The fairest one of all

I      AM      LYING      TO      YOU                                                                                                                                                                                                              

I write the words boldly across my bathroom mirror in primary colored window markers. It’s a futile effort and I know this. I know that at some point between my first and five hundredth chance past the looking-glass, the words will no longer have meaning. No longer have spirit or substance. Soon they will disappear altogether. Fold into themselves and slide seamlessly into the kaleidoscope of eating disorder distortion.


The phenomenon of the fun-house mirror is one that baffles and frustrates the professionals who treat those suffering from ED’s, as well as those who love them. There are theories. Chief among them include chemical imbalance and nutritional deprivation of the brain. Science might not have a substantive explanation in 2011, but I can tell you from my own experience, that the torment is absolute.


When I was in treatment for anorexia, this became a big sticking point with me. The idea that what I viewed was nothing like what everyone else saw was unthinkable. I could not be convinced otherwise . My primary therapist made an appointment for me to have a “Body Image 1:1” session. Whatever that meant. What it meant…would change everything. The room I entered was sparse. A chair. A spool of ribbon. A pair of scissors. The therapist explained my simple task. I was to estimate the circumference of my waist and then cut a piece of ribbon to size. I would lay it on the chair in a circle and then the therapist would use another ribbon to actually measure my waist, and place her circle next to or inside (I smirk here) mine. We’d compare. We’d see how solid my perception was. I got it. The assumption. That I’d guess too big, see that I’m smaller, and have a revelation. But my reservation was palpable. “What if I guess too small?”, I agitated. I couldn’t imagine anything more horrific at the time than finding out that I’m actually bigger than I’d imagined. The therapist calmly responded,”In all of my years doing this exercise, that has never happened. You would be the first.” She was resolute, but I couldn’t help thinking that I would be the first. I’d mistakenly amplify my own abundance and ruin her perfect record, effectively ending her career.

I took my time handling that ribbon. I even laid it down a few times and wrapped my hands snugly around my middle to ensure accuracy. Eventually, I placed my ribbon on the chair. I was certain that, had I wanted, I could use that ribbon for a belt, so faultless were its proportions. I nodded to the therapist. Her turn. I stood very still and prayed for a natural disaster as I felt the ribbon wind around me. She ended up doing this a few times. In the end,within my original globe, she was able to fit three of her measurements. I was inexplicably angry. I snatched up one of the smaller strips to measure myself, determined to catch her in a lie. Not a lie. There it was. I had been super-sizing myself. Times three. Here was the manifestation of my illness that I couldn’t deny any longer. So I knew I had better not.


Here’s what I still don’t understand. Why me? And WHY, when I know it’s a lie, can I not see the truth? Will I ever? It’s a desperate question that nobody is able to answer me with any certainty. Two full years out of inpatient treatment and I must battle the reflective beast daily never knowing what I might be up against. I might have expanded two sizes overnight. Or during the course of a day.  Or an hour. My long-suffering husband, my patient dietitian, even the scale (yes, I have one and no, I absolutely should not) are powerless to convince me that nothing has changed. Because I know what I SEE. I tell myself not to lose sight of what I learned with the ribbons.

I caught my young son eyeballing my bathroom artwork one afternoon, his little face screwed up in consternation. “LYING,” he informed me, ” is a bad word.” Natch. Now he decided to start listening to me. As I’m sponging off the offensive graffiti, I am surprised by a visit from my thirteen year old daughter who usually has a powerful aversion to even the slightest scent of anything clean. On this occasion, I suppose her curiosity overrode her trepidation of household chores. “What did it mean, Mom?” I’m shamefully dismissive. “Just an Ed thing.” She chews on that for a moment. “Is it like..when people look in the mirror and see themselves one way..when they’re really not that way at all?” Succinct. And as sound a gloss as I’ve ever heard from any pretentious PhD. “It’s exactly like that, honey.” “But why did you need it? Are you okay?” “Of course I am. Sometimes I just need the reminder, that’s all.” We leave the conversation there. I feel that she probably understands far more than a girl of her age should.

The next morning , as I’m preparing to castigate and condemn my reflected image, I see a new message printed across the streaky remnants of its predecessor. In young teen scrawl, the cheerful paint assures me :

     NO     MATTER    WHAT    I    TELL    YOU    YOU’RE    BEAUTIFUL

…….I’ve probably lost myself in hundreds of mirrors throughout my life. They’ve screamed obscenities at me, aimed their sharpest barbs at my innermost insecurities. Whether I was broken by the message in the mirror, or left temporarily weakened, an injurious message of any kind was inevitable. Until now. My own daughter was able to defang my lifelong  adversary. I’ll probably always see a lie when it comes to my body image in the mirror. But I do know the truth. That the mirror thinks I’m beautiful no matter what. It told me so. That’s the message I take with me. That’s the one I keep.



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About JJ's song

My freshman year of college, my English prof was fond of saying "A writer writes, always." I found him to be desperately profound until Wikipedia became a cultural staple some years later and I learned that was not an original quote, but rather one he had ripped off from that Billy Crystal movie "Throw Momma from the train." I admit this threw me. If you're going to quote a movie (and you're talking to someone whose entire household can quote "The Princess Bride" backwards and forwards), and you're not even going to credit said movie ( "HALLO! My name is Inigo Montoya.."), at least let it be a decent movie. I'm not hating on Billy. I'm just saying..not his best work. Could he not glean some inspiring gem from "When Harry met Sally"? But I digress. I love words. I love them in the nerdiest coke-bottle glasses, pocket protector kind of way. There's such a pure beauty, a ballet of cadence when you're writing and you've hit upon the exact right word producing the exact right sound...sweet, sweet alliteration. The marriage of that rise and fall, auditory ebb and flow of our spoken language creates a type of symphony as beautiful as can ever be composed. (My husband is rolling his eyes as he reads this. It should be noted here that he finds Jim Carrey hilarious. 'Nuff said.) I started writing www.abendingtree.wordpress.com shortly after returning to the real world from months of inpatient tratment for anorexia. I was targeting a specific audience, sure, but also working things out for myself. This branched out organically into purging myself (sorry) of angst related to childhood abuse and self harm, both highly prevalent in the eating disorder community. I still write pieces for abendingtree but rarely publish..such a perfectionist am I that when the aforementioned exact perfect word eludes me, my work will be tabled. Last January though. Last January I was raped. Last January I was raped and beaten up and tossed half naked in a stairwell. Last February I found out I was pregnant. Last September, six weeks early, we welcomed a 7lb. 7oz boy with huge blue eyes and fine, fuzzy dark hair and deep dimples. In him I see how God spared my life. With him I am reminded of when He used this tiny human to pull me from my ever darkening spiral. Watching my husband blow raspberries on his round little tummy and rock him to sleep, nuzzling his neck, I see the love Christ has for us. From our earliest beginnings. Such love. The fondness for Jim Carrey can be overlooked in these moments. Joshua. We named our son Joshua. It means: Jehovah saves. No kidding. How could we name him anything else? (Also, everyone else shot down the name Finn which I thought was super cute.) My newest blog will be our journey with him. It may be slow going, but I've got a start.. Writers lay our offerings humbly before our readers who we can only hope will be moved. Will laugh. Learn. Pray. Hurt. Wonder. Love. Grieve. Eat. LIVE. And heal. I hope at some point you'll do all of the above. Thank you for reading. In His truth. "Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart." William Wordsworth
This entry was posted in anorexia, body image, bulimia, eating disorders, inpatient treatment, life, me, musings, Personal, Personal, recovery, reflections, thoughts, treatment, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The fairest one of all

  1. alexshealingbeauty says:

    I myself am in recovery for Anorexia and what you had to say completely resonated with me. Keep up the hope to keep going and live a beautiful and healthy life! We can do it! Glad I found your blog!

    • JJ's song says:

      It’s so wonderful to hear from people who are doing so well in recovery. I pull so much of my everyday, every moment, (every meal) strength, from people like you, like us, who have been to the edge but chose to turn around. We weren’t given this amazing life to half live it. Sick and starving and wasted. You are so right. We can do this. Together. All of us still here to tell our girls and our women who suffer that it’s not WORTH it! Stay strong.

      • alexshealingbeauty says:

        Thanks for your inspiring and beautiful message! I’m excited to follow your blog and your journey. Have a beautiful day!

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