Struggling with Body Image

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.

Heartless.

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 desperate.

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. 

Not real.

You’re real.

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:

family-walkingAlicia 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.

8 thoughts on “Struggling with Body Image”

  1. Alicia, You are so talented. This post is amazing. Self-love and worthiness isn’t something I’m proficient at either. But, I am headed in the right direction…I think. Recovery is such a blessing for me in this regard. The more I do it, the more I realize it is all about self-compassion. Before recovery, I tried to focus my life on having compassion for others. And I used to falsely believe that having the focus of compassion for others meant somehow ignoring my need for self compassion. This false belief was largely subconscious, I think. But, the truth is that I wasn’t being compassionate with myself. And that was making it almost impossible for me to be compassionate with others. The more I judged and shamed myself, the more I judged and shamed others and vise versa. (It’s hard to tell which feeds the other more.) I still have this tendency. BUT, God (through recovery principles) is teaching me to love myself and be compassionate with myself. And the more I love myself, the more I am capable of loving others.

  2. Lacy,
    YES! I feel everything you’re saying -it rings true with me as well. The judgement/shame cycle is so muddy and thick. I love the clarity you have with it -to see how what we first need is to offer self-compassion to ourselves and stop shaming and judging ourselves.
    It reminds me of the commandment to love others AS we love ourselves. I feel like we inherently do that… we love others as much as we are capable of. If we don’t love ourselves, we don’t have the capacity to love others.

    Self-compassion is so hard but so SO vital! Thank you for that thought. I love it.

  3. Alicia thanks so much for being so vulnerable and honest. This is definitely a topic so many of us including myself struggle with. I have really had to work hard at loving myself because I am a daughter of God and knowing and believing he loves me. I need to make conscious efforts often to seek my validation from God and when I do I experience self love.

  4. Alicia,
    Thanks so much for this beautiful post. I love how it really reflects how everyday experiences like checking out in the grocery store can become trauma minefields. I also love the way you share how your Worthy voice eventually overcomes your Heartless voice. This is definitely something I am still working on One Day at a Time. Thanks for your hope, strength and experience!

  5. Thank you for this. It gave me a lot of new ideas to try. I appreciate you sharing the entire process…it helped me to feel less discouraged with how gradual the changes feel at times.

    One thing I’ve tried in triggering places, is telling myself, “I get to have my own ____________(ie grocery store) experience. I am not an addict, and do not have to live through my husband’s eyes. I have my own perspective, and have made positive choices in my life. I get to live those choices, and he gets to live his.”

    Another thing I’ve tried is appreciating other women’s beauty. Something like, “We all have positive attributes. One that woman has is she is gorgeous! Good for her! I wonder what other attributes she has? I pray for peace in her life. I am grateful for the many attributes God has given me. He knew they would be the most important ones for me on my journey.”

  6. Alicia, thank you so much for sharing this! I literally cried when I read your experience first thanking your body in the mirror, thanking it for holding your babies. How incredible.

    I have had a different experience than many with regards to how I view my own body in the light of my husband’s addiction. I have always struggled with weight, and I was even heavier than I am now when I got married. So when my husband began rejecting me and turning to the pornography, I was so confused because it didn’t make sense in my mind how he could love me and be attracted to me, and then turn away from me when nothing about me had changed.

    Reading your post has made me think about my own body shame, and it has helped me to bring some things together. I have used my weight as a form of protest. I don’t want to look like the women on the screen, because, like you said, they aren’t real, and I am. I want to look and be and feel real. I don’t want to do anything to associate myself with them in my mind or my husband’s mind.

    The other thing I’m controlling by staying overweight (although that is slowly changing) is keeping this harmony in my relationship where my husband and I are equally yolked in the looks and health department. I have feared that if I lose weight and get healthy, he will become jealous or insecure and do more to push me away. I haven’t felt that it would make me suddenly love him less, but eating and sitting on the couch has been a common interest of ours, and if that’s suddenly gone, but just for one of us, where does that leave us?

    So I’m grateful for this post, and I’m using it to help me advocate for my body, not beat it into submission. Thank you.

  7. I’m sitting here trying to hold back the tears. But then I realize that it is ok to cry. This is me. I need to work on my Worthy voice, it has been pushed down too far. Thank you for being so real. I will be working on this. Sending love and waiting for more articles!

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