The crunches. 200, 300, 400 crunches every morning. On a cold floor in a dark room. I knew that I wouldn’t stand for even one less rep.
I remember the morning dedication to the elliptical, the calorie number goal I would not stop until I reached. The way my quads burned, and the rest of my body went essentially unused. I remember hunching over, exhausted. Promising myself that if I just torched through a bit more of my body, I wouldn’t have to move for the rest of the day. Unless I ate too much, that was. Then I’d have to go through the whole process again in the afternoon.
I remember food phobias, so many food phobias. Fear of beans, fear of quinoa or avocados or sweets or nuts. Fear of oils. Fear of eating too much, and alternately, fear of not eating enough. I remember being afraid to have too much food with me, so packing very lightly and then I remember the gripping, panicked fear of a creeping hunger with nothing to sate it.
I remember, at some point, my body separating itself from the trauma that was occurring and sealing itself off. Shutting down connection with my physical form and pressing forward with whatever plan I had NO. MATTER. WHAT. I remember the day I started checking out completely whenever I stepped into the gym or the kitchen, and I remember how I was happy to be leaving my body at those times because I didn’t feel safe in it anymore.
Then, I remember that I stopped checking out on purpose, and it became a reflex.
It has been years since I participated in the above mentioned eating disorder behaviors, but disassociation lingered. Sometimes I would overeat (as most people do) and panic, hating the feeling in my stomach so much that I would leave my body completely. Sometimes I would reach to write about the specifics of certain moments and I would excavate my brain for information and find a resounding pile of nothing. Sometimes I gave talks to huge rooms of people about positive body image and self-esteem and how to get more of both. After, my partner would ask me how my talk went, and I will reply with a furtive “…okay, I think?”.
I simply couldn’t remember. Every time things got a little too real, I peaced the fuck out of my body as preservation, even when whatever was going on was, objectively, not that big of a deal. I knew this was leftover from the trauma of my ED, that I didn’t need the tool anymore, but I also didn’t know how to stop doing it.
So I searched. I asked friends who were survivors of trauma how the re-associated with themselves, and I experimented. Here are the tactics I used that actually seemed to work:
1. Try one mindful breath. When I asked people how to re-associate with my body after years of actively checking out of it, almost everyone said mindfulness was the key. I know meditation is great for me, but I consistently set myself up for failure with a 20-minutes-a-day-seven-days-a-week goal. Meditation (and mindfulness) are really challenging for me with such a background of trauma and- just like with lifting!- I needed to work up to the heavy stuff.
By giving myself permission to take one mindful breath, multiple times a day, I set myself up for constant success. My one-mindful-breath-a-day challenge added up quickly, and became the fastest way to check back in with my body. One mindful breath acknowledges that I am indeed *here*, standing in the middle of the world, and taking in air. One mindful breath is a perfect set up for building self-satisfaction and self-esteem, too, because I usually remember to do it at least once a day, and often more.
2. Wake yourself up with something you love. You know what brings me back to my body? Listening to queer fronted punk bands. Knitting tiny stitches to make up whole hats and scarves and sweaters. Writing letters. Singing in my own punk bands. Masturbating. Taking a long shower. Getting a massage. Wrapping myself in a blanket like a burrito.
Incidentally, these are all things that I think of as safe, warm, comfortable, or just plain nice. Different sorts of trauma will cause disassociation around different things, and what you do to feel good and get back to yourself will undoubtedly be different than what I do. That’s okay! You do you, I’ll just be over here with my records and my knitting needles and my vibrator.
3. Go outside in the cold. This works particularly well if you’re in a place that is experiencing the dawn of winter.
So, little known fact, my best friend, Koji, is my first love and also a buddhist monk. Him and his partner, Michaela, own Mid-City Zen of New Orleans, and are wonderful incredible people, that are literally chock full of wisdom and good vibez. Once, in the very early moments of my recovery, I was talking to Koji about my depression and how it made recovering from my eating disorder feel almost impossible. I felt a complex and pervasive sadness no matter what the fuck I did, and it was hard to find the point of getting physically healthy when my brain just didn’t feel well. In response, he suggested I try to get cold.
When one is outside, cold, a host of physical things happen. Our fingers and toes go numb. Our eyes tear. Our skin changes color, A simple warm hand on the back of a neck suddenly feels amazing. Essentially, the physical reminder that one is alive snaps us to, brings us out of our feelings and into our bodies.
I use this tactic constantly, even though it has been nearly TEN YEARS since the conversation (Koji, do you even remember suggesting this?). Point is, it works. There is even an extra bonus in the ecstacy of warming up after the cold.
4. Practice. When the mind disassociates it is protecting us from some shit that is almost certainly completely terrible. I am grateful that I don’t remember all the details of my various traumas. What I *do* recall is just plain sad and I honestly don’t like to focus on it too much. BUT! I am aware that I got very, very good at disassociation with practice, and now I will need to practice staying right here in my body to get good at not doing it.
When I find myself disassociating, I practice trying to stay put instead. I say nice things to myself. I thank my body and I thank my mind for serving me as they have and I challenge myself to stay present, just a little bit longer. I practice being present all throughout the day, so that in moments when I feel triggered I am well versed in the art of sitting with it. I give myself props, daily, for all the times when I stay right there with myself.
I go for progress, not perfection. Because I think it is worthwhile to be awake for my life, and I trust that doing the best I can do is bound to be good enough.
First and foremost, please let me show you my favorite thing I have seen on the Internet all Summer:
Now, let me tell you about all the wonderful things that I have read since coming back from my honeymoon:
Body Image and Self-Esteem:
Fitness, Health, and Wellness:
Feminism and Politics:
What have you been reading lately?
Good afternoon, friends!
I have had a really nice week.
I am house sitting for my good friend and fellow health coach, Lindsay, and it has been glorious to have an entire house to myself to laze around in. I’ve had a constantly spotlessly clean kitchen, super quiet and long mornings, sleep-ins due to Lindsay’s thick curtains (I keep my windows pretty sheer because usually I like to wake up early but this week I’ve needed extra sleep so bad it was ridiculous), and a bunch of time and space to just think. I have been super busy since Super Strength Health went full time and full swing, and I love it, but time to pause is great too. Basically, I’m feeling good.
I’ve been thinking a lot about dietary choices and physical changes this week, because it seems to be coming up all around. Many of my clients have weight loss or weight gain goals. Some of my friends are making dietary changes, I’ve got the fall itch to do a new kind of sport or training plan.
I have a full length mirror in this house sit, and I was super shocked to see what the entirety of my body looks like when I caught sight of it, in a very positive way. It is straight up weird to look in the mirror for the first time in awhile and feel awesome, especially because I have had so, so much time mired in self hate. I have always believed in the process of exercising regularly and eating vegan, but I believe my physical changes are due to smarter exercise, lifting heavy, more rest days, lots and lots of sleep, and lowering my stress. In a nut shell, feeling good is making me look good. Holy shit is that easier said than done.
Here are the links!
I sincerely question if low carbohydrate diets are healthy for most people, and I am totally curious about the long term effects of such a regimented way of eating. (People probably say this about veganism, too, and I totally just eye roll. Are low carb-ers eye rolling at me? It’s okay if so).
I’ve tried a vegan/vegetarian version of a low carb diet, and good lord did I hate it. Many people I know use a low carb model and struggle, while others use a low carb model and thrive. I am totally cool with whatever works for you, but please read this article and consider what it says. Also, give me your feedback! I love hearing about people’s food choices.
I grew up privileged in a lot of ways (I’m white! I’m cis-gendered! I’m straight passing, even if not straight) but one thing I have struggled tremendously with is money. As I sit here typing to you, I am 150,000 dollars in student loan debt. I have a Master’s Degree. I am the first person in my family to go to college. I have made the choice between paying bills on time and buying groceries.
This short sound clip from NPR discusses the taxing nature of what scarcity does to our brains. Basically it says that living in poverty taxes the crap out of people, to the point where they feel like they are drowning. When I listened to it, I thought “DUH!”, but it occurs to me that the research and science behind this phenomenon are important to check out.
“If you’re reading this, and things are tough, we want you to know some facts right off the bat: that your body is YOURS, that consent is not a gray area, that it doesn’t matter what you were wearing, that fitting in isn’t as important as it seems (though caving to peer pressure isn’t the end of the world either), that you have the right to set and defend your own boundaries, that you have the right to have fun, that some things get better and other things, honestly, kind of don’t.”
This is a Tumblr platform that serves as a space for women who have been through terrible things to share their stories and to let other people who have gone through similar things know that it is not their fault. Jesus Christ, the entire site makes me sob, in a deep and real and super important way.
Sometimes hearing “I believe you, it’s not your fault” is the best thing possible.
So often, people come to me wanting weight loss, eating a very low amount of calories, exercising constantly, and wondering why the scale doesn’t budge.
The first thing I ask is “Why do you think you need to lose weight?” The second things I ask are “Are you taking enough rest days? How’s your sleep? What’s your stress level like?”
Weight is a funny thing. It changes when our lives aren’t great. It has something to do with food, but not nearly as much as you’d imagine. If you don’t eat enough, weight loss is going to become impossible reeeeeally quick. (Also, y’all know I am not like rah! rah! rah! Go weight loss!, right? The reality is, my services sometimes *do* help people lose weight, but I’m definitely not weight loss advocate of the century. It makes me nervous to mention weight loss in tandem with Super Strength Health because dudes, what I really do is help you feel more rad. That could result in weight loss, or weight gain, or weight maintenance. Get it? Good.)
Gena Hamshaw, you’ve done it again. For those triggered by talk of other people’s diets and exercise regimens, this is a perfect article for realigning your focus.
What other folks do has nothing to do with you. Keeping your eye on the holistic health of your body, mind, and heart is what’s most important.
Also, I love the shit out of every single one of you.
Have a good week!