One need not be a chamber to be haunted.. -Emily Dickinson
I am in a small and selfish place right now. It is quite familiar to me. That’s what eating disorders are like. They make you think only of yourself and your own problems. For anyone who might have a more generous view of this illness, I’ll rephrase: eating disorders make me think only of myself and my little concerns. They are seductive ghosts.
I will be 42 this year. My life of starving, eating and purging began when I was 12 and lasted until I was 31. I have few relationships that have lasted this long. But my obsession with body image is similar to a bad and broken relationship–I am scared, if not unable, to live without it. When it is quiet, my mind is my own; this reprieve has stretched for marvelous lengths of time. When it is screaming in my ear, very little in my life is calm or lovely. Like its equally menacing sister, depression, an eating disorder visits and turns grateful clarity to resentment before its bags are inside your door.
However brutal this beast has been, I am writing now not about my history or even my recovery (that is a good story, for another time). I am writing just from this moment: my babies asleep (two in their beds, one on the living room floor), the rain hitting the windows, the steady sound of cars on the highway, my mind racing toward the same wall.
Gaining weight during my pregnancies was hard for me–actually it was easy for me as I put on at least 50 pounds each time! But I had a hard time living in a bigger body. (No one told that EVERYTHING gets bigger with pregnancy.) I never felt comfortable and again, shocked when I couldn’t wear my normal-sized clothes coming home from the hospital.
At my twins’ one-year birthday, however, I was back to my normal weight, and for the past almost three years, I’ve done little to manage that. I exercise or I don’t, I eat mostly whatever I want, I drink what I want (wine, please!) and I have had the peace and gentleness to think about body image only from an objective, “oh, yeah, I remember you…” sort of place–as if I’d gotten out of that relationship and could finally recall it with some ease. My body was my friend again. And it was a gift like silence after a storm.
This winter I have gained a few pounds. (Wow, that looks silly in writing. More ridiculous than I imagined, much worse than it sounds in my head.) It means nothing, amounts to nothing, is nothing. And it is all I can think of lately. I wake up to the kids’ screaming, running, grabbing, crying and my first thought is “I wonder what I weigh…”
I am writing about it now because I need to expose myself (no, not that kind of expose myself! Totally different problem). I need to expose my self-centeredness and the illness that creeps in every once in a while. I would rather not say anything here; perhaps keep bitching to my husband, sending him text messages during work that read, “I feel fat. I want to crawl out of skin”; and hope these ugly thoughts and feelings will go back to where they came from–the trouble is they come from my head. It is a challenge upon a challenge to be a mama to three children, a good wife and a generous friend when every other thought is about my size. And it’s not acceptable to me or for me. Because writing is
often always my salvation, I am trusting this, along with divine grace, to pull–or yank–me from this fuzzy, wrongly focused place.
I had forgotten this fight. I had thought we’d said good-bye for good and I had forgotten how it feels to battle a monster. Perhaps it is here to remind me to fight for myself, to fight for a dignified, effective, outward-looking life. It certainly comes at this moment to show me that there is lasting meaning in the very struggle.