“observe how your work touches others. And then allow yourself to experience the work fully yourself and receive its medicine. Be sure to come back to it again in a few months or even years to experience it from a more detached place and see what new things you receive from it.”
-Lucy Pearce, Creatrix
When I wrote Project Body Love, I wrote about it as a Heroine’s Journey; a rite of passage – a quest to love my body.
I thought that the initiation – that catalyzing time of hardship or self-realization – that comes with every quest was the many, many years I had spent tugging at my clothes, stepping on the scale, and measuring out my food.
I thought that the process of writing Project Body Love was the quest, and that the publication of the book and sharing it with the rest of the world was the culmination of that quest – the triumphant return of the Heroine to her homeland, bringing treasures of wisdom to share.
I was wrong.
I haven’t talked about this before because I wasn’t ready. Because I was in the middle of a journey I was still making sense and meaning of.
I still am on that journey, but it feels okay to talk about it publicly now. In fact, it feels urgent to talk about it now. And, like I did with Project Body Love itself, writing about what I’m experiencing is a key part of my way of metabolizing and healing.
(I feel like I’m about to pull a Glennon Doyle on you – you know, the one where she writes a bestselling book about how she healed her marriage and was married to another person by the time it hit the shelves).
A few weeks after the launch party for Project Body Love, I was sitting on the couch with my little family, watching a movie, when my heart started to pound. I felt terrified – an irrational, fearing-for-my-life-type terrified – and I couldn’t catch my breath. It felt like what I imagine a panic attack must feel like, but it lasted for three days and three nights.
By the third day, I went to a walk-in clinic and was diagnosed with high blood pressure and put on medication. I wound up in the ER the next day due to the side effects of that medication.
Little did I know at the time that I was about to begin an entirely new Project Body Love quest.
I would be foolish to say that I didn’t see this coming, in some strange way. For almost a year leading up to the launch of Project Body Love, I worked extensively with my mentor around the energy of the book.
There was so much vulnerability in sharing my story. There was so very, very much compassion – for myself and for every woman who has ever felt like she didn’t belong in her own skin.
But there was also a lot of anger in the story of Project Body Love. And a great tidal wave of rebelliousness. In many ways, the book was a giant middle finger to the patriarchy, fat phobia, the media and any other person or institution that has made me or any woman feel lesser-than because of her size.
The final sentences of the book, though, were a bit of a sigh of resignation about the culture within which my body exists, if I’m honest. I said “loving your body is hard to do” and acknowledged that this would be a lifelong journey for me, and that, after all was said and done, the “surprising truth I learned instead” was that I didn’t love my body. Not all the time. Sometimes not at all.
My mentor kept saying, wise intuitive woman that she is, that this book wasn’t finished. Or, perhaps, that it wasn’t finished with me.
She helped me to understand that Project Body Love was an unhealed story. It was a story written with the fire of anger and rebelliousness, in many ways, and that, in and of itself, was as sign that the story was not yet healed.
As Glennon Doyle so wisely phrased it in her recent book Untamed:
“Rebellion is as much of a cage as obedience is. They both mean living in reaction to someone else’s way instead of forging your own.”
At first, I disagreed with my mentor. Denied it. Was probably a little pissed off. What does she know, anyway? I’ve been on this journey for a lifetime. I was ready to be done with it.
But over time, I came to see what she was saying. I knew, when that beautiful first manuscript landed in my hands, that the journey wasn’t over. In fact, I wrote about it in the final sentences of the book:
“I wanted to be the kind of person who could celebrate the conclusion of this writing process by prancing around naked on a beach somewhere – or even in a locker room somewhere. I sort of wish I was that kind of person. I wonder if one day I will be. But this book can’t wait for that day. Because I think, in the sharing, my healing is meant to continue, and perhaps yours might too.”
I had no idea what that continuing journey would look like, but I had come to accept that there was something about the energy of this book and her being out in the world that would bring a reckoning my way.
Here I was, promoting and talking about and writing about this new book while simultaneously navigating an entirely new Quest in my relationship with my body.
The official diagnosis was high blood pressure. It’s something that runs rampant through my otherwise strappingly healthy family, and something I had experienced with both of my pregnancies. For most people, a diagnosis of high blood pressure comes with a sigh, maybe a chuckle, a bottle of pills, and nothing more.
But this diagnosis gripped me. Partly because it was accompanied by a great swath of other symptoms and wonky bloodwork results that I could not ignore, despite the fact that high blood pressure is symptomless in most people, but also in large part because I had been diagnosed with something that is almost always associated with “overweight” and fatness, and is almost always treated with a diet.
Fuck. I had just very publicly decided to never diet again. And I knew from the research I did during Project Body Love that dieting couldn’t be the answer. But I was also experiencing daily, sometimes insurmountable anxiety and fear for my life as a symptom of whatever it was that was going on with my body.
I found myself having to advocate strongly with my primary care physician to even notice my other symptoms, because it seemed as though all he saw was my fat.
But I also found myself grappling with the idea that maybe I had let this body love thing go too far. Maybe I had done this to myself.
I also realized the deep extent to which my body love was predicated on the healthiness of my body.
And now my body was no longer “healthy.”
The last year of living in my body has been a fucking ride. My distaste for and distrust of the medical paradigm led me to seek support from dozens of other incredible health care providers and healers, and then, about six months ago, I also softened into an acceptance of support from medication and a specialized medical team.
I am still on the healing path.** Still waiting for blood test results. Still taking a dozen different tinctures and remedies, seeing a counsellor, still ferociously guarding the time I take to move my body and get my blood pumping each day. I am not terrified every day anymore, but some days I am.
The most powerful part of this journey so far has been making my own medicine. Sometimes literally, as I’ve been doing my herbal medicine practitioner training, harvesting hawthorn berries and learning how to make teas and tinctures to support my heart. But also, at the urging of a friend and powerful intuitive, I started taking the medicine I prescribe to all the women I support through life-altering transformations. Self-care. Ritual. Grief-tending. Embodiment. Earth connection. Creativity. Tiny Experiments in the direction of healing. Listening for my inner knowing. And now, in sharing this story, the medicine of Community.
In one of the practices I offered myself, I wrote letters to my body and from my body, to myself and from myself. When I asked my body what was going on, what was needed, the answer flowed out of me, in the voice of a child who had just finally been given a chance to speak and be heard:
“You could just take care of me, you know? I am taking care of you but you are my mother. I want to heal, but I need help.”
And then, a mothering voice wrote to me:
“This is not acceptance either, honey. Acceptance is not ignorance.”
That truth landed hard, for me.
It got me thinking about the concept of idiot compassion. Buddhist nun Pema Chodron defines it like this: “[idiot compassion] refers to something we all do a lot of and call it compassion. In some ways, it’s what’s called enabling. It’s the general tendency to give people what they want because you can’t bear to see them suffering. Instead of offering a friend medicine, bitter though it may be when ingested, you feed them more poison—at the very least, you don’t take it away from them.” One of my coaching mentors, David Drake, uses the best metaphor for idiot compassion: it feels like a wet dishrag.
And so this is why I am writing this. Because I have seen your dog-eared and highlighted copies of Project Body Love, and because to stay in good integrity to my words and the work I’ve put into the world through this book I need to say:
~ I have learned over the past year that the story of Project Body Love, though it was tremendously healing in many ways, also had an energy of anger and rebelliousness, and, if I’m being honest, a healthy dose of idiot compassion. There is a fierce motherself within me now that wasn’t there before, and she is committed to protecting, supporting, and healing my body. She speaks firmly to my doctor when he’s not listening, and she also has words with me when I am not actively engaged in the effort of keeping my body aliving and thriving. She keeps me in a middleplace where compassion and acceptance have energy and are generative, bringing me closer to healing rather than driving me away from it. I am sure as hell not on a diet, but I have been humbled by the impacts of wet dishrag compassion and a lack of basic care for my meat self in a way that I had never experienced before as a generally healthy person.
~ I am learning new things about loving my body now. I have been pulled abruptly out of the realm of being angry that I can’t find jeans that fit and dropped squarely into the realm of how do I keep this body alive?
~ The story I wrote – the one you may have read and resonated with deeply – was just the beginning. I have spent the last year on another quest, a Heroine’s Journey of healing. The words I wrote in Project Body Love were the truest words I knew at the time, and I also know that to be an awakened human, Truth reveals herself one layer at a time, as we’re ready to know it.
**I know this post may elicit advice from well-meaning supporters. I thank you, and assure you that I have a beautiful team of trusted and capable health care providers and healers working alongside me. I am not looking for advice, but what would be welcome, if you’re in a position to offer it, are some “me too’s” from people experiencing similar things. Most of all, to feel less alone is the most powerful healing tool I require right now.