Part of my spiritual upbringing included a whole lot of “Physical realm bad. Spiritual realm good. Must punish physical body in order to achieve spiritual enlightenment. Physical body doesn’t count.” type messages (and yes, I imagine that being said like a stereotypical caveman grunt. Though I suppose cavemen might have had wondrously complex languages, you get the point). So for a very long time, even as I thought I was maturing and growing, I still treated my body like a trash heap, and thought of it that way, too.
You’ll recall my previously stating how I came precariously close to becoming a full-fledged hoarder until I moved into my current apartment, which caused me to look the problem square in the face and deal with it. I still am, four and a half years later. It is a long and sometimes difficult process, but so worthwhile. I never fully realized until I started watching the show Hoarders what this said about how I thought about myself. In more than one episode, it has been made abundantly clear that some of the people surrounded themselves with trash because they thought of themselves as trash. They perceived themselves as not worthy. They thought they were disposable.
That was me. I thought I was unlovable. Easily discarded. Worthless. Trash.
Having that revelation brought front and center planted the seed of thought that I needed to re-evaluate my relationship with self.
After reading the book The Secret, which was filled with a revolutionary concept for me at the time, I decided that instead of beating myself down with negative self-talk, I would beat the negativity down and squash it like a bug. And so the process began.
At the beginning, I felt a little Stuart Smalley-like, as though I should have been staring in a mirror and telling myself, “You’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and doggone it, people like you!” In other words, I felt more cheesy than the entire state of Wisconsin. But I stuck with it, and after a while it became less forced. I began to actually believe I was good enough, and smart enough, etc. I felt less corny and more like I was having a deep psychological breakthrough.
Now, I had tried counseling a couple of times in my life, and other than it occasionally being nice to have someone to vent to, didn’t feel like it was helping me much. This utter willpower maneuver of mandated positivity did more to repair my psyche than any outside person telling me that my thoughts were unhealthy ever did. And I began to believe that I deserved love; I deserved happiness; I deserved respect. Don’t all people?
But just recently this awareness took a new turn. Even though I had been accepting that I deserved to be happy for a while now, I still wasn’t looking at my physical form with a whole lot of self-love.
Several months ago, I finally caved to months of pressure from my doctor to try easing up on my strict vegetarianism. After over nine years of strident near-vegan “purity,” I agreed to try “a little fish” and see how I felt. The doc felt I wasn’t getting enough protein or omega-3s. She wanted to see if the omega-3s would help my mood, and the protein help balance my blood sugar (I was so hypoglycemic, I was crashing on a near-daily basis. Sometimes more than once a day).
Holy mother of nutrition, did I feel almost immediately better.
The sugar crashing all but stopped. I can now count on my fingers the number of times I’ve sugar crashed in the months since, instead of it being a given that it would happen regularly. I had more energy, too. Oh, and… the perpetual always-coldness began to let up, at least somewhat. I’m still “the cold one” in a group, but there are times where I actually feel warm now. That was nearly unheard of.
I quickly dubbed myself a pescatarian (someone who eats fish, but no other meat), and figured that was that. But I had opened up the floodgates. My body started having cravings I had thought were long dead. It wanted more.
I fought it. I already felt guilty; I thought of myself as a “failed vegetarian” or “weak” for giving in to what my body obviously needed. I wondered why others seemed to do so well on a veggie diet and I didn’t. You know how people are supposed to lose weight when they go veg? I actually gained weight. About 30 pounds. I did not understand how that happened. It brought up even more body-hate in my mind, because I used to be a stick. Suddenly I felt ginormous. I fasted as much as I could without putting myself in a diabetic coma, and my weight didn’t budge. I restricted what was “acceptable” fare more and more. I ate low-fat this and diet that. Still fat.
So I caved. All or nothing, right? If I had already failed as a vegetarian, then I had failed. Might as well go out with a chicken pot pie in hand and enjoy myself.
And I felt even better. This was counter to every nutrition book I had read for the past decade (all aimed at vegetarians, mind you). What really caused me to make the pescatarian-omnivore leap was reading a Jillian Michaels book on diet and nutrition. She had recommended twice the amount of protein that one of my cherished veggie books had done. Twice. That wasn’t exactly splitting hairs. That was a completely different take on nutrition. So I started searching for more information online.
In addition to a mountain of blogs and websites I still find myself getting lost in for hours, I found an interview with Lierre Keith, a former vegan for twenty years and author of the book The Vegetarian Myth. It got me interested enough that I bought the audiobook (I have found that I love listening to a good non-fiction audiobook, in addition to reading them normally). I’m still listening to it, but so far it is proving to be one of the most profound books I’ve ever read in my life (and as previously noted, I’m a bibliophile of epic proportions). This isn’t some machismo rancher looking condescendingly down upon the wussy vegetarians and telling us how silly we are; this is someone who had many of the same motivations I did (save the animals! save the earth!), and struggled with many of the same moral issues, who recognized her own willful blindness to the truth about everything, and slowly – and not without a fight – came around. I can’t even begin to do it justice by attempting to summarize it here; but truly, if you really want to know about saving the animals, saving the earth, our health, the industrial food system, and how things really work, I can’t recommend this book enough. So many of the things we think we know are wrong.
Anyway… let’s get this Amtrak train of thought back on its rail. Honoring my body.
So, okay, I’ve been now exploring the world of traditional foods, homesteading (if ever there was a thing that I get passionately obsessed with, it’s homesteading), and the like, and learning about the nutritional needs of my body from a non-vegetarian perspective. I feel like a new student in a completely foreign field of study, with so much to learn, and so little time. But this metric ton of knowledge was all pointing to the same personal revelation: I had willfully been ignoring the very basic, very human, very physical needs of my body, relegating them to “weaknesses” and “unimportant” in the name of some “pure” ideal that was impossible to attain (yes, vegans, even you are not eating without death. Just because there is no meat on your plate, doesn’t mean animals weren’t killed as pests on the farm, or by a harvesting machine, or for fertilizer, or when farmland was deforested or prairie turned into farmland, etc. Read The Vegetarian Myth. I promise, it’s not condescending. It’s someone who wanted the same things you want).
So why were my very natural needs being given the short shrift? Because I still felt my body was not “worth it”. Not worth what? Surviving? Thriving? Did I truly believe I was put on this Earth to suffer?
I took a look at how I was treating my body otherwise. I either was punishing it with exercise, or none at all. Eating junk, or not enough. I didn’t respect the food I was using to nourish myself: the perpetual load of dirty dishes, my hadn’t-been-cleaned-in-ages refrigerator, the splatter-covered microwave and toaster oven. The kitchen wasn’t the place to create sacred nourishment, it was the place to throw together something convenient and get the heck outta there. No attention was paid – ironically, as I thought of myself as “food conscious” – to the act of nourishing my body, even as I obsessively counted calories or ounces of water. Allergy season caused me to look at my bed – covered in pet hair, sheets rarely changed, the mattress producing a renegade spring that had stabbed my hand and drawn blood once already. A litter box right next to it, which was placed there to try and prevent one of the kitties from peeing under it (it worked, but she has shifted territory again, so it’s rather moot at this point). In addition to the spring escapee, all my bedsheets are old and threadbare, hand me downs, stained, torn, and otherwise just as problematic. Even my bed frame is almost as old as I am, and a hand me down that used to be half of a bunkbed. I’ve never in all my 33 years had a bed that wasn’t a bunkbed, or part of one, let alone something larger than a twin size. I had to throw out the egg crate cushion I had on it to try and make things more comfortable because a kitty peed on it. I had a dream where I was told this was like sleeping in my own filth. And you know, it’s true. There is a literal litter box right at the foot of my bed. How was that respecting myself and the place where I was supposed to get rest?
Being that I’ve been living off of savings and grace since I lost the day job last year, now is not exactly the best financial time to go to a furniture store and buy a nice new full-size bed with a comfy mattress and new thick sheets. I accept that I deserve these things now, but to buy them would lead to a case of… aaaaaand how am I going to pay the rent? So. I did the best I could with what I have. Washed the blankets. Changed the sheets. Vacuumed the mattress, the box spring, all the nooks and crannies, the heat registers around the side of the bed. The litter box is getting moved this weekend (it will take some furniture re-arranging to find it a new home). I’ll shampoo the carpet then, too.
I also went a little cleaning-frenzy in the kitchen and did the dishes, cleaned the fridge, and the microwave. Checked for expired beyond use foods and tossed them. Cleaned the floor. Now when I open the refrigerator door, it feels so white and clean… and pure. Because I’m honoring what I put into my body. I’m honoring where my body gets rest. My body isn’t the means to an end, or a sub-par vessel that doesn’t count. It isn’t “a bag of water” as one of my friends terms it. It’s a temple. One that I am the proud caretaker of.