About a month ago, I came across this Letter to my Body from Blogher, inviting me to write a letter to my body. It was then I applied to be a volunteer to Blogher '08, because I could smell San Francisco while reading the post, evidently. Any excuse for San Francisco ...
First off, I didn't know my body was even WANTING to receive a letter from me, since it seems we live pretty close together, and why not save on the stamp? Specially since me and my body spend so much time on the Internet - going to all the same places together - in this day and age ...why would I want to snail mail a letter to my body? Besides, wouldn't that be adding insult to injury - the very fact that this body still remembered what snail mail even was ... was exactly why I wanted to avoid my body in the first place. Cause in the last year, this body turned 50. I wasn't liking it turning 50, because my mind felt like life was just beginning again, with all the wisdom gained in the last 20 years. I'm going to write this as it comes out of my head - no censoring, so it'll be all over the place. Hopefully, it'll make sense.
For most of those years, me and my body had a truce. I would leave it alone if it would leave me alone. I pretty much ignored it.
By virtue of being a girl, my body garnered me unwanted attention from inappropriate adults when it was a child. A grade-school janitor molested it when it was in 2nd grade. A baby-sitter when it was younger. A father when it was a teenager. Those are the memories my brain knows for sure. There's another shady memory of pine trees and a cabin in the woods, but my brain has never been able to trust my body, so we're not quite positive on the cabin in the woods incident/s. Just as well, as remembering what I did remember got me dis-owned by the people who were closet to me. Thanks, body.
Later, when dating boys, I panicked at the thought of physical contact. If a boy complimented me on something I wore, I wouldn't wear it again, not understanding why it made me feel dirty. I remember feeling self-conscious about EVERYTHING, including wearing a swimming suit at age 4 and 5. I hated family reunions, because they didn't feel safe to me, and someone was always critical about something on my body ... either my own embarrassment over my clothes, or a grandmother's criticism about the acne on my face. In front of everybody. Or my father's teasing about my "itty bitty titties". In front of everybody. I had a VERY good-looking cousin, who was VERY popular in my school, and it was excruciating for a teen girl to be singled out for critical attention in front of him - as if my body belonged to others to comment/criticize.
I didn't date because going thru the discomfort of getting to know someone new was too dangerous. So I stayed safe with one boy all thru high school and 2 years after. I believed I shouldn't sleep with him in order to be a good girl, and that's what I thought was expected of me. After 4 years of going out with him (I think it was 4 years), my mother asked me if I needed birth control, and I was shocked at the question. I think she said something along the lines that she didn't know how I could wait that long. That nite was the first time I had sex. I don't remember it - except for the embarrassment that he went down to the barn to get some Vaseline, and his best friend was there milking the cow, and he knew what was going on. And I remember being relieved - finally we could quit fighting about the "make-out sessions that never lead to anywhere". For 4 years, I had been a good girl, mostly because I was terrified of crossing that line - as long as we didn't have sex, that meant he loved me for my mind... right?
I know now that the reason I don't remember anything about sex in those early years is because I disassociated in order to get thru it. Sex also hurt because I tensed up so much. I thought something was wrong with me. My body hated sex, not so much because it hurt, but because I simply hated my body, and the power it seemed to hold over men - making them idiots. I wanted to be loved for my mind, by hell.
Having a baby was excruciatingly embarrassing to me. All those doctor appointments in my private parts. The shame I felt, giving birth, because so many people (doctors, nurses) SAW me.
The point is ... it's not normal to feel the level of shame I felt for my body. I disassociated from it more and more.
My body betrayed me hugely by giving birth to a badly hurt baby with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus. No matter how intellectually I understood that it wasn't my fault ... it was MY body that failed Jacob, and the self-hatred settled in for permanent residence.
After the babies ... there was "fat" to add to the hatred. I gained 70 pounds with my first baby. Then I was almost anorexic with my second pregnancy because my husband and I were separated at the time.
There was divorce. Then there was dating, with a c-sectioned body. With triggers of certain touches sending me to the ceiling. Two abortions - one because it had been 3 years since I had sex, and I got woken up with someone on top of me, and my body responding, even tho in my head I was screaming NO. Another was much earlier, before I married, as a teenager, newly moved out of the house, newly broke up with the 7 year high school boyfriend, with my second boyfriend/sexual partner. The abortion fell on my father's birthday, which I found oddly appropriate. I know now that one of the things that doctor did on a follow-up appointment was sexual abuse. I hated my body. It seemed to make men do horrible things to me.
I lived with my third boyfriend for 2 or 3 years before we married. Our sex life was great mostly because I wasn't present for it. Then we married, and for the first 4 months of our marriage, I refused to have sex. I started counseling because I had realized DURING THE WEDDING CEREMONY that I was doing the wrong thing by marrying my drug addicted, drug dealing, alcoholic husband. The memories started to come of my childhood. I slept with a knife or a crochet hook under my pillow. The ONLY saving grace of being with my husband was that he helped me heal sexually. He understood the disassociation, and refused to have sex unless I stayed present. He was patient and kind. He respected my wishes, even tho it meant he seemed to have married a wanna-be virgin all of a sudden. He nurtured the hurt little girl inside, without taking advantage of her.
It took years of therapy and then counseling others for me to heal from the abuse, and for it to let go of the noose it had held around my neck for so long.
But I kept getting fatter. Every time I lost weight, getting too many admiring glances or wolf whistles would trigger old issues, and I'd gain weight again. I was going to be loved for my brain, by hell. Being fat was protection from unwanted attention.
I was 40 years old when I could tell I was emotionally healthy for the first time in my life. I was single again, and dating smartly. I was having sex because I WANTED to, kinda like a kid in a candy store. Discovering. In my prime, so they say. Me and my body had come to terms, and had an agreement - I'd be nice to it - if it was nice to me. It seemed to work well. I gave it sex, and it gave me the freedom to enjoy it for real. It was FUN, that time of my life. I was LIKING myself, and my body - finally giving it the respect it deserved. I OWNED my body - nobody else did. That's a huge statement for someone who grew up believing my only worth was how my body looked, and either giving it away without my consent, or having it taken from me without my consent.
I was happy.
And then? Another huge betrayal. My body betrayed me by doing things against my will. It stumbled and fell. It hurt all the time. It peed my pants. It didn't make sense. Things didn't work. I couldn't explain it. The doctors said it was a herniated disk in my neck. I had the surgery, believing I was doing the best thing to take care of my body. It lied to me. It wasn't a herniated disk - it was MS. Multiple Sclerosis. Again, I had no control over my body - outside forces took over and used it for it's own purpose. It was familiar territory, and old issues were stirred up in a frenzy-filled pot of pain and confusion.
After about 3 years, the depression nearly killed me, and I took the advice I had told so many clients ... WALK. Get out and MOVE. I joined Curves, and I died each day for the next 2 weeks. But after those 2 weeks of pure, sweaty hell, I began to gain control over my body again. I concentrated on health, making my health my full-time job, since I could no longer work a real job. I saw the changes in my arms and legs, gaining some muscle definition. I liked how it moved, especially in bed. I made my body lose 50 pounds, and reveled in the self-confidence it gave me. I was no longer self-conscious of how it looked naked. Still embarrassed by the drunken MS'y stumbles, but I could live with that, as long as I was a more graceful, thin stumbly MS person.
In one way, MS was a blessing because it made me finally tune in to my body and learn to listen to it. I HAD to pay attention to it, in order to be able to walk in a straight line, or get to the toilet on time. After years and years of ignoring it, I finally paid attention, and learned to appreciate it for what all it went thru. I learned to give it the respect it deserved by taking care of it so WE could be healthy TOGETHER. This was/is big.
Now? I've gained 20 pounds back, and haven't been exercising the way I used to. Me and my body are just getting back into it, with a goal of running in a 5K in August, and a half marathon in October. We've come to an acceptance of each other finally - at 50 years old, I know now that it's not about how my body LOOKS ... it's about how I feel. And to hell with what anybody else thinks. My body and I ... we like it this way.
I just realized this wasn't so much a letter TO my body as much as it is a letter ABOUT my body. Hmmmm ... I wonder if that MEEAANS anything ... issues, anyone?