Rolling down hill and therapy homework

Last week, Bea brought up body image. I couldn’t talk about it with her then, not really. I sent an email later, and said I was ready to talk about body image, eating, all of it.

This week, on Monday, we didn’t spend much time on body image, but Bea did ask me if I could think of a time when I felt comfortable in my body, happy with what my body could do. She suggested that maybe dance, or gymnastics or horseback riding held a good memory, or playing outside, swimming? She shared a memory she had of running though the grass barefoot, with the wind on her cheeks and the grass tickling her feet.

I tried, but I just kept coming up blank. I felt like I was staring at a giant blank wall. Nothing. Nothing was there. At times, I feel like amnesia girl. Of course, I only told Bea I couldn’t think of anything, not how blank my memory can be. She asked that I just think about it this week, and see if anything came to me.

Monday night, Hubby and I took Kat to the park for a picnic. After we ate, Kat and I ran over to the swings, and we had a race to see who could swing the highest. I used to love to swing when I was a kid. I felt like I could swing far away to the sky, and maybe fly away for good. I don’t really remember a body feeling with it though. I just remember feeling free.

While I stayed on the swings, Kat and Hubby raced up a small hill. When they got to the top, I called to Kat, “Roll down the hill!”

She looked at me like her mama was insane. I remembered though, the fun of rolling downhill, how fast you seemed to go, and the dizziness, the freedom, and the giggles you can’t help but get. And so, I climbed the hill, looked at my daughter and said, “let me show you how it’s done.” Hubby might have had a bit of a concerned look on his face, but he kept his mouth shut. And so, I laid down on the grassy hill, and rolled. I rolled and got dizzy and laughed uncontrollably. And then Kat joined me.

And, as other kids and parents saw and heard our laughter, they joined us, too. Pretty soon, the whole hill was full of families rolling down it, laughing uncontrollably. And no one was worried about being perfect, or what they looked like, they were just enjoying the moment.

I’ve found my memory, of rolling down the hill when I was a child, a good feeling of being connected to my body. Or at least, I *think* I remember being connected to my body then, even if it’s barely. I also have the new memory of rolling downhill with my daughter on Monday, and being in the present and grounded while doing so.

The email about the body image talk

if you have an eating disorder, this could be a triggering post. I am talking about the roots of my ED, the childhood beliefs, memories I have of my body image and thoughts associated with food even then. Please read with caution, and as always, be safe.

After therapy on Thursday, I couldn’t quite get all the body image thoughts and questions out of my head. I couldn’t get the examples and the memories out of my head from childhood.

I managed to shut it down, and get through hubby’s awards dinner. I smiled, and chatted. Several people complimented me on my dress, my hair, my earrings, how Hubby’s yellow tie and dress shirt coordinated beautifully with my kelly green dress without being too matchy-matchy. I acted my part, and everyone believes I enjoyed myself. I can be charming and witty. I’m actually intelligent and can carry on a conversation with just about anybody; it’s why I did so well as a hair colorist, and why I was able to really reach people to help us get the votes needed to get the autism insurance added to hubby’s work. I am so proud of Hubby; that wasn’t an act. He works harder than anyone I know, and he cares more, too. He deserved to be recognized, and honored.

Thursday night, we stayed at the hotel, and in the middle of the night, I used the hot tub in our room when I couldn’t sleep. And I started to journal the thoughts swirling in my head. I journaled pages and pages worth. Friday was more journaling as we drove home– along with a rest stop for some shopping (because I needed clothes, and shoes, of course).

And then on Saturday, I cleaned it all up, and emailed it to Bea:


Hi Bea,

I think I’m ready to talk about some of the eating and body image stuff. I say “think” because it’s a scary thing to me. But I guess anything that has to do with me and my feelings is scary.

I know I didn’t like myself, even as a child. I’ve always, really deep down blamed my parents for that, because don’t kids just like themselves? But maybe not. I don’t know. I feel like the more honest I am with myself about my life, the more confused I am, too. I always assumed it had to do with feeling like I was never good enough for my parents, or that they did not love me for me. Now, I really wonder of it had to do with the sexual abuse, or my personality, or a combination? Whatever it was, I have specific memories, as well as an overall feeling of there never really being a time where I liked myself.

Memories I have– some of these came to mind when you were talking on Thursday, but it was too much to even think about talking about this stuff last week. I needed to get through Hubby’s awards dinner, and that meant not thinking too much about body image or how I really feel about me, or how I felt about myself when I was a kid.

*kindergarten: when the letter people q and u got married, I remember being just so excited (we had a “wedding” at school that day) but not talking to anyone about it partly because I didn’t feel like anyone really cared about what I had to say anyway and partly because I wanted to disappear and hide– like I really didn’t want anyone to notice me

*First grade: I hated having to line up, and having people be so close to me. I remember crying in line when someone bumped into me and then being embarrassed that I would be so stupid to cry over that when no one else cared, but at the same time hating that another person had touched me

*Summer before 2nd grade: I read “Harriet the Spy” and decided that my mom would like Harriet better than me, so I tried to be just like Harriet. I even ate BLT sandwiches everyday for lunch just like Harriet, except I fed the bacon to our dog because bacon makes you fat and I did not want to get fat.

*Second grade: I remember trying to change one of my marks on a progress report before giving it to my parents because it was not perfect. I don’t remember what the marks were, if I changed it, or what happened. I simply remember the desperate feeling that I had not done good enough and could not let them know I had failed because they wouldn’t love me anymore

*When I read “the babysitters club” books, I was always trying to figure out which babysitter would be the best one to copy, who my parents would like best, who would make everyone happy with me? (And I read those in 2nd and 3rd grades)

*I have a memory of my mom doing my hair, maybe 3rd or 4th grade and I am looking at our faces side by side in the bathroom mirror. I remember thinking my face was fat and not pretty, that I did not look like my mom at all.

*I remember thinking my mom probably would have liked me to look more like my cousin– who I saw as thin and pretty– and I wished I looked like her too. (Now, when I look back at pictures of us at dance or at the pool, or family functions, we are the same size, or at least we appear to be)

*It was 3rd grade when I started skipping and limiting what I ate, 4th grade when I really began to skip lunch as a routine thing.

*It was 5th grade when I threw up for the first time. I got caught a year or so later, after lunch, by the school guidance councilor. And that’s how I ended up in therapy for the “issues”.

*My mom always dictated my clothing, what was and wasn’t appropriate. Eventually, I had an opinion, but I never “over rode” her opinion. Even when she decided I was old enough to wear makeup, she took me to have my makeup done professionally, to be taught how to wear makeup, and then bought me nice makeup. I wasn’t allowed to go buy “cheap trashy” makeup with my friends or wear the bright blues and purples and greens they sometimes wore. I had to look nice, look the “right” way.

I hate my body now. I could probably criticize and pick apart any part of my body, it’s really just that awful. I try not to even think about it, because I hate the way I feel about it. It’s not a nice feeling. I’ve hated my body for as long as I can remember. I think it’s good that you see me as comfortable with my body. That’s exactly the image I am trying so hard to be, to show Kat. It seems that I’ve got it. I feel like I say this all the time, and I’m embarrassed to be saying it again, but it’s just an act, one that is so second nature by now it’s on auto-pilot. I can’t let Kat grow up like I did, and so I try my best to show her someone who is comfortable with their body. I don’t usually say anything about it though. And I’m afraid if we start talking about body image, then I might not be able to fake my way through pretending to be okay with myself, and then what?

I have other memories, thoughts, ext but those are the ones that came to mind. This isn’t going to be easy to talk about. And even though I’m saying let’s talk about it, I want to maybe work on the eating and body image stuff and all the things twisted up with that, I’m sure I’ll need help talking. Because this is a hard topic, and I just don’t know where to start. Which is why I decided to start with an email. 🙂

~Alice

Bea emailed back, and that was that. Food, eating and body image were on the table as acceptable topics for the therapy room.

Body image

One minute we are talking about Hubby’s awards dinner tonight, and how I don’t really want to go, but that I will, and Bea is using this as an example of when CBT can be a useful tool– because she believes that CBT is a tool, not a be all end all, it does not get to the root of the issue. And the next minute we are talking about body image. Or rather, Bea is talking body image, and I am sitting, frozen, unable to speak, trying to figure out how we got to this subject, and how I can get away from it quickly.

“At least both my dresses fit.” That’s what I had said.

“Do you like to dress up?” Bea asks me.

“I don’t know…”

“Well, do you feel good about dressing up? Pretty? You always look put together, dressed cute, stylish, your hair is always done, you always look nice. I know you say you just throw clothes on, but you always present yourself well. So you must go shopping to buy clothes. What’s that like? We’ve never really talked about body image, how you see yourself, with the eating, I’ve never thought to bring that up…..you carry yourself well, look confident….what do you think about your body image?”

Bea is talking, and I’m shrinking into myself, trying to go as far away as I can. I don’t want to talk about this, I don’t want to break down the facade of confidence and put togetherness and prettiness I have managed to build over the years. I’m a great faker. I need for Kat to see a woman who likes herself, bumps, and wrinkles, zits, moles, and all. As a girl, she is going to get enough negative messages about herself and her body from society. It doesn’t need to start at home, with her mom. So I have worked from the moment we started trying to get pregnant to really build this persona of liking my outer appearance. That facade is strong now, and so in place, I don’t even have to think about it; it is on auto pilot.

“Alice, I think this is a hard topic for a lot of women, not just you. Do you remember being a kid and liking your body? A lot of times it’s not until puberty that girls start to dislike their bodies. It’s harder to say with the sexual abuse, though. Do you remember? Girls usually like their bodies because they can run, climb trees, jump, do things. And you were active, right?”

“Dance, ballet, jazz, tap, horse back riding, cheerleading, gymnastics,” I list out the activities my mother had me in.

“I don’t think I knew about the gymnastics. You were busy, that’s a lot of activities.” Bea says.

“It was what my mom wanted. I only liked the horse back riding.” I say.

“What did you like about it?”

I shake my head, I don’t know. I can’t explain. It just felt right, like I belonged, like I was okay.

Bea talks about how a lot of trauma therapy patients make a connection with horses for whatever reason, so she isn’t surprised that as a child, that was the activity I liked. “Have you ever thought about going back to riding, now, as an adult?”

I shake my head again, no, I don’t know, probably not. There are too many bad memories associated with riding now, too many expectations, too many shoulds, and not good enoughs. But I don’t explain.

“Do you remember liking your body as a kid? Liking food? Or was there already too much pressure from your mom?”

I don’t know. My memories are so vague, so not there. They are more feelings than memories, and that makes me feel crazy, too.

“Bad memories, I think. They don’t feel good.”

“Your grandpa sneaking you candy, that’s a good memory about food,” Bea reminds me.

“Yes, my grandpa, and my grandma, they didn’t have weird food things…..” I’m silent for a minute, trying to grasp a vague memory, it’s like a ghost of a memory, one that’s barely there, “I have this vague memory……..my grandma cooking breakfasts, after I would stay the night…..it’s just a feeling, really……..a feeling that no one cared what I ate.”

“Ahhhh, yes. The feeling stayed with you, even of the details are lost. The feeling that no one cared what you ate at grandma and grandpa’s house, meaning at home, someone did care,” Bea says. She gets it, she understands what I was trying to say, what the barely there memory means to me.

“What about the body image stuff? Do you think yours started to change around puberty?” She asks me, again.

I stare at the floor, at the fluffy blue rug. It’s a bright blue. I’m not sure. I don’t know. What I do remember seems too embarrassing to say out loud. I finally say, “I didn’t like myself before then.” But I don’t offer any explanations.

Bea doesn’t ask, or if she does, I don’t hear her. I’m back in my head, far away. I can’t face the body image talk, or how I really feel about myself. I don’t want to know, or think about it. I want to pretend it’s not real, that we never touched on this subject. I know Bea won’t let me do so for long, but right now, I can’t face this. I need to keep my facade firmly in place. I have an event tonight. I need to smile, and be pretty; I need to be charming and pleasant. I need to have my carefully constructed persona in order to do so, which means Bea can not begin tearing her down today.