At Alsana we always promote developing a healthy body image as part of the recovery process. We encourage our clients to learn to accept their body, their story, and themselves. We always say that body image is one of the last things to shift, but that you can accept and love your body for all that it has endured as well as how it has helped you survive.
Below is a beautiful article about the process of shifting body image written by one of our amazing Alumni. Thanks Sarah for sharing with us!
Here in the Mirror: Finding Beauty Beyond Body Image
Tonight, I looked at my body. I have not done this in a long time, not intently anyway. As I was undressing to shower, I caught my reflection in in the bathroom mirror and for some reason it stopped me. For some reason, I felt there was something I needed to see.
As I stood there staring at my naked reflection it occurred to me that I did not have the instinct to turn away in fear, as I had for many years. I was able to look solemnly and appreciate this image, this form that encompassed my physical being.
This is what I saw.
At first, I had old memories appear. I could see every place that I was ever touched in cruelty, every place on my body that I was violated by someone I should have been able to trust. I used to feel those touches repeat themselves over and over in my body, like a record endlessly skipping.
Then I saw the way I coped with this. I blamed my body for accepting those violations without putting up more of a fight. I blamed those places for attracting the violations, as if I had a choice, as if it was really my fault. So I punished my flesh. I split my skin open with razor blades and knives and scissors countless times- arms, legs, breasts, stomach- I cut everywhere I could. I saw the scars all over my body from those punishments and did not feel shame, only compassion. I remembered flashes of other mirrors, other bodily inspections, only then I was counting my bones. The other way I punished by flesh was by trying to get rid of it altogether. I starved and puked and ran until I weighed practically nothing and was nearly dead; and yet I was proud. I felt safe in that body- Iâ€™m sorry, that skeleton. I felt strong and invincible which was ironic because I could hardly walk. I see now a body so far from that time. Healthy, capable, brave in its softness. I accept the shape that I am because it means that I am no longer in danger of dying. I accept it because I have enough respect for myself to not care what other people think, and to put what is best for my health and recovery before anything else.
When I turned I saw the eleven inch scar that curves down my back from my left shoulder blade to beneath my arm. I see four oval shaped scars each the size of a nickel; two beneath my left arm and two lower down on my side. These scars remind me how resilient the body is. After all, at twenty-three years old I had my chest cracked open, part of my lung removed, my heart stopped in surgery, I was in a coma for two days, I had four huge tubes coming out of my chest, an unidentified raging infection, and I still managed to fully recover. I am proud of these scars, because they make me remember how strong I really am, to have been able to survive that.
When I turned back around, I took one last look and realized that all of those things my body held were like a little history of my life. My body was a tablet that my story had been written on; each mark and scar and tattoo has a story, and those stories make up my life so far. And what I see in that, finally, is beauty. My body is beautiful. Mostly, because I am beautiful, and because I have survived and recovered and accepted and developed compassion for my experiences. This is the way I believe we can find beauty in ourselves. By removing the blame and fear and guilt and shame and rage that has been wrongly pinned on the body, and finding compassion for exactly where we are.
© Sarah Ann Henderson 2011