What Happens When You Recover Into A Body That Doesn’t Feel Safe?

feel safe

One of the things that felt impossible to convey to my nutritional therapist was that I didn’t actually fear the inevitable weight gain of recovery. I feared recovering back into a body that doesn’t feel safe. My smaller body was my safer body. A body that was passable to society, to romantic partners, to family members. The only ridicule it regularly endured was my own. It could go for a run without commentary. Perform burlesque with acceptance. Try out aerial silks and blend in with the young gymnasts in the room just enough to be ignored.

My smaller body was not the one bullied in high school, shamed and misdiagnosed by doctors. Nor trapped in a sexually abusive relationship for a year. It was my larger body that had carried me through all my trauma.

Can your ever body feel safe?

I know that my non-recovered body isn’t safe either. Not for my hormones, digestion, bones, muscles, reproductive system, or mind. I can believe and trust with all my heart that my health is better served in my larger body. That diet culture is wildly harmful, and that all bodies are deserving of respect and accommodation.

But if I’m going to practice honesty with myself, then I must also acknowledge that people treated me better in my smaller body.

THIS is my pain point.

My mountain on my path to recovery. I can practice all this wonderful and important internal work. But I can’t change the external factors that are outside of my control.

Yes, I can set boundaries surrounding my body with my closest comrades. And yes, I can choose to plant seeds of anti-diet mentality and Health at Every Size (HAES) in casual conversation. But I can’t inform every single person I interact with as I try to navigate the world in my larger body. And until I can, I’m going to feel that signature tinge of fear every time I present this body to the world. I’m so proud of what my body has done for me. What it allows me to do every day. And what it will do someday. But none of that makes me any less afraid that this body will once again be forced to endure trauma for its audacity to exist.

All of this to say that while I don’t always feel safe in my recovering body, I have found a few ways of feeling more secure in it.

1Repeat a mantra when you feel unsafe

Together with my nutritional counselor, we created a mantra for me to repeat if my body trauma was creeping up on me.

Much of my body trauma thoughts stem from high school bullies somehow tracking me and/or my body size. I’m also naturally petrified of my abusive ex and if he ever decided to show up at my door.

So my mantra is I’m safe. No one is tracking me. No one cares.

It’s strangely soothing to convince yourself that most people from your past don’t care about you or your body. I know it’s irrational (and weirdly vain) to even think they ever would. But this is my brain’s trauma response. And my little mantra is usually enough to shift my thoughts.

2Don’t compare your recovery

It can be easy to feel disconnected from other recovering/recovered folks as they recover from very small bodies into small bodies. This is of course not to negate the experiences of folks who are naturally in smaller bodies. It’s just to say that this experience doesn’t always resonate with folks in larger bodies.

I spent my first few months in recovery consuming stories of smaller-bodied women who talked casually of being “the biggest they’d ever been.” And the discomfort of “not having a flat stomach” before their bodies settled back into their natural set points. Part of me empathized. And another part of me fumed at their ability to “try on” a larger body for a short amount of time and then return to their small body. My disordered brain griped about how it wasn’t fair. And I felt insecure and unsafe about what my own recovery would look like.

Soon after, I found it helpful not to follow specific people anymore. I know this can be helpful for SO many people, but I have found that I am more willing to take steps in recovery if I find support from bodies that I cannot see. Books, stories without numbers, articles. It keeps me on track without allowing me to draw comparisons or set unrealistic expectations for my own body based on someone else’s. This helps me to feel secure in my own recovery efforts.

3. Practice body neutrality

While I applaud the body positivity movements, they don’t resonate with me. I’m very, very far from feeling anything resembling “positive” about my body. But body neutrality asks less of me. It asks me to just try to understand my body as functional, as an experiential vessel that allows me to do all the important things I want to do.

Neutrality started with clothing. I opted for all things oversized to shift my hyper awareness of what body shape I had (and all the problems that I had with it). The unencumbering pieces also allowed me to move more freely so that I wasn’t fidgeting or fixated on my clothing. Jeans? Not fussing with them. Heels? Sounds like unnecessary foot pain.

Because much of my recovery has overlapped with quarantine, things like makeup, hair styling, and other forms of getting ready to go places have taken the backseat. This has left me spending even less time in front of the mirror every day. Which has gradually reduced the amount of body checking that I do. Now, I feel secure just knowing and sensing that I have a body. Even when I’m not analyzing it, trying to force myself to love it, or viewing it as a vehicle for past trauma.

Parting thoughts

You may not be able to make yourself safe in your body, especially if that body is marginalized. But there may be ways to find security in your recovering body.

Like all tasks in recovery, there’s a commitment to the unknown that has to take place.

This commitment starts by focusing on what you do know—that your current situation isn’t serving you. That there is a better relationship you can develop with your body. That recovery will be worth it.

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