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    Digging Up A Body Image Disorder (Body Addiction part 3)

    In my last intimate relationship, my lover noticed that, for a while, I became a little distant. That “while” coincided with the time span of my obsessive compulsion to get my body where I wanted it. I didn’t see the connection between distance and getting in killer shape. She noticed it. She felt it. But I wasn’t aware of it. And I certainly couldn’t explain it. 

    I can now.

    When my focus becomes my body, it leaves less space for other people. Especially my significant other. I learned that in a Body Image Disorder group. I didn’t know I had a BID before I got into treatment (just add this to my list. If I wasn’t so healthy, I’d think I was totally fucked up). I thought that, when I hit the gym and the cardio hard, and really watched what I ate, I was just kicking the ass I needed to get into shape. I was indeed doing that, but when you have a BID, things get far more complicated. 

    Body image disorders are relational. They stem from, here we go again, a lack of nurturing, mirroring, and attunement in childhood. If we don’t get enough of that, and lots of us don’t, it can, sometimes, manifest itself as a body image disorder. As kids, if we don’t get what we need, we can believe that there is something fundamentally flawed about us. I did. Deep down, I thought I was, literally, a Defective Model. 

    I carried that Defective Model bullshit into adulthood. I didn’t consciously feel that way most of the time. I didn’t act that way most of the time. But it was always there, somewhere very deep. And, when we get older, if we believe that we are fundamentally flawed, we can make the unconscious choice to go to our bodies to “fix” it. This makes sense, because our feeling of defectiveness is abstract. The body is concrete. It’s something we can alter, and actually see the results. Our body is our physical connection to life, our membrane to the world. So those of us with BID's unconsciously believe that, “If I just looked better, I would be more lovable”; no matter how loveable we truly are.

    I was also a fat kid (this just gets better and better, doesn’t it). It felt beyond awful to be ridiculed and shamed. So when I discovered, in my teens, that I could do something about not being fat; in fact, I could do something that actually made me look….damn good, I took to it like a crack whore to, well, crack. 

    There is some good news here. Being a heavy kid and never wanting be heavy again creates a very strong drive to be fit. And, for virtually my entire adult life, I’ve been very fit. In fact, I look and feel better today than I did at twenty-five (I’m 54). So there’s the gift in the wound. There’s always a gift in the wound. But if you don’t heal the wound, and you can’t heal it by having a great body, the wound is still there. 

    Combine the fat kid syndrome with a body image disorder, and I was an accident of exercise and militant eating waiting to happen. It wasn’t about the actions of exercising religiously and eating right as a way of life that was the problem. Plenty of people do that in a healthy way. The problem was how I attached to it. I attached far too much of how I felt about myself to how buff I was. So I developed a mild to moderate obsession about being really fit. 

    Being buff, however, does feel great. And not just physically; but mentally, emotionally, even spiritually. By working my ass off, educating myself, and applying great discipline, I made an ideal a reality; like creating a great career, or crafting a beautiful song. I had achieved something very difficult, so there’s a powerful sense of satisfaction. It fundamentally boosted my self-esteem, self-confidence, and sense of self. And there are more endorphins constantly screaming through my body, even long after I exercise. I looked and felt better than most men half my age. I felt more connected to my body, and more connected to life. Looking and feeling the way I want powers up my prana, my “life force”. It fills my heart and soul with positive energy. It feels like electricity is surging through me all the time. That’s spiritual. I know, because I was aware of it. I felt it. It was visceral. It was real.

    However, there was a dark side to that. A dark side that not everybody shares. That dark side is that it became too consuming. Again, if I’m that consumed by this, or by anything for that matter, there’s less room for you. It’s akin to being a workaholic. If so much of your energy and so much of yourself goes into your work; if you over-identify yourself with your career, the loved ones in your life pay for it.

    In my last relationship, I was very loved. I felt very loved. More so than in any relationship I ever dreamed of. But deep down, I still had that wound. I knew I wanted to look better. But when I unconsciously believe that I can fix something on the inside by looking better on the outside, I’m in for trouble and a rude awakening. And I’ve known, for many years, that you can’t fill an internal hole with external dirt. But if you’re not aware of that hole because it’s unconscious, then it’s a blind spot. Everyone’s got blind spots. That was one of mine.

    The Great News is that, Clint, "You've come a long way, baby!" (Remember that ad?). I’m currently once again getting in killer shape. But I’m not consumed by it. I’ve turned this unconscious pre-occupation into a conscious choice. I no longer attach any of my self worth to single-digit body fat percentage and a muscular physique. 

    I’ve had the privilege of working extensively with Ari Winograd (, who, literally, wrote the book on body image disorders, “Face To Face With Body Dysmorphic Disorder”. He has educated me, impacted me, and been a powerful ally in my healing. And before I worked with him, I made tremendous progress in residential treatment to develop myself from the inside out. I feel better than I ever have in my life.

    Finally, on a very personal note, I want to say, I’m sorry Sweet Angel. The last thing I ever wanted to do was create even an inch of distance between us. The last thing I ever wanted to do was make even an inch of less space, for you.


    ©2017 Clint Piatelli, MuscleHeart LLC, and Red F Publishing. All rights reserved.

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