Today is my birthday. The first day of December.
It was a beautiful, snowy day. The magical kind of snow with large flakes that seem to cover everything in a blanket of newness and white!
Today was an interesting day emotionally. I woke up tired, but after my coffee, I managed to get the kids off to school and I even went to the gym. Trying to get my son out the door has been somewhat challenging as of late. Since the Fall, he has struggled with anxiety and illness and sometimes a combination of both. This has made it especially difficult to get him to school. The moment my voice rises in frustration he’ll run off shouting, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry”. I can usually find him crying in his room.
Handling children who are processing trauma is a challenging task. It requires much patience and even more love and understanding. I am learning a lot from my son’s councilor about strategies that we can use to help alleviate his symptoms, but it still doesn’t deal with the underlying self-deprecating talk that he has. I wonder where it comes from?
Fast forward to after school drop-off and I’m at the gym. I want to go for a run. I find running a freeing exercise and so I put on my headphones and I turn on my favourite worship music and I run. I have enjoyed reading all of the amazing birthday wishes and I even get a phone call from my dad as I’m huffing and puffing. My spirits seem to be lifting as the serotonin and dopamine pump through my veins.
But, as I step off of the treadmill, I’m faced with seeing my profile in the mirror as I grab a mat to stretch. I am ashamed at how much my body has changed over the past few years. Just how much weight I’ve gained is shocking to me and I don’t really recognize the body that I’m in. I don’t really even remember how I even got here!
I find myself watching other women working out around me as I stretch, and I struggle to quiet the thoughts of self-hatred as I compare my body to those I see.
But, there is a still small voice inside me that whispers that even though I am overweight, I can still hold a plank for 90 seconds. I can still stretch and run and my body is not hindered because of the extra weight I carry. Sure, it’s not ideal and I hope to continue caring for the body that I have been given, but I also want to give it the grace it deserves.
My being overweight isn’t because I eat too much and am lazy, although for years I was called a “fat whale”, I don’t believe that anymore. I was at my smallest when I flew home and said goodbye to the abuse and the nightmare of a marriage. I was the smallest I had been and when I looked at myself in the mirror, I didn’t even recognize myself.
The weight loss was because I couldn’t eat. My nerves were shot when I was enduring the physical, emotional, and psychological abuse. I lived off coffee and water and ate when I had time to shove something in my mouth. Most of my time was spent fielding accusations, trying to limit physical attacks, shield my children, and navigate the drug-induced psychosis of my husband. I also avoided people at work who were asking questions and spent a lot of time trying to cover things up. That took a lot of energy and I have to admit that I am completely exhausted. My body is telling me that it has had enough! And I want to honour the shell that God has given to me.
It starts with loving my body as it is. I had a precious friend remind me of how we (teachers) are taught to handle students in our classes who we know have faced trauma. We treat them with love, patience, kindness, and are calm with them. We don’t raise our voices or try to rush them.
So, why can’t I apply that same strategy to my own self? Why shouldn’t I look at my body, one that is so overweight that I barely recognize myself and say to it, “I love you. Thank you for enduring that stress and bringing me to this place. Thank you for continuing to stand up and handle my frazzled nervous system, my ravaged emotional rollercoasters, my foggy brain and my hyper-reactive tendencies.” Why can’t I say, hey, you may be overweight, but look at everything you have endured! Look how far you’ve brought me, body! I’m still able to do yoga, sure it’s uncomfortable with a gut that cuts off circulation, but that won’t last forever. I can still run 5km, I can still use the weights, I can still do sit-ups and push ups. I can still move my body, so why would I criticize it?
If you know someone or are someone who has endured abuse or a trauma in ANY form, I am here to remind you that you can treat yourself with grace and dignity. We don’t have to criticize the flesh that has brought us this far and endured so many traumas. Healing is a process. It’s a LONG process. I’m not going to lose my PTSD cushion over night. But, at least I know more about what cortisol does to the body. I now understand how chronic stress impacts us physically. At least now when I hit the gym, I don’t do it because I hate myself, but because I love myself and appreciate what I have come through. I refuse to flog myself when I don’t “stick to a routine” of exercises. Right now, my goals are simple. Go for a walk and do some yoga. If you feel like doing more great! If you don’t, that’s fine too! We all know movement boosts dopamine and serotonin which help to combat depression, so I try to put in my headphones, crank up the tunes or a podcast and walk for at least 30 minutes. And you know what, days like yesterday, I slept…..a lot! And I didn’t do any movement, and that is okay too! Look at what I have come through! I have had enough criticism and negativity to last me a lifetime. It’s time to treat myself with a little bit of grace. A little bit of kindness, a little bit of admiration and love. Because, at the end of the day, I have to live with myself, not anyone else. And I want to get to the place where I look in the mirror and love what I see. I want to love what I have become through this transformative process. I want to discover the Kathleen that God designed. I truly want to feel at home in my own skin.