“I must be detoxing,” I tell myself. “After all, I have been eating really poorly.”
My diet is my go-to scape goat. If anything is wrong in my life, it must be because I indulged last night. This is the standard form of punishment and blame I have used since I went on my first diet at age fourteen. Since then it has been a rather convenient way to explain anything irregular. “I have a headache = sugar detox; I’m so tired = too much wheat; I can’t sing = the brick of brie”
. . . and on and on . . .
I casually ignore the abnormal blisters all over the right side of my body, stick on a long sleeved shirt, and I am on my way. Scarf on neck, mascara on eye lashes, gloss on lips, and I am out the door. My audition cannot be put off simply because my body has decided to revolt.
I skip a doctor’s visit in favour of a delicious dinner just to affirm the fact that it is nothing serious: a delicious vegan feast on the upper west side with a side of denial. Yum.
2. PAIN & GUILT-
I wake up the next morning in such excruciating pain I can barely breathe. Seriously? Blisters like third degree burns to get my own attention. How did I make this happen? What did I do to deserve this?!
I send a picture to my doctor and it turns out I have shingles. What the hell is that? Everything I read says it happens to people in their latter years, I’m 29! Seriously? I have actually come down with a virus that has a vaccination for people over the age of 50.
3. ANGER & BARGAINING-
WTF!?!?!!?!?!? My whole body is burning off! I can’t move! I can’t breathe! I can’t cry! I can’t laugh!! This SUUUUUCKS!!! I am not willing to accept the fact that I am in pain. I do not want to see that I am a human being with limitations. My body is forcing me to find humility!!! NOOOOOOO!
I am not okay with my body. I don’t understand this mutiny. I want to do what I have always done: punish myself until I submit. I certainly refuse to do anything nice for myself. This body of mine will pay for what it is doing!
After years of constant neglect and vicious attacks of blame and dissatisfaction my body is fighting back. It has endured every diet imaginable, kick boxing, running, calorie counting and binging. This vehicle for life has been run through the gamut and has apparently decided it is done. “You’re not the boss of me!”
Then comes the bargaining. “I’ll give you a full night’s rest . . . is that what you want? Is that what this will take? Fine . . . if I stay in bed all day today, when I wake up tomorrow you will be totally better, right? Let’s just make that happen. Okay?”
4. “DEPRESSION”, REFLECTION, LONELINESS-
Wow. All I can say is wow. All my creative convincing and “dictator”-esque commands have been for not. The evolution of the blisters has grown, worsened in fact. My arm and chest are covered in little pods of bubbling flesh. The body still revolts.
I haven’t showered in three days. I am sitting in my room, in the dark, playing Elliot Smith’s “Between the Bars.” Elliot laments “The potential you’ll be that you’ll never see, the promises you’ll never make,” and I feel like he “gets me”. I partner my dark emotional music with the reading of an article in the Globe and Mail about “Rape as a Weapon”. I see nothing good in the world. Only death, violence and destruction. It feels like the only thing that soothes my pain is knowing there are others worse off than me. I know this is terrible, but in the moment, it is the best form of nurture I have. I am grasping at straws.
I feel no one understands. I feel so existentially isolated. I am a little lost girl covered in shingles with nowhere to go. All those years acting out the melodrama of life are paying off. I am living in my own soap opera. I have never felt so sorry for myself.
I reject myself. I look in the mirror and have nothing nice to say. The sad thing is this behaviour is not isolated to shingles. I started doing this the year I got my curves. My body became my enemy, the thing that thwarted my dreams and desires. At fourteen, my body started to expand to make room for the woman I was becoming. But that’s not how I saw it. In my mind my body was misbehaving, betraying my desires. And so it began. The discipline.
I am literally exploding. I can’t take the self imposed rejection for one more day. It is like the war I am fighting inside has come to a boiling point. A civil war and the battle ground? My skin. I finally have found the guts to stand against the oppressor that is me.
5. THE UPWARD TURN-
I go outside! Hallelujiah! I go outside into a beautiful fall day!
In that moment, the enemy becomes the vessel for joy. I feel the air on my skin and the warmth of the sun reminds me I am alive. The deprivation of UV rays and fresh air helps jog my memories and all the places I have seen and adventures I have had come rushing back. This “friend” and I have shared quite a ride thus far. I look at my hands, my legs, my blisters. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and I feel the privilege of having a healthy, strong, and beautiful body. I look at myself, swollen, unkempt, and healing. I am grateful. For the first time in over ten years I am grateful for this friend.
With this new appreciation I take my tired, worn, brave, abused body back inside for a bath and some pampering. I shave my legs, wash my hair, and soak my sores. It is divine.
When I get out of the tub my new favorite song is playing on my iTunes (Madeleine Peyroux’s “Back in Your Own Backyard.”) and I start dancing. Oh YES! I am back. Can only dance with one arm, and with very small moves, kind of like a half drawn Charlie Brown character, but I am dancing. I am coming back to life! Hooray!!
6. RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH-
I put on a fresh, light, cotton t-shirt and rub aloe down my arm. I can’t remember the last time I actually looked at my skin in this way. I can’t remember the last time I stood in my bathroom and spent time focused on being sweet to myself. Rejection is so well practiced that accepting feels awkward. Like a drugged baby giraffe drunk and trying to walk.
I decide everything will change.
I throw away the boxing gloves sitting in my closet from my tae bo days. I toss the “fat burn” herbs into the garbage and I take down the pictures of women with six packs and size negative zero dresses that I have posted on my “dream board”.
Yes, everything will change.
7. ACCEPTANCE & HOPE-
The beginning of the end starts the next day. I go for a coffee. My blisters turning to scabs. My eyes glaze over the counter and I spot a beauty magazine sitting there. The hater comes back to haunt. Wow, how quickly I forget. As I reach into my bag to grab my wallet my sleeve catches the sores on my arm. I moved too quickly and this snaps me back to reality. Like a shock collar on a dog, it seems I need the constant reminder. This pattern runs so deep, not sure if the scars on my skin are going to be enough for me to stay grateful.
My dearest, closest friend that has carried me through China’s foothills, across the Brooklyn Bridge, and down elegant red carpets. My body that has both doubled in size to make room for wine and cheese and shrunken down to support what I thought I had to be. My body gracefully works with me, always offering more and more opportunities to have the richest experience possible.
Maybe now I can work with her.