Your body is your first, best and last partner in this life. No one knows you better than your body. It is your closest friend, ally, confidant, collaborator and mirror. In the beginning you are attuned to all of its pleasures and pains, seeking more of the former and veering away from the latter. A skinned knee stops the world. A bee sting a catastrophe! Your favorite cream-of-wheat with a crust of sugar on top a joyous Sunday morning delight. Walking barefoot in the summer, your feet wonderfully calloused and filthy. The wind blowing through your hair as you swing as high as you can go on the playground, the swing set bolted to the concrete beneath you. Your 5th grade teacher, Mr. Reed, dims the lights after recess and reads aloud from The Witch of Blackbird Pond. You close your eyes, lay your head on your desk and let the story drift into your ears creating your own technicolor movie as the tale unfolds. You sing loudly along to Abbey Road in the backseat of the Ford Granada, purchased new in 1975. Your Dad installs an 8-track tape player because music is important. You cycle through The Beatles, Jim Croce, Harry Chapin, Cat Stevens, Arlo Guthrie, The Carpenters and the soundtracks to A Star is Born and American Graffiti.
It is the 70s. There are no helmets, knee pads or helicopter parents. You trek across the expansive field that borders your already immense backyard. You go to Wonderland Park in your neighborhood where everything is named for Alice in Wonderland. You pick blackberries staining your face and hands. You ride your bubblegum pink Huffy Sweet Thunder to the 7-11 and peruse the candy, including the ones made to look like cigarettes and the Fun Dip packets of pure sugar crystals made sour by some chemical process. You come home for dinner and go back out to play hide and seek in the cool summer evening by the light of the moon and a lone street lamp at the top of your cul-de-sac, to which you run at full speed without getting tagged. You do not hate your body. Not yet. It is still a harmonious union with your mind and your spirit.
Your body has not been without challenges. An eye surgery as an infant with decades of corrective vision appointments, glasses and the dreaded patch to strengthen your “bad eye”. A tumor that appears above your right eye and must be removed, the scar hidden partially by the surgeon near your eyebrow. It is mysterious and benign. Chronic, painful UTIs requiring catheterization in an OR with multiple masked male practitioners. You are allowed your stuffed animal as comfort. They ask you about this inanimate object to distract you from what is happening to your body. It doesn’t work. You are in pain, scared and have no control over what is happening to your body. You are angry. They underestimate you, believing you know, feel and understand far less than you do. That you can be manipulated by their stuffed animal talk. You play along, deciding you will be the little soldier your father has begun to train in the boot camp that also characterizes your childhood. Your Dad’s impossible standards juxtaposed by your Mom’s unconditional acceptance.
You become familiar with this loss of dominion over your partner, your vessel, your body. You begin to rail against it in the limited ways a child has of gaining control. It is a cyclone. You wresting control while peers, adults, media and American standards of beauty inundate you with messages about what your body must and must not be. What it can and cannot experience. What is to be kept private and what can be shown. Your natural relationship with your body, with its ease of communication and common understanding that you have with a best friend becomes fractured. Distanced.
When you move to a larger home on a street named for The Cheshire Cat, you find a bothersome and malevolent presence there. You say nothing of it. You come home after school to this empty house inhabited by something unseen. It is several hours until your family returns home from work and football practice. You are scared and lonely. You begin to eat. Not in the joyful way of your earlier childhood. Food is now a drug. Your first substance of abuse and certainly not your last. This drugging of your body with food. Pushing it past it’s capacity limits with confections in plastic wrappers, bags and boxes. Putting as much non-food, food into your body as you can physically tolerate and also avoid this abhorrent, shameful behavior being exposed. You now hate your body. You are not aware of this, this root of hate that will drive your treatment of your body for decades to come. But that is what it is. It is an act of self-hatred directed at your body. You would not do this to someone you love. Like many coping mechanisms, there is short-term gratification that keeps you chasing it, but there is also long-term pain compounding, harming your body during its limited lifespan. Along with the barrage of Ding Dongs and Fritos there is TV. Not just TV, but the utter inertia of laying in front of the TV, a literal depression in the carpet made over time by your body. This groove of food and inertia a protective bubble until life enters the home and you are awakened from this painful stasis. You act normal. Your homework is done, your grades are good, your room is clean. You report to dinner and clean your plate, your gut already bursting from the secret life you live when you are alone. And there it is. The secret life you live when you are alone. You will live some version of this for four decades. Recovery in one area, toiling with compulsion and shame in another. Harming your body, allowing men to harm it, paying many thousands of dollars to have it harmed by needles, scalpels, lasers to meet the impossible, ever changing standard of acceptability that comes from outside of you and has nothing to do with you.
But now, it is over. This servitude to standards that only exist if they are believed. My decades long journey to unconditional self-acceptance has freed me from the hatred that propelled those assaults against my vessel. My partner. I again love you, my body, and treat you with respect. You are my closest friend, ally, confidant, collaborator and mirror. It is the two of us, you and me, me and you, who live this life now and will leave this life together just as we entered it. I remember to apologize to you when the shame of the past emerges, and as a best friend does, I am forgiven.