Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Body Imagery Exercise (181.4)

I took a 4 mile walk in the sunshine on Saturday.  The weather was perfect.  I listened to the first CD of Geneen Roth's Feeding the Hungry Heart on my iPod.  It's a recording of one of her workshops, not just her reading a book, so it even has some interaction from her workshop participants.

On the CD, she does a guided imagery exercise.  Walking was actually a really great way to do this exercise.  My mind wasn't distracted by anything--my body was busy and my mind was able to wander where she asked me to.

The exercise was to imagine your favorite outdoor place and go there.  At first I couldn't figure out what the outside place would be.  I went to Trunk Bay in St John.  It was the most beautiful beach we visited on our trip in 2009.  Pure white sand, turquoise water.  But we only spent a few hours there, and I couldn't hold onto it in my imagination.  Also, she wanted the place to be somewhere we could have other people join us.

So I picked the park I most often run in.  We sometimes take the kids there to feed the ducks.  We've had family pictures taken there twice.  I grew up with trees and green grass and have always felt connected to that type of landscape, so this felt more permanent.

I put myself there.  Then she asked us to invite three people.  Our mother, our father, and a significant other. Then she asked us to imagine standing in front of our mother, and getting as fat as we can imagine ourselves getting.

What?  OK, this was freaky, but I did it.

Then she asked questions about how it felt to be this size with our mother.  Do you feel safe? Do you feel strong?  Do you feel most like yourself?  Is there anything scary about being this size with your mother?

After being with those feelings for a while, she asked that we imagine our bodies getting smaller and being as thin as we can imagine ourselves getting. And she asked the same questions.

She had us imagine the same with our fathers, and then with our significant others (for me, my husband).

What a revealing exercise.

With my mom, at my fattest I felt safe and accepted.  At my thinnest, I felt judged and rejected and looked at suspiciously.  With my dad, at my fattest I felt ashamed and like I wanted to hide. At my thinnest, I felt proud and as if I was saying "now that I'm perfect, will you love me?"  With my husband, at my fattest I felt sad and uncomfortable and ashamed and disappointed.  At my thinnest, I felt happy and free and relaxed and confident.

When I was in my early 20s, I had lost weight and my grandmother (my mom's mom) said to me, "Laura Marie, you have lost too much weight.  What if you get sick?"  In her world, extra weight meant protection from dying. And probably protection from creepy uncles and who knows what else she wasn't saying alound. But being thin was a bad thing.

My mom still has horrible body image issues that she has no clue about. Every time she comes to my house, she gets on my bathroom scale and weighs herself.  I am often in the bathroom getting ready for work when she does this (she comes to my house early on Friday's to stay with Luke).  Without fail, she gets off the scale disgusted, shaking her head.  I don't even ask what she weighs. It's somewhere in the low to mid 170s.  She's not dieting, she's not exercising, she has her own bathroom scale.  I don't know why she does this.  She weighs less than me. She wears a size 12.

Saturday I was at a family get together with her, and a family member she hadn't seen in a while came up to say hi.  He gave her a hug, asked her how she was, and she said "oh fat and sassy! Well, fat at least."  She says this kind of thing about herself all the time. 

I look just like my mom, by the way. And she looks really young for her age. So much so that 20 years ago people thought we were sisters. 

Apparantly it doesn't cross her mind that what she says about herself might impact the way I feel about myself.

It drives me crazy.

The exercise revealed more about my Dad than anything.  I always tried to be perfect to get Dad's love and attention.  But I didn't realize until that exercise how strongly my weight was still tied to him.

With my husband, I pretty much knew how I felt.  We had a lot of trouble in our marriage because of my weight.  We went to marriage counseling, we got past it (and several other issues), had a baby, had another baby, and made a life together.  But my size and the way I looked has always been an issue in our relationship.  Mostly because I couldn't accept myself as I was, but also because my husband married a hot wife and ended up a year later with a 40 pound overweight & depressed wife. 

The weird thing was, when I lost weight in 2007 and was super fit in 2008, Mark gained weight.  And he got really resentful of me.  He had been a kick boxing instructor for five years (while I was 40 or more pounds overweight).  He gained a good 40 pounds, and he couldn't stand that his fat wife was thin and running 20 miles a week. And he wasn't.

That really messed with my head.

Now, he is not upset with my size at all. He said I look voluptuous. And he just wants me to be happy. The weight didn't come back on the way it was before.  My face doesn't look like I weigh 182 pounds.  I have a lot more stomach fat than I did before, so even though my hips are still really big, my body looks more balanced.  And thank heaven for High Waist Assets, the modern day corset.  I can wear long dresses that flatter my body and not have to fight the muffin top.

I am working out at the gym in the mornings and getting ready for work there.  I love it.  I am eating when I'm hungry, stopping when I'm full (which is really tricky to feel when you aren't used to stopping before you're stuffed).  I am still taking the diet pills, and they are still helping.  They won't be much longer and I'll have to rely just on myself. Which is what Geneen Roth wants me to do anyway. 

I finished Women, Food, and God this weekend. Despite the title, it is not a religious book. I liked it, and it is also so rich in revelations that when I used the highlight function on my Kindle this time, I think I highlighted more than half the book. 

I wasn't ready for her methods a decade or so ago, when I had bought one of her books that I never finished and ended up selling in a yard sale.  I'm ready now.  I'd encourage you to start with the book I did, When Food is Love, if you have childhood abuse/neglect/trauma that you think could be causing your food compulsions. You might be ready for it, or you might not.  Only you can know.


Jill said...

I took a moment and did the imagery exercise. With my mom, at my fattest I felt unloved, ugly, shamed. At my thinnest, I felt loved, glowing, very accepted. We went to her house on Easter and even though I was dressed up, she did not say one word about how I looked. She didn't even say anything about my dress. When I lost weight a couple of years ago, every time she saw me she gushed all over me about how good I looked. It's pretty obvious that the better I look, the more acceptable I am (to her). If I decided to think about it very much, it would really piss me off. But I don't have time to go that deep right now. My mom has ALWAYS for as long as I can remember had horrible body image issues. She's always had self confidence issues too. Her self esteem is so low, but I think she would rather wallow in her comfortable misery than try to do anything about it.

With my dad I don't really have any
strong feelings one way or the other. Dad's a "go with the flow" kind of guy, so I don't think it really matters how I look. That's kind of nice.

With my husband, at my fattest, I would feel bad and disappointed (kind of like I do now) but I know that he would still love me. At my thinnest, it would be a sigh of relief. He's always been really good about NOT making me feel bad about my weight, so that helps.

Wow. Totally didn't mean to write a novel here! This is a good exercise and yes, very revealing. I'm glad you are enjoying her book. Keep going girl! :)

Jodie said...

Another good post. I'm so glad you're sharing your therapy with us (and it really makes me jealous! I want your therapist!!)

Sounds like you're taking control. Good job. Keep it up - we're all here with you.

Kara said...

It sounds like you have a really great therapist!

Vickie said...

my mother's entire family would look down on fat. I remember one of my dad's sisters being about a size 16 in college and my mom's family being horrified.And there is the proportion thing as these were all short women. So at 5'6" I felt like an amazon already. add any extra fat and I felt like a blimp. (I have a daugher who is 5' even and that body size is tough. one extra pound on them looks like 5+ on someone else. So I really understand/SEE the proportion thing from both directions NOW).

my father's entire family was fat and would have felt uncomfortable with thin or well dressed or educated.

my husband sees fat as a sign of unhealthy.

To take this a step further,

with all my 'fat on' I LOOK like my father's family. I look like my fat aunts and fat great aunts (my face, I mean literally I resemble that side of the family when fat).

with all my 'fat off' I look like my mom's side of the family (my face, my bone structure, my features).

very interesting exercise

Helen said...

I've been thinking about this exercise since I read your post yesterday. It is SO thought-provoking that it, along with another revelatory thing yesterday, has made me realize that I need to get back to therapy...even for a little while. I have made calls and sent e-mails already today and will blog about the results of my informal body imagery exercise soon. Thank you for sharing.

E. Jane said...

This post was very enlightening for me, particularly since I had serious issues with my mother. What I discovered during the imagery scenario with my mother is that I felt scared and unloved whether I was fat or thin. I think that is truly the essence of our relationship. No matter what, it was dysfunctional. Thanks for sharing this amazing post.