Last session in Germany. It’s been a wonderful few days of imagining, exchanging and warmth. We sit in a circle and the teacher talks about trappings. How he used to enjoy the comfort and status conferred by living in a big house. (Hello? Is it me you’re talking to?) And how his dog, who has no worries about his appearance, is his role model. People spend time and money on clothes, makeup, jewellery etc, but these are not their body.
I’m starting to feel uncomfortable.
See, he is talking about a body as though it is ‘the real me’ and I realise that I never think that. My body is just the poor unfortunate lump that struggles to lug me around. I am not my body. If anything, I am my messy brain. (I start to worry, too, about people with physical disabilities. Like Stephen Hawking.)
He asks us to fetch paper and pen. To write a letter to our body. Thank it. I’m feeling positively queasy now. Then annoyed. This is NOT what I signed up for. This is NOT Alexander Technique. He is not my shrink. (I don’t have one, more’s the pity.) And anyway, it’s a bloody stupid exercise.
Still, I am obedient. And I grudgingly suppose it might prove interesting, even if it is stupid.
I don’t know what to write. I feel self conscious, although the letter is completely private. I can’t stop crying. Regular readers of my blog will know this is not unusual. In fact, today, the crying began early, when we were asked to feel the roof of our mouths with our tongues. Very odd. I can’t help feeling this might have something to do with my need to stuff food into my gob all day long. I could make a link to lack of breastfeeding, but would it help?
I look around the room at all these people industriously writing letters to their bodies, and their bodies are all perfect. Not as in ‘everybody is perfect’. I mean, really. There is no one there even half as wide as I am. Having spoken to them I know that they all dance, hike, paraglide and so on: lead active lives. There is one lovely, jolly woman there, a former physiotherapist, who earlier gave me a private lesson, and, having mentioned to her the various injuries to my ankle, she jumped up and down off the floor to manipulate it, when I can barely even bend in the middle to reach it myself. And, reader, this woman is EIGHTY SIX. (AT teachers, as a breed, do seem to live the most extraordinarily long lives.)
My face is burning. I and my body are the elephant in the room.
Horror of horrors, he now asks us to get into pairs and READ THEM to one another. I seek out one of the people I’ve befriended here. (Who also had a self-confessed melt down earlier in the week.) I tell her I am not able to read my letter, not because I don’t trust her, but because it is too painful for me and if I try I will howl. But if she would like to read hers, I will be happy to be her listener. She reassures me: ‘Don’t worry, I couldn’t do it either last year.’ I should add that she is one of the most beautiful people I have ever clapped eyes on, with the lithe, strong body of an athlete ten years her junior, and a face to launch a thousand ships.
Thank you for my children, for allowing me to bring them forth, nourish them and hold them.
And thank you for continuing to function through the hard times when I gave up and would have been happy for you to have given up, also.
Sorry that I didn’t give you as much help as I could or should have; didn’t give you the best tools to continue your work and even sabotaged your best efforts. I didn’t let you have as much fun as would have been nice for both of us. I didn’t enjoy you, and all that you can do – or could have, if I had let you have your way. You had the potential to be so much more than the clapped out vehicle you are now. What I would like is for you to feel the sun and a caress, and to believe you deserve them both.
Sorry that I made you into something of which I am ashamed. I don’t know why I didn’t allow you to function at your best and threw obstacles in your way. I stuff you, then squeeze and humiliate you; I create your shortcomings and then focus on them and hide behind them.
I would like to trust you rather than abusing you. I burden you and put brakes on, yet you struggle manfully on. I’m sorry I say rude things about you, especially as your failings are not your fault but mine. I feel disappointed in you, and that seems unfair.
I don’t know why we have such a bad relationship, but I recognise it’s been bad from the start. I remember feeling fat and inadequate even as a toddler, not wanting anyone to see me, yet making myself bigger and bigger. Why did I feel I was not enough, and why does irrationally overfeeding you seem to be some kind of answer? Something to do, I feel, with building a wall around me.
What kind of example am I setting for my children? (And why does this kind of thinking make me want to stuff more food in?)
I can’t promise to reform overnight after 50 years of such destructive behaviour, but I hope to make things right between us. First of all I’d like to stop filling you with crap and would like to give you proper fuel. Maybe also give you exercise, and stop picking at nails and scabs. I’d even like to be less embarrassed about the waste you expel, and other normal bodily functions. (Mention of eating, shitting, and – heaven forbid – sex are totally taboo.) Rather than be ashamed, eg looking at photos, I should celebrate that you are managing to keep me alive and allowing me to experience the pleasure of living, of the good things in life.
Can we be friends again?
You’d think, wouldn’t you, after that, that I would have turned over a new leaf? But no. Back home and once again hovering up anything edible in sight and even eating peanut butter with a spoon.
Photo is a detail of a fat lady sculpture by Niki de St Phalle, in the Sprengel Museum in Hannover.