I had a dream several years ago that I was describing to my doctor what was hurting in my body by describing the one thing that wasn’t: my toes.
Then I woke up and as I went to stretch my stiff joints and aching muscles, I felt it….my freaking toes were throbbing.
You have got to be kidding me.
Pain has been nothing new to my experiences. Developing scoliosis at age 10, undergoing surgery at age 14 and chronic, even debilitating, degeneration of my body has since been a history I had long tolerated.
But that summer, I was in almost constant pain. I was struggling to walk, losing feeling in my limbs and settling into a recognition that I was “disabled”, broken; that my current experience was my medical destiny.
It’s hard not to feel resentful or depressed over something like that.
I was awash in the emotional anguish of everything I could not do. I couldn’t hula hoop, play at the park with my son, make love to my husband. Everything caused pain. And I swam in the pain it caused.
As is often the case, my lowest point – the point at which I felt useless and broken and resentful, the point when all light was drowned by the darkness of my suffering – was my turning point.
I listened to one woman’s careful introspection, one woman speaking of her body as though it were her child, asking herself what it would look like to love her body as she unconditionally loves her daughters…
Her words resonated so strong as I thought about treating my body the same, treating it as I would treat my child, with compassion and trust. Instead of focusing on or pushing it towards what I want it to be, simply loving it for what it is…
What might that look like for me?
I could regularly point out its strengths.
And show my appreciation for its abilities.
I would view its pain with loving compassion.
And actively and insistently seek out the foods and resources it needs.
I could be gentle and not push it to do things.
Slow down to its pace.
And find things that made it feel good.
I would most definitely spoil it with love.
Smile when I see it.
And seek out things it would enjoy.
I could listen intently to it.
I could validate it and the other people it affects (like my son and husband) without making anyone wrong.
I could accept it and love it unconditionally, for what it is, not what it’s not.
I remember my head swimming: Could I really do that? Could I love myself and my body with the same unconditional compassion and acceptance as a child, giving it everything it needs without excuses or resentment?
I quickly found out that it takes the same challenging, mindful practice as parenting, too. Because just like loving my child, the only thing that gets in my way is my own fear and mistrust, my own stories, my own selfish expectations. And just like any relationship, when I consistently choose to prioritize my own self-love, I soon see that my body responds with the same.
I’ve learned that before I get the opportunity to change anything I first get the opportunity to love it.
And that’s not an easy road. It’s been three or four years since this huge realization hit me and despite the impact it made, I still find myself in self-neglect. I’ll work too long until my shoulders throb and my head aches. I’ll choose the food that are the easiest. I’ll feel frustrated when I wake up tired. I’ll forget to get up and take a walk or use my oils, or I’ll refuse to nurture my back out of nothing but pure exasperation that it’s hurting in the first place.
The patterns of love or un-love run deep. Sometimes they are attached to deeper roots than we realize and perhaps they are just the side effect of those roots, the earth that gets pushed out of the way as those roots grew. I’m learning they can change for months before slipping back into old ways of neglect. I’m learning it’s not just a habit but a practice, a spiral that takes you around and around the same topic, seeing new sides or experiencing the same things from new perspectives, maybe a higher one and maybe not.
We chastise, and we lecture, and we try to inspire one another to love ourselves better.
It’s an old story women have been telling for decades.
But maybe we ought to just remind ourselves that sometimes it just simply is and that our only real practice is in understanding it’s okay to start again. And then, without self-judgment or guilt, simply starting again.