The tools require a lifetime of practice, including this tool in your toolkit:
I was repeatedly told that I had to love my abusers because we’re related, and families are meant to be together. I was reminded that they had had a difficult life growing up.
I don’t deny it. However, what happened to them does not excuse anyone’s refusal to take responsibility for their own actions. Especially when they were repeatedly told, by their doctors, that they needed counseling, but they repeatedly refused because “it’s hard.” No kidding.
Imagine the shock when once again I was told that I had to love my abusers because they were doing the best they knew how, and I finally replied, “No, I don’t.”
You are not doing the best you know how when you have been given steps to follow to become healthier and refuse to take those steps. It’s like having an infection and refusing to take the antibiotics you’ve been given, then complaining that you’re still sick.
I don’t feel guilty about deciding I don’t have to love anyone, not anymore, because their definition of love and mine are not the same and by their definition, I don’t. Thank God. And thank God, He has taught me that I can love them as human beings but that doesn’t mean I have to put myself in harm’s way.
It is possible to love someone without liking them. As I become healthier, I am learning to love my abusers, not as dictated by the world, but in choosing to turn them over to God, who is Love. They are His responsibility, not mine.
Charity is the purest form of love. I’m not talking about the narrowed-down definition of giving money to the poor that we usually think of now. I’m working with the Biblical definition: The pure love of Christ because without it we are poor indeed.
There are those misguided people who will declare that loving yourself is wrong. Being selfish is self-limiting, but loving self produces the ripple effect, blessing the world.
Self Love, not selfish love.
Love encompasses traits like respect for self and others, honor, compassion, integrity, gratitude, hope, faith, trust, forgiveness, commitment, and more. Love is all that is good and right. God is Love.
A concept I’ve worked hard to grasp is that love truly does tend to increase when you share it, though it doesn’t always return on the same path. I need to be open to the possibilities, and I am awed by the love that flows to me. So often, it comes from unexpected places and at unexpected times, but always I am reminded that God is mindful of me, though not always in the way in which I might desire. Then I remind myself that God’s plan is wiser and more encompassing than I will ever imagine.
The first and great commandment is to love God, and the second is like unto it, to love thy neighbor as thyself. Sadly, it seems as if it is all too much, and so we lob off the last bit — that bit about loving yourself.
For me, an important place to start loving myself was to start loving the body my spirit lives in. This might not be the starting place for someone else, but it is for me. For so many years, I thought I could work on the inside and not worry about the outside. I was lying to myself, because every time I looked in the mirror, I didn’t like what I saw.
As difficult is it for me to do, it’s a logical place to start simply because it’s obvious. You can’t escape you’re body. It’s with you no matter what you do or where you go. It’s possible to bury thoughts and feelings, but the body is always there.
I have been harassed about my body all my life. My hair was too long or too short. My eyes were too alluring, or I didn’t make proper eye contact. My build was too broad, i.e., I wasn’t willowy. I wasn’t curvy enough. I was too tall. I suffered from severe acne, so my face was scarred.
There are those who tout that they know how to end obesity in America and will see it done. How arrogant, self-centered, egocentric, small. They pronounce that Americans will eat more fruits and vegetables and whole grains. So, have you planned euthanasia for those of us unable to follow your gift-to-mankind diet plan? Those with food allergies, celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, just to name a few.
Newsflash: Obesity isn’t necessarily about food.
I remember eating dog food because I was hungry. I remember being punished for eating leftovers because I was stealing the food from the mouths of my siblings, food that otherwise would have rotted in the fridge. I was spoiling my dinner if I stole a few graham crackers and a bit of milk. My brothers could do all those things. They were growing boys. I could not. I was stealing food, spoiling my dinner, growing fat. Mind you, I was called fat when I was 5’5” tall and weighed 125 lb with the almost perfect measurements of 35/25/36.
Once I took control of my eating, in college, I was able to maintain my weight for several years, though the harassment about my weight continued. As I grew into a marriageable age, the frenzy from others for me to be thin increased. Everything I ate was commented on. At the same time, the way I was shown love was by gifts of chocolate or cookies or some other sweet treat.
Being the perfect weight for me was not considered acceptable. How could I possibly love myself when those who were supposed to love me continually criticized my appearance, an avoidable part of who I am?
I was the perfect weight, but the men I met treated me more like their big sister than a potential girlfriend. I asked why. Yes, I’ve always been willing to ask questions. I was told that my acne turned them off. Yes, I now realize that the guys were jerks, and no I didn’t realize it at the time.
This is a good time to remind myself that my relationships were not healthy. I had an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and a severely underdeveloped sense of self.
I gave up hope of finding a healthy relationship. Since the jerks didn’t like someone with acne or who was fat, I used my obesity to hide. In doing so, I discovered that people don’t look at someone who’s fat. I became quite adept at being invisible. I wanted to be invisible. Being fat wasn’t the problem. Obesity was the symptom of problems that no diet could help, ever.
Add to that, I asked why I had been sexually abused and was told that it was because I had bedroom eyes. Really. No mention was made of the fact that those people were perverted. It was my fault. Worse, it was because of my eyes, something I couldn’t change, nor should I have ever even considered it an option, because it isn’t. It is still difficult for me to look anyone in the eye, until I truly trust them.
Loving myself means that I have to stop punishing myself, for having the body I do and for looking the way I do and for being who and what I am.
One example, with regards to my weight, is that I’d grown up hearing about how important it was not to reward yourself with food. I regularly chastised myself for using food to celebrate holidays, special occasions, and for fun events. What I didn’t acknowledge was that I was allowing others to determine why I did what I did. I had turned over control to someone else, because I thought they knew more than me. What else could I do when I hadn’t yet learned to stop lying to myself?
It was only a few years ago that I finally came to realize that I also have a tendency to punish myself with food. Yep. It isn’t a reward; it’s a punishment.
The first thing I started to recognize was that I eat when I’m not hungry. I always thought it was because I was bored — at least, that’s what so many of the food gurus have said. But, as a rule, I don’t allow myself to become bored. Being bored was always a dangerous proposition. It usually meant work, really unpleasant work. So, I learned, at a very early age, to always have more to do than I could possibly ever accomplish. Worked great for never being bored.
I can think of countless times when I’ve eaten food I knew would make me ill. It wasn’t as if I’d forgotten, but I needed to remember, in this new context, that as a child I was forced to eat food that made me sick. It was stomach turning to realize that I don’t need abusers now; I’m quite capable of carrying out their work without any help or input from them. I know the parameters they’ve set, and how to work within those parameters. Sounds horrendous. But it doesn’t seem that way to me because I grew up with it.
I’m finally recognizing that this is a fight for my life. If I continue on this course, I will be killing myself, slowly. It must stop. This is not a path God intended for anyone.
Once these bits of knowledge registered, I realized that I needed to learn to recognize when I was punishing myself. And I am, but sometimes it’s still after the fact — the well-known 20/20 hindsight. Sometimes, it’s as simple as the fact that I am tired. Tired of fighting. Tired of trying. Tired of feeling like no matter what I do, it doesn’t make a difference. So, I punish myself for wanting to give up. I punish myself for making a mistake. I punish myself for not being patient, kind, understanding, industrious, perfect. I’ve even punished myself for making bad food choices or for not being able to stay at church because someone wore perfume.
Yes, I even punished myself for problems beyond my control. I didn’t say it made sense. It doesn’t. All that being said, I am making progress. Sometimes, I am able to stop punishing myself, more often now than in the past. I think part of that has been recognizing all the ways I punish myself.
It doesn’t help that there are zealots out there telling me how to eat, and I feel stupidly guilty that my body cannot tolerate whole grains. Eating healthy by the commonly accepted standard would kill me, and yet I feel guilt that I physically cannot eat as the experts recommend: “It’s healthy.” Not for me!
The battle only begins with food. I also try to exercise every day, but I’m not a huge fan. I do it because it’s good for me. In this, I catch myself coming and going. Exercising feels like punishment sometimes, but if I don’t exercise then I scold myself for not exercising.
Then there is the concept of healthy sleep. The experts tell us that adequate sleep is essential for good health. That’s great, as long as the nightmares stay away. It only takes one really bad one to convince me to try to sleep as little as possible for several days on end, to avoid the nightmares.
I look at my cluttered room and know I punish myself for that, and yet I’ve tried it clean and it makes me depressed. When I was growing up, cleaning was an oft-used punishment. The criteria changed haphazardly. The message I heard was that no matter how hard I tried, no matter how many times I did it, it would never be good enough. Add to that, if it’s cluttered, then it doesn’t feel so empty, and I tell myself I don’t notice my dog being gone.
So what are the crimes I’m punishing myself for, really?
Having a body that isn’t perfect.
Not fitting in.
Missing my dog.
God created me to be unique, and I’m punishing myself because I am.
It’s time to change. It’s time to learn to think differently.
I have a Herculean task before me. I’m not a computer whose hard drive can be wiped and reprogrammed. I have to start where I am, recognize and take responsibility for what I think and do, and learn new ways of thinking and behaving. I’m tired just thinking about it, but I’m changing, which means I will not stuff something into my mouth in an effort to shut up what I’m thinking.
And, come to think of it, I do eat so I don’t have to feel or think. I knew I used food to stuff my feelings, but I didn’t realize I also use it to turn off my brain, like turning on the television when I don’t want to think anymore — many of us do that.
So, what do I do instead, now that I’ve taken away the old standby? Eating was easy, usually tasted pretty good, and was convenient. Besides, I’d only recently started learning what my comfort foods were! Really. I didn’t know. Learning about my comfort foods came with the what-are-my-favorites experiments.
It’s a little scary taking the old eating habit away. Okay, it’s a lot scary, but things cannot stay the same; they must change, and the only way they change is if I change it.
Do I love myself enough to change?
God will not live my life for me. He gave me a brain, and expects me to use it. I’m a pretty good problem solver, and really good at not giving up, over the long run. I’ll give myself permission to call it quits for the day, but I know tomorrow is coming, and I’ll have to keep moving.
Do I love myself enough to change?
God did not put me on this earth to quit. He put me, as He created me, on this earth for a purpose, knowing what would happen in my life. He even provided the Atonement for all the times I mess up.
Do I love myself enough to change?
I’ve often said that God doesn’t need to punish me because I usually do it myself. I simply hadn’t realized how adept I had become at doing it. So maybe part of this whole needing to change is me needing to forgive myself for not being what I thought I should be, and instead turn to God and let Him make of me what He would like me to be… could it truly be that simple, and that hard?
Do I love myself enough to change?
It’s difficult to love anyone or anything if you hate yourself, because there is always that underlying loathing for yourself that permeates everything. You can’t run away from it, because you carry it with you wherever you go. It’s a part of you. But it isn’t a God-given part of you.
Do I love myself enough to change?
In order for me to love God and neighbor, I have to love myself. I need to learn to love myself as God loves me: wholly, completely, unreservedly, unconditionally, nothing held back. He’ll help me change because He loves me, and I’ll choose to learn the lessons because I’m learning to love as He loves. I’m learning to love myself.
And so we return to the final concept: The three-legged stool. God never asks us to do anything we can’t do, because all things are possible with God. In the Old Testament, God gives the Ten Commandments. In the New Testament, Christ gives three: Love the Lord thy God will all thy heart, might, mind, and strength, and love thy neighbor as thyself. Love of God, neighbor, and self.
He never said it would be easy; He only said it would be worth it.
© 2010 The Project: The Tools I Wish I’d Known About Sooner / My Abuse Survivor’s Basic Toolkit by Judy