Hatred is a tricky emotion, yet the strongest of any I know; some say it is the opposite of love and we can only truly hate something we once also loved.
While I struggle to remember the exact moment I decided to hate my body, I suspect it paralleled my belief I was flawed—an outcast like Dylan—and far too sensitive for this world.
At the young age of ten, my sensitive soul created a story around the reality of my imperfection. With each passing year, my faith in this story grew in evidence, and emotion. At my core, I was flawed, with no hope of finding acceptance.
Over the years, my confidence and passion for life wilted. With the weight of simply existing now too heavy to bear, I began to crumble. Finding myself too afraid to reveal my fears or insecurities, I found a new confidante: anorexia.
Within the confines of the food rules, restrictions and control, I felt safe. As long as I maintained a certain weight, ate certain foods and exercised x number of hours each day, I would find acceptance.
Within the safe embrace of anorexia, I no longer needed to rely on the reality of the external world; I was invincible and I was loved.
For nearly three years, I embraced only this friendship. Blinded by the promise of my new relationship, I slowly found myself letting go of parts I once deemed sacred.
Suddenly, quality time spent with close friends paled in comparison to arduous evenings sprinting on the treadmill. Enjoying wedding cake or a snickers bar, was grounds for divorce, as was gaining any weight, sleeping in and any form of relaxation. These were all signs of indulgence, and completely unacceptable.
Over the months, my already slender physique slowly faded to a lifeless body. The energy and enthusiasm I once prided myself on, vanished. While the physical evidence of my starving body was horrific, it was the robbing of my soul which continues to haunt me to this day.
I remember a friend once asking me why I didn’t simply replace my compulsive food rules with thoughts of things I loved. Speechless, I stared at her. In truth, while I felt safe with anorexia by my side, I also felt incredibly lonely—for the love I used to know and for my authentic self.
According to Western medicine, people with anorexia tend to have similar personality traits. We tend to be sensitive, introverted, intense and perfectionists. We are people-pleasers, choosing to give others the love we are unable to give ourselves. With passion and determination, we embody whichever emotion we choose.
In the midst of my battle with anorexia, I chose to embody self-hatred. By starving my physical body, I also chose to starve my soul. And similar to other addictions, there are only a few possible outcomes—namely, recovery or death.
To this day, I cannot recall the exact reason I chose to live, or rather, to stop dying. However, I do remember making the decision.
Suffering from my yearly bout with shin splints, I was forced to take a break from running. I changed my exercise routine, which led to daily battles with anorexia and self-criticism. In an effort to calm my mind, I began attending an Anusara yoga class.
A novice to yoga, I had previously attended only a handful of classes; I only knew that I felt better upon leaving the studio. While I didn’t fully understand the postures, or even the breathing techniques, I knew something shifted within me every class.
Sometimes it was an ache in my left left hip that seemed to dissipate after half-pigeon. Sometimes it was a horrific headache that somehow lessened with my steady breath. Other times, it was a more profound sense of lightness and trust, in knowing something sweeter was at play.
In this particular Anusara class, I knew something profound was occurring. Always esoteric, my Anusara teacher spoke of the Yoga Sutras and briefly explained their simplicity in guiding us to spiritual enlightenment. She then spoke of the yamas and niyamas, and mentioned ahimsa (non-harming). For her, ahimsa had been profound.
Maintaining a sense of professionalism, she never revealed the details of her personal interaction with Ahimsa. Instead, she sweetly mentioned, it means taking responsibility for our own harmful actions. She explained, true Ahmisa stems from our intention to act with clarity and love.
As I flowed through the asanas, I felt her words delve deeper into my being. Nearly every time I tried to focus on my breath, I found myself wondering about this notion of acting with love.
What did it really mean to love oneself and why should I even care?
By the time class ended, I felt slightly shaken up, but uncertain why. As I rolled up my mat and gathered my belongings, I felt compelled to ask the teacher about this enigmatic ahimsa. I then mustered up the courage to simply ask her, Why ahimsa?
She hesitated briefly, then proceeded to tell me of her battle with anorexia years ago and the healing power of her yoga practice. With tears stinging my eyes, I quickly shuffled away, certain something greater was once again at play.
On that day, nearly eight years ago, I decided to stop hating myself. Exhausted by the energy required to hate my body, mind and spirit, I let go of my attachment to anorexia.
Slowly, I learned how to grant myself permission to love my authentic self; to love, again, that energetic bundle of joy, the one who so kindly embraced every person and idea.
To love, without reservation, my every imperfection, thought and emotion, and to simply savor the experience of me.
Erin Nickel is a writer and yoga teacher in Loveland, CO. She is passionate about inspiring others to explore, honor and celebrate their authentic selves. Through writing and teaching, Erin continuously finds creative ways to integrate her passion for yoga with her passion for engaging meaningfully with the world. Outside of a yoga studio or coffee shop, one can find Erin trail running, back country skiing, or purusing at the nearest book store.
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Assistant Ed: Jennifer Spesia/Ed: Bryonie Wise