Sunday, May 2, 2010

Help Along the Way

In my late teens and all the way through my 50s, I loathed my body. I was just as obsessed with what I ate while dieting as I was when overeating and bingeing. It seemed to be a total preoccupation with appearance, as if how I looked was THE most important thing in the whole universe... as if MY fat legs mattered more than the AIDS virus or the Viet Nam War. As if fixing my body would fix my life. Geeeezst!

My dear husband started a shift in this mindset. He'd heard me slander my legs many times. One day he told me, "I'm taking your legs out to dinner tonight. It's Legs-Appreciation Night. I want you to tell me all the things your legs have done for you in your life... all the hiking, all the dancing. I want to hear all the details." I thought he was joking. He wasn't. He pushed me until I finally broke down and began to get into the spirit of the Legs-Appreciation thing.

What a huge gift! I shall be ever-grateful, because from that evening on, I have put cream on my legs, patted them and thanked them regularly. And the altered mindset has spread to the rest of my body. Even at my highest weight (OK, this might be the only time I mention this number...234), I could give thanks to my body. How can I hate something I am thanking? Hate for my body slowly drained away.

Even before this OA journey began, I knew that being thin or slim is mythical and that whatever it was, it wouldn't fix my life. I've been there, done that... dieted until I could fit comfortably in size 12 clothes... and still felt fat, ugly and unworthy of love or respect. Ever so slowly, I've come to understand that it's not about slim, not about the scale or pounds, not about appearances, not even about being fit.

In addition to the legs dinner, help along the way came from a poem that gradually taught me to accept myself just the way I am... Here it is:

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

I read that poem often and substitute different words in the first line. I tell myself: You do not have to be thin. You do not have to be pretty. You do not have to be rich. You do not have to be right. You do not have to be smart. You do not have to be nice. You do not have to be happy. Even without any of those, you always have a place in the family of things.

Ooooh, that feels good. Let's try it this way: I do not have to be thin. I do not have to be pretty. I do not have to be rich. I do not have to be right. I do not have to be smart. I do not have to be nice. I do not have to be happy. Even without any of those, I always have a place in the family of things.

Good words to remember. Good words to fix my life!


  1. Your husband sounds amazing! And you sound liberated.

  2. Thank you, WT. I have my liberated days, yes... and sometimes I still have trapped days. My husband is amazing... I am so grateful for his support!

  3. Oh, Peaceful, that is an awesome post!

    My legs have been my lifelong nemisis, too. My husband has never come up with a Leg Appreciation occasion, but he says that he loves my legs. I'm working on it...

    (OK, I can't say for a fact that I'm crazy about his huge belly, but we're talking about legs, here.)

    Anyway, that is really sweet. And, I can definitely identify with your word substitutions in the poem. Cool poem to begin with!

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. To Genie ~ We are the Leg Sisters, Genie! Maybe YOU could organize a Legs-Appreciation Night and invite your husband to help you list all the things they've done for you and to share in the gratitude!!! Oh, please do it!

    Wild Geese was/is a life-changing poem for me. I'm glad you like it too!

    You haven't posted lately... hope you feel able to write again soon.

  5. Im printing that poem for me to read everyday. It is perfect.

  6. To Julie ~ I'm so glad the poem is meaningful for you too! You always have a place in the family of things!


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