was house-sitting for me, and I asked her to chuck my multiple scales and my full length mirror into the dumpster. She was more than happy to oblige. I returned to my apartment a few weeks later and bagged up every belt and pair of pants that I once wore. These were the belts and pants that I used to rip on and off violently in a desperate, emotionally fueled effort to berate myself for my unacceptable binging, to convince myself that I was gaining weight and that I needed to dramatically change my ways. I dropped them in the donation bin outside the church down the street and didn’t look back. I stopped whiling away entire afternoons perusing old photographs of myself or scrolling through the Facebook feeds of “friends” I met on one occasion five years ago, tearfully admonishing myself for being such a failure. I “unfriended” all those strangers and adjusted my feeds to deliver daily updates from Brené Brown, Recovery Warriors, Walden, my church, and the dozen odd friends and family with whom I keep in close contact. In the grocery store checkout aisle, I avert my eyes from the glossy magazines displaying air-brushed photos of celebrities to whom I am meant to find myself inadequate by comparison. Rather, I smile at the woman behind the register, catch her eye, and chat with her about her plans for the weekend when her shift lets off.
“I don’t love Photoshop; I like imperfection. [Imperfection] doesn’t mean ugly. I love a girl with a gap between her teeth, versus perfect white veneers. Perfection is just… boring. Perfect is what’s natural or real; that is beauty.”
~ Marc Jacobs
Nowadays, when I fall asleep, I do so wearing comfortable, soft, baggy pajamas, laying on my side, surrounded by soft pillows and curled into a relaxed little ball. I don’t fall asleep on my back, staring at the ceiling, stroking my iliac crests, reassuring myself that they are still protruding against the tight skin of my hips. One of the goals that I set for myself when I began the partial hospitalization program the day before Thanksgiving 2014 was that I wanted to be able to step back on the scale and accept the number. What I discovered over this past year was something even better. I am accepting myself without a number. The only two people on this planet who know how much I weigh are my nutritionist and my psychiatrist, who both allow me to stand on their office scales backwards at our appointments. Can I allow myself the acknowledgement of what a remarkable transformation that represents?
Yes, I still have a long way to go. Yes, I still have disordered thoughts about food and about my body. Yes, I am still afraid of gaining weight. I worry about relapsing and about slipping into old behaviors. But, gosh darn it, I am checking my body checks, and that is progress.