Christmas Was

Featured Image: “Deep inside the ornaments…” © Windell Oskay, Dec 2006. CC BY 2.0.

A good friend stopped in on Tuesday night, and it was a comfort to my mind, my heart, and my physical being to see her after my week away. In broad strokes and fine lines, she painted the picture of her holiday visit from her co-dependent parents. As the vivid colors swirled together, I could begin to make out the shape of the upheaval their stay caused in her life. We laughed, we cringed, and I let slip one or two profanities. Then, it was my turn.

“Where do I even begin?” I wondered aloud. I sat on the champagne colored carpet of my living room floor, my back against the armrest of the sofa, tracing a directionless loop between its piles with my finger. How could I start to describe the events that transpired between the twentieth and twenty-seventh of December? I tried to write about it so many times, but the words would not unite. Fragments of adjectives, nouns, and verbs crashed into each other in my mind. I couldn’t put a single sentence on the page. This blog fell silent, and the empty echoes of my lost voice rattled me just as much as the deluge that seemed to pummel me from without. When I finally managed to form a description of how I was feeling, I composed the following on Christmas day:

I was flooded with thoughts and emotions tumbling together like a mass of tennis shoes in an industrial-sized drier. Hot pressure mounted as laces knotted and snarled. I couldn’t tease one reaction apart from another, couldn’t make sense of the logic from the feeling, and my brain screamed, “Turn it off!

Can't handle the pressure
Can’t… handle… the… pressure…” © nils.rohwer, Jan 2013. CC BY-NC 2.0.

The story was so twisted that I couldn’t find the ends to untangle it. Yet, I began. Soon, a string of events tumbled forth in no particular order, building off of each other with haphazard fluidity. Each time I thought the surge was cresting, another wave broke, while my friend listened with energetic attention and patient compassion. Finally, when I was done, she offered, “You were in survival mode. That’s all it was, just surviving.” That was why I couldn’t write. That was why I didn’t do better. Frustrating as it was.

Frustrating as it still remains with each recollection and retelling.

It shouldn’t have been so hard. I should have acted differently. I was aware of the instances when I was reacting. I could distinguish when I was using blame, judgment, and shame as defensive and offensive weapons, both against myself and others. At those moments, I held my reasonable mind against my emotional mind and chose the latter. I should have used the skills I learned. I should have made different choices.

Isn’t that the catch? Should may be one of the trickiest words in the English language. If is a close runner-up.

What exactly happened? The details of the actual events are not terribly important now. Rest assured, it was not about the food.

Could it be that the sounder I become in mind and spirit, the more plainly I observe the disorder around me? As I learn healthy coping skills for the first time in my life, return visits to the place of my dysfunctional origin is interesting when that environment remains mostly unchanged.

It shouldn’t have been so hard, but it was. “Grist for the mill,” my therapist called it. I called it fertilizer.

Maybe some learning and growth will come from it. For once, I am grateful for the 750 miles that separate me from the place I call home. Vanillasville seems pretty nice right now.

Today, I’m not going to blame, judge, or shame myself or others. I already did enough of that to last a lifetime. No. It is what it is, and it was what it was, and what will be what will be.

Instead, I choose to remember the joy of Christmas Eve with an amazing friend and her family, watching my delighted goddaughter unwrap her presents. I will cherish her pure excitement at the discovery of her new fire truck with its flashing lights and screeching siren. I will focus on the serenity of a Christmas Day bike ride, when temperatures peaked in the mid-60s and the air felt fresh and exhilarating upon my skin, and I will recollect the peaceful flow of early morning yoga. Finally, I will remember the wholehearted conversation with my mother on Christmas night that allowed us both to move an inch closer.

It’s a relief that it is over. It wasn’t pretty. I was hurt, and I hurt others. And I should’ve done better. I am telling myself that recognizing the gulf between who I am and who I want to be is the first step in bridging it.

Today I am choosing acceptance.

Christmas sno-globe
Christmas sno-globe” © McBeth, Nov 2004. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Spinning

Featured Image: “Pinwheel Galaxy (NASA, Chandra, Hubble, Spitzer, 05/24/12),” © NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, May 2012. CC BY-NC 2.0.

In the back of my throat, I can taste the faint but distinct tinge of iron. Marsha peers over her narrow horn-rims and scans the room from left to right. I marvel at her ability to keep the plastic frames from sliding right off the tip of her sweaty nose. Her face is flushed and ruddy, and she is grinning enthusiastically. Demonically. I struggle not to choke on thick mucus and indiscreetly wipe my own nose on my sleeve. My goblet cells are doing their part to protect my fragile mucosa against the hostile, dry air.

As I close my eyes, I focus on the bouncing of the heavy shock of hair against my damp forehead. It marks time like a metronome, synchronized to each turn of my feet. Marsha bellows at us, “Take the bounce out!” and I am suddenly back in high school marching band. Mr. Hernandez is hollering into his megaphone, “Roll-step! Roll-step!” I imagine my upper half floating like a cloud above the line of my waist, my hips and legs moving entirely independently of my trunk. My body is eerily disconnected and yet fluidly whole. My eyes are still closed, and I feel the rickety fan shifting the air irregularly across the room. I look at the clock. I can’t believe there are still another twenty minutes remaining.

It’s my second spin class. Outside of yoga, spinning denotes my first foray into organized, structured exercise since well before I went away to Walden. By the time I began partial hospitalization last Thanksgiving, I was already so sick and hurt that my last participation in sports was a distant memory. July 20th, 2013. That was the date of my final race, a 10K. The trophy for placing third in my age group sits on one of my bookshelves to commemorate the event. What was the price? I can’t say that it was worth it. At the same time, it was a treasured experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. However, I’m not going down that road again. This is different. I’m different.

Eyes gently closed once more, I visualize every strand of muscle cooperating in unison, linked by my vascular and nervous systems. Warm blood pumps from my heart, courses through my arteries into capillary networks, bathing my myocytes. Together, they shorten, squeezing the blood back through my veins, toward my right atrium, and the cycle repeats. My chest expands and collapses with each breath that rattles past my raspy pharynx. My body was made for this movement. Purposeful. I contemplate the word. There is mounting strain as L4, L5, and S1 arch backwards, carrying a bit too much load. I tell my abs to contract, and they oblige, pulling me erect. My shoulders slope down, away from my ears, relaxed. My fingertips rest gently on the handlebars. “Head up!” Marsha calls.

“Some of you could be working haaaaarder!” Marsha roars. She isn’t talking to me, I tell myself. My body knows what it needs. “Don’t cheat yourselves! Give me a turn and a half! A full turn!” she yells. I understand that her role is to motivate and to push the class, but that isn’t why I’m here. Once upon a time, yes, but not tonight. I give the resistance knob a nudge so that I am just driving hard enough to feel a moderate heat in my quads. There’s the suggestion of an ache in my left knee. I’m more sensitive to the plantar fascia on my right foot compared to the left. I take a moment to notice the absence of tenderness in the area of my peroneal tendinitis. I recite to myself the words that my therapist and I settled upon during our many conversations about my anxieties surrounding re-injury and my hyper-acute response to painful stimuli, “I am OK. It is not in my head, but just because I feel something does not mean that I am hurt. I am being moderate and attentive. I am not going to do anything to myself during these forty-five minutes that I won’t recover from. Here is where I build my strength and prove to myself that I am OK.”

After the class, Marsha asks me if I’m a cyclist. I ask her if riding my bike over the summer counts. She asks me if I would contemplate becoming an instructor. I have great form, and they’re looking for people, she tells me. My immediate thought is, Whoa, let’s slow this party wagon down. I want to blurt out, “I have an eating disorder!” Instead, I thank her for her compliment and explain my long recuperation from injuries and need for gradual rehabilitation. I stop myself there, but it’s so much more complicated. I am afraid of exercise. It’s a threat. It’s something that might derail my recovery.

When I return to the car, I am still so hot that I am forced to roll the windows down to keep from fogging the glass, even though it is mid-December. The cool air refreshes my radiating face as I pull away from the parking lot. It feels like hope.

Crazy Dizzy Spin
Crazy Dizzy Spin,” © Carly Webber, July 2014. CC BY-NC 2.0.

 

The Childhood Food Christmas Challenge

Featured Image: “Locked,” © Dakotilla, Dec 2007. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

It is one o’clock in the afternoon on Monday, the fourteenth of December. I am hunched over in a chair in Kelly’s snug, windowless office. The conversation thus far doesn’t have me in the highest of spirits. We are turning over some pretty heavy stuff. Childhood stuff. Old trauma that goes way far back, beyond my memory. Even though Kelly is my nutritionist, this conversation has nothing to do with food.

In five days, I’ll be home again for a nice, long Christmas visit. “While you’re back east, why don’t you go out and try to find something that you can’t eat when you’re here (in the Midwest)?” Kelly suggests. “Find one food from your childhood that you really enjoy that you just can’t find here, maybe something that your mom makes.” It is her way of trying to knit some positive connection to my very distant past. I sit blankly, staring at the bookshelf behind her. Nothing is coming to mind. Suddenly, my face twists into a horrific contortion. Into my head pops an image of thick slices of gooey, French toast dripping with butter and maple syrup. It was my favorite breakfast on the rare day off from elementary school, but it was probably twenty years ago that I last savored its indulgent richness. The writhing of my facial muscles can’t be disguised. Kelly practically claps her hands in anticipation. “You just thought of something, didn’t you?”

“French toast,” I admit, grimacing fiercely. The next thought is of the inevitable sugar rush and crash followed by the heavy feeling of lead in my stomach persisting well into the afternoon. The reason I stopped eating French toast for breakfast was because I decided the after-effects were not worth a few moments of sweet pleasure.

“Ok, well, maybe not French toast…” she allows. A flash of my brother’s chocolate chip pancakes smeared with peanut butter and drowning in syrup as only he makes them quickly chases the French toast from my imagination. My stomach clamps down, my jaw clenches, and I feel a gag forming in the back of my throat. I’m beginning to hyperventilate. I can’t do this.

It turns out, I discovered, after going into the greater world and experiencing a variety of foods prepared by many different people, that my mother is actually not terribly skilled in the kitchen. (I still love you, Mom). She makes, by far, the best apple and pumpkin pies on the eastern seaboard. (I am not biased at all). She is a master at pretty much all of the meats and fishes. Just thinking about her marinated flank steak makes my mouth water. However, growing up, I was raised on a steady diet of hot dogs, grilled cheese, canned soup, a rather unpalatable stew prepared in a noisy pressure cooker, salad that consisted mostly of wilted ice burg lettuce, peanut butter sandwiches, and grayish-appearing canned vegetables. Just thinking about her “American chop suey” makes me gag. Have you ever heard of a bologna roll up? Probably not, because it was a concoction of my mother’s and was a staple of weekend lunches in our household, along with cheese and crackers. An entire meal of nothing but cheese and crackers. Yes, we were a nutritious bunch.

The mixed messages about food in my house abounded. “You’re looking kind of fat.” “You’ll ruin your dinner.” “Don’t you care what you look like?” “You’re going to wind up just like [comparison made to an obese relation].” “Well, what else did you eat today?” At the same time, dessert was a given after every meal. There were always at least two gallons of ice cream in the freezer, whipped cream in the fridge, a bag of chocolate chips in the lazy Susan, and bags of Reese’s peanut butter cups and York peppermint patties in the basement pantry. Usually, there were also cookies and potato chips to be found. Food was used as a reward, a punishment, and a comfort. There were too many disordered behaviors surrounding food to even begin listing them all.

It’s for all of these myriad reasons that Kelly’s challenge to revisit a food that I enjoyed from childhood is especially… threatening is not a strong enough word.

Attempting to bring to mind an array of dishes from my past that I might want to sample again is so unsettling that I find myself pushing and pulling my thoughts at the same time. As I draw forth an image of a food, I hastily reject it and recoil mentally, emotionally, and physically. “I’m enjoying social activities with food. I go out to eat with friends, and I attend parties. I am gradually trying ‘new’ foods. I don’t really need this challenge. Kelly was wrong,” I am telling myself. As I recollect all the very unhealthy meals that I consumed growing up, I realize that I am afraid of what will happen if I even allow myself to continue this brainstorming exercise. “I like the way that I eat now,” I affirm. “I don’t need to go back there.”

The issue remains unresolved. I am not entirely closed to the idea, but I am definitely not welcoming it with an open mind and attitude. Challenge not necessarily accepted.

Caged
Caged,” © delovely2539, Nov 2008. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Europa

Featured Image: “Let’s Go! – Passport,” © Lucas, Nov 2009. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

In the top left drawer of the desk in my study, there is a freshly-minted passport, dated just last week. It replaces the well-traveled leaflets that I carried with me since college, which expired in December 2014. The heavy paper feels substantive between my fingers, the embedded holograms and the partially-saturated, layered images that are among the security features glean in the light as I tip the page one way, then the other. I study my two inch by two inch picture. My hair is cropped into a pixie cut, rather than worn in long, thick locks. My cheeks are thinner, my face is a bit coarser, and my eyes are just a tad deeper. I’m not smiling this time around, and Steve says that I look like some sort of Russian assassin in my dark sweater, but I think that I look beautiful. It is a face that tells a story.

The passport renewal application sat on my desk, entirely completed, for more than a year before I finally dropped it into a priority mailing envelope and USPS whisked it away to the State Department. There was no hurry. There was no penalty for an expired passport, and so I waited. Passports were for travelers. One of the queries on the application was to list the country to be visited and the dates of the intended trip. There were no intended trips in my future. Traveling was something that I enjoyed. Past tense.

Yet… I still keep Euros in my wallet. Just in case.

On the wall in my office at work is a “scratch map” that one of my best friends gave me for my birthday many years ago. It’s basically like a giant lottery ticket, except it’s a map of the world. It’s a white, plasticky poster with that gold embellishment stuff covering up all the countries, and the idea is that whenever I visit someplace new, I scratch off the gold to reveal the color of the country beneath. When Michael, the head of my division, walks into my office, he loves to wander over to the map, and invariably, his first observation is that there are no new colors peeping out from beneath the gold.

“So when is your next trip? Where are you going?” he asked me a few months after I returned from partial hospitalization at Walden. I deflected his question with rationalizations and justifications about spending most of my vacation time and travel money going back and forth to New England to see my friends and family. Plus, I was focusing on my recovery. That was my first priority. He feigned understanding, but he asked the same question again the next time I saw him. “If you could pick a place to go next, where would it be?” Paris, I was able to answer without a moment’s hesitation.

Our conversations about traveling occurred before the horrific, unconscionable terrorist attacks, but I didn’t change my mind following that unimaginable violence. I always wanted to see Paris. I mentioned the expired passport to my therapist, and she offered me the space to reflect on my un-mailed application. There would be many challenges to overcome if I wanted to venture abroad again. There would be many, many demons to face. My history of travel is, like most of my history, long and complicated. Yet, even as I described the mix of restrictive behaviors and mindful eating that I engaged in during one tour of England, German, France, and Switzerland that stands out to me as an amazing trip, I could feel joy rising inside of me. She stopped me. “You know that you’re lighting up as you talk about this, right?” I knew.

Untitled - globe
Untitled,” © Scott Davies, Oct 2004. CC BY-NC 2.0.
In a previous post, I mentioned that I felt triggered when a co-worker who is currently in Germany shipped a jumbo postal box of confections back to our branch. These chocolates and hazelnut bars were not just candies. While I might walk past a box of donuts and a bowl of peanut M&M’s five times a day without hesitation, suddenly all the muscles in my body coiled. My breath shortened and moved high into my chest, and my heart quickened. Memories of weeks spent in Germany, traipsing all across the country, unfolded like paper cranes. Delightful, joyful memories of kaffee und kuchen. Brilliant, sparkling memories of my American-German friend, Helene, and our sun-splashed adventures. Transcendent memories of castles, cobblestones, and tiny villages tucked into valleys between towering mountains. Thrilling memories of bustling, humming cities, buzzing with half-understood chatter in thick accents. Comforting memories of hot pumpkin soup, fresh local vegetables, and colorful Marktplätze. Unwanted memories of the jet-lagged tour of the Ritter Sport factory when I was very, very ill. Cringe-inducing memories of self-imposed starvation and dizzy spells after walking miles on nothing but eine tasse kaffee and a handful of studentenfutter. Unbidden memories of loneliness, anxiety, and poorly concealed binges. Shameful memories of selfish outbursts and utter, depressive meltdowns. Pleasant memories of sun-splashed, carefree flexibility. Loathsome memories of self-pitying tears. I allowed the memories to come, the welcomed and the ones I would rather forget. Around 3pm, I finally tried a piece of the chocolate with my afternoon cup of steaming, hot, black coffee. Each sliver of bitter darkness melted away on my tongue, mingling superlatively with the sharp liquid. I thought I didn’t like solid chocolate. I didn’t know if I could be more confused.

Sitting on the middle-most bookshelf in my study is the 2015 edition of Rick Steves’ Paris. Michael provided the push that I needed to shell out the $16 at Barnes and Noble. “Even if I don’t intend to make the trip soon, I can still start thinking about it,” I decided. That was the first step. Renewing the passport was the second. With that embossed, blue booklet in my drawer, the most concrete obstacle is no longer existent. The only barrier preventing me from moving from here to there is me. And as I’m starting to realize that it’s not about the food, the eating, the weight… the time-zone changes screwing up my circadian rhythm and meal planning… that barrier appears more and more like a smoky screen… one that I am slowly waving my hand through as I attempt to clear the air.

The emerging realization terrifies me.

Because if I cross over into this intuitive, mindful, present, wholehearted life… what will happen? Can I permit myself to enjoy the chocolate? Is it really possible? To live this life that I am imagining in which I traipse across Europe, through local marketplaces, sampling the fresh produce, relishing the pumpkin soup, and savoring a treat of kaffee und kuchen? Des pâtisseries? High tea with scones and clotted cream? Baguettes? Schnitzel? Tapas? Why do I have this feeling that the only way to know is to take that leap, to let it all go? All my rules, all my control.

It terrifies me! It electrifies me!

Apfelstrudel, Cafe Landtmann
Apfelstrudel, Cafe Landtmann, AO Aoyama,” © Yuichi Sakuraba, Jul 2009. CC BY-NC 2.0.

Not the Food

Feature Image: “Polar Vortex,” © Rick Schwartz, Jan 2014. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Something is different. Something is off. I can feel it in my sinews and sense it in my thoughts. Rigidity. Inflexibility. Fear. Uncertainty. Conflict. Confusion. Control. My muscles are tenser. The hollow that caves out beneath my sternum when I’m anxious is sharper. Even my sleep, usually blissful and serene, is nervous and fragmented. Tight. Forced. Edgy.

On Thursday, I realize that there is not enough plain, Greek, 2% fat yogurt left in the refrigerator to make up a full protein exchange. The cottage cheese is nearly gone, too. My thoughts begin to loop around themselves. “What will I eat? Not enough yogurt. What will I eat? No cottage cheese. There is nothing to eat. I have nothing to eat. What am I going to eat? I want yogurt. I could eat chicken or fish. I want yogurt. What will I eat? No yogurt. What am I going to do?” Four nights in a row, and I am eating the same thing for dinner every evening. The idea of something different scares me. I won’t be full. I’ll be vulnerable to a binge. (It doesn’t matter that in all the innumerable times this fear occurred to me over the course of the last year, accompanied at various times by various levels of anxiety, not once did it ever become a reality.) Somehow, I summon the flexibility to cobble together something different for my Thursday dinner. Just for this one night. Tomorrow, I will go to the grocery store. Tomorrow, there will be yogurt, and I will be OK.

On Monday, a box of chocolates arrives at work from Inga, who is in Germany at the moment. By box, I mean, a shipping box. Full of German chocolate. Ritter Sport and Kinder. (Ok, technically, Kinder is an Italian company.) It’s 9am and my colleagues are already stuffing themselves full of Happy Hippos, but I know that eating pure sugar this early in the morning will result in anything but happiness for me. I remind myself, “What is right for someone else is not necessarily right for me,” as I try not to judge them and try to not let their actions influence my own decisions or my emotions. My thoughts feel balanced and not triggered, but my body is telling me something else. That ball of rubber bands in my chest is wound tight, and my breathing is short. I am noticing this reaction is different than my non-reaction to the bowl of Kit-Kats that Brad keeps on his desk. I barely pay those unappealing, highly processed, waxy-tasting, artificially flavored concoctions a half-second’s glance. My eye flits over them and then forget them as soon as it turns to another object in the room. “I hate that the Ritter Sport and Kinder chocolate is different. I can’t change that this is different.” Acceptance is such a rotter.

Vortex
Vortex bw,” © Tony Higsett, Aug 2007. CC BY 2.0.

Throughout these days and weeks, my thoughts chug along the familiar railroad tracks of, “I’m eating too much. I’m eating too many calorie-dense foods. This time I will gain weight. This time I am eating more than I did before, and I will definitely be heavier when Kelly weighs me again. Why am I doing this? I don’t need a mug of hot chocolate in the evening after dinner every night. Why do I need the television to unwind at the end of the day? What is wrong with me?” It isn’t fun, but it isn’t intolerable. As my therapist observes, it’s remarkable that I’m not “white-knuckling it” through these periods as I did last winter. I do not need to consciously repeat to myself over and over and over, “Thinking about binging does not mean that I need to act on my thoughts. I don’t need to be afraid of food. I do not need to reject my thoughts. I can tolerate my thoughts. My thoughts can’t hurt me. Just because the food is there, does not mean that I will eat it.” I am not breaking into stress hives. No panic attacks so far. It’s irritating and annoying, it’s confusing and it grates on my mind and spirit, but I know that it won’t last. And I probably won’t even gain any weight. And if I do, it will all balance out.

As I sit at my desk on Friday afternoon, grimacing with the intrusion of perseverations, I tell myself, “If Kelly was here, she would ask me, ‘What is going on with you right now, because this is NOT ABOUT THE FOOD.’”

The funny and confusing thing is that I don’t feel anxious or distressed about anything in particular. “There’s nothing going on!” I am tempted to protest. Consciously, that is true. But… under the surface… I take out a piece of paper and in ten minutes make a list of twelve inciting factors. Why does one workplace need to throw FOUR different parties within the span of two weeks?! The Christmas shopping isn’t finished, the Christmas cards are mostly unwritten, and I am flying home again on the 19th. I’m considering undertaking a new volunteer activity. My imagination is beginning to stir with ideas of foreign travel for the first time in years, which is both exciting and uncomfortable, exhilarating and threatening. There are uncertainties at work and in life that I can’t control. The future is unknown. I can’t pretend it doesn’t bother me. Clearly, it bothers me. I try to make the uncertain certain. I tighten up my control. I channel those thoughts and energies into food and weight, without being any the wiser to what is happening just below the surface of my awareness. It’s unsettling and fascinating at the same time. I marvel at my mind’s capacity for manipulation. What a survival skill!

Last year, it was all about the food. It was about gutting it out against all obstacles. I was practicing distress tolerance daily. It was a minute-by-minute guerrilla war against my binge eating disorder. It took all of my supports, all of my resources, all of my new, tentative, abecedarian coping mechanisms to survive.

 

Bandaged Hands
Bandaged Hands,” © Beth Scupham, Oct 2011. CC BY 2.0.

Without the white-knuckling, I am becoming aware of what lies beneath, behind, beyond my fixation on food, weight, body image, and control of all of the above. On Monday, I find myself at dinner with Brita. The Christmas lights on the storefronts set my eyes and heart aflutter. The brightly decorated windows glow with the spirit of the season. I am bursting with warmth and gladness at the sight of my friend. Two weeks is too long! There is too much news to share between us! The restaurant is quiet and dim and as we slide into our booth, and the room seems to wrap around us like a soft blanket. There are only a few other patrons, and the waitress is all ours. The analyses, the ruminations, the compulsions about what I am eating melt away. I don’t even care that th(e roasted vegetables I order turn out to be half potatoes. I tell myself that potatoes are nutritious in their own way, and eating extra starch on this one occasion will not do me any consequential ill. When our desserts are served, I slowly nibble away at the entire slice of chocolate cheesecake. I’m way too full, and I know that I ate right through my satiety cues, but it’s OK, because it isn’t about the food at all. It’s about being with Brita tonight, in this place, in this moment in time. Even after we part ways, I am not shaming myself or berating myself, I’m not assessing how I need to act differently the next time. I just assume that I will do better, and I continue to relish the dancing embers in my chest where the cavern of echoes reverberated just a short time ago. I sleep as if in a cocoon of clouds and don’t wake until the next morning. When I do, I smile and think, “It isn’t about the food at all.”

Happy
Happy,” © Pete Georgiev, Apr 2009. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

 

Enough

Featured Image: “First Snow of Winter,” © melfoody, Nov 2011. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

It used to be that the scale told me if I was enough. My negative mile splits, total weekly mileage, and race times told me that I was enough. The number of calories I ate in a day and the growling of my stomach told me that I was enough. The concerned comments by friends and colleagues that I was too skinny and imploring me to eat more confirmed that I was enough. I was enough when I was first and best at everything I did, when I knew more than everyone else in the room about every topic discussed, and when I never made a mistake. When I looked perfect, acted perfectly, spoke perfectly, and performed perfectly, then I was enough. But it was never enough.

If I don’t care about any of that stuff anymore and it no longer holds any meaning for me, then what is left? Just me. As I am. Stripped away. Bare. Nothing but the me that I always was deep inside.

If people only knew the truth, they would understand what a fraud I am, what a pretender.

If Kelly, my nutritionist, knew how disordered my thoughts about food really remain.

If my co-workers realized how unfulfilling and unrewarding I find what we do every day.

If my therapist could glimpse just how much time I spend perseverating on my inadequacies, my worries, and the uncertainties of the future.

If my friends, my family, the other women in my eating disorder process group, and my blog readers knew just how unbalanced a life I lead, how judgmental my thoughts are, how critical I am of myself and others, how far away I actually fall from all the beautiful, pie-in-the-sky, wholehearted values I write about over and over and over.

In the process of writing about this way of life that I so long for, it seems tangible, and I start believing that I am almost living it already. Then a day passes, two days, a week, and I wonder how I could still be so incomplete, so distant from my goal, so unbalanced, judgmental, critical, and negative. The cycle repeats itself.

Not the Blair Witch wood
Not the Blair Witch Wood,” © melfoody, Nov 2011. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Could Kelly tell how frustrated and anxious I was during our bi-weekly appointment this morning? It felt like those emotions were exuding from me like terrible B.O. To start our session off, I was somewhere between 10-15 minutes late, which is even worse that my chronic habit of turning up about five past the hour. I couldn’t even offer any sort of explanation or apology beyond, “I’m so sorry.” Perhaps, sometimes, that is best. Don’t make excuses, just accept culpability. I didn’t come up with that idea on my own. The credit goes to Harriet Lerner, PhD, and her book, The Dance of Connection. Anyway, how could I explain why it took an extra ten minutes for me to collect myself sufficiently to get out the door and into my car? I myself wasn’t even too sure what happened. All seemed well, and then I was suddenly pushing fluids, struggling to pace my breakfast, and straining to go to the bathroom before my first post-Thanksgiving weigh-in. “Messed up,” I told myself, “I’m so messed up.”

Talking to Kelly usually makes me feel better. When I first started meeting with her, I would sometimes be triggered by our conversations and the challenges that she set before me, but that happens pretty infrequently these days. This morning, the words tumbled out of me like some sort of confused fog. I felt like Elliott dumping his multi-colored Legos all over the floor and then trying to puzzle together a new construction from it. “You would be so disappointed in me,” I confessed, “I ate pretty much the exact same thing every day last week, and since coming back, I ate the same thing for dinner three nights in a row.”

She leaned in toward me in that way that she does when she wants me to pay attention. “You did what everyone else does when they are in an environment that is different from what they are used to. You worked with what was available to you, and you got by. You did what you had to do. You’ll do the same thing during Christmas.”

Why does it make so much sense when someone else says it?

We talked about the holiday season, the parties, food, exercise, family, and flexibility, but it was hard to make sense out of the jumbled mess of Legos scattered all about the beige carpet. Too much. Not enough.

—–

 

“Not enough might as well be tattooed on the inside of my eyelids,” I think as I drive down the road from Kelly’s office toward my own. That message is always there whenever I close my eyes. Whenever I breathe. During every quiet pause and every busy movement. It is imprinted in my brain. Not good enough. Not trying hard enough. Not reading enough. Not journaling enough. Not working enough. Not going to enough yoga classes. Not keeping the apartment tidy enough. Not drinking enough green tea. Not getting enough sleep. Not drinking enough water. Not eating enough variety. Not regulating my emotions well enough. Not reviewing my skills workbook often enough. Not swimming enough. Not drawing enough. Not painting enough. Not praying enough. Not balanced enough. Never enough. Never. Never.

“Enough of not enough!” my therapist once exclaimed, but it’s as if someone branded it into my cortex and it’s a scarred rut. No matter how many times I try to scrub it out or paint over it, the impression of the words remains.

I need an industrial-strength sandblaster. “Enough, enough, enough,” I am telling myself as I type these last words. “Let it just be enough.”

padmaloka winter scene
padmaloka winter scene,” © n.a.t.u.r.e, Jan 2013. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.