I was eight years old.
I remember the sensation exactly—delighting in my body. Being completely happy in my physical self.
I was horse-obsessed for years—my sister and I used to gallop everywhere. We would neigh, loudly. We set up jumps in the back yard and cantered our invisible horses over them, with reckless abandon. With joie de vivre.
I wasn’t self-aware enough to realize that I was proud of the strong, fantastic body I had, I just took extreme satisfaction and simple delight in all it enabled me to do. I was vivacious. It brought me immense joy to use my legs to leap and bound, my arms to swing and climb.
Monkey bars! Diving boards! These activities made my child’s heart thrill.
A few years later I stopped eating.
I was 12. There was no pivotal moment where things shifted in my mind, where my beautiful, strong legs became instead globs of fat instead of the purveyors of my glossy, sleek horseback dreams. Where my bum became not something that propelled me up hills and through lakes but simply an unsightly appendage unfortunately affixed to me.
I believed, without a doubt, that I was ugly. Gross. I remember sitting in gym class, looking at my calves. By nature, I build muscle easily and the fact that I had calves at all instead of the twig-legs I aspired to (although I understand now the bearers of twig-legs may have been just as self-hating) made me cringe.
I would happily have worn a sack for the three years of junior high. My natural ebulliance had disappeared.
I started starving myself, throwing up when I did eat, and going on long, hard runs. I did become thin. I lost 35 pounds the year I was 12. People noticed. My family was aghast. I was always shivery and irritated.
In high school, sports brought me back—a little respite of physical satisfaction.Those runs to lose weight had paid off ability-wise—I competed in cross country, swim team, soccer and track and field.
I was a keen, indomitable runner and for a time I began to eat more. Those minutes on the soccer pitch or during a race were moments of absolution where the mind halted and my whole body had a period of ease. From my own abhorrence. From the criticisms of others. For a few moments my body was nothing but tenacious and intense and moving forward—fast.
Few physical joys on earth compare to moments during a good run. Grace—that’s the only word for it.
And then I grew up. The food issues never ended nor the self-hatred, except during rare moments of serenity—fleeting times here and there when I consigned to oblivion, ever so briefly, the pain:
The end of a long run at dusk as I gazed out over Calgary and felt every muscle in my thighs and calves ache from being challenged. The first swim of the summer where my body became weightless and I thrilled in the perfect blessing of cool water on skin.
For the most part, I was filled with self-loathing. I scorned my nose, my skin, what I felt was my double chin, my stomach—all of me was unsightly.
When I was 16, I was initiated into the world of icy, cool pints and tiny umbrellas. Of corks and pull-tabs.
Immediately I discovered that if I drank, I didn’t eat. Drinking helped me talk to boys and I discovered, that if someone else embraced this body of mine, I felt a little less loathing for it. But alone with myself—the bitterness returned.
All too often, depression, anxiety, and body image issues plague and attack our young women and men.
I’m not here to tell anyone how to heal. Only how I healed—in the hopes that maybe in my story can help others.
After the birth of my son coupled my already present depression and anxiety with the swift, one-two punch of post-partum, I became a full-blown alcoholic. When I was drinking, it didn’t matter how I looked (which was most often quite honestly horrific). Ironically, I am physically allergic to alcohol, legitimately—my face swells up and I look entirely Frankensteinesque—yet the alcohol stopped the feelings, and at that point that’s all that mattered.
I drank and I drank and I drank. I drank until I had lost everything in my life that mattered. I drank until I lost the essence of myself—my soul.
I was 31 when I stopped drinking, starving myself, throwing up and hating everything about myself. One day I found myself holding clearly in either hand the choice to die or live, and against my better judgment at the time, I chose life.
I will be one year sober in a week.
One year ago I started, slowly, to love myself again. Heart, soul, body. I have written in great detail about coming to terms with my guilt, my relationships, my self-inflicted losses, but never about this one significant thing that has been present the whole journey—my body.
And let me tell you, hot damn, I love my body.
I love that it is still here.
I love that my legs are so strong that I can put on my shoes, run out the door and feel the blessing of the sun on my face —my beautiful muscles in action for an effortless 10 kilometers, any time.
I love that three months sober, I embarked on a solo backpacking trip on the Juan de Fuca trail in B.C and my body carried me through, all alone—adventurous and courageous. I love that in yoga my body finds soul-peace. dares to surprise me with new positions and connects with my heart.
I love my nose, that I hated so much (even though I broke it twice while drinking and it will always have a bump on it) because it makes me who I am.
I love my abdomen. It carried my child, in my womb and it survived the poisons I later filled it with. Whether I’m 10 pounds underweight or overweight, I am thankful it is part of me.
I love my breasts, my hair and my toes. The time has finally arrived to embrace myself wholly and after 31 years, I remind myself every day to be content and thankful because every finger, toe, split end, freckle and eyelash on this body is perfect the way that it is.
“As for this body, it is solid and strong and curious and full of detail; it wants to polish itself; it wants to love another body; it is the only vessel in the world that can hold, in a mix of power, passion ideas, ingenuity, devotion, merriment, vanity and virtue.” ~ Mary Oliver
Bonus: India Arie tells it like it is.
Author: Keeley Milne
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: courtesy of author