Not enough…too much

Post by Alana Sheeren for the Kind Kindred series.


image courtesy of Wade Mon Flickr

As a young dancer I learned to pick at my body the way a teenager picks at her pimply skin: shoulders too broad, thighs too big, too tall, not enough natural turnout or flexibility, not enough…not enough…too much. This refrain carried me through several decades, from dancing into acting, from acting into teaching Pilates, from teaching Pilates into giving birth and handing my body over to a new little being who seemed to own it more completely than I did.

This refrain haunted me through betrayal and violation, through falling in love and falling apart. My body grew and shrank depending on my lifestyle and there were days when I looked in the mirror and felt good, but mostly I felt imperfect and inadequate.


Not enough. Too much.

My body changed with pregnancy and miscarriage, pregnancy and birth. It became new, unfamiliar, not mine. It was heavier, weighted down by the responsibilities of mamahood – the nursing and rocking and sleepless nights. I disappeared into being a mother, forgetting how to take care of myself. I avoided stepping in front of a mirror or camera unless holding my daughter like a shield in front of me. At the same time I felt competent as a mother and the refrain softened for a moment.

Then came another miscarriage, a broken leg, a difficult pregnancy, a stillbirth. Our son was gone. I found myself staring at my newly scarred body with grief-stricken eyes. I was bigger than ever, barely able to get off the floor, in emotional and physical pain. I felt broken and broken open, devastated but deeply grateful for another chance at life.

I wanted to be healthy, to run and play with my daughter, to have energy, to feel aliveness coursing through my veins. I wanted to feel like the real me – the me that was hiding under layers of judgment, fear and emotional eating. In the depth of my grief and the middle of my living room I turned back to the soul food I’d closed a door on fifteen years before and began to dance. I danced and cried, cried and danced, letting the pain and the fear and the longing move me. I began to soften toward myself. I began to forgive.

I practiced seeing my body with compassion and gratitude. I thanked it for staying alive when it could have slipped away with the baby and the blood. I saw the strength in my legs, felt the sadness in my belly, heard the incredible beat of my own heart. I stood looking in the mirror and asked for forgiveness. I cried, again and again and again.

Slowly, gently, my body changed. It grew healthier, stronger, lighter. I kept dancing. I walked in the hills or by the ocean. I found a yoga practice that made my soul sing. On the eve of my 40th birthday I looked in the mirror with immense love for the journey we’d been on together, my body and I. Belly still soft but legs strong, heart open and arms stretched wide I walked into a new decade, changed forever by grief and the transformation it forced on me.

Recently I noticed judgment seeping back in. It crept stealthily by as I focused on other things the last two years. One day I looked in the mirror and realized I wasn’t being kind. A soft whisper of “Not enough. Too much” took me by surprise. I picked up my camera, put my hand over my heart and took a picture in order to see myself clearly. I turned on a favorite playlist and danced so I could feel my own strength. I ran my hands over my perceived imperfections and said thank you with a tear and a smile.

It is too easy to take this miracle of cells and sinew, flesh and bone for granted. It takes practice to remain in awe of what my body can do in the small moments of daily life. Almost four years from my son’s stillbirth I continue to release the stories that were brought to light by the earthquake of his death. They cause less pain now and I recognize them more quickly. I have practices that bring me back to kindness, to acceptance and love when I wish my belly were flatter or my arms looked more toned. This journey of acceptance isn’t over but it’s more peaceful than it has ever been and as I grow into myself, I am able to celebrate the beauty in all our bodies instead of comparing, contrasting and noticing where I come up short.

I have found kindness to be a powerful antidote to suffering in my relationship with my body and in my life. I look back on pictures of my teen self and see the beauty I missed when I looked in the mirror then. I watch my young daughter run, dance and play with joyful abandon, smiling at the pride she feels for her growing body. I hope that my journey of body-love will inform hers – that it will keep her from succumbing to her own whispers of “Not enough…not enough…too much.”

 

Alana Sheeren wants to live in a world where conversations are deep, smiles are genuine and hearts stay wide open, even when life hurts.
As an intuitive coach and emotional alchemist she’s been featured on Oprah.com, applauded on the TEDx stage, and her writing has been seen in various magazines, blogs and books including Hip Mama, Trust Tending and the new collection of essays, Watch Her Thrive.
When she’s not clearing her clients’ stuck energy, teaching her popular e-course Shine, or writing madly, you can find her communing with the Pacific Ocean, being goofy with her husband and daughter, and dancing like nobody’s watching. 

You can read about Life After Benjamin, Alana’s story of growing through grief after her son’s stillbirth, learn more about releasing what’s holding you back and finding your inner shine at alanasheeren.com

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