December 10 : Recognising Our Inner Beauty with Heather Duchscher

I was a pretty normal kid growing up in the 1970s. I was never overweight but still feared gaining weight. I was heavily into dieting by age 12, and I was anorexic by age 15, followed by bulimia in my later teens. I spent about two decades toddling back and forth between starving myself, binging, panicking and throwing out all the food in my house. I think ultimately what I was trying to do was be loved and to control what other people thought about me so that I felt good about myself.

By the time I was in my early 30s, I was physically very sick, very depressed, had pushed away my family, and was on my second marriage, which was heading for a divorce. Everything was crumbling, and I had a lot of despair and hopelessness. I hated myself for my eating disorder, but it was the way I had always coped with stress, and I did not know how else to be.

When I met the Dharma at 33, I connected immediately. Soon I was gobbling up all the Dharma books I could find at the library and listening to podcasts online. My relationships were still messy, and I was still struggling with my eating disorder, but I could tell something was changing. There was a little less attachment, a little less aversion, and a little less jealousy. I was finding more of my self-esteem, not tethered to food, what I looked like and whether people liked me. I realised the potential of what the Buddha said — for change, for eliminating all our suffering, for developing all our good qualities. I went on reading books and watching podcasts for about three or four years. I did not know a single Dharma practitioner and had not gone to any Dharma centres. Then in very rapid succession, five of my loved ones died. One of those deaths was particularly devastating, and all I could think about was how much time I had wasted counting calories and worrying about what I looked like instead of loving and caring for them.

It would have been easy to fall back into my old bad habits, but I had learnt enough of the Dharma at that point to know that there was a way out of suffering 488 | December December | 489 and that I just had to practise to achieve it. I knew then that I had to get more serious about spiritual practice, which meant finding a teacher. Eventually, I connected with the Bodhisattva’s Breakfast Corner, started taking the online SAFE course, and started going to the Abbey. Things really took off from there, particularly when I learnt in the SAFE course how to identify the afflictions in my mind, apply the antidotes, and create space between what I was experiencing and my response. I have spent years practising this and it has made an incredible difference. My identity is no longer wrapped up in food and what I look like, but in the beautiful potential that we have to transform our minds and create an environment for other people to do the same. I hope my experience is helpful to people who are struggling with similar problems or know somebody who is

“365 Gems of Wisdom” e-book is out now!