I used to hate my body with the vigor of a deplorable bigot. I spent many years attempting to destroy my body and my spirit. The vehicle for this attempt was dieting: controlling all the food I ate and all my movement. I wholesale adopted the hatred that I’d been taught to have toward my fat body (I also adopted the hatred I’d been taught to have toward myself as a person of color and a woman). The less I ate the more the hatred consumed me.
I’ve been in diet recovery for almost a decade now.
To me diet recovery means (1) I have made a promise to myself not to attempt to control my weight and (2) I am also committed to doing the political, spiritual and psychological work of decolonizing my relationship to myself and my body. There have been many small moments of freedom, joy, love and connection that have made this work worthwhile to me. The longer I have done this work, the easier it has been to notice those moments and feel their impact.
One of those moments happened recently, and I want to tell you about it.
The story starts with rejection. Someone I care deeply for shared something really hard to hear: they couldn’t create the kind of relationship I really wanted with them. They were introspective enough to tell me the truth: they were too afraid to get close to me, had a lot of internal work they needed to prioritize, and didn’t want to mislead me.
Though this information hurt a lot, I had to step back and recognize that this was the first time in my adult life when I had become really crystal clear on what I wanted and needed from others. I have been so used to letting others lead the exchange, unsure how to navigate, unable to access my own needs. Telling someone what I wanted and needed was new, and because this is an act of actual vulnerability it carried with it the risk of loss (the very thing I’d been attempting to avoid all those years by being passive!).
I began to grieve and take care of myself.
And a few days into that process, I got word from that same person that they had gotten a job right down the street from me at my favorite coffee spot. My favorite coffee spot, girl. The grief took on a new dimension: dread. I had to be reminded of my rejection each time I went to get a sparkling Americano? Rude.
The next day I was spending time with a friend in another neighborhood in San Francisco, and asked her if we could stop by the cafe near her house. I’d been to this place and had their award-winning coffee many times. This time, though, the moment I walked in I was overwhelmed by nausea. The earthy and smoky aroma, which I usually love, had me on the verge of hurling in public. I was confused and tried to push through, but ended up ordering a tea and asking it we could sit outside.
Weird, but maybe I was anxious or had eaten something funky?
That night I had plans to go to a friend’s house for dinner. About halfway up the steep stairway of his apartment I was hit with this cloud of smell. Coffee again. And the urge to throw up came with it. I had to excuse myself after saying a quick hello and step outside to cool down (and, ya know, curb the puke feels).
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I was very confused. This had never happened before. I am a “coffee person.” Nay, I’m more than a coffee person. I’m a full blown coffee snob. Everyone who has ever had coffee with me knows that I will spend 30 minutes looking for the perfect third wave spot wherever I am in the United States of America. So, the idea that the smell of it would make me sick was totally absurd.
The next day it happened again. Just thinking about having morning coffee made me queasy.
I got into the shower to start my day, and that’s when I figured out what was happening: my body had somatized the rejection and fear, and was attempting to protect me from the hurt of seeing this person. If I didn’t like coffee anymore then I’d never feel the urge to go to that coffee spot where my rejector now worked. My body had gone into full-on mama mode, and did what was in her power to create a major physiological disincentive to drink coffee altogether. Sure, she over-corrected a little (a lot), but she stepped in when I needed her. Holy. Shit.
I started to cry in the shower with this feeling of electric joy and redemption and gratitude. And then I started to kiss my chubby arms, naked and wet, up and down. A moment of worship and amazement. “My god, after all I’ve done to you, after all those years of hating you, you never stopped showing up for me.”
That moment truly amazed me. My body worked its magic — the magic it’s always had and always will have - to protect my heart. Every day our bodies do this unsung work, and I could finally see it. I could finally bask in it.