Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What's Eating You?

I remember the first time I ever became really aware of my body.  I was eight, and playing at my friend, Dani's house.  We had just spend the morning playing Marco Polo in her pool and were happily ensconced in the corner of their family's den, munching on potato chips and leaving wet stains on the couch from our still-damp swimsuits.

"You won't be able to eat potato chips for very long", Dani said with a sad shake of her blonde head.

"Why not?"  I asked, reaching for the bag.  Dani pulled it away and set it on the table before turning to me with great solemnity.

"My mommy says that potato chips make you fat."  she whispered gravely.  "And you're already getting fat."

I froze, my brown eyes opening wide.  "I. . .I am?"

Dani nodded gravely and poked a finger into the flesh of my thigh.  "Your legs are kinda fat here.  And your tummy pokes out.  Your tummy should be flat like Cheryl's."*

*Cheryl was Dani's babysitter, and from her perfectly frosted and feathered hair to her  cork-soled platform sandals, she was the very image of teen perfection in our eyes.

I looked down at my stomach as though seeing it for the first time.  I was no stranger to the concept of weight and dieting; my mother was on a perpetual diet and constantly referred to herself as "your old, fat mother".  I can never remember a time in my childhood when my mom, or any other adult woman for that matter, expressed any joy or acceptance of their appearance, but it never occurred to me that my body was something I should become worried about, like an impending illness or an errant child. But on that spring day in Dani's house, I really looked at my body for the first time as something shameful and ugly. . .a feeling that stayed with me for the next thirty years of my life.

In high school I was able to put my self-consciousness on a back burner, as I was very involved in extracurricular activities that kept me busy and active.  But college. . .college was where things began to spiral downward.  I joined a sorority, because my sister had done so and as with most things in life, I relied upon her example when it came to socialization.*

*I am about as socially active as Howard Hughes during a SARS outbreak, so if left to my own devices I would happily spend the better part of my life locked in my apartment watching "Pawn Stars" in my underwear.

While the majority of my "sisters" were amazing, wonderful young women, I never really felt like I fit in.  My parents had moved me up a year in school and starting college at the age of seventeen was terrifying.  I was thrown into many situations where I felt pressured to do certain things and act a certain way that I was not emotionally prepared for.  So, I discovered alcohol and food.  The alcohol made me "looser" and better able to interact and mingle, and the food calmed me down after the fact -- it provided that warmth and security that allowed me to feel safe after being in what I perceived as many unsafe situations.  So I gained weight.  A lot of weight.  Like, the Freshman 15 plus two Olsen twins weight.  I graduated from college with a body I hated, a life that terrified me, and no discernible goals for the future.*

*Oh, yeah.  In NO way will THAT scenario end in a raging eating disorder.

I moved to Portland after college graduation, because that was what EVERYONE did when graduating from any of the Oregon state universities.  I lived in an apartment alone, worked at menial jobs alone, and binge ate at home every night. . .alone.  One day, after a particularly horrific binge I sat on my couch, bloated and miserable, and it was like a switch flipped on.  I actually remember hearing a voice in my head saying "You don't have to eat.  No one can make you."  I pushed aside the empty food cartons, went to bed, and the next day I woke up and simply. . .stopped eating.  It just seemed to make sense to me.  I hated my life, I couldn't seem to change anything else about it, but I COULD change my body.  And it did change.  Between exercising 3 to 4 hours a day and subsisting on a diet that would make a Trappist monk shudder, the weight fell off and the compliments flew in.  Everyone wanted to know my "secret" and for the first time in my life, I was the one receiving praise for my appearance.  It was heady and intoxicating, and fueled my fervor even more.  

One night, as I was critiquing my body in the mirror after committing the cardinal sin of ingesting an extra spoonful of peanut butter, it occurred to me that I could just make the peanut butter. . .disappear.  I hunched over the toilet bowl, pressed two fingers down my throat, and set off a chain of events that would haunt me for years to come.  It wasn't long after this that I met my ex-husband.  I was working part-time and attending law school. . .*

*To this day I have no fucking clue how that happened.  I think someone told me "You should go to law school" and it didn't seem worth the effort to argue.

. . .but in truth, my really career was my eating disorder.  My entire day was structured about when and what I could eat, an exercise schedule that would make an Olympic gymnast say "Whoa, ease up there Nadia", and sneaking opportunities to binge and purge in private.  Gil rode in on his white horse, saw this terrified little hot mess and told me "I'll take care of you."   Since I knew I didn't want to actually be a lawyer, and I couldn't think of anything else to do with my life, the thought of having someone else handle my shit for me sounded pretty appealing.  So, we got married. . .and by the grace of God and countless fertility treatments (eating disorders do a number on your girly parts, yo.) the short people were born in 2002.

I would like to say that my eating disorder magically disappeared the day my beautiful children were born.  I would like to say that, but I've been pretty honest with y'all up to this point so I see no need to start bedazzling my bullshit now.  Being a stay at home mom was great for my children, but for me?  Not so much.  My children were micro-preemies at birth and I couldn't take them out in public for one year for risk of germ exposure.  One year.  Nowhere.  I was like Anne Frank only with no hot German guy, and two colicky babies.  As the grew stronger and healthier, we were able to venture out into the world a little, but at that point I had grown accustomed to my isolation, one that my ex husband strongly encouraged and enforced by limiting my access to family and friends, saying they were "all against me" and that I was "a bitch" when I was around them.  My entire world revolved around my husband and children.  I had nothing else.  Nothing that was MINE.  Except for my eating disorder. . .that was mine. . .no one could take it away.

I sought therapy, both in-patient and out-patient, but in the end none of it mattered because at that point I honestly didn't give a damn if I lived or died.  It wasn't until my divorce that things became clearer.  Not at first.  At first things got worse, and I my weight dropped faster than Rosie O'Donnell on a greased fire pole.  I sank into a horrible depression, got arrested for a DUI, and completed the trifecta of suck by contracting a virulent strain of mono that forced my boys and me to move in with my parents for four months.  But then. . .then. . .things gradually started to rebuild.

I started graduate school in special education and it was like a light went on in my head.  "This is what you are meant to do" it said, and I pursued my education with excitement and joy.  I met other people in my graduate cohort. . .people who were interesting, and intelligent, and funny, and I found myself forging friendships; REAL friendships, for the first time in years.  My education parleyed into a job I adore, and before I knew it, I had a life that was. . .mine.  It's not like the eating disorder went away overnight; but its voice got a little softer every day, and suddenly the choice between spending two hours at the gym or taking my kids to the park to meet up with friends was a no-brainer.  I was happy.  I AM happy.  And true happiness is kryptonite to addiction and disordered eating.

My eating disorder is not gone. . .like my alcoholism, it will never really be gone, but it is controllable.   Unfortunately, life with an E.D. is harder than life as an alcoholic.  OK, OK, before all of my A.A. homies get all up in arms, hear me out.  With alcoholism, the answer is simple.  Don't drink.  Black and white.  You lock that tiger in the cage and you never, EVER let it out.  But with eating disorders there IS no black and white.  You HAVE to eat.  So every day you lock that tiger in the cage. . .and every day you have to take it out 3 to 5 times, put it on a leash, take it for a walk, and lock it back up again.  Every.  Damned.  Day.  Do I still struggle?  Yes.  Are there still days that I look at my body in the mirror and cringe.  Of course.  Do I still purge when I'm extremely stressed or sad.  I do.  But I don't weigh myself.  I don't let my body issues dictate my life choices.  I don't judge my worth based on the size of my jeans.  My eating disorder will always be that still, small voice in the back of my head that torments me, but my love for myself will be the louder voice that tells it to lighten up and eat a fucking sandwich.


February is National Eating Disorders Awareness month and in honor of that, I want you to write in the comments 10 things you love about your body.  Ready, set, go. . .

1) My hair is thick and shiny and has just enough wave that it can be staight or curly and it always does exactly what I want.

2) I have a dimple in my left cheek when my smile is genuine.

3) My skin has never broken out.  Never.

4) I have crinkly laugh lines around my eyes that I once heard referred to as "roadmaps of joy" and I have adored them ever since.

5) My legs have completed 15 marathons and countless half-marathons, relays and road races.

6) My shoulders are rounded and defined and smooth as river rocks.

7) I have long "monkey toes" that I can use to pick things up, play the piano, and (in my more flexible days) apply makeup.

8) I have my father's nose and my mother's smile

9) My body created two miraculous human beings and provided the nutrients to sustain their lives.

10) I am a beautiful child of God.

Share the love, y'all.


Killer Cupcake said...

Let's pretend my blog post yesterday never happened.

Love you madly, girl.

Cheryl Soler said...

Thank you. I hear my 7 year old say she's "fatter than her friends" (She's not) and I just cringe. I'm trying my hardest to teach my daughter that everone is built differently and that's OK.

As for things I love about my body:
My blue eyes are beautiful
My boobs are AMAZING
That baby belly came from giving birth to the best thing that ever happened to me.
And carrying a child is the closest to a miracle I'll probably ever get.

Leauxra said...

Aw, damn. I watched someone very, very close to me nearly die due to an eating disorder. All I can say is that I am glad you survived, and became the awesome wonderful, amazingly funny woman you are today.

Also, I am insanely jealous of your lack of acne. i was so bad in high school they thought there would be scarring... I didn't, mostly, and I outgrew it, mostly. But it sucks being ashamed of your face.

Abby said...

I get this 154 times infinity more than you will ever know. Ever.

It can take a million different forms, but eating disorders and addiction are killers, as you and I both know. Big props sent your way.

Colleen - Mommy Always Wins said...

I absolutely adore you and this post. I could write some deep meaningful thing about eating disorders and poor body image and self esteem, but instead I'm just going to add to the love and do as you ask - because *I* need it. In fact, I should write about this on my own damned blog. Here we go:
1) I'm tall. 2) I'm thin. (Thanks genetics!) 3) I'm blonde (ish). 4) After 2 babies, I'm not *too* terrified to wear a 2 pc swim suit. 5) I have a single dimple in my right cheek. 6) My teeth are relatively straight. 7) My hair is naturally wavy. I've finally stopped fighting it to be straight. 8)I have green eyes. 9) If I'm still getting zits at 35, maybe that means when I'm 60 I'll only look 40. (Sounds logical, right?) 10) I may not be in perfect shape, but I'm healthy enough to play baseball with my boys and chase them around the bases. <3

Jennifer Clark said...

When I was 16 years old, and about 110bls, I was floating on a raft in our apartment swimming pool. My mother looked over at me and said, "Jesus, kid! Your ass is an axe-handle and a half across!" I rolled off that raft and was horribly uncomfortable in my body for decades. 10 years of work by my husband has repaired a lot of the damage, but I still have issues. I pay very close attention to how I speak around my daughters. My eldest has a wonderfully healthy attitude and self-image, for which I'm very, very grateful.

Yes, I'm carrying extra weight. Yes, I want to lose weight before our epic European trip because I don't people to think, "Poor Miles. He's got a fat wife." My brother-in-law's younger, slim, lovely, never-had-any-babies blonde girlfriend will be on the trip and I'm wigging myself out by comparing my body to hers. We will have a pool at our Tuscan villa and I want to be able to swim w/o mortification.

Good for you, Jen. I wish I had your strength. My will is about at stiff as an over-boiled strand of spaghetti. Plus I love to eat. And drink wine. And lay around with my sweetie.

Shit. I need to go to the gym. Right now.

Kari said...

Jen, your honesty is always so refreshing...another fantastic post!

Vapid Vixen said...

Loved the "bedazzling my bullshit" line. :)

I think you should get that little shit Dani to pay for any therapy.

Most days I'm pretty grateful for my body. Of course I've got issues and of course I compare myself to the other girls at the gym...when I make it to the gym.

Only gonna list 5 because I'm supposed to be working right now.

1. I've got a great ass for my age.

2. I too, love the crinkles at the corners of my eyes when I laugh.

3. I like my lips. When I haven't dehydrated myself, they're full and pretty.

4. My clavicle. Odd? Maybe. But I still like it.

5. I've finally come to terms with my red hair and now, I'm actually quite partial to it.

Great, honest post. :)

Kelly said...

Love you.

Every day, I find more reasons that it was in the stars that we should be friends.

Finding 10 things is more than difficult, but you are insanely right, so here goes: 1) My gray hair. I've earned each one. 2) My crooked second toes. 3) The scar on my knee I got falling up the stairs at my grandma's. 4) My c-section scar that brought me my life's greatest joy. 5) My big ass mole on my lip - I've had it removed twice. It keeps coming back. 6) My strawberry birthmark. 7) My brown eyes. 8) My chicken pox scar in the middle of my forehead - a rite of passage. 9) My grandmother's Italian beak that sits in the middle of my face. 10) My tattoos. They all mean something to me, and will continue to do so until my last breath.

Anonymous said...

Love the post! Ok 10 things I love about my body 10) I'm tall 9)I have thin wrists 8)the laugh lines on my face 7)I have two arms to hug my son and friends though I'm sure one would do 6)My face is perfectly made to wear glasses and as I'm practically blind...5)my lap is the perfect size for my dog to sit on and high enough so he can lick my face 4)it doesn't have cancer anymore 3)I look like my sister 2)I can take my dog on long walks and 1) every single grey hair on my head.
Love your blog! You are super talented, funny and relateable.

Angela said...

I need more daily affirmations, yo.

But here's my 10 body love points:

1. I have grey eyes.
2. I have a great ass.
3. I have rad tattoos.
4. I have fantastic, long fingernails naturally.
5. I have eyebrows that would make a chola cry.
6. I have a good smile and straight teeth (yay orthodontics).
7. I have extremely strong, agile hands.
8. My hair grows really fast and is swishy.
9. I've got a nice rack.
10. I'm stronger than I look.

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful post, and I'm glad you are so happy and content in your body. You earned it, babe.

Unfortunately, I am at my heaviest ever, except for pregnancy, and even then it wasn't much more, plus everything is starting to sag and get all grey . . . so you haven't hit me at my most body loving time. I'll give you a couple, though.

1. I have tiny wrists.
2. I have a cute ski jump nose.
3. I have nice smooth hair.
4. I have pretty feet.

Yeah, that's all I've got.

mothers little hleper said...

You have the knack to relate to all of us somehow. I just posted about my weight (again) I put on a few pounds and am back on semi starvation mode!
10 things hmmm
1. I have lovely thick hair
2. I look 40 but am 50
3. I have gravity defying nice boobs
4. I have straight teeth
5. I have nice feet like my mum
6. I have a jelly belly because of my two wonderful sons and I wont change that ever
7. I have my fathers smile
8. I have cool tattoos
9. I have nice soft brown skin
10. I have a big round butt!

Maggi Shelbourn said...

This took some time, but thank you for encouraging me to take time to think more about my good stuff rather than the 10 pounds I have gained in the last 5 years. :-)

1. I am tall and look nice in most clothes.
2. I have great skin and hair.
3.Thanks to good genes, I don't look even close to my 52 years old.
4. I am flexible and can contort myself in many yoga poses.
5. I have great breasts.
6. I have a lovely smile.
7. I have strong legs and can walk for miles without getting out of breath.
8. I have my Mom's turned up nose.
9.I have beautiful Hazel-colored eyes.
10. I have full, kissable lips.

Bexstar said...

Girl, you are a flipping super hero. For real. You have achieved greatness. Don't ever forget it.

1. According to my husband I have two sets of butt cheeks. Little butts checks & large butt cheeks. He loves both sets & i love that he loves them.
2. I have wicked blue eyes. Sometimes people stop me in the street to tell me. Which, by the way, I find slightly creepy.
3. I am strong like a goddam bison. While my thighs may have uber cellulite buried underneath the ghostly white skin is some bitchin muscles.I could fuck kick someones head off there shoulders like a death donkey.
4. When I smile, my eyes smile. I think that's kinda cool.
5. I have great skin. I don't look 33 & still get asked for ID when buying wine at the Supermarket. Go me.
6. Going completely against the trend, I love my pasty white skin. This I believe helps me look younger than my younger sun worshiping friends. Go me.
7. I can sing & I have a strong speaking voice. My voice is part of my body. I am grateful that I have the cofidence to use it & make people happy.
8. I could hide shit in my nostrils. No lie. They are massive. It's pretty awesome.
9. Despite up until 2 years ago being morbidly obes for a massive part of my life, I have never once had back fat. My back is muscley & strong.
10. I have teradactyl arm wings. Sometimes when I'm bored at work I pretend I can fly. It brings me joy. And frightens my colleagues.
And 11, just because......
If I was ever in a plane that crashed in the andes mountains & I died & everyone else survived, I could feed a whole heap of bitches for ages, therefore preventing them from starving to death. WIN!!

I embrace who I am. I am far from perfect. But I am pretty dam awesome.


Johi Kokjohn-Wagner said...

I love you, Bex.

Johi Kokjohn-Wagner said...

As you know, I love this post! I love you too- but we already knew that.

1. I have a good smile, crooked teeth and all.
2. I have strong arms.
3. My legs are long and strong- the left one even contains some metal, making me partially bionic.
4. I can exercise bra-less, which comes in handy because I like to spontaneously exercise.
5. My shoulders are broad and not-at-all slopey.
6. I have pretty hands.
7. I like the bumpy bridge of my nose.
8. I have really long eyelashes and green eyes ( even though Thing 2 said they were red)
9. My feet are the perfect size for my height.
10. I have never wanted to be anyone else because I'm me. And I like myself.

Jaime S said...

wow.. it never ceases to amaze me how honest and open you are about yourself on here.... it's so inspiring.
You are truly my hero, Jen.

Mandy said...

My counselor just released me for E.D. therapy. The voice is quieter and I'm trying to busy myself with other things so it doesn't rear its ugly head. Mad props, mah twin. Mad, mad props.

Let's see, I don't know if I can come up with TEN things, but I can come up with a few:

1. I, too, have monkey toes that function as extra fingers. This is especially cool when I'm at the beach and diggin for sand dollars. I never have to go underwater to pick them up!

2. In the right light, my brown eyes are a gorgeous shade of gold.

3. I worked full time while my daughter was a baby and still managed to nurse her. She never got a DROP of formula. My boobs. Are. Awesome.

4. I'm a tenacious little bitch. Not many people would have fought for my marriage as hard as I did- and come out the other side in a better place.

5. My bosses love me. They are always telling me what a great job I do and how much I contribute to our firm. It makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.


jennielynn said...

Oye. Is there anything worse than a man who widens the cracks in our soul?

I love my strength.

I love how even though I have abused my body without mercy, I'm still healthy.

I've got lovely eyes.

I've got nice hair.

I've got a banging rack.

My body gave birth to and fed three amazing children.

I have gorgeous skin.

My hands can write a terrific smutty story, cook a killer meal and give a great back rub, among other things. I'm equally proud of all these things.

Erica B said...

I read this post yesterday and have been trying to think of soemthing totally awesome and rad and meaningful to say in response, and I got nothing, except I'm glad you are happy and healthy and brave to come out to the internet about such issues.... I mean I don't know how often Nater Tater comes to read up on you, but he did, atleast once, because he posted the link to your site on Twitter when you did the whole "6 degrees thing", and that's how I found your blog and became a fan of you.

I dont' think I can come up with 10 things at this moment, but here's what I have right now:
1) my hair is pretty awesome. naturally blonde- I still sport my original color- and like yours behaves well when I need it to.
2)my blue eyes totally rock, and I love that I passed them on to my rug rats
3)I grew 2 amazing people from scratch, and don't necessarily mind my baby flab.
4)my personality. shut up. it's totally awesome.
5)my teeth are pretty straight considering I've never had braces and sucked my thumb until I was 12
6)my boobs fed my kids for over 2 years each some sort of wondermilk as they are both above 95% in height AND weight, since birth, gaining 1lb a week for sometime more than 6 months. Didn't take long for them to outgrow EVERYTHING!

That's all i have at the moment, but it's a start!

Valerie said...

You are wonderful. And brave. And if I ever become Queen of the Underworld, I would totally keep an awesome lava rock open just for you. And we would mock and throw things at the weirdos on fire. And shove a pineapple up Hitler's ass everyday...

In a totally non-creepy way...

Stay strong and rock on, girl!



One of the Sarahs said...

I have only recently discovered your writing, but I think you're wonderful! I often wind up on the verge of imploding from holding in the guffaws because I read your stuff at work (and you're too funny for mere giggles). Then you write something like this, and make me do that weird smiling/teary-eyed thing. Thanks for being you and for sharing yourself with us.

10 things? That's a challenge....

Pale blue eyes that can be disturbingly direct. Strawberry blonde hair, which I will wear long until it goes grey. No sign of going grey yet, and I'm 41! High-arched feet that look amazing in hooker shoes. Great legs that can run half-marathons in the woods in the mountains. Amazing tattoos, and each one has meaning to me. Small but perky tits. Pale skin with delicate freckles. Strong shoulders. Good cheekbones, so my face gains distinction as I age.

Ha, I did it! 10 things! Thanks, Jen!

Anonymous said...

My family all suffers from some form of eating disorder. They say they are one some healthy diet kick, but it's really starvation and deprivation.
I have no problem with eating delicious things but have all the same control issues, they just come out in different ways. Shit runs deep, yo. Glad you found the best way out of it: good friends and happiness

Anonymous said...

Last night, when hanging out with the fam, my mom said, 'your fat mother,' when referring to herself, an my sister yelled at her, then I said, 'we are all beautiful!' I was so happy my sister said something.
Also, monkey toes sound awesome!

Banana Stickers said...

First, I have to say, "bedazzling my bullshit" is fucking fantastic. I seriously can't wait to yell "stop bedazzling your bullshit" to the next asshole who tries to pour glitter on their steaming load of nonsense and try to convince me it's cake.

Just kidding, I wouldn't yell that at someone. I'm very passive and hate confrontation.

It must have took a lot out of you to share this story, and I admire and thank you for doing so. It's amazing how much influence self-image has on our lives and how awful we tend to be to ourselves. How glorious would this world be if the things that shouldn't matter DIDN'T matter.. what a happy lot we would be.