How To Love A Body That Hates You Back

I never set out to hate my body; in many ways, I love it. I love the way it looks when I stretch out my legs, the way my collar bones jut out, the way my short hair never needs to be brushed but still looks good. I love the tattoos I’ve had inscribed upon it, the slope of my nose… I think I may even love the scars now. No, I never set out to hate my body, but it happened. And I blame my body for that.

It hated me first. It picked a fight when I was eight years old and never let go. I’ve known for 14 years that my body wasn’t on my side because other people’s bodies operated effortlessly—so it seemed, at least. Other people’s bodies generally work and mine, well, it didn’t work as well. No, I’m not physically ill, but yes, my body still works against me every single day.

A stubborn soul, I’ve fought back. I’ve attacked. I’ve dug at the pain. I’ve ignored wounds for too long and let them fester in infection. But what way is that to treat a body? My body? It’s the only true companion I’ve got because it’s with me for life whether my body and I like it or not. So how did I take a body I hated—and that hates me—and turn the hate to love?

I’ll admit, I don’t have this totally down yet. I’m still learning how to love this body. I’m definitely no expert. But, I found I had to start with identifying how my body hated me, so I could start to figure out why.

While I am a foodie at heart, my body hates food. My digestive system is a bit of a joke, and my perpetually upset stomach is the one thing I know I can rely on for company. With just the slightest inconvenience or an unexpected word, it becomes angry and pain pangs in my abdomen. Yes, this has got to be one of the worst symptoms of an anxiety disorder and I even went vegan because it’s easier on my system (the other benefits are just an added bonus). I did this in an act of self-love—before I went vegan, I used to overheat every time I ate as my body screamed in anxiety—and while it hasn’t solved all of my issues, it’s helped a lot. My body has certainly been less cruel. But if I never listened to that anxiety and never researched a diet easier on my system, we’d still be in a constant battle. Now, instead, my body and I mostly live in ceasefire when it comes to food, and only ever get worked up about it a couple times a week (on average, of course).

My back gives up on me when I get stressed. My muscles twist into knots until I can’t walk without wincing, without limping, without wishing my body wasn’t like this. It got worse after a car accident; it seems like my anxiety can now throw out whichever muscle it wants on a whim. Due to a rough week over two months ago, I’ve had so much pain in one muscle in my hip making walking difficult because the muscles still can’t release. I’ve had muscles in my neck seize and make it so I couldn’t open my jaw further than a couple inches for over a year before I knew what this was or why it was happening—my body was telling me something I wasn’t listening to. I just cursed my body for doing this, for slowing me down, for making me so goddamn abnormal. It used to give me nightmares. I thought I was broken. But, and I guess this is my most recent finding, my body wouldn’t be doing this if something wasn’t wrong and if it didn’t need help. Sure, it punishes me for having bad days, but the sooner I stop being bitter and focus on getting my body better (most often by getting my boyfriend to give me a massage, but also by seeing a doctor), the less likely a small quarrel with my body will turn into a full-fledged war.

I had hives covering my body for six months with “no cure” because they were caused by stress. I was so angry I scratched some spots until they bled because I didn’t know what else to do. I still have places where some of them scarred over dotting my arms, legs, hips and feet. Doctors couldn’t help me or give me an answer, and I had to turn to my family for help. Luckily, I had family members who had experienced this before and were able to tell me: “you’re way too stressed and overloaded, and this is how your body is telling you that.” I had to cut out so many aspects of my life before the hives agreed to go away: I ended toxic friendships, I dropped a class and I quit my job. I looked inward and tried to figure out what was going on in my head that was making my body do this to me. And, slowly, they went away. I learned that trying to be the superwoman that I felt I was expected to be was so damaging to my health that I had to reevaluate what was actually important to me. What did I need to be doing, and what was causing me unnecessary pain? If it wasn’t essential to my being, I dropped it because my body taught me that there are consequences to burning out greater than the mental strain.

Even though my body gives me trouble, I’ve learned to love the trouble. As frustrating as it is to have such a sensitive body, it’s my best indicator as to how my head is doing and it tells me when I need to take a second or third look at what I’m doing. Once I figured that out, how could I hate something that is actually trying to protect and warn me about deeper trouble?

So sure, it feels like my body hates me, but I learned that it does this to me because it loves me. It wants the best for me, and it gets angry when I don’t give it the best or treat myself how I deserve to be treated. Really, my body is my biggest advocate. So instead of hating what it does, I learned to love how it looks out for me.

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