This summer, my family and I spent a week just north of San Diego, on a long stretch of well-loved beach. It was our big summer vacation. I had been looking forward to it for months, and was ready to jump in the ocean with my boys. When we got there, we were definitely not alone on this beach! Somehow in my fantasy, I hadn't thought about how we might be sharing the ocean. The beach has its own scene, which I had forgotten about. It was well populated with families like ours, bikini-clad teenagers, surfers, beach bums, runners, sun-worshippers, and partying types. It was, apparently, the place to be. Of course, I was ready with my fantastic leopard print bathing suit!
Once I got out there on the beach in my fantastic suit, it was a different story. My mind went a little haywire. Since we're going with beach imagery here, it was like a giant sea-monster, rising up out of my California dream on the beach! All of the most hateful and horrifying thoughts started surfacing out of the habitual depths of my brain. I could see the monster bare its teeth, one crappy thought at a time. I started comparing myself to the other bodies on the beach. Oh, my god, I am not a tiny bikini-clad teenager - they probably think I look like an idiot! I wanted a cover-up, a tent-y, old-lady contraption, to hide my apparent insanity for wearing a completely bold and eye-catching leopard print suit! What the hell was I thinking? Why didn't I buy the same black bathing suit I always buy? Why didn't I get a tent-y cover up? At least it would offer some relief, like a shield from the sea monster.
The sea monster in my head bobbed around on the surface for a while, looking menacing, while I hunted for a towel to hide my garish leopard-print fiasco. And then, I remembered. Just say "no" to sea monsters. Sea monsters stink. I decided that I was going to battle with the sea monster. I threw down the towel, and lifted my head high. I remembered how fantastic this bathing suit really was - I wrote an entire blog post about it, after all! I mean, really. I remembered that my body, though neither bikini-clad nor teen-aged, has been pretty awesome to me. This body has given birth to 2 children, and nursed them into healthy toddlerhood. This body is powerful and strong and healthy. This body can climb mountains, and can twist into death-defying yoga poses. This body can swim, which is what I decided to do. Jumping waves with your children, for the record, is a good way to kill off sea monsters.
Since returning from this trip, I have been thinking about how "sea monster" thoughts tend to come and go for me, even now that I really claim my body's health, strength, and value. It sometimes feels like I am riding the waves, hanging in there while old thoughts surface, and then coming back down to this new place of peace with my body. I have to be conscious of how these thoughts come and go, or I risk being eaten by the sea monster, which for me means ending up back in a disordered place.
I decided to write about this because I think coming to terms with our bodies is a process. So much negative thinking is ingrained and old - it takes time to make big changes in the ways we think about ourselves. Whether we are trying to quit smoking, or quit drinking, or quit dieting, or quit thinking shitty things about ourselves, change takes time, effort, determination, and persistence. It takes consciousness. Nasty sea-monster thoughts are going to surface for me, so the task now is to be ready, to respond to them, and to get on with living. It is necessarily a "take-no-prisoners" battle mentality for me. In order for me to really live, I can't let the sea monsters get the best of me.