How I learned to live in my body

How I learned to live in my body | SusannahConway.com
“It saddens me to think that trip was the last time I truly felt connected to my body. In the in-between years there was a love that set me alight, his eyes, his touch accepting, loving every part of me, a gift I have never fully understood until now. I look in the mirror and wonder who could love me like that again. And that’s when I hear it, the call to be my own lover, with my own appreciative eyes and touch, to see my body as whole and perfect exactly as it is. It was easy to bask in his gaze, to feel at ease in my skin because he adored me so, but it didn’t come from within me. It was not of my own making. I mourned for his touch as much as I mourned for him, but all these years later it’s my own acceptance I crave now. Relying on another to make us feel good only works as long as they are here: better to find it in yourself.”

— From This I Know, page 105

The words above were written sometime in early 2011, no doubt while I was munching on a bar of chocolate. After a couple of years of creating my business and not wanting to leave my desk — so much to do! — I’d put on a considerable amount of weight. At the time I chalked it up to aging. I was conscious of how I was eating more to “give myself energy” but didn’t cotton on to the fact that it wasn’t possible to burn off those extra calories just by thinking non-stop.

The chapter in my book that deals with the body is the one that feels most incomplete to me because I was still at the beginning of that healing saga. I was at my heaviest, I was exhausted and I thought I had to just put up with it as I slid, inelegantly, into my 40s.

Now I know this wasn’t the case at all.

My path back into my body makes sense to me as I reflect on what’s happened since then, but it’s still a pleasant surprise to discover I really do live in my body now. After a lifetime of disembodied living, I now inhabit every square inch of myself. The bits I like, the bits I like less — all of it. It’s all me. It’s all I have, in this lifetime, anyway.

How to get back into your body? I don’t have the definitive answers and anyone who says they do needs to be regarded with suspicion, quite frankly, because it’s different for each of us. All I have is what feels true TO ME so I’m going to share the following timeline with the understanding that you are capable of finding what feels true FOR YOU. Of course, breadcrumbs and signposts help in the quest, so maybe there’s something here that sparks a line of enquiry for you…

— 1973 – 2005. Lived quite unconsciously in my body. Wished parts of it were were thicker/narrower/flatter. Had a slew of digestion issues but never worked out how to fix them. Outward appearance was very important; inward appearance was largely ignored. My preferred form of exercise was sex with someone I adored. Bereavement put a stop to that.

— 2005 – 2008.
Drank all the wine. Smoked all the cigarettes. Slowly began putting life back together. Connecting with my body was last on the list — had to find all the pieces of my heart first.

— 2009 – 2011. Created a business without meaning to and had to learn how to run it with integrity and love. Basically didn’t leave the house for two years and got my groceries delivered. Ate all the food. Wrote a book.

— Spring 2012. Started dating and had heart trampled on. Lost appetite for a while. Started smoking again (definite low point).

— Got sick and tired of feeling sick and tired all the time. Hated that I couldn’t walk up a hill (Bath is very hilly) without getting out of breath. Went to Morocco with friends and discovered the discomfort of inner thighs chaffing against each other in the heat. This had never happened before.

— Decided to start going for long sweaty walks in the park. Dreaded them but something forced me out the door every time. Exhausting but occasionally enjoyable, especially when the sun was out.

— Bought some girlie dumbbells off Amazon and started lifting them when I got home from the sweaty walks. Began to see a bit of improvement in my arms. This was encouraging.

— Summer 2012. Went to North America for 3 weeks on my book tour. Was so out of my usual routine when I got home I finally felt ready to move back to London. It was time.

— Autumn 2012. Travelled to Italy and then back to the USA and despite all the glaring signs I did not realise I was sliding down into depression. I did far too much that year. My poor under-loved body was not able to keep me afloat.

— October 2012. Moved back to London and sank into the depression. Took me three months to realise what was happening and look for help. Went back on antidepressants and fought my way back to the surface.

— January 2013. Started making some big changes, albeit slowly and quietly. Found a therapist I liked and began working out with a personal trainer. On a whim I cut out gluten and discovered this is what had been fucking me up all my life. Within days my body felt less like my enemy and more like a cohort. This was definitely a turning point.

— Started noticing that when my therapist asked me where I felt something in my body — an emotion, a feeling, a reaction — I wouldn’t be able to give her a definite answer. Got curious about this.

— June 2013. Wrote a post called The exercise-hater’s guide to loving the gym. Started to enjoy feeling strong and having more stamina. Bought new exercise clothes and felt confident enough to walk to the gym in leggings and a vest.

— Autumn 2013. More dating. More vulnerability. More disappointment. Decided to get braces and go to the doctor to discuss why I was experiencing so much pain in my abdomen. These two things, seemingly unrelated, were sure signs I was listening to, and looking after, my body. It’s around that time my meditation practice began in earnest.

— January 2014. Turned out the fibroids I’d had diagnosed many years ago had grown and were now a problem. Got referred to a specialist and awaited my appointment (god bless the NHS and it’s insane waiting times *ahem*)

— May 2014. MRI scan showed my fibroids had taken over half my body. Slight exaggeration but that’s how it felt. They’d been growing for all those years but it was only now that I could hear what my body had been telling me.

— Summer 2014. I read something about how we are embodied souls and a lightbulb went off in my (no longer disembodied) head. I finally understood that my soul does not exist outside of me, somewhere “out there” but is embedded into every single cell of my body. My body is temporary, yes, but it is wholly me while I’m here. It became clear how every gym session has been grounding me back into my body, how meditation was helping me sink deeper inside my own flesh. When my therapist asks me where I feel something in my body I’m able to give her answers — she notices the change in me, too.

— Summer/autumn 2014. Spent five months photographing London for my next book. It was utterly exhausting but there’s something about all the steps I took that mirrors the path back to myself. There’s no way I’d have been physically able to take on the project two years ago.

— November 4th 2014. Smoked my last cigarette. I’d only been smoking one or two a week but my body had had enough. Haven’t had one since. Feel suitably virtuous.

— January 2015. After a lot of waiting, but oh so perfectly timed, I have open surgery to remove 14 fibroids weighting one pound in total. Despite the pain and discomfort — or maybe because of it — I have never loved my body more. I marvel at how it can heal itself. I swear I will never take it for granted again. For better or for worse, this is the only body I have. We are a team.

— February/March 2015. Healing slowly, listening carefully. It’s impossible to overeat when I’m so full of stitches and scars so my eating habits have been shifting. I realise that lightly cooked vegetables suit me better than raw. Suddenly I’m noticing how dairy makes me feel like shit (and completely bloats me out). I’m enjoying eating simply and my body responds by letting me know what it prefers. And yes, I still call my body “it” but that’s okay. I trust the wisdom of my body, wisdom far beyond anything my narrow mind could conjure on its own. NOURISH is indeed the perfect word for this year.

— The future. A yoga immersion. Reiki I. More enquiry, more listening. More kindness, more compassion. More giving myself a break when I need it. Less expectation. More love.

***

If meditation feels like a line of enquiry for you, come explore The Sacred Alone with me xo

47 responses
  1. Jo

    Love this, and you, so much. xxx

    I love you more! ;-) x

  2. Michele

    This is pretty beautiful. I tend to view my body as an enemy, my mind/soul as something that fails to keep my body in line… Will be rereading this post as it has so much in it. Thank you for sharing this.

    go gently, love… you will find your way back to your body, i know it xx

  3. Jen Farrant

    Lovely post, I am just getting used to my body again, and ironically it comes as I am wiped by chronic fatigue as my life long genetic illness comes out to play

    I can no longer physically do what I used to, but oh how I appriciate what I can do in ways that would never had resonated with me in the past.

    Hugs to you, beautiful xx

  4. Sandra Pawula

    So beautifully articulated, Susannah. I’m inspired and ready to flow!

  5. Heidi

    Love this SO much!

  6. elizabeth

    this is utterly gorgeous– just like you— and I love how you illuminate the timeline— inspiring and real– I love you so much!!! oxox

    right back atcha, baby xxxx

  7. Leana

    So brave and honest. Lovely!

  8. MJ

    So perfectly articulated Susannah. I’ve struggled after being diagnosed with multiple blood clots on both lungs in January this year. And like you I will never take my body (or my health, my fitness, my ability to breathe…) for granted again! The idea of my body and I being a team and working together to heal and rebuild may be a game changer for me so I thank you for that.

    yes yes yes!! a TEAM :)

  9. Carmel

    Thanks so much for this post. I’m approaching 40 and have realised I’ve been uncomfortable in my skin for quite a long time. I’ve been taking steps to try to strenghten up but sometimes feel like I’ll never get there! Your timeline is a great idea and it’s very encouraging to see your progression traced out like that. It’s not about wanting to be super-thin or fit. I just want my body and my head to meet somewhere in the middle! This was the perfect thing for me to read today!

    You’ll get there, lovely! All of this really started falling into place after i turned 40 — an auspicious age!! :)

  10. Catalina

    Absolutely loved that post, especially considering that I’ve had a serious issue with body acceptance for as long as I can remember. I’ll re-read this post, that’s for sure!
    Thank you, Susannah!

    hang in there, lovely!! xx

  11. bella

    Oh, my love.
    You have come so far and it has been lovely to witness your evolution to now. To here. To presence.
    I love you. Everything has unfolded just as it was meant to be. xo

    Must reply to my own post.
    I’m sorry but I had to chuckle at how you describe years 2005-2008 + 2009 – 2011.
    I feel as if I’ve entered my 40’s as ungraceful AF, but I am in that transition period that is in the beginning stages. Emerging from loss and immersing back into my body. <3

  12. CLaire

    Inspiring words Susannah – so important to remember what makes us feels great. As I’ve got older I’ve realised that certain foods make me feel crapper than others, both physically & emotionally, though sometimes life gets in the way & I end up indulging anyway. Ditto lack of sleep. But because I know what’s good for me I now instinctively know what I have to do to get ‘back to me’ when I trip up. That’s the beauty of experience and the joy of ageing :) x

  13. Mette

    ??

  14. Mette

    Sorry! Posted a smiley ( a heart)- but instead two?? were posted. :)

  15. Christina Masterman

    So inspirational to read your journey of healing and recovery Susannah. Our bodies are amazing vehicles of love and powerhouses indeed. Conscious physicality is the new spirituality:)

  16. Heather

    A wonderful blog thank you Susannah! It’s always so good to identify with someone else’s journey, it allows me to feel “I am not alone in feeling as I do”…..and you are living in the solution rather than in the problem, that’s my kinda woman! I may have 20 more years on this planet than you do, but you have inspired me – again! Love x

  17. Katie

    Hey Susannah, thanks for sharing your insights and reflections about how you’ve been living in your body and your journey with it. It’s mad how we think that the mind and body are two separate things – they are so intertwined it’s unreal! There is a book you might like (you might know!) called Heal Your Body by Louise Hay. It’s a pocket sized directory of illnesses and their emotional reasons, and then positive affirmations that you can say to help heal your body! It’s quite an amazing idea and I think you’d like it.

    I think everyone has some kind of journey/ issue/ disconnection with their body and it’s really inspiring to read your words and see how you are coming to love and care and be aware of yours. I send you much love and NOURISHMENT for your recovery and future health. Katie. XXX

  18. Wendy

    my goodness you are so lovely x I love that you are so able to share the experience of pain and evolvement …hmmmm…I wanted to share with you how gorgeous and delightful and totally exhaustively wonderful it is to have my beautiful daughter, 20, remind me to breathe, Mum, just remember to take a few really good breaths … ahhhh life really is complete..take care wee love…you are amazing

  19. Leanne Lindsey

    Loved this. So honest and vulnerable. Reading your words made me realise that I thought I had begun to accept all parts of my body, but I still don’t feel comfortable wearing leggings in the gym! Like you I am learning to listen to the dietary needs of my body, as well as the spiritual and emotional needs. Thanks for sharing. :)

  20. Denise

    You’ve captured your journey so eloquently and beautifully with openness and vulnerability. You’ve shown what I have come to believe, sometimes our greatest struggles can lead to our greatest moments, provided we are open to seeing it. I have gone through a long journey in my own life and it felt so empowering and freeing when I was finally able to fully own my story and not hide behind a veil. My mother always told me life begins at 40 and she was so right! I can’t wait to hear where your journey takes you next.

  21. Patti L

    I can totally relate to your journey with your body. Even tho it’s not the same exact, just the idea of how one day you just listen to it and go ‘oh duh, i shouldn’t eat that’. I guess maybe it’s a getting older thing.
    I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for 2 years now and it has totally changed my life, my body, my relationship with my body. It has def made me more aware, and I have strength I never had before. I hope it helps you.

    As always, love your honesty. Looking forward to your next book.

  22. Layla

    How completely relevant and tangible! It’s so easy to look at this post, read it from a notion of hindsight and see the through line of it all, but to live it! Wow. I’m a new-ish reader who works in health and wellness – also in a constant state of re grounding and rediscovering when, why and how I love this body. Thank you!

  23. Diana anaid kc

    Dearest Susannah,

    I marvel at how much recognition I feel and notice when I read your love letters and your blog! In my real world there is no one even the slightest like me, who has been through anything I have. But then you have , in your own way. We are also very different, our challenges within are different. But we both experienced the passing of a most true love…. where most people seek it in the first place…. I ask myself … How lucky can I expect to be to ask for more? To ask AGAIN…. But being naturally optimistic and feeling like God’s spoiled child… I think I do. I do envision we could be so lucky… AGAIN. Then there’s our body….. I’ve been ill all my life… Was diagnosed at 30! Didn’t have a chance to feel old, as I was hit with the threat that life was over…. Had a breast surgery….. Had a partial thyroid surgery….. Had my love at my side through it all …. We’d both prepared for my passing… And surprise surprise ….. I survived and he had a sudden heart attack at 39! I just turned 37 Mar the 4th…. Learning how to live again…. Minus him. It’s been 2 years since he passed. And I feel lie a toddler in life. I am also creating a business by default, also indoors inmersed in projects that I feel I have to do and I feel happy doing. And also think of writing books, have thought so since I was a child. Haven’t seriously sat to do it. The future is a constant joy of gratitude and blank space of doubt. Gluten is my biggest problem…. I seem to crave all treats with wheat and can’t even have a bit before I’m sleeping beauty for almost days straight through. I’ve leaned on coffee… For energy. And trying to work work work though I am exhausted… Pushing my body like a beaten horse (horse is my Chinese sign)… And you remind me to be gentler. To be caring. To merge within myself. Nourish was my word in 2014 and I’ve done small contributions towards it , which to me were like planting seeds. Therefor, my word for 2015 is FLOURISH…. To bloom and to grow and expand from those seeds!! Thank you for not letting me feel like a one and only in the entire Universe! Someone out there in London can relate… And if she can make beauty of this life, so can I. :) From Colombia, South America. Diana Anaid

  24. Mandie

    I have never once commented on a blog but have too comment on this post as it is so perfectly timed for me right now. I have personally declared March as muladhara month for myself and am discovering just how disconnected I am from my physical body (definitely a higher chakra kind of girl). I am personally struggling with smoking and my hope is that if I can connect with my physical body more I may feel inspired to respect it inside and out. Any tips on how you finally let it go?

    Thank you for continuing to inspire!
    Mandie

  25. Wendy

    So moving Susannah .. I have just started the Artists Way by Julie Cameron and have been doing a time line task .. it is incredible when you look back and see the flow in life .. thanks for sharing yours .. big love to you and your healing

  26. Sue A

    I appreciate your transparency in sharing your journey. It is such a process but one in which we mindfully move forward. I recently have had an extended hospital visit for CDiff and am also slowly learning to listen to my body and what it is telling me. Thank you for sharing.

  27. Celeste Simmons

    I just love this. Good for you! I am also trying to move towards love and embracing everything. In the words of Mary Oliver, “I’ve become friends with the enemy.” The enemy being my body. Love you and your blog.

  28. Amelia Critchlow

    Hi Dear Susannah, thanks for your open, honest post. There’s a resonance. I thought things were age-related, but in fact, a lack of education on good eating/body led to severe stomach aches. In 2010 whilst doing my art MA I found the stomach aches endless. GP said stress; no help! so a visit to a naturopath was a life-saving education on eating I wish I’d had years ago! Gave up gluten, sugar, cows dairy, refined food, caffeine (virtually alcohol), deadly nightshade & started juicing. My body loved me (pain initially though!) & I felt better and lighter. As a result my body will no longer ‘allow’ me to eat crap. If I do I get pain! Oh my. I thank my body and will now consider how to live in every part of me more fully after reading above. I love growth (ageing?!) – and body – if nothing more for developed consciousness. Here’s to happy healing days for you and a continued journey of health and body-love :) Amelia.x PS. Am loving recipes from Ella Woodward’s ‘Deliciously Ella’ – have you come across it? It’s fab & a great story of body-healing too.

  29. Amy Gayle

    Susannah,
    I can relate to so much here. Just… thank you.

    Hugs,
    Amy in Austin

  30. Sally

    What a wonderful post Susannah! I’m so glad that you’re finally friends with your body. This is a timely reminder for me as I sit here eating chocolate because I’m tired! What I find helps me to get into my body is dancing – moving my body to music without caring what it looks like. xx

  31. kristin

    This is great to read. I also have had years of abdomen pain and was recently diagnosed with endometriosis–and am staring the possibility of a life of pain and surgery in the face. I ran from the pain–and from my body–for a few weeks, but have heard the call from myself to settle back into it. I’m trying to learn how to make friends with pain, and love my body for what it is: imperfect, but beautiful. Thanks for writing about a topic that is so relevant, and I look forward to more insight from you on this topic and many others. Thanks. xo

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