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Unraveling Body Dysmorphia and Self Hatred

Much of what I write about comes to me at the natural end of a personal life experience. This is when I can take a step back and look at it from a distance, when it is easiest for me to talk about and pull apart. Then I offer it here to share with others, as speaking my life is a healing process for me (and most other people). This topic, unlike some the others, is still very much alive and kicking for me. Even with that in mind, it feels like it's time to speak about it. I will state upfront that I am in no way judging any of the individuals I mention in this post, this story is about ME. I recognize that events and occurrences in our life are all here as teaching experiences - an opportunity for us to grow and I take full responsibility for my experiences.

The way I see body dysmorphia isn't just as simple as a skewed perspective of self, its a complicated web of self hatred, judgment, shadow work, dissociation, eating disorders and a smattering of addiction. It is rarely a personal wounding, but an ancestral and collective wound that most people carry. This is why it is so heavy and challenging to heal.

I am not sure when it started for me personally, but it definitely didn't even start with me. It started with my grandmother and my mom, at the very least. I suspect is started many generations ago. I cannot speak for them, but I can speak to my experience of them.

My grandmother never spoke to me about the way I look, though I know now that it was because she could see so much of myself in her and because she has always held a special place for me in her heart. She was, however, very quick to point out anyone else's weight gain when they came to visit her.

"Oh you look great, like you've lost weight!"

"It looks like you've put on some weight, let me tell you about this diet"

These were always her first comments when seeing family members who had physically changed. I remember how much anxiety and fear would bubble to the surface for me when I would get ready to visit her - even though these comments were never directed at me. This is what life is like for children, they internalize their surroundings and so even when things aren't directed at them specifically, they still experience things as if they are directed at them. My grandmother is a very critical person towards everyone in her life, which of course means she internally criticizes herself the most without even knowing it. When a person is in full projection, as she is/was, it means they have not yet made peace with what is going on inside of themselves, instead they project it towards everyone else in their life.

My mother was a different story, yet not so different. Her comments were largely indirect, and rarely about me specifically. She wasn't a projector mostly, she was an internalizer.

When I was kid, I saw her as the most beautiful and perfect person. I thought she was so lovely and I loved seeing photos of her - she was exactly what I wanted to look like when I grew up. If I could only be that beautiful, I would be so happy! There was this one specific picture that hang in our house that I looked at almost every day. It was a professional portrait done in her twenties and it was my favorite. A reminder of her true beauty.

But when I constantly saw how much she hated herself, it caused so much internal conflict for me. She was always on a diet, always wanting to lose more weight. She was not beautiful in her eyes and that was devastating to me. If this absolutely stunning woman was not good enough as she was, how could I possibly be? How could she think I was beautiful and how could I think I was? This is where my personal belief system started. This is where I put on my shit-colored glasses and started viewing myself as not good enough as I was. Put that on top of the very deep ancestral wound that I acquired and you have quite the challenge ahead.

When I hit adolescence, the softness and curves came into view and I felt absolutely horrible about myself. I had learned that this softness was not beautiful. I spent my teenage years in a deep depression, keeping old photos of myself pinned up as "motivation" to be thinner. My weight and appearance took up nearly 100% of my thoughts when I wasn't in the dark spiral of suicidal ideation (and attempts). It is unfortunate that when I look back on this era, I can see clearly that I had a very healthy bodyweight - I was an incredibly beautiful teenager.

This theme continued through school and through the boyfriends right up until I met my husband. I fell in love with him almost instantly, but his experience as not the same. When we first met I was a little fluffier than I would have liked and apparently more than he would have liked as well. This was also the time I started taking Adderall - the first medication to truly help with my depression, and coincidently, my weight. It wasn't until I was a few months into the Adderall - and down almost 50 pounds- that he started to take notice of me. This was yet another experience I add to my list of "reasons to hate my body".

I am reminded constantly that my external world will always reflect or reinforce what I am experiencing internally. This will continue until I heal whatever it is that needs to be healed.

Six years into the Adderall, I was still skinny but I had also turned into pretty horrible person. Adderall helped me run from my problems, my family, and the underlying hate. It helped fuel a sex addiction, a workaholic nature, alcoholism, and put me at the top of my list of crappy mothers I know. It was a big decision to come off this medication because I knew it meant I would once again struggle with my weight - but if I did not, I knew I would lose my marriage. When I came off Adderall, I gained almost 100 pounds and could not get out bed for months. It took me almost two years to just stop thinking about those pills every day. It was glaringly obvious that there was so much I had never dealt with and how I saw/felt about myself was at the core of all of it.

You are starting to get the picture now I think - this shit is complicated and it's a marathon, not a sprint.

After I got my feet under me just enough to prevent me from falling over again, I came to Plant Medicine for help. And yet at the back of my mind, before every Ceremony, I secretly hoped that this would be the one that would help me lose weight.

"This next Ceremony will be the one! I can finally be thin and happy!"

And the struggle continued for many years after that as I unpacked the layers of my body dysmorphia. Plant Medicine work slowly revealed my reasons for choosing abusive partners, repressed sexual abuse that fueled my shame, childhood psychological abuse that fed my need for physical armor, a fear of being seen by others and my reluctance to step into my power as a woman.

And so much more.

Up until last year, every time I went shopping, it was with thin thoughts in mind. I would buy things a little tighter because "I will be losing that weight and the tightness will be motivation!" I wouldn't buy plus-size clothing because it meant I finally crossed that threshold into "fat". I largely bought things that don't fit quite right because they will somehow "motivate me enough" to finally lose the weight.

As I recap this here, it truly hurts my heart. I have basically been punishing and torturing myself for as long as I remember. Telling my body that it deserves to be uncomfortable, that it is not good enough as it is. That it must change if it wants to be treated with respect. If it were only something other than what it is, I would be happy and comfortable. I feel so much sadness for the aspect of myself that has been running this show, the one who is deeply in pain over who she is. The one who hasn't accepted her personal beauty or power.

To make things even more confusing, I have never literally seen myself as being overweight. When I looked in the mirror, I looked great to myself and I did not get hung up on it. Over the last few years, I have spent a lot of time doing body love exercises, talking to my body and sitting with myself naked, expressing all the self love I could conjure. This rituals always felt so good and nurturing to me. Then when I would see pictures of myself, I would spiral into the self hatred. I would get stuck in these stories of disgust and shame that would ruin me for weeks. Sometimes it would lead to me starving myself as punishment and sometimes binge eating to soothe the pain and discomfort. Still, it was always about the self punishment and avoidance of what was really going on. There was obviously a disconnect I could not see clearly.

In these last six months, I had the perfect storm of shifting occur. I have been taking some advanced Shamanic training and these classes have been shaking me up quite a bit, but mostly I see that they are peeling off my armor, one layer at a time. I quit drinking alcohol, something I used to take my walls down as well as bypass emotions that were coming up. I started cultivating a deeper spiritual practice for myself, allowing me to gain outside perspective of my life. Then, my teenage daughter attempted suicide, nearly succeeding. This caused our entire family dynamic to shift and begin healing on levels I didn't know were needed. We all went into intensive therapy and it was time to start digging deeper on the ancestral piece of this wound. What was I bringing into my family that had been passed down to me? What was I not looking at?

And then one morning when I looked in the mirror, I objectively saw the wrinkles, the stretch marks, the sagging breasts, and all the extra tissue I had accumulated around my abdomen.

I saw my body in real time for the first time in my life.

It took me a few weeks to shake off the shock I was feeling. I have been on this healing path for what feels like so long - how could I possibly be so dissociated from the reality of this situation? How strong must my mind be to be able to shield me from seeing what is right in front of me? What else don't I see clearly?

At the end of 2021, I decided that I owed it to my body to show her how much gratitude I felt for exactly who she was. She took on my painful emotion-driven tattoos, my self-mutilation, my abuse of pills, daily alcohol use, and traumatic sexual experiences. She was holding all of it until I was ready to process those emotions I was avoiding through those acts. She never quit on me, never complained much, and just held space for me. I felt so much awe and gratitude once I could see all of this clearly.

That is when I booked my first Boudoir session. I kept getting messages that I needed to have a Ceremony for my body, that I needed to document where I was right now. My intention for the session was to honor and display gratitude for my body exactly how she was instead of waiting until she was something different (thinner, skinny, perfect, reverted back to my 16 year old body, you know - all those unrealistic expectations). I booked a session with because I loved that she included bodies of all sizes - not just the Instagram-able ones. Her photos were so beautiful and full of heart.

I had this session in February and am still digesting exactly what happened in that photoshoot. All I know is that it was something I knew I needed to do. Right up until the morning of the session, my intention remained to honor my body and in the days leading up to the experience, I was overcome with gratitude for her. On that morning, I spent almost an hour in the shower just bawling. I felt so gra