How “I Hate My Body” Became a Self-Love Awakening.

PTSD, Sexual Assault, Self-Injury, Skin Picking, Body Dysmorphia Disorder (BDD)

I hate my body. And that’s different, I think, from hating myself. I don’t hate myself — I just hate this body. I hate the WORD body.

I recently started reading-slash-listening to Daniel M. Lavery’s new book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You. Without running too far off course into a full sails book review, I will say that the book is moving, witty, and incredible. If you’ve ever been interested in reading reference/allegory-heavy modernist heavyweight James Joyce’s Ulysses, you should read this book instead — it does everything that Joyce did well without all the arrogance and destructiveness that should make people stop reading Joyce. If you have any kind of queer gender feelings, you should read this book. If you’ve decided you ought to give up buying new books because you own too many books you’ll never get around to reading: make this book the last one you buy.

My partner, as someone who has a complex relationship with gender identity, performance and identity explained that they related a great deal to the complications and questions that Lavery layers into his self-reflective narrative about gender self-recognition. My partner — knowing I have interrogated and am comfortable in my cis-ness — challenged me to listen/read the book to see if Lavery’s narrative was something I could identify with just as much as they did. They were interested to see if their connection to the book was rooted in gender identity or in something more universal.

Lavery uses the word “body” throughout his book: discomfort surrounding trans bodies, transitioning bodies, changing bodies — and every time he said the word, something shifted in the pit of my stomach. And at some point, I realised that I was relating to the book less as someone who had ever experienced gender discomfort or dysphoria and more as someone who just profoundly hates my own body to an unhealthy extreme. (By the way — By no means am I suggesting that my epiphany is similar or related to Lavery’s experiences, attempting to compare my feelings to gender dysphoria or trying to make Daniel’s experiences about me. This is just the place that this book and my partner’s challenge took me.)

I have spent my life, since my early teens, treating my body like it is something that I don’t like. I’ve rejected people who seem to like this body because, obviously, we must have nothing in common. I’ve sought romantic partners and friends who seem to love me despite my body; I twist their affection and attraction to my art, my writing or my intelligence into reassurance and validation that my body need not factor into the equation. If I overheard a partner’s parent or friend tell them, after meeting me “I didn’t get it from the photos but now that I’ve met her I understand why you’re with her! She’s great!” I would just nod sagely in full, victorious agreement.

While I stopped identifiable, scarring acts of self-harm at seventeen, the abuse has continued in other ways: I won’t see doctors when I need to, I will tolerate chronic pain I should have addressed, I won’t buy myself clothes I need, I deny myself food, water and exercise and run from social situations where people can see me before really knowing why I’m there or what I’m about.

I refused to see it until now, but the symptoms of Body Dysmorphia Disorder (BDD) was scattered across the kitchen floor of my life like brightly coloured LEGO bricks that I’ve spent years jamming my feet down on and refusing to pick up. Afterall, examing the LEGO bricks might mean figuring out where they might have come from, or deciding what to do with them. But, now that my focus is finally on the sharp edges of these intrusive blocks, I can begin to do something about it: research.

So I read up, and let individuals who are far more knowledgable than me on the subject explain that some causes for BDD may be rooted in childhood emotional neglect and abuse, PTSD & sexual assault and other forms of trauma which I have either experienced myself or been adjacent too. I learned that cognitive behavioural therapy is the most widely accepted treatment for BDD, and learned something else; I learned something endlessly more valuable as I take cautious steps forward.

I learned that the body is the house where the brain lives. As trite as that may sound, I have always taken my mental health very seriously. I have a therapist, I journal almost daily about thoughts and emotions and feelings (none of these writings contains notes about my body). I have decided as I seek treatment that the best way forward in these early days is not to separate “body” from mental health and wellness but to frame acts of bodily kindness as mental health goals. Ideas, thoughts and feelings need calories and I cannot and should not deny my mental health and therefore I must eat, I must drink water, I must accept that mind and body should be taken in tandem.

This is certainly not a new idea, a long term solution, nor a tactic that would work for everyone or one which I would recommend because as of yet I can’t speak to the results. But it’s a beginning, for me, of a new understanding of what self-love means and a new relationship with my body.

That, in and of itself, counts for something.

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