Do You Think Your Body Saved Your Life?

By Lynn F. Forney

[TW: violence from an attack, mention of disordered eating.]

“Do you think your body saved your life?”

I was asked this question on a podcast recently. And, for a brief moment, it felt like time stood still. As that question landed heavily upon me, I was flooded with emotions; ones I couldn’t even name. Did my body help save my life? I had always given it some credit. I was a dance major, after all, so I was in good shape. But was that all the credit it deserved? And why would it have done that when I had treated it with such vitriol? Relentlessly demanding of it and never, ever being fully pleased with its efforts. And why, after all this time, do I still see it as my enemy?

By the time I reached twenty-one, I had struggled with an eating disorder for years. I attended a performing arts high school, focusing in dance, and became a dance major in college. I had spent countless hours working my body. I would often go to the gym after many hours of rehearsal. I also struggled with my relationship to food. Going on diet after diet. Not eating enough. Banning certain foods. Eventually purging. It was exhausting. But I never appreciated all that my body did for me. In spite of everything I put it through.

About two months after my twenty-first birthday, I awoke to a man sitting in my bed. A stranger. He pulled me up to a sitting position right next to him. Wide eyed I looked at him, then brought my head towards my knees as I began screaming and flailing. He started stabbing me. I was stabbed seven times and lost approximately twenty-one pints of blood. I should be dead. But here I am, twenty-four years (and many hours of therapy) later. I have found my voice, my strength, in numerous ways over the years.  Yet, despite all of the work I’ve done, one issue remains prevalent. The broken relationship I have with my body.

I’m keenly aware of all my body’s “flaws”. My digestive issues. My food intolerances. What I despise when I look in the mirror. Or even worse, at a picture of myself. I’ve also come to understand the idea that our body hears what we say to it. That if I treated my body with more kindness, more love, it would respond differently. And I believe it. So why, then, has this task proven to be so difficult? 

I’ve tried, perhaps half-heartedly, to say kind things to my body. But, very quickly, I find myself reverting back to my old ways. Sometimes without full awareness that I’m doing it. Clearly, changing my language isn’t enough.

So what is? I would imagine I’m not alone in the struggle to love and appreciate my body. In fact, the multi-million-dollar diet and fitness industry indicates I’m not. And sadly, this seems true no matter what age we are. So does that mean we are doomed to be unhappy with our bodies forever? I sincerely hope not. I wish I had the magic answer. For me, I know it’s not saying mantras, ones I don’t believe, over and over again in the mirror. Nor does it lie in ignoring my issues. But what if there was a way to truly shift my perspective?

This brings me back to the potent question I was asked. “Do you think your body saved your life?” I can’t deny that the answer is yes. Something so simple, yet so profound, seems to have shifted the needle. I can feel it. I know I need to do more work around this, but for the first time it seems, I can feel something inside me lighten. My chest feels a bit less heavy. My heart cracked open. I’ll admit, there is also shame floating around there, too, for being so horrid to my body. But rather than sit in the shame, letting it consume me, I am determined to use it as a catalyst to make up for it.

The truth is, our bodies are incredible. And they deserve to be treated as such. They weave together brilliant machinery with artistic mastery. They are incredibly wise and speak to us every day. If we’d only listen. Most of us are too busy, too distracted, to hear them. Or we’re obsessively comparing ours and how it doesn’t live up to whatever the “ideal” is at the time. 

I’m not going to profess that you shouldn’t make changes if you truly want to make them. Either for health or cosmetic reasons. But the important word here is you. Talk to your body. And, more importantly, listen. How can you be a better partner for your body and support it? Love it? Show it kindness?

This won’t happen overnight, but I have hope. Hope that truly recognizing my body for the warrior it is will help shift my perspective. And not just mine. We all have an incredible, strong, resilient body. One that deserves love, respect, and care. So now, I will leave you with this question to ponder: 

“How has your body saved your life?”  

Lynn F Forney is a dancer, choreographer, actor, director, and writer.  Earlier this year she published her memoir “Choosing Survival: How I Endured a Brutal Attack and a Lifetime of Trauma through the Power of Action, Choice, and Self Expression”.  She currently lives in Austin, TX with her husband and two rescue dogs and loves scuba diving, hugs, and honey mustard. You can follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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