It took me 3 years and 1 day to share the following story apart from my closest friends and colleagues, so this is probably the most vulnerable post in a very long time. And that's also why this post took me a couple of sessions to finish.
What happened for the first time I sat down at my computer to write this was, I felt chills all over my body, my blood flow withdrawing from my toes and hands to my core leaving me even more chilly. This is a typical so-called trauma/trigger response (mammals and therefore humans too have 4 patterns of behaviour when something activates a certain part of the nervous system: fight, flight, freeze, fawn) - in my case it was a freeze-imobility state of being. I felt an enourmeous extent of discomfort: panicky, anxious to write about past events and trauma, shame about my own (mis-)behaviours, fearful about this risky dialogue with my queer/fat activist peers. This is not a bad thing per se - I was just uncomfortable to notice how my body was reacting and how trauma and systemic oppression have long-term effects on all of our nervous systems. My body is showing me so much and if I am willing to listen to her, so much healing within myself is possible. So I decided to take a break at this point, because my nervous system response was quite strong and I did not plan on overriding myself again. Doing one step at a time is still a walk. Sometimes it takes a while longer.
I learned 15 years ago that my body holds the key to my inner wisdom and power. So every day I listen more closely and learn how to take care of myself authentically, which is very hard to do in a world that brings you up to improve and override yourself on a daily basis.
Before getting into the story I want to prepend a trigger warning: my story might be triggering to those involved in my Big Body Love launch & talk 3 years ago (although no names are mentioned), it also includes mentions around trauma, gaslighting, intersection of class/sexism/homophobia/fatphobia, spiritual bypassing, diet culture & eating disorders and OCD, burnout and chronical illness,....).
Exactly 3 years ago and 1 day ago I went into a freeze and afterwards complete shut-down. I was crying for months, ready to quit my business, unable and unwilling to work. Humiliated, ashamed, exhausted, confused. It shook me to my very core, my human existence, my purpose in this world, my abilities, my (self) worth.
It's time to come out of the closet once again and share my experience. I feel, I have come out of the closet so many times in my life - about being a lesbian/queer, about my sexuality, about my partners, about living polyamorous, about my eating disorders, about my OCD, about my mental health, about my chronical illnesses and last but not least about my WORK. It's interesting how over and over again shame shuts us up about who we are or what we do.
And it feels important to state that I am not trying to portray myself as a victim here. At the same time I am not pointing fingers at my peers. I am taking responsibility for partaking in these processes, for my misbehaviours and for the affects my trigger responses had. I am sorry for all the pain that was caused in this process.
What I am writing is a dialogue between me, myself and the outside world, especially my peers. I needed a big amount of self compassion over the past years to pass this humiliation and shame and to not drop into all sorts of destructive behaviours that feel familiar to me. I had to forgive myself for all the shortcomings and instead to look at the roots of this, to stay in communication with those affected (although I am not sure I did a good job with that).
3 years ago I created the “brand” Big Body Love - I had outgrown “Lebensspiralen” and wanted my work to shift from my then-bodywork and workshop practice to an openly body and sex positive offer that centers around the empowerment, self care and self love of fat women and queers.
At the time I was pushing myself out of (what I thought was) my comfort zone with two business coaches at the same time - one coach helped me in 1:1 sessions to structure my business and finances, the other coach held business, money mindset and speaker seminars that I participated in.
Looking back, with all that I know now from the bodywork and trauma/nervous system training I received, I understand now that I have been in a certain trauma response - functional freeze and fawn, what many call “people pleasing” - for lots of the time over the past 5 years as an entrepreneur. I thought it was supposed to be like that, those ups and downs. I thought I needed to push through my anxieties of not being understood or appreciated, pushing through my mindsets, my “inner saboteurs”, fake it around money and marketing until I make it. And don´t get me wrong. We do need to get out of our comfort zone a little to learn, to experiment, to be surprised by our own abilities. But: I have never had a proper “comfort zone” in my life to begin with. I grew up with very little stability and a certain amount of neglect - emotional, financial, existential. So I had very little skills on how to do life. These seminars and coachings were crucial for me to not perpetuate what I have learned around money, security and stability - to be able to create sustainable work that actually seemed important and purposeful in this world.
So in the manner of “reaching my true potential”, I wanted to go BIG for my relaunch. I had planned to give a rhetorically fine-tuned talk based on the tools and techniques successful motivational speakers use. I had planned to dare something new and exciting and promote it at my talk: a fancy “Big Body Love” workshop around radical self-care with additional empowering fatty spa time. I booked a spa! I asked my coachees, who I knew from my business seminars, if somebody would support me with my talk, one agreed. I asked a fellow activist whether I could do my talk in her business space - I wanted to bring more people into her amazing space and support her work too, it seemed like such a good match. She agreed.
The weeks before the actual re-launch event I couldn't properly sleep, I was alert all the time. I was scared of my talk. I did press releases before. I was anxious that nobody came. I was anxious that lots of people came. I was anxious that everybody would judge me for my sales pitch at the end of my talk. It seemed like something I needed to get past. So I pushed through.
The fellow activist helped me create the launch space within her four walls in a beautiful and very appreciative manner, she was a lovely, supportive hostess. We had flowers, Big Body Love cupcakes, juice, a bit of champagne. A few other friends, activists and influencers came. It was a very small group.
My heart is pounding when I write this and I am getting the same freeze reactions as I did in the beginning of this blog, but let's move on.
So then the other coachee S. came in - I liked her spirit, she was supportive and open, asked me if the way she would introduce me is to my liking. She told me she had brought a surprise guest: B., who had been coaching me a little while before the event with various business coaching seminars, the last one was a speaker intensive. The moment I saw her my nervousness spiked high immediately.
B. told me she had just gotten back from an intensive seminar in the US with Byron Katie (“The work”), where a lot of topics around body image and body shame came up for her. She said she knew that my work was special and she wanted to support me. I was nervous, but I was flattered too - of course, who wouldn't be.
It felt off that she showed up unannounced, but I passed that gut feeling, because I felt I needed her support. (Ding ding ding! Can you hear the alarm ringing?)
So I started my talk with this tiny group of people (from my communities mostly) and started off with some questions for the guests to create a vivid talk. During my talk my coach interrupted me several times, went on and on about her body image issues and things a fat friend told her, she interrupted other fat women who were sharing their stories. I´ve created the term “slimsplaining” for that kind of behaviour. That's what she did.
When I started my sales pitch as the end of my talk was approaching, she interrupted me again and jumped in, went “on stage” (I recall agreeing to that) - she told everybody how great my work was and that I “would be huge someday”. But not just that: she actually claimed to have “discovered” me and my enormous talent. If I agreed to continue to work with her she´d make me big. All eyes on me. I agreed with a smile on my face and ice cold hands. I cannot recall what she said exactly, but she basically promoted her book and DVD - which she brought - as a gift to all the guests. I had no clue about that beforehand. I felt utterly humiliated. She was not only interrupting my sales pitch, which was a vulnerable act for me anyway, no, she even advertised her own stuff. She sat down. Totally lost at that point, I resumed with the promotion of my fancy “Self Love Day”, it was an embarrassing and shameful farce.
It was over, I thought. I smiled, still. But it wasn't over.
I can only recall bits and pieces. I was already stuck between freeze and fawn mode, in total shock about what just happened. Why did she do that? Why didn't I say anything? Thoughts were rushing through my brain while doing small talk and small conversations. One of my partners looked angry while talking to my coach. I feared that my partner would say something to put her in her place, which back then would have felt like “offending her” and I was afraid of that. All the while all of us held onto one glass of juice or champagne. My coach asked for another bottle, having several glasses of champagne. (At that point it wasn´t on my radar anymore that my host and I agreed on the boundary of no heavy drinking or drunken people at the event.)
A little while later my hostess started crying. My coach said something homophobic to her, in her space. She ran out, supported by a friend, I followed her outside. Although I didn't hear the conversations I of course believed her. I told her I would break off the situation and that, when she would come back, everyone would be gone.
So I told everybody that the event was over. My coach said, if I were ever ready to leave my community and their lack-mindsets behind, I shall give her a call. My heart broke. Yet I wasn't able to say anything. It took a bit until my coach, the coachee and a few influencers/activists left. My friends stayed and helped gather my stuff. My hostess and her friend came back. Triggered, in tears and furious. We all gathered around to hold space for her. I apologized, I asked her if there was anything I could do. I didn't want to take up any more space, so I didn't explain my reactions or rather inability to react. I am not sure it would have helped anyway. Also, I was still in my functional freeze and fawn mode. I had no idea what the hell happened this past two hours.
My hostess is quite the influencer with loads of followers. Before the relaunch event she posted images and words of encouragement, tagging me to support my work. A few hours later, she posted again. She shared what had happened and how I was silent when a privileged skinny, white woman was taking up so much space and being hurtful to her in her own space. It felt like the ultimate humiliation. Not just humiliated by people, who have more priviledge than me and whose knowledge (I felt) I needed to heave myself out of precarity, but also who had appearantly ignored the fact that I am a queer and fat woman too. But then also by a fellow activist, who I was so happy about to connect and work together with, who told everybody what a horrible person I was - how I sold out to “the enemy”. It felt like dying. All I wanted was to disappear.
It took me a while and a few emergency therapy sessions to get out of my freeze responses and replay what had happened. I got in touch with my coach and my hostess again.
My coach B. said, if I wanted to resolve anything I should book a session with them, because their time was precious. I was done with her.
The fellow activist told me there was nothing else to talk about, we would have very different values and that was that. I don´t know if too much time had passed until I was able to get back to her, I really don't know. She said that there were no hurt feelings anymore between us. I am not sure that's true. I understand and empathize that what happened was invasive, abusive and horrible. And I am sorry I had any part in it and stopped it so very late.
At least for me there are still many hurt feelings. I feel I lost my community that day and my voice within my community. I have never accepted silence or silencing within my community. But that day I silenced myself and I have rarely used my voice publicly ever since. In the aftermath of those events the people involved weren't interested in my side of the story, so I couldn't explain what had happened. I wanted to explain my values and how none of that had anything to do with what happened that day. How class and precarity and emotional abuse shaped me.
My shame around this day lessens with the years passing by. I am still affected by these events and by not being able to have closure with the other activist. And no, this didn't make me stronger. But it made me wiser.
Either way. 3 years is a long time to shut oneself up. I don´t care anymore, at least not that much that I stay silent. I do my business as well as my private life as I am. With all parts of me. I am not a coach, who has everything figured out, so I will continue sharing from the vulnerable parts of myself as well as all the other competent, skilled parts too. This is what makes my work and my life authentic. This is what happens when the work you do is intertwined with your activism and all the intimate parts of yourself like your body and your sexuality.
And yes, I do fear that everyone who reads this will rip me apart. Attack me for being whiny. But - unlike what happened in the course of the events 3 years ago - I usually don't let my fears take over speaking my truth. So that's me. And there's so much more.
Authenticity over self-improvement - that's my motto.