You Pick: Self-Control Or Self-Love?
“All I really want is to be able to get swimsuit-ready down there without having a knock-down, drag-out fight with my belly and breasts. Is that really too much to ask?”
I would love to tell you that this quote came from one of my coaching clients, but it didn’t. I’ve said that and a truly incalculable number of other not-helpful things about my body in the twenty or so years I spent hating it. They are assessments that I would never, ever say about another woman. In fact, I wouldn’t even think them. My crooked little brain didn’t produce “other”-loathing thoughts, but when it came to self-loathing, I was quite masterful.
It started in my early teens, long before I actually had a weight problem…something that shocked me a few years ago when I actually went back and looked at pictures. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried to control my impulses for unhealthy foods, or how much I tried to force myself to work out or walk or anything else that would result in sweating and weight loss, I couldn’t get it done. I felt like a complete failure, and as I watched myself spiraling downward into whatever is below the darkest shadows in the pit of failure, I seemed wholly incapable of choosing a new direction.
I know. It all sounds very dramatic, but sadly, this is not an exaggeration. Like many of the women I work with today, I was once a self-destructive tornado of self-defeating madness. I was, by far, my worst enemy. Blessedly, the force of protection and healing that could turn all of that around lived within me as well.
The stones of the path that I traveled back to sanity are many and as varied as one might imagine. There was the realization that I use food like other people use vodka. There was a week-long intensive at a treatment facility for eating disorders where the stories I’d been telling myself were first challenged; and I received the first nuggets of what would be an ongoing study of nutrition and the body. There was the harsh recognition that much of my internal and external dialogue every single day was about food and being overweight and that basically, my emotional and social lives were anchored in food.
One particular experience is on my mind today, a truly life-altering education during a session with intuitive therapist Maryann B. Russell. I brought up my ongoing struggle with weight. I want to talk about my health… about the extra weight. I’ve been working and trying to make all of these changes. I even feel like I know what I’m supposed to be doing, but I just can’t seem to do what I know needs to be done. All of this self-care stuff, I just can’t do it… and I don’t understand why.
Maryann invited me to release the idea of self-care and to consider instead the idea of self-love. Self-love? Oh dear god, I thought, anything but that. After years of relentless study of the concept of self-care, she dropped a self-love bomb on me. If all that I’d invested in trying to get smarter, stronger, and more disciplined — in cracking my self-control whip — couldn’t produce a strong, healthy body, I shuddered, what in the hell could?
She reminded me to explore all of the things I already know about love… and then apply that to my relationship with myself. Durn. I hate it when it’s that simple and that painfully complicated at the exact same time. (For the record, these are the types of experiences that, when I’m the one dropping the bomb, my clients call “Christy – Love her, hate her” moments.) So, I accepted the challenge, and dug into my most beautiful, loving experiences to see what in the world she was talking about.
I remembered that I never dreamed about changing dirty diapers, or sleep-deprived midnight feedings, but when I became a mother, I did those things without pause because I loved that baby. It was what he needed. When his sister was born, I did the same for her. I never dreamed about cleaning stomach-turning wounds and delivering pain medicines around the clock, but when my wife had foot surgery, there I was. I love her. It was easy.
It wasn’t that my love for them forced me to take these actions. This is deeper than being controlled. The love changed me. It activated new parts of me, giving me access to sides of myself that I never knew before. I was then, and continue to be now, empowered by my love for others. I was inspired to take action that otherwise I wouldn’t “want” to take, or didn’t believe I was capable of taking.
It turns out, love makes me sort of superhuman.
Once I remembered that love makes me sort of superhuman, I knew Maryann was absolutely right about my health. Taking back my body, and my life for that matter, would not and could not be done by sheer will. This recovery path, the healing of decades of hurt and harm that I’d carried around within the shell of my skin, required the superhuman me. She challenged me to release the forceful, authoritative approach of my childhood, the battle for control of the parent-child dynamic inside me. Then she invited me to lean into my own unconditionally loving nature with others to guide me as I recreate the relationship, or fight, I’d been having with myself.
For some time now, I’ve been playing with the idea of recovery through self-love (in lieu of working on it). When I see the way forgiveness cultivates freedom in the heart of someone who hurt my feelings, I turn that forgiveness within and free myself too. When I celebrate the triumph of a dear friend, I pause to breathe that celebration into my own triumphant soul. When I notice that the voice in my head is hurtful or disrespectful, I pause to consider how I would speak to my daughter if she’d done whatever I’m beating myself up for. Then, I begin again from that heart-centered place instead.
I’ve told the courageous women with whom I work that if beating ourselves up had ever helped anyone make anything better, I would at least be willing to consider it as an option. I’m a results girl. I get high on personal evolution. And if I thought for a moment that railing violently against herself — her body or her track record, her poverty or her scattered brain, her taste in partners or her addictive behavior, her messy house or soul-shattering screaming at her child — would help her move into alignment with her beautiful, powerful, authentic self, I would be open to it.
If encouraging you to treat yourself more violently would help you, I promise, I would encourage you. But it doesn’t serve you. Self-control, at least as I’m using it here, is an act of fear, and nothing good ever comes from fear. Love is what heals, and while it is beautiful and generous to give that gift to others, we must remember to be loving with ourselves.
Love is the sunlight that allows us to bloom into who we want to be. Go ahead, try it. Your life is waiting for you.