Inhale deeply. Close your eyes for a moment. Allow your thoughts to wander.

Consider a time when you were glad as a child. There must have been times when you were overjoyed.

Take note of any tension in your brow. Relax the muscles that run between your brows.

When you were three years old, your parents took you to a water park. You were terrified of the highest slides, but you felt safe in Daddy’s arms. You adored the neon green ruffles around your waist and the bright pink flowers on your black swimsuit. The park’s river stone pathways, shaded by the arching branches of longleaf pines. The chlorine irritated the back of your nose. Water beaded on your skin and dripped from the pointed curls at the ends of your pigtails, chilling the area where the drops made contact with your shoulders. But Daddy’s skin was warm, and his wiry chest hair tickled your face as you leaned against him.

Allow your jaw to relax. Inside your mouth, loosen your tongue.

When you were eight years old, your parents took you and your sister to Pizza Hut. Back when Pizza Hut was a destination, a sit-down restaurant where the waitresses smiled and gave you extra peppermints, you loved it. It was your favorite spot, with its distinctive sloped roof and red sign eliciting an almost Pavlovian response every time your parents’ car pulled into the crumbling asphalt parking lot. In anticipation of the soft crust, tangy sauce, and chewy mozzarella that awaited you, your mouth would start to water and your stomach would grumble. You were seated at the best table in the restaurant this time, the one in the center of the room, equidistant from the buffet on one side and the fountain drink machines on the other. You could be the first to grab a slice of every pizza that called to you if you were positioned so that you could see each new pie exiting the kitchen on its way to the buffet.

Relax the muscles in your shoulders. As the air fills your lungs, feel your belly expand.

When you were ten, your mother took you shopping at the military base’s department store. Long floral skirts were all the rage in the mid-1990s. You tried on one with lavender and white flowers. Beautiful. As Mariah Carey’s latest single warbled softly through the ceiling speakers, you turned left and right, admiring your reflection in the narrow dressing room mirror. You felt like a princess, elegant. You couldn’t wait to show your mother the chipped white door.

Pay attention to your lower back. Feel the pressure of your sit bones on the floor.

During your adolescence, you spent every weekend at the gym with your father. Muscles ached as he pushed you harder on the bench press and corrected your bicep curl form. Because you were Daddy’s Girl, he only took you to the gym, not your mother or sister. Your friends were all envious of how close you were to your father; the other men at the gym hid their smiles as they complimented your form and commented on how they could never get their own daughters to spend so much time with them. Your father was obviously doing something right.

Now, hold your breath. Take note of the sensation of your lungs filling with air.

Your senior year of high school. You were the valedictorian, and you were overjoyed that all of your hard work had paid off. You carefully climbed the steps on the stage’s side, taking care not to trip in the high heels your mother had bought you for the occasion. You approached the podium, solemn and dignified in your black robe and mortarboard hat, to deliver your speech. Your shoulders were draped in a gleaming gold stole that matched the tassel on the edge of your cap. You inhaled deeply and brushed your dangling tassel away from your face. When a camera flashed, the room became blurry. You cracked a grin.

Begin to exhale slowly, slowly, slowly. Allow the air to escape from your lips.

Let it go, along with the memory of Daddy putting you down on the water park’s river rock path. He’d leaned over your shoulder, one long arm outstretched, pointing straight ahead. Take a look at Mommy. She was walking away from you, dimpled thighs brushing together beneath a flowery blue swimsuit. When Daddy spoke again, you smiled and were about to call out to her. That’s repulsive. Take a look at how bad she looks. You were perplexed and sad – how could Mommy be so disgusting? Take a look at her legs. So chubby. That’s not how they’re supposed to look.

Feel the pressure in your belly release as you exhale.

When your mother took you shopping, her gaze was always drawn to your abdomen. You recall opening the dressing room door to show her your lovely lavender skirt. She fixed her gaze on your midsection, her gaze drawn like a magnet to the curve of your lower belly. Her nose scrunched and her lip curled, as if the sight of you made her sick. You should start doing sit-ups. She did not purchase the skirt for you.

Continue to exhale while allowing your shoulders to drop.

You’d hunched your shoulders around your ears until you left the Pizza Hut, mortified and wishing you could disappear. When your father reached back and swung his left hand across the table, you and your sister were arguing about who would get the last slice of the cinnamon-drizzled dessert pizza. Neither of you requires the calories! He slapped both of you across the face, and the restaurant fell silent. I got both of them on the same swing, so I got two for the price of one! He told that story for many years after that.

Completely deflate the lungs. Let go of any residual tension.

The anxiety you felt every time you didn’t want to go to the gym with your father. You preferred to stay at home and watch TV with your sister, who never had to go to the gym with your father because she was thin. But you weren’t, and your father couldn’t stand by and watch you be disgusting. He’d make you stand behind the machines while he worked out, weighted plates sliding up and down the pulleys, swapping out with you between sets. Remember – or, more accurately, try not to remember – the time you interrupted one of his sets to ask if you could go home? His arm shot out, his fist wrapping around your jaw, causing you to crack your head against the whitewashed cinder block wall. His fingers, so strong from lifting weights every day, squeezing your face so tightly you thought your teeth would break. The other men in the gym shrugged, embarrassed, and resumed their reps. When we’re finished, you’ll be able to go home! But you’d never be finished because you’d never be able to be as thin as your sister. When you discovered she had an eating disorder, it felt like a betrayal. She’d discovered the secret to avoiding your father’s wrath and hadn’t told you about it.

Return your attention to your fingers and toes.

At graduation, it was the camera flash that caused your vision to blur. You were dizzy from the excitement of being up on a stage, about to speak in front of so many people. It wasn’t the hunger gnawing at you, or the lingering blood rush behind your eyes from the ten minutes you’d just spent in the ladies’ room flushing the celebratory breakfast you’d swallowed down with your family before the function. Before that, when was the last time you ate? How about two days ago? Three? It didn’t matter because your stomach was finally flat beneath your billowing robe. Your efforts had paid off, and your father could now be proud of you. After the ceremony, he posed for photos with you, one arm around your shoulders, and suggested you keep the hat but remove the robe. It doesn’t look good on you.

You were almost content.

Open your eyes when you’re ready.