June 7, 2016
Coming Home, Part 2: Body of Shame
This week, we continue our series with Elloa Atkinson. She shares powerfully about how she felt imprisoned by her body and what she did to break free.
I live in a body that has known deep shame. As I wrote in my previous post, for years my body crawled with the stuff. Take the shame away and I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what was left. It became the central hinge upon which my whole identity rested.
At times, the shame has consumed almost every waking moment, and yet trying to put words to it, and to how I have found healing and relief from it, is hard. Everything about my body — every single human thing about it, the way it moves and functions and lives and breathes — has repulsed me at some point.
My body proved to me over and over again that my deepest fears and feelings about myself were “true”: that I am defective, repulsive and unlovable. It became the focal point for every regret, fear, disappointment and uncomfortable emotion I had.
To live with toxic shame and body dysmorphia is to be imprisoned in a hall of warped mirrors, permanently accompanied by a critical companion that is always one step ahead of you. Shame speaks in words and feelings, internal voices speaking with authority, distorting everything about how you look and feel. You come to live in an alternate reality, unable to see what other people see. This is why anorexics, when asked to identify a photograph of their skeletal silhouettes, will point to a photograph of an obese person. Talk about needing a miracle, which A Course In Miracles, the psycho-spiritual text I study, describes as “a shift in perception.”
I was disgusted by myself. I ripped the hair clean out of my skull and scratched scars into my arms. If I sat and focused on a body part, it would literally get bigger before my eyes, like a sick nightmare that becomes increasingly warped, one in which you become more and more and more imprisoned; a nightmare with no way out.
Except that there was. It just did not come in the form I expected.
The truth is that my long, unpredictable and incredibly beautiful journey of healing from shame and coming home to myself has comprised many facets, layers, teachers and lessons. Today I want to share about just one of those.
In 2006, I found medicine for transforming my relationship with my body, and it was not in the form I expected. I was already studying A Course In Miracles, which taught me over and over that I am not a body. I am free. I am as God created me. So the last place I expected to find healing from the pain of having my body was in my body itself.
I had always loved to dance. As a child I made up dances in my bedroom to Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves and the soundtrack to Grease. Musical theatre captured my imagination and made my heart soar as I watched the dancers pirouette and leap in perfectly synchronised, awe-inspiring routines. In early addiction recovery, I continued to rave and go clubbing, diving into the music in a bid to get away from the self-consciousness. Movement felt good.
And then I found the movement meditation practice of 5Rhythms — or it found me. People had been recommending it for a couple of years to me, but it took me a while to get to a class. When I did, it felt like coming home. Permission to writhe and heave and roll around on the floor, doing my own thing, not needing to look cool, with no way of getting it wrong? Where had this been all my life?!
In a few short years, I notched up close to 350 hours of 5Rhythms experience. I danced alone, and with men, and with other women, and in groups. I danced my pain and I danced the shame, giving it movement, giving my body — this horrible, heavy, lethargic vehicle of shame — a voice.
I grunted and groaned and moaned and wailed. I howled and cried and fell into whirlpools of ecstasy. I spun in circles and shook and twisted and jumped, each rhythm reconnecting me to an essential element of being alive. Words and tears cried in stillness could only take me so far. Dancing took me into the heart of being human and paradoxically way, way beyond being human, reconnecting me to the part of me that is indestructible, pure energy.
In the first rhythm, flow, I found my connection to myself and the earth, the nurturing, accepting feminine energy within me. I circled and swirled and found curves and softness. I breathed deep and long and came home to myself.
In the second rhythm, staccato, my hips rocked and rolled to the beat, and I found my yes and my no. I found power and breathed fire, felt my feet stomp in sync with the rhythm of life itself. I breathed heavy and hot and came home to myself.
In the third rhythm of chaos, I found complete and total release. I found ecstasy better than any drug. I found what it is to be danced, to lose the small self, to lose all thought and to simply experience being. I breathed empty and full and came home to myself.
In the fourth rhythm, lyrical, I discovered how to play again, perhaps as un-self-consciously as I ever have. I breathed delight and laughter and came home to myself.
And finally, in stillness I found grief, relief, and home. I found the still point within me. I discovered powerful non-sexual contact with other humans, men and women, and I surrendered. I breathed long and deep and came home to myself.
I went to classes, workshops and retreats. I danced big and I danced small. I danced on Venice Beach and in Houston airport — no exaggeration. I danced at London Heathrow while waiting for my baggage. I danced on the Tube in London. I danced on the roof of my friend’s garage in LA. Dancing healed me, brought me home to myself. My body stopped being this thing that I objectified and identified with, and became my blank canvas, my vehicle for self-expression.
And as I observed other dancers, I noticed that nobody, nobody, ever danced the same as anyone else. I noticed women with full round bellies who were gorgeous goddesses. I saw people so in sync with one another that it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began.
My competitive, comparison-addled brain couldn’t comprehend what this meant, and would often turn up the volume on thoughts. Many, many times, I wanted the attention of the teacher, or to be seen as the best, or to get male attention. I wanted to compete and compare, and I did. Those were the times when I hated 5Rhythms, and I’m so grateful for them, because they brought me face to face with myself.
I no longer go to 5Rhythms. It was a season in my life, and after a lot of wrestling with and questioning why it doesn’t have the same impact on me nowadays, and wondering if I should just keep going and allow this lack of enjoyment to be the practice, I have let it go from my life.
Healing from shame is a lifelong process. For me, it has been long, slow and painful but there is no denying that it has been worth it. If I had to do it all over again, I would, because the freedom I have tasted and the joy I have experienced in this funny meat suit I now call home is beyond anything I could have imagined.
And ultimately, if I’m not working towards this, what am I committed to? ACIM teaches that we are always committed to something. As Carlos Castaneda said, “We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.”
So when I dance today — whether in my home, in a club, alone or with another — I still meet myself, I still face myself and I still free myself, one choice, one breath, one funky freaky dance move at a time.
Elloa Atkinson is a life-changing coach, an inspiring speaker, and a writer whose work has been featured on the home pages of the Huffington Post and the Good Men Project.
A certified life coach, Elloa also has over ten years experience of assisting, supporting and leading emotionally intense personal development work. She is a long-term student and teacher of A Course In Miracles and believes that we are all inherently whole, innocent and worthy of love and that our core problem is that we have forgotten that.
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