I went to the dance tonight to celebrate the end of an almost 4 year long legal process. A 4 year long ordeal of leaving my ex-husband.
I danced. I felt happy. I enjoyed the music. I smiled. I forgot about my problems. I lost myself in the moves, the beat and my dance partners. It was a good night. Swing dancing is an amazing healer.
Friends and strangers alike knew I was celebrating tonight. Swing dance events usually include a birthday jam, a song where those who are celebrating something or visiting from out of town get “jammed” inside a dance circle.
Tonight, I celebrated freedom and victory with a jam I’ve waited for for almost 17 years. It felt incredible.
After the dance, someone I’ve danced with over the years came up to me and started talking. He told me that 3.5 years ago when I started coming to the dance I looked like “someone coming out of a long illness.” He went on to explain that I looked healthier now and that I’d changed for the better. He said that I had been much thinner and looked fragile.
It was a genuine compliment. He was right. I was coming out of a long illness and a long abusive relationship. I was going out as a single adult for the first time since I was a teenager. He was also right that I was thinner then. I’ve gained about 10-15 pounds from the low end of the weight I’d been hovering around for about 3 years. He’s probably right that I look healthier. I am healthier mentally.
But as anyone who battles an eating disorder knows, compliments can be treacherous. Any comment about a person’s weight, size, shape or healthiness can be interpreted by the eating disorder voice as an insult.
I tried to be present as he gave me this kind feedback about my health.
But inside my head Ana was screaming at me to get away from the conversation. Ana was telling me…”he thinks you are fat.” She was telling me “it’s so obvious you’ve gained weight even a stranger can notice.” She was telling me “you are fat. you are disgusting. you have no self control. you are weak. you are shameful. you are ugly.” She was having a yelling match in my head as this shy man struggled to explain what he’d noticed.
I’m trying to sit with the compliment.
Factually it is true, I have gained weight. No, I’m not comfortable with it. Yes, I’m constantly thinking about restricting and exercising and ways to lose weight. Yes, I put myself down far more than anyone would realize.
But honestly F#@K Ana.
That man wasn’t telling me I looked fat. That man was telling me that I look healthier after escaping from an abusive relationship that almost killed me. He was telling me I looked more alive and happier. He was complimenting me, even if Ana couldn’t understand.
People in recovery from eating disorders might always interpret compliments about their health or their body in a negative light. Generally it’s safer NOT to talk about a person’s weight or size. It can be a trigger and very uncomfortable, especially in early stages of recovery.
But for tonight, I’m happy that I’m still alive. My body is okay. It allowed me to dance for almost 3 hours tonight, despite my chronic pain issues. My body has been through so much. It’s okay to give Ana a break once in a while and just appreciate the steps I’ve taken towards health and recovery.
Your body is okay too. Whatever your shape or size. You are beautiful and strong and you deserve to love yourself.
Banish body shame. It’s okay to accept the compliment. You are worth it ❤