On Starving

In the annals of this deeply personal blog, there are two subjects I have resisted writing about: my relationship with my restraining-order Ex, John, and my eating disorder when it was at its worst.

Which of the two should I try to tackle now, while I feel the urge to write…?

Writing about John would require re-reading my files, both legal and personal, and I just don’t think I have the emotional fortitude to revisit that time of my life today.

So, let’s talk about the anorexia.  I believe that it is a tale which must be told.

(What I’ve written about it in the past, you can find under the tag category “How to Not Eat.”)

There is a reason I’ve avoided discussing this in depth: it was so painful, horrific, and sad that I don’t like to think about it.  The medical establishment classifies eating disorders as mental illnesses, and I believe that taxonomy is accurate.

I developed mine within a year of starting my PhD program, for completely predictable reasons: I was in an academic pressure cooker, I was isolated and without a support system or any meaningful personal relationships, deeply unhappy, and my constellation of personality traits practically dictated it: perfectionism, addictive personality, masochism, over-achievement, and a complete lack of sympathy for myself and an indifference to my personal suffering.  I’m a textbook case, with the exception of coming from a working-class background.

It started with wanting to lose 10 or 15 lbs…I was about 140 lbs at the time, which is normal for a girl who stands 5’10”, but I wanted to get my old body back.  The body I had before my breakup with John. I honestly believe that part of the disorder was a subconscious desire to return to a previous state–the state I was in before that trauma.

Well, dieting is difficult, and “healthy eating” just wasn’t producing the effects I wanted.  I’d never dieted in my life, so I had to learn how to become good at it.

Apt scholar that I am, I started to learn.

You have to sacrifice.  You have to change.  To master the art of deprivation.

I began to whittle away at my eating habits.  The first to go were snacks/candy and full-calorie beverages (except, of course, for the whiskey I was soaking my poor hapless brain in every night I wasn’t writing).  No juice, no smoothies.  No sugar in the tea–drink it dark and bitter…not unlike my heart.

Everything in the fridge becomes the diet version: fat free cheese, reduced-calorie bread, skim milk.

Then, breakfast.  Breakfast was easy to give up, because I’m never hungry in the morning.

I whittled.

The turkey sandwich packed for school doesn’t NEED that cheese.  That salad does not need dressing.

I don’t mind telling you that it was the hardest lesson I’ve ever learned in my life–to completely redefine my eating habits.  To give up common things, like the slice of pizza at a party or a pastry provided at a faculty meeting.  To give it up….and then learn to accept the loss.  To accept that these foods are not for me.

But I was finally getting results.

I bought a calorie handbook and started keeping records of everything that went into my mouth.  Not just the calories…the carbs, the grams of fat and protein.  I carried a notebook in my purse.

I stopped eating in public.

I also started over-exercising.  I bought a membership to New York Sports Club, so that I could go there when the university gym was closed.  I did weight training four days per week, and I started on the treadmill.  At first, it was three miles.  Then, I made it a minimum of five miles…every day.  And that doesn’t count all the walking I was doing around campus or New York.

I began to go to the gym twice a day.  To relieve anxiety, I told myself…but it was driven by anxiety.  By terror.

I bought Slim-Fast shakes and started to drink those in place of solid food.

The food logs I was keeping in notebooks were replaced by Excel spreadsheets.  I know how to manage data.  It was part of my formal training.

I lost 30 lbs in approximately four months…

…and when I was officially starving, I lost my mind.

I started to read cookbooks for recreation.  I bought Gourmet and Cook’s magazines and pour over the recipes in bed, or at my desk late at night.

I would eat whole jars of pickles, because pickles have no calories, and I craved something salty.

I passed out in public a few times–once, on the quad.  Another time in Penn Station, right after I got off the escalator.

I would buy food and pretend to eat it.  Then I would pour bleach on it to make sure it was inedible and I wouldn’t try to dig it out of the garbage can.

When I was in Manhattan for work, I would buy food from stores and then almost immediately throw it into garbage cans.  (Once, I bought an ice cream cone and at it in a bathroom stall in the train station, sobbing the entire time.  That was definitely a low point.)

I stopped menstruating.

I would dream of food.  I would steal crackers from my roommate in the dead of night.

I took photos of myself in the bathroom mirror at night, when I was finished with my work.  I was fascinated by my bones.  None of my rings would stay on my fingers anymore.

I got down to 108 lbs.  I took a million photos of the scale.

I started to throw up when I had dinner dates–either professionally, or with a guy I was seeing for fun.  I’ll have you know that I’ve puked in the bathrooms in all of the very best restaurants in Manhattan!  I’ve puked in Masa and Per Se!  Take that, bitches!

I carried Rolaids to chew in order to neutralize the acid and bile and save my teeth.  I hated to throw up, and didn’t do it often (because I seldom ate meals), but I knew it was murder on tooth enamel because I researched it online.

But, I looked like a teenager again.  What an appropriate and telling allegory.  Been starving all my life.

The Surgeon loved it, and became critical as soon as I started to gain weight again….but that’s another story.

And while all of this was going on…nobody said a word.  I mean, my pants were falling off because they were suddenly too big, and nobody said a thing.

That was the hardest lesson of all.

The Puzzle

He was on top of me, which is usually very enjoyable to me because I like to feel the man’s weight and warmth and to smell him, but this time it felt claustrophobic.  His thumbs were grinding into the nerve that runs under the arm and the armpit, and it hurt.

“I love your expressive face.  I want to see what you look like when you cry,” he said.

“I…I don’t know if I can.”

“Did your last master ever make you cry…?”

Not exactly the happiest thought to have while in bed with a different man, but I was, as always, honest (besides, he would have known if I lied): “Many times, but not from pain.  If it gets very intense, my eyes tear up sometimes, but that’s an involuntary physical reaction, not from emotional distress.”

“That is a barrier I want to break with you,” he said.  His hands were grinding, grinding, grinding away and his face was right in front of mine.  I couldn’t look away from him.

“I’m…I’m not sure if I can; if I’m even capable.  I don’t think I even want to,” I said.  The pain and the warmth of his body were starting to make me sweat.  At the same time, my mouth was dry, and when I swallowed it made a clicking noise.

“We’ll find out together,” he said, and gripped the nerve in my armpit as tightly as he could.

The pain was too much and all at once, and I couldn’t process it, I couldn’t transform it, as I am usually capable of doing–doing automatically, even.

He lowered his head and started to bite my shoulders.  Hard.  The impressions from his teeth were gone in a few hours, but his probing fingers left bruises in the morning.

I started to squirm and writhe around, making screechy little noises.  I couldn’t help it.

“What will it take?” he panted against my neck.  “Do I need to hurt you from inside?  You know I am learning all your tricks, Margo.”

With that his hands relaxed, and he lifted himself up onto his arms, looking down at me.  He was smiling–I could see it, even in the dark.

I shuddered and relaxed.  Assuming it was over, and now we’d just have sex.  I don’t know if I was aroused, per say, but I was certainly geared up: adrenaline going, heart pounding, the long muscles in my thighs twitching.

He slowly bent his head, and I thought he was coming in for a kiss.  I opened up my mouth and pressed my body up against his.

Instead, he spat onto my upturned face.  Laughed.  And then reached back and slapped me upside the head.

When I dominate men, I never slap them in the face unless they specifically request it, because, as I’ve written in one of my very early blog posts, it’s both extremely intimate and psychologically loaded.  It’s humiliating.  And, like being strapped by a belt, a lot of people have negative memories associated with it from childhood.

He reversed hands and slapped the other cheek.  Seemed to know what he was doing–his aim was true, and he avoided my nose and orbital bone–but it was a hard slap.  It made a thunderclap in the room.

He pulled back and did it again, his other hand pinning my shoulder down on the bed.

Besides the emotional distress, in my experience, being hit in the head causes one’s thinking to short out.  I can think–to a greater or lesser extent–when I’m being hurt on any other part of my body.  Not so on the face.  When I’m being hit on the face, all I can do is have the experience and the feelings.

“I want to see you cry.  I want that part of you.  I am greedy, and I want it all,” he said, smiling.  He pulled back and did it again.

He did it again.  And again.

The first emotion after disbelief was rage.   I screamed at him to stop it, baring my teeth, all the tendons in my neck standing up.

To his credit, he stopped immediately.  He was always in control of himself, this one.  He didn’t slap me again, but instead turned my head to the side and pressed it down, hard, into the pillow.

“What will it take…?” he asked.

“More than that!” I snarled.

“We will learn together.  I like puzzles.”

He hasn’t solved this puzzle yet.

Tales from Rehab: The Coach

I feel very conflicted writing about this, but it’s weighing on my mind, and I figure that if I change all of the relevant details it will be ethical to post, and not violate the man’s privacy….?

You all know that I attend an alcohol rehab support group twice a week.

Well, there is a man in the group named “Henry.”  Henry is a middle-aged white guy who teaches physical education at a local community college.  He really loves sports, and coaches baseball and basketball.

He is also an alcoholic.

When I first met him and learned that he coached these sports, I recoiled.  He must be a total meathead!  I thought.  Ugh, what a jerk; I’ve taught these guys (players of the Big Three: baseball, football, and basketball) and they are generally GROSS.

Henry is not gross.  I was wrong about Henry; I was prematurely judgmental.

Henry seems fundamentally self-aware and has a sense of decency and he truly enjoys coaching and being around young people (but not in a creepy way, at all).  He identifies with his students.  I can tell that he is probably a good coach, because he is skilled, and he cares.  And he has passion.  He loves what he does.

Well, his wife left him because of the drinking (and, presumably, the host of issues that go along with it).

He went to 60-day inpatient rehab and ended up in my support group.

Henry has adolescent children.   Only a few years younger than the young adults he coaches.

I want to shake him and say, Don’t you understand that they will still forgive you…?  There is still time.  What they want, more than anything, is to believe their father loved them more than drinking.  If you can turn a corner on this, you will be a hero to them.  They will forgive your previous selfishness and addiction, because they need you and they still need to believe in your love.  

If you don’t, in ten years they will hate your guts. 

You will lose your career, because, eventually, you’ll miscalculate your inebriation and be drunk at work around your students.  Almost every alcoholic I know, despite their best efforts, has been drunk when they didn’t mean to be drunk.  And when you are drunk around your students, the parents are going to flip and you are going to be canned.  

How is the job market looking for 55-year-old baseball coaches…?   

You also went to rehab during the school year on your insurance’s dime.  That means that people are watching you now.

You can still pull out of it and save your life and your relationships with the people who love you.  Maybe even your wife back.   I know she still hasn’t completely written you off because she is willing to do marriage counseling if you stay sober, so at least she’s willing to listen. 

It hurts me–which is, admittedly, entirely my own issue–because I see what this man has to lose, and I am rooting for him so hard, and I don’t want him to end up estranged.  It hurts me to see other addicts standing on the precipice.

If I ever had a child, I’d like to think that I’d do anything, including fighting against myself at the most primordial level, to give them the love and leadership they need and deserve.  This is not a slight against Henry.  It is about what my concern provokes within me; this is partially honest concern for him and partially my projection issues.  I sit there with this man twice a week, and I want him to succeed and fight so much.  Neither of my parents resisted themselves.

I don’t know what else to say.