Something I’ve been withholding

Something we were
withholding made us weak
Until we found it was ourselves.
-Robert Frost

I’m tired of withholding myself. Tired of it. Tired of not feeling good about myself or my reactions to situations, tired of having little energy and wondering why after doing very little. I’m tired of drawing into myself and wondering what I look like to someone — or everyone — else, or what I want to look like and how I’m failing that, or what I think someone else wants me to look like and how I might compare to that. It’s exhausting. I don’t even know how strong I could be because I’ve been withholding myself for so long, allowing some potentially great piece of me to stay dormant in the vain pursuit of looking good. Because that’s what it boils down for me: I haven’t let go of the hope that I will look perfect some day, that I will have the perfect body and perfect skin and therefore attain true happiness. It’s like I’ve personified every piece of advice from every woman’s magazine I’ve ever read and every movie I’ve ever seen and every commercial or ad I’ve looked at, making myself believe that everyone has the same idea of ideal and that I, too, must believe in it and that I, too, must strive to live up to it. Only now am I finally realizing that it’s all bullshit. That we were never meant to look the same, that there is such a thing as genetics that affect what we look like, that to chase that elusive dream down into the rabbit hole of vanity and superficiality is to miss out on the heart of life. And, therefore, to miss out on true happiness.

I’ve wanted for so long to have the perfect body (a moving target, considering my definition of ‘perfect’ depends on whose beautiful picture I might have just seen). I think it was actually just this week that it hit me: I will never have it. It would require too many changes: my skin would be darker, my boobs would be smaller, my butt would be firmer, my toes wouldn’t be so long or so angular, my legs— which I like mostly— would be a little more shapely, my stomach would have that flat-almost-sunken look that makes clothes hang so lovely, my back wouldn’t be scoliotic, and, well, the list could be much longer. My skin would be perfect, reversing the years of picking at it and the resulting acne (and the resulting picking) that I’ve put it through. I would be just a tad taller. I mean, for at least ten years, I didn’t think any of this was too much to ask for. Just keep criticizing, I must have told myself subconsciously; if you can’t attain it, it’s gotta be because of something you lack, namely, self-discipline.

Did I mention how bullshit this is?

And yet, while I am sick of all this stupid self-loathing and self-blame and self-restricting and unhappiness, I’m also tired of seeing all this optimistic LOVE YOURSELF, EMBRACE YOUR BODY, YOU ARE PERFECT AS YOU ARE stuff everywhere. It’s not bad in and of itself. I mean, it is good to love yourself and embrace your body and feel whole. But being told to do all of that ALL THE TIME — and without being told how — just gets sickening. I know, already. I am failing to do that, too. I want to; I’m just not there.

Recently I read Intuitive Eating, the single most helpful book to move me past the self-loathing mindset. It’s built around ten principles that get a person’s relationship with food right and then allows the person to work on her relationship to her body. It sounds simple — and I guess it is for some people — but it will be a long process for me. At least it will be a process full of hope (I’m praying) rather than of doom like I’ve felt for a while. The book says things like, make peace with food; honor your hunger; honor your fullness; discover the satisfaction factor; respect your body. The word choices are intentional, and even asking someone to respect her body serves a purpose: you don’t have to like your body to respect it. You just have to acknowledge that it deserves to have its basic needs met and deserves to be treated with dignity. That’s it. I was floored. To think that listening to my body would be the way to healing— it’s both the most obvious answer and the most groundbreaking.

I am released.

Kind of.

The truth is, I’m only beginning to break free. For a while, I believed that it was wrong to separate yourself from your body because that furthers the objectification (of the female form in particular) that our society already encourages, but over-identification with your body can be bad, too: as long as you feel bad and don’t mind punishing yourself for breaking self-imposed (or society-imposed, self-internalized) rules, then you feel justified in punishing your body as well. If you take a step back and acknowledge that it is right to treat your body with respect even if you feel awful about yourself, some separation is good and right. Connectedness can come later.

So I had to have a mind-shift. And then there’s the relationship with food that is a little rocky still. That could take a while. Basically, I have a long way to go. And that’s ok. I’m not forcing myself to love my body, and I’m no longer forcing myself to eat only apples and carrots when what I really want is Cinnamon Toast Crunch, for goodness sake. I’m learning that by loosening up a little, I open up a little; and by opening up a little, I become a little bit more myself, the self who is, uninhibitedly, me. I’m trying to withhold less, because even if what I’ve been withholding is not pretty — and will never be perfect in the way I’ve chased perfection all these years — it’s the best thing I could ever offer.  And, well, I’d like to see what, or rather who, that is.

Be true to who in your depths you have it in you to be.
-My brother (or Frederick Buechner– but I heard it from my brother first)

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5 thoughts on “Something I’ve been withholding

  1. Alyse,
    I am so glad that you asked me to read this book, too. For one, it has been freeing to me, as well. But more precious to me is that you you shared some secret feelings and the book brought those out as well as helped to set us on a more healthy path. If I hadn’t read it, though, I might be confused by this blog and worried. I get it, though. You’re actually sharing that a burden is being lifted – and in a lot of ways, a burden you probably didn’t even realize was the source of your feeling burdened. Right?! So, hooray! As a mother, I naturally want to take on the blame for any insecurities, unhappiness, negative feelings, and more that my children feel. But I’m not going to go there. I’m still on a journey, myself. So, I will simply tell you that I am always here for you and I love you with all my heart. This blog makes me think of how much God loves us and sees us with uncritical, loving eyes. Romans 8:39 – nothing can separate us from that love. Romans 5:8 – He died for us. 1 Peter 5:6-7 We can cast all our anxieties on Him. Job 34:19 – He regards all of us with undiscriminating eyes. 1 John 3:1 – We are His children.
    Augustine said “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”
    You, my precious daughter, are loved!
    Love,
    Mom

  2. In my own partial self loathing, I learned to love my body from the perspective that it does so much for me. I subscribe to the belief that this body is temporal and the soul is eternal. That our bodies while imperfect (according to our own or others standards) are not simply aesthetic, but also functional. Your body mothers. Your body bends. Your body serves and sacrifices. Your body is a huge factor in the success in your day. Aesthetically, what your body is, does, and looks like is debatable, but there is no doubt that functionally your body is bangin’

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