“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