Learning To Occupy Space
By Kendra Coleman
As I am sitting here on an early Wednesday morning, one hand holding my coffee and the other tapping furiously away on the keyboard, I am reflecting on how my body feels in the current space it occupies. I notice my arms, dangling heavy and loose by my side; my hands are weighted on the keyboard of my computer and my back spreads comfortably across the back of my chair. I notice my tummy and my chest moving in and out. I notice my legs relaxed, one crossed over the other; my right foot heavily anchors my body to the floor. I am grounded by my body that roots me in physical space.
What does it mean, look and feel like to occupy space? In my own experience, learning to occupy space my space has been an integral component in my journey to heal my relationship with my body. Indeed, it has been paramount in learning how to appreciate my body and what it can do for me not just physically, but emotionally, interpersonally, intellectually... and the list goes on!
So, back to the pressing question at hand – what does it mean to occupy space? I feel to occupy space means allowing our bodies to fully inhabit and extend into the space around us. It is to find a place for our bodies in the space that surrounds us. However, even this explanation seems misleading as "to find" implies we need to be actively searching in order to occupy space, and I have learned just the opposite.
For me, occupying space began with learning that my body deserves to extend naturally, comfortably and fully in any setting. Whether it be in a coffee shop, relaxing at home, sitting next to a significant other, moving down the aisles of a grocery store, or walking down the street, our bodies deserve to move and exist free from the psychological and physical constraints that are too often imposed by the thoughts that accompany an eating disorder. With this knowledge, I believe we can start the process of reclaiming space with our bodies.
And from this comes a feeling of empowerment. I can say for certain that it has emboldened me to adhere more firmly to my convictions and my beliefs, to articulate thoughts and engage in meaningful conversation. Why? Because occupying space enables us to more boldly make our voices heard from a secure base, from our bodies grounded in a space we claim.
This feeling of body and space entitlement, of creating a place for ourselves, is a feeling that the eating disorder too often deprives us of. For me, the road to reclaiming place with my body began in the initial stages of recovery. Now, I feel powerful when I allow my body to comfortably and fully spill into the space it occupies. I feel powerful knowing in these moments how far I have come in my own recovery. To sit, and be, and allow my body to flow freely without restrictions once seemed like an impossible endeavour. Yet, here I am, sitting, being, typing! I believe we can all get to a place where we put our bodies first.
Of course this may sound a bit daunting, especially in the grips of an eating disorder. So, as is the case with most recovery steps, we can start small. For me, I was tasked with sitting at a coffeeshop for just 5 minutes, owning my space, and making eye contact with other customers. It sounds silly to say now that this was a tremendously anxiety provoking experience at first, as I imagine it may be for many of us when we tackle our eating disorders head on. The little ED voice in my head told me that, by meeting the gaze of others, I would be showcasing my body and the amount of space it occupied. And that was frightening. However, with practice and support, that voice and the fear that accompanied it began to dissipate. I sat 5 minutes, then 10, then 30. And it all started with a little feeling of entitlement: My body has a right to be here! Our bodies deserve to exist naturally and comfortably in every space we occupy. Because the ED can deceive us into believing otherwise, it is so important to continue reminding ourselves of this as often as we can.
Which brings me back to where we began: Noticing and acknowledging the feeling of our bodies in space. Noticing the weight of our feet, legs, and arms grounding us in the space we occupy. Carving out a place for ourselves. A place that our bodies deserve to occupy. A place of knowing, feeling, and appreciating our bodies and, in doing so, feeling empowered in moving either toward or through recovery. What small steps can we take today, together?
Kendra is currently completing her BA in psychology at the University of British Columbia, and is a research assistant with the UBC Sexual Health Laboratory. She is a past resident of the Looking Glass Residence and is passionate about sharing her insight and experience with others. Now in recovery, Kendra is open about her struggle battling anorexia and bulimia. She hopes to be a support and ally to those who are suffering while also working to reduce the stigma around mental illness. Her passions include violin, spin class, academics, beach walks with her dog, and chatting over coffee with close friends.