Journal entry: May 23, 2008

This plane is freezing. Really freezing. When did planes get so cold?? It physically hurts me. I’ve been cold like this for months. Cold to the bone. I’m wearing Jeff’s coat over 2 sweatshirts over my T-shirt. I have a blanket wrapped around my legs and socks on my hands. I must look quite the fashion plate.

It doesn’t help much anyway. My skin is blue. I hope no one thinks I’m really this size. Can they tell I’m thin under all this?? What a stupid worry to have right now. I make myself crazy with thoughts like that. They flood every waking moment.

Arizona. The word pulses through me and with every heartbeat it’s a promise. Arizona. Arizona. It hasn’t even been 48 hours since I whispered my tentative concession to treatment and here I sit. How did you get here you stupid, careless woman? It’s gotten out of hand before but never like this.

Still..this morning? Daily mirror scrutiny reflected a body that still clung stubbornly to fat. I know it’s there even if no one else will admit to seeing it. I can pull flesh away from my wrist and my hips..this makes poor Jeff nearly apoplectic. It’s skin! You can’t get rid of skin! So says he. I bet I could. Guess now I’ll never know. I can’t decide if this is freeing or stifling.

I weighed _lbs this morning. I failed. My most recent goal was 75. At the rate I’m losing, all I needed was a few more weeks. A month at the absolute most. I’m in size 00 jeans as it is. Who knew such a size existed? Well. Parents of..maybe 10 year old’s. Nothing makes sense any more. Up is down and black is white and the moon is made of green cheese.

The face in the mirror is ghoulish and slightly yellow and virtually unrecognizable and the people who aren’t coming up to me and saying “You’ve lost weight, you look great’, are making Darfur and Karen Carpenter references. Seriously people? At the very least can we update our anoretics to this century?

And the compliments? Clearly I was practically of Biggest Loser proportions before ( thanks for the heads up). And while the props should validate at least some of the hell I’m going through, I’m going through HELL. What I want to say is, “Thanks for noticing. I ate nothing but sugar-free jello and apples for most of the week, exercised until I fainted, and then threw up the piece of bread I ‘treated’ myself to because I couldn’t handle the guilt. I have a hard time breathing, I’m so hungry that if I had any tears inside me I’d cry myself to sleep at night, and everyone I love is furious at me. Oh, but you like that I’m losing weight and soon I’ll weigh less than my 5th grader. THANK you! THANK YOU for the encouragement!!” Right. No food has also made me testy.

I’ve got this other notebook with me that I know I’ll have to pitch before we land. But it’s the book that became my bible as of late. Numbers. The game. Beat the scale. How far can I push my body before it pushes back..and I’m looking at these numbers. The list of my weights over the past few months. The goals I’ve hit that haven’t satisfied this…. this what? Self imposed penance through torture? It’s alarming only in the fact that I don’t find it alarming at all. I hope that I can reread this in 6 months, a year, and weep for the woman who wrote this. That I won’t be her anymore. That I’ll be able to weep period. That I might feel again.

Something.

Heartache, anger, fear, joy,…without needing the bite of a razor to know whether or not I’m even still alive.

I’m so, so tired. Breathing is an effort. I know I’m in for the fight of my life. I don’t feel at all up to the task. God, please. I need Your grace. Your mercy, yet again. Will You carry me? There’s simply no hope for me otherwise. Those doctors said I would probably die. I didn’t care then, but I do now. Well. How about that? I do now. I didn’t even realize.

I need today to be the day. May…whatever it is. 23rd? The day I decided to NOT freaking quit. To NOT be a statistic. To NOT roll over and play dead . Anorexia will not be what takes me down.

My family may have gotten short-changed being stuck with me but they love me and I have an obligation to be here for them. Whole. So I will. I will remember. How bad this is. How much it hurts. How much it steals from you. I will remember.

It’ll only be a good story if I live.

I’m the only one who can write the ending.


~Jennifer                                                                                                                                                                                       5/23/08

 

 

 

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It’s been 35 years since my last confession..

I cried in my therapist’s office yesterday. Such as I cry, that is. My eyes welling up and my voice getting froggy is akin to a more emotionally evolved person flinging themselves on the floor and raking their fingernails on the carpet in abject despondency. Or, that’s what I imagine people do. People who aren’t me.

I could undoubtedly benefit from a good weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth, but unfortunately my range of emotions often wear the uniform mask of ennui. Even those I’m closest to have been flimflammed by noncommittal shrugs and whimsical one-liners. See? Incontrovertible evidence that I am, in fact, fine. I’m fine. Everything is fine. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain…

But my personal curtain has been fraying as of late. I’ve been quick to tell myself that I’m oh-so-busy. Much to do. I’m quite necessary, in point of fact. I’ll patch the worn bits later. After all, said curtain has withstood significant strain in the past without tear. It’s fine. I’m fine. Things are fine.

That’s what I was saying when I caught myself doing leg lifts in the shower. And when I noticed, to my surprise, that I was filling up my nightstand with gum to distract me from nighttime hunger pangs. And when I began pinching red welts on my arms to bring the world back into focus when I stood up too quickly and gravity briefly released its grip on my shoes. And again when the tactic could no longer be relied upon for consistent efficacy. And now? I’m tired. I’m just so very, very tired.

I woke up this morning aching. A restless series of naps rather than true sleep. For brilliant physiological reasons, if you don’t eat, your brain won’t let you hit that blissful REM state. It stays alert, firing on all cylinders. “Get up fool!”, it shouts at you. “You’ve forgotten something!” I dragged myself to the bathroom, wondering how on earth I was ever able to live this way. My head was pounding. I was shaking. I was cold. I was tearful. I was hungry. Ah, yes Ed. There you are. Found me, did you?

I retrieved my scale. I stared. A new weight bracket. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d see this number again. So I stared. The team of doctors who worked with me during my inpatient treatment had told me my “goal weight”, my natural “set point” was probably about fifteen pounds more than the digits blurring before me now proudly flashed. On I stared. Well. I was sure showing them. Ha! All right, so, I felt like hell, true, but still. Fifteen pounds. I was a rock star. Definitely.

And there it is. That. That right there is why eating disorders are so insanely scary and addictive: I was thrilled. I felt this rush of adrenaline and disproportionate elation, and if I didn’t currently have those pesky aforementioned balance issues, I’d for sure have done a little happy dance right there in the altogether. The pain and hunger and exhaustion? In an instant, totally worth it… but was it? Truly? Is it? And if so, to what end?

Dear God.. am I going to do this? Again? Because right now I’m only gripping my pitiful, worn curtain. It’s my decision whether or not to make it a shroud.

So, I lay myself bare before you. I’m confessing. Telling on myself. Because Ed thrives on lies and secrecy. Because there is strength in numbers. Because this is unacceptable. No way to live. Because I believe in the power of prayer.

The how-to question of life-long recovery is day by day and individual, and I know that. For me though, it’s always been pretty simple. I look forward. If I were to relapse, my options are treatment or death. It really is that straightforward. And I absolutely do not want to die of an eating disorder. It just smacks of defeat and isolation and suicide and self loathing so rapacious in its need to annihilate, that the voice of the Lord would merely whisper like so much static amidst the din.

As for treatment? Wonderful as an experience as it was for me, overall, that opportunity has come and gone. It was a life saving, life changing, precious, God-ordained period in my life. Specifically ordained people brought to a specifically ordained place. Not something that can be duplicated. Not what I had. It felt like an escape from real life. And in many ways, it was.

But I can’t escape real life again. Not through treatment. And not through anorexia. And ultimately, what would it do for me? Having to start at square one? Just the thought..all the pain of re-feeding, the digestive enzymes that must be taken to remind the body that food is not the enemy… the nasal-gastric tube that bloats the stomach every morning, making breakfast a Herculean task. And those laborious stomach cramps that seized the body in the early days after a simple meal of chicken soup and crackers. (I’m supposed to eat ALL of that?! )And after months of trying to find some reasonable, livable, brand new type of normal, (whatever that is,) I would end up…right where I am this moment. That’s one wearying (and costly) boomerang to ride.

No. No, the only option that has ever made any logical sense is the one that has me living my life well. Living as I have been since the day of my discharge. My foot on Ed’s neck, my face towards the Son. Remember I said simple. Not easy. Never easy.

What happened? As I see it, I lost my vigilance. This is a war, my compatriots. In our complacence, the enemy prowls. He hisses in our ears to run a little farther, skip dinner, purge dinner, binge the contents of your freezer, compensate for the calories that have managed to hold tight by restricting most of the following day. Do crunches in bed when sleep eludes, have sugar-free candies for dinner, skip your snacks,  run one more mile, down those diet sodas, just one more mile, brush your teeth excessively to distract from the aching need of breakfast, step on the scale, chew and spit at lunch, do lunges while you’re blow drying your hair…how bad do you want it? And “it”, is always just out of reach.                                                                                                                                                                                             

I am not an anomaly. We are everywhere. We must speak. Scream. This torment is no way to live. This is death in increments. This is not what we were created for. Jennifer. This is not what you were created for.

The Bible says that our enemy roams about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Are we overworked? Undernourished? Then we are no more than lame gazelles. Might as well roll over and offer our soft underbellies. Game over. See, I had forgotten the most important part of all this. Forgotten that it is a war that I am fighting. That we are fighting. And fight we must. But in this war, it’s only when you surrender..that you win.

Sigh. What now? My therapist wondered this aloud and not unreasonably. The puzzle pounded at my head in pictorial fractions of numbers and sunken eyes and mildly jutting clavicles. This woman who is a powerhouse and the best I’ve ever worked with, knows me well enough to probe carefully. Handily avoiding kicking in my over active fight or flight response, and with a warmth that brings me perilously close to wells and frog territory once again, she challenges me to take back my health.

Reclaim my recovery.

My power.

I also have made an appointment with my dietitian. Though the thought of following a meal plan again is daunting and more than a little scary, I know from experience that should I continue to drop weight, my distortions will escalate, and the thought of food and consumption will seem a more and more insurmountable undertaking.

I have my family. And my use of that word is anomalous. When I say “family” I’m not referring to the people who raised me. Not the names that would precede mine on some genealogical tree. My clan is a magnificent  mishmash.

In it you will find my husband, truly my better half. My anchor. My great love. The four funky small people this man and I brought into being together, and a circle of intimates who are so deeply ensconced in my heart, that to call them mere friends can’t begin to characterize our connections. Soul-mates in the truest sense of the word. And then. Above all else. I have Him.

Oh, how He loves us. He told me when I was fifteen and my world was in tatters. I heard His voice while praying in the woods. “Be strong.” I never spoke of it, concerned that as a new Christian, I would be doubted. Even mocked. But I knew. He knew. And I held tight to that. “Be strong” flutters like a caged butterfly just below my sternum. And it’s that time again.

My very first memory verse was Isaiah 41:10: ” Fear not, for I am with you. Be not afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Truth? I am afraid. I’m afraid of getting bigger. I’m afraid of eating. I’m afraid of seeming needy or weak or vulnerable. But God told me to be strong. And He didn’t ever give me an expiration date on that direction. I guess that means He’s not done with who I’m going to be just yet. And I guess that means that I still need to reach for His Hands when I feel myself start to slip. And I guess…no. I know, that there is freedom in that dependency. Peace with perseverance. In knowing what you cannot and should not try to do alone.

And that’s okay.

In fact, it’s fine.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Everything will be fine.


“Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”      – Dorothy Bernard


 


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A butterfly effect

In my home today, “fat”, is a prosecutable term. Now, I do understand that it’s a perfectly appropriate adjective to employ when one is describing a Red Robin onion-straw burger, or Hello Kitty’s inexplicably disproportionate head, yet I still catch myself wincing. Commonplace kid insults in the vein of “big, fat, meanie” or the (apparently ageless) “Yo mama’s so fat” jokes, are met with the stink eye that only a mom can properly give. You know the one. (I have a particular bias against the “Yo mama” wisecracks, but that’s not really the point now.)

I’m particularly vexed when I hear such taunts directed toward my daughter, though they’re being flung her way via her puerile younger brothers. It’s true, she doesn’t run out and buy a scale to contemplate her weight, or begin furiously jogging in place until her legs founder, (as I would have once done upon hearing such barbs), still my disquiet persists.

The nagging concern that the very intimation of the f-word will be damaging to her in the end.  My husband tries to ease my mind. Points me to the actions of said daughter who either coolly unplugs her brother’s video games at the most critical point, or ably tackles them to the ground. Either action, of course, necessitates swift and fierce retaliation. This is comforting to some extent, and I think we’ll be fine as long as they all grow out of such behaviors before anyone can be tried as an adult.

I’ve always known that my unnatural discomfort with the corpulent and well-padded, stems from being raised by parents who were endlessly absorbed with their own appearances. Their self-worth ebbed and flowed with the amount of admiration displayed regarding their carefully cultivated beauty. The pair adhered to a strict zero tolerance policy towards anyone who did not also strive, with similar self-centered hunger, to achieve ultimate excellence.

Dining out was considerably preferable to our little trio play-acting happy family at home, thus occasions were ripe for mercilessly mocking the undeniable transgressions of  anyone my parents determined to be aesthetically unpleasing. To wit, most of the general  population.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            “That’s it lady…open wide. I don’t think you have enough on your plate there, tiny. Don’t stop shoveling it down. Want a feed bag? That’s exactly what you need. Keep on eating.” My dad. Vicious upon spotting an overweight woman who had the unmitigated audacity to eat. How dare she!? Didn’t she know how repulsed we all were by her? My father always insisted he couldn’t finish his dinner after seeing  another “pig” at her “trough”. And eating in public, no less!

Looking back now..I’m not sure any of his tirades were ever directed at a man. I didn’t consciously process all the underlying messages in his vitriol as a child, but I think I pretty much followed the overarching theme. Only the slender, the near perfect..right dad?  Only they had the right to eat. But if anyone else must eat, for GOD’S sake, do it in private. It’s gross. Just like all fat people were gross. Just like I would be gross if I got fat.

One of the most important things that I remembered from these dinners out with my parents was this: If we were watching others, then others were watching us. We are being watched. We are being judged. We could be found wanting by the highest caste in our society. That of the THIN. And if one is not ranked among them? That one has no business anywhere near a kitchen.

We’ve all heard the statistics haven’t we? Ad nauseam. About how those digital numbers under our red, white, and blue toes are rising faster than the economy has been falling. Yet statistically, the emphasis on BMI and body fat, HDL and saturated fats, natural sugar versus aspartame, has done nothing but fuel confusion and shame. Who benefits?

Well, the dieting industry that pulls in between 40-50 billion dollars annually certainly isn’t faring too badly. Especially given the fact that 95% of dieters will regain their lost weight within 1-5 years. So, if we can’t turn to diets..what can we.. ah, eating disorders..those work. Don’t they?

Absolutely! Albeit, in the short run. You could drop weight..if you can stand the pain. The shame. The inconvenience. The lying. The exhaustion. But give it a shot. Lose that pesky muscle that was holding you back. Your ability to sleep, walk straight, carry on a coherent sentence. All roadblocks to your true genius.

If you’ve got real grit? If you can hold out past the hair loss and yellow skin and organ failure ? You’ll make it to the end. Where you’ll die. But you’ll die THIN! Congratulations! Because no one, no one..can call you FAT. Little grave plot. Sound crazy? In the midst of my illness, I distinctly remember shouting to someone, “I DON’T CARE IF I DIE AS LONG AS I LOOK THIN IN MY CASKET!” I assure you, that was not the first time someone whispered/uttered/wailed those words.

While spending the first couple of months going through the inpatient portion of treatment for anorexia, I was among peers. There were some bulimics there as well, true. But I think they were the minority. They were women who, for the most part, were admitted at a normal weight, or even slightly above. My friends who fell in this category often mentioned feeling especially “huge” given the population they were currently a part of.

Who wouldn’t? As I prepared to leave inpatient and go to the next level of the program, I was within spitting distance of my goal weight. I realized I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable mingling with the other anoretics. In particular, with the new admissions. The women who were just entering treatment and were therefore, the sickest. The smallest. The secret envy of all.

Leaving the protective bubble of inpatient was unnerving, but I wasn’t headed home. Not for a while. I had one more stepping stone on my path before tackling the real world disorder free for the first time since childhood. After all, I’d been with Ed since I was 12. And while he nearly killed me, there’s comfort in the familiar. In knowing the monster under your bed. I thought I was nearly strong enough to take on the great unknown with God by my side and Ed under my feet. I just needed the how-to guide.

It took the form of residential treatment. That’s what it’s called. A small gated community. Women live in houses with each other, sans staff, and we cook for ourselves (following a menu), go shopping with a dietitian, take on more responsibility. We still had groups and therapy and weigh ins. But if you were going to restrict or purge or cut (and people did), then you were going to and that was that. Sink or swim on your own.

It was our decision if we were going to break the rules about using caffeine or diet products. Our conscience to deal with if we were going to sneak in Splenda and Diet Pepsi (sweet elixir..), substitute real coffee for decaf in the communal canister and hope the staff was too dumb to figure it out (they weren’t), our choice to get drunk off cough syrup and be sent home.

Meals were mostly unsupervised, though the staff usually heard about it if someone threw their bacon (still in the frying pan) out the back window shrieking “I’m not paying thousands of dollars to get f*#^ing FAT!!” , or if, in fact, it was a piece of carrot cake clogging up the toilet and “DON’T BLAME ME, I ATE MY DESSERT!” No honor among thieves.

Here’s what I did not expect about residential treatment. The addition of a group called “EE’s”. Emotional eaters. Large women. Large. And believe me when I say, they were none too thrilled about settling down in a neighborhood of “crazy skinnies” either. I mean, seriously? What kind of idiot throws away perfectly good bacon? Clearly, we were each others crosses to bear.

Us crazy skinnies (inwardly delighted to be called “skinny” anything), were confronted with our worst fear. Two of my housemates were EE’s. And I would look at the pats of butter melting on my breakfast toast, and the plop of lardy mayonnaise jiggling on top of my sandwich at lunch time..and I knew, I knew, I was just a bite away from becoming them. They were the nightmare that haunted me all my life.

As for the EE’s, we represented all the nasty, stuck-up, vain girls who had mocked and belittled them from their earliest years through college. The ones who hadn’t needed to struggle with weight (haha), who always got the guys, the popular friends, the opportunities. What on earth, I wondered, were the powers that be, thinking?? Putting us together like this? A disaster waiting to happen. Tick-tock.

And it was really uncomfortable in the beginning. For the first few days, we circled each other suspiciously, as if waiting for the other to strike the first blow. We all sat silent, almost petulant, during group time. Unwilling to let ourselves be vulnerable in front of the other camp.

We weren’t like them, and they weren’t anything like us. We knew it even if no one else seemed to . Eventually? I was the one who broke. Quelle surprise. I’ve no problem sharing. And my mantra from the day I arrived in Arizona, half carried off the plane, thousands of miles away from my family, was: “I’m not here to stay sick.”

With that running through my mind, I simply began to speak about my day. Triggers and temptations, triumphs and testimonies, as if we had all been having a running dialogue rather than sitting there like stone gargoyles for the better part of a week. Opened up. And an amazing thing happened. Everyone else began talking too. Not at once. It was gradual. It takes time for people to feel safe with one another. Especially wounded people. But it did happen. And when it did, it changed me.

Carrie* easily had two hundred pounds on Shannon*. To an outsider, the two women couldn’t seem more different. Shannon enjoyed the comfort of public sympathy while Carrie was used to scorn. Though Shannon was clearly ill, the sharp protuberance of her clavicle or hip bones inspired jealousy in many. Carrie? Well, she inspired disgusted glares and sneers of derision. Welcome to the world we live in, right?

I knew that people who were overweight and obese had their own issues. Their own demons. That’s undeniable. What I didn’t know, was that their demons came from the same dimension of hell as mine. Knew the same tricks. Shouted in their heads the same wicked lies. Left them drowning in the same pool of shame, self-hatred, and despair.

With our heads spinning, and us.. unable to make sense of the chaos, we simultaneously turn to one of our only constants. Food. Only then did we diverge in the way we chose to abuse it. But we all made that decision somewhere along the way. To hurt ourselves. To damage. To mar. And with that, we affirmed what we’d known in our hearts all along. We are weak. We are worthless. We deserve whatever we’ve got coming to us.

I became particularly close with Carrie. I think the friendship surprised both of us. She was very anti “crazy skinnies” and I was bouncing around, trying too hard to prove to the EE’s that I would most certainly not have been one of the girls making their teen lives a misery.  We both had to settle down a bit. Learn to listen. Try to understand.

She asked me questions she always wondered about anoretics. The raw stuff. The “Why the hell would you want to look like Shannon looks?!” , kind of questions. I like those. I appreciate real. Get gritty. Ask me the difficult questions. I’ll be honest.

And she did as time went on. I asked her some pretty bold stuff as well. Because I never really understood. I despise the feeling of being full. I mean..HATE it. I wanted to know why she didn’t throw up? That had seemed a reasonable system to me for so long..or just starve? What’s the problem there? We talked about food and control and loss of control and love and sex and our parents and our fears.

The night before she was discharged, we sat on our back patio and watched on of those glorious Arizona sunsets together. I took her hand and when we prayed, I didn’t occur to me that I was praying for someone who was “different” from me. Up until that time, I had a clear demarcation line in my head. Established long ago in childhood, I could feel a tangible “Heavy” and “Not Heavy” grouping to my friends. I would alter myself accordingly.

My heavier friends made me a little anxious, especially in my younger years. Don’t mention food or watch anyone eat or comment on my body or comment on their body or mention exercise or mention diet or look disgusted or offer to help with losing weight or even say the words losing weight or do anything that lets this person know that I know how different we are. That I’m just better. Because it’s not her fault. Except that it might be her fault. Thanks mom and dad.

But. That night? It was just Carrie and I. And I saw who she was apart from the confines of her physical body. I know that sounds crazy and New Age , but it was a turning point for me. She was beautiful. She was damaged. She had her arms reaching toward God, asking Him for healing. She was me.

The circle of friends I am blessed with now, is diverse in every imaginable way. Shape and size, culture and race. Background of affluence. Background of poverty. I see a unique loveliness in all who have a piece of my heart. I can say that with all sincerity. It wasn’t always the case.

My interpretation of what was acceptable and what was not, couldn’t exceed the confines of my pink Barbie box. No forgiveness for flaw. Nor blessing over blemish. It was what I knew. And after all these years, there haven’t been great strides towards acceptance for beauty of all sizes. Nature versus nurture at its finest. We’re not born feeling superior. Repelled by variance. We learn that as the years pass.

It’s a sad dichotomy, really.

How much of our innocence dies…before we even begin to  live.

Having a heart to heart with a new friend recently, she describes her lifelong battle with her body. With being overweight. She awkwardly tugs at her waistband, her eyes dart around restlessly. She’s trying not to give me that up and down body scan but I see it anyway. Her tone is hesitant when she says, “I know I can’t understand what you’ve been through..and what you struggle with. I mean (she’s embarrassed now), I have the opposite problem.”

There it is again. I think of Carrie. I think of every silly joke and all the laughs shared with her and some of the other “EE”‘s in treatment. I remembered the times we cried together. But then I heard the voice that I often hear when I sit down to a meal even today. That heartless jeering, “That’s it lady…open wide. Don’t stop shoveling it down. That’s exactly what you need. Keep on eating.” That voice, I put in a different place. Far away. It doesn’t belong with my happiness. Or my heavenly Father. With my restoration. I take the hand of my friend. Not the opposite problem, sister. Not the opposite problem at all.

It’s not a very kind world out there. I wonder..What if, every time we looked in the mirror, instead of groaning or sighing with exasperation, we thought something positive about ourselves? Thought of what God sees when He looks at us. Even if we only did it for a day.

How would it change how we feel about ourselves? The people around us? See, the more that we, as women, torment and push and punish and force and cry and demean and belittle ourselves..tell ourselves we’re just not quite good enough? The more responsibility we bear for being just another cog in the machine of manufactured magnificence.

Who knows where such measures might lead? If, one day, we’re able to look beyond numbers, if we could see beyond size and weight and what others tell us we should find attractive, and teach our daughters to do the same? We might have hope for a more tolerant tomorrow.Try it. Gaze into your mirror. Admire the sparkle in your eyes. The strength of your jaw. The muscles of your biceps. We could create the butterfly effect that saves lives.

Start fluttering those radiant wings, my courageous comrades.

*names have been changed


Posted in Ana, anorexia, beauty, binge eating disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, body hatred, body image, bulimia, Christian, Christianity, eating disorders, Ed, faith, friends, friendship, God, inpatient treatment, insecurity, life, me, mia, musings, other, outpatient treatment, overeating, people, Personal, Personal, random, recovery, reflections, relationships, social pressure, special people, thoughts, treatment, weight, women, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Remembering

So, okay. It’s eating disorder awareness week, right? True, some disorders/afflictions/ diseases are honored with a month-long dedication, but we’ll take what we can get. In some parts of the country, organizations are gearing up for marathon walks to increase awareness and raise funds for sufferers who can’t afford treatment, etc. Noble? No doubt.

Yet, I have to admit that I find this highly amusing, and some of the participant’s motives slightly suspect. I can picture anorexics and bulimics lacing up their sneakers and bouncing on their toes eagerly, two or three days before the event, READY TO GO! It’s for a good cause, after all. It’s fine. You can smile at the visual. Chuckle even. Because I’m saying it and I was one of those people, therefore it is allowable (if not entirely politically correct).

My treatment friends and I toss around more suitable options. Bake sale? Pie eating contest? I wonder how far the community’s altruism would reach then. I honor ED awareness week my own little way. Everyday, on my Facebook Wall, I post statistics regarding dieting, warning signs, body image, and eating disorders. I implore those struggling to speak up. Ask for help. Encourage anyone reading to love their body at its healthy weight. (Hello, pot? Kettle here. You are so black.)

It’s not that I necessarily think that someone reading my posts is hiding an eating disorder. I keep my pool of Facebook friends relatively small and I know everyone pretty well, (although everyone has secrets), but I’ve notice my statuses get re-posted and then re-posted again by several different friends. That’s the stuff right there. Get the word out, baby.

What’s strange about this week is how triggering I find it. Is it strange? I’m not sure if it’s just me. I have noticed some of my friends slipping here and there, but I can’t be sure if they had been and are only reaching out just now, or if being confronted with the onslaught of images and numbers and reminders of how much we’re supposed to still be suffering, are taking more of an emotional toll than even the daily reality of living with this proverbial monkey on our back. Thorn in our flesh. Devil on our shoulder. Sigh.

Let me use yesterday as a ‘for instance’. I had a late lunch driving home from work. See now, I love the way I’m able to say that so casually. I didn’t sit and stare at a cup of yogurt and then push it away, or put off fueling my body with half a dozen diet soda’s. I was hungry. And I ate. I should revel in that. Meaningless to many. A huge triumph for some of us.

Except, by the time I pulled into my garage, I was crawling out of my skin. My hands had been maniacally banging the steering wheel for the past ten minutes. I was methodically clenching and unclenching every muscle in my body. I could no longer hear the radio for the noise in my head pounding out a steady beat of “gotta purge, gotta purge, gotta purge.”

What on earth? I hadn’t binged. I hadn’t even overeaten. And what if I had, so what? I had learned from my experience in recovery over the past two plus years that my body knew what to do with occasional extra food. That I would be just fine. That my body had settled at its natural weight and when I listened to its cues of hunger and fullness (dietitian’s buzz words), I could have fun with food and should I happen to overeat one day, or for a couple of days, nothing would happen. Completely counter-intuitive to everything my ED had told me for 20 years but I had undeniable proof.

As difficult as it was to accept, my body has not changed much since the day I arrived home from treatment. I eat. I keep careful watch over my exercise even when this means doing only the simplest, daily activities of life. I constantly argue with the lies I know my reflection is throwing back at me. I’m doing it, you know? Walking the walk. So, it’s no small surprise that here I was sitting with an average size lunch lodged like a brick in my belly, contemplating pulling my car over and puking on the shoulder of the road.

Having not used my “emergency safety number list” ( compiled near time of discharge specifically for just such a situation) for well over a year, I was hesitant about whom to call. Whom to risk triggering. I sent a message to a non-ED friend that read simply: “wanttopurge wanttopurge wanttopurge wanttopurge wanttopurge wanttopurge wanttopurge”. She responded quickly with one word. “Don’t.” Well, she certainly cut to the chase. It wasn’t what I needed though.

I rapidly ran through my mental list of the suggestions I learned over my months as an inpatient. Come on distraction skills, don’t fail me now.                                                                                                                                                                                             

Let’s see, I could: Light a candle, write a poem, paint a picture..Hmm. These sounded as inane as the first time we   went over them in group. Take a bath. I thought of looking down at my unclothed body. The faint rippling of the water magnifying me from the neck down. Who comes up with these lists?

I remembered one of my favorite options. Hold an ice-cube. I found this perplexing but my friend Stephanie was genuinely irked. “How is that supposed to help? That’s such an unnatural act! Don’t they think at some point you might stop and think ‘Why am I holding this ice-cube? Ohhh..that’s right. I want to vomit.’ ”

I walk clumsily into the house feeling that old, familiar tug. And I’ll admit, it’s not altogether unpleasant. It rarely starts out that way. I’m a marionette just like the old days. Let’s just get this over with. Then I’ll start fresh and it will be like it never happened. Quick and dirty.

Only I don’t head to the bathroom. My brain and my body seem to be having some battle that the rest of me (what is the rest of me..spirit?), was not invited to join. Probably for the best. Temporarily unfit for combat.

I find myself in the family room where my children have flung themselves in various states of post school day lethargy. “I have to…walk the dogs.” “I walked the dogs when I got home, mom.” Oh, now? NOW my teenage daughter decides to do, voluntarily I might add, a chore that almost always requires employing a threat or a bribe. ( I never claimed to be a perfect parent.) I drop the leashes I snatched up and am halfway out the door. ” I’m walking myself then!” “Mom! It’s cold..”

My daughter’s admonition. She’s right. It’s probably in the thirties outside and I’m the type who still needs a hoodie six weeks after the community pool has opened. My internal warmer seems to constantly be on the fritz. But my coat was still in the car. And to get to the car, I’d have to walk past the bathroom. I can’t stop now. I have to move.

Havetomovehavetomovehavetomove. If I blow it now, it’ll be bad. Somehow I sense this though I’m not capable of coherent thought just then.

For the record, I hate the term “slippery slope”. Doctors and therapists and dietitians and shrinks and anyone who is part of your support system? They all seem somehow contractually obligated to use it repeatedly. It’s overused and unimaginative and so cliché by now, that it’s lost any effectiveness it might have once had. It’s like the term “avant-garde” on “Project Runway”. Okay, already. We get it.  If I never hear it again,( either term, really),….

only… now? Well, I can all but see that damn slippery slope in that instant. It’s not as far a fall as I had always assumed. And it’s grim near the bottom. Then pitch dark. And sinister. It’s warmer outside than it is down there. So out the door I go.

I didn’t go for a jog or a hike. I walked to the lake and I sat. Talked to God. Watched the sky. Threw sticks in the water..considered throwing them at the geese because they’re hateful creatures and I don’t like them. Later, I wondered who would find my body when my butt froze solid to the rock I was perched on and I developed hypothermia and expired, but my point is, I made it through yesterday.

I survived. Even had dinner. Another triumph of gargantuan proportions, and one that would have been inconceivable a few years ago. Even if I had managed to keep lunch where it belonged, yes belonged, it would likely have been through self soothing talk in the vein of “I can skip the next three or four meals”, or “I can exercise all night”. I might have used self harm to calm the irrepressible anxiety that sometimes threatens to overtake me if ever I let myself drift into the old damaging habit of calorie tallying. Cut. Let my blood wash away the sin, the weakness of eating.     

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       STOPSTOPSTOP.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I did.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I did… recovery.

People often ask about my recovery. It’s important to know that I’m extremely open about my eating disorder. Where I was. Where I am now. But I wouldn’t be true to myself or my comrades, if I were to reply with a canned “all better now” and a painted on smile. Surprisingly though, nobody seems to want to hear my hour-long discourse on the complicated nature of ED’s or the difficult twists and turns one’s climb back to strength and sanity will often take.

There’s a continual debate in this community regarding the use of the terms “Recovered” versus ” In recovery”. Ultimately, I don’t believe it’s what word you use that’s going to make or break your success, but rather how you use it. I believe in complete healing. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. Am I there? Read some of my posts. I am not. I am however, living in recovery.

I do not consider myself an eating disordered woman. I am a survivor. Medically, I should not be here. I’ve seen my chart. I wasn’t given such stellar odds when I left for treatment. I am a miracle. Until very recently, I had to wonder then: Why? Why still the strife? The distortion? The battle? Why am I not one of the ones who can put this (albeit, decades long) chapter far behind her, and rip off that rear view mirror? Why is this still with me everyday? Every. Day.

I think I know.

Here it is. And it’s simple.

I talk to people. A lot. Young girls. Women. I write. I speak out. I pray. I encourage. There’s a plain wooden cross that hangs in my bathroom. A sad little recreational art project that I made one rainy Saturday afternoon while still in treatment. An artist, I am not, and many of my masterpieces never made it into my suitcase home, but this one I kept. Brushed lightly with water colors long since faded, a few enamel hearts hot-glue gunned around the edges for that elegant air, it’s with me still for one reason only. In the center, a word I cut from one of the approved magazines.  

R E M E M B E R.

Written in Sharpie underneath is the date of my admittance. The date I decided to try to not die.

Remember.

I do.

And if I was “all better”, as so many who hear my testimony want so badly for me to be?

I might not.

After a while, it would fade. As so many unpleasant memories do.

The agony of hunger. The heartache that accompanies self-imposed isolation. The head spinning, and the frailty. That constant, bone-numbing chill, and crushing exhaustion. The brittle but determined imploration towards the end to anyone who might have stuck around, who might not have thrown up their hands in helpless defeat and decided that they were so done with me, “leave me alone, let me die, just please let me die..”                                                                                                                                                      No. No, I remember. I choose to remember. Better still. I pray to remember.

In 1998, Marya Hornbacher wrote a now famous (or infamous depending on your perspective) memoir, “Wasted”*, chronicling her life with anorexia and bulimia. In her words, “For the vast majority of eating disordered people, it is something that will haunt you for the rest of your life. You may change your behavior, change your beliefs about yourself and your body, give up that particular way of coping with the world. You may learn, as I have, that you would rather be a human than a human’s thin shell. You may get well. But you never forget.”

So, I’m asking. Where are you? You, who are reading this? Are you suffering, still in the hellish torment of it all? Recovered? Recovering….but still haunted? And if you’re living in that unsettled stage of restoration with me, what are you doing with it? Can you, too, accept that maybe, maybe we’re still here so that our pain will have some value?

Yes, it all sucks and many days it’s really hard and many days it feels like going back, quitting, would be easier. And it might be. Would be, probably, for a time. Let’s keep it real. But is that all we are? A number, a size, a body, a disease? All we’re here for? I’m not letting an eating disorder take me down. So don’t you. We’re talking and doing and fighting and remembering for something. Someone. Many someones. We may never know what God is doing behind the scenes. And that’s okay. Because He is, you know..He’s doing.

I encourage you, this week, as ever. You are worth far more than any mirror, any scale, any size tag on your jeans could possibly reflect. Someone loved you enough to die for you. And is still loving you. You are not alone. Not in this fight. Not in this world. Press on. Chin up. Pray. Remember.



* This is not an endorsement. Though it is one of the most poignant and beautifully eloquent books I’ve ever read, if you have any connection to the ED community I challenge you to find someone who hasn’t used “Wasted” as their how-to guide. Their bible. Their “thinspiration”. For me, reading it is like holding a loaded gun and I no longer own a copy. Should you choose to read it as one SOLID in recovery, I urge extreme caution. Please.

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Seeing God

As children, our ideas of God and heaven are delicate but supple buds. Our roots are thirsty and malleable, our immature leaves striated with whimsy and wish. One of my sons is looking forward to the afterlife as an existence with “mountains of Lego’s and no peas.” I’ve seen the dangers of grasping too tightly to the wide-eyed, artless, fantasies of youth. We leave no aperture by which adult realities might slip in. We insist on clinging to our well-worn hodgepodge of philosophies, television testimonials, and self-help books collected throughout the years.

They mollified us once, and it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge that we may have outgrown them. That we may need something more. Something deeper. Personal. So we clutch them ever tighter, and they lay like doll’s rags in our hands. We go about our very important lives. We smile, we work, we play. Yet no one.. no one whispers of us, “but the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes..” But we know. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve been feeling the draft.

For me, and I suspect for many of us, our perception of God as our father, steadily develops from the way we view our earthly one. That’s a sticky wicket. And quite a burden to put on all the daddies of the world.

My father was not a warm or gentle man. No one would use the words “kind” or “considerate” in a sentence containing even a letter of his name, and I only knew “mercy” and “grace” as two ruffle-socked, pigtailed peers whom I played with in the second grade. Grace cheated shamelessly at jacks. Mercy still wet her bed. Telling.

When I became a Christian in my early teen years, I learned of the attributes of God. Patient. Forgiving. Righteous. Just. Slow to anger. Compassionate. The terms were familiar, but as far as being traits intrinsic to one’s character…                                   

Now, the God of the Old Testament? HIM, I’ve seen.  All that wrath, smiting and fighting and carrying on? I get that. I lived with that. For almost thirteen years I lived with that guy. The one who saw only your failures and never your feats, your ignorance and not your intellect, blemish but never beauty. His tempests raged through our home with little or no provocation. The aftermath left me bruised, in body and spirit, praying to someone I wasn’t sure I believed in, for rescue. A sinner in the hands of an angry dad.

When that long-awaited rescue eventually came, and I had my Savior, I tried. I really tried. I sang of the wonder of His love and immersed myself in an enthusiastic and dynamic youth group. I was worshiping in my own limited way, as best I knew how, but I was scared. Scared of making the mistake that couldn’t be forgiven. Of pushing Him too far. Of not being enough. God just..scared me. And obedience out of terror isn’t worship. It’s tyranny.

I married an enthusiastic and dynamic boy from that enthusiastic and dynamic youth group when we were very much still youths ourselves. A few years later we were anticipating the birth of our first child, a daughter. Due largely in part to ten years of deplorably disordered eating and a malnourished body, the pregnancy was fraught with dangerous complications.

When I was induced a month early, my little girl and I began a two-day ordeal that she would not remember and I would not forget. The day after I had given birth, I woke up in the intensive care unit to a shrill beeping which, I was curtly informed, I was producing, by incessantly jabbing at the button on my morphine pump even though it had been explained to me, repeatedly, that it operated on a timerelease only.

My chest was dappled with second degree burns which were inflicted when the defibrillator was needed to give me a cardiac jump-start, or two. IV antibiotics were coursing through my bloodstream, fighting the bacterial infection that threatened sepsis, and the pounding in my lower abdomen heralded the presence of every staple holding me together.

Another day into my extended infirmary vacation, we would discover the origin of my high fever when a nurse changing my surgical dressing noticed a sallow muck seeping through the gauze. I was truly suffering. I was disoriented, and terrified. I was damaged. I had not yet held my baby. I had nearly forgotten why all this was happening to me.

I have a foggy recollection of my mother being in my room at some point, but leaving shortly after I revealed, with no small measure of distress, that my bedpan was no longer playing nicely with my teddy-bear printed “Get Well Soon” balloons. I can’t speak for any of my visitors, but I enjoyed my brief affair with that morphine pump.

A nurse brought my girl into me on an ordinary afternoon. No fanfare. No temperate, pastel lighting, or dulcet lullabies playing in the background. Just an abrupt, unceremonious rap on my door and an easy plop of a package ensconced in white and pink, in the nook of one unsteady arm. There was this six pound person. And there I was. We regarded each other intently.

She, brunette and dusky. I, in striking contrast, fair and flaxen. I hadn’t much experience around newborns, but somehow I knew how to hold this one. With her troubled, cherubic face visibly calming, we naturally enfolded, nestling into one another. Each drifting contentedly in the others warmth and perfume. It all happened in a single heartbeat.

In a single heartbeat, my world turned upside down. My mind flashed through the last few days, few weeks, nine months, twenty-two years..and I just knew. I knew I would do it all again. For her. Without hesitation.

I wouldn’t need to wait until I healed. Or until my strength returned. Right then. To have this baby? My baby? If needed, I would get out of this caged bed, no..I would fly, and relive the anguish, receive the misery, embrace the enmity. She made anything, everything possible. The sentiment stole the very breath from me. I never knew a love like that existed. So pure. So staggering. To the extent that I would lay down my very life…. and then. Then I understood.

I understood.

And I wept.

Could it be? All this time…could this possibly be the way that God felt about me? This ferocious concern? This passion for my protection? A longing to shepherd and nurture?

And, I’m merely mortal. Finite. Limited. Constrained and bound with chains of sin and sickness. Yet, within my all too human humanness, lay the capacity for this tremendous profusion of intensity. How much more – how very much more must my Father, my Creator, love me?

I thought of how much time I had wasted. Uneasy, guarded, anticipating a spiritual scourging with every misstep. I never acknowledged that I couldn’t have truly believed in the goodness of a divine Almighty. Not without accepting all He had to offer. Wanted to offer. I knew I had hurt Him.

My lips had spoken prayers through faith, but I didn’t listen. My eyes scoured the heavens for pardon, but I didn’t see. God had been reaching for me, whispering my name, but I was scarred from early paternal tribulation, and I cowered. My hands glued firmly at my sides, I maintained an inveterate silence…until I didn’t. At last, at last. On a biting November afternoon, in a dreary military hospital, I rocked a newborn baby close, and bowed my head. With a serene exhale, I breathed a quiet,

Thank you..”

I am now the mother of four. Any suspicions I might have once held about a mother’s love, or God’s love, being disseminated with each child? Those have long been put to rest.

Though my monkeys refuse to believe it, I don’t have a “favorite”. When I find myself feeling very alone in this great big, scary world..knowing my impotence, and feeling my insignificance, I watch my sons, my daughter. Some days I need the reminder that God is here, and He’s watching me with the same tender, admonishing care.

As His little girl.

Now for my own brood, well. They make me laugh and hurt and pray and tear at my hair and yell and sing and feel like a kid and feel old and cry and dance and scold and….my list is endless. They are each unique. And brilliant.

To me.

And beautiful.

To me.

And they are more than enough. Just as they are. And I know now that I am too. I am enough. He showed it all to me. Gift wrapped in the shape of a tiny baby girl. He knew what I needed. Because even though my God had been watching me my entire life, it wasn’t until I saw her, that I finally saw Him too.

 

 


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Saving face

I have no idea what I’ll look like after the age of, about, forty-seven.  Not only do the women in my family not subscribe to the idea of “growing old gracefully”, they don’t believe in growing old at all. That the befitting imprints of mother nature are something to be fought, much like an ex-husband’s dwindling alimony or the premature cancellation of “Dynasty”. Such an antiquated notion cannot be uttered without a scornful sneer or contemptuous cackle. Surely no one falls for that line these days? Who were these rubes? Sigh. Peasants. Yes, there really are those who speak this way. I’m not especially proud to admit that I share DNA with them.

The first time cosmetic surgery was proposed for me, I was thirteen years old. My grandparents were taking me on a holiday across Europe, and while being outfitted for a more tasteful wardrobe than I apparently packed for, I noticed my grandmother inspecting my face. She was scowling. She rarely scowled. Frown lines, you know.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 “If  only we could do away with your father’s nose. Maybe for your sixteenth.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Well, now. I’d never been overly fond of my nose. But this was the first time ( it would not be the last ) that it had been targeted as an operation-warranted defect. To say this made me self-conscious is the epitome of understatements.

My father’s side of the family is Greek. On the rare occasions when the clan gathered en masse, my pallid cast and towhead made me the undeniable white sheep of the family. This was a perpetual matter of disappointment for all of them. My prominent nose was the only feature that I shared with the swarthy, olive bunch and despite the fact that I was becoming increasingly displeased with it, I felt it was my sole connection to an important piece of my heritage. I couldn’t decide if I was ready to let that go or why I was supposed to want to. And if I did, could my Grecian roots be maintained strictly on the basis of my love for baklava and ouzo?

When I was sixteen, the discussion of the banana on my face was temporarily tabled in favor of a more pressing matter. My grandmother and I were standing before a mirror. I was wearing a bikini. We were vacationing in St.Tropez, France and I was being encouraged to go topless because “NOBODY here wears a bikini top!” I told her somebody would now. Uh oh. I was getting the face. The Chanel eye glasses were slipped on and the poking and pinching began. I was all lean muscle, a competing gymnast and trained dancer. I had  also developed seriously disordered eating behaviors that should have been caught. Should have been arrested. But instead, were encouraged. Especially during the summers spent with  my grandparents.   

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           “Hmmm, how much do you weigh?”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I told grandmother (honestly) that I didn’t know. Just a few years later, I would be  weighing myself a dozen or more times a day. I would ensure that I had no make-up on. No deodorant or earrings or perfume. Nothing that could conceivably make me even a smidgen heavier.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      “Are you.. (sniff of disdain)..happy with the way your body looks,  Jennifer?”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     I wanted to defy her. To raise my chin high into the air and tell her I was strong and powerful. That I could soar and fly and tumble. Perform feats with my body that most could only dream of. But she had hurt me. Struck my greatest complex. And she knew it. I hesitated a moment too long before my proud “Of course.” She had me. It was all over.                                                      

“Look at those fat thighs. Those beefy arms..and women aren’t supposed to have muscular stomachs like that…it’s gross. What boy wants to date a girl who is stronger than he is?? I don’t want you coming out with your grandfather and I tonight. It’s embarrassing. Here.” She went to her tote bag. She carried this bag with her that was roughly the size of La-Z-Boy recliner. She was ahead of her time as far as supplement madness went. She could swallow handfuls of vitamin tablets and capsules dry. Just open her throat and slowly push them all down much like a snake swallows its prey. She might have been able to unhinge her jaw, but I have no proof of this. I watched the scene play out before me twice daily with both fascination and revulsion. This time though, she had some magic beans for me as well. Having been deemed too fat for a public viewing, she had no recourse but to fix me. Drastic times..

I don’t remember the color or the size. Just the generous quantity. The pills neatly filled my hand. I was instructed to take them and lose my “disgusting blubber.” I vividly remember that scathing review of my figure. I took them. Why wouldn’t I? I had no desire to be a shut-in all summer, shaming members of my family with my wanton obesity. My grandparents left for a night of operatic arias and five-star dining while I had been left to sup with the devil, holding a massive overdose of laxatives. I had no idea what to expect but I found out soon. I entertained the possibility that those miniature, seemingly innocent pellets, could kill me. Within the hour, cramps like I hadn’t known were possible, racked my entire body and sent me plummeting to the floor, writhing in paroxysms. Laxatives will have their intended effect, sure-enough, but as an overdose is toxic, the body will also retch furiously in a desperate attempt to expel the contaminant. Both usually happen at the same time. But hey, you might drop five or ten pounds of water weight..for a day. Score! It’s just a shame that you can’t stand up without assistance to enjoy the svelte new you. That night, my grandmother inadvertently began my expedition into the realm of purgatives and emetics that would eventually broaden to include diuretics and ipecac syrup.

If anyone reading this has not had the sheer delight of poisoning themselves with laxatives, let me take this opportunity to advise against the experience. Vehemently. Though incredibly popular in the world of eating disorders, such a method is not only viciously unpleasant and completely ineffective, (reread paragraph above) it is highly dangerous. Even deadly. Immediately preceding my admission to inpatient treatment for anorexia in May 2008, I was admitted to the emergency room of our county hospital. I had been purging all weekend when, without warning, my body decided to put a stop to the whole business. My gag reflex went unexpectedly kaput. In a fit of panic, I searched the city for ipecac. I can only imagine how this looked. A gaunt and wasted woman, frizzy hair and wild-eyed in Betty Boop pajama pants and a holey Rolling Stones T-shirt, lurching into every drugstore within a twenty-five mile radius.

                                                                                                      

“I was wondering if you sold..um, I think it’s called ipecac syrup? Or something…It’s for my first aid kit at home.” And I need it right now. At seven in the morning. When the hell did they stop selling ipecac over the counter?! Order it?? That does me NO good! Act casual. Maintain. I bought two boxes of laxatives on the way out. Something I hadn’t done in at least ten years. I knew they were only a temporary fix at best. Hardly worth the suffering.  But my hysteria was swelling and next to suicide,I failed to establish an alternate course of action. I couldn’t do nothing. I downed the sixty pills in the car on the ride home. It disturbed me that they were candy-coated.

Six hours later, nothing had happened and I was pacing my hallway. Restless. A virtual volcano of anxiety showing imminent signs of eruption. Cold sweat. Hands on the hollow of my belly to quell the butterflies rollicking in there. More! That’s all. I must just need more to remind my system what it’s supposed to do with this stuff. Back to the drugstore. Another box. Another thirty. I wait. My husband, Jeff, finds the empty boxes. I hadn’t bothered to hide them. I had more pressing concerns. Before I knew what was happening, EMT’s were in our living room speaking gently but adamantly in their composed EMT-ish way. They would indeed be taking me in. Yes, they knew I felt fine now, but once the pills kicked in, and they would, I would lose fluids rapidly and my potassium would drop so low I was likely to have a heart attack. Besides, one man added, “you’re gonna want a little morphine to help you through this one.” Sturm und Drang, I rolled my sunken eyes at them all as I was loaded into the ambulance. Sturm und Drang.

Three days later I was still vomiting little pellets. Now that I could have really used that candy-coating, it was gone. And that EMT was dead on about the morphine drip. Except I could have used much more than a little. And perhaps a shot of heroin would not have gone amiss. Unfortunately, it seemed to them that the latter was an unreasonable request. I spent a good amount of this unexpected vacation talking with an overworked and under-appreciated social worker named Paul. He flashed statistics, results of never-ending blood tests and my electrocardiogram films. Told me that if I didn’t get help, I would die. Showed me how my kidneys were showing early signs of failure. How my heart was straining to beat. I turned away from him and culled all the energy I could muster. Concentrated intently on sustaining the rhythmic pulsations that I had taken for granted for so long. I fielded incessant and inane questions. Are you trying to kill yourself? Ninety laxatives? Can you spell “world” backwards? Ninety laxatives? Do you hear animals talking to you? NINETY laxatives?! Yeah, yeah. Ninety. I couldn’t get rid of a dozen doughnuts..what would you do? I was evidently alone in this very logical rationalization. Was I trying to kill myself? For sure. Clearly, death by crapping is the ideal fatal arrangement. Please. Rookies.

A couple of months later I was recounting this experience for a graduate student who was writing her master’s thesis on the role of caffeine and laxative abuse in eating disorders. I’m not sure she was adequately prepared for me. Or more precisely, for any of us who have been enslaved to Ed and the mirror.  Who have been willing to dance to the edge of the abyss and look out into oblivion and consider…just consider it. My grandparents are both gone now. My mother is still a “cosmetic re-freshening” devotee. She eschews such inessentials as food and libation (save for wine), as her now finite income is funneled directly into smoothing her crows feet, plumping her lip lines, ironing out her forehead creases, and resurrecting droopy eyebrows. She’s only fooling herself. I think she really is though. Fooling herself. Possibly, that’s all that matters.

As for me? I still have my distinctive nose. It doesn’t bother me the way that it once did. Maybe my face expanded around it some, or maybe it was my mind that did the expanding. Or maybe I like the way it diverts the eye from my once upon a time mentioned “beefy arms” (she says, tongue planted firmly in cheek). The cosmetic surgery industry is this destructive behemoth that we are continually feeding, thus it is continually growing. Recent statistics showed an appalling ten million cosmetic surgeries were performed in 2009. Ten. Million. Ninety-one percent of those being, of course, on women. This is during a period of great economic crisis facing our country. Thankfully, we have our core values well established. Thankfully, we don’t affix “sell by”dates on members of our society, hmm? Thankfully, we’re able to teach our children what can really help them face life on life’s terms. A Brazilian butt lift, permanent expressions of surprise, nipples beaming at the north star, and LOOK OUT WORLD! How do you like me now?!

I’m not implying that it’s easy to age in a world full of eternal youth. Just that I’m trying, in my own decrepit way, to show my daughter something I never saw. Maturity. Receive the furrows on my face as authentication of decades of smiles and laughter and playful winking. And tears. Acknowledge that gravity is a universal law and not a personal assault. That the silvery streaks that hug my midriff are exhibitive fruit that my body carried and nourished children whom I treasure. When I’m able to take a step back and meditate, I have to ask myself: would I be willing to exchange the lushness that is my life, to become a dazzling vision of womanliness? And who exactly has the right to determine that I’m not already? See, I know a few people who just might challenge such a view. They think I’m a pretty valuable package. Even being wrapped up, as I am, in tatters of birthmark and blemish, defect and damage, scar and spot. And if they can see through all of the flaws, to the me that radiates from within? Well, it’s no longer a hopeless expectation that one day, I might catch a glimpse too.



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Enter grace : stage right

Being in treatment was a life changing experience. Remuda Ranch is a place utterly drenched in God. I felt His serenity amidst the discord, His renewal of my spirit against its damage, and His restoration mending my body. With each awe-inspiring Arizona sunset, I was one step nearer home, and beginning life afresh. Unburdened by the heretofore continuous torment of my eating disorder. I expected nothing less than an enthusiastic and supportive reception, and primarily that is what happened. Primarily.

While I was an inpatient, I heard many horror stories from my fellow invalids regarding the hurtful way they were dealt with by members of their respective churches. As troubled as I was by this, I knew it went far beyond that for God. I knew His heart was deeply grieved when we mistreated each other. Before I was discharged, I had a personal meeting with the head pastor there. Henry.

“An eating disorder is a mental illness. It’s a horrific battle to fight, but it isn’t a sin. Don’t let people put that burden on you. ” He smiled at me. “We have enough sins to carry without adding more.” He was warning me about what to expect when I went home. I had no concerns though. My church family had rallied around me during my entire ordeal. Sent me cards and letters, some anonymously, to comfort and strengthen me. This congregation was responsible for the down payment for my admission, and someone’s frequent flier miles flew my husband and I across the country within days of my long- awaited plea for help. No. I wasn’t worried.

As for the question of eating disorders being labeled a sin? I know the religious community is divided on that issue. Eating disorders are, in fact, diagnosable mental illnesses, with anorexia nervosa having the highest mortality rate of all other psychiatric afflictions. I also know that when your body, (and consequently your brain), are not being nourished properly, you are physically incapable of clarity or rational thought.

I look back and now and recall so vividly that the smaller I became, the more I thought everyone around me was overreacting. I truly did not see the cause for such upset. Couldn’t see it. I’m not a scholar or any manner of authority when it comes to sins that the Bible doesn’t mention by name, and I would be slightly wary of anyone who claims to be. I have a hard time though, marrying the kindness of the Lord I know, with one who holds those accountable for sickness that scientists believe are caused in part by genetic contributions and possible chemical imbalances. Again, only my opinion. And in the end, I have to wonder how much it really matters. After all, mercy triumphs over judgment. (James 2:13)

When I arrived home at last, it was beautiful. There were tears and embraces and it was just as I’d dreamt during my disconnected desert months. Pastor Henry’s warnings seemed unwarranted. Before long though, I understood why he’d sat down with me. I felt so vulnerable being on the “outside”. After months of introspection and emoting and unearthing every misery I’d felt since my conception, I was this ambulatory, raw wound. Vulnerable. Exposed.

I should have been more guarded. Hindsight, and all of that. Because I did encounter some judgment and thinly veiled disdain for my failings. A friend, who I don’t believe meant the harm he ultimately inflicted, actually said that in light of  all I’d “done over the past few years…” I should take some time to rest before serving in the church. Absolutely true and right and appropriate. But because of all I’d done? Cue the clichéd snowball effect.

Thus began my cutting bender. My inaugural lacerations appeared as the word FAILURE etched across my leg. I never bothered to get it sewn up, and still today I can make out the faint outlines of the F and the L. (Though these days, I use them as a reminder that the Lord does not see as man sees. For man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.) (1 Samuel 16:7 )

There were a few encounters such as that one. With only a handful of people really…and yet I really struggled with it for a while. What that friend said? It was true. I had made a huge mess of my life over the past several years. But I had also repented. Told God I was sorry. Changed direction. Asked forgiveness of the people I had hurt. And together we had all moved forward. Why was this coming up again? Did God work that way? Did He keep a cumulative record of all of our sins? Was God saying to me, “Sorry kid. You blew it one too many times. You’re just not good enough to be used by Me anymore.” I realized that I already knew the answer to that.

The Bible tells us in the book of Psalms, that when God forgives us, our sin is removed as far as the east is from the west. In Isaiah, God says that He will remember our sins no more. And one of my favorite verses comes from Micah : “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.” That’s not a God who is keeping score. That’s a God whose mercies are new every morning. So while my friend and others of his philosophical ilk might have misspoken with their speech, they also lacked an ingredient that is by far more essential.

Grace.

Grace is defined as unmerited favor. Getting something you do not deserve. And I can relate to that. But I couldn’t always. As Christians, we sing about grace all the time. Most praise and worship songs involve the concept of thanking God for His grace, how we’re unworthy of His grace, we stand in His grace..and on and on. But how many of us really understand how much we need it?

I shudder now to remember the intolerance I carried in my younger heart. How lightly I could dismiss someone’s remorse or contrition. From abortion to adultery, I understood and accepted that God forgave each penitent soul…but in that dark, ugly place where our most secret of secrets are kept, I didn’t. I would smile and join in prayer, feign a pious smile when a prodigal returned to the fold..but I had to suppress a powerful urge to shake the sinner’s shoulders very hard and demand, “What were you THINKING?!” or, “How could you have been so selfish/stupid?!”

But now,  having looked into the eyes and hearts of a few potential shoulder-shakers of my own over the past several years, I’m thinking that this might be a natural part of the maturation process for the Christian. One that has nothing to do with the length of years that one has been walking with Jesus or even the heinousness of a particular sin, because to God? They’re all abhorrent. It’s us who attach degrees of immorality. Only us. Score another one for the humans.

My road to discovering the true meaning (and necessity of ) grace, wasn’t fleet or facile. Rather, it was arduous and heartbreaking, but a more worthy lesson I’ve never learned. It was a tumultuous four-ish..years for me and my family. The separation then reconciliation between my husband and I, a foreclosure on our home, an unexpected and very difficult pregnancy, a breast cancer scare and subsequent lumpectomy, and then my rapid spiral back into the pit of anorexia was a whirlwind that left us all disoriented and slightly wrong-footed. As for my role in much of the above and all those read between the lines back stories not included, well…pivotal.

I realized with no small amount of irony, that I had become one of those people. One of those people who I would have been disgusted with just ten years before. Five years. Two. One of those, “What were you THINKING?!” people. And I had no satisfying answer to that exasperated query. Not for myself. Not for anybody. What I needed was pure absolution. To prostrate myself at the feet of those I had wronged, at the feet of God, and plead for mercy. For unmerited favor. For grace. And something wonderfully astounding happened when I did that.

Grace.

It showed up.

I felt it.

Forgiveness flooded through me, softening my resistant force, mending all that shame had unraveled. Getting to the point where there was no possibility of denial, no way that I could convince myself that I’m not that bad or basically decent..was the best thing that could have happened to me. That’s a gift to be given. You’ve done something detestable? It can be made right again. Sit down. Take my hand. You’re not alone…let me tell you about something remarkable called grace.

Some Christians might coast through the majority of their days. They might never experience that time in the valley where they find themselves crying out in genuine anguish. Never abandon themselves to that place of brokenness. Wondering how they got to where they are and how they became who they’ve become. I suppose when faced with those two options, the former seems much more preferable, but for those of us who’ve been through it?

We know better. We know grace in a way those happy-go-lucky don’t. We get grace. We’ve been showered with blessings we could never merit, and so desire to pour the bounty into the souls of people hurting. The word grace is mentioned 131 times in the New Testament. That doesn’t even begin to cover it. How does one fit the ocean into a teacup?

I’ve noticed lately that it’s fairly easy to spot those of us who truly understand grace the way it’s intended. We’re the ones whose faces are sorrowful rather than sour upon hearing of hardship that a person caused for themselves, our arms ache to hold the abject, the forlorn, we seek to find some of our own story in each relation of regret.

And we’re the ones who tremble when the opening chords of “Amazing Grace” resonate on a Sunday morning. Standing with our hands raised upward to the heavens or kneeling in prayer, we’re embraced by the lilt.

We weep. This is our song.

I didn’t get it before. But I’ve got it now.

I’ve got it.

How sweet the sound…


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One foot in front of the other

My feet won’t move. This is problematic for several reasons. It’s nearly 7:30am. I have things to do. People are counting on me to do them. I’m working this morning. I have a long drive. I need to pack a lunch and walk the dog. I have two children who need to be out the door on their way to the bus stop, and I’ve yet to rouse a preschooler whose arousal is necessary, and who requires a great deal of prompting before nine. Still…these insubordinate feet. I have affirmations scrawled across my mirror. “I am fearfully and wonderfully made!”, “I was bought at a price”, “I deserve to eat”. But the sudden fleshiness and breadth of my body this morning has resulted in those letters being reduced to nonsensical graffiti. All harsh angles and bruised edges. My skin feels too tight. I must take care to stand extremely still. It’s possible that I might split clean open, like an overripe tomato. I know I have to go…I can’t though. My mind is reeling as I try puzzle out the why’s? and the what happened? that have led to my present plight. What I might have done or not done. Eaten or not eaten..

Sometimes the eating disorder voices that have dogged me for as long as I can remember, lay dormant. For days. Weeks even. Blessed alleviation. But sometimes, like today, the cacophony in my head  is so coarse, so deafening, that rational thought is unobtainable. I know it’s a bad idea to weigh myself. The very fact that I even have a scale in my home, impugns my convictions, and I would (and do) sternly admonish my fellow eating disorder sufferers to eschew just such a practice. I am not a hypocrite. I believe what I say. Adhering to my own sagacity though, …well. Wheels within wheels. I have to check. As it is, I feel too ashamed to go out. I don’t want to be seen. I wish, not for the first time, for a cloak of invisibility. Before reason can divert me, I retrieve the burdensome device. That I am once again perplexed by the outcome, is wholly draining.

Two summers ago, I had but one objective to accomplish. And it was numerical. A lofty intent, but one I was assured could be done. Gain weight. Lots of it. Reach my mark. Three digits flashed in my mind. Health..energy..strength..over and over, like an electric neon sign. I wanted to return to my husband and see delight on his face. Desire at the way I once again filled out my clothes instead of my bones filling out my skin. I wanted my family to feel proud. To prove their investment in me had not been in vain. The day I was informed (with genuine felicity), that I had reached this goal weight, I exulted. I thoughtfully considered my new shape. I understood that what I was seeing would experience some natural adjustments over the next year or so. The process of  re-feeding a malnourished body must be gradual and it physically hurts. Really hurts. A regenerating affliction this time, yes, but still heavy. So to speak. In the interest of protecting the body from future starvation, newly gained mass is often concentrated at your core to spare the vital organs. The design of the human body is indescribably brilliant. Truly. I determined at that moment that I could abide this new form. Respect, if never sincerely cherish, it. My experiment at suicide by emptiness was so promising. But my body won. It was time for me to cede. I had been fighting too long. My body wanted to survive more than I wanted it to die. I had to admire the tenacity in that. I owed it. Consequently, I was going to own my weight.

Weighing two pounds less than that once happy weight this morning, I am pendulating between sheer bewilderment, the dread that accompanies my powerlessness, and repulsion at my reflection. It’s not the first time that I’ve considered the possibility that the scale is lying. Deliberately lying because the entire universe is conspiring to make me fat. Not for the first time has this suspicion crossed my mind. I haven’t pieced together the precise reason for the nefarious plot as of yet, but nothing else seems to make quite as much sense as that supposition does. Because only last week? I was all right. Now, I am incapacitated. My rabid compulsion is to carve away my disfigurement, lash out at my unsightliness…but such a self-indulgent performance won’t do. I know from a long-term, push-me/pull-me relationship with self harm, that in the end it accomplishes little aside from ample regret. I shut my eyes tight and turn away from the mirror. I have to do that regularly. I periodically drape it with glossy scarves in an endeavor to addle my eyes with tincture and template. I find the gossamer material can sometimes bring ease to that which makes me the most uneasy.

On my way to work later – I did, somehow, push myself into motion eventually – I lose myself in music. Easy to do. For a few moments, I am even able to stop shifting in my seat. Stop adjusting my seat belt and oversize coat to hide all my perceived flaws from passing drivers who might glance over and be revolted by the sight of me. By how I’ve let myself go. Because somehow everyone knows. As the chorus of an unfamiliar song begins, I am struck by the words:

                                                       

    “Words could never say, the way He says my name ,He calls me…”lovely” /  No one ever sees, the way He looks at me , He sees me…holy  / Words could never hold, this love that burns my soul /Heaven holds me ,Heaven holds me…”*                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I’m not going to end with “and she lived happily ever after.” Life in the real world just doesn’t work that way. I’ll tell you what though – that reminder for those few minutes? That was for me. Two pounds or (gulp) twenty pounds, Someone sees me as pretty special. A lot of someones, actually. And I owe it to them, to the One who sees me as holy, to be here. Fully here. On days like today, it simply means being willing. To trust. To persevere. To put one foot in front of the other.

*Jesus Culture – “Sing My Love”

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I’m Just Not That Into You

It was uncomfortably cold. We were all cold but blankets weren’t allowed. I can’t remember all the reasons why now, but it had to do with safety and body image. That’s why having a pillow on your lap during group meetings was against the rules. The staff didn’t want us using it as a type of armor. To not only cover our bodies, but also to shield our pain. Which, of course, was exactly what we wanted to do. Without a barrier, it was terribly uncomfortable. We were vulnerable. Naked. Exposed.

 

I like to curl up. I do it still. Make myself as small as I can whenever possible if at all remotely appropriate. At a parent/teacher conference earlier today, it would have been lovely to have been able to draw my knees up under my chin and wrap my arms tightly around my legs. Even crawl under the table. It would have helped me concentrate. I suspect it would be viewed with no small measure of concern, but it would also explain a lot about my oldest son and his current behavioral “issues” (the impetus for today’s meeting, but I digress.)

 

When you’ve starved away all but about four or five percent of your body fat, even tropical temperatures can’t warm the cutting chill that permeates your entire being. Perpetual. Inescapable. The hottest bath, multiple layering of clothing while basking under a heat lamp, the downy lanugo that your despairing body urgently supplies -it’s all laughably ineffectual. When I learned I would be spending my inpatient months in Arizona during the summer? I could have wept with thanksgiving. I had halcyon tunnel vision, and the light at the end of that tunnel was the blinding, westerly sun.

 

And yet there I sat huddled with a dozen other women in varying states of illness, granted on the plushest couches conceivable (and yes, “plushest” is a word, I checked), just as cold as I was in North Carolina. We continually grumbled and crabbed about how freezing we were to no avail. I, personally, began to look forward to the often heard, good-natured staff response of, “FREEZING is thirty-two degrees!”, the same way I laughed every time I heard, “Baby Jesus cries when you lie!” when someone insisted that they accidentally flushed a toilet for themselves. “I didn’t cack!!” ( I learned dozens of new synonyms for vomiting while in treatment. My favorite was “fergle“. Money well spent.) “It’s a habit!” ( That’s true. You try to get used to having someone flush a toilet for you for the next three months. Not kicks and giggles. Especially if the nurse recently administered an enema…I’ve heard.) So, while our morning orange juice hadn’t yet begun arriving in Popsicle form on our trays, braving the elements in the common room for the morning group meeting did not bring to light the (never witnessed), but conceivably chipper qualities of my temperament.

 

Group began with everyone taking turns expressing how they felt that morning. (In case you were wondering, feeling “like a sausage“, does not qualify as a valid emotion.). When I was still new, I explicitly remember one of these early meetings. The disturbance involved somebody named “Ed”, and he undoubtedly managed to profoundly piss everybody off. And the most disquieting element of this whole business, was the staff’s response. Not only were they agreeable to the acrimony, but they seemed champion it as well. I wondered what kind of place I had landed myself in. I told myself that they couldn’t force me to drink the Kool-Aid. I mentally went through all the men I’d met since my arrival. Male staff members tend to be sparse at such establishments and I knew I hadn’t met an “Ed” yet. Whatever this guy had done, I wasn’t sure it merited such malevolence.

 

So…I don’t think I’ve met “Ed”.”  Not unkind laughter rippled around the circle.”You wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t.” This came from a treatment addict. I wasn’t especially keen on her know-it-all manner, mostly because she sort of did know it all. More often than not though, the nature of her instruction was fixated on ameliorating her infirmity and defying the keystone precepts that had been established for her safety. Our safety. Our strength. Our survival.

 

Treatment addicts pepper every eating disorder program across the country at any given time. They’re not the majority of us, for financial reasons if nothing else, but every inpatient setting I’ve heard of has at least one. They can be part of any generation. From any culture. Have had any upbringing. Hold any social status. Have a plain or privileged pedagogy. It doesn’t matter. They all have one thing in common. They’ve been to many hospitals. Often the best. The one’s with the big names, and the highest success rates. Their families will cash out their IRA’s, take out second and third mortgages on their homes,…try to sell various organs on the black market..who knows? No measure is too drastic to save the life of the one they love. But the one they love doesn’t want it. Not badly enough, or not yet. The allure of escaping..the isolation..the world where everything revolves around you and your eating disorder and making you whole..it’s understandable. But it’s impractical. Thoughtless. Immature. Unsustainable. But the treatment addicts haven’t realized this yet. This particular woman had promenaded down the treatment runway so often, she could conceivably direct her own pathosis performance. Should she live. She was still around at that moment though. And trembling like a Chihuahua at the chance to showcase her expertise. It was an unsettling sight. I suspect she might have wet the loveseat.  

                                                                                                                       

“‘Ed’ is short for eating disorder. We say “Ed” because it’s important to remember that you are not your disorder. You can talk to ‘Ed’ and tell him off and say whatever you need to just let out. Get it?”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 “Oh. Yeah. I get it. It just sounds really stupid.

 

At this point I was pulled aside by one of the therapists. It seems that wherever I go, someone is always pulling me aside about something. The therapist expounded, and she made more sense to me. I listened as she detailed the purpose for the distinction. Yes, I had an eating disorder, but that didn’t mean I was determinately damaged. It didn’t have to define me. I had the choice, at that point, to make Ed a footnote rather than the theme in the story of my life. One is less resistant to surrendering a trait rather than an ingredient. It’s the difference between a haircut and an amputation.

 

I hear a lot about the substructure of eating disorders being vanity, narcissism, selfishness, control…largely from the outside populace. I don’t know. I see it differently. I’ve suffered it differently. For me, and many like me, Ed was much more apropos of a deep-seated personal loathing. A need to cause my body pain. It was my comeuppance. A message that had been imparted to me since childhood. The pique of vain stings. I’d heard it before.

 

My senior year in high school, I was living with my mother and her current love interest. He watched me steadily as I pounded my way through a Step Aerobics video about six times before wobbling my way to the bathroom to weigh myself. When he saw me picking listlessly at a bowl of dry Grape-Nuts later that night, I explained away my odd behavior with a simple “I don’t want to get fat.” He scoffed. “Pssh. Doubt it. You’re way too vain to let that happen.” Even then, I knew he was very, very wrong. If I was vain, wouldn’t I revel in my looks and not be tortured by each buckling and anamorphic likeness that scrutinized me from every reflective surface no matter how faint? No. Not vain. His words mattered little. I could hardly hear him. “Ed” had been roaring at me for years by then. The clamor was muffling everything else.

 

Calling out Ed was eerie at first. Interwoven with the absurd. “I don’t feel as though I’m really talking to Jen right now. I feel as though I’m talking to Ed. Ed is very loud today.” My mind frequently conjured the scene from the original “Ghostbusters” when Sigourney Weaver was possessed, drooling and thrashing on the bed, and Bill Murray is saying to her,” I want to talk to Dana. Can I talk to Dana?”There is no Dana, there is only Zuul..” I became accustomed to referring to Ed during therapy, groups, colloquy. It was invaluable. I tasted the possibility of leaving Ed behind when I headed home. Understood for the first time that I did not have to accept merely existing. The abundant LIFE that God promises for His children was mine for the asking. Healing was genuine.

 

Ed isn’t part of my life now. Oh, I battle..much more than I’d like. But that’s what I call them. My battles. Naming Ed served it’s purpose for a time, but now I feel it would be sacrificing precious power that I need to heal. It’s the same principle that drives me to say with intention, that I am in recovery rather than I had/have an eating disorder. That empowers me to walk away from the cliques of women discussing this new diet and that new exercise program. The reason I snip the size tags out of my clothes.    

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   I’m keeping Ed a footnote.

 

 

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Pants on fire…

“But WHY?” I was fully aware that I had now stooped to bleating like a petulant child, but this merry-go-round of a conversation had proven stupendously unsuccessful. It’s extremely tough to dupe a dietitian who specializes in treating eating disorders. They are formidable opponents. The same way that the staff of a good treatment center can espy a patient cloaking her pat of butter into the folds of her napkin (on the table) or stealthily anointing the underside of her chair with (gasp! full fat) mayonnaise, dietitians anticipate some level of deception and for good reason. As those of us who have been at war with our bodies for any length of time can attest: We become tremendous liars. It’s the only way to protect our disorder when loved ones close in. We lie to them. We lie to ourselves. I’m fine. Everything is all right. It’s just a diet. I’ll stop once I lose five more pounds. Six. Okay,twenty-six but that’s it. Surely, everyone’s heart must beat this fast sometimes. Gum can totally be a meal. Throwing up once in a while can’t hurt. Some exercise is good for me, more must be better. Lots of women stop their period, dream of food, eat laxatives by the handful, spit up blood, lose their hair, faint whenever they stand, become deranged, erratic banshees because they’re always HUNGRY….

My dietitian, Anna, is kind of terrific. I’ve been seeing her since the week I came home from my months-long life detour into treatment for anorexia. We’ve locked horns over the philosophy of “no good foods or bad foods”, and she’s tolerated many versions of my oh-so thoughtfully constructed rationales for lowering my target weight range. Just a skosh. Er..skoshes, possibly. Over the past two years, Annie has vetoed my enthusiastic suggestions to explore any unconventional meal plan. ( Notice I did not say “diet”. I’m no fool.) The alkaline acid plan? Colon and liver detoxing? ( Fine. I knew that one was a long shot. ) Raw foodism? Every time , “Jen..how much of this is you and how much of this is Ed?” “What?!?” Adopt cast of righteous indignation. “This is me wanting to be healthy. A renaissance for my soul, if you will..” Hmm. Too far. “So, you’re saying if you drop weight on this plan..”, Anna doesn’t need to finish her thought. “Oh. Well. If it happens organically of course, who are we to ..” “Jen?” “What?” “No.”. And that brings us back to my huffy “WHY?” entreaty.

Her terse response was somewhat discomfiting. “Because you’re anorexic.” Now, here’s our point of departure. Medically speaking, I most certainly am not. The DSM-IV ( the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders) has specific criteria that must be met to satisfy a clinical diagnosis of anorexia nervosa, ( though thankfully, these will be expanded ..yuk,yuk..in 2013 ). The two biggies are weighing less than 85% of your expected body weight, and amenorrhea ( absence of the menstrual period) for at least three consecutive months. So, I guess it begs the question : Can your mind be anorexic, when your body is not? When you’ve been blackballed from the emaciated club because you no longer belong. You “quit”. Gave up and went to the other side. Chose life. And now here you are. Stuck floating somewhere in this ‘Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified’ land. Feeling like you don’t really belong anywhere, anymore. Too outwardly comparable now to non-ED people to be conspicuous, but in that secret place that we all have? Therein lies the knowledge that we are markedly different. And we feel the sting of those marks.

There are “Celebrate Recovery” meetings and ED support groups around town. I don’t participate. Not anymore. I didn’t like averring week after week that I was: “Jennifer. Anorexic/Bulimic/Cutter.” Because that’s not who I am now. I don’t think it’s productive for me to deliberately stay in that place of sickness. I know those meetings can be deeply restorative for some people in recovery and I am in no way disparaging them, but I needed a fresh identity. One entirely divorced from my proficiency at self annihilation. Tough one. Because I was. Proficient. Was.

Though I’ll go longer between sessions sometimes, I still rely a lot on Anna’s guidance. Every so often I’ll try going it alone, thinking I have enough time invested in the outside world to be able to accurately imitate a regular human being. Thus far, these forays of autonomy have been mission : unaccomplished. I guess I’m not ready to fly without a net just yet. And that’s all right. It’s not a bad thing to sit down with a person who can instantly see the fractures in your facade. Call you out on all those aforementioned lies. I catch myself telling them still.

I remember an analogy my youth pastor was fond of using twenty years ago. It had to do with a broken bone that was never tended to and thus healed incorrectly. Sometimes, the doctor might deem it necessary to re-break the original injury. The pain seems unnecessary and intolerable, but in the end it’s clear that without those measures, there would always be a limp. God has to do the same thing with us. Up until now, we’ve been content to merely exist. To limp. But once we’re malleable, He can truly restore us to wholeness. God doesn’t want us to stumble. He wants us to dance.

I should confess something here. A lie of omission. And it’s not something I’m proud of. When I cited my reasons for not attending ED meetings, I failed to include one of some significance. The perception of others. I have genuine distress. What might they see when they look at me? I don’t think I’d be welcome. Because really? Who wants to look at a fat anoretic?                                                                                                                                                                               

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,                                                                                                                                                                                      But I have promises to keep,                                                                                                                                                                                                                  and miles to go before I sleep.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         -Robert Frost


Posted in anorexia, body image, bulimia, Christian, Christianity, eating disorders, faith, God, inpatient treatment, life, me, musings, people, Personal, Personal, reflections, thoughts, treatment, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments