Updated: Mar 6
What COVID, trauma, and breathing have to do with body acceptance.
I had pneumonia as a baby.
In fact, throughout my childhood I had pneumonia many times, as well as frequent bouts of bronchitis. The memory of struggling to breathe– of feeling like no matter how hard I tried, I wasn’t getting enough air– is one of my earliest and most persistent childhood memories.
Later on in childhood, I developed exercise-induced asthma. Asthma attacks were a regular part of my life, especially when I had been playing outside in the cold, and my inhaler was my constant companion.
I fucking loved that inhaler. Instant breath; instant air: a few little puffs, and the painfully tight band around my chest would relax.
This was one of the reasons I counted myself “out” from sports and athleticism. My cardiovascular system was compromised, and it was embarrassing. Everyone but me could run the mile in gym class with no problem. Everyone but me could run around a soccer or lacrosse field without feeling like they were going to pass out.
I did a lot of emotional healing work around my “weak lungs” when I became a personal trainer. I had to forgive them, accept them, and learn to trust them again. I had to work with them instead of against them, and to champion their strength rather than lament their weakness.
This was some powerful and transformative body neutrality work, and I haven’t thought too much about my lungs since.
Until I got COVID.
My first COVID symptom was a sore throat. The second was a painfully tight band around my lungs, and the feeling that I couldn’t get enough air. Even as my symptoms progressed to fever, body aches, congestion, GI issues, and coughing, I found myself focused on air.
Given all the scary COVID news over the last few years, this makes sense– breathing is important, and it’s appropriate to be stressed when it’s difficult.
That said, something else was going on for me as well. I was having flashbacks to childhood, to laying in bed wheezing, while my parents soothed and comforted me. All my old stuff around my lungs was resurfacing, and it wasn’t pretty.
This is an interesting layer to body neutrality. You can think you’ve done all the healing work, and that you’re good and neutral, but then have stuff surface out of nowhere when a trigger gets hit.
The truth is that our relationship with our bodies is as complicated and old as our relationships with our parents– they’re never static. There are evermore layers to face and explore, depending on the circumstances.
My circumstances had made it so that I never thought much about my lungs anymore. I was able to see and accept their truth without interpretation or added significance, which is the definition of neutrality.
I even felt compassion, gratitude, and warmth toward them for doing their best… until the circumstances changed.
Then I felt a bunch of old negative stuff: judgment, rejection, resentment, fear, shame, and a feeling of it being me versus my lungs again.
You might have experienced something similar, when the circumstances of your body changed.
Maybe you thought you had found body acceptance, until you gained weight.
Maybe you thought you felt neutrally toward your breasts or belly until you got pregnant.
Maybe you were sure you had healed your relationship with your thighs until you stopped working out during the pandemic.
And if you’re anything like my clients, you probably blamed or judged yourself for “going backwards” or not being as far along as you thought, right?
But that’s not true.
This is a relationship we have for our entire lives, which means there will always be deeper and deeper layers to our healing, and new (or old) things will be revealed under different circumstances.
This is actually a good thing! It means that:
We don’t have to have everything perfectly healed in order to experience the peace and relief of body neutrality, and
Each new circumstance offers us an invitation to heal on a deeper level.
Body neutrality is no more of a static state or “end point” than mindfulness is. It can feel wonderful, and working toward it can bring extraordinary peace and relief from body image suffering… but it’s a practice, not a destination.
The key to body neutrality isn’t arriving at a permanently healed state, but rather staying aware, curious, and compassionate to what you find, as you move through different circumstances of life and body, forever.
So if you’ve ever found yourself re-healing an old body image trigger, you’re not alone and you haven’t failed. This is just how the process goes– and you’re doing great. :-)
All the love,