I woke up reaching for a bottle of club soda next to the bed. My lips were dry and swollen as I ran my tongue across them. With each movement my stomach and head seemed to ache more. The stale taste of alcohol lingered in my mouth. Clothes, shoes, and make-up littered my bedroom floor. Why did you do this to yourself again? The afternoon light was filling my room because somehow, again, I managed to sleep through the whole morning. You are so stupid and unlovable. Picking up my phone I was scared to look at the text messages and missed calls from the night before. The guy at the bar I had stupidly given my number to, the friend I ditched, and my mom who was looking for me. How much did you piss people off last night? Pulling myself up out of bed, I stumbled straight to the bathroom. I fell to the floor next to the toilet. The cold tile was the only wave of relief as I vomited over and over. My body felt weak and debilitated and my mind was scathing.
When I pulled myself together and washed my face I felt slightly better. Hoping my mom wasn’t home, I walked into the kitchen to get something to eat. Breakfast was the only meal that I ate every day without throwing up. Usually, all I had was a bowl of yogurt and berries. There was always a slight gnawing in my stomach that came from not eating enough and the acidity from throwing up. You’re not skinny enough. My body was not part of me; rather, it was an appendage that I dragged around. I dumped two dollar shots down a throat I felt no connection to. I put cocaine up a nose that I could not imagine loving. I dragged bruised feet from bar to bar to meet strangers I would be ashamed of in the morning. These were just body parts. Not part of me. You’re not as pretty as she is anyway.
My addiction broke down every part of me. It made me see myself as disparate and disconnected. There was no “me” to love. Just little pieces and each was more damaged than the next. There was not a shred of kindness toward each little piece, in fact, my mind was usually cruel. If asked I would readily admit that I hated myself. Changing this took time and practice. I had to find some working sense of “me” that felt lost during my addiction. What I found, was that as I showed kindness to my physical body my mind would follow. If I acted kindly toward these pieces of me, eventually my mind would speak more kindly to me as well.
A few months ago I walked into a dance workshop. The description said we would be working with body part stories. Although I was unsure about what this meant, I knew I had a story about all of my pieces. The hands that poured booze, the nose that snorted drugs, the finger I used to induce vomiting, the toes I shoved into tiny heels, the heart that beat too fast from anxiety, the stomach that was always sore, and the shins that were covered in bruises. Every story that stuck out about each one of these body parts was negative. They came from my addiction from which I have now been in recovery for five years. All the years of positive work I have done did not immediately come flooding to my mind. Instead I fell back on the guilt and self talk of inadequacy.
A strong and steady drum beat played in the background of a room with twenty women. The wood floors felt supportive beneath my bare feet. The curtains were drawn across the studio mirrors so we couldn’t stare at ourselves. I let my thoughts come and go with every beat. My attention dropped into my body and I could feel the drum in my chest. The teacher said to touch each part of your own body to the sound of the music. Give each different piece the healing restorative affection it deserves. I was not relieved. My hands did not recoil but instead reached to my shins to pat and brush them gently. I love you shins. Without meaning to my mind kindly encouraged the exchange. When faced with just my body parts and the music it was not negativity or bad memories that flooded back. It was an appreciation and genuine love for each body part that has sustained me.
We spent five or ten minutes like this, just patting body parts. The whole while my mind saying that it loved each part and I really felt this was true. I contorted myself on the floor so I could better touch each toe. Each little toe that helped me walk. I love you toes. Throughout the day I realized that recovery and meditation had given me a deep appreciation of my body. With years of work I have been able to cultivate kindness toward it and my mind has become more kind as well. The kindness I now feel is not only the abstract feeling of kindness but it is also actionable. Feeling kind toward myself does not mean just speaking to myself in way that is nice. It means treating my body with love and affection. It means practicing positive self-talk.
I have been kind to my body by meditating. I have done body scan meditations to make me feel more connected to each body part. This has the added benefit of inviting relaxation into the body as well. I have been kind by signing up for workshops like the one I just described. I have been more kind to my body by using natural body products, eating healthy food, and wearing sunblock. Kindness can mean taking a break when one is needed. Of course my greatest act of kindness began with abstinence from my addiction. It was not until I stopped drinking and acting out in my eating disorder that I was able to practice kindness in any of these other ways toward myself. All of these actions are both acts of kindness and actions that produce kind feelings. The more kindly I act toward my body, the more kindly I feel about it.
About a month ago I was sitting on the couch watching TV with my partner. I had my knees pulled up under my chin and I hugged my shins in close. Out of nowhere I kissed the top of my knee. I could smell my skin and feel the slight prickle of my leg hair on my lips. I love you knees. My partner asked me what I was doing. And I told him that sometimes I just felt so overwhelmed with love towards this body that supports me, changes, gets older, and loves, that I need to show it how much I love it.