Self-Punishment to Self-Love – By Nicola O’Hanlon

One of the root causes of my addictive personality has always been self-hatred. Despite many years in therapy, I’m not sure when it started or if it’s completely ended yet. However, self-love and acceptance is definitely obtained easier and in a gentler manner for me these days.

There was a time I felt that everything about me was ugly, both inside and out. Subsequently, that feeling brought about an urge to punish myself, in the hopes of whipping myself into shape, mentally, emotionally and definitely physically.

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photo courtesy of naturallyintense.net

I loved pushing myself to extreme limits in all areas of my life – especially when it came to my physical appearance. Exercise and food control were once the most important part of my life. I would wake in the morning, and my first thought would be about what I was going to eat, or not eat, and how many calories I could burn that day. The only time that I got relief from feeling like the most unacceptable person on the planet was when I was drunk and high. Even then the obsession with myself was being fed. I knew that the drugs would be making me skinnier by the second and the hangover from the alcohol would make me sick the next day so I wouldn’t be able to eat.

In my early twenties, I went to the gym everyday – sometimes twice a day – depending on how shit I felt about myself. I would workout until I was completely exhausted. I’d catch a glimpse of myself in the large mirrors on the wall of the gym. Immediately I’d begin comparing myself to the other women there, who were clearly fitter, thinner and prettier than me.

Even sitting at my desk at work I was constantly clenching my butt cheeks and inner thighs to obtain the perfect no wobble firmness. The elation I felt at my fitness assessment, when the fitness instructor told me I was under weight and needed to eat more fat, was like winning the lottery. The high I got was equivalent to taking a handful of ecstasy pills. However, just like ecstasy, the high lasted only a few hours and I vowed to get even leaner.

Now I’m exhausted even remembering how I used to be. The constant negative thinking patterns were draining every ounce of energy I had, never mind the actual physical exercise. I was in deep addiction mode. Nothing was ever enough in my world of active addictive craziness. It was impossible to reach the goals I set for myself. I couldn’t be thin enough nor deprive myself enough. That nagging “you’re less than” belief, sat in my sub-conscious waiting to attack when I was at my most vulnerable – which was pretty much all the time.

Of course, I didn’t need to look far to affirm that what I was doing to myself was perfectly normal – even admirable. The media portrayal of what constitutes beauty and acceptability bombards us from morning till night. I was so blinded and brainwashed by how I was being told I should look, I failed to see what my own attributes were – and looking back at old photographs of myself it is very clear I had lots of them. It makes me sad now that I couldn’t appreciate my beauty then and enjoy it.

It appeared on the outside that I was caring for myself by supposedly eating healthy and exercising. However I was hiding the extent I took this “healthy living” to those around me and even to myself. I didn’t care how much I was damaging myself as long as I was thin! Nurturing wasn’t something I understood. To me self-care meant blood, sweat and tears in every avenue of my life. I didn’t understand balance or self-acceptance and I most definitely didn’t understand self-love.

I am so grateful today that all that has changed. Once I found recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol, I also found recovery from all types of self-harm and self-hatred. I look at food and exercise now as a blessing and a vital, enjoyable part of nurturing myself. Recovery has turned everything I saw as negative into something beautiful. Instead of food deprivation, I now want to make sure I’m getting enough calories and nutrients to make my body function well so I can enjoy my life. Exercise has now become something that invigorates and brings energy instead of self-punishment for being ugly. Most of my exercise is done outside in the woods and on the beach in the form of long walks, or on rainy days, with my headphones on in my living room, dancing.

I made a decision some years ago to stop buying fashion magazines or any other media that enforces a certain ideal of beauty and body image. This decision was also influenced by the fact I have a children, whom I teach to love and embrace their bodies and value themselves for more than being attractive. Of course from time to time a glimmer of the old thinking reappears and I find myself being self-critical. But I see it as a gentle reminder of how I used to be, and remove the thoughts from my mind as soon as possible. Meditation and mindfulness has impacted on my wellbeing incredibly by teaching me to choose my thoughts and actions. Everything I do these days is about creating harmony internally and externally.

Today I love myself for the me that is, not the me society says I should be. Recovery has completely changed how I view myself and the world around me. Nothing dictates to me anymore about how I should look and feel or how I should live my life. I feel the best I have ever felt. Digging deep and understanding what my own body needs has given me the space to really see myself and live my life with joy. Living is so much more enjoyable this way.

Nicola O'Hanlon

About Nicola O'Hanlon

Meet our Editor-In-Chief, Nicola O'Hanlon. She created this website, along with the help of the InTheRooms team in September 2015. Her work has been published in several recovery magazines, including Recovery Today, In Recovery Magazine, AfterPartyChat.com, Psychology Today and Reach Out Recovery to name but a few. She has also had her work published in two Feminist anthologies and a book of personal recovery stories. Born and raised in Wexford, Ireland she still lives there with her two children, Christopher and Jessica. Her background is in healing through Massage Therapy, Reflexology and Sechiem Energy Healer. She has combined her professional and life experience and now coaches women on how to empower themselves. She runs the Womens Wisdom Healing Circle meeting, on InTheRooms.com every Sunday (Noon est 5pm UK & Ireland), which is a non program specific gathering of women seeking support, encouragement and healing. Already an expert on how not to live life she is a constant seeker of new and better ways of being. Nature is her Higher Power and she believes in magic, crystals and blames the phases of the moon for her multiple personalities.
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One Comment

  1. Thank you Nicky for sharing as I totally relate to every word. I feel profound relief today that I am truly healthy inside and out physically rather then comparing myself to others. I still glance at fashion magazines on occasion at the bookstore or newsstand for fun to see the clothes and the fashion photography but I see it all differently now with clarity, self awareness and self love.

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