We need to reframe our thoughts, not change our bodies

What does that mean… reframe our thoughts?

woman, nude, body image, self-portrait

Reframe this image – is she pregnant? Is she overweight? Is she in pain? Is she honoring her body just the way it is…?

I asked Google this question:  “Are eating disorders mental illnesses?” and this is highly representative of the responses I found:

Eating Disorders have been recognized by the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) since the 1980’s.  The current DSM, edition 5, now recognizes 8 categories of feeding and eating disorders. The tricky thing about eating disorders, is that they also are very medical in nature.

Many of the behaviors associated with each of the eating disorder diagnoses can have dangerous impacts on both physical and psychological well-being. As such, it is important that anyone living with an eating disorder receives care from a full team of multi-disciplinary professionals including a therapist, dietitian, medical doctor and/or a prescriber if necessary.

While I don’t disagree with any of this, my major beef (yes, this really pisses me off) is that less than one third of people suffering from eating disorders actually get treatment, whether it be for binge eating disorder, bulimia, anorexia, orthorexia and everything else in between. “Treatment teams” sound fabulous, but they are not available to everyone, and it is usually a question of money.

So, if we agree that we need to get healthier, mentally, to better accept and eventually love our bodies, just how do we do that without a “treatment team”?

Well, your treatment team might just be your mother, your neighbor, and your best friend. They absolutely count. The less we isolate around food issues and body dissatisfaction or shame, the better a chance we have at crawling out of the chasm of self-hate. I speak from personal experience with this, but also from a place of compassion for everyone  who suffers. Learning to be gentle with yourself can go a long, long way in helping you find some peace.

Reframing thoughts is basically a movement from judgement to compassion and could look something like this:

“OMG I’ve gained 15 pounds since the beginning of the pandemic and I don’t fit into my clothes any more. I don’t want anyone to see me like this. Everyone else is so fit, they’re all showing off their muscles on Instagram.

Reframed: “I’m not happy that I’ve put on weight because my clothes feel tighter and I’m not moving enough. Apparently I am not alone in this situation. Many people have found lockdown extremely difficult and I guess one of my ways of coping has been to comfort myself with food.”

The reframe is more truthful and objective. There is some drama in the first statement, as if we secretly love to hurt ourselves with blame and shame, just like we hurt ourselves by restricting food or overeating. I know it is much more complicated than that… but I am in the process of recognizing that the dramatic thinking has come back, and I am the only one that can correct these thoughts rather than feeding them and making them my truth.

If you were objective, how would you describe your body? And your relationship with it? If you were your mother, your neighbor, your best friend, what would you tell yourself?

Have you ever heard the expression “Be impeccable with your word“?

It’s one of four spiritual agreements of the Toltec people. Worth reading about if you have any judgements about yourself that need to be reframed or outright debunked, forever.

 

Who would you be?

“Who would you be without your self-judgements?”

Another favourite quote, this one by author Byron Katie. This simple question blows my mind wide open. It makes me want to stop judging myself right now, and forever. And it makes me wish I had done so a long, long time ago!

Who would we be without the self-judgements that feed our struggles, obsessions, addictions, disordered eating, negative  body image and self-loathing? We would be free! We deserve to be free. We all truly do, and it is only our own mind that holds the power over this freedom. We need to decide we are worthy and useful and lovable and valuable, and live like that is true, and it will become our truth. The path may be long, but in freeing ourselves we open doors for others.

self-portrait nude

This drawing is based on an image from a recent photoshoot with a friend (a socially distanced one!) where I was acting out my frustrations, mostly with myself, and this pose reminded me of that fed up, “fuck it” feeling I sometimes have before doing something unhelpful like overeating or self-isolating. I am getting much, much better at taking care of myself, but I can’t let it slide. I won’t let myself slide anymore…

I still find it much easier to take care of others than to take care of myself. And there is some sanity in that, since isolation seems to be the single worst symptom of the mental health fragility that so many are having to face while learning to live through a pandemic. When we’re encouraged to isolate, we have to get better at making connections, both inside and out.

How has it been for you?

Forever a work in progress

In this drawing I see me, about as real as it gets. After I traced the rough outline of my face from a photograph, I spent hours penciling in details and shading. Making hair look somewhat real takes time, but after years of experimenting, it’s no longer a pain, I like doing it. Drawing in great detail has turned into periods of calm contemplation that bring me peace.

I’m still learning how to draw. While I can copy photos with good results, it is something else to learn to sketch freehand, from life, to see the most important curves, lines and expressions that form a person, place or object. I’m also still learning how to see myself with the love and acceptance any human being truly deserves, yet which I would easily offer to someone else.

I’m learning to treat myself and my body with respect. One of the hardest things is committing to feeding myself in ways that give me energy, rather than weighing myself down with the kinds of foods that are really just a temporary escape from my fears; distractions with consequences.

I believe the worst part of an eating disorder is the self-sabotage we consciously and unconsciously inflict upon ourselves that keeps us down. Self-sabotage that goes way beyond what we eat, because it includes self-destructive thinking that keeps us from breaking out of the prison we’ve created and maintain in our own minds.

In this drawing I also see a woman who’s discouraged, exhausted by the self-hate, self-questioning, doubt and disdain she carries for herself. I see too, that at this point, she was starting to get ready to lay down her arms and stop fighting with herself, to finally take some more little steps to work towards freedom. Forever a work in progress…

Better, but forever in recovery

Recovery is a hopeful word, but it remains a distant destination in my mind. It is neither an achievement nor an arrival. At least not for me.

I have been working on my “stuff” for many years, but I cannot honestly say I am recovered.  I still fall back into my eating disorder. I still fall back into the false visions I have of my body, of myself. Not as often as I used to, not as violently as I used to, but I still fall.  I still fail. But I keep getting back up and trying again. It is simply what my life is, and if I want there to be an underlying purpose, then that’s why I’m here, to share what helps me, just in case it can help you too.

Drawing myself, my face, but in particular my body, brings me peace. Why is that? Because part of my problem is an off-the-charts striving for perfection as well as an inability to clearly recognize my  own strengths and weaknesses. Drawing my face, unsmiling, unmade-up, and drawing myself (or another person) nude connects me to what is vulnerable, to what is fragile and tender, to what is raw and real. It brings me back into contact with the frailness of humanity but also to a very pure animal-like strength. It moves me closer to myself in an unaccessorized, unromanticised way. It helps me to see myself as I am. Both strong and weak, resilient and vulnerable. Not all one or the other, but a mix of many shades in between. It brings depth to my shallow desire to appear impeccably put together.

In the past I have been ambiguous about sharing this work and these drawings, but not any more. I share the work in case it can inspire just one other person to pick up a pencil and give it a try, and perhaps find some peace there too. I share these drawings freely now because they don’t really belong to me, they just kind of come through me as I hold pencil to paper. As I draw, a sense of detachment grows in the translation from photograph to drawing. As I work on the image, there comes a point when it’s no longer me, my body, my scars, my curves. It’s just a drawing, of a woman, at that age, at that weight, with that attitude or composure or lack thereof. This erasure of identity brings a universality to the image that allows me to step back and have compassion for the person I see, even if it started out as me and everything that was wrong with me.

I ate much too much of too many of the things that don’t make me feel good today, and yesterday as well. I guess because I am struggling inside, because I am not aligned enough with myself to find  inner peace. Sometimes I think this sense of imbalance can’t be avoided or even controlled; as if the disordered eating swings the pendulum back, because when I am doing well, I start to think I am invincible. It’s as if falling backwards is somehow simply a quest for true balance. I could do without these ups and downs, but until I see clearly both my flaws and my finesses, I guess it will keep me drawing.

No artistic talent or experience are required for this process, just a willingness to face yourself and see something different than the you you are used to judging so harshly.

If you would like to draw with me, please let me know. We will find ways to do it together.  Write to me at madaboutmybody@gmail.com.