“When was the first time you remember not wanting to be in your body?”
My counselor sits across from me in an armchair, her eyes steady.
I fall still on the couch, becoming very aware of the movement of my chest as I breathe. My mind casts back and I instantly know the time, the memories I could share. Silent, I feel the words in my mouth and decide if I’m going to tell her.
It’s only a moment’s pause because I’ve been seeing Ellen for a while now and I’m comfortable with her. The pause is for me to cradle painful memories in my hand and hold them out to her, hoping that maybe I can share them and feel nothing, even as they prickle on my palm.
“When I was 11,” My voice is steady and factual. She knows this story already, we’ve talked about it in another context. “When everything happened with Cara.”
That’s usually how I reference it. For a long time I didn’t know what to call it. When they warned us about “bad touch” in school, they showed videos of strange, unfamiliar men. When it happened to others in my family, to friends I knew, it was an older man, a relative. What is it when it’s your niece, female and five years younger? What is it when it’s not their sex organs on you, or vice versa, but you still feel violated?
I didn’t have words, for a long time, for staying awake until I knew the other person was asleep. Knowing that as soon as she thinks I’m asleep, she’s going to climb onto my bed and try to put her hands in my underwear. It’s not safe until I’m sure she’s asleep and not going to try anything. I didn’t have words for the way my stomach would hurt when she would try to spy on me changing clothes, getting out of the shower. For being pinned down by someone just heavy enough, sitting on my chest just right, that I can’t throw her off as she mashes her lips onto mine and tries to force her tongue past my clenched teeth.
What is it when she’s female, younger and smaller than you? When you’re the oldest of all the kids and the most responsible?
Ellen gave me the words “sexual assault.” She gave me something to put those memories in, a context from which to view them.
We’re talking about this because Ellen has helped me with a lot that I’ve struggled with – I can go past the first date now, without panicking. I can have sex. I’m a lot better about giving myself permission to go for it – to try something new and be ok if I fail, or the experience isn’t what I hoped. None of the changes happened over night, but overall I’m in a much better place than when I first sat on that couch and started talking to Ellen.
Despite all that growth though, I still have not been able to do one thing I’ve longed for – to shrink.
I’m 300 pounds and I’ve been there for about seven years, with no end in sight. My body is my shield. It keeps people out. It’s easy to be invisible. It feels safer. And if my shield is also a cage, well, there are prices to being safe. I’ve spent my adult life trying to figure out how to unlock that door while also holding it shut.
I’m almost 30, a long way from 11, but the lessons learned as a child cannot be unlearned, unfelt. Coping mechanisms become habit, habit becomes practice, and what you practice becomes who you are.
I’m trying something new with a new counselor (though I still see Ellen once every 4-6 weeks for perspective and what I jokingly call “maintenance”). Amanda uses brain integration therapy, emotional freedom technique, and other things that seem very “alternative” and hokey, except they’ve been helping me.
We use affirmations a lot. “I can easily make healthy choices,” “I am safe in a healthy body,” “I can easily breathe in uncomfortable situations,” and many more. It can feel silly, but after a few sessions I’ve found myself thinking, “I can easily make healthy choices” and bypassing the frozen pizza aisle at the grocery store.
I find myself rolling the idea of “safe” and “healthy” a lot in my head. Sometimes old memories that I haven’t thought about in years will pop up, like being 13, riding the bus home and a boy loudly talking about how my tits bounced when I ran. I make slow shifts and past experiences and old fears surface and stretch.
I’m learning to breathe through the discomfort and uncertainty. I’ve done a lot of work already with Ellen, and I know I’m capable of more than I believe.
I breathe through the fears of my 11 and 13 years old self. I repeat, “I am safe in a healthy body,” to Amanda. I imagine putting down the shield and opening the cage that I don’t need anymore.
I breathe in. I get knocked down and lay there, feeling the ground.
I breathe out, and get back up.
Many thanks to my good friend Lorelai for being willing to take photos of me in my underwear. We can cross that one off the list.