This blog is inspired by Roxane Gay’s piece in the Guardian on 1st July 2017, My Body Is A Cage Of My Own Making which has been adapted and abridged from Roxane’s book ‘Hunger: A Memoir Of (My) Body’.
I cried when I read that piece in the Guardian. I cried because I have long admired Roxane Gay (she coined the term Bad Feminist, which I have gleefully used with abandon on many occasion) and whilst I have never actually yet had the time to read her work, I love her dry responses to her critics on Twitter. And whilst I am these days mostly inured to the tears of finding out someone else has also been raped (which is helpful, as otherwise I would be in tears all day everyday), when I hear it has happened to someone I think is rather badass it comes as a shock. Which it shouldn’t because I do have a theory that we rarely become badass without something major to overcome. Anyhow, long story short, I read that piece, and I cried.
Of course, I wasn’t just crying for Roxane.
Of course I was also crying for me. I wasn’t 12 when I was raped, I was 34. And I am not as big as Roxane, but for my height at 5 stone nothing, I am big.
The year before it happened, I had shed quite a lot of weight, leaving my husband, finally, I had thought I was free and the weight came off. In the three months after I was raped I put back on 3 stone. And since then, I have over the past 9 years, put on about another 3, lost some, gained it again, lost some, gained a bit more, lost some, gained more again, again, again. I know what it is to eat to disappear. It felt like the only way to be safe was to be big. And every time a diet worked and I felt free again, and I started getting attention again, it felt dangerous again, and I would find ways to sabotage the diet. And the weight went back on.
Before the rape, I had a poor relationship with my body.
I had neglected it for years. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t think of myself as fat and ugly. I remember even at 7st 2lbs, the weight I was when I graduated university, thinking I was fat. When I’d lost the weight after the divorce, I’d done it through not eating, rather than exercise. The years of my recovery from the rape, the last 3 years since I got control back of my mind, I’ve known that I needed to create a healthier connection to my body. And in the last 18 months since my ‘revelation’ that reconnection to my body was the missing piece in my jigsaw of recovery that work has continued. And continued. Let’s just say, I’m on the path, but I’m not there yet.
The decades of physical neglect make the starting of any exercise plan fraught with pain, fear of injury and unhelpful internal chatter. The years of PTSD have put pressure on my adrenals so that the cortisol which flows through my veins refuses to shift any fat. The hyper-hypo yo-yo of PTSD lives on in my hormones, if not in my head. I use these facts as excuses, even though they are also reasons, as to why it’s hard and why I must take it easy, and why I must be kind to myself.
When Roxane talks about how when it’s hot, she sweats profusely, I feel the shame I feel when I’m sitting on the train and I can feel the drips of sweat falling from my head to my clothes. I don’t sweat more than most others from my underarms, but I sweat as though I’m a human shower from my head. Another summer is happening, and I can’t wear dresses because my thighs sweat and rub together, causing really painful chafing and heat rashes. No amount of special moisturisers, talc, or long pants seem to work.
When Roxane talks about how she makes up excuses with friends as to why she’s walking slowly, I notice that’s a reason I often avoid walking with friends, why I hold back so I won’t sweat, so they won’t see, so that they won’t comment that I’m really out of breath, even though it’s been just a ten minute stroll to the station.
In my work with my clients, I help them let go of the shame they feel from having been raped. I feel no shame about the rape, although that took a lot of work over the years to really let go, and not just say I’d let go, which I’d said from the beginning. But I am still ashamed of how unfit I am, how much I weigh, that I sweat so much, and how out of breath I get simply by walking up the stairs. And I’m ashamed that I still don’t have all the answers, that I am still on this pathway, that sometimes I still stumble on it.
My body is my secret shame. (Well, not so secret now).
As the pithy phrase goes, life is a journey, not a destination, and living a ReConnected Life is no different. I continue every day to do better, try harder, be kinder to myself, forgive my body and reconnect. These days, at 13 and a half stone, I’m happier with my body than I was the night before I went out on that date at 8 and a half stone; I’m happier with my body than I was when I was 7 stone 2lbs 22 years ago when I graduated university. These days, I feel sexy, and sexual, in my curves. I feel my body has power, and agency, and is beautiful. One day, soon I hope, I will also feel more comfortable in it, less tired, less sweaty, more supple, stronger. I know the truth in the phrase it gets better. It does. And it is.
In solidarity and love, xx
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