At first I thought gratitude was remembering to say “thank you” and showing appreciation to the people around me. However, my thinking began to shift when I was prompted to consider more generally what in my life I was grateful for.
I started to look deeper and being grateful became more about me and less about others. I began to see gratitude as an internal viewpoint. For me, being grateful has become a mechanism to think more positively. Thinking more positively makes me a happier person and therefore gratitude, positivity and ultimately my own happiness has become something more within my power to control.
I was one of the fat kids growing up, not morbidly obese but definitely “big” or “heavy boned”.
I remember vividly, way back in the 1980s still in primary school, the pride and excitement I felt when I got my first pair of jeans. It had seemed like a major triumph when my mum finally agreed to buy me a pair of denim jeans. They didn’t have the red Levi’s label but I was thrilled with them nonetheless.
I remember just as vividly the embarrassment and self-loathing I felt when my best friend laughed at the elasticated waist. Instantly ashamed that I needed a stretchy waistband to accommodate my rotund midriff. That moment has stuck with me all this time. This is one of my strongest memories of when I truly began to loath my body and started treating it as something separate to me, an unwanted burden and a source of shame.
Over the years I’ve had a tricky relationship with my body and unsurprisingly also with food.
My weight has fluctuated due to a combination of over or under eating and over or under exercising. Food was my way of coping with unwanted feelings. I used food to fill myself up physically in order to squash down any feelings that threatened to overwhelm me.
It didn’t matter if those feelings were positive or negative, it was more the intensity of them that I struggled with; excitement, disappointment, insecurity, fear, shame, confusion, joy. I viewed my physical appearance as being an outward reflection of my value. This was reinforced by society’s obsession with perfection; thin is good, fat is bad, thin is success, fat is failure.
I reached my lowest point in my 20s and looking back I realise that I was existing but not living. I was numb and withdrew into myself. It took all my energy just to keep functioning, quietly getting on with work and the rest of the time making myself as invisible and unobtrusive as I could.
Using a combination of talking therapies and antidepressants I worked through my issues and faced those inner demons. This was a painful process but I am so grateful that I did it. I am also deeply grateful to those who stood by me, tolerated my dark moods, sulks and sometimes irrational behaviour.
Slowly those dormant parts of me began to awaken, like a tree starting to unfurl its new leaves, ready to start living and breathing and growing once more after a long winter. I began to acknowledge my feelings; noticing them without immediately needing to address or fix anything.
My 30s proved to be my best decade so far. I met and married my fabulous husband and we now have two healthy, happy children. Having kids has also been a major game changer for me in the way I view my body. Not just the mind-bending capacity to create, produce and then sustain a new life but also my strong desire not to pass my body and food issues on to my children. They may well have inherited my “big bone” genes but they need not inherit the issues I had around my denim ones!
Outwardly I began to accept my body as it was, without the stinging judgement that rattled about in my head.
With time those negative thoughts grew quieter in my mind, fading with my lack of attention. I remember a brief conversation with my daughter that showed me how far I had come in terms of accepting my body. When my son was about 12 months and my daughter was around 3 years old she innocently asked;
“Mummy is there a baby in your tummy?”
Her question caught me off guard but I quickly remembered my silent promise to myself and so replied in as neutral a tone as I could,
“No Poppet, it’s just cake.”
That answer satisfied her curiosity and surprised me; slightly over simplified but basically an honest answer demonstrating a level of physical self-acceptance.
I came to understand the power and importance of gratitude through my membership and engagement with Fresh Air Fridays.
I had never experienced being grateful in such a meaningful way before and began to develop gratitude as a habit, aiming for it to become a natural state of being.
Now I aim to write a minimum of three things, morning and evening, that I am grateful for. Counting my blessings. Some days it is easier than others, however there is always something to be grateful for even when dealing with life’s challenges.
There is a growing body of research to support how practicing gratitude regularly really does change the wiring in the brain. Anecdotally I can report that beginning and ending my day with positive thoughts has improved my wellbeing and I am more content as a result.
Gratitude is one of the three core themes that underpins Fresh Air Fridays along with Filling Myself up First and Being Present. Individually each core theme is extraordinary but when they are used in conjunction with each other, that is when the magic truly starts to happen.
Words and language are powerful. Choosing to practice gratitude meant that I began to change my internal dialogue.
I was amazed at the impact rephrasing my thoughts had on my view of myself, others and the world more generally. Before I used to silently grumble to myself about my lumps and bumps and wobbly bits, but then I chose words of kindness and acceptance in much the same way as reassuring a small child.
No matter what I’ve done to my body; over fed it, under fed it, over exercised, under exercised, no matter what, my body has forgiven me.
As soon as I began to treat my body with respect it responded positively and unconditionally. My focus now is less about what my body looks like, and more about what it has achieved and what it enables me to do and experience.
I want to live a long, happy and active life, which means that I need to do things (exercise, eat well, get enough sleep etc) to make that happen. Now that I respect my body it is easier to make choices that are better for it.
For such a long time I viewed my body as an unwanted vessel, its only purpose was to house my mind and enable me to interact with the physical world. I now view my body as a part of me, a loving, accepting and forgiving creature that protects and nurtures my soul.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect and won’t be appearing on the front cover of fashion magazines anytime soon but I’m content with my body. I now choose to love it. This is the only body I have, and the only one I’m going to get, so I may as well make the most of it. I’m counting my blessings, how about you?
Experience the magic of Fresh Air Fridays for yourself by attending one of our session – visit our Session page or visit our For You page to find out more about how to look after your own mental and emotional resilience.