It was that experience, and many others similar to it; hitting a baseball for the first time, shooting a basketball into the hoop with a SWISH, making pottery, diving for and catching a line drive before I even knew what my body was doing, drawing a glass jar almost perfectly, that woke me up to the pride and joy I could feel for my body. It woke me up to what my body could do if I worked at it.
I have also enjoyed compliments; when people tell me I look good, or that my outfit is adorable, but there is nothing like the feeling I have when I am proud of something that my body can do, generally because those things have taken work. I have honed many physical skills over the course of my life, and each time I practice anything physically, I glimpse my ability and my potential. I glimpse my connectedness. I glimpse my purpose.
So when I have been punished, or belittled for my body's appearance, I have found it more and more easy to blow off: "Oh, you think my arms are too hairy?!?! Well can YOU do a handstand?!?!?!" When I am belittled for my appearance or just belittled in general, I remind myself of my awesomeness. Not everyone knows how awesome I am, and that is okay, as long as I don't forget.
When I forget, I know I am in trouble. When I start beating up on myself, or feeling badly and then doing destructive things, that is when I know I have forgotten how truly fucking epic it feels to kick up into a handstand, or have really great sex, or ride my bike up a long hill, or draw a picture of a woman in a tree, on the precipice of flight.
For all of these are reasons, and many more, I decided a long time ago to treat my body like a vehicle, not an ornament. Because while it is nice to get compliments on my looks, those are fleeting, and depend upon the approval of an outside source. Physical ability is lasting; you work at it over time, feeling the setbacks and advances, and it rests squarely on your own shoulders. You truly earn your ability to do anything.
But there is a difference between understanding what my body is capable of and dealing with how I feel about myself. Because so many other things in life also send me messages, and if I am not also training my mind to allow the best and brightest messages in, I might end up allowing in trash that will inevitably pollute my well-being. I have friends who inadvertently belittle me, relatives who sometimes say the thing that hurts me the most, and I have worked with people who have seemed to go out of their way to make sure that my work life was a shitshow.
These are all realities in my life, and I have come to see that if I can train my mind, much like I train my body, I can handle this type of treatment with love and compassion. This is the hardest thing I do, because unless I have truly let a past trauma go, things I encounter today will trigger those memories and I will go through that pain all over again.
For instance, my mother lied to me a lot as a kid. She did very little to make sure I was safe and healthy, and very often would belittle or abuse me when she was feeling badly. It is no wonder I have had a hard time learning how to trust women in my life. My father left our house when I was about eight, and kept leaving in one way or another, all of his life. I had to work my ass off to create a relationship with him, and now, I have to remind myself that I don't have to work my ass off to get someone to love me, that I am lovable, just as I am.
As a kid, I believed that I was treated this way because of me, because there was some flaw in my design, that I was not lovable or worthy of care. I just couldn't bring myself to believe that someone I loved was flawed in that way. Yes, I grew out of that, but growing up believing that shit trained me into seeing it. It created a filter of pain through which I viewed the world, and one which has taken a lot to undo.
Just as my body learned to catch, throw, and draw, it also learned that I was not lovable. So while I developed this one filter, which told me I was physically capable of doing really wonderful things, I also developed this other one that told me I was not a good person, and when I choose to believe that filter, I am capable of doing truly regrettable things. Every day, it is up to me to choose my filter.
Just like catching a ball, or drawing a picture, this, too is learned behavior, and depends, once again, upon some outside source. Just like a compliment, an insult does not have to land on you. You can reject it. You can choose to allow the person trying to hurt you to have their pain. You can not allow the disease of pain and anger and hatred to spread. But this is not the kind of thing you learn after school on the playground.
Though I have been in therapy for years, I received very little training on how to let people be assholes without making it my problem. This is the hardest thing to do for someone who feels like she needs to stand up for herself at every opportunity. I have had so many situations in which I was powerless to defend myself, that now, when I have the wits and the opportunity to do so, it is almost impossible to bite my tongue. It is almost inconceivable that I would choose not to use my highly honed skills of debate and verbal combat to defend myself.
But I think that just might be the lesson. Though I have these ninja-like verbal communication skills, I don't have to use them. I don't have to prove anything to anyone, least of all someone who is trying to hurt me.
I am worthy of love not because I work my ass off for it, but because I am a person.
I actually do deserve people in my life who will not lie to me and belittle me.
I don't have to defend myself against people who belittle me because they are in pain.
So I go through life vigilantly reminding myself of these things. I realize that at some point, my physical abilities will dwindle. As my body ages, I will be able to do less and less, and at a certain point, I will just have my wits and my ability to choose which filter I will use through which to view the world. This is its own kind of practice, and though it does not result in an amazing orgasm or a touchdown, what it does bring will help me to truly see myself and love that person. It will help me know that in the long run, I was worth the effort.