I have a friend who has struggled with her health for some time. She has undetermined health issues, which her doctors can't explain, that essentially make a simple diet and a good night's sleep her personal Holy Grail. She's recounted her experience in detail, and I've been following it.
Recently, she had a moderate epiphany helped out by a friend, in which she decided to shift her relationship with her body to one of compassion and empathy, to address her difficulties by remembering that her body is doing the best that it can, and it is not her enemy.
This struck me on a deep and personal level, because I have spent much of my adult life struggling with my weight and body image and my perception of my own attractiveness. I've often felt undervalued, because I undervalued myself. I treated my life as something I had to ensure didn't interfere with anyone else. Most of it has been rooted in the idea that my body is my enemy, that my mind is my enemy, that my desires are my enemy, that my own identity is my enemy. I am too fat, too smart, too extroverted, too chatty, too passionate, too ME to be borne. I make others uncomfortable when I am strong, and disappoint them when I am weak.
Words of war fly at me, from every angle. The magazine covers tell me how to 'defeat that stubborn fat!' and 'overcome those cravings!' A gym commercial consoles me that I shouldn't accept my heritage or body type, if they interfere with how I want to look. Advice abounds on how to sublimate your own needs in relationships with others, to make sure you've tricked them into feeling the way you want. At every turn I'm offered weapons to use against myself, under the guise of motivating myself to destroy the person I am and become the person I'm told I should be.
I've spent the last few years gradually rising to resist the battle being brought to me, slowly coming to peace with my body and my identity and my loves and desires. For a long time, I worried that that acceptance would mean I stopped evolving, stopped improving, stopped seeking. If I ever accepted that my body was beautiful, I thought, I would stop taking care of it. If I accept that my strength is not a liability, I might stop handling others with gentle compassion. If I embrace the fact that I am smart and competent, I might stop learning new things.
In my head, I think, I have been viewing my possible relationships with my self as twofold: antagonism or neutrality. Deciding that I am not my enemy seemed to mean a sort of apathetic live-and-let-whatever attitude, that if I stopped fighting I ceded the right to care about the outcome.
There is a third option, and I've been slowly coming to understand what it means: I am not my enemy, because I am my ally. I want the best for me. I want my own health and happiness. I want myself to succeed, and to flourish. This alliance has begun to transform my entire relationship with myself.
When I eat nutritious food, I do not think that I am staving off obesity or thwarting my love of donuts. I think, "Here, body, is some stuff I know you need to do your job well. I have taken the time to prepare it in an appetizing manner so that your sustenance is a pleasant experience." If I work hard or skip a financial indulgence to save up a little extra, I think, "Hey, Future Self, enjoy that vacation! Take lots of pictures so Further Future Self can look back and enjoy the trip!" When I take that vacation, I think, "Man, I'm sure glad Past Self did this nice thing for me! I think I'll make it a point to say something kind about her!"
That's actually the easy part. I can look at the choices I'm trained to believe are 'good' and find a reason to consider them self-loving ally acts. But the other side is hard. The first time I said, "Hey, self, you know what? A bowl of ice cream would make you feel happy and cheerful! Let's have one!" I struggled with the idea that I was 'getting away with' something, that I was validating or justifying a 'bad' choice.
The challenge is to view every single choice I make as active self-support, love, and appreciation. As my own ally, I have to consider my choices in the light of "Would I want my beloved friend to do it this way?" because I am my beloved friend. I would want my beloved friend to have a workout that was fun and enjoyable, so that she could become as strong and flexible as she wanted to be. I would not want my beloved friend to feel shamed and guilty about eating cookies for breakfast. I would not want my beloved friend to shrink from leadership because she feared assertiveness would cause her to be perceived as less friendly or desirable. I would want my beloved friend to be proud of her mind and her strength, because she deserves to shine. I would want my beloved friend to feel she could expose her own vulnerability to people she trusted, because she deserves empathy and support. I would not want my beloved friend to downplay her own potential because she was afraid of the challenge it presented her.
For many years now, I've ended a lot of my writings with "I love you all," to emphasize my commitment to living a loving life. I believe it's time for me to change that.
I love us all.