For most of my life, I felt like a detached head, bobbing around separate to the body beneath.
Now I feel as though I live in harmony with the flesh and blood that provides a home for my heart and soul.
So, what changed?
I’ve always had a bit of a belly. And the rare times when I haven’t were a result of beating my body into submission: Eating next to nothing and exercising for hours on end.
Until recently I couldn’t bear for my stomach to be touched. My husband would put his hand on my belly, and at times, I’d physically flinch. I also had lots of digestive problems and experienced intense stomach pain – for no obvious reason. These proved to be equally mysterious to the long list of doctors I consulted. I got so sick of trying to understand what ailed me I decided I’d just learn to live with it.
About 18 months ago I felt it was time to start loving my belly just as it was. As part of this process, most nights I would – and sometimes still do – lie in bed with both hands placed on my stomach and silently repeat, “I love you. I love you. I love you.”
Initially this felt strange and stupid and at odds with what I normally did: Grabbing handfuls of flesh and silently screaming obscenities at it.
But the feeling of connection between my belly, hands and heart – an energy I cannot explain – encouraged me to persist.
Last summer I stood on the beach in my bikini. It was the first day of our vacation, and I felt white and fleshy under the unforgiving glare of the midday sun. For a moment I felt terribly self-conscious, but before I could think twice, my hands were placing themselves on my stomach and the words, “I love you. I love you. I love you,” began running through my head.
Something had shifted inside me.
In the months since, I’ve felt brave enough to return to my earliest memory of body shame – my belly had played a central part. I understood that I needed to acknowledge and name what happened to me in order to truly heal.
Since writing about my experience, I’ve felt more internal changes; emotional ones yes, but I also can’t recall the last time I experienced digestive problems or stomach pain. And whilst I put some of this down to other changes I’ve made, I intuitively know it’s largely because I’m no longer at war with myself.
This week my husband touched my stomach, and I didn’t flinch. It felt good.
Research on victims has documented how traumatic experiences leave traces on our minds and emotions as well as our biology and immune systems. Whilst I’m in no way comparing my experience to that of a war veteran or anyone who has experienced abuse or a terrifying event, it does make me curious not only about how our past shapes us, but the consequences of us abusing ourselves with negative actions and words.