I must start by saying the journey is not over, nor am I sure it will ever “end,” but it began when Dr. Tony O’Donnell looked me in the eye and told me (in his Irish accent) that I needed to “love myself thin.”
I had heard similar words before, not necessarily directed right at me, and I thought it sounded ridiculous. This time, however, they sank deep. They bothered me, actually. I could feel the truth behind those words for the first time ever, but I had no idea where to start. I let his words simmer in the back of my mind and seep into my heart. I began to pay attention to people who had the body confidence that I wanted. I heard many of them speak about the power of self-love; I noticed that most people who seemed confident were involved in something they were passionate about; and somehow they seemed to carry a common theme of “being” rather than “doing.”
Being vs Doing: What did that even mean? I had the thought to begin practicing yoga. Honestly, I thought it would just be a way to stretch my tight muscles–I thought the meditation part was weird–but being immersed in the atmosphere of the class, I began to notice more peace inside myself. I found that with continued practice I was becoming more aware of my body–how it worked–and that being aware of every part of my body made it possible for me to not only perform the poses better but also to release all the chatter of my mind. I began to notice more of what was going on around me, even outside of the yoga studio. The first year it was all but impossible for me to look at the mirror “into my own two eyes,” as the practice suggested. It was so uncomfortable–almost disgusting to me–but, as I continued to attend class, even that began to change. I realized that I had almost been a stranger to my own body, and I slowly allowed myself to become friends with that image in the mirror.
Passion for Life: I thought my next step happened by accident, but the more I realize that there truly are no coincidences, the more I am certain that it was exactly the right thing at the right time for me. I attended Good to Great with David TS Wood on his island in Belize. I thought I was going just to be with my husband, Dave, because the retreat was held during the week of our 22nd anniversary. Since I was only allowed to attend if I participated, I decided I’d play along. Wow! That was such a life changing event!! It was hard and scary and pushed me in many ways, and it showed me that passion for life really does exist outside of my comfort zone. I realized that I could do hard things, and I also realized how supportive people are. I met beautiful people I could call friends, and more importantly, they helped me to believe that they also called me friend.
Self-Love: Because I felt a desire to truly love myself, I decided to treat myself as such. I found an accountability partner who showed me how to switch things just a little to get maximum benefit out of the foods I chose to eat. I began losing weight immediately. I began to change the way I felt about exercise. I let myself try new activities until I found something I enjoyed. I no longer go to the gym feeling like I need to “kill it” in order to get results. The more fun I have, the more I feel like I’m working with my body instead of against it.
So… what about negative self-talk?
Low self-esteem and poor body image are very real, and this was my reality for 40+ years. It felt like I was trapped in prison with my worst enemy! My “Negative Nancy” constantly whispered shame, even with all the progress I was making. I was continually comparing myself to not only the tabloids and social media posts about “perfect” bodies and “perfect” lives, but also to courageous people who overcome the “really hard stuff!” I was embarrassed that my “hard thing” was my own body, and I couldn’t make it stop. The embarrassment intensified the body shame.
I understand that I am not the only one. I believe that poor self-image is an epidemic in our society. I also know that there is a way to fight it. It takes doing the scary stuff—letting yourself be seen and seeing yourself through eyes of love.
For me, it has been several small steps—some I share and some I do not. Today I feel compelled to share part of a very personal step that I am still taking:
Even though I have worked very hard to improve my self image, some days my negative voice fights really hard to re-gain control of my belief system. I can go months feeling really good about myself, and then !BAM! Without warning, all the”stuff “comes back with a vengeance. I have tools to combat it most of the time–positive music, dancing, “I Am” statements, personal study, conversation with close friends. However, on the days when I can’t shut it off, I have to use my power tool, which is to “make myself” do really uncomfortable things—like watching myself dance in front of a mirror, wearing little to no clothing. I watch my body move until I feel something. I don’t always love it—in fact, I rarely do—but when I keep going, even though it’s hard, my mind opens and I can see the truth of who I am. I can feel love. I can get out of my head and see the magic of life and the beauty of myself and other people.
Like I said, I am still on my “journey,” and I believe I always will be. I will always have days of doubt and days when I have to search hard to find my worth, but I know it’s there. I will never go backward, even though moving forward can be hard sometimes. I continue to attend personal growth training and to do things that scare me. I study, pray, and surround myself with amazing people. I look for ways to help other people and for reasons to be happy every single day, and I am so much happier for it!