Tag Archives: eating disorders

The Painting

“That is the funny thing about paint.  At the first cold splash of reality it washes away.  And the surface you are trying cover is as ugly as ever.”  —Jodi Picoult

 

In layman’s terms, a cognitive distortion is an extremely exaggerated or irrational thought pattern that perpetuates several different psychological disorders.  It is commonly assumed that these distortions are at the heart of eating disorders.  Personally, I disagree.  Having an eating disorder, to me, is like painting over a picture that has already been created.  The picture on the underside, the thing that is in the past, is ugly, but it’s covered up the incessant need to be “beautiful.”  “Good enough.”  “Thin.”  Take away the paint, and that thing is still there.  It hasn’t been dealt with; it hasn’t been destroyed.  It still hurts.  Festers.

It is always there when you look in the mirror.  

A large portion of people who experience some type of eating disorder are perfectionists.  Perfectionism is shown to be a fairly significant risk factor for the development of an eating disorder, and the levels of perfectionism tend to improve slightly when the person is in “recovery.”  An article I read recently by Anna Bardone-Cone, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, stated that a fully recovered group of people largely resembled a non eating-disordered control group in terms of their perfectionism, while the partially recovered group more resembled those still in the full throes of their disorder. 

This perfectionism can manifest itself in a myriad of ways, from always having to do things right the first time to needing to earn straight A’s, to having to order your clothes a certain way.  But the disorder isn’t about being perfect. It’s not about being thin. It’s about knowing that there is one thing left in your life that still belongs to you, one thing that you can still control. It’s about having the power to slowly disappear.  

That is the only power you still wield. 

*

Last semester, I took an amazing class in writing creative nonfiction.  One of the last in class journals that we did was about body mapping.  I was not thrilled with the assignment or the world itself that day, so I drew my “body” in the somewhat shape of a gingerbread character.  Lumpy.  Out of proportion.  I’m fairly certain that the first thing people notice about me is how fat I am, I wrote.  It’s certainly the first thing I notice about me—every day.  I had a baby, but didn’t get to bring him home.  I only brought home the fat.  

I remember the first time I realized I was fat.  I was eight and I was in the school lunchroom.  I had a pink Barbie lunch-bag, and the Barbie had that skinny body and perfect yellow blonde hair that can only exist in Barbie-land.  I had a sandwich and a banana.  And maybe some sort of dessert.  I don’t remember.  But there was another girl at the lunch table who looked in my bag and said “You’re going to eat all that?”  Rather than defy her, I walked to the trash bin and threw my entire lunch away.  

Looking back now, I can see that the little girl in the lunchroom that day was jealous of my lunch box.  That’s why she said the things she said.  But it wasn’t so easy to see then.  I lost myself in the mirror, in the desire to fade away.  I remember a quote from the movie “Girl, Interrupted” based on the memoir by Susanna Kaysem, said by a girl with an eating disorder during expressive group therapy:  “I don’t want to be a fucking tree.  I want to be a bush!”  I get her.  All she wanted was to fade away, to disappear.  Into the mirror.

*

I own a small panda bento box.  I went on this weird tangent last year where I was coming up with weird stuff to put in it.  For instance, one time I made spicy peanut noodles.  Another time, I made japanese rice balls.  It was a fun thing I did to keep myself entertained on really long days.  

This semester, I haven’t brought it to school.  I claim to be busy, that I have a meal plan, that I’m this, that I’m that.  I wonder if I’m making excuses.  If I’m slipping.  I wonder.  Do I have to wonder?  Am I forgetting because I’m busy?  Or am I forgetting because it’s the one thing I can remember to do?  What does it mean?  I notice I’ve been getting a large amount of food from my friends, and I wonder what they see.  Do they see me?  Or do they see the me in the mirror?  Is it okay that I sometimes eat and sometimes don’t?  This question seems important right now, and I’m not sure why.  I feel like I’m forgetting.  I worry that I’m lost.

*

I was a bit of a bitch in the throes of the disorder.  I remember one particular conversation with my therapist in high school where she asked me to describe what an apple would taste like.  I refused.  “I don’t eat apples,” I informed her.  “I don’t like the way they get stuck in my teeth.”

“Correction—you don’t eat anything.”  

She offered me a choice then.  Sour cream and onion chips, an apple, and a container of strawberry Yoplait yogurt.  “Pick one,” she commanded.  “You can’t until you do.”

“No.”  I folded my arms stubbornly across my chest and met her gaze dead on.

She folded her own arms and leaned back in a replication of my position.  “That’s fine.  I can wait.”

That was a lie.  She had other appointments; I was not her only patient.  I got up off the couch I was settled on and snatched up the apple.  “How do you know I won’t throw it out the first chance I get?”  I was trying to be as big of a smart-ass as possible.  Trying to save myself.  Trying to hide how sorry I was that I let her down.  I was certain I could live off of caffeine and potato chips alone.  

*

I ask myself often whether I want victory, or I want escape.  And are the two interchangeable?  If my victory is graduating, then that is also when I will escape.  But if my victory is simply surviving…my escape could come whenever.  Does losing everything that I am mean giving up dreams too, as a side effect?  I’m still here.  Does that mean anything at all?

I am reinventing.

I spend my days pondering grad school, wondering if I’m good enough.  Wondering if I will get in.  Wondering if I can get them to like me.  Wondering if I make myself the right fit.  I sit in N’s office and eat candied orange peels and worry that I’m messing up my life.  My GPA.  These things I’ve graded that we’re working on.  I’m terrified that I am wrong, always.  That I will fail.  That I am not the right fit for anything. Someone very wise told me that there is no right fit; I could be horrible and they won’t take me, but I could also be awesome and they still won’t take me.  There’s no perfect formula for this, no solution.  No easy way.  I am juggling too many things, and it feels crushing sometimes.  It’s devastating that I can’t be perfect all the time.

I am always apologizing. 

I live off caffeine.

I run from the past things that I don’t think I can deal with.

I dream of that moment of victory, of escape.  

I am always doing these things, everything I can possibly do, but I worry that they aren’t enough.  I worry that I’m lost.  I worry that I am trying to paint over the picture that is me; that I’m trying to cover up.  Hide.  

Is it okay to dream if you can never reach the dream?  If the dream is way above you?  Do we morph or evolve to fit our dreams?  Or does life just happen; does it just destroy us?  I believe that we make choices, when we are scared.  And these choices are not always the right ones.  Marya Hornbacher writes, “Never, never underestimate the power of desire.  If you want to live badly enough, you can live.  The great question, at least for me, was:  How do I decide I want to live?”

How?  That really is the ultimate question.

Disappearing into the mirror means a long road back and a painting I can’t afford to pay for.

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You Are Worth It

“Never, never underestimate the power of desire.  If you want to live badly enough, you can live.  The great question, at least for me, was:  How do I decide I want to live?”  –Marya Hornbacher

 

How do you decide you want to live?

It’s about being careful.

It’s about stopping yourself from those thoughts, thoughts like “I can’t eat that” or “I’m fat.”

Most importantly, and also simply, it’s about just doing it.

A large portion of people who experience some type of eating disorder are perfectionists.  Perfectionism is shown to be a fairly significant risk factor for the development of an eating disorder, and the levels of perfectionism tend to improve slightly when the person is in “recovery.”  A study done by Anna Bardone-Cone, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, found that a fully recovered group largely resembled a non eating-disordered control group in terms of their perfectionism, while the partially recovered group more resembled those still in the full throes of their disorder.  Perfectionism lingers even in recovery.

This perfectionism can manifest itself in a myriad of ways, from always having to do things right the first time to needing to earn straight A’s, to having to order your clothes a certain way.  But the disorder isn’t about being perfect. It’s not about being thin. It’s about knowing that there is one thing left in your life that still belongs to you, one thing that you can still control. It’s about having the power to slowly disappear.  

That is the only power you still wield. 

The eating disorder fills a hole; it provides something to hold on to where there was previously only empty space.  For a lot of people, and for you, it is about being numb.  It is about creating your own despair before someone else can create it for you.  Where people can always take things from you no matter how hard you fight back, this is something that you can take from yourself.  The key to staying alive is finding other ways to fill the hole.  Because the thing is, real power does not come with the choice to disappear.  Rather, it comes with the choice to live.  And that choice is not small at all.  

It begins with the decision to eat one thing, however small, and then it snowballs.  First one thing, then another, then another.  Until you wake up one morning and eat your Cheerios just like everybody else, without a second thought.  But some things don’t change.  You can go for days eating the same thing.  You go out to restaurants and know what you will order before you get there.  You make eating into routines.  On Mondays, you can eat certain things.  Tuesdays, other things.  On and on and on.  In this way, you have accepted your decision to live but still maintain some modicum of control.  The eating disorder lies dormant.  You are “better,” but it does not go away.  Not completely.  You wonder when it will come back.

Sometimes it doesn’t take much.  

A loss.

A hurt.

A night in the back of a car.

You are that little girl again, the one with the pink lunch box with yellow handles.  The one that everyone made fun of, teased, tormented.  Your fingers graze over the Barbie picture that is raised from the fabric.  You want to empty your lunch box, just like she did, so you eat your banana and nothing more.  You can not handle life.  This act of withholding is all you can do.

You remember that it is easier to deal with this than it is to deal with what has happened, and you realize that maybe you aren’t “better” after all.  Maybe you’re still the same as you always were.  Maybe you have to decide to live all over again.

The decision is about remembering what you are here for.  It comes from the faces of the students who look up to you.  From the friends you have made.  From the people who have supported you.  From the things you have to draw on that you never had before.  From realizing that you too, like all of us, have a purpose.

From integrating your experiences and accepting them as a part of yourself, and then letting them go.

The desire to live requires constantly making the decision to do so.  But you need to be careful, because you are well aware that it can always, always, come back.  So you must always know that you are better than it.  You are more.  You are worth it.

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Graduation (Full Version)

The phrase “swan song” is used to refer to the final effort or performance given by a person just before death.  It’s based off the Ancient Greek belief that swans remain silent for most of their lifetime, only vocalizing in the moment before death to sing a beautiful song.

This concept makes death seem beautiful.  In dying, the swan sings a gorgeous song that it couldn’t sing while living.  

What they don’t tell you is that the swan sings this beautiful song as the result of air escaping their body when their lungs deflate.

In reality, it’s not a beautiful concept at all.  Death is agony.

*

As residents of the RED building, otherwise known as the Rogers Eating Disorder clinic, we were always looking forward in time to the moment when we would turn eighteen.  Eighteen was the magical age, the age of consent.  When we turned eighteen we couldn’t be held in the ward against our will.  Treatment would no longer be mandatory; we would be free to make our own choices.  We could go to the adult ward if we wished, or we could leave.  Nicole had lived on the adolescent unit for nearly a year, but she was almost eighteen.  

Her graduation was coming.

I didn’t know Nicole that well in the beginning of my treatment.  I had seen her from afar; everyone had.  She was the type of person that everyone noticed when she entered the room.  She was tall, with long brown hair, and she walked with a confidence that we all only wished we could have.  And god, was she skinny.  It was like seeing a stick in the middle of a forest filled with chunky tree limbs.  She could have been a model.  

Nicole had what we referred to behind the nurse’s backs as “it.”  She knew what to say and when to say it.  Projecting an aura of “okay-ness” came easily to her, and she knew exactly how much to eat to keep the nurses off her back.  Nicole had almost everyone sold on the idea that she would be okay upon leaving.  Moving to the adult ward was not an option for Nicole.  The only option was moving out.  It wasn’t about getting well; it wasn’t about beating the disorder.  It was all about being free, and it didn’t matter how she got there.

She wasn’t okay, and she didn’t want to be.  None of us did.

Perhaps it was that way for everyone who lived with an eating disorder.  I don’t know for sure.  I have only ever known the girls I lived with during my treatment.  We were silhouettes of girls, echoes of the people that we had once been.  We were on the fringes of existence, and one step in either direction would either knock us off the precipice we had placed ourselves on or save us.  Most of us were at a point where we didn’t care anymore, and we didn’t know how to come back from that.  

Every time we looked at ourselves in the mirror, we saw ourselves as larger than life.  We were huge; we were overpowering; we were fat.

I was a stick figure.  Nicole was somewhere close to that.  It was the opposite of fat, but it would take a miracle for us to understand that we were nothing more than a whisper.

Beneath the main unit of the RED building was a circle of hell formally known as the cafeteria.  As residents, we had mandatory cafeteria time three times a day.  It was “important to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”  Failure to cooperate with cafeteria time resulted in a loss of privileges.  Because of my lack of desire to eat normal food, I had very few privileges.  The single serve containers of peanut butter stored by the toasters were the only food I was interested in.  This interest got marked as an obsession by Staff, and they banned peanut butter from my menu.  I was bound and determined to not eat until the precious substance was again allowed, so I embarked on a hunger strike.  

My goal during this hunger strike was to sneak peanut butter packets out of the cafeteria to enjoy in the privacy of my room, and while this had been easy in the past, I suddenly found myself having trouble.  I was on crutches due to an unfortunate gym activity incident, which made sneaking incredibly difficult.  But I needed that peanut butter so badly that I couldn’t breathe. 

And I wasn’t going to get it.

It was the moment I realized this that I officially met Nicole.

Everyone was looking away.  I made a swoop in for the peanut butter…and banged my crutch against the metal counter.  Suddenly, everyone was looking at me again.  Nicole grabbed my arm to steady me, and that was when the miracle happened.  With her other hand, Nicole swiped at the peanut butter and knocked a few of the containers onto her tray, then stuffed them up her sleeve.  She knew; she had been watching.  

Our friendship was born.

We sat together at a table.  She was my new hero.  I watched her shovel piece after piece of nasty looking green lettuce into her mouth and wondered how she could make it look so easy.  I received my answer when she invited me back to her room.

Only one part of Nicole’s life was normal, and it was there on the floor in front of the toilet.  She didn’t shut the door; she was begging for me to watch, begging for me to see.  It all struck me as quite mechanical, how she tied back her hair, knelt over the toilet, and jammed two fingers into the back of her throat until the salad reappeared.  The mystery of Nicole was solved for me then—that was how she managed to eat and yet not.  It was a wonder that Staff hadn’t figured her out after all that time, but maybe that was why she invited people back to her room after meals.  It was all about the distraction.

Her strength amazed me.  I wasn’t strong, not in the slightest.  I sat on her bed eating my peanut butter packets, and there she was, able to just do…that.  I wanted to exhibit control like that so much that it took my breath away.  I wanted to be her. 

Everyone did.

After a week of eating together and hanging out in the day room, Nicole and I started sharing stories.  It was like we had never had anyone to trust before.  She was the child of two university professors; they were never able to have another baby.  They doted on Nicole as often as they could.  Nicole’s mother stepped away from her job to stay at home with her only daughter.  She enrolled Nicole in every type of lesson available, from music to drama to sports.  The one that Nicole fell in love with was gymnastics. 

There was pressure in gymnastics, she told me, and a lot of it.  Pressure to learn new skills, to take her routine to the next great level.  Pressure to be the best.  Pressure to be thin.  At first it was just fried foods that she couldn’t eat.  Then carbs.  Success equaled thin, and Nicole was definitely thin.  She took pride in the fact that she was one of the thinnest in her gym; the other members of her team looked up to her.  

Nicole was working out late one night with her coach, training a new dismount from the balance beam.   It involved jumping up in the air, doing three and a half somersaults, and then landing backwards.  She tried to explain this to me, but my non-gymnastics brain could never comprehend it.  It took a lot of concentration, and she was trying to stick it but kept missing the landing.  Her coach would grab her hips to steady her, again and again.  And again.  

Until suddenly, he wasn’t just steadying her.  Suddenly he was touching her.  His hand was on her hip; his hand was in her leotard; his lips were on hers and his tongue was in her mouth.  She didn’t know what to do.  She wasn’t strong enough to push him off.  

Perhaps she wished she could disappear.  Perhaps that’s where her disease really began—which I assumed because I saw myself in Nicole’s story.  But even though Nicole had shared what happened to her, I couldn’t give her this detail.  It was one thing I would never share with anyone; I had no idea how to talk about it.  

When Nicole’s coach was done with her, she left the gym.  She didn’t call her mother to pick her up, choosing instead to walk all the way home.  That night, she informed her mother that she didn’t want to do gymnastics anymore.  She got a lecture on how much time and money had been put into shaping her career, too much to just give up.  Her mother forced her to go back, day after day, week after week.

Slowly, Nicole stopped eating anything at all.  And her friends showed her how to get rid of her food so that when she did eat, it wouldn’t count.  She had been thin, but she became skeletal; she was fading away.  That was exactly what she wanted, that invisibility.  She wanted it with all her heart, until the day she was doing a routine on the bars, lost consciousness, and plummeted to the ground.  She didn’t get up.  Her gymnastics career was over.

Nicole and I were both looking for something, looking for some validity, that would make our lives seem worthwhile.  She seemed well on her way to finding it, and I wanted to get where she was going.  We went to the cafeteria every day together.  I drew strength from Nicole; I trusted her.

Then came her eighteenth birthday.

*

Everyone on the ward was searching for something, be it love, happiness, friends, control, one or all of these things, or something completely different.  I suppose Nicole spent her whole life searching for validation for what had happened to her.  I’m not sure she ever found it. I’m not sure it would have made a difference if she did. 

She wrote me a note the day she left.  I do not believe in people; I do not believe in humanity.  I do not believe in joy.  I don’t remember knowing these things.  I can’t believe in what I don’t know.  I don’t know anything, thus, I have nothing to believe in.  People are always telling me that I need to grow up, that I need to learn to take care of myself.  I find myself to be fairly independent … I can’t grow when I don’t even know where I am starting from.  I will miss you.  But this is a circle of hell that I am ready to leave.  I will be okay.

At the time, I didn’t realize how sad this was.  I just thought it was normal.  Everyone in the ward held Nicole up to be this great hero, someone to be proud of.  She was graduating, and she was moving on.  Everyone wanted to be like her, to be leaving.

We were so stupid.

Nicole faded.  It wasn’t sudden; it was a gradual process.  And just like she wanted, no one seemed to notice.

Her bones were the first thing to go.  Low estrogen levels and calcium left her with osteoporosis—an affliction normally found in old people.  She wasn’t even nineteen, and her bones were collapsing.

Next was her heart.  Her body was starving.  Blood flow was reduced, her blood pressure was lowered, and her heart muscle started losing size.  She became anemic.

Her organs began giving up.  Her liver failed; her kidneys shut off.  What was the point anymore when the person in charge of the body didn’t care?

Her brain was the last thing to go.  She was alone in her apartment one day, and she had a seizure.  She never got back up.  No one knew for two days.

I didn’t know any of these details until after she was gone.  

Nicole died alone.  And maybe that was how she wanted it.  That’s the battle of the disease, the battle of anorexia.  You fight it alone.

You lose.  Alone.

*

Honestly, if her mother hadn’t called me, I may not have even known what happened.  Nicole had left a note for me, with my name and phone number on the front.  She must have known that the end was coming.  Perhaps she welcomed it.  We have no way to know, really, but I can make assumptions from the note that she left me.

It was only two words:  Don’t. Fade.

*

I had never been to a funeral for someone I knew before.  In fact, the only funeral I had been to was my grandfathers when I was five.  Nicole’s parents had asked me to speak.  Sadly, I was one of the people who knew her best.

The lid to the casket was open for the viewing.  It shouldn’t have been.

Nicole’s skin was so paper thin that it was almost translucent.  Her cheek bones were clearly visible, as was her collarbone above the neckline of the dress she wore.  There was nothing left to her; she was completely devoid of fat, empty.  She spoke a strong message, even though she would never use words again. My hand drifted into the casket and stroked her face, then came back to touch my own.  Bones sticking out. Matching.  Fading.

I sat down on the ground right next to the coffin, crying.  She was gone.  She had faded away, and no one had even known.  I realized that I, too, was dying. I was fading, and suddenly I didn’t want to fade anymore.  Suddenly I wanted to be alive.

Someone moved me to a pew.  The words I had wanted to say were scribbled on an index card and shoved into my bra.  I pulled the cards out, rubbing the creases in the paper.  The words didn’t seem fitting now; I couldn’t read about what a lovely person she had been, what a lovely life she had led.  It was a lie.  Anorexia had taken her life.  It was neither beautiful, nor lovely.  It was agony.

I took a pencil from next to the hymnal under my pew and scribbled out a poem on the back of one of my index cards.  These were the words I would go on to read:

whisper once or twice / a song / upon an ear that has no being / words that fall, apart from humanity / a war internally / taken to the stars / a pain felt only in the heart / the final note of the beautiful swan / pray to fade away //

breathe in once or twice / a drop / of life left to sustain / air that causes the tornado within / bones that stick out / in agony / betraying the falsity of the mask / pain lying underneath / in the final note of the beautiful swan / pray to fade away //

trust once or twice / a soul / holding on without reason / at least one that we see / “the less that’s left to me,” i say, / “the less there is to hurt.” / pain caused by two human hands / during the final note of the beautiful swan / pray to fade away //

search once or twice / for a speck / a reason to hold on / a reason for reason / a new life at eighteen; the past is in the past / though beautiful swans never forget, / we move steadily forward / and the beautiful swan sings her beautiful song / pray not to fade away— / pray to stay ///

Looking back now, I don’t think I wrote the poem for her so much as I wrote it for myself.

I know that there’s a great debate even now over whether or not anorexia is a conscious choice.  Does the anorexic wake up one morning and just decide they’re not going to eat?  There’s no real answer to that; it isn’t simple enough to sum it up in that way.  I believe that anorexia starts as one thing and then gradually evolves into something else.  We start out trying to control the one thing that we know we can; we end simply trying to sing our swan song and take a final bow.  There is no cure; there is only living with it.

I think often about all of the things that Nicole missed.  Perhaps if she had lived, she would be married right now to a wonderful Christian husband.  They would live in the suburbs with a white picket fence and a lawn the brightest green possible.  I suppose they would have a dog.  Or maybe two.  Their three children, two girls and a boy each two years apart, would be perfect.  They would be dancers, or athletes, or writers, or whatever they wanted to be—they would be free to make their own choices.  Nicole wouldn’t let them be boxed in by society.  She would encourage them to find their own way, but she would be there for them if and when they needed her to be.  

She could have had the ideal life.  But she didn’t.  She faded.

And when I think about that, when I think about her, I wonder if that was necessarily a bad thing.  Because me?  I chose recovery, and I had the ideal life.  I married a wonderful Christian man who turned out to be not so wonderful.  He hurt me, badly.  We lived in a condo-style apartment that neither one of us wanted after the divorce.  We had a son together, but he died.  The ideal life isn’t bright at all.  It’s dark, it’s cold, and it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be when you’re looking at it from the outside.

In moments like that where I remember all of these things, I question my choice to stay.  Perhaps Nicole may have had the right idea after all; maybe it was easier to fade than to stick around and get hurt again and again.  So why stay?

I stay because to give up is to let them win.  I stay because I don’t have any other choice.  I stay because I want to be better, and because I want to believe that something better will come for me.  

I stay because I touched death.  Really touched it.  And I realized that death isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either.  Nothing is as good as we make it out to be.  So maybe, just maybe, we need to find our own way.  

I wish Nicole had seen that.

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Taste

“Do you remember?” Bonnie asks.  “If I were to ask you right now to describe to me what an apple tastes like, would you remember?”

“I don’t eat apples,” I reply.  “I don’t like the way they get stuck in my teeth.”

“Correction–you don’t eat anything.”

“You’re wrong.”  She was.  I ate.  I ate lots of things.  When I wanted to.  And I didn’t want to.

“How is it that I’m wrong?  Honestly, is there anything out there that you can tell me how it tastes?”  She gestures to the table where my worst enemies wait–a bag of sour cream ‘n onion chips, an apple, and a container of strawberry Yoplait yogurt.  “Pick one.  You’re not leaving without one.”

I fold my arms stubbornly across my chest.  “No.”

She folds her arms and leans back in a mime of my position, and she says, “That’s fine.  I can wait.”

“No, you can’t,” I groan.  “You have other appointments.”  I get up off of the couch and grab the apple.

“Good decision,” she nods, a little too eagerly.

“Doesn’t mean I have to eat it.  How do you know I won’t throw it out the first chance I get?”  I am trying to be as big of a smart-ass as possible.  I am very good at it.

Her eyes are sad, the light that came on when I closed my hand around the apple slowly going out.  “I’m hoping you won’t.”

We walk out to the reception desk, and she makes an appointment for me for two days later.  Apparently I warrant every other day appointments.  As I leave, shoving the apple into my coat pocket, she says, “Don’t forget your appointment.  I want to hear all about that apple.” 

It’s cold outside for November, and I clutch my coat around my body.  Shaking, I reach into my pocket and pull out the red, round apple.  I contemplate the advantages and disadvantages of taking a nice, big, juicy bite out of it, and I have no clue what I will do.

How many calories can there be in a stupid little apple, anyway?  Are you going to let that piece of…of…food…win?  Come on!  It’s just an apple!  Just an apple…I shrug.  What can it hurt?  

I lift the apple to my mouth, and I take the smallest bite I can possibly take, certainly no bigger than my thumbnail.  Still, the juice slides down my throat and I am shocked.  In my head, there is color to the taste–indescribable color.  I hadn’t realized I was beginning to forget.  I savor it, that pure, innocent, color; the texture.  And then…it’s gone.  To get it back, I have to take another bite.

At this point, I am in my parking lot, right next to the dumpster.  The consequences of my actions seem enormous.  I raise the apple to my lips to take another bite, but I can’t.  Everything’s changing.  I think I’m growing older.  I know I’m growing older.  I’m not a kid anymore.  I know my mistakes now, or should I say, I am aware of my mistakes.  Everything’s changing…but I will never change this.  I can’t.

I have to disappear.

I throw the apple in the garbage and walk away.

 

“And so I went through the looking glass, stepped into the netherworld, where up is down and food is greed, where convex mirrors cover the walls, where death is honor and flesh is weak. It is ever so easy to go. Harder to find your way back.”  –Marya Hornbacher

 

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Fat, Weak, and the Aftermath of Letting Go

Today, I feel like a freak.

I have the worst self esteem when it comes to body image.  I suppose that overall, my self esteem is not fantastic at least fifty percent of the time.  But I’m especially lacking in this particular area.

Tonight at rehearsal we were fitted for our costumes.  I’ve been better lately; I don’t mind trying on clothes and shopping like I used to.  But this was different.  Whether it was the calorie counting app I recently started using, the stressful week I’ve had teaching, the chaos that was our previously unscheduled rehearsal, the fact that I just have too many balls in the air, or some combination there of…The first costume I tried on didn’t fit at all.  It was for my measurements.  But it didn’t close around my chest.  A lot of women would be pleased with that—but not me.  It freaked me out a little and made me feel sad inside.  And I didn’t say anything, I just handed the costume back and told her it didn’t fit.  Then I went on to try the second costume.

My second costume fit pretty well, if I fastened the skirt right under my belly button.  I suppose that this truly was the style of the 1920’s, but it didn’t make me feel wonderful about myself.  I went with it, however.  I went back to the costumer, and this fitting (with the costume on) was hard for me for a myriad of reasons.  The blouse I’m wearing for a formal scene has bell sleeves and is quite baggy in a variety of places.  This meant that the costumer had to pin it in all of those places.  On my better days, I’m not a fan of being touched by most people.  Today wasn’t one of my better days.  She had my shirt up, the door open and guys in the hall, with a load of safety pins in her mouth, and then told me I needed to smile more as she had her hands on me.  Way too much.  I wanted to scream.  I missed my personal space bubble; few people are allowed to invade that.  It’s been shattered too many times.  In reality, she meant no harm.  And I will have at least one costume that fits me.  But I still melted.  I can’t just be normal.

In previous years, I struggled with an eating disorder.  Things like this, little reminders, make me think about those days when I lived for peanut butter and Tobasco.  While I can go into a fitting room now and try clothes on and generally be happy with them, there are many things I can not do.  I blame a combination of the events of this past year and that damn calorie app for today’s meltdown.  I can’t see all of the calories.  I am perfectly capable of being responsible about what I’m eating all by myself, but seeing the numbers puts that little voice right back in my head.

“How ‘bout 100 less?”

“Or even less?”

I can’t have that voice there.  I can’t do anything that give it even a little edge.  I am stronger than that.  Fittings of costumes that are just too tight set off my rape flags and my eating disorder flags within my brain.  One of these I can recover from.  The other, not so much.

Gah.  It’s annoying.  It’s annoying that they call it recovery, and yet, you never really recover.  You always have to make conscious decisions.  I have recovered from so many things, but this will not simply disappear.  It is a deep piece of me.  The term just doesn’t work here.  Marya Hornbacher sums it up well in the final pages of her memoir, Wasted, when she writes “This is the weird aftermath, when it is not exactly over, and yet you have given it up. You go back and forth in your head, often, about giving it up. It’s hard to understand, when you are sitting there in your chair, having breakfast or whatever, that giving it up is stronger than holding on, that “letting yourself go” could mean you have succeeded rather than failed. You eat your goddamn Cheerios and bicker with the bitch in your head that keeps telling you you’re fat and weak: Shut up, you say, I’m busy, leave me alone. When she leaves you alone, there’s a silence and a solitude that will take some getting used to. You will miss her sometimes…There is, in the end, the letting go.”   The weird aftermath, as she puts it, is forever after.  I’ve given it up.  I eat, and I love food.  But yet, there are those times where I think about how easy it would be to just step back into that looking glass.  But I have friends now, and people who look up to me.  I have a lot of female students who are watching what I say.  And if I say I’m fat, if I say I’m ugly, they hear that.  What stops them from going home and saying the same thing to themselves?  So I have to let it go, no matter how comfortable of a fallback it is to hate my body.

I have not let myself go, let’s make that perfectly clear.  I’m at a great weight.  I eat “normally.”  But sometimes, like today, I really have to think about it.  I have to think about her, about that voice.  And sometimes, I cry.

And then what do I do about it?  Go home and eat chocolate and wish I had wine to drink.  And I tell myself I love me, no matter how badly I have been hurt by others or how crappily my costume fits.  Because pretty much every costume needs to be altered.

Oh.  And and I deleted the app.  I need to give myself every opportunity to see myself as fine just the way I am.

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