This discussion topic about Struggling with Body Image is from one of our friends in recovery, Alicia. Thanks to Alicia for contributing to the women’s group discussion and for the time she put into collecting her thoughts about recovery. If you’re interested in sharing a discussion topic, please reach out to me here.
This isn’t real.
My brain knew it, I could feel that.
This isn’t real.
I could remind myself over and over, but the words didn’t seem to stick. Never in all my life could I have dreamt that grocery store check-out lines would be such a hard place to sit in. The magazines seemed to jump off the shelves, photo-shopped pictures of smiling celebrities surrounded me.
This is what he likes.
My brain felt like an active war zone: thoughts coming in rapid-fire succession as my heart rate sped up.
Your husband likes these women.
You are not these women.
He looks at these women.
A lump formed in my throat, and I swallowed. I tried to get present, I reached for my Higher Power.
Lord, be with me.
These pictures are not reality.
He doesn’t want reality.
Two different voices were at war in my mind: My Worthy Voice was faint, the other, more prevalent voice was Heartless. I lost the battle with the throat lump, and as the tears stung my eyes I felt hopeless. Even if my husband rejected reality, why did I?
Because you believe lies.
Looking at myself in the mirror was almost as bad as the check-out lines. I looked at my pale, aging skin and tried to come to grips with my reality. I had believed for so long that it was my job to keep my husband interested, and I felt sure that his obsession with pornography had a lot to do with my pale, aging skin.
If I were just more…
There were a million ways to finish that sentence, and as I looked at myself in the mirror I would bludgeon myself with them all: fit, funny, full, clever, tidy, calm, prepared, organized, pretty, sexy. I tried everything to fix myself. Once a vibrant, carefree girl, I somehow ended up spending hours in front of the bathroom vanity WILLING myself to just be MORE. I read books about being a better wife, feeling sure that my efforts would bring his eyes back to me. I did figurative jumping jacks in front of my husband, desperately hoping he’d see me.
You’re not worth seeing.
The Heartless Voice had the vicious upper hand and seemed to block out everything else.
After a few years, I stepped timidly into a support group. As I inched into the waters of support, I found a new level of buoyancy in sisterhood. They SAW me, no jumping jacks required.
“I thank my body when I look in the mirror,” one of them told me, “I just look in the mirror and tell my body how much I appreciate it.”
“Out loud?” I asked, skeptical.
“Yeah,” she shrugged.
She made it sound so obvious, so easy. I wasn’t grateful for my body, but I WANTED to be grateful for my body, so I went home and tried it.
“Thanks,” I looked in the mirror, unable to meet my own eyes. I stared at the stretch marks that ran the length of my lower abdomen, “Thanks for holding my babies.”
That was as far as I could get. I felt like a crazy fool, but I couldn’t deny what happened afterward. Of the two voices waging war in my head, My Worthy Voice HEARD me. There was no cymbal crash or hallelujah chorus, but I felt the slightest, positive shift inside of me.
In the check-out lines, I continued to tell myself the photoshopped pictures did not reflect reality, no matter how much The Heartless Voice harped on my perceived physical flaws.
This is not reality.
This is not reality.
THIS IS NOT REALITY.
I felt crazy. Could saying words to myself actually change my inner belief system? It seemed impossible.
“Thanks,” Standing in front of the mirror became easier with time, and I felt a surge of hope when I was able to finally look myself in the eyes and say, “Thank you for holding so much pain. Thank you for bearing all of the trauma. Thank you for being there with me.”
I’ll never forget the day I stood in the check out line and REALLY SAW the photoshopped covers for what they were -airbrushed. My heart raced for different reasons that day -MY Worthy Voice had gained footing in the war.
Your husband wants fake because his mind is broken.
Your mind doesn’t have to be broken.
You are real.
You love real.
You love you.
My body affirmations done in the mirror suddenly felt less crazy and more like heavy training for the next battle. The importance of thanking, seeing, and loving my body was of the utmost importance.
Some battles were won without much effort, others were hard-fought, a few were lost completely. The progress was unseen by anyone walking by, but I imagined if I’d put the same amount of effort and energy into creating a garden in my front yard, I would have easily won the “Yard of the Year” award in the local papers.
My body affirmations began to shift as my Worthy Voice gained volume.
“Thank you for giving me babies,” I’d say, smiling brightly back at myself, “And I just love my long legs. I love my blue eyes. I love the way my arms are capable of so much strength. And the pale skin is really growing on me. Literally.”
I laugh out loud and say, “I love laughing. I’m funny.”
That’s how my body affirmations began growing limbs -I began speaking affirmations of all kinds. Whenever I was getting ready for a social event, nervous combing and dressing, I’d take a moment to look in my own eyes and say, “You are a bright, loving daughter of God with nothing to prove. You are confident. You got this.”
Sloughing off my Heartless Voice has opened up a life of freedom. Did I realize what a slave I’d been? Where once I’d exercised with the Heartless Voice in my head, pushing me through crunches and squats and lunges while I felt nothing but shame, I now exercised with the Worthy Voice.
I love giving my body fresh air.
I love stretching.
I appreciate all the work my body does, so I’ll give it some love back.
Where once I’d eaten with the Heartless voice in my head, pushing me and punishing me, I now found myself throwing back green juices and giggling.
That one’s for you, system!
Nourishing my body feels incredible.
What a great choice.
Self-love and worthiness isn’t something I’m proficient at, but I’m so grateful for the journey I’ve been on. Would I have ever taken it, had my husband not been addicted to pornography? I don’t know. All I really know is his addiction is ultimately what set me on the journey to recovering myself, and I’m appreciative of the outcomes.
The Heartless Voice still exists, but my Worthy Voice has grown in strength, surety and clarity, and with it by my side, living in my own recovery is a journey I wouldn’t trade for anything.
We’d love to hear about YOUR struggles or victories with body image, your Worthy Voice, or your Heartless Voice. Your voice is valuable, so share it here, and take another giant step toward understanding you’re WORTHY.
About the Author:
Alicia is a country girl out of Arizona who loves to write, cook, drink herbal tea and hire other people to clean her house. She has many interests and dabbles in anything she can get her hands on, and her family is always along for the ride. She’s been married for 12 years, has three children and more pets than she wants to admit. She’s been working a 12-step program for almost 6 years, and has been working the SA Lifeline model with a sponsor for the last 3.
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