In this two-part episode, I talk about how my shame and hate for my body began at the tender age of 3, the negative messages I got growing up, and how meditation got me going beyond being a part-time bulimic. Note: I say dysmorphism, it’s the same as dysmorphia. The "notes" that follow are an accompaniment to the podcasts and end-dive full circle beyond a story.
Age 3 is a young age to experience body shame. In myself, it manifested as kids being kids, and calling me fat for having a little belly. Age 3 was also when there were many pedophiles around and I was accused of seducing them. I was given mixed messages from that tender age, what many women experience: I was sexy, and told I was pretty (could even be a model), but not that pretty, as I had a scar on my nose since birth from removing a cyst, and being scarred for life was clearly a sign of ugliness.
Other messages I was told was the usual I wasn’t good enough, not worthy, girls don’t play sports, and the prince and princess game. I mention that it’s a very common game played in society: my fellow male personal trainers told me that men had found me attractive, but they were intimated by the way I trained. I’ve experienced this programming time and again, even recently when I was taking pole FITNESS classes, which is hard and essentially like doing a lot of lat pull-ups, and had men flat out refuse to talk to me when they saw my arms. Of course, they didn’t know that I didn’t lift heavy, was using bands and doing pyramiding, nor did they know that I had been biceping my pullups because of a winged scapula due to too much computer usage. Not wanting to be rescued by a prince, spending hours in the bathroom to get that “perfect” look, and pretending to be a helpless flower or “lady,” is not part of the princess program. Unfortunately, the prince and princess program doesn’t end too well, as testified by many marriages.
Body dysmorphia means you have a distorted perception of your body. We all have preferences about our body, and this is subject to perception. In my case, I had real issues with my body which did not make me feel at ease with my body: by age 18, I was fat, had stretch marks, deep undereye lines, had breasts still at the budding stage of size AA, and was hairy. I also had rosacea and was diagnosed with chemical sensitives and extremely sensitive skin. The message I received from my parents was that there was nothing I could do; it was “God” who had ordained it.
The negative messages about my body and about myself as a person meant that I had become a bitter, sad woman, who was very adept at using walls to keep people at bay. I didn’t have many friends, and in terms of intimate relationships, I took what I got. I went out with men I wasn’t attracted to or who didn’t treat me well, because, after all, that’s what I deserved. I was fat and ugly, and really unacceptable.
Losing weight was a real issue, however. I had an undiagnosed thyroid issue, and didn’t know much about nutrition. I was biking 15 hours a week, biking to and from work, and while my body wasn’t overweight, it was skinny fat. I remember going out with this guy, and when I took my clothes off, he lost his erection. “You look good in clothes,” he told me, “but you’re fat.” It hurt, but thankfully the “powers that be” were there to intervene.
But not before I became what I called a part-time bulimic. I had broken up with my boyfriend, and all areas of my life were in the toilet. I had met him when I was no longer skinny fat, but got fat again. And now I found myself bingeing on cookies every second weekend. It started with an old childhood pattern that many are familiar with: using food to smother emotions. In fact, I had become fat when I was young because I had been accused of being a seductress, only normal being a devil child. So food was a comfort that kept my body fat, and men were no longer interested in me. It’s a strategy many women have confessed to, one which I found hard to deal with when I lost weight and became toned, when the male attention returned. What was hard was that it brought with it so many issues: about how women are treated in society, about the denial of the female shakti energy, about how so many men see women as object, thing to be used and loved for a time, and then discarded as easily as facial tissue.
It was (an continues to be) a subject that is not easy to broach, as so many are on old male-female dynamics that are run on unconscious programs, programs which are in need of being modified, re-coded or deleted.
The weight gain was not a happy welcome, and I got an idea that I could have it both ways and cheat: I found myself eating tons of cookies, and then throwing them up. Vomiting, or emesis, can be therapeutic, or so I read somewhere in Ayurvedic medicine, but it is quite the dirty, smelly and unpleasant experience for most. I tolerated it, and even started using laxatives as a way to purge. I envied those anorexics who didn’t eat much, and who could throw up easily. I found forcing the body to throw up quite the challenge, especially when there was not much liquid in the stomach.
Reality? Reality was I had real issues with my body that were also based in the negative messages I had experienced (congenital conditions, called jing deficiency in Chinese medicine). This is something that is known by body workers (such as massage therapists): that the issues most of us have with our bodies are due to past traumas. How the traumas manifest is different for each, as each body has its own unique DNA. For one, that might be high cholesterol or diabetes, for another it might be hypothyroidism. Asking WHY ME is really silly, because while the experience of suffering might be different, does it really matter whether it is physical, verbal or sexual abuse? Does the form of the suffering matter, or is not sufficient to say it is ALL suffering, and that it the impetus, the trigger, the stimulus that leads us go beyond such suffering? On another note, all bodies break down with something (known as ageing), yet we can modulate our environment through diet and lifestyle choices.
In my case, it was not long after this part-time bingeing began that I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease called Hashimoto’s. I was also diagnosed as being estrogen dominant, having 2x the amount of an average women, having excess androgens, and then later diagnosed with having food allergies and irritable bowel syndrome (spastic colon). The estrogen dominance and thyroid issue explained why it was hard to lose weight, and I began taking thyroid medication. The androgens explained why I was hairy, and I spent $5000 in laser hair removal treatments. I was one of the worst cases they had seen, as my old hair removal methods had seen my skin reacting with folliculitis and ingrown hairs. At a later point in time, I was diagnosed as having a rare condition called tuberous breasts, which explained their small size and odd-shape.
Reality? Reality was understanding that I had created this situation in order to understand that the food I fed my body became my body.
Reality? Reality was understanding that I needed to go beyond the negative childhood and programming that I had undergone.
Reality? Reality meant understanding it was time to stop with all areas being in the TOILET. And it was why I changed my Life around.
I became vegetarian and then vegan. I went to study naturopathy, and then Chinese medicine and acupressure. I re-certified as a trainer and attended Can-fit Pro conferences, and also trade shows for health professionals (CHFA). I went back to working out at the gym most days of the week.
And I did something called meditation. Meditation, the practice of presence and awareness to what is called Life, as well as “me” and “my life story.”
The shift had happened, and continued to be in full throttle, would indeed see so many years growing in presence and awareness, shedding layers, old programs, old ways. Not looking back, but not fantasizing about a better future either. Remaining in the NOW.
NOW was that I had to take a good, hard look at this nasty behavior I had developed called binge eating. I had to go deep into it, peel back layers, get to the root of it. Oh, I know, as you, know, that we so often use food as a lover. But eating oodles of chocolate cookies didn’t make me happy. They made my body fat and pudgy, and it wasn’t something I was keen on.
I took a lesson from listening to Osho’s meditation technique on quitting smoking. Eating, smoking, porn, alcohol, gambling, drugs--- it’s all the same addiction, just different fixes for the same thing called delusion: running away from myself. Because, really, who wants to face that monster under the bed? It’s so easy to pull the cover over our hear, wait and pretend that maybe, just maybe, that big ol’ thing called MIND is going to go away.
But it doesn’t work like that. And no one gets a free ticket. Even the enlightened ones have said as much, that even they had to transcend the false self called ego.
Smoking is like sex, you do it in a rush and think it’s so dirty. You think it’s bad and evil, and you’re not supposed to do it.
Everyone says so.
And your intuition, that gut feeling, says it’s such a lie. Of course you can do it. It’s called: choice.
So if you want to smoke, smoke. But do it diligently. Do it lovingly. Caress each cigarette with love and tenderness. Light the fire and see the flame that makes the world aglow. Why the rush, when each breath can be like pranayama, each meeting of butt to lips like a delicious French kiss.
And so I used this same meditative awareness to my cookie habit.
At first, I just watched. Osho was so right, I counted the cookies and saw how I was now Catherine the cookie monster, shoving and munching, and barely chewing; could never get enough sugar, Sugar, SUGAR! And then the guilt, the horror, the disgust for what I had done. What happened to the vow, never to do it again, such a lie, I was such a LIAR.
No guilt. Just watching as I now heaved everything up, vomit dripping from my fingers, snot running from my nose, eyes that looked like I had been crying, and a tomato red face with streaks of vomit on the chin dribbling down.
I watched the first few times, and then I intervened, taking it cool and calm, like Osho said. I ate one cookie, and instead of 20 cookies eaten in 2 minutes, it was a full 2 minutes of savoring each cookie: opening it up, licking the icing off one cookie, and then the other, being soft and tender with my tongue to lick every bit off.
I nibbled on a cookie, tasting the cholatey flour of it.
And I realized I didn’t much care for the taste. No, it was really the icing that was the bomb, that was the real cherry on the cake. Why bother eating the cake, when a tub of icing would suffice? Why bother eating the pie, when the filling was the sweet sugar fix I was looking for?
This behavior manifested into a new form, you see. For the mind, the ego, does NOT like to be found out. And I was there, looking. I was there, watching each action, each cookie being taken out of the box.
I was there, too, when the mind tried its last-ditch effort to create a smoke screen. Really, I was there, in front of the open pantry, the box of cookies on the shelf, and I, there, reaching in with my hand, cookie after cookie. I, there, watching and waiting, as I chewed thoroughly, and really tasted each cookie.
But, suddenly, it was like I was in a fog, and there was a haze, like a huge billow of smoke between me and the open pantry. This smoke, when I saw it, did NOT want me to see what I was doing, how slowly and carefully my actions had become. On the next bingeing occasion, again it occurred, but this time I brought my attention to the smoke, brought my attention OFF the cookie TO the haze, and realized it was being created IN my MIND. There was no smoke between me and the open pantry door, only what seemed like a fog before my eyes that mind was creating.
How interesting, how clever, I thought.
And that thought was also the mind’s demise, because it meant it had shifted focus from cookie to fog to its own cleverness.
And I, the witness of it all, saw it all so clearly.
That was also the moment that the mind lost its hold on the cookie addiction pattern.
I had, you see, also been making many changes in my life, was constantly bringing awareness to them, and in the face of Light, darkness cannot be; for dark and light can never meet, but when they do, fools do weep.
The pattern of being a part-time bulimic no longer had the same affinity for me, although I will say that the momentum of this energy pattern was still there. That’s the thing about addiction and the very functioning of the ego: it can change its love object, but the addiction for addiction remains.
While I continued to transcend the old programming that had been given to me by my family, society and culture, this was an interesting pattern in the ego called Catherine that remained. Its root tenet, you see, had started in childhood as a coping mechanism to stuff down emotions, as a defensive mechanism that was ingrained in the biology of the body called sexuality. Addiction to food is a rather nasty program, as all bodies require sustenance for Life. The body is not choosy in what it eats; its love for the entity inside the body is unconditional, and will accept whatever is fed to it.
This pattern, called consumption, or that vice known as greed, migrated to an interesting pattern that had the same structure as the previous one. While before the provocation was largely due to the heavy demands of the workplace and the subsequent purging using laxatives and vomiting, now the provoking emotion was happiness (happy to be in a new relationship, which justified eating the whole bag of chips during a movie), and the consequential lack of purging called fasting. Fasting was similar to purging in that the justified response was that balance had to be achieved, and it was a healthy fast based on caloric debt of liquid veggies called juicing or smoothies. Fasting went hand in hand with purging, which took the form of waste removal via enemas. Enemas were various, now water, now coffee, now herbal tea, now in large quantities or done more frequently during the day.
Cycles then began, similar to the cycle of the every 2nd weekend cookie bulimic episode, now the chips were put aside for a binge episode of any and all sweet food eaten in a 1-day period, followed by a long 7, 14, or 21 day fast of juices, smoothies, herbal tea, or even just water. The up and down cycle mimicked the exact pattern of sugar, and the very root being an addict: now on HIGH, now on LOW cycle.
Indeed, the very cycle could better be seen as the bio-rhythmic activity of the dance between yin and yang, the dual forces in existence, now spiraling towards one another, now vibrating in their own essence.
And the same could be said about the ego, it too falling under the umbrella of the biodynamic play of the universe: the rises and falls in the mind, the trials and tribulations followed by moments of pure bliss, the blips and blobs of the life situation, now stagnant and cold, now warm and heating, now following the ebbs and tides of the seasons.
The root was found: greed was just a name, a label, a vice, of which there were many. All vices belonged to the mind--- see the game? Ego manifests as different programs, but only one true problem exists.
There was only ONE problem: the mind.
And there was only one solution, which wasn’t even a solution at all.
In fact, one could say that the ego didn’t even exist. It, too, was part of maya, part of the cosmic game the universe was enjoying with itself.
Were we mere pawns, mere toys, mere puppets in its equation for enlightenment? Would the universe ever stop expanding only to contract back? What to say about human evolution, a human life known as 1 unit of consciousness? If nothing had ever happened, as Buddha had reported, then enlightenment too had never happened and the “solution” of awareness never was.
The story behind the bulimic cookie monster had come full circle, a circle that never even existed.