It’s been three months since we turned the page on 2021 and welcomed 2022 to the scene—reluctantly hopeful this new year would bring growth as a result of the collective heartache we’ve endured in ‘20 and ‘21. As we begin to coast into the spring and summer months, I’d like to share some benchmarks I experienced in 2021 and the tools I’m carrying with me as I continue to tear down dysfunction and build a thriving life of wholeness in 2022.
Last year, I abandoned any fitness goals or aggressive attempts at weight loss, pointing my focus at taking care of myself mentally, spiritually and emotionally. I had gained and lost the same thirty pounds half-a-dozen times. The hamster wheel that spins on the widespread objectification and dehumanization of women wearied me and rather than jumping on for another go-round, I dug deeper into why it allured me in the first place.
I knew to break agreement with the cultural norm equating a woman’s worthiness with her appearance, I had to deal with my own self-objectification. Part of this process was to simply accept my physical body without trying to change it and aiming that hunger for change at my internal world instead of my appearance.
I’m a strong believer that the only way to lasting transformation is from the inside out. If a change doesn’t stick, it’s because it was rooted in a shallow soil, unable to withstand the stormy winds of life. Changing our outward appearance will never meet our internal needs. Too often, I’ve lived like the deep-sense of belonging and purpose my soul craves is easier to grasp at 20 pounds thinner. In reality, my fitness pursuits provided a great distraction from the emotional pain and experiences I buried with food and overcompensated for with exercise. It furthered my disconnection with myself and consequently—my sense of belonging—every time I rejected my body and strived to change it through harsh diet and exercise.
I was fed up with the cycle and I decided 2021 was my year to let it go completely— loosening my grip so that I could receive something new. Old keys don’t open new doors and I was tired of dancing in the hallway.
This shift of focus has changed my life forever. Full disclosure: I went up a couple pant sizes. That’s what happens when a chronic dieter, over-eater and over-exerciser deconstructs every food and work out rule previously used as a tool for feeling in control because their inner world felt so unsafe and chaotic. On the other side, I can say with total confidence the self-awareness, body-image resilience and the emotional tools I’ve gathered were worth every pound gained. Where I was once burnt out, angry and frustrated, I am now filled with so much hope. I’m on my way to the most healthy and whole version of myself I’ve ever been and I’d like to spend the next several paragraphs telling you how I got here.
Self-aware is the new skinny and it’s time to break agreement with the lie that our appearance defines us. Let’s take a stand against over-sexualization and objectification. It ends with us. The only way we can spearhead this cultural shift is through a commitment to developing our own emotional health and wholeness in a world that would love to keep us preoccupied with something so trivial as our reflection.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
While I’m certainly no authority on this matter, what I learned last year is helping me build a wholehearted, peaceful life. I’m no longer wasting precious energy trying to manage people’s perceptions of me on the outside— including my own. I’m busy practicing things that are bringing me true serenity. This commitment to shifted focus and deeper understanding make up the “hammers and nails” you’ll find in my tool belt. Here are a three practical ways I’ve abandoned fitness goals and made room for more meaningful, lasting transformation.
Admitting the need for help
A few years ago, I was leveled by the understanding that I despised and abandoned the part of myself that needs people. This was such a deep self-betrayal because needing people is a fundamental part of being human. While self-sufficiency feels like a safe way to survive, it will never be a place we can thrive.
If we want the blessing of a life well-lived, we need to let others in. I had exhausted my own efforts and was ready to admit that I couldn’t sort through the mess of my pain alone. I started attending therapy and joined a recovery group with like-minded people who were trying to heal from some of the same hard things I’ve experienced.
Admitting my life was dysfunctional and I couldn’t fix it was the springboard for everything else. God was waiting for me to let go of the self-reliance and illusions of control I clung to so I could embrace the resources He was sending my way. We can’t heal from the hurt we pretend doesn’t exist. We can’t grow when we’re too busy acting like we’ve already arrived.
Acknowledging our neediness and being willing to accept help is a huge step forward in self-awareness.
A friend shared a quote on Instagram that said “…Gentle is the way through. The word that fuels all things sustainable.” This hit me between the eyes because “gentle” was the word I felt would define my year. It’s something I’m conscious about cultivating in 2022. While I appreciate all my “fire,” I know that there are some roads where only gentleness leads. After all, being hard on myself could get me there, I would have already arrived. I want to be a safe place for those I love and to do that, I need to be a to be a safe place for me. I can’t impart what I don’t first possess. There is a time to hustle and push and a time to rest and be still. I’m learning to embrace the latter, trusting it will be the “way through” and lead to change that is sustainable rather than short-lived and shallow.
In the past, my failures in being gentle with myself leaked all over my relationships with others. Recently, I’ve been struggling with feeling disconnected from one of our kids. As I was doing the dishes today, I got some insight as to why. I was praying for my relationship with this child and was so convicted over all the times I acted harshly because my heart was in the wrong place. I had no compassion or gentleness to offer this child in their younger years because I was so damn hard on myself at that time! I was more concerned with “being right,” being perceived a certain way and doing “big things for God” that I forgot the biggest thing I could do for Him was to love with genuine affection and gentle nurture the ones He placed within my care. This has, no doubt, manifested in my current experiences with this child now. I wept and repented and was comforted by the simple truth that God alone is the One who restores. I had a peace come over me that… yeah, I messed up. My own brokenness has caused pain for my children and a strained relationship. But as I confess this brokenness, I make room for God in all His grace and perfection to move tangibly and repair the very heartache I’ve caused. I’m filled with hope as I follow gentleness’ lead, with trust in God to repair and restore all my harshness has broken in her ignorance.
Prioritize real self-care, not just the fluffy stuff
The only way I’ll have nurturing gentleness and affectionate love to offer in my relationships is if I first receive it for myself. That’s where self-care comes in and one of the things I’ve been consciously learning this past year is how to take care of myself in meaningful ways rather than destructive ones. As it turns out, a cup of hot tea and a moment to journal through my feelings is more effective self-care than downing a bottle of wine or stuffing my raw emotions with chips and salsa. I also found that a bubble bath with Epsom salts soothes the soul more efficiently than a pint of my favorite ice cream can. Another practical thing I’m learning is to steal a few quiet moments alone in my room when I’m overwhelmed instead of giving into rage; acknowledging and tending to my needs, rather than blowing past them with contempt. These are a few of the small ways I’ve learned to take care of myself.
In addition, I also consider going to therapy a form of self-care, just like attending my recovery group. Another element to self-care that I’ve prioritized is my quiet time. Not only have I put this time on the “absolutely do not skip” list, I’ve also structured this time by adapting ideas I learned from a consultant named Sammi Robbins, who I follow on Instagram. She said she does five things for five minutes for her quiet time. It looks like this: Five minutes of breath work and meditation, five minutes of journaling how you feel right now, five minutes of Bible reading, five minutes of journaling your intentions and lastly, five minutes of talking to God about anything on your mind.
I’ve adopted this method and incorporated it into my daily routine. Often, I’ll start by reading my Bible. I’m doing a Bible-reading plan with a group of friends. Since this takes longer than five minutes (and to be honest, sometimes I find our obligatory Old Testament reading less than inspirational *real talk*), I do that first. Then I do the five minutes of breath work and journaling. I follow that with reading a short devotional called Jesus Calling and looking up the corresponding scriptures. I also read some very short daily readings from my recovery group. Then, I journal about anything that spoke to me from my reading material. I spend the last chunk of time talking as openly and honestly with God as I possibly can. Sometimes there is a huge moment of breakthrough and revelation. More often than not, there is just a quiet “knowing” that shades my day with the peace I need to take the next step forward in the right direction.
I have always had a consistent quiet time, but now it’s so different. It isn’t something I feel obligated to do as a notch on my religious belt. It’s truly a time I look forward to so I can slow down, connect with myself and with God and exchange the mundane and anxious for a taste of the sacred and holy.
Self-acceptance makes a way
Coloring all of these practices is the truth that—no growth I incur, nothing I do or don’t do, no level of transformation will make me more acceptable. I’m fully embraced, just as as I am. When I receive that truth deep in my spirit, it allows me to engage the life that I have with gratitude rather than wish I was anyone else, doing anything else.
As I’ve accepted myself and cultivated these practices, there was no earth-shattering, instantaneous moment of enlightenment. Like most meaningful change, it’s been a slow methodical chipping away rather than one miraculous deliverance. It’s been a daily choice to show up and to dig in that has compounded over time. And with a little time behind me, the quality of life I’m experiencing feels exponentially better than any 30 pounds I’ve ever lost.
Self-aware is the new skinny.
Do you connect with anything you read here? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below.