It’s normally dark outside when I look in the mirror naked. Even though my pre-work or pre-bedtime brain is jumbled with sleepiness and fatigue it can still lie to me through the reflective piece of glass before me.
This morning, sticky thoughts of body negativity wash over me with the warm water in the shower and I feel trapped.
I feel trapped in my own body.
I want to wriggle out of this skin that I loved just yesterday; I want to hide from this home-turned-prison. The desire to run away, just for a moment, from the uncomfortable situation that is body dissatisfaction seeps into my being. I want to look away from the too-bright florescent light glowing around the curves of my waist and the non-gap of my thighs…but I can’t. I wish I could love it—this body I know is beautiful to everyone else—but right now I just want to scream. I just want to change it. I can almost see the words—gross, imperfect, not enough, incompetent, weak, pathetic, worthless, ugly—sliding down my body like the beads of water slipping down the steam-streaked mirror facing me. These slimy words are like roll-on tattoos that ooze deeper and deeper into my skin the more I fight to scrub them off.
How do I escape?
Body Dysmorphia: anxiety about one’s appearance and a distorted view of how one looks.
I didn’t think body dysmorphia was a part of my eating disorder concoction. Even when I pinched the skin on my elbows and cheekbones at the worst of my anorexia, even when I stood in front of my college dorm room mirror for over a half hour looking at my body from every different angle possible, even when my mood was determined by how tightly my jeans fit across my constantly sucked-in stomach, even when nausea overwhelmed me because I felt so uncomfortable in my unsatisfactory body, and even when it was staring directly back at me from the mirror, I did not want to label the pattern: body dysmorphia.
At first, I was angry. Sometimes I still am angry—when I stand in front of the mirror and see fat instead of muscle, when I see the curves as flaws instead of sexiness, and when I see imperfection instead of uniqueness. It’s easy to react with anger when you feel betrayed and hurt. Especially when it doesn’t make sense and you don’t understand why it’s happening.
I feel betrayed by my own body. I have come to love this body—this home—and I have worked hard to learn to trust it and myself again. Now I find that my brain is lying to me. I know in reality I am not fat or gross or unsatisfactory, yet my mind is slapping these ugly labels on my forehead as if I am a defective toy marked Return to Factory. I know it’s a lie—I know it’s not the Truth—but my rational brain is easily overpowered by activation of my emotional amygdala and I start to believe the lies. I don’t want to, but when I’m tired, stressed, and anxious it is easy for the lies to become my truth. I understand that it is just my brain’s way of coping with other underlying issues, however the question still remains: How do you trust a liar?
Compassion and Choice:
I’m learning to look at my body dysmorphia with compassion (most of the time). When my brain drags me into the altered reality of warped body awareness I remind myself that this is my mind’s way of coping with other things. My mind is trying to give me something tangible to worry about and “fix” when I am feeling insecure and stressed about other things in my life. Maybe I don’t realize that I’m worried about having a vulnerable conversation with my partner or stressed from my emotionally draining job but the red flag of altered body perception waving wildly in the mirror reminds me to take a step back and reflect. When I can catch it before getting sucked in, the altered reality helps me to dig deeper and look at what is really going on for me. After all, I create that altered reality because my true reality has gotten too uncomfortable for me to handle.
It does not make me less because I sometimes cannot deal with my reality. I am human, after all! We all have different ways to cope when we don’t know what to do with our feelings — for some it looks like drinking addictions, for others it looks like overworking, and for some of us it looks like eating disorders.
I value seeing reality for what it is, which is why this altered perception is so frustrating for me. It also means that I have to accept that my reality includes my brain sometimes still lying to me about the way my body looks.
It all comes down to choice. While I may not currently be able to control the way my brain lies to me, I CAN STILL CHOOSE TO TRUST MYSELF.
I can trust that I will still love myself even if my brain and mind sometimes work against me by telling me less-than-true stories. It is like loving a small child with crumbs in the corners of his or her mouth when they say they did not eat the cookies. It is like forgiving the ignorant person who brings up triggering topics in conversation. It is like holding space for the young man who screams, “I don’t care” when really he means, “I’m scared that I care so much.” My brain is doing it’s best. It’s not ideal that I cannot fully trust some parts of myself and I can recognize that those parts of me are still learning, those, still need caring redirection, and are not perfect….
Yet, I can still love those parts of myself. Unconditional love and unconditional trust are not mutually exclusive. I will always love myself even if I cannot yet trust every aspect of my being.
The key is learning to separate the times my brain is trustworthy and when it isn’t. It is easy to let self-distrust in one area permeate into all areas of life when the distrust can really be contained to certain areas. I unfortunately still have to question how much to trust my brain when it comes to mirrors and sometimes food but when it comes to deciding if I want to go out with friends, if I have the ability to workout and not slip back into old habits, or if I can be vulnerable with others and still be ok (and still love myself unconditionally) then I CAN trust myself. And I do.
Joan Didion says, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
Recently, I’ve realized the stories my brain and mind are telling me are not very useful or productive. Sometimes they feel like lies, other times they feel like stories. I’ve decided that if I’m going to tell myself a story that is not consistent with reality it might as well be one that lies to me in a more productive and positive way.
What if I tell myself I’m strong, beautiful, competent, worthy, enough, shining, confident, sexy, gorgeous, confident, vivacious, glowing, and strong?
____What if I tell myself I love myself for exactly who I am in this moment?
_____________________________________________What if you rewrite your story as well?
___________________________________________________________________What story will you choose?