It was a warm Wednesday night and I was all alone in our living room, finishing off the bottle of wine my friend and I shared earlier in the evening. My husband was out of town and my kids were spending the night with my sister. The house was unusually quiet, giving birth to contemplative thoughts.
I replayed the conversation I just had with my friend, marveling at the similarities we shared. We both struggled with eating disorders as young adults and our relationships with our bodies are fractured. Decades after starving, binging, purging, overexercising and obsessing, we’re both heavier than we’ve ever been but more emotionally whole. This year, we both made big decisions to address the mental and emotional struggles driving us. Neither of us are distracted by obsessing over our appearance anymore. We both want to look and feel better in time, but right now we are expending important energy elsewhere. We know our emotional wholeness will lead to overall health—not the other way around—and we’ve committed to being gentle and patient with ourselves in the process.
As l recalled this conversation, I thought about Simone Biles and her monumental decision to remove herself from many of her Olympic events because she was mentally struggling. As the uncontested GOAT in her field, Biles found herself overwhelmed under the extreme pressure she faced in Tokyo. It was later revealed she was experiencing something called “the twisties,” a dangerous condition of disorientation where an athlete has no body control or awareness during twisting or flipping. This can result in devastating injury. Rather than “push through” and compete knowing she was slated as the world favorite and most decorated gymnast in history, she honored the limitations she was experiencing and withdrew from most of her events. She made the wise comment on her Instagram “mental health is physical health.” Too often we divorce the two and wonder why we lack the freedom, peace and balance that can only result from true wholeness.
As the two thoughts paralleled within my mind—the conversation I had earlier and the situation with Simone Biles—an interesting thought emerged. By focusing on my appearance or my performance, I am objectifying my body and using it to get something it was never designed to give me. My body can never give me the freedom and peace that comes with unconditional acceptance. My body is a poor cornerstone for any relationship and certainly plays a miniscule role in a fulfilling one. My body doesn’t define my worth or my value, nor does my performance or my accomplishments.
Biles facing off with the tremendous expectations put on her by a watching world and choosing to honor her mental and emotional state in the face of those expectations did something for me. It gave me permission to honor my whole self in the face of the societal pressure to perform, to put on, and to show up in the way the world wants me to show up rather than as my authentic self, with all my weaknesses and limitations. I’ll likely never know the high stakes Biles faced, but I do know what the pressure to sacrifice your emotional wellbeing for acceptance or approval feels like.
I used to look back at my high school self and cringe. So many bad decisions, horrible mistakes, boundaries broken, embarrassing memories and a painful amount of self-hatred. I used to chastise myself for knowing better and still hightailing it down some dark roads. I came from such a wonderful family—why did I end up on drugs, sleeping around and completely void of any self-worth? Why did I allow myself to be abused? How did I become such a negative person? After God completely changed my life in my early twenties, I remember having a real heart-to-heart with Him. I asked Him “How could you let me go down those roads? You know that if I would have had this encounter with you earlier on, I would have chosen a different path. My heart has always been yours.” I felt as if He answered, “I knew you were strong enough to come through it. These holes created in your heart during that short but painful time will become wells of compassion for others. Instead of self-righteousness, you’ll have a humility that can only come from having ‘been there.’” God never caused an ounce of my self-inflicted pain. In fact, He tried many times to save me from it. Upon reflection, I realize the same core issues that drove me to misuse drugs, alcohol, sex and unhealthy relationships are the same issues that rear their head in different ways today. Self-abandonment led me to starve my body to fit an ever-changing mold. Seeking the approval, love and attention I denied from myself caused me to jump in bed with others. No self-acceptance led me to create a façade of the “wild carefree girl” because I feared the rejection of my true self. Truth be told, I can do these very same things in more “acceptable” ways today. Because of that self-awareness, I no longer look at my high school self and cringe. Instead, I have so much compassion and understanding for a girl who just didn’t know better after all.
We are three-part beings. Our bodies and the accolades they have the power to produce are the least interesting things about ourselves. I’m grateful that Biles had the courage to stand up for herself and her body rather than use it—against her better judgement—to fulfill an obligation and possibly win another medal. The world can keep any “medal” I have to sacrifice my wellbeing for, no matter how big or small. I’m glad that with the world watching, Biles’ decision attested to that same truth.
I’m learning to honor my body, rather than use it. I’m learning to express my needs, rather than deny them. I’m learning to honor my boundaries and limitations, even as an expecting world watches. Happiness, inner peace and wholeness is an inside job with a lot of need-recognition and boundary-keeping in it’s description. I’m learning to do the work, how about you?
Can you relate to anything I wrote here? I’d love to hear from you. Please comment below.