Caring for your body isn’t as simple as the magazines make it out to be.
The choice to care for your physical self can be very difficult. For example, if you’re parenting young children, caring for an aged parent, or managing an ongoing crisis, giving care to your body might seem impossible given what you need to do for others.
But at other times — even in the midst of such challenges — self-care isn’t impeded by visible roadblocks. Sometimes you have every opportunity to take a nap or go to a yoga class … and you just don’t. There’s an invisible something in the way.
The resistance is holding you back; it has your hands and ankles tied. Worse, it’s so subtle that you don’t even realize that you’re bound. Resistance tells you that you’re less-than, and not deserving of care.
Deep down, you know better. You know that, in caring for your physical body with integrity and kindness, you are more empowered to care for others.
But on the other hand, the resistance can be very convincing.
On our way to an appointment, 2008
I’ve desired treatment for a specific scar for years. (I’ve written before about how this scar came to be, and the process of healing the broken relationship with myself.) Yet while I forgive myself for the choices that led to scarring, the mark still bothers me.
I’m not on a quest for a ‘perfect’ body; I have other scars that don’t bother me in the least. However, the nature of this particular scar has made it a stumbling block for me. Even so, I’ve only allowed myself small interventions, like lotions and creams.
Over time, I’ve done research on surgeons who might repair my scar. I’ve written down their names and numbers, yet I have never made an appointment. I realize the irony here; when I lived at L’Arche*, I used to accompany my friend Leo** to doctors all the time. I wouldn’t hesitate to make an appointment with Leo’s dermatologist if he wanted to go. In fact, I had that number memorized.
Life has a funny way of conspiring to help you make positive changes, whether you think you’re ready for them or not. Recently, I was speaking to a close friend who is studying to be a doctor. One moment, we were talking about her patients. The next moment, I was telling her about my scar.
It was as though my mouth had been momentarily hijacked by a braver version of me. And that ‘me’ was sharing, with courage and vulnerability, the story of my scar. I even told my friend that I had a number for a local surgeon who specialized in scar repair, but that I was too scared to make the call.
Some part of me must have known that this friend was the right person to tell. She listened intently, then instantly affirmed me. She said, “If it’s a big deal for you — which it would be for me — and if it’s weighing you down, you have to act. If it’s taking up space in your mind and affecting the way in which you present and perceive yourself — make the call!”
Relief coursed through my veins. She didn’t think I was being selfish! She gave me her blessing to do what I needed to do to love my body. And that was — and is — a priceless gift.
Before she hung up, she said, gently but firmly, “Call that doctor.” As if she knew that I might need a little push in the right direction. (God bless friends who know us that well.)
I did make the call. And I learned that the (minor, outpatient) procedure would cost much less than I had initially feared. After five years, I made an appointment … and my heart feels free.
Sacred space, 2012
I have lived with my scar for almost six years now. It has been my teacher; it has helped me to practice self-acceptance even when a part of me seems ‘broken.’ I am grateful for that, but now, it’s time to move forward.
In that spirit, I would like to give you permission to care for your physical body, in whatever way seems right to you.
Of course, there are many things that we cannot change about our physical bodies, and I’m not advocating for any unhealthy perfectionism here. It’s vital to have gratitude for our bodies, for all the systems and structures that work for us and allow us to live.
But the truth is that there are many things that we can change … but too often, we don’t.
We may not prioritize maintaining a healthy weight, or figure out why our skin keeps breaking out. We may not honestly evaluate the quality of what we eat, or choose truly nourishing food.
It’s easy to put these things off, to tell ourselves that our bodies aren’t a big deal.
But as life at L’Arche taught me, tending to the body can also tend to the soul, and the sacred is present everywhere. (I think that I’m paraphrasing Anne Lamott here, but when I Google this, only A Wish Come Clear comes up. This is either inadvertent plagiarism or the best compliment I could pay myself.)
What you need to do might be as simple as getting more sleep, or as complex as getting surgery. So how will you know the right thing to do for your body?
You’ll know because it will taste of relief and liberation.
Have you ever struggled to care for your body? Join the conversation in the comments!
Also, I’m honored to be a guest poster at Jacquelin Cangro’s SHINE today. SHINE is “a repository for uplifting stories about everyday people who are quietly changing their lives by following a dream.”
Welcome SHINE readers! If you liked this post, receive new posts via email, along with your FREE copy of Your Creed of Care: How To Dig For Treasure In People (Without Getting Buried Alive).
*L’Arche is a faith-based non-profit organization that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. I spent 5 years serving the DC community in various caregiving roles.
**Names have been changed to protect privacy.