In the Burning Phase of My Life.

To befriend the shadow girl in the mirror…

Hard-Wired.


As my faithful readers will already know, this morning, I was having a bit of…difficulty.

The days that seem to be the hardest are not the ones that are full of crisis. As obvious as it may sound, I somehow manage to function quite well when in a situation of extreme duress. I don’t think anyone who has managed to survive with a severe eating disorder for more than two decades can say that they haven’t learned to adapt to situations of high stress and high emotion. It could even be said that this is what I have always lived for.

No, the times that I have the most trouble dealing with are the moments when I’m just feeling low. For no reason, because of…nothing.

The pattern is becoming more and more familiar to me. I will wake up and just feel like something is…off. An internal check will reveal not a thing that should be noteworthy. But the feeling will persist, and deepen if I let it. That is when the self-created drama begins. I have noticed that the first thing I do is go and look in the mirror and GLARE at myself. I am not my friend, I have never been my friend.

I weigh and measure quite mercilessly. The verdict is not good. I am found to be too excessive, taking up far too much space. Vulgar, messy, out of control, and unable to fit into my own skin. But why is this?

Why does it ALWAYS come down to my physical self? Why does it always have to be my body’s fault?

To tell the truth, until this morning, during a reflective walk, I had never really noticed the way that I always deal with myself when I am not feeling as well as I could. But the findings were not to be denied. It is, and has always been, my body’s fault. My knee-jerk reaction, my imperfect solution, is to try to punish myself physically, to starve my contours down so that I can be less, and less, and less…

Has it always been this way? I sat down with my fiftieth cup of coffee for the morning to get to the bottom of this. No one can make me completely miserable.–especially me! What I realized was a bit surprising.

I have been punishing my body, and by extension, myself, for far longer than I can even remember.

It didn’t start in early childhood…but I do see that even all the way back in the single-digit years I had the overwhelming need to protect myself by placing myself under rigid control. My room had to be museum-clean…or else. I could only eat the same thing for lunch day after day, in order to prevent something bad from happening. A tight rein was kept on every aspect of my fragile young life in order to prevent me from spinning off into the despairing blackness of the universe.

When I got into my twenties, I reacted severely to an external crisis of the extreme sort. My sheltered life was shattered by a rape at twenty, an act of sudden violence that took my virginity…and my trust in myself and the world around me. Someone who I trusted breached my sacred perimeter, bringing me fear, pain, and shame. My reaction was not instantaneous. It was subtle, and gradual, but when examined later proved to be shockingly different than anything I had done before.

I began to eat. And eat, and eat.

I was always a naturally slim child…muscular, athletic, on the skinny side. Nervous energy and activity ruled my days. Roller skating, bike riding, dancing, horseback riding…the list of rigorous activities went on and on. I had tendency to lose weight as opposed to gaining it. My control issues did not extend to the shape of my body during those formative years.

Perhaps that is why I was totally unprepared for what happened next. After the sexual assault, I moved to Los Angeles. I was working as an artist on the Simpsons, spending twelve to eighteen hours a day at a desk, doing a job that made me feel like I was in over my head and terrified me. I was away from all of my closest friends, and for the first time in my life, I was having trouble connecting to those around me, people who thought I was very different and just a little bit too young for them.

I ate. I ate to stuff down my rage. I ate to stuff down my fear. I ate to bury my despair and betrayal. I ate to cover my loneliness in sticky, fatty, numbing calories.

The weight began to creep on. Ten pounds, then twenty. I was so blind to it that I didn’t even register what was happening until I’d put on

oh, my god…are you kidding me? this can’t be happening!

fifty pounds.

I tried for a half-hearted few months to take the weight off…but I just didn’t feel I was worth it. And as the weight piled on, the misery grew. And the more depressed I became, the more I tried to fill the bottomless pit of my discomfort with food. This self-abuse went on for three straight years until I reached my all-time high of 250 pounds.

I kept this armor on, full of self-loathing, for five more years. I never thought that I would be thin, ever again. My eating remained highly disordered as I binged away the realities of life, trying to stay oblivious to the potential damage I was doing to my body in its prime, my body from the ages of twenty-five to thirty.

I don’t know what set me off when I was thirty…something in my head told me it was time to take it off. My former iron control came back all at once. I started going to the gym, five days a week, two hours at a time. By week two, I was up to six days a week. I took all bread, sugar, pasta and rice out of my diet with a fanatical devotion that could never be expected of someone like me who was made of those things.

The weight began to fly off…one hundred pounds in eight months…I began to feel like I could do anything.

But then…something changed. Once I saw the number on the scale drop down to 150 pounds, it all became different. I became deathly afraid to gain any weight back. I began to see myself as fat, even though I was extremely fit and quite healthy for my height. Meat had to go…fruit had to go. Everything had to go. I began to starve with the same obsession that I had put into binging. And the compliments and positive feelings evaporated like smoke. Fifty-two more grim pounds stripped away to reveal a desperate, blank and skeletal girl who couldn’t meet anyone’s eyes, much less her own in the mirror.

Ten full years have passed since then. I have spent only two brief years, most of them taken up by pregnancy, at a normal weight since then. The progressively worse anorexia nearly killed me twice during that time. I finally went to inpatient treatment for three months in the winter of 2008-2009 when my body nearly gave up. I have been home now for a year. I have made lifelong friends, built up an extensive and loving recovery community.

And I still, as soon as my feelings become intolerable, look in the mirror and want to make myself disappear…by all means necessary.

Why could this be? Why do I always return to the scene of previous crimes and pick up the same torturous weapon, intending not only to maim, but to destroy? An almost unwilling thought floats to the surface of my mind…

Am I hard-wired to behave this way?

Much has been said about the eating disorder as a disease. I sat in many, many classes and therapy sessions that have explained how I cannot help myself because of my disease. My brain’s wiring, if you will, is set up to deal with trauma and crisis in this fashion. But there is something that is lodged in the other, finer part of my brain as well, the part of me that wants to continue to fight, no matter what.

My neural pathways may have predisposed me to instinctively want to hurt myself this way, to destroy myself this way, but in the end, I still have a choice…behaviors, or health.

And today, I choose health.

I might not always be able to make this decision on my own. I might need help, both professional and from my truly amazing friends. But for now, I will weather the storm, and make the decision to reach towards life. It’s not my body’s fault that I’m sad. Sometimes, it is just what it is. A mood, a shadow.

Hard-wired I may be, but I can choose to turn the lights off when calamity strikes, and go make myself that sandwich just because my body needs it.

Amen.

One version of me.

Another version of me.

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March 24, 2010 Posted by | Anorexia and Disordered Days. | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

24 March 2010, morning.


My eyes open an hour before the alarm goes off. My body is heavy, nearly unresponsive. I can feel the dregs of last night’s persistent headache still swirling apathetically at the base of my skull. It is not so noticeable that I feel it warrants the effort of getting up out of bed to take something for it.

what would you take, anyway? the regular over the counter crap doesn’t work on you, as you well know. you also know that you are not allowed to drug-seek and get any more prescription painkillers, so you may as well just stew in your pain…

A soft sigh, and I turn over onto my side, screwing my eyes shut tight. Shallow, uneasy sleep claims me again. The alarm crashes into me far sooner than I expected. I struggle up, wake up Thor, and spend the next hour doing the things that a good mother does: dress her son, make his lunch, walk him in the pre-dawn coolness the thirteen blocks to his bus stop. I laugh, I make conversation, I reach out an arm to encircle him against my side, this little north star that makes me feel whole again. It appears that it will be fine, until the school bus has come and gone, and I am left with myself for the thirteen blocks back.

it’s only wednesday…christ, how am i going to make it through this day, much less to the end of the week. how can i already be so exhausted when i haven’t done shit?

I stop on the sidewalk at random, not noticing in any conscious way where I am in relation to home. I hardly notice as my right hand flutters down from where it was clenched in front of my chest and the fingers find their way to my hipbone, applying painful pressure, noting the lack of prominence. Fuck. Failed. Fat. Freak. The merciless, critical fingers travel up to the ribs. Or rather, where the ribs should be on anyone who was not as excessive and disgusting as me. I stab with my fingers, ignoring the shooting pain coming from the bundle of nerves wrapped around the rib. My hidden ribcage is an endless disappointment, a friend that no longer comes to visit or cares to call.

A wave of despair washes over me. I should be past this. I am supposed to be an example of health and recovery and positivity.

I pull a cigarette out of my pack with shaking fingers, light up, take a deep drag. I ignore the burn at the bottom of my lungs. I can tell by the all-too-familiar feeling that I have an upper respiratory infection, and that I certainly should not be smoking.

good. the pain is good. die faster, because this is no way to live.

I start to walk again. All of the beautiful and comforting landmarks in my neighborhood are there, but I am blind to them today. I don’t take any photographs on the slow march home, for my eye for beauty is sleeping. How can I see the loveliness all around me when I am so very ugly and dirty all the way down to my soul?

I plan for the rest of my morning. I will drink lots of strong coffee. My comfort, my co-pilot. I will not eat. I ate far too much yesterday. I did not deserve it then, and I certainly do not now. Pig. I am spilling out of my skin in a shocking fashion. Can anyone else see it? This poison plan does not offer me the comfort that it did when I was at my most frail. Fail, again. But I am stuck in the spiral, sliding down, hitting every barb and thorn on the way down.

I need help today, but I quite simply do not know how to ask. All I can do is see to the comfort of others. It is how I am built, for better or for worse. My overheated mind guides me back home. My demon, my friend, my enemy. I paste a smile on my face that I pray is not a grimace. No one needs to see or know the scope of my desperation. Because, after all, it is simply not how I am made.

help me, please. i would never ask, never admit that i am bleeding. but i need it just as much as anyone else…

March 24, 2010 Posted by | Anorexia and Disordered Days. | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Identity.


I was just talking to a dear, dear friend. She is someone I’ve known for a couple of years now, without realizing it. I first met her over on the “other side,” Myspace. We had one of those friendships where we got to know each other quite by accident, and quite by random, but there was something immediately there, and we clicked. We still have the type of friendship where we could drop out of each other’s orbits from time to time and then just slide right back in, as connected as ever.
Today was one of those days. We talked about everything and nothing in the easy manner that is natural to us. At one point, she said something that resonated so strongly with me that it was like a blow to the center of my chest:

I don’t like being sick, but what else have I to claim when I am healthy. Does being healthy make me less special?

For a moment, I was completely stunned. Then the conversation continued for a time, and then she had to go. Then I was able to go outside, have a smoke and a cup of coffee, and really think about what she was saying.
What does an identity mean, anyway?
In general, an identity is a label that allows someone to see who you are and possibly what you stand for…kind of like a card catalog for humanity. Labels can be good, bad, and just indifferent. Some create belonging, and some are designed to separate us from others and give us distance.
An eating disorder is an identity, too.
It is something to hide behind, to hide within. Something that can be used to get support, can be used as a cry for help…and as a way to push others away.
An eating disorder is also a disease.
It is not a friend or a lover. It is no “ana,” named like a girlfriend.
It is, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV)
Axis I (without personality components) code 307.1.
A disease.
A disease that kills, sometimes slowly, sometimes not. Without treatment, it is the disorder with the highest fatality rate of ANY mental disorder.
Does that make us special?
No.
If you or someone you knew had a disease that was sure to be fatal in many cases, like cancer, would it be said that it makes you special?
Certainly not. What makes you special is everything else about you. Your ability to love. The sound of your laugh when you are truly delighted. The way you tell a joke that is different from anyone else. Your intelligence. Your one-hundred percent unique point of view.
Anorexia and bulimia are not you. They are a disease that manifests itself as a voice that feels SO real that it seems to be the only part of you that is the truth. But the truth is this…they want to kill you. The disease will not be satisfied until you no longer exist.
That is no friend.
I nearly died from my disease a year and a half ago. Luckily I was so far gone and so deep that I really didn’t know how far gone I really was. That was a mercy. It tried to rob me of everything that made me special. But I fought back. I’m not perfect, I will never be perfect. But I still fight.
Now I know what makes me special. I may not feel it every day, but deep down, I know it’s there. It’s a comfort, a smooth worry stone that I carry in the darkness of my pocket to call upon when I feel like I have no hope.
If I had continued to think that it was only the disease that made me “special,” I would have ended up in my grave. My son would grow up without a mother, with only anger and tears to remember me by. My husband would have faced life wondering if more could have been done, and why he couldn’t make me see how special I really was.
And what could it have read on my gravestone?
she died Thin.
Really? That’s all?
fuck that.
Forgive my crudeness, but really, what else can be said?
I would rather be known for the things that really do matter.
And my wish is the same for all of you. You are not your disease. You are not that voice, the one that seems so damn strong sometimes that you feel like you have to believe what it tells you. Period. No matter how strong it seems to be.
You are the friend, the lover, the wonderful sister, brother, daughter or son…and you laugh, live, you are strong just when you need to be. And you are loved.
You are loved.
When I look at you, each and every one of you, I don’t see your eating disorder, whatever form it may take.
I see YOU.
And if you ever forget, and want to know just what it is that makes you special, just ask me, because I will tell you everything.
And I guarantee you that when I put together that magic list of what makes you unforgettable, anorexia or bulimia will be NOWHERE on that list.
Cross my heart.
I love you all. Be good to yourselves, even if it feels like an alien or strange thing to do…

March 23, 2010 Posted by | Anorexia and Disordered Days. | , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Dark Half of the Road.


I would like to think that I never know when it’s going to happen, but that’s not strictly true. I can feel it in the marrow of my bones when I am about to slide downhill into the murky well that is the very bottom of my psyche.
Wow. Such a cliche. I’ve seen messages inside greeting cards that are more ably crafted than what I am writing now. The muse seems to have abandoned me, thumbing a dubiously dangerous ride down the highway to perch on someone else’s deserving brow.
She has found me wanting as well.
It starts thus. A few nights with less sleep, uneasy restlessness causing me to thrash under the covers as though I am running from some unseen predator. Then as I wake up, the burning feeling in the pit of my stomach, the cold fingers of Not Right brushing over my skin. My brain turns ’round and ’round on a monotonous track, hysterically cataloging what is going wrong.

(nothing I thought it was nothing but I guess it’s really something)

The phone rings. I curl up inwardly, a cold and greasy clamshell of blocked emotion. I cannot answer.
The insect buzz of the cell phone heralds text messages. I scan them listlessly, but cannot respond.
I am a dead person, and the dead cannot articulate.
I don’t know how long this chemical acid bath will last this time, but I hope it will not wring me out for too long.

Please.

March 13, 2010 Posted by | Anorexia and Disordered Days., Bits., Mind Shadows. | , , , , , | Leave a comment

In the Full Dark-written on New Year’s Day.


The new year is a time that we are programmed, culturally and spiritually, to take stock of where we are and where we’ve been. Normally at the start of a new year, life has changed in just subtle ways from the “same time last year,” but this year is a notable exception. A year ago today, I was a month into inpatient treatment at Rosewood Ranch in Wickenburg, wondering what a fledgling 2009 would bring.
Now, I am “free,” in New Orleans, the city that I love, with my husband and son who are my world.
So why does everything feel so broken and wrong?
No one told me that it would be this hard, that a slump could lead to an emotional landslide, indeed. My thoughts ping around the inside of my skull, vibrating with nervous tension like the hot and trembly chest of a baby bird. This is not supposed to happen.
If I happen to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror, the image is not, not ever my friend. There is too much of me on display everywhere. I am terrified that others will see it, this excessiveness, and turn away. I grip the anchors on my physical form that used to provide hellish inventory and comfort, and they are disturbingly hidden by betraying flesh. I stare into my flat eyes and the same thought courses through me, relentless as a brooding toothache. I need my bones.
I’m sorry if this triggers anyone…this is not my intention. The triggers are everywhere for me, because they are attached to the very substance of me. No matter how I turn and angle myself, I am still there.
I want this to not be true, even though the more sensible part of my brain, the part that marched me bravely to treatment in the first place, knows that this is so wrong, an emotional fox trap to be avoided at all costs.
Easier said than done.
I hate talking about this. I am the “I’m fine” girl. But I am afraid that if I don’t I will unravel. I want to be there for everyone else, but to erase myself at the same time.
When the baby steps become so halting that they seem to be moving you backward, what next?
Help.
No, don’t.
Please do.
I love you all. I feel so tiresome, so much like I should just GET OVER IT.
I have had my fifteen minutes of fragility and dependence.
But even if I broke all of the mirrors, I would still be there.
I will try to make this New Year better, minute by minute.
I guess that is all that I can do.
How can I be so utterly tired when I just arose?
I guess I will find out as the days unfurl.
Thank you for reading this. It really does mean so very much.

March 13, 2010 Posted by | Anorexia and Disordered Days., Mind Shadows. | , , , , , | Leave a comment