My Best Body (Part I)
Hallelujah, winter is here!! You may be asking yourself, why is she so excited about the cold weather? Well, for this large body femme, sweater-weather is my best friend, plus I love saying “winter is coming,” because as it comes from my favorite HBO series, Game of Thrones!
So, where do I begin to share the story of, “my best body” and my journey of recovery from disordered eating and substance use. I guess by starting from the beginning where it all began.
In 1963, my mother gave birth to a mixed-race baby girl at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx. She was a 36-year-old white woman, the eldest of five and grew up in Far Rockaway, NY. My dad, who was 55, grew up in the south — he was the eldest of seven, lived in Jamaica, Queens, worked in Manhattan, and was Black. My mom had fair skin, piercing blue eyes, an hourglass shape, and Lucille Ball flaming red hair. Her beauty and sense of style caught my dad’s eye and soon captured his heart.
Fast forward and unfortunately I spent many years apart from my mother and estranged from my father. During this time, I experienced many challenges including disordered eating and substance use. But I have come to learn their love for me was unconditional, and growing in love for them has helped me grow in love with myself.
BIG sigh…Breathe and repeat.
So how did I get into recovery from disordered eating and substance use? Well, by doing the work that was necessary to live and not just survive — but also learning how to thrive in spite of my past, present and fear of the future. Not allowing others to define or label me: “Oreo”, “half-breed”, “interracial”, the "N" word, and my all-time favorite, “Mulatto.” Embracing my identity of who I am and what my purpose is on this earth. Reaching deep within myself and the core of my existence as a queer, biracial, large brown body person who is full of life. I’ve come to learn that I was predestined to have a scarcity mindset because of my parents upbringing but I get to change the script and rewrite my story the way I see fit.
Learning to embrace who I am
I used to hate my thighs, maybe it’s because I didn’t know who or where I inherited them from. When I finally met my biological brothers and nieces in 2004 for the first time in 30+ yrs, I was anxious and thought would they recognize me and accept and love me just the way I am. However, when I saw my nieces, a lightbulb went off. We had similar body types. Ironically that was the first time I saw myself in someone that looked like me. From that moment on, I didn’t feel alone in my body image anymore.
Over time, I’ve learned to embrace who I am and love the skin I’m in. Some days are a challenge but I know I’m on the road to wellness and recovery.
What has really worked for me is connecting to support groups and a recovery community of like-minded people. These folks welcomed me in the group the moment I stepped through the meeting doors or logged onto the virtual platform. There’s a lot to be said for people who have been through similar experiences as you. Their approach was genuine, filled with compassion and concern for your wellbeing.
In the beginning, I connected weekly and occasionally daily to my support network and eventually got a sponsor to help me hold myself accountable for my own progress. Today, I don’t attend many meetings, but I’m back in therapy, and I have a mentor and friends that I can reach out to when I’m having bad days and good days. They’re like family.
There have been times when I wished I didn’t have an eating disorder or body image issues. What I noticed with years of support has helped me to stop obsessing over wanting to be normal because there’s no such animal, but I do try to stay consistent each day by reaching out to my higher power or the universe and asking for peace in my mind, body, and spirit and to get through another 24 hours without harming myself or others.
Life isn’t as chaotic as it once was and I recognize what triggers my disordered eating — which nine times out of ten, it’s probably stress or something that I need to let go of because it either no longer serves a purpose in my life and is unhealthy. Crazy as it sounds, I wouldn’t change a thing about my life and consider myself extremely blessed in spite of my trauma, loss of identity, substance use and disordered eating, because some people go through their entire lives never finding a solution to their life challenges.
You are not broken. Love yourself.
In the past few years I have been laser-focused on digging deeper into the layers of what makes me who I am and how I want to continue to show up in this world and the legacy I want to leave behind for my children and grandchildren.
The source of the excavation expedition started when I read Resmaa Menakem’s book, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies. He and I met in person in 2021 on stage in Las Vegas during a fireside chat. Resmaa talked about why he wrote in his book why the Black body holds onto dirty and clean pain:
“When people respond from their most wounded parts, become cruel or violent or run away, we experience dirty pain. When we avoid pain and discomfort, we also create more of it for ourselves and for others. To heal collectively, we must be willing to engage and feel clean pain.” (Menakem, R., 2017, pg. 20).
I responded by sharing I don't know if I had ever experienced clean pain in my black body, but felt like an imposter living behind my white mother. And just like that, he got up, stood in front of me back towards the audience of 200, and said, “Sis, you are not defeated nor broken. Love yourself, babygirl.” Then he gave me a big hug. For a moment, during our embrace I felt the spirit of my dad channeling that message to me through Resmaa. His words lifted years of anguish and uncertainty off me, to the point where I felt free from my past and hopeful for the future.
I guess I’ve always known that I can overcome just about anything that came my way and that I don’t have to do it alone. Why am I telling you all this? Because I believe there is someone out there that can identify with my story who needs to connect with someone who has been there and done that. Who wants to be part of a community of like-minded folks to uncover and discover who they really are. Who seeks to love who they are and wants to just be who they want to BE without judgment!!
BIG sigh…Breathe and repeat, breathe and repeat, breathe and repeat!
Carol Cruz (she/her/ella) is an Arise Care Advocate, Certified Peer Recovery Specialist and Coach with 28 years of recovery from substance use.
As Carol says, “I love my role as a Care Advocate because I can openly share with members about my lived experience and recovery without shame or guilt. I'm empowered everyday meeting members where they are on their journey and walking alongside them providing support, resources, and encouragement.”