It's been nine months and I'm still peeling back the layers of body image and deep past hurt that rose up at Body Image Bootcamp Facilitator Certification. Healthy Body Image, a healthy relationship with self and body, really is a journey and not some magical destination you reach where it's all love and happiness and "positive vibes only".
Frankly, that's just unrealistic.
I've always had a difficult time feeling connected to other people, and over time I've had a difficult time feeling connected to myself. Early on, I worked really hard to figure out 'what I wanted to do with my life' and 'what I wanted to be when I grew up', and for a while I was happy with that.
Fast forward and the last several years (read: increasingly since moving to the US) and I've just felt 'off'. Not myself. I've felt more and more of myself getting caged by fear and grief and codependency and a deep well of loneliness that was building.
I filled my time with working, with distractions, with half-tried hobbies all in an attempt to ignore and downplay how I was really feeling and how much I was avoiding.
I had signed up for BIBC pre-pandemic and frankly wanted to take it so I could integrate it into my photography work. Yes, I knew there would be some personal work involved, but after two rounds of different versions of BIBC I thought I knew what I was in for. But the world being what it was, the retreat was delayed by a year. And that's probably a good thing. Doing this in person is so different than any online version or reading books.
I arrived late, my flight delayed and cancelled and when I did get to Mexico, the others in the house had an entire day to connect and talk and get the bonding process started. Once again, I felt like an outsider in yet another space. It's nothing anyone did or said, that was entirely my own insecurities.
When it came time to photograph each other (if we wanted) everyone grabbed cameras and changed into outfits they brought (I brought next to nothing because next to nothing fits me). The excitement at making art with new people in a new space and to push some edges and be seen was palpable.
And nobody wanted to photograph me.
At least, nobody asked to. I projected that nobody wanted to because of that. And while everyone was shooting up front and center, I was in the background, getting a few shots between others and being the observer, as was my way.
It was a comfortable place to be, in the background, but for the first time in maybe my entire life
I wanted to be seen, and I wanted to feel connected to these beautiful humans who share a desire to be comfortable in their skin and a passion for creating. I wanted to feel that I belonged somewhere.
And I didn't feel like I did. Again. I quietly slipped away unnoticed and stripped down to nothing, wading in to the pool alone. I swam out to the edge and let my tears flow. Great big ugly tears of loneliness that went so far beyond this single experience. I'd been lonely in one way or another for my entire life.
And ten minutes later I suddenly wasn't alone. Still lonely, but not alone.
Beth swam into the pool and saw me. Came over and held me while I cried.
Didn't ask for anything or push for anything, just remained present while I met myself full on in my fear and grief and rejection and loneliness and let myself feel the full force of what I've been carrying around. She took my hand and led me inside to the fountain and sat me there while she and Teri (our facilitator) covered me in flowers, and the tears kept coming. And Beth photographed me in that moment, in all my messy, exposed vulnerability.
For the first time in my life I was fully vulnerable not only with others, but with myself.
There was so much to unpack from that moment. So much still getting unpacked from that moment. It's funny how so brief a time can have so big an impact.
I let some of that go, and admitted to myself that I wanted to be supported and seen and connected and I needed to be open to accepting it.
I expected to get something out of the workshop-retreat professionally (yes that happened), but that was only one tiny piece of this experience. The personal effect goes so far beyond what I can put into words.
This is only itself a small piece of it. Yes, there was loneliness and grief and facing an aging changing body, facing being 40 and feeling like I'm losing myself or if I ever knew myself in the first place; there was seeing the face of my estranged mother staring back in the mirror, and questioning so many of my choices and patterns and needs.
But there was understanding and knowledge and, yes, connection.
There was the enormous gift of support and space to integrate the hard exercises we did and unlearning of some very toxic thoughts and conditioning.
And there was finally forward movement in this journey of body image after years of avoidance. And nine months later, I'm still sorting through it, still moving through it.
The journey truly started with meeting myself.
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