The saga of loose GI symptoms continues. It’s like there’s a party down there filled with drunken sailors, crashing and banging around, spilling drinks, causing mayhem. In the midst of the turmoil of the the outer world, I feel like riots explode within me. I am doing my best to do what helps, but they are all a bit out of control!
In my attempts to see if different foods might help the symptoms, I found myself in the familiar land of focusing back on food and the effects it has on my gut. I’m having to be really careful about everything and it reminds me of the old days of restriction but from a completely different angle. Which is frustrating…and ironic.
You see, just before all of this partying started, I had begun feeling a desire to go back to work in the eating disorder treatment field again, and was set and ready to interview with a local treatment center. But then this hit, and I felt thrown back into a place of having to so carefully monitor my food that I wonder if I can be of any help to anyone in that setting. After all these years, of healing and study and realizations, I wonder how I can put these things to use if my main focus is that of concern of food and what it will do to my symptoms. Do I forgo my initial desire to return to this work because of this turn of events? Or do I proceed, but in a different way? I decided on the latter.
I decided to instead do what is called an “informational interview” with a few places, so there’d be no (at least outside) pressure to be the perfect example of recovery to them. I started thinking of questions I’d ask them to see if I want to work in this field at all. Fact is, I’ve been pretty conflicted about going back to work in this field because of my views and personal experience of “recovery” and the very linear model most treatment centers hold for this concept. In the linear model, recovery means battling the demon of the eating disorder and becoming completely free from concerns about food and body image. Recovering the healthy self from the evil witch and whisking her away to Neverland.
For me, “recovery” has been more of “uncovery” or “discovery,” a circling on a spiral of healing lessons, each turn teaching me new things about what my body wants me to know. Teaching me new things about what the eating disorder wants me to know. One where I’ve spent time sitting with that demon, in dialogue with it, and actually learning valuable things. It’s been about deepening into relationship with my body and this force that is so powerful to stop me and everything in its tracks.
So to work at a facility that is more linear in its approach would feel a bit like me as a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. Or maybe vice versa. Or maybe the treatment world has changed and isn’t so linear. Hell, I don’t know. I certainly can’t tell from inside my room, over the internet, in my mind. Therefore, my decision to do informational interviewing is an attempt to get out into the world and to survey the industry to see what the landscape of “recovery” really looks like. This terrifies me for some reason. I’m doing it anyway.
My list of questions:
What is your view of what “recovery” looks like from an eating disorder? Are there general commonalities of what full recovery experience looks like for most people?
What methods does your facility employ to help someone “get there”?
How do you treat those who have eating issues as a result of (or at least mostly complicated by functional GI issues (ie IBS, celiac, ulcerative colitis, etc)?
Do you believe/have experience of patients with these GI issues ever experiencing full recovery? What does that look like for them?
Do you address possible somatic/spiritual roots of the eating difficulties, ie Family Constellation, Ancestral Healing, Trauma, Hero/ine’s Journey, etc)?
How do you deal with clients that have re-occuring symptoms that they cannot seem to “conquer”?
How often do you see clients come to you without body image/weight issues but with serious GI issues that they’ve only been able to help by seriously altering their food? How do you work with these clients?
Do you work with older clients that have had struggles for a long time (SE-AN)? How do you address their despair and hopelessness?
Are your clients encouraged to explore being on anti-depressant medication or not? Is there space to try healing without medications?
I am a person who has both been a patient and professional in ED treatment centers, who has undergone many layers of healing of self, and who still has functional GI issues confirmed by a physician. It is important for me to eat some foods and not others to help my condition. I love myself, my body and have much heart for this population and would like to be of service in some way to help them. How, with this condition, do you see (or not see) a person like me assisting in your facility or the field?
I am not sure when I will head out to actually do these interviews but the list is complete. I am trying to see this as an adventure, although like I said it terrifies me. All I want to know is, can I help? Even though I am not perfect…can I help?
Pardon me for getting into the nitty gritty, it is what is coming through (literally) at the moment. A writer gotta write what’s true. Much gratitude to those who choose to read on.
So, for the last few months, following an intense stomach flu, I have been experiencing constant GI issues ((of the liquid kind)). Add to that gut-wrenching bloating, cramping and nausea. Having decades worth of knowledge about what foods tend to help or hinder the situation, I’ve attempted to alter my diet to see if this would help quell the situation.
At first it seemed that the BRAT (Banana, rice, applesauce, toast) thing was helping. The symptoms would go away. But then, they would return, in full force, having me doubled over in pain. I experimented with adding back in my normal foods to not get too restrictive or phobic about what foods might be causing what–I know I can slip down that rabbit hold very easily. That, again, seemed to trigger painful episodes. So I returned to the bland land of BRAT foods.
I went to the doc after a few weeks of this. Although I am not someone who takes pharmaceuticals often I do believe in at least getting a thing checked out. After blood tests and the lovely stool collection, what she found was zilch, nada, nothing “serious.” She said, very plainly, “I think what you have is something more functional, like IBS.”
To most people this statement would suck. A long term, chronic diagnosis is nothing people want to hear. But to me, these three letters bring a certain sort of heavyweight despair.
You see, I watched my mother turn cold, bitter, isolated and mean as a result of (or at least mostly due to) this diagnosis. Constant trips to the doctor, only to have them tell her there was nothing they could do, that she’d have to just “deal with it,” chronic dehydration and pain…it just destroyed her. She couldn’t go anywhere without having to be in the bathroom most of the time. She avoided eating much so that she wouldn’t feel the symptoms while she was out. Eventually the symptoms happened no matter what she tried, and were embarrassing and disruptive to any kind of social/recreational activity. I watched her wither and vacillate between boiling with rage and resentment to being utterly hopeless and wanting to die.
So these letters–I.B.S.–have a horrible weight to them for sure.
I am still reeling from hearing those letters come out of my doctor’s mouth, I am still deciding whether to take them in and accept that they are indeed also what I may have to deal with for my whole life. I find living in the present to be much more helpful than spiraling into worry about a chronic condition, and I am trying to do this. Yet the image of my mother (who by the way died in the bathroom!) irritable and bitter keeps pummeling into my mind.
But I didn’t come to the page wanting to write about this. What I came to the page to write about is the intersection of eating disorders, disordered eating and IBS symptoms. Through this experience, and through watching what happened to my mother for so many years, I begin to wonder who wouldn’t become avoidant of food, who wouldn’t create and follow a list of safe foods and eating rituals to try to help avoid these horrid symptoms. I began to wonder whether what is considered “disordered eating” is in fact not disordered at all but a very reasonable attempt to do whatever could be done to avoid the body’s painful reactions when no one can figure out what is happening.
I began to wonder if there was a subset of people that do not drastically alter their diet because they think they are fat, or worthless, or dirty, but rather because what they are doing seems to help them avoid the very real physical pain they are having that no doctor can help them figure out.
I began to wonder whether some of these people feel so out of control with what their bodies are doing, and what they are trying to do to control it that they themselves wind up in treatment but then feel misunderstood when the typical diagnosis doesn’t respect their experience.
I began to remember that this person is me.
I’ve been to so many dietitians, inpatient, day programs. I’ve tried following so many meal plans and eating rituals to attempt to help this situation. But during these last few months, when the symptoms have escalated from more than just discomfort with fullness to a painful experience upon eating just about anything–I have reached a sort of end of my rope. I’m not sure what to do.
Yet in the midst of that, what I do know is that I am curious and filled with deep compassion. Curious if there are more people out there that experience this, who are misdiagnosed with eating disorders and who feel lost and misunderstood. Somehow, through this life, I have found compassion for myself, for my mother and now for others who may be going through this experience. Somehow I retain curiosity about what deeper messages and purpose these symptoms may be leading me and other towards.
My “recovery coach” is also stumped, having only tools to help me battle ED voices and thoughts about calories and fat grams. I am not having these voices and thoughts. What I am having is layers of despair, frustration, hopelessness and pain and an inability to absorb nutrients that I can’t seem to control. These are not things that a recovery coach help with, aside from being there with me as I go through it, with words of support. Is this experience with me teaching her that not all people who struggle with food issues have a body-dysmorphic eating disorder? Are my symptoms a teacher for a new paradigm? Pardon these crazy thoughts.
So where does this leave me? With IBS? With an eating disorder? With, for now, an irritated gut that may soon find itself healed? Did I ever have an eating disorder, or has it only been my attempt to avoid the very real physical pain I feel with eating anything more that what is needed to survive?
I don’t know. I do know I am probably not alone. And if you are reading this and can relate, know you are not alone either. I’m not sure how I will deal with this, if I have some sort of chronic thing and will twist myself into a bitter haggard old woman dealing with it like my mother did. What I do know is that I am here, now. Things are okay–here, now. What I do know is that I still have a fire inside me that wants to understand the deeper layers of my body’s message, if I can find some way to find light in it all for myself and for others. This is all I have, and hopefully I will have more to share about it as the research continues.
Without knowing it while writing it, this is mostly what my memoir, Food Memories, is about. Only after writing it, and experiencing this again, do I understand more. I keep understanding more and more in each re-read as I prepare it for publication. How Food Memories is about my struggle to understand, cope and find help with this mysterious and frustrating experience of being in a body. How it is about at first trying to fit into the ED paradigm to hope for some cure, to feeling lost and disappointed with not finding relief there, to now, struggling with increasingly painful symptoms that doctors have no idea how to treat. It has been many months of attempting to birth this creation and perhaps it is because I need to understand more before I release it. Perhaps I needed to have this experience and its layers. Regardless, I am trying with all my might to push this text out into the world, hoping to find others that can relate, hoping to find some magic, healing and connection in the sharing. As always, I will keep you posted about when it is fully born.
My heart goes out to yours if you are dealing with this or some other chronic condition. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you want to share more.
Behold, Pandemic Corona: Poems of Shock, Fear, Realization and Metamorphosis by The Sisters of The Holy Pen!
The “Spirits of Illness” poem I posted about a month ago was taken on by this anthology, along with several other poems of mine and about 30 other poet sisters accompanying. It is a wild ride of the various emotions, ponderings, thoughts, and energies that rode through us as the COVID situation was first beginning to take hold. Included are many different photos of each poet, masked, in their daily world during this global experience we all share.
So there’s that. Let me tell you it’s a weird thing to share about myself in this way. Although I express much here on my blog, there are a lot of people in my closer community that don’t know much about my blog, my memoir, my story, and I have kept it that way for a reason. Part of it is not wanting to expose these tender innards to those that could come up to me daily and spout their condolences, ideas, suggestions, etc at me. Part of it is that I just am not ready to be seen fully. But there’s also something about doing the whole “look at me and what I did” show on social media. I think it’s cool when others do it, but for me it feels a bit off of my way of being. And then there’s the whole marketing thing. Something in me shudders when book marketing tactics are mentioned, especially when “heart-based book marketing” techniques are mentioned.
Yet here I am, a part of a group project, one in which exposure will help my sisters and editor to be known. So I thought–what the hell? I’ll market or at least blurb for them…and in doing so, I’ve gotten a little practice in preparation for when my much more personally revealing memoir comes out. It’s been a lot less weird than I imagined it would be, actually. I’m considering even taking a selfie with me and the book for this situation, which is kind of strange. We’ll see how it goes. Needless to say, there’s been a quiet, subtle transformation inside me as a result of this, and I’m thankful for that as I continue to hack away at the publishing of Food Memories and the thought of bringing it into the world.
So I did it. I picked up my book, Food Memories, again.
I lit a candle and settled in to read the words I have been avoiding reading for months now. My intention was to review my memoir as a whole and to have a bird’s eye view of its message, to have some thoughts to dialogue about with my cousin. If you didn’t read my last post, I mentioned that my cousin has a connection in publishing, and upon reading my writing, he had a few suggestions before he felt comfortable forwarding it to his contact.
His suggestions were kind, but clear. He asked if I would attend to them and get back to him in a couple weeks. Its been 2 months now.
I finally felt ready to re-read this weekend. This time, it was easier than expected to look at my creation. I found myself transported from my childhood, through my teen years, the hospitalization years, the professional years, the vision quest years, the atheist/agnostic years. I remembered my dead mother. I remembered my dead boyfriend. I remembered my dead vision to become a healer. I remembered my poet. I remembered my writer. I remembered all of the years I have put into this book, its writing, and all the amazing people I have had cheering me on, reading beta copies.
I noticed typos, minor but there. I was not deterred. A crisp, truly shining manuscript will arise from my corrections, I found myself thinking. I even noticed where there were some holes in the story, and a few more food memories that might want to be added to fill the tale more. I also realized the gargantuan task I face in having to completely re-haul my book proposal, now that my promotion section is basically null and void. Book tours and conference workshops aren’t really viable in the foreseeable future, eh?
But all of these things did not make me stop reading, as they did before. There is a new determination burning in me, and I will do what it takes to get there. I will call my cousin, and tell him my findings. I will see what comes of that. I will contact my writing teacher, my editor, for their support and guidance on how to reformat my proposal for these times. I will ask for guidance on how to craft my query letters, how to hone my message, how to forge ahead.
I have absolutely no idea what I am doing. Marketing and business is not my schtick. I don’t have an Instagram account, or even a webpage. (Hell, I still have a flip phone! By choice!). Yet I have spent over 4 years writing and crafting this book into being, and I will not let it be stillborn. At least I will not let it die without trying. This is part of why I keep writing and sharing here about it.
Thanks for coming along with me if you’re here. I hope to announce the release of Food Memories someday very soon.
The other day I was sitting by the window, and happened to look down to the book stack resting at the base of my cushy chair. At the front, facing me, was my not-yet-published memoir, Food Memories. In this moment, I realized that it has been many a day since I have mentioned this creative baby of mine here. I also realized it had been many a day since I had done anything to further its physical manifestation in the world. Somehow, I had completely left it sitting, stagnant and gathering dust.
Now, of course there’s The Virus to take into account for this stagnation. If you’ve been following me, you might remember my post about sending out query letters to publishers and agents, and my determination to do so despite receiving rejections. And that was my sincere intention, no matter how it hurt my brain to wander in marketing-and-selling-myself-land. Yet when this craziness started, I suddenly lost steam, reading left and right about how publishers and agents weren’t exactly excited about taking on new projects at the moment. This mixture, of my hesitancy to market, and the current publishing landscape, brought my efforts to a screeching halt.
I had also finally made the decision to allow one of my distant family members to read my memoir. My intention was to overcome my fear of them knowing these things about me, but also to possibly have him introduce me with a publishing contact of his. He read the book, and liked it, yet had some serious suggestions about its format and asked me questions about my message. He encouraged me to go back and read my book with these suggestions in mind. I picked up my book and began to read it, and my brain started turning to mush around how to, and whether I needed to, rearrange things. I noticed typos and passages that sounded not great. I heard my inner skeptic rushing in loudly that I needed to just give up this silly effort. The push of this was overwhelmingly strong. This was around the same time that The Virus hit.
So into the book stack my proof copy went. Into the shadows, underneath windows, not to be noticed. To give surface to spider’s crawling, a nook for a fly or two, for the dust to settle. There, Food Memories waited.
During this time, and although a bit hopeless and confused what to do, my focus directed in other ways. One of them being leading a group of women through a series of rituals to connect them with The Dark Goddess archetype within. Part of this work is to go into the metaphorical underworld, releasing all which we think makes us who we are. On that list was of course Food Memories. Years and years of effort and hope and purpose have gone into this book. For the first time in a long time I felt inspired like I never had in its writing. Yet having stalled, I felt at an impasse and perhaps like maybe it wasn’t my destiny to release it after all. So on the underworld altar went my memoir. I let Ereshkigal take this possibility from me and rested in the darkness of who I am without it.
Several weeks went by. We all went into the collective underworld together. The moon waned and went dark, calling us all into stillness. I let go. I let go and let myself float in Being.
And then, the moon’s crescent sliver smiled at me and I knew it was time. Time to rise, time to start taking action again. Time to pick up Food Memories and start again.
I began reading yesterday and felt carried through by my own words. I noticed typos and things I might change but I wasn’t affected by it as once before. Overall I felt a renewed vigor to do what it took to carry this book back into the world. I felt, once again, the spark of inspiration and vision I originally had while writing the book. Although the agnostic inside huffaws at the thought, perhaps in releasing the book to the altar of the underworld, a new life and motivation has come back to me. Perhaps. Whyever it has returned, I am thankful.
So, ascendant and waxing as the moon in the sky, I begin again. I ready myself to edit, I ready myself to draft yet another query letter, I ready myself to possibly re-haul my entire proposal to reflect the external and internal shifts that have occurred as a result of The Virus. I will report here, as I was before, how it goes.
Ascendant and waxing, I begin again. Thank you for staying with me.
Yesterday, I sat down to write after having had a conversation with the “Recovery Coach” I’ve spoken about in previous posts. One of the main things gleaned from this conversation is my desire to fully face the panic and terror I feel when I approach the sensation of “too full.” The fear of this feeling really kind of controls my life: I arrange my eating patterns, my exercise patterns and my life patterns to avoid this sense of being full.
I’ve got lots of theories about why this feeling brings such terror–none of them related to fear of getting fat by the way–yet despite the mental explorations, one thing remains clear: the fear of feeling full rules my life choices. I value the possibility that it may be because in past lives I was an ascetic monk/Buddha/fasting spiritual leader/single mother dealing with famine and plague, but another thing remains clear: I want to face this fear. I want to face it so many times that the feeling no longer has this much power over my life. I have faced this feeling many times already, still it has such a hold on me. I have lost hope in facing this fear, after it so doggedly reappears, time and time again. Yet for some reason, I keep trying.
Which brings me to Temperance. Before I began writing yesterday, I chose a card that represented what might occur if I chose to once again face this feeling of fullness and the terror it evokes: That card was Temperance.
(Now, just to be frank about my emerging proclamations of woo: I have a fairly loose attachment to what tarot cards are “supposed to mean,” and find much more value in what the image evokes in my mind at the moment I ask the question and see the picture.)
This time the image evoked a sense of facing an addictive pattern, finding balance as a result. And that there is a bigger force in me, my inner alchemist, that will help me do this if I choose to do so. Transformation through facing old, unhelpful patterns.
So I began the not so new pondering of my attachment to the feeling of emptiness as a sort of “high” (which is literally true as our bodies make endorphins to help us feel better about being in famine states) and that letting go of it is like putting down a drug for me. To wholeheartedly sit with being really full is like going through detox for me, strange as that may sound but it is true. My body actually seems like it sends me information that emptiness is preferable to fullness. Fullness is painful, nauseating, etc. Sitting through that feeling until it wanes (which I know it does, I just always wrestle with the unexplainable terror like it never will), is I think my task, my way of “sobriety” or at least finding something new on the other side as a result. I struggle with this concept of addiction, and 12 steps and all that, but for some reason the perspective really works here. To transform, I must go into the fear. I must stop using “nothingness, emptiness” and embrace what it feels like to feel fully in my body, feeling its pulsing, churning, yearning and sorrows. And all of what comes with that.
To realize that my whole life revolves around avoiding this is kind of embarrassing, especially in light of thousands that starve or can’t find enough to eat everyday. Especially in light of thousands dying on respirators from this strange viral pandemic. Surely I have some shame around this. Yet despite that, I can’t ignore that it rocks me terribly. I can’t ignore that it is my shadow, something I hide from others. I can’t ignore that deep in the layers of my unconscious and cellular matter, this sits in me. And this is how I know it is my work, to find freedom from this fear controlling me. To find why being full–and not just with food, but with sexuality, sensuality, pleasure, with life force, with responsibility–why this terrifies me so.
I look at the androgenous towering being in Temperance, and there is a peace on their face, a peace I want to have. A peace that comes from both being in a body–fully–and from being connected to the radiant lightness of the above. I feel my toes, naked, like theirs, feeling the cool waters and the deep, dark soil between toes. I feel the sense of balance and the path beyond that may be shown to me as a result of this tempering, balancing. I don’t know how I will do this, but somehow I feel this energy, this archetype, within me calling me towards it. Perhaps, this time, I won’t feel so alone in my facing of fullness. Perhaps this time I will experience true Alchemy. And maybe not, as my trusty inner skeptic reminds.
The other day, as I was dancing around my bedroom with candles alight, I received a question. It’s not a new question, it’s one I’ve been trying to wrap my head around for a long time, going back and forth on the level of sanity in its asking.
The question is this: Could it be that for at least for some people that have struggled with an eating disorder, that our behaviors are mostly an attempt to clear ourselves of introjected energy from the toxic environment around us? Or even an attempt to get rid of cellular matter (by trying to lose weight to the extreme) of ancestral trauma and ghosts of the unwell ancestors living in our tissues? That the fasting and exercising and obsessions (and perhaps purging, although I don’t have direct experience with that), are merely an attempt to do this?
In a world that doesn’t validate that there may be toxic energies that invade and take up space in our minds and bodies, there’s little talk about tools to deal with this kind of thing, and where there is talk, it is usually of the ungrounded crystally new-age type. I have done research on this–mentally, but also experientially. I’ve actually seen an exorcist (weird and campy but too shame based), I’ve undergone shamanic extraction work, done a lot of listening to the Shadow, and recently experienced something called “Compassionate Depossession.” This and what is termed “Ancestral Lineage Healing” have so far been the most grounded, wholistic approach to dealing with the root causes of the behaviors I have struggled with all of my life.
But even so, there’s always this part of me that says, “Really? This new age crap? The institutions and doctors have certified you as someone with a disorder, and this all seems like a rationalization to not just accept how messed up you are. Surely you mustn’t believe that you are wiser than The Professionals on this, and least of all with these non-scientific claims. Surely!”
Yeah. That voice.
But lately, especially at the culmination of the Ancestral Lineage Healing work, my heart and soul have really resonated with this wider, energetic, “non-scientific” possibility. At least it being partially true, with all of the other obvious therapy, dietitian, etc treatment teams involved in what is often a life and death struggle. So I’ve been thinking of claiming that this is a truth I want to explore, and possibly even stand behind in working with myself and others with these issues. I’m contemplating getting trained in some of these techniques, and I guess experience will show me if it really is a load of crap like my old friend the skeptic likes to believe.
In researching this topic today, synchronicity would have it that I found this article https://www.brightwalldarkroom.com/2018/02/14/living-with-ghosts/, which literally blew me away. All of the issues this person brings forward are things I have thought and wondered, in solitude, for decades. Perhaps in my willingness to claim this new stance, to at least allow myself to explore it, I am being led to others with similar thoughts, to community to explore this with. Or maybe I’ll find myself swimming in a pool of weirdness. Who knows! All I know is that I am incredibly fascinated with these kinds of synchronicities, and with this witchy, animistic, wider perspective on experiencing and treating eating and embodiment difficulties. Feel free to reel me in from the Woo if my posts start straying into ungrounded territory. Or just unsubscribe.
I do hope though, that you’ll stay with me, and take the journey of searching into preposterous crevices and parallels of what that which we feel is wrong with us actually being our best attempts at dealing with the unseen and overwhelming energies that affect our minds and bodies all the time. Will you join me? (Or at least laugh along with me in case this is a result of too much shelter-in-place time on my hands :})
Lately, I’ve been having a lot of dreams of cats. Big black ones, forcefully crawling into my arms and caressing my skin with velvety fur. I’ve also been seeing them in my meditations, as gifts, as guides. This is not new, cats have always been a sort of spirit animal for me, in both their physical and ethereal forms.
Yet this morning, I read a friend’s lament over how it seems there has been some evidence of cats contracting the COVID-19 virus, and the potential for them to spread it to humans. Mind you, I don’t just accept that as fact, firstly doubting “news” until clear evidence and trending is shown. The CDC has not stated that this is a threat as of yet: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/animals.html.
However, I know how we react as a species overall, and it saddens me to think what might happen as people start fearing their own companion animals in light of this news. I hope reason makes this not so.
Whatever the response of the rest of my species, it got me thinking. It got me thinking of what I would do if animals started exhibiting signs of being able to spread viruses to us. Of course I don’t know how I’d ultimately react in the moment of this being reality, but my first response was “Hell yeah. About time. I will die for you. Or at least risk it.” Would I give my cat away, abandon it, avoid its touch in fear of this? Would I stay away from the oceans, the trees, the creepy crawlies that touch me as I wander through them? I don’t think so. I welcome the possibility that if Nature thinks its time for us to go, then maybe its time. And hell NO would I harm or abandon an animal because of this.
It reminds me a bit of my journey with a restrictive eating disorder, actually. I’ve often likened my own experience to “fasting for a vision” in the desert, learning from the animals and plants in the circle around me, making the Sacrifice. I feel that in some sense, I have played this out, eating less, living lightly, humbly, respectfully, in the great shadow of the largeness of nature. Taking up less space so that She may have more. Granted, I am working on this, accepting that maybe both me and Nature are worthy of space on this planet, but boy have I had practice with surrendering my health and happiness so that She may not be decimated.
So this reminds me of that. It reminds me of so many things. One thing I know for sure: I will not turn away from the big black cat in my dreams, nor the one snuggling on the top of the red dryer in my laundry room. I will welcome them, into my arms. Even if it means I may die.
Yesterday, I had a call with this new coach I’m working with to experiment with changing behaviors for “recovery.” We made some goals, one of which was this: If I wake up at 3 am hungry, and eat, then I should eat a snack midmorning to not have such a long break in eating before lunch. Especially if I wake hungry at midmorning as I have over the past few months.
So this morning I woke up at 2 am, ravenous. This isn’t new, I’ve been waking at 2-3 am for a while now, needing to eat something substantial just to get back to sleep. But today, after eating the same thing I usually do, I was racked with waves of paralyzing cramping throughout my torso for hours.
This is also not new.
This is one of the reasons why I have resorted to limiting the kinds of things I eat, when I eat them and how much of it I eat. To avoid the strange and overwhelming discomfort I feel at random times when I eat.
I don’t think I’m fat. I don’t think eating certain things are “bad” or “good.” I don’t think I’m a horrible person. I’m just trying to understand the patterns of my body and setting up systems that help me seem to not trigger these attacks. It just seems that sometimes, oftentimes, my body reacts in big ways to what I eat, in ways that debilitate me.
My word, how weird and unnecessary it feels to be whining about this in the midst of this larger, scarier pandemic state we’re all in. I’m aware of this. Yet I write this because even so, it is my experience. And I write because I feel confused. Confused because it felt like the most loving thing to do to let my stomach rest when it was toiling this morning, but this action goes directly against my goal set yesterday. And then I begin to wonder–are the two related? Is there some sort of trickster being lodged in my appetite center that uses body symptoms to keep me from changing?
I did what I always do when I feel confused, and started to write about it. What came foreward is that there is some part of me that feels this coaching “technique” is not aligned with my truth, and my lack of ability to stand up and say this warrants my body needing to scream “STOP!” for me.
This is also not new. As a child, the emergence of insomnia, depression and Anorexia was a way to verbalize to my abusive mother that she needed to STOP. That something needed to STOP. She of course didn’t listen, but social services eventually took me out of the situation and the abuse did stop. So in many ways, I honor my body, or Anorexia, or depression or whatever title you want to put on this force that screamed for me when I couldn’t scream. There is a hint of that now, that if I don’t voice the unalignment of this process, my body might just keep throwing wrenches in the mix for me. Through pain.
The thing I keep wondering is whether the need for this to STOP is an old reaction, one that doesn’t belong anymore, or if it is indeed wise and one I should follow. Do I recognize the pain as an outworn messenger and eat anyway to challenge its old process? Or do I continue to stand steadfastly by it, trusting that to follow its guidance is leading me to my own truth on this whole eating disorder business?
I wish I could just accept the views as they are in the recovery community, that this is a demon that needs to be battled, and to do that I just need to ignore the pain and push past it. Yet for whatever reason, I feel it is more complex than this. I don’t know why I feel this, I just do. And my body, screaming in pain in the wee morning hours, just as I was about to implement a new goal…well it makes me shake my head in such confusion as to what the hell is really true.
As I write this, I allow a chunk of raspberry dark chocolate to melt on my tongue. I take a sip of strong, dark coffee to swirl the flavors around my mouth and taste the concoction glide down my throat. I savor these tastes, this treat I give to myself. I am ready for food now, I am enjoying food now, my body does not rebel. I feel in alignment with my own desires. My body is at peace. Any normal person would trust this. But as someone who has been in and out of hospitals and institutions, diagnosed and labeled, I am confused about whether I am truly able to trust myself, what I want, what feels comfortable to me. Is it my body’s wisdom I follow, or the ED voice tricking me to not push past my own safe limits? This question has haunted me for years, and is one I carry even as I try when I can to go directly against its seeming wishes. I hope someday this all becomes clear. I hope someday I will look back on this from a place of “full recovery” and laugh that it was such a big deal. I’ve been hoping this for decades, and its why I’ve chosen to try one last time this coach.
My body screams STOP. My psyche screams STOP. Or does the “eating disorder” scream STOP? Hoping someday I’ll know for sure.
In other news, I wish all of you health and wellness. I hope that the news is not infiltrating your being so much as to cause you to be in great fear and panic. May we be wise and take precaution, but may we also realize the power and sacredness of our own mind and thoughts.
May we be happy. May we be comfortable. May we be healthy. May we be at peace.
I read a post the other day that reminded me of Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. In this book, one of the most powerful passages for me was his thoughts and experiences getting rejected in his early days by publishers. It is especially relevant to me now as I am poised at the edge of publishing my own first book, and am having to go through the torturous process of describing and summarizing and marketing of my work to companies that I hope to work with. It is the antithesis of what I enjoy about writing, and often makes me want to hide my head in a hole.
Which I could do, of course, but I chose not to. Partially because of the words of Stephen King, who has been by my side since I was a child in my reading escapades. And so of course, I knew I would face that first rejection someday, if I did keep going. And yesterday I received it. It was a kind note, and sent within a day of my query to the editor. It read:
“Thank you so much for thinking of XXX for this important proposal. Ultimately, this isn’t quite a fit for my list, so I’m going to step aside, but I really appreciate the opportunity to consider and wish you all the best in connecting with the right publisher for this project.”
I had several internal responses to this email, but surprisingly none of them were disappointment. I was actually really blown away that this person got back to me so quickly and especially because we are in the middle of plague craziness in our world. Secondly, I felt giddy that she called my proposal “important.” Important! I know this might be a polite way of responding to shit you don’t really like, but it felt very good to think she might have been telling me the truth, too. Ah, my feather’s ruffled and stroked :} And lastly, I reveled in the fact that I, like Mr. King, had just gotten rejected. The first one was over, and the blow didn’t feel as bad as I thought it would. In fact, in reading the response I instead had this unexpected surge of desire to keep going, to write as many queries as I could just to see what would happen.
I printed the letter and stuck it to my wall. I plan to wriggle a few more on that nail over the coming weeks, assuming editors are still functioning as the country goes into panic mode (which honestly makes this post and my feelings about being rejected pale in importance but I share nonetheless). The worry I have had, the one that has kept me circling over and over again about what I should write, how I should say it to best be accepted…well, it’s a bit lessened.
Who knows what successive experiences like this will do to my novel and perhaps naive sense of adventure, but I’m up for it. And I’m so glad to have Mr. King in my head for the ride. Over and over I will tune into his voice cheering me on, imagining him saying: “It doesn’t matter if you get rejected. Just keep querying. Just keep writing. Watch the nail get heavy with slips and enjoy how its weight peels the stucco from the wall.”
Acknowledge and honor the past But let go of the archaic ways that no longer serve you Let the Old Bear grieve Take him into your arms Dance Like a jaguar Merge the opposite energies Harness your focus Disperse to unifying
Own the story of your journey Of Meaningful Coincidence Of The Chosen One Ripped apart Into disbelieving embers And Rise from the underworld of nothingness
Hold the opposites Dance with skeptics and believers Start with the Dream
Ironically And perhaps Crazy making To some
How to be more confident Involves Paradoxically practicing The wisdom Of insecurity
As a result of contacting a prior boss to have her review my memoir, I found out she has now started training what are called eating disorder “Recovery Coaches.” These coaches meet with you in person or on line in your everyday life to provide support in facing eating disorder behaviors. They text you, they meet you for meals, they go grocery shopping with you. They do all the things it is so very hard for therapists and regular treatment team providers to do. And all of this is done towards the aim of facilitating “complete recovery,” not just feeling like you’re getting through life but not fully living it.
As I have mentioned in previous posts, “recovery” is an uncomfortable word for me, partly because of the sound of it, to re-cover myself doesn’t sound appealing. Yet it is also uncomfortable for me because as far as I have experienced, a life without some form of these thoughts or behaviors, or at least the awareness of them and needing to set boundaries with them…this kind of life has never become a reality for me. After countless attempts to reach this state. To hear someone say, “Yeah, I don’t really think about it anymore” just floors me. So of course when I heard that there were coaches to help one get to this idyllic place, I was skeptical.
Yet I was also sad. I’ve tried to “get over this” for decades. I’ve turned away from traditional perspectives on treatment, and took my own journey deep into my heart, made sense of it, made it sacred, loved and accepted myself despite my continued cycling up and down with these symptoms. I worked really hard at learning to honor the fact that I may just need to learn how to “deal with it” at this level forever. So to hear that there are these coaches helping one to get to that place, over the rainbow, hearing this brought up so many feelings. There was a disbelief. There was anger. There was confusion.
But there was also a longing. This paradoxical longing stirred into that skepticism. And the fact that there was an opportunity to work with one of these coaches for free, at least initially, feels important somehow.
So I decided to give it one more try. Sure I could pose all skeptic and doubt this possibility that these coaches could somehow work utter magic on my decades-old eating struggles. But I could also be curious. Which is what I chose, to be curious, and now have started working with one of these coaches to see what is possible. To give the longing, the sadness, the yearning to actually experience this sense of moving beyond, to give this a chance. Again.
So this “recovery coach” is texting me at challenging times where we’ve set up goal behavior changes. This person is hearing me yodel about my small but annoyingly restrictive behaviors that keep me bound, in fear, anxiety. That keep me smiling to the world–functioning–but not really fully feeling free. I have hope, but I also know this road could dead-end and the skeptic is here too. The skeptic is ready to be disappointed.
So far, the focus on behaviors is making them stronger, and I hope that does not continue. There is a sense that whatever I am dealing with is bigger than me, and has been with me and my ancestors for many generations. There is a sense that a “recovery coach” may not be able to handle and work through this layer of bigness with me. Yet that doesn’t mean I will discount it. I have also enlisted some support from a spirit-worker I trust to help me see into the bigness of this energy I am wrapped up in, to see if there is anything bigger than myself that is opposing my attempts at shifting behaviors.
I am so ready to transform this, and the coincidence of the recovery coach concept coming to me at this time–when I am about to publish my memoir about my lifetime eating and body struggles–is one I am definitely taking notice of. With the recovery coach helping me with the behavioral moves, and the spirit work helping me to explore and possibly heal the bigger energies tied up in this epigenetic illness pattern, I hope to really feel into this sense of “moving beyond.”
For me, however, I think it may result in a more animist way of being with the spirits of illness rather than never thinking about them again. For me, as I’ve written about in previous blogs and in my memoir, I think that the ED is an initiatory energy, and if it can be honored as an archetypal, transformational force but not allowed to destroy one’s body, then the work is truly done. I feel this is my path, to learn how to work with the spirit of this illness, and to possibly help others struggling, but not to let it take me down. This is where I am letting my curiosity with the concept of “full recovery” and recovery coaches take me. Hopefully I will come out the other end with an uplifting story to share around the fire.
Last weekend, I sat in on a workshop entitled “‘Shamanism” and Cultural Appropriation: Indigenous Perspectives.” This was a workshop discussing the use of the word shaman, as well as its tools by non-native people. I attended this workshop as I have been tremendously affected by the lens of shamanism in understanding and working with my food/body struggles on deeper levels. Yet as a white person, I’ve always been sensitive to that which I am swimming in when using or attending any kind of training on this subject.
During this particular panel, the intensity of feelings was almost unbearable in the room–so much pain and lack of understanding about this word. I felt myself struggling, as I feel so very called to this path and using its tools, but don’t quite know how as a white person, to honor this and also be in right relation. My work with Ancestral Healing has been helpful, yet the ache in my heart is still so strong around it all.
I started realizing that some of the chapters in my memoir directly reference my use of these tools, and that I neglected to mention what tribes the tools I used originated from, neglected to give respect. I realized I am pretty indebted to these paths and that actually the core message of my book-that an eating disorder might be a “call to initiation”-was resting on this wisdom.
I feel the “shamanic” and/or animist path has helped me re-vision my struggles with depression, with being in an ill body, but I know my awareness rides on the back of privilege. I know that is where a lot of my “unexplained” grief stems from, where symptoms in my body point to, even if I cannot completely vocalize it clearly, even if I feel so crazy and confused around all of it. I feel somehow that the deathly pull towards starving and restriction has relation to the unhealed woundings and ghosts of the traumas of existence. I wrote this poem to try to explain the complexity of what I feel, trying to also respect, and am wondering if it might belong in my acknowledgments section.
To the first peoples of Switzerland, who were colonized
To the first peoples of Germany, who were colonized
To the first peoples of Scandinavia, who were colonized
To the first peoples of Lithuania, who were colonized
To the first peoples of the Netherlands, who were colonized
To the first peoples of British Isles, who were colonized
To the first peoples of the Americas, who were colonized
To the first peoples of The Great Utah Basin, who were colonized
To the first peoples of the West Coast of the Americas, where I stand, who were colonized
To the first plant, animal and living beings, who were colonized
To the meat, vegetable, herb, tree, crops, who were colonized
To the plots of land that will never see the sun under concrete, colonized
To the trauma, disconnection and forgetting that lives on in my bones, blood and gut, colonized
In my memoir, Food Memories*, the Cannery Row area in Monterey, California figures prominently. These scenes involve my first romantic relationship with a boyfriend that for anonymity sake, I call “Eric.” This picture shows the remnants of a once-lively teen hangout behind Cannery’s Edgewater Packing Company. The lighter building on the left once housed an old-time carousel, soda fountain, arcade, magic shop and antique photo booth. Now, it is a recently closed IMAX theater.
The cement sidewalk/bike trail is the same as it always was, providing thoroughfare to countless Aquarium tourists on bike carriages, drunken lovers walking home from bars, gangs looking for fights, metalhead stoners wanting to play boomboxes loud and raucous. The drinking fountain is new.
In May 1991, I had a dream that Eric was killed by a gigantic tsunami here, on the edge of this sidewalk. In the dream the sidewalk was close to the water’s edge, and I watched as the gigantic forces of water nature swallowed him before my eyes. I remember waking up, sweaty and heart-racing, and the relief of realizing it was only a dream.
On June 1, 1991, my first boyfriend was murdered here, on the edge of this sidewalk. As the gun was shot off in the midst of a crowd, there was no clarity about who shot it, nor was the gun ever recovered. This man, whom I loved immensely, died here under the not yet erected drinking fountain, in his best friend’s arms, with no one to blame. I was lucky, and not so lucky, be absent when it happened. I’m not sure how I would have handled him bleeding out in my arms.
The tsunami didn’t literally happen, but his death did. The waves of despair and unconscious devastation were likely the metaphor. And of course, for a brief moment I wondered–should I have stopped it? Could I have? Why was I shown that in the dream? But everything went blank relatively quickly in the aftermath. That questioning stopped. I stopped dreaming, or at least remembering the dreams, for a long time after that.
Just down the road from where he was killed was this place, known to us teens as “The T’s.” These are remnants of the old Steinbeck-era canneries, their skeletons slowly being whittled down by crashing waves and by corporate tourist traps infringing on the area. An early scene in Food Memories describes how me and Eric sat here, on this beach, with his gigantic wolf-dog. Here we basked in the sun, stoned and eating deli sandwiches from a local shop. Eric was fond of putting potato chips on his sandwiches, and he did the same for my sandwiches. I grew to like this combination, however sacrilegious my dieting/Anorexic/culturally/brainwashed mind considered this. Eric controlled all of my food during our relationship, but in a really non-verbal way. I just ate what he ate, when he ate. I knew there would be drama if I didn’t. But I wasn’t complaining, I drank in this structure like a starving child.
In another scene from Food Memories, I attempt to show how this man was helping me find my way back to learning how to enjoy living after descending into the realms of depression, suicidality and Anorexia. His care, concern and (probably slightly co-dependent) caretaking of me was something I had never felt before. This scene recounts the morning after my first big arena metal show with him and his friends, and how we share a moment with pancakes, oozing with syrup, and playing children scurrying by. It shows how much I look to him, and the depth of gratitude I had for his presence in my life.
So you can probably imagine what happened to my burgeoning recovery and enjoyment of food when he died.
This man, the person that was never found that killed him, and the possible larger forces that orchestrated this experience, of his loving and his dying, changed my life forever. Almost 30 years later I still feel those moments so viscerally–that sun on my face, the crunch of the chips, the seagulls shrieking overhead, his face as he looked at me. I took a deep dive into the underworlds, over and over, after he died, and have struggled to understand and thrive despite this occurrence. Part of my struggles with eating stem from that, and to say intimate relationships are difficult is an understatement. Although I have done much work on myself around all of this I will never be able to truly shake what happened.
This is where my first boyfriend died. This is where the dreaming worlds and waking world collided. This is where a shuttered IMAX now stands.
Recently, I was introduced to the band Heilung, a pagan folk metal group from Denmark/Norway/Germany that are seeking to recreate Old Ways of Northern Europe, and facilitate re-connection with the Earth through their music and performances (in a good way, honoring all peoples, not in some sort of racist way, just embracing and acknowledging the land and traditions they have come from–although I’m sure there’s shadow in there somewhere).
Upon listening to the first song on the album, I felt pulled into an older time, an older, more earth-honoring connected people. The guttoral, haunting, primal sounds being made, the re-memberances it caused within me brought forth waves of grieving for a culture me and my peeps were disconnected from during the process of being colonized and colonizing others, human and non-human.
This well of grief kept flooding me as I listened further and further, and the sadness of the disconnection as well as what the disconnection created in our actions with others and our bodies was big. At times I found myself wanting to crawl into the computer and join these musicians in their vocalizing, wailing, drumming and howling around the fires, attending to and releasing this grief together. The yearning for this ceremony to be somewhere I can step into and connect into was intensely palpable, a deep deep longing.
I share this here because although I can’t quite explain it, I feel this deep grief and disconnection is a big part of why I and several of my ancestors struggled so much with suicidality, addiction and restrictive eating disorders. I share this here because I have been really grateful to have a course and supportive practitioners in Ancestral Healing that has helped me explore this topic in deeper ways.
I share this here because I firmly believe that the cause of eating disorders is not something wrong with individuals, or even the family dynamic, or even the social/media pressure to look a certain way. I share this here because I feel that these symptoms manifest as a result of thousands of years of unresolved trauma, famine, being oppressed and oppressing others, sexual violence, racism, etc and as a result of not having the awareness of why one is strongly pulled to do such destructive things to themselves.
I don’t exactly know how this work with Ancestral Healing will help me see and heal more fully from my struggles, but I am hopeful and grateful to have somewhere to explore this weird sense and deep longing I feel is connected to releasing these patterns in myself. Seeing what I and my family have struggled with be talked about in such deep and wide ways is regardless incredibly refreshing than the typical mental health conversation.
So Heilung. Listening to pagan folk metal is an interesting way to tap into the depth of these feelings, as music exploring shadow realms often is for me. Reading about things doesn’t really tap anything but music sure does. If you have Northern European peeps and feel similar deep roots to some of your struggles, I wonder if listening to this music might also cause similar feelings or awarenesses in you. If you listen and want to share, I’d like to hear. Also, if you are interested in Ancestral Healing work, this practitioner’s work I highly recommend: https://ancestralmedicine.org/
I’m feeling really confused at the moment, not an unusual feeling, but one I’d hoped would be absent from my interactions with a recent book reviewer. This reviewer was a personal one, my prior boss from my days of working in the eating disorder treatment field.
What confused me is that in her gracious reviewing of my book, she noted that I might want to wait until I had a more final story of wellness to end with, not leaving people with how I’m still struggling. She made the point that it is helpful to do this so that people can have hope that it is possible to “fully recover” from an eating disorder, and that it would be less likely fuel for those still struggling to use against themselves.
This of course was one of my biggest fears in releasing my memoir, Food Memories, before I had reached some sort of end all be all disappearance of symptoms. That although the state I find myself expressing in the memoir is authentic for me, and although I believe that healing is cyclical not final, I feared that my words and lack of perfect recovery might hurt someone. I also feared that my belief in the cyclical nature of healing was all rationalization to prevent me from fully recovering and that someone would challenge me on that. In a way, my old boss did, and I find myself in the wake of her feedback wondering if my message is really one ready to share.
I find myself confused at whether I am being lulled back into the systemic brainwashing of recovery, whether this full and final disappearance of symptoms is really possible, or whether the cycles and awarenesses I thought I found in my process are the actual gold I have to share. I’ve tried so much over the years to address these things, including 12 step structures and it feels like there’s something deeper that’s not being addressed. This is what I’ve found is what I try to express in my memoir: the sacredness of illness, loving oneself and accepting the struggle, not pushing so hard for perfection that strides are ignored. Yet I wonder, have I not done enough? Should I spend more time and energy and money in hiring another coach, dietitian, specialist to try to help me reach this perfect state? I wonder, I wonder.
I wonder about how it would feel if this same conversation was aimed at someone with re-occurring cancer, or diabetes, or some other chronic illness: “It might not be as helpful for you to share your story before you fully healed.” It has such a different tone, and is obviously judgmental when seen in this light. Yet to say this to a person struggling with an eating disorder seems perfectly fine, as if the person has loads more control over their symptoms than someone with one of these illnesses. Something about it all seems so wrong, separating these two.
Yet I respect this person, and a part of me yearns for what she describes as being “symptom-free.” Hearing her words made me wonder, and swirl in this confusion I am sharing with you right now. Is what I struggle with a chronic illness, one I must learn to live with or one I just haven’t tried hard enough to ‘recover” from? When is sharing one’s story too early? When is the urge to share the authentic process of struggle and awareness from such struggle an ego exercise, and when is it a service that will help others? Where is that line?
Have you struggled with an eating disorder, addiction, depression or chronic illness? When do you think is too early to share your story, is it helpful to hear others’ stories of struggle? Is it unsatisfying if the protagonist doesn’t reach some sort of pinnacle of transformation? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Across the street from 857 Taylor Street was a ramshackle wooden cabin I called The Witch’s House. It certainly doesn’t look that way now, as the old home was razed and this prefab place was erected.
Sad thing, as the wooden cabin was a magickal and mysterious place for me, I wish I could show it to you. I describe it in a scene in my upcoming memoir, Food Memories called “Sourgrass.” I describe the way the collections of multi-colored glass bottles lined the windows, how they glistened in the sun like jewels. I describe the many cats slinking through the overgrown and wild property, and how there never was really anyone there.
As mentioned in previous posts, I was a pretty fantasy/magic leaning child, and this place held such wonder. Especially since there was never anyone there. I seemed to have some sort of relationship with this place, gathering my friends at times to help fix and paint its crumbling picket fence, and trying to take care of the cats that seemed to somehow get mysteriously fed. One day, I actually went into the house, it was unlocked, and cats were on the counters, licking old bowls. Again, someone there, but not there. I was fascinated by it all.
Across from this lot was another lot where the neighborhood forest was. Again forgive me for the quality of these pictures, and for not being able to show you the amazingness of what it all used to look like.
If I were an artist I’d definitely render a long ago version for you! This is the entrance to the corner of the woods, and back then there were no sidewalks or condominiums. It is quite possible the pine tree in the foreground is a survivor from those times…and the grassy earth, well its the same grassy earth. As also described in detail in the “Sourgrass” chapter, I’d go rambling over this bump of land, down the hill and take a right onto a thin trail deeper into the trees. In this scene, I described running through this forest to see if my secret fort had been intruded on. Smells and tastes were so powerful back then, as was my first meeting with the sourgrass plant (Oxalis pes-caprae). I loved this plant so much as a child, equal to my love for the forest and the witch’s house. I also described how I used the wild onion (Allium Triquetrum) growing nearby to smear a protective layer around my fortress door. This was a plant I respected but didn’t love so much :}
Pairing these two things together, the forest and the Witch’s House, I see how I was exploring the witch both inside and outside of me, already drawn to plant teachers and the familiars of cave-like fortresses and wild untamed cats. There was no Netflix then, no internet, and kids like me just ran around these different places until it got dark, or as my mom said, “come home before you can’t see the color in the trees.” My mom, in her own way, was a witchy gal, despite her struggles with alcoholism, depression and Anorexia, and in these stories I’ve spent the last few years recalling, I see that more and more. Yet she was never as accessible or pure as the energy of nature, or the fantasies of my mind where unseen witches lived. These are the places and memories I’m so very glad to have experienced and learned from.
I do wish I would’ve had an actual Aughra to go hang out with though, rather than dreaming of the imaginary Mother witch from The Dark Crystal to be waiting for me behind the Witch’s House doors :}
Greetings! I was planning on writing the next segment of my photographic journey into the past, but this book came across my path and I found it more interesting than I expected.
Almost Anorexic, by Jennifer J. Thomas, PhD and Jenni Schaefer, jumped out at me on the library shelf the other day as I was looking for titles to assist me in a current state of struggle I am feeling. I love my body, I don’t want to torture it, but for some reason I am having a very difficult time increasing my intake to address recent labwork results of deficiency. This resistance is not unfamiliar, and the immense haze and feelings of trapped-ness aren’t new either. Yet, in turning to my doctors or other health practitioners for help in this “non-emergency” struggle, I find myself lacking in ways to describe what is going on with me. This book, although I dislike the labelling and diagnoses train, felt like it spoke to what I am experiencing, and what I imagine countless others experience when they are struggling, deeply, yet not meeting the requirements for particular diagnoses, especially to qualify for treatment.
The overall message of this book is to help people feel like their struggle IS worth treatment, it IS a problem, and it SHOULD be addressed by the healthcare system…while also delineating the reality that sub-clinical symptoms rarely are treated with any kind of respect or care, nor are there any systems for handling these kinds of things. I really liked this messaging, and its what held me through the recovery lingo and anti-ED talk that Jenni Schaefer is known for in her book Life Without Ed.
The first section of the book, “Getting to Know the Ed in Your Head,” didn’t really speak to me for this reason, I’m more of a proponent of seeing the struggles as age-old and ancestral rather than a bothersome voice I need to battle or ignore. It was enlightening to see the descriptors/assessments for “Almost Anorexia,” (which in their languaging almost seems as if it is a new diagnosis the writers are proposing), including the standard EAT-26, as well as questions about behaviors like frequent restriction, compensatory behaviors, body image challenges, frequent fluctuations in weight.
I’ve seen these tests and questions a million times, but for some reason, the way they were written (or perhaps due to my particular state of struggle) I was reminded of the small ways I am still stuck in the cage of restrictive but not “dangerous” eating patterns. I was reminded that there are little ways that I still am circling around old patterns, and how in talking to medical practitioners these little ways were kind of dismissed as not that big a deal.
Yet here I’ve felt kind of dead and bored and wondering…is this really all there is? Will I always have to follow a meal plan to avoid the intensity (sub-clinical intensity, mind you) of feelings that arise if I veer from it? To deal with this PTSD-like response that no practitioners I’ve seen know how to handle or categorize? Something in me knew there was a Big Deal happening, and these reminders of the “little” ways I still cling to rigid eating as a coping mechanism really helped me validate that I’m not just being a drama queen with what I’m experiencing right now.
The next section, “Kicking Ed to the Curb,” again rubbed me the wrong way with its battle-infused lingo, but the topics it raised–the allure, even if unconscious, of being too thin, of being a part of the cultural dieting mentality, of resisting working on symptoms because the hunger/fullness signals don’t feel trustworthy–were again good reminders of ways I have plateaued with my growth and transformations. I have long kind of poo-pooed the whole process of “intuitive eating” as I felt it was pretty much bullshit for people who have messed with their appetite for so long that it feels like it’s broken. The book actually addressed that, including the reality that restrictive eating causes delayed gastric emptying which often creates a revolving cycle of finding it difficult to eat more, even if one wants to, if they’ve fallen into restriction again. It also addressed the overwhelm one might face when asked to eat new foods after DECADES of being on highly structured meal plans to either decrease, maintain or gain weight. It addressed and reminded me of the fact that despite these difficulties, that food is still the medicine.
This again I have known but have grown quite frankly bitter about, when eating literally has caused me to feel pain or overwhelming panic whenever I would get the courage to expand my joyful eating. These reminders, as well as the last chapter about not settling for “almost recovered,” got me inspired again (although my skeptic will always be in full affect around any kind of recovery lingo).
There are helpful exercises throughout the book that speak to the wider swath of people who might be feeling restricted but don’t think they’re “worth” really working on, and I am grateful for this. While reading, I also found myself getting deeply connected to a still lingering part inside (a small child it seems) that does actually harbor some body-hate. I thought, and genuinely felt, that I really loved my body through and through, yet there is this little girl I’ve found who hates the struggle and difficulty and confusion that her body, the one she feels trapped in, gives her everyday. As the epilogue in my upcoming memoir Food Memories describes, I am getting more connected to and aiming to help this part inside. I’m connecting with her in hopes that our work may loosen the need to grip onto the rigid structures that have seemingly kept me from disassembling for so long.
Lastly, I want to also mention that I recently came across the 2019 Gurze/Salcore Eating Disorders Catalogue and was pleasantly surprised at its contents: Midlife Eating Disorders, eating disorders and pallative care, understanding PTSD and eating disorders, and how the autism spectrum traits complicate eating disorder diagnoses and treatment. Although I can’t seem to find a way to access the 2019 physical magazine I read, if you search for any of these topics on the website you can read the articles there. I’m heartened and inspired at the nature of these articles and the progressive nature that the research/treatment community seems to be headed in by the way the articles read.
While I was in town the other weekend, I had the urge to do some memory lane photography (mind you these are no dazzling, skilled photographs lol). In the next few blogs, I will be sharing these photos and how they relate to various scenes in my upcoming memoir, Food Memories.
This is 857 Taylor Street. Many of the scenes from the first section of Food Memories take place in this apartment. The first scene of the book describes my early morning enjoyment of ice cream whilst watching a favorite movie, The Beastmaster. I am alone in this scene, my mother is sleeping, sleeping off the drunkenness and rage from the night before. Yet I am a happy little kid, as I remember, not sure why I’m not affected by her outbursts yet. I’m way more affected by the magickal characters on the screen, wishing to be them. Perhaps my wishing was evidence of my desiring a different life.
The surrounding neighborhood of this apartment, of which I’ll describe in future scenes, was filled with great adventure, but most of what occurred inside this apartment was kind of a lonely, twisted drag. It is understandable on so many levels why food became at first my best friend, and then a tool to manipulate my way out of the toxicity of the environment. Only where I ended up as a result of said manipulation was not in my preferred fantasy world, with Dar and Kiri, with the black tiger and the high flying hawk. My desperate manipulations did end up taking me on a pretty intense adventure, however, and in a way, I crafted my own hero/ine’s journey, with my own inner spirit animals along the way. Perhaps I have this quirky 1982 movie to thank for that.
So. 857 Taylor Street. Nice to see ya, thanks for the reminders of a time long ago, and how far I have come.
This week I am at another one of my favorite cafés, BookWorks in beautiful Pacific Grove. I grew up here, many of my more joyful childhood memories took place in this little seaside town, and I find myself drawn back to swim in this nostalgia lately. I’m even considering moving back here, which the “get me the hell out of this boring place” teen-self would be horrified at :}
I brought with me a book I have finally gotten around to reviewing–I mentioned my desire to do so a few weeks back–Midlife Eating Disorders: Your Journey to Recovery, by Cynthia Bulik. I notice that I am hiding the cover from others’ view as I write this, evidencing the still lingering shame I have in others knowing I am associated with this subject. Interesting to note.
As I sip on my perfect mocha and look out onto the beautiful blue-sky day (Still figuring out how to improve photo quality to show that lol), I think of the things that have stood out to me, good and bad, about this book. I’m glad to say most of it is good, and I’ll start there.
Cynthia’s voice and perspective rings with incredible compassion for the many varieties of client experiences she’s dealt with, as well as the complexity of eating disorder labels, diagnosis, the decision to medicate, and unique challenges facing the person struggling with an eating disorder in middle age.
She broaches the subjects of males with eating disorders, palliative care and its controversial nature (“Is There A Role For Palliative Care In Anorexia Nervosa?”), finding compassionate care, how to deal with and talk to your children if they are struggling (“What Would You Say?”), how behaviors affect intimate relationships (“Partners Suffer”), as well as touching on many other midlife triggers to reengaging with or starting ED behaviors.
She provides helpful “Awareness and Action” shaded boxes at the conclusion of each chapter, which I also really like–an invitation to not only understand and take in information mentally but also to embody it in practice. She includes a small resource section at the end of the text for those who are looking for more assistance. Nothing earth-shatteringly unique about the resources, your typical ED anachronyms–NEDA, NIMH, AED, HAES, etc.
The parts of this book I honestly skimmed over and didn’t find interesting were the chapters on the possible connection between the “toxic food environment we live in” to the increase in midlife eating disorders, and her section on defining the eating disorders. I have a lot of information about the latter already and personally find categorization of this struggle not very helpful for those who don’t fit into the typical categories–but she does address the complexity and simplification problems of diagnoses.
I wish there was a larger focus on ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Feeding and Intake Disorders) appearing in midlife, as it seems that is more than ever what I am experiencing but have not a lot of resources to go to for assistance. She does focus on these issues but only briefly. I also wish there were more parallels drawn to the eating disorder journey being a possible journey of the Soul, a psyche journey to find wholeness, and that the resource section included some texts on this aspect of “recovery”–finding Soul and respect for the underworld journeys. As that is what my book, Food Memories, mainly focuses on, I suppose it’s a good thing it doesn’t mention these things, that my book has a niche to fill. Yet I yearn just as much for this topic to be more widely talked about rather than be seen as some niche expert. Perhaps I am part of that.
As I finish this blog I find myself a little less moved to cover up the title to this book. Am I more comfy to allow others to see that I am reading this book, associated with the topic? Perhaps it is the chocolate and caffeine coursing through my veins, sourcing me with more courage to be who I am? Perhaps it’s the slow and creeping changes occurring in my willingness to be more open to sharing about this struggle I’ve kept hidden for so long? Perhaps.
Regardless, the sunlight reflects off this publicly-displayed cover and it’s time for me to think about lunch. I think I’m getting hungry for some of my favorite BookWorks quiche–well, hungry for as much of it that I can eat before my mind starts fearing and the dreaded fullness sets in. Aye!
This is a picture out of the window of one of my favorite writing spots–Coffeetopia in Santa Cruz. In my Raven-engraved cup is one of their frothy perfect mochas, which I am sipping on as I hack away at crafting the perfect query letter. Unfortunately there is a telephone pole that stands in the middle of the parking lot that I somehow managed to back into today, a first in my many carefree and enjoyable visits to this cafe! Here’s another photo of the things I go through in order to get to my writing posts lol.
In other news, my editor finally responded to my plea for assistance in reviewing my book proposal. I am so ready to send it out and just get things moving that I almost decided to forego this step as she has been very busy over the holidays. And also to save money! It’s kind of amazing to me how much I have invested in this 160 page book thus far and a proposal review is another investment. Yet in the past ten years I haven’t had anything as strong as the directive to get this book out there. Ive really no other strong desires to put my money towards, and I’m grateful to have the money to spend on this.
Oh well there is the money I need to fix the @!**!@ bumper!
Regardless, a proposal review I will invest in. Hopefully not too long before it is complete and I’m sending it off to agents and publishers and have that step done. For now, send blessings to my dear Corolla and if you’re ever in Santa Cruz stop by Coffeetopia for a mocha and a most excellent writing nest.
When people hear that I’ve struggled with an eating disorder, and still do, the first assumption they make is that I hate my body, think I’m fat, horrible, etc. This really irritates me. What is actually true is that I am so in love with my body, for all the things it has put up with as I have slogged it through intensities, for all it has kept going on through. At times, I am overcome by grief at how much my dear body has been through, how its been with me despite the drastic things I’ve done to help ease my anxieties. At times, I sob uncontrollably for the cages and plans and rules and starvation and deprivation I have brought to my body. To think of it, as this loyal soldier, keeping me alive as I faced what seemed to it as famine, over and over again. I just weep sometimes with how amazing this vessel has been to me, and how cruel I’ve been to it.
Now this doesn’t mean I feel comfortable in my body, nor that I understand what it needs. These are certainly a few things I still struggle with, am confused by, and hope for someday reaching resolution with. I have wrestled with why it has been so difficult to do the simple things that most people do to stay alive, why this body doesn’t talk to me clearly, why it hurts when it shouldn’t. I’ve been bitter. I’ve been rageful. At God. At The Universe. At my body. This body.
Yet over the past decade there has been a sort of settling with that, a sort of acceptance of the possibility that this is my journey, my sacred wound to explore, and that this body and I are partners in figuring this stuff out, finding our way back to each other. Finding our way back to hearing each other through the decades, and possible eons, of ancestral disconnect from land, body, feeling, and primal instinct.
Which (finally!) brings me to this book. What an amazing gem. I recommend listening to it on audiobook, as Clarissa narrates it. In tuning in each day to the chapters, I felt as if I was in front of an ancient fire, Clarissa wrapped in layers of multicolored fabrics, swaying slowly before me, stories flowing from her as the firelight flickered and shadows danced over her face.
These stories, part of a greater series called The Dangerous Old Woman, recount her experiences growing up with powerful women who taught her how sacred and beautiful the body is, how sacred and beautiful being wild and “different” is. If I had any complaints about the book, it would be that Clarissa fails to mention how I might find these elders and sit at their feet :}
The audio book is comprised of six sessions, each about one hour long, and they explore titles like: The Scar Queen, The Great Silverbeards: Making Peace with the Body; Life Size story; The Body Bill of Rights; The Ice Queen: The Distorted Mirror ; I Tell Your Beautiful Body to You ; On Remarkable Life Emerging From the Midst of the Wound…and so many more. Her concept presents the body as our Sacred Consort, and to re-member it as such. It urges us to come out of the deep sleep of consumer society that tells us we need to be something different, something flatter, smoother, lighter, hairless. But most of all it urges us to drop into a timeless, ancient well of deep gratitude and amazement for these bodies that we inhabit, taking time to care for them as if they are a separate being, a life partner we’ve been gifted.
The end of each session is laced with a blessing for the body, and Clarissa’s voice reads like honey oozing into parts in need of nourishment. Her book does not purport to fix or solve anything. She tells us sacred stories and it brings magic, somehow. This is one of the things I love about storytelling and mythology in general. Her stories simply leave me with an echo of a deeper way of being I re-member. They help me re-member that I can place myself in these stories when feeling lost in the soulless banter of the everyday monotony.
This book did not suddenly make me want to “eat intuitively” or banish all thought of struggle in my relationship with my body, but it did soothe me. I know that what I struggle with is deeper and wider than anything a step-by-step method could address. Yet it soothed me, cradled me, like someone does when you need to just talk, not be fixed; when you need to be held, not directed. It made me remember this deep and profound gratitude I have for this Sacred Consort, and to realize how far I’ve come from the days of treating my body like a slave.
Have you listened to this book or any in the series? I’d love to know your experience, especially if you struggle with an eating disorder or body-hate. How did it help or not help to hear these stories? Did it help you re-member something deeper? Did it hold you when you just needed to be held?
Well. Still no word from the boss to whom I sent out my book for review. A few responses are trickling in from beta readers and providing me with interesting feedback. I have now also found myself enthralled by the idea of a new book to write, which I’ll share more about if it truly comes to form. So many things percolating in this authoring process! Yet in the midst of it all, and the bustling holiday season, I decided to hunker down and start the lovely process of editing. Writing the memoir, re-writing it, and writing proposals have been my action…and now it seems time for The Edit.
I dread editing, but I think most writers (who aren’t getting paid to do it, and probably some of them too) don’t like this stage of writing. “Killing your darlings” isn’t a term without reason. I want to fall into the flow and joy of writing this new book so much more than to slaughter words that have come through my hands onto the sacred page. I knew I needed help, and hired myself an editor.
Funny thing is, I hired this editor almost a year ago, and her line edit of my memoir Food Memories has been sitting in my inbox for months now. Not sure why I have waited so long to take a stab at it (aside from feeling completely overwhelmed by the file when I first received it), but here I am at the ready.
The first thing she informed me of was my tendency to put two spaces after a period. Um…yeah? Isn’t that how its done? I certainly learned this correctly in typing class? Herein lay the problem: I took a typewriting class!
“Nothing says over forty like two spaces after a period.” I began seeing this sentence everywhere as I searched for validation for my case, but apparently things had changed since I took that class so many eons ago. And apparently I am so middle-aged there are memes about my experience haha.
Most of my editing tends more to choice of words and commas vs. em dashes, but this one really stood out to me. I just realized I’m doing it here. Two spaces after a period.
So I’m over forty. So I’m editing. There. One space after the period. Its really challenging. Hope I can fortify myself to get through it all with this in my face!
This week, I felt incredibly moved to return to a process I completed over a decade ago-The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. What prompted this was a sudden and overwhelming boredom with the routines and rituals I have set up to keep me healthy. Healthy, but not fun!
When the aim is to stay nourished enough to not veer back into eatingdisorderland, usually eating by meal plans with prescribed amounts and times are part of the situation. (Unless you’re “fully recovered,” a state I don’t quite understand nor have experience is possible for the majority of strugglers.) These self-care prescriptions have become a comfort to me over the years, replacing the comfort I once had with restricting regimes. Knowing what to eat and when has been incredibly helpful to my health, as it is often typical for my appetite and ability to choose to shut down when I feel stressed out and overwhelmed. When I’m standing in the grocery aisles asking myself to choose a new meal option and all of the zillions of choices we have these days makes my brain turn to mush. When I’m freaking out about something and I literally feel like I want to throw up all day, for “no reason.” When eating a small amount unexpectedly causes all sorts of digestive distress, for hours, and now its “time” to eat again but my stomach is roiling. Instead of choosing restriction, which seems natural to most (“to give your stomach a rest”), all I had to do was follow The Plan to stay healthy.
So yeah, its been a lifesaver. But let me tell you that eating the same things at the same times over and over again becomes its own, albeit slightly larger, kind of cage. One I am very frustrated by yet scared to leave. Don’t think I haven’t tried, I get these break-free kind of urges often, and will eat out at a restaurant or cook a new recipe. Yet there often is an overwhelming fullness that comes with eating unmeasured, unfamiliar foods and this throws my whole schedule Plan off. I don’t know what to eat, or when to eat, when I am exploring off in these new lands, and it often sends me into choosing to restrict slightly to make the fullness and discomfort go away. Then I land myself in a situation where I am hungry at some unplanned time and instead of a normal person response to eat, I have this cascade of confusion that comes over me about what to eat, and if I do eat now, when to eat again. I hate this confusion, and the possibility of restricting and losing my health, so I go back to the cage, The Plan, which keeps me safe…but bored. You get the point of crazy making, eh?
So the image of The Artist’s Way came to me again, as a way to explore the emotions and critical voices and resistances to creatively cooking and trying new things, and although I think, “yeah but how will that help…I’ve tried to change and it doesn’t work!” I am curious why this process is calling to me again. I feel estranged from the creative, Kitchen Witchy part of myself who loves creating delicious potions and edible delights, and I don’t know how to get back in touch with her. I want to dress like her, cook like her, be her. I want to be joyous and creative in the kitchen, laughing like her…ah! This feels so far away. Maybe she is calling me. Maybe following this subtle curiosity will help me.
I know this veers from my usual posting content, but it is part of my daily life process, and its part of what I struggle with in my upcoming memoir, Food Memories, so I thought I would share these babblings that are stirring inside of me as I make transformations and rattle old cage walls. Thanks again for reading, I’ll keep you posted.
As I continue my search for comparative and complementary titles for my upcoming memoir Food Memories (see https://shadowartshealing.wordpress.com/2019/07/22/sacred-illness/), I have come across some interesting practitioners and authors who are shining a light on the “emerging epidemic” of eating disorders in mid-life. Margo Maine, PhD states in a recent article that “Although most cases still appear in adolescent girls and young women, an alarming shift has occurred—eating disorders are now on the rise among middle-age and older women. Between 1999 and 2009, inpatient admissions showed the greatest increase in this group, with women older than 45 accounting for a full 25 percent of those admitted in the U.S.”
While it is unclear whether these statistics are due to older individuals finally seeking treatment after years of struggling, or that the disorders are popping up “suddenly” due to mid-life crises, this is an interesting trend and one I am watching for information on. I certainly fall into this category, yep, I’ve reached the glorious older person stage (quite a miracle, actually). It is encouraging to see that there may be a new group of individuals sharing their experiences after possibly hiding what they’ve been going through due to shame of having a “young person’s disease.”
Two books that I’m particularly interested in reading are Midlife Eating Disorders: Your Journey to Recovery (Cynthia Bulik, PhD, 2013), and Pursuing Perfection: Eating Disorders, Body Myths and Women at Midlife and Beyond (Margo Maine, PhD, 2017). Both of these books are more guidebooks than memoir, but I feel they may be helpful and complementary books to those who may be attracted to my middle-aged eating disorder story.
From the Amazon page for Midlife Eating Disorders:
“In most people’s minds, “eating disorder” (ED) conjures images of a thin, white, upper-middle-class teenage girl. The ED landscape has changed. Countless men and women in midlife and beyond, from all ethnic backgrounds, also struggle with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, purging disorder, and binge eating disorder. Some people have suffered since youth; others relapsed in midlife, often after a stressor such as infidelity, divorce, death of a loved one, menopause, or unemployment. Still others experience eating disorder symptoms for the first time in midlife.
Primary care physicians, ob-gyns, and other practitioners may overlook these disorders in adults or, even worse, demean them for not having outgrown these adolescent problems. Treatments for adults must acknowledge and address the unique challenges faced by those middle-aged or older. Midlife Eating Disorders-a landmark book-guides adults in understanding “Why me?” and “Why now?” It shows a connection between the rise in midlife ED and certain industries that foster discontent with the natural aging process. It also gives readers renewed hope by explaining how to overcome symptoms and access resources and support. Renowned eating disorder specialist Cynthia M. Bulik, Ph.D., helps partners and family members develop compassion for those who suffer with ED-and helps health professionals appreciate the nuances associated with detecting and treating midlife eating disorders.”
From the Amazon page for Pursuing Perfection:
“In Pursuing Perfection, authors Margo Maine and Joe Kelly explore the emotional, social and cultural factors behind the ongoing epidemic of disordered eating and body image despair in adult women at midlife and beyond. Written from a biopsychosocial and feminist perspective, Pursuing Perfection describes the many issues women encounter as they navigate a rapidly changing culture that promotes unhealthy standards for beauty and appearance. This updated and expanded edition (originally published as The Body Myth: Adult Women and the Pressure to Be Perfect) is a unique guide for anyone seeking practical tools and strategies for adult women looking to establish health and body acceptance.”
Is this an interesting topic to you? Are you or someone you know struggling with these challenges and find yourself among this demographic? What are your biggest struggles in finding yourself in mid-life with an eating disorder? I’d like to know, and if so, stay posted as I will be likely giving a more in-depth review of these books once I get my hands on them.
The process of choosing comparative titles is kind of grueling. I mean, how to find a book, that’s done relatively well, but not that well so as not to set standards too high, that’s been published within a year, not self published, and that is similar to the book I’ve written, but not better…quite a challenge. Not only are there zillions of eating disorder memoirs, but also food memoirs, mental health memoirs, addiction memoirs. How to choose between all of them!
I know, Cadillac problems. Yet the issue currently facing me, stalling me , in my attempt to complete this proposal. So I decided to just pick something. I decided to go to the library and see what was there, hold it in my hand versus searching, ogling, losing my brain cells to the blue screen. That’s how I found the last book I reviewed, that’s how I found this one.
It doesn’t meet all of “the” criteria. I don’t care. What criteria it does meet is mine, reasons being several. First off, Shell discusses a somewhat controversial topic–anorexia, yes, but beyond that it discusses one woman’s choice to die, as in the right-to-die movement. It also meets another criteria, which is covering the story of a middle aged woman and her process after struggling with an eating disorder for most of her life. It discusses the complexity of dealing with marriage, employment, buying and selling houses, all of the mundane issues that come along with this stage of life and how the eating disorder affects this. It also met the criteria of a similar format to my book–it’s made up of a series of short blogs, quick page turners, as well as this woman’s poetry.
What it doesn’t include, and I wish it did, was more of a spine, a story arc. Although it states outright that this is the blog, Michelle’s thoughts, from the last year of her life, there isn’t really an arc here. At first I was intrigued, I wanted to know this person and why she is choosing what she’s choosing, but at some point her random thoughts kind of lost me. I was impressed by her thoughts on the healthcare system (she is an employee in the Natuonal Health System in Canada) and her attempts to fight for rights to treatment for those struggling with illnesses. Yet she oddly leaves herself out of this equation, discounting that she is worth it because she does not want to get better.
As mentioned, I really appreciated her courage to tell this story, to stand up in her right to decide to refuse treatment and all that brought up for her. In a way it made me feel less worried about the “controversial” nature I feel my book presents–while I am raising the question of the possibility of the sacredness of the journey of anorexia and depression, the underlying message I am sending is one of hope and self compassion for one’s struggles. Not of the right to die! Michelle’s message stands up and speaks itself, and although I don’t align with her story, it encourages me to stand up in mine. She speaks of the support and encouragement she received from sharing her shame and her story, this too gives me hope to counter the (real) fear that my story will be criticized and not helpful to anyone, only labeled as harmful or as cultural appropriation and rationalizations.
Overall, I would encourage people to at least introduce themselves to this book. It approaches as mentioned some pretty complex issues, and gives one a view into a different, middle-aged process around complications of an eating disorder. Just be prepared to feel a little lost in what reads like a string of blogs and poems slapped together to form a book. Hopefully that won’t be what someone says about my book!
Thanks for joining me on this journey. If you have any titles that come to mind that sound like the content of my upcoming memoir, Food Memories, I’d love to hear them!
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the thrill–and disappointment–I felt in receiving a response from an academic researcher I queried to review my book. As described before, I was so excited to see her response in my mailbox, yet when I opened it, she basically wished me good luck but did not offer to review my manuscript. Somewhat bummed, I wrote in the last post that this experience caused some self-doubt, but ultimately it weathered me to set out on my next goal–to write my former boss and well-known expert in the field of eating disorders to ask her if she’d take a look at my book.
This was a feat way more challenging, way more personal than the aforementioned researcher–this was a person I’d worked, laughed and cried with. Which should mean it would be easier for me to approach her, right? Fact is, when I left the position at her facility I was considered a “recovered eating disorder professional” and the journey I went on after leaving was one of what most would call “relapse.”
I have remained out of contact with this person for many years due to shame, not wanting her to know about my journey after leaving her, wishing only for my sparkling “recovered” ego to be left in her memory. Yet through the writing of this book, and some realizations I’ve had over the years, I realized there were nuggets of wisdom I had gathered from this post-recovery status, one that I am now “standing up in” in the telling of my story.
So its this story I wanted her to see, fully, warts and all, of what happened before I came to her, what I was thinking while working for her, and my journey after I left. The possibility of her seeing all of this information is at once terrifying and thrilling–her experience in the field could deem my story as an irresponsible and rationalized fairy tale of a serious situation–or it could spark a new awareness or allow for her already present awareness to be spoken alongside mine. Although I know her to be kind and considerate, her reflections could result in a shaming experience within me, a “what the hell are you thinking, putting this out into the world??” diatribe of thoughts charging through me. It could put my reputation in the recovery community at stake. Conversely, her reflections could instead result in a profound belief in myself, the story I have to tell, and her full support of it. In sending this letter to her, I know not which way this will go.
Hopefully I have clarified why this is a big challenge for me. How its one step closer to revealing my guts to the larger world to reveal this to her. And I did it. I typed up a heartfelt letter to her and sent it. I attached my full manuscript to the letter, and sent it. And I told myself to breathe.
Fifteen minutes later, FIFTEEN minutes later…she responded. With great love and connecting energy in her words, she responded. I felt the woman I had worked for for so long, and had hidden away from for so long, I felt her through her words. I felt her kindness, I felt her presence, I felt her love. Tears welled up, dripping down my face, at the swiftness and care of her response, and the words that she ended her letter with: “Of course I’ll read your book!”
Relieved, and also petrified, I let out a big breath. It is done. I cannot do anything about how she responds to the book, it is out there. Yet I feel somehow safe with my story, my wisdom, my truth in her hands. I know somehow that no matter what she says about it, I can learn, I am sturdy, and that I might just be surprised by it all.
Point is, I made this immense challenge for myself, faced this intense fear, and have set the course in motion. If anything comes of it, I am proud that I felt the courage enough to know my story and wisdom are worth sharing. Even if it isn’t “accepted” by the recovery world she represents. The point is, I don’t have to hide my story–my Self–anymore, and feel ready to weather the storm that may come as a result.
Thanks for reading and being on the journey with me.
If you didn’t know, when you’re writing a book proposal for querying agents and publishers, you need to craft what’s known as a Comparative Literature section, where you list and describe other books like yours in your field. I am pages deep into the proposal experience, and had some difficulty with choosing from the insane amounts of eating disorder memoirs, let alone food memoirs or memoirs with similar structure or themes.
Luckily I have found a few and this is the first of them I will recount, briefly, in case you are interested in this type of thing :}
going hungry: writers on desire, self-denial and overcoming anorexia, edited by kate taylor (2008), is a collection of essays written by professionals in the writing and publishing industry who have also had the experience of struggling with anorexia. I imagine, as the editor is a writer for Slate and The New Yorker, that these were people she met over the years and got to know during her time in the profession. I find it incredibly interesting that all of these authors both have this eating challenge and are professional writers.
The first essay is written by kate, the editor, and was the one that really pulled me into the book. In this, she recounted her desire to be in the hospital, be taken care of, how her illness functioned to serve this need–a story that I felt I carried alone in my experience with anorexia. So much of the external behavior of patients is one of rebellion and resistance, so I hid this desire to be hospitalized for a very long time, ashamed of it, or at least feeling very, very different from these peers I was supposed to have the same disorder as. Needless to say, her words and description of this was like beauty unfolded before my eyes, almost like a whisper calling me forward to also share my story.
She also recounted her experience with the extreme discomforts of feeling full, and the almost spiritual euphoria of being empty, and although it is not the first time I’ve seen writings on this from other journeyers, the way she described her perceptions felt like reading my own thoughts. Again, through reading I felt that suddenly I was not alone in what I thought was my own weird, shameful sub-section of anorexia or whatever it was that I had since it didn’t seem the same as others who were vocalizing their experience.
I wasn’t as pulled into the stories by the other writers in the collection–I felt as if kate taylor’s voice most matched my experience and therefore moved me deeply to read. Yet the topics each writer brought up were intriguing, revealing and honest. Most appreciated was the lack of “I’m all recovered and perfect now” stories–many were stories of how they had overcome the threatening extremes of their struggle, but still to this day were challenged by their relationship with food and their bodies.
I also appreciated that there were a few male voices in this book, as it is still so very rare to read the male experience of anorexia, despite our growing awareness that males are very much affected. In his essay, Hungry Men, John Nolan describes how although there may be some particular factors contributing to males and eating disorders, the central issue is similar no matter what gender–the “desire for control and a deep fear of what its loss would mean.” In his essay he describes this existential and mysterious undertow that takes over the lives of those with anorexia, and that urges them to take part in extremes most people would not dare to.
In Trisha Gura’s essay, The Voice, I appreciated her discussion about how those without normal motivations to eat–those with confused and sensitive appetite signals which many with anorexia struggle with–how we muster motivations to eat, especially in cultures rewarding thinness. This is such a great topic, how to “recover” in a world that is basically trying to lose weight and hate/change their bodies all of the time!
There are many things I could say about the other essays in this book, but overall I would say it is worth a read if you want to understand the complexities of dealing internally with anorexia. The layers and reasons and hidden struggles and day to day managing as one finds themselves in middle age in “kind-of” recovery, all of these are explored with different voices in this book. It is not a book to read if you want to hear heroic battle-and-win stories, nor is it gleamy and sun-shiney. It is real, and lets you peak into the lives of real people struggling with this strange and mysterious drive called anorexia. It is also a book that you might want to read if you have felt alone, and some shame around not being “recovered enough”–it may provide solace to you, as it did for me, that there are others out there thinking deeply, trying hard and yearning for life just as much as you.
One morning this week, I opened my emails to lo-and-behold find a response from one of the researchers I had contacted about my memoir and their research alignment with it. I was so very excited to see the name of the researcher sitting there in my inbox!
I waited to open it. In the email could be the path to my book finding a wider, professional audience, the momentum and direction I have been waiting for so long to receive. So yeah I waited.
…But not very long! At some point I clicked on the screen and unfolded the message before my eyes. As I read each sentence, the words began to form the sense of cold distance I had feared might come–her thanking me for my interest, considering my request to send more of her research articles my way, and then at the end of the email were the words, “best of luck with your memoir.”
Best of luck. Not, “how wonderful! I’d love to read it!”
Not, “We actually have been looking for more stories to include in our next research project, would you like to be involved?”
Nope. Just…”Best of luck.”
I reeled in my sense of disappointment after reading the email, and reasoned with myself that this was a professor at a major university, with hundreds of research projects and articles juggling in her hands. Of course she didn’t have time to read my memoir. For a moment, chiding thoughts of “how could you have even thought she would???” reverbated in my mindspace, but again, my practiced detachment from desire assisted me in stepping back from needing this person’s response. I was disappointed, but I had to believe that if she didn’t feel called to engage, there was a reason…or at least that it wouldn’t help me to be distraught over it. At least she responded so I knew it had been received.
This felt like the first lesson in “rejection” I have had yet around my memoir publishing process, and I knew it would come somehow. At least it was gentle, and I feel like it both made me face my doubts but also have some courage to try again. I really had hoped by some strange strike of luck that this connection would lead suddenly to a clear and direct path instead of the convoluted, layered one I now face. And face it I will.
My next challenge is to query my prior boss, a major leader in the recovery field, to ask her to consider reading my book, to offer me feedback about how it might be received by that world. This terrifies me, as she has no idea what happened to me, her “recovered” professional after I chose to leave her organization on my own path. I’m not exactly sure what I’m afraid of, certainly I am facing some major shame I have about what happened and not living up to her expectations. Yet that is the point of my book, to allow those who continue to struggle to have self-compassion no matter where their journey has taken them. Isn’t that the same energy I should have with myself in sharing my book with her?
Questions, questions. Hopeful not too many to prevent me from taking these next steps in revealing myself, my story to the world. Creating a website, advertising my book, letting my community know this story and standing strong despite the vulnerable light it puts me in..all of these, terrifying. Yet I know, in some way, my next step is to face the fears, all the fears that come forward in my attempts to birth this book into the world. I know I will be okay.
Even if all I read is, “Best of luck with your memoir” over and over again.
This week I perform a piece with other students in my Butoh class. We will arrive painted in white, collapsing into the earth, fomenting and then finally rising and stretching our limbs into verticality. It is a piece that while seemingly simple and without much technique moves me on profound levels.
It is not lost on me the significance of my involvement in this practice and performance as mirroring my choice to show up more fully in the world, through the writing and sharing of my memoir. The aching process of conjuring a persona, message and story is so very alien to my long-held state of ambiguity and evanescence. Yet something in me is asking for a spine, enclosed by layers of hard-earned flesh and pumping blood, to stand up and present something in the world. For years I have not done this in part due to my utter inability to describe what I “am” and what “it” is “about”…the words not yet speech-ripe for so many wandering, lost minutes, seconds and seemingly howling eons.
Now, as I am invited to perform this abstract yet deeply moving art, as I am encouraged to step onto the stage with not something pretty, or perfect, or even completely formed to share with others–in fact asking for something quite strange, ghostly and at times grotesque and hollow.
I feel I am being called into concurrently sharing this shimmering story, message, this mirage-like persona with the world. I am being asked to rise up, vertical, stretching out and into this form, my body, my story, and express it into reality. I know it is not perfect, complete. I know also that it is not all there is, this one way of expressing myself, nor would I want to limit myself or my understanding of reality in this one way. Yet it is a movement, a stamp in time, of part of my reality, and perhaps may ripple into other’s realities and offer a moving of emotion, a sense of meaning. It is for this that I do this work, this dance, this becoming, and I await what my performance may bring.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give Bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
~Derek Walcott, Collected Poems 1948-1984 (1986).
The Academics still haven’t responded. Yet my monthly writer’s circle respond every time, always nourishing me, inspiring me, urging me to continue. I am so thankful for my Sisters of the Holy Pen. This month, one of them handed me this poem, and told me that it reminded them of the essence of what my memoir is seeking to relay. This is not a new poem to me, it has been with me for a great while, first given to me by a healer on the path of realizing my journey as sacred. So I recognized it when I saw it, and felt seen, so very seen, that this deeper message was somehow being relayed through my writings.
This poem means so much to me, it does not seek to blame or battle demons, it simply denotes a moment in time where acceptance and realization occurs. Realization of the power of self-nourishment, of self-care, of self-love, in a world that brandishes such as “selfish” and thereby creating stressed out, hollow, needy creatures always seeking external soothing. Yet it also speaks, subtly, of the deep journey one goes through after losing a major love in one’s life, and how profound it is to come back to the table of Life after going through the darkness and despair of such a loss. I’m sure it means many things to many people, as art and poetry is meant to, but these are a few ways it speaks to me.
To receive this poem, at this time, as a reflection of my writing is such a momentous metaphor–in my struggle to vocalize and share my message with the outer world, in my difficulties of thinking whether I have a message at all–this comes. It is like grace, a winking reminder from the Hermit holding his lamp up in the distance, waiting for me.
There may be an echoing silence from my external world in my attempts to share my message, but I choose to see this delivery as proof that my internal world is here, with me, guiding me as I walk in the darkness. I am so very grateful to be at this table, looking into my own mirror, feasting on my life.
As mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been on a journey to contact academics in the field who are doing research on Anorexia and finding similar themes as I cover in my upcoming memoir: Food Memories.
So far I’ve heard nothing.
But that isn’t stopping me. Today I sent out two more emails to co-authors and am persisting with a hopeful heart. Yet what I am learning is that this process has less to do with whether they approve of me and more about the journey of finding my voice and a way to describe and validate my perspective–to myself. In crafting these emails and queries and proposal letters, I have found my ideas and sense-of-self becoming more solid, more real, and like the foundation which I might stand firmly on for the rest of my life.
And in the midst of waiting-not-waiting for said approval, I’ve found some helpful guides in writing proposals, and have been hacking away at that. Again I find this process incredibly interesting and facilitating a sort of self-building I wasn’t expecting. I had previously intended to write this memoir, to self-publish it and release it quietly into the interwebs, seeing what happened. I didn’t really want to appear strongly in the equation, to yodel egoically from the mountaintop about my woes. Blech. Yet in this process I am finding I have something to say, possibly words to help others with, and that others are agreeing with that, generally. But again, I’m finding what’s most important is sense of self-building and self-approval to be the unexpected boon.
Anorexia is partially a literal and metaphorical journey to erase oneself, and reflects much about how one is influenced by a culture which consciously and unconsciously encourages that behavior, whether by diet culture or the many ways we are told to minimize our soul’s greatness in the world. In my efforts of trying to explain my story to others I have found that I am rebelling against the very spell that started it all for me. I am showing up, I am speaking my truth, I am aiming to connect with others and share what helped me, confused me, how I made it and continue to make it through these complexities. I am not hiding. I am not silent.
What a terrifying journey! Yet ultimately it is the kind of edgy one I am propelled by–just terrifying enough to push me into new and supportive arenas found after facing fears. It is in this light I continue to send queries to editors, researchers, and from where I try to share about my memoir. To wake myself up, to help others rise from their own slumber, to find that we are not alone, and that we might just matter regardless of the crazy, fucked up journeys and thoughts we might have had.
So I’m letting go of needing to hear back from these people I’m contacting, although part of me of course hopes to have some sort of response. My point is that I’m not letting the lack of response keep me from showing up in the world, from continuing to trudge forward in my attempts to find places to share my story and from discovering to myself what my story really is. And I hope, if you can relate to anything I’m saying, that you will also not let other’s approval of you keep you from putting your Soul’s howl out into the world. I want to hear all of our howls echoing across the valleys, calling us home. Calling us home.
This weekend, I assisted in a powerful rites-of-passage wilderness workshop for young women in the mountains of Santa Cruz. To see these 10-13 year old girls learning primitive skills, tracking, fire-building as well as inner strengthening exercises like facing fear, darkness, challenges was more than inspiring.
One night, we took the girls into the dense forest and in pitch black, blindfolded them and let them try to find their way to a distant drum beat. Their knowledge of listening, feeling the earth beneath their feet, grounding and calming themselves, and facing their fears helped them make their way through this darkness relatively unscathed. Adults were of course surrounding it all and there in case someone was going towards danger, but for the most part their skills got them where they needed to go. At the end we all circled by the fire, faces glowing, and shared how the experience affected us, and my heart was moved by the depth that these young ones shared amongst us all. We sang songs of embracing light, embracing darkness, we spoke of finding the “true drumbeat” to listen for and follow in the dense forests we must walk through ahead in life.
I wonder what my life might have been were I exposed to something like this before my journey with the eating disorder and depression began…would my psyche have taken me there anyways? Would it grab some of these young women too, initiating them in the ways I was? Or would it have prevented the need for such intense initiation? I’m so curious how these girls will turn out as a result of being involved in such powerful rites-of-passage work.
Today, sitting at my desk I faced my fear, my own rite-of-passage. I was inspired by these girls, walking so bravely into the unknown night, trusting the drum, trusting the journey it would take them on. Today, I wrote a letter to the professors of the study I mentioned last week, asking if they might be interested in connecting and talking about ideas, possibly in reviewing my memoir. I wrote the letter pretty easily, but it was in pushing the send button where I faced my own darkness–putting myself, my ideas, my relatively “unknown” status as a writer out there in the wider field. Putting these things out there to possibly get rejected, ridiculed, shamed, all the fears that a writer or any creative has in putting out their heart to the world.
My finger trembled above the enter button as I steadied myself, like those young girls did in that forest. I breathed in, sent my roots down, and listened for the drum–the sound of my heart’s desire to share my story–and braced myself for the unknown that may come of this contact. I have had much practice in self-soothing, in courage, in trusting and daring, but for some reason I really felt the energy of those brave girls affecting me, urging me, to hit that button. So I did, and with a whoosh it has flown into the interwebs to do its magic. We’ll see what happens next.
I’m distracted. In attempting to formulate the proposal letters to publishers, I’ve been doing research on comparative literature and finding fascinating parallel visions in others’ writings. Most of this is being found in academic research papers, not necessarily memoirs, but they are inspiring nonetheless.
What’s inspiring me are these parallels–of the realizations I have come to in my own struggles with what’s known as an eating disorder and depression–being directly stated in these academic studies. Where I have felt like an outcast, as one who may be rationalizing my behaviors with mythological metaphors, or perhaps even crazy…I am finding through these words and studies a reflection of my own understandings birthed through my experience.
One of these studies is Listening in the Dark: why we need stories from those living with severe and enduring anorexia nervosa: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5116854/. As I read this study, it’s words jumped off the page at me. It seemed to literally be beckoning me to share my narrative with a wider audience, suggesting this as a cultural and sociological issue. As I go further and further into this memoir journey, I seem to be meeting support and mysterious synchronicities along the way, and this is one of them.
I’ve been spending my time drafting letters to the authors, not really knowing what it will lead to but somehow knowing I need to reach out to others receiving and contemplating these same visions I’m having, as if we’re both sourcing the same great and deep well. I’ve been spending my time being fascinated by the like minds I’m finding, and in generally not feeling alone with these crazy thoughts I’ve been having about my journey for all these years.
So I’ve been distracted. Yet perhaps it’s not a distraction, where the process of making connections, realizing shared views and practicing the vocalization of my perspective is all part of the journey. I’m curious of where this might lead me, especially if it might eventually lead me back to actually writing proposals to publishers like I “should” be, lol.
For now, I’m letting myself ride the twisting tributaries and seeing where they go. For now, I’m letting myself be fascinated by the reflections and mirrors of others’ words. For now, it’s just enough to know that maybe, after all these years, I am not alone.
One of the scenes from my upcoming memoir, Food Memories, is a recounting of my very first “morning after” a heavy metal concert. It was 1991, and with my first boyfriend and his rag-tag gang of partying friends, we had just experienced seeing Iron Maiden and Anthrax at the glorious Cow Palace in Oakland. To them, it was just another metal show and excuse to get wasted, but to me it was an introduction into a world that would change me forever. I had never seen anything like this full-on sensory spectacle, and didn’t quite know what I was feeling that following morning. In fact, it has taken me many years to understand the full power of what I felt that night, and the cascading awarenesses it unleashed in my life. I’m still grasping for words when it comes to why Heavy Metal brings up so much energy in me, but I will try to describe these things for you to the best of my ability.
Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter–Iron Maiden
You Shook Me All Night Long–AC/DC
I grew up as an only child in the house of a single mother, and one who swore off intimacy, sex and relationship with other humans after divorcing my father when I was a wee child. I didn’t know it, but I was basically raised in a substrate that lacked any kind of modelling for what sexuality or relationships were. I wasn’t told they were wrong, it just was something that wasn’t there. I think I must’ve somehow felt that there was something wrong or to be avoided if my own mother swore these things off completely. Something very wrong.
Regardless of what I thought at that time, being introduced to the world of heavy metal music gave me a window into understanding this strange and unusual activity that other humans seemed to ache for, to feel was necessary. Suddenly, along with my first sexual experience with my boyfriend at the time, I began to see how incredibly repressed of an environment I was being raised in, as well as the culture at large and its confused messages about sexuality. Albeit not the most balanced view of this experience, with its orgies and sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, heavy metal still gave me this sense that I was being invited into an incredibly vital yet forbidden experience, and that to go into these realms was not only okay, but despite its challenges could be…should be…worth pursuing. It also helped that my mother was completely suspicious of this boyfriend and the world he was introducing me to…to a teenager beginning to individuate, this is a golden reason to dive headfirst into such experiences.
Anger and Grief
Fade To Black–Metallica
Cemetery Gates & Walk–Pantera
Yet another scene from my book describes the aftermath of losing said boyfriend to death, the numbing haze felt, as well as uncontrollable waves of rage and grief that overcame me as a result of this loss. I was not new to expressions of anger, or grief–my mother wielded them nightly in her emotionally abusive drunkenness. Yet it was always a state that was apologized for, or more often, just not mentioned despite the intensity unleashed. I was kind of expected to just forget these things happened, and certainly was not encouraged to express these emotions around her.
I really dove deeply into the less playful forms of heavy metal after this experience of loss and again it opened up new awarenesses. Heavy metal really is such a vast genre, and there was a constant unveiling of more and more “heavy” matters in my relationship with it. Beyond the innocent songs speaking of partying and fast-living, I started finding and being attracted to sounds and vibrations of bands covering issues such as murder, death, hate, suicide, depression and the like. Without actually saying so much, the energy of the music resonated with my life and what I was dealing with, it gave voice to things I was thinking that not many of my peers could relate to. It opened up my eyes to seeing large masses of people screaming, moshing, raging, of hearing and witnessing famous bands chanting lyrics that allowed these energies to come forward with no shame. To me, especially as I grew older, the whole experience of mosh pits and being a part of thousands of people screaming felt like an extremely sacred ritual going down. I kept getting this feeling that these concerts were some sort of ritual created by something larger than life to allow people a channel of release when their lives and culture may have been preventing them from doing so. The bands and words and the ability to go to these concerts provided me a place to do a lot of release during those hard years, I’m not sure where I would be now if not for these ceremonial-like portals. In these places, expressing and feeling almost everything was okay.
Hospitals and Institutions
Welcome Home (Sanitarium)–Metallica
A huge part of my book focuses on my experiences with “disordered eating,” and the journeys this took me on, including a fabulous tour of locked psychiatric facilities, hospitals and group homes for the “delinquent.” At the time, and still to this day, I have walked with these experiences in a very secretive way…fearing judgment were anyone to know I’d experienced these things. Yet despite my lack of sharing verbally with others about these experiences, heavy metal was again a saving grace for me, helping me feel not so alone in these occurrences. In the words of many of my favorite bands’ songs, I found myself and my experience mirrored, they were actually talking about what I was feeling and going through! Not many people I met in the crowds could actually relate to being locked up in a psych ward, but these bands somehow could. It was weird being so passionate about the content of the music but not being able to actually find individuals in the scene who could do anything more than wax admiringly for the crazy experiences of their heroes. But I…I could listen to these bands sing, and sing along with them, and know that I actually did go through this completely crazy experience, and that at least I had them to relate to. Along with a mirroring, some of the bands portrayed these experiences with a sense of humor, helping me further to hold my journey with a sense of tricksterish lightness if I could. Insanity and its environs began to hold both frustration and a sort of lone dog mystique as I immersed myself in the sounds of these songs, often quoting existential themes and quotes. I didn’t exactly want the life I was living, in fact I felt pulled into it by some massive undertow I couldn’t control, but since I was there, this music helped me feel like somehow I was living a sort of novel dream. A “normal” high-school-college-and-get-married trajectory it was not.
Well there’s an interesting question…one I’ve been trying to answer my whole life. Who am I? Why am I here? Yet for the sake of this blog post, I won’t bore you with philosophy and existential blabber. That’s for later :}
As far as blogging goes, who I am and why I am here is a bit easier to answer. Why I am here is perhaps the easier of the two, and that’s to share about my writing/publishing process of my upcoming memoir, Food Memories. I wanted a place to practice sharing more about this experience, to practice sharing more in general about my story, as it has been something I’ve kept to myself for so many years. To share this memoir is a big step for me, to not only share with close friends and family about my struggles with an eating disorder and depression–but to share this with the public…gah! So I’m greasing my wheels here just to see what happens–to open myself up to be seen, supported and critiqued (if necessary, geesh people).
As far as who I am as a blogger, that would be relatively new, naïve and curious. I’m also pretty tech useless, so pardon the appearance of and arrangement of things around here. I aim to interact regularly with others through blogging weekly and commenting on other’s posts, if I can figure out the damn technology to do so (I’ve had challenges even getting the like button to work for me on your pages, aha!). I like dark humor, have a soft spot in my heart for all things fantasy and heavy metal, and find being in nature and dabbling in the occult necessary tools for survival.
So that’s a little about me, I look forward to reading you too :}
I feel my back against the bumpy futon mattress. It is 1:45am and the coqui frogs are chanting. I have become so used to them that they are now like a comforting nighttime hum. Yet tonight they seem to echo in the darkness. They do not comfort. They seem to echo in my darkness, my emptiness. I am so, so empty.
I roll over to my side, squeezing my eyes shut tighter as if it would help me, but still I feel it. The deep, dark gnawing.
I am not hungry, however, and this paradox has haunted me for the past year of wandering on these islands. I came here hungry, but this sensation has somehow left me. Only a metaphorical emptiness remains. Empty, always harrowing voidness, but not hunger. Is this vapid space what others deem as “hunger”?
I am so tired of feeling this way, I am so tired of life. Of death. Of this limbo experience I am in. I don’t have anything left to live for, I am struggling to just keep myself alive.
The sound of screaming humans rings through the night.
I feel it deeply, here in this paradise island retreat community. I listen as the coqui chants dance with the yelling humans, and surrender to not sleeping for yet another night.
I use my weak arms to prop me up to sitting. Everywhere aches–bones have started to reappear, and I arrange the various borrowed linens around me so it won’t hurt. I stretch out my arm and find the lamp. I switch it on.
Around me the room is skeletal also. The walls are unfinished: tall, slender studs lined up perfectly, holes in between them covet shadows and forgotten potential. Walls do not exist fully here, nor does an actual room. Sheets and hanging cloths hide me, only the island breeze flutters them.
Tonight the wind is still, and the hole is deep, very deep. I am crying. I don’t know what else to do, to help this poor, poor child inside want to live anymore.
I close my eyes and see her, in that hospital gown, on bedrest in the children’s hospital. I see her holding the glass of Ensure in her tiny hands. Her eyes are closed, too. I watch her mouth wrap around a straw and take in the sweet, rich liquid. The Ensure.
I have Ensure. I purchased it with the last of my money before having to resort to work/trade situations to survive. The six-pack sits on the unfinished, splintery shelves across the room from me.
I have not consumed Ensure since those hospital times so long ago. Since the days of “recovery” and being an “eating disorder professional” laughed at my longing for such things. And certainly not since being here on the islands–the six-packs are heavy, and my suitcase having been my home for the past year, I’ve needed to keep things light.
Yet for some reason, this time I had to buy them. I knew I was in trouble. Nothing digesting, everything causing pain and terror upon my attempts to eat. The first week at this new community was encouraging–I even ate ice cream with the others upon arrival. It felt safe, and there was hope. But then the fighting, the screaming, the battles of native people and white people and water rights and what my European skin color represented, began. I think I wanted to erase myself, or something in me did. Shame and guilt wanted to become an eraser, squeak squeaking over me and making the space clean, the space respected, the space peaceful, again. I think that’s why I was never hungry, and why it felt so dark inside.
I’m staring at the Ensure. I’m imagining the little girl. She’s safe and smiling and the nurse is laughing with her. It’s okay, there in that bed. There is hope.
There was hope. That girl thought her luck had fixed and rescued her from all of her problems. Started her on a new and shiny and fantastical path. If she could see into her future, I’m pretty sure she would’ve thrown that frothy liquid against the wall and run screaming out onto the manicured Stanford lawns. But she didn’t know. And the nourishment soothed her.
I don’t know. I don’t know what the fuck is to come and I am dying. I don’t have a nurse to force me to drink or eat or do art activities when I am taken over by the undertow of suicidal impulses. I am all I’ve got. I certainly can’t look to this “community” of screaming and fighting and culturally grief-anger-shame laden people. The man in the “room” next to me constantly drinks himself to sleep, I can feel the sadness ooze through the sheet-walls into my space.
I’m all I’ve got.
Do I want to live? Do I want to die? Where is my place, now that “recovery” and “shamanism” and “paradise” and “god” have all become but a shallow illusion? Where is my purpose? What do I want?
I want to feel good. All I want is to feel some sort of pleasure in this body again. For so long it has either felt this pain–or the numbness of my adaptive unconscious. I realize I have been waiting for someone–or something–to do this for me, to bring this comfort and ease to me. But no one has. Not a nurse, not a lover, not a friend. There have been aquaintances, but none who have truly seen inside this hell. I have been all alone with this on this sandy, balmy island.
It is only me. And I do want to live. But what to live for if in this hopeless, homeless, unsupported reality? What do I have control over in this empty existence, where my body rejects food and desire has vanished?
I feel the sheets and fake fur pillow against my skin. The warm, humid island air. The coqui frogs chanting. There are small things. And what if I could be that nurse, here with myself, with that child, helping her pretend that everything will be okay, helping her to nourish herself despite the big bad world that lay before her? Maybe I will be that nurse. That nurse to myself.
I hoist myself up, shaking with the largeness of this decision. I shuffle over to the Ensure. I pry a single can from its dolphin-strangling plastic yokes, and feel the coolness of the can. I let myself hold its weight, its reality. I let myself feel this choice. I shuffle back over to my temporary futon couch bed and sit, carefully. I reach down and under my bed and grab a book, lying it on my lap as my companion.
I pull the aluminum tab towards me and hear the pop release on the can. I bring it to my nose and take in the aroma–medicinal, parenteral. I close my eyes, and breathe, making my commitment, remembering her, in that bed. I tip the can slightly and let a few drops hit my tongue. The sweet cream blasts through the dead of night.
I move the can away. I breathe in again. I fumble open Steppenwolf. Its tattered coffee-stained pages are a comfort to me, glowing under the lamplight. I decide I will do this, for her, every night, even if there’s no reason to live.
Diving back into the story, and balancing Ensure to my lips, I begin to bring myself back to life.
~This is an excerpt from my soon to be released memoir, Food Memories. Follow me here or contact me to stay updated on its release!