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.

Overstimulated

      Long time, no blog–for me, at least.  

      I’ve been listless, and the last week has been very weird.  I’ve been working hard.  It’s the end of the semester, so of course my students want to see me.  Two shifts a week at the Studio.  Five independent appointments. 

       After I got back from Thanksgiving, I was telling myself that I needed to hustle.  Two weeks’ lost wages from the Hurricane, then part of a week with the family for Thanksgiving, and the cost of the plane tickets…it was time to get back to business.  I’ve been very aggressive about it.  As I’ve written on this blog recently, if I’m going to do this, I ought to Go Big.  Why fuck around?  I’ve cultivated an impressive skill set and I still have most of my looks. 

      It’s been lucrative.  But also very weird.  Not necessarily bad, though there have been moments of distinct unease…but weird.  

      Let’s take a moment to quote from Hunter S. Thompson:

“No sympathy for the devil; keep that in mind. Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it off to forced conscious expansion: Tune in, freak out, get beaten.”

         (We all know what happened to Hunter Thompson.)
      
       I knew the stress was getting to me when I started forgetting what day it was…(that reminds me of how it was sometimes when I was drinking).  Another afternoon I was in the library at Stevens Tech working with a student, and this needy demanding secret job guy blows up my Batphone, all agitated and wanting my attention.  I muted the phone and soldiered on, but let me tell you, it is stressful when compartmentalization fails and people break into parts of my life where I do not want them and they do not belong.  

      Needy demanding agitated client is a psychologist, by the way.  I find this blackly ironical.  Perhaps you will, too, gentle reader.  I am cutting this guy loose this week.  Sayonara, buddy!  

     The hunger hasn’t been good for my mood, either.  I may as well say it–it’s been 1000 kcal and the gym every day.  Not the most sober behavior.  I tell myself that it’s not quite disordered behavior, it’s more like a crash diet.  The results have been satisfying, but the hunger is difficult to cope with.  It’s very intrusive.  

      I need a plan.  That’s what I need–a plan.  

      On that note, I’m going to jump in the shower and start the beauty rituals.  Appointment with Mr. Wolf in a few hours.   

Checkmate

     I had an ugly confrontation with one of my students.  It concerned plagiarism. 

      I was in a foul fucking mood when we started.  Plagiarism offends me worse than nuclear war and I’ve lost seven lbs. in 9 days, which is making me feel very grouchy, very grouchy indeed.  
Aside from my weird five-minute crying spell the other morning, I’ve pretty much felt made out of metal.  My favorite way to feel. 

     “Look, you’ve got to re-write this before you turn it in,” I told him.  

      “You don’t even work for my school!” he argued.  “That’s not your job!”  

       “You will be identified with or without my help.  And the further along in your academic career it will happen, the more severe the consequences will be.  I am trying to warn you.”

       “You’re threatening me and sticking your nose in where it doesn’t belong!” this kid actually yelled.  “My parents hired you!  My dad’s a lawyer!” 

      I lifted out of my chair, just a little bit, and bore into him.  I don’t remember precisely what I was thinking.  I felt rage, but it was cold.  There are maybe a handful of people on this earth who get to push me around these days.  This spoiled, cheating punk is not one of them.  

      “My father’s Franz Adler*.”  Checkmate, bitch.  If my father was an idiot, he’d probably doing life in a SuperMax somewhere.  Don’t you dare underestimate me.  

      He backed down and said he had to leave early. 

      They might left me go.  But I bet the kid will re-write his paper, and keep his mouth shut.  And I will, too.  

       Even when I am most down on myself, I must remember: I do have skills.  I do have certain skills that almost nobody else I know has. 

*Franz Adler is not my father’s real name.  

The Lucky Cat

Read More

     The Surgeon was wearing a tan cotton summer suit and his pale pink necktie had a tiny image of a Japanese Lucky Cat on it near the bottom.

 
       “Where did you get that tie?  I like it!  I like the lucky cat.” I said.  He is a lucky cat. 

        He shucked his suit coat and hung it on the coat rack by my door.  My eyes moved to his hips, back up to his face, and then to his hips again.  He looked thinner than I remembered.  Thinner.  

      “I make my own luck.  I bought it in San Francisco.  Where I was when you called in the middle of the night from that bar.  What am I going to do with you?”

       “I am here for you.”  

       “You’re not getting away with it that easily.”  The necktie came off and was draped over the suit coat.  Then he took a syringe out of his bag and walked over to the refrigerator.  He placed it carefully on the top shelf.  Something for later.  

      He picked up the Brita filter and poured himself a glass of water.  I wondered what it must be like, to be able to just go through other people’s stuff like it was yours.  At the Studio, you learn how to feign confidence and entitlement–fake it till you make it, I always tell the new girls.  Sort of like teaching.    

      The Surgeon doesn’t fake it. 
   
      “Surgeon, you’re very lean.  Are you okay?”  I had to say something. He still had muscle and sinew on him–he gets up at 4 AM and exercises like a deranged, frantic hamster in a wheel, which isn’t too far from the truth–but he was only ten or fifteen pounds away from being gaunt.  Men his age seldom look like this naturally.

      “I’m not sure.  I thought I was, but then my girlfriend broke up with me, and suddenly I had a lot to worry about.”  

       I didn’t know what to say to that. 

       “I was very worried about you.”  The cufflinks went into his pants pocket, and then he started to roll up his shirtsleeves. His speech became slower; his voice more thoughtful.  “Why do you make me worry about you?”

        I thought of the things he’d hid around my apartment and felt my skin break out in gooseflesh.  I’d intended to ask him why he’d done that, and when–that question had eaten away at me for months–but I suddenly lost the courage.  I didn’t want to know the answer.  

                                 *                             *                             *

       Before he left: 

       “You know that I think you’re a beautiful woman,” he said, adjusting the knot on the lucky cat tie.  “But you need to lose fifteen pounds.  You’ll be prettier.  As you were last Fall.”  

        I winced inside, but kept my face neutral.  I knew this was coming.  Last Fall, I weighed 110 lbs.  I am as tall as a man. 

      “Okay.” 

      He looked right at me.  His voice was serious. “Lose it.”

      “I will.”

      He smiled.  Normalcy had been returned.

      Everything was right with the world again. 

The Dread Diagnosis (or, The Tale of the Meddling Psychiatrist): continued

 How is it that I went to the store to specifically to get milk, and while I was there I bought five other items forgot to pick up the milk?  What is up with that?

   Anyway, I went back to see the meddling psychiatrist, sheathed in a new layer of fat like the glaze on a Christmas ham.  I would have drank a liter of water beforehand, too, but I was worried that they’d hook me up to one of those electric body fat analysis machines and accuse me of water loading.  I know all the tricks, and I know that they know the tricks, too.  Have no fear, doc, I gained it the honest way.

    “You look a little better,” he said.

    Fuck you! I thought, but what I said was: “Thanks.  I got my period, too.”  This was, in fact, the case.  I wanted to hurl my bloody kotex at him.  Ha!  Take that!  Happy now?

     “How are those bruises?”

     “All gone!” I chirped, like a bright little bird.


Portrait of the Author as a Young Sparrow

    “How are other things in your life?”

    Compared to what?  Compared to the incredible amount of stress you’ve forced me to endure the last two weeks?  Compared to that, everything else in my life was gravy, and that includes my ex, The Surgeon, calling me up and leaving long messages on my voicemail about how he’s worried he might have cancer. (note to readers: The Surgeon does not have cancer.  He has hypochondria.  Just trust me on this one.  I’ve been through this before with him.).

    “Okay.  School is hard.”  I talked about about my scholastic woes, my mother’s upcoming visit, the life changes of my friends.

     He seemed mollified.  Wants to see me again at the end of the semester.  I was agreeable, but in my mind I thought: No way in hell.  I know what to do.  The place will be a zoo of students trying to get out of their final exams with a doctor’s note and getting their prescriptions for medication renewed before they go away for the summer.  I’ll call the office a week before my appointment and cancel, promising to call back later in the day to reschedule.  Then I’ll never call back.

     Unless the shrink remembers me with urgency and personally gets on my ass to come back and see him, I should be able to just…fall through the cracks.

     Intentionally, this time.  

    Well, this blog post doesn’t exactly portray me in the best light and the last one in this series was truly a shining example of intentional deceit  and irrational thinking.  Actually, let me revise that.  What I wrote on this blog is the truth.  I manipulated the psychiatrist to avoid the diagnosis, but I admitted to doing it here.  Does that make me honest?  I lied, but I think that circumstances forced me to.  If I’m justified, does that mean I am not dishonest?  I’m so confused.

    I mean, you’d have to be blind to miss the rationalization, justification, minimization, and flat-out dishonesty and denial that I was practicing in my last post on this.  You could substitute drinking for the eating disorder and it would be a textbook example of active alcoholic thinking: I’m fine.  I have this under control.  Why are you hassling me about it?  I know what I’m doing.  How dare you tell me to stop.  This is none of your business.  Why are you doing this to me.  I’ll fool you!  


    Of course, when I was drinking, nobody ever told me to quit.  I avoided that my terminating most of my relationships.  Ha, ha.

    Well, what can I take away from this?  I guess what I knew all along.

     You quit when you’re ready.  You quit when you’re ready, and not a minute before.

The Dread Diagnosis (or, The Tale of the Meddling Psychiatrist)

   I am alive and wealthier (what a wonderful way to be!).  Don’t get too excited–wealth is relative, after all.  A few days ago, I had zero money.  While I am not yet basking in the warm glow of solvency, I get the feeling that it’s just around the corner, and that feels great.   It also feels great not to be a headless corpse under a futon frame!

    So, moving on, let me tell you about this douche canoe of a psychiatrist who’s been breaking my balls for the last few weeks.

    Readers of this blog will know that since I dried out, I’ve struggled periodically with insomnia.  It sucks.  Well, I decided so consult a professional about it.  Maybe a doctor could hook me up with some Lunesta or something.

    So, I made an appointment and rolled in to the campus health clinic.  In retrospect, this was a really bad idea.  I have never received competent medical services there.  Not once.  They fuck up a pap test.  I’m serious.  I get my OB-GYN tests at this ghetto Planned Parenthood down the street, happily paying out of pocket, because the campus health clinic has done it wrong or lost the results repeatedly.  Every time I’ve had blood drawn there, the nurse collapses the vein.  It goes on and on.  It’s astonishing.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to catalog my dismal history with the health clinic…just trust me on this one: the level of service is very poor.  Why?  The clinic at my last university was fantastic.

   I’m in the office with the physician, talking about my sleep problems.  He looks at my chart, looks at me, looks back at my chart.  His brow furrows.  I get the feeling that he’s not listening to the words that are coming out of my mouth.

   He wants to weigh me.  The nurse already weighed me, but whatever.

   I hop on the scale in the scale.  Why did I hop on the scale?  Why didn’t I just walk?

   The number on the scale corresponds to the number on the scale outside, where I’d just been weighed.

   The physician sticks his head out of the door and calls for an assistant.  When she comes in, he asks if I would remove my shirt.  Like a fool, I do, lifting my t-shirt over my head and then folding it into a square and placing it by my side.

    More furrowed brow.  Two furrowed brows, this time.

    “How did you get those bruises?”

    Aw, doc, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.  I forget, I honestly forget, how bad my marks look to non-sadomasochists.  And I was hardly even banged up!  They were just a few leftovers from my last trip out of town (the Corvette).

     “The gym,” I say.  This is what I always say when queried about my bruises.  It’s mostly a lie, but I really do, in fact, get bruises at the gym.  I’m clumsy, I run into stuff, weights are heavy.

      “How often do you work out at the gym?”

      “Depends.  Four days a week.”  I lift weights in my living room, too.  “I don’t do it before bed, though, because it wakes me up.”  I naively assume we are still talking about my insomnia.

      “What do you do there?”

      Like a fool, the details of my precise routine trip off my tongue.  Get this, gentle reader: between that and  the news that I’d quit the booze, I expected a pat on the back. Ha!  Ha!  Joke’s on me!

      He puts the blood pressure cuff on my arm.  It wraps around and around and around.  More brow-furrowing.  While he’s up close and personal, I see him eyeing my bruises.  But I’m telling you, there were just a few!

     “Did you do that to yourself?” he asks.

     Well, in a manner of speaking… But what I say is, “Huh? No.”

    He pumps the little rubber squeeze-ball.  Looks at the reader.  “Your blood pressure is pretty low.”

   “Yup!”  And here I thought it was good news.

    “You’re underweight,” he says.

     Uh-oh. It finally starts to dawn on me that the good doctor isn’t thinking about my sleep problems.  He’s not thinking about my sleep problems at all.

     “Always been thin.  Runs in the family.  My mother still weighs what she did in high school.”

     “You saw a counselor at the clinic across the hall regarding an eating disorder.”  It isn’t a question.  I can’t deny it–he’s got the file.

     “That was a long time ago,” is all I can say.

      He goes to the drawer and takes out his book, his psychiatrist book.  You know the one, gentle reader. Then he takes out his charts.

      “A woman your height should weigh at least 137 lbs,” he says, holding his laminated charts in his hand.

     Well, I got news for you: that is not going to happen.

     I can’t say that, obviously.  Saying that to the psychiatrist would be insane.

     I shrug.

     He opens his book.  I’m starting to get pissed off.  I see where he’s going with this.  He takes out his calculator and punches some numbers.

     He looks up at me.  “I have to tell you: you meet the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa.”

     Oh, for fuck’s sake.  You’re late to the party, Doc.  You missed it.  I’m not sick anymore.  I don’t do all that crazy shit I used to do.  Those behaviors–I quit all of them.  All of them!  I eat now!  I eat all the time!  I eat every day!  HOW DARE YOU?

       I can’t say that, obviously.  Saying that to the psychiatrist would be insane.

       What I say instead is: “I’m physically healthy.  You know it.  There are women on the college track team with lower body fat than I have.  Look, I’m just thin.”

        “You need to gain weight.”

        Don’t roll your eyes and don’t get belligerent.  Play along.  “Sure, no problem.  Look, I lost a little weight when I quit drinking.  That was a lot of empty calories I used to consume!  I’m better now.”

       Asshole wanted to see me again in a few weeks.  “Sure” I said!  “No problem!”

      This motherfucker–I want to murder him.  How dare he fuck with my life?  I can’t get in his face and tell him what I really think.  Such as: what good, pray tell, could possibly come from diagnosing me with anorexia?  What are you going to do–treat it with a pill?  You cannot help me, all you can do is cause me harm.

      So, go see a doctor for insomnia and almost get slapped with the diagnosis of anorexia.  Great!  Thanks for nothing, asshole!

       It is critical that I avoid this diagnosis.  Critical.  I was never diagnosed with alcoholism and never went to rehab, so it’s off my record.  Dodged that bullet.

      Anorexia is even worse.  It’s a major mental illness.  That fucking diagnosis would follow me through life like a tin can tied to a dog’s tail. Insurance companies would get their hands on it.  I could be discriminated against and not even know it.  I don’t know much about the law, but I’m pretty sure that medical records can be subpoenaed.  This could be thrown in my face and used against me any number of ways–in a divorce, in a custody battle, God knows what else.  It would cause me to flunk background checks for certain jobs that require security clearance.  I mean, I never intended to work for the Secret Service, for instance, but a diagnosis of anorexia would ensure that I never would.  Fruitcakes can’t be trusted.

     I have to go see this asshole again this week, and I have to convince him that I’m fine.  Which I am!  It also pisses me off so much that he’s threatening me with this now, at this late date, after I’ve practically recovered from the goddamned thing!  I want to shout in his face–you should’ve seen me before!  The things I used to do to myself would make your hair turn white!

     But of course, I can’t tell him any of those things.  Saying that to the psychiatrist would be insane.

     I’ve gotta smooth this over.  Appease him.  At any cost.

     And that means…I’ve been eating since the last time I saw him, in preparation for our next weigh-in.  Eating a lot.  I sure as hell am not going to hit 137 lbs, but I’ve got to get above 85% of that in order to avoid the dread diagnosis.  And so I have.  Ha!  Take that, you meddling psychiatrist!

     I’ve added eight lbs. of lard to my ass.  There!  Happy now?  Happy?

     Actually, it’s not on my ass.  It’s on my face.  I hate looking like this.

     I can’t wait till I get this guy out of my hair.  It’ll take me two weeks of hard, cruel, painful starving to get back to how I was.  God, it’s such…hard…work.

     Why couldn’t he diagnose me with something FUN, like ADD?  At least then I could get adderall!

    Of course, I can’t say that to him.  Saying that to the psychiatrist would be insane.

    Saying all this stuff would be crazy.

    What’s really crazy, though, is thinking it.

 

     
 

 

Ravenous

    The last few hours before bed are the most difficult.  Waiting waiting waiting.  A test of endurance.  It is a one-player game, like solitaire.  My opponent is myself.  


     I made a lot of money yesterday. Today was not as lucrative, but I did have a booking at the Studio and a tutoring appointment immediately afterward.  I stopped by the pet store to get food for the birds (I splurged and bought Parrot a new toy) and then came home, exhausted.  I missed my Friday night meeting and I feel badly about that–can’t afford to do that too often–missing meetings is one of the things that contributed to my pre-Christmas relapse.  


     I am very hungry right now.  But I know that if I can wait it out till bed, I’ll wake up thinner.  I know that this thinking is dysfunctional, but I want to be honest here, to tell you how it is.  


     When you are very hungry, you will find that you do crazy things.  You start to obsess.  I have had the opportunity to speak at length with other girls who endeavor not to eat, and they all relate similar behaviors.  You start to spend a lot of time thinking about food.  Fantasizing about it.  Tonight, for example, I have perused four restaurant takeout menus.  I ask myself: if I were to order something, what would it be?  Which sounds best?  I weighed the merits of each.  A distraction, a flirtation with danger, as I watch Charlie Rose interview Bernie Sanders on the television (actually, the program is mostly in the background; I am primarily focused on the idea of a chicken avocado sandwich).  Then, in a burst of determination, I put the menus away, only to end up reading the restaurant reviews on the New York Times website.  


    When the disorder was at its worst, I would read cookbooks and Gourmet magazine recreationally.  I would pour over them, devour them with my eyes, collect recipes that I had no intention of ever cooking, squirreling them away.  This behavior is not uncommon.  


     Six years ago, I cooked all the time.  I loved to make dinner for my boyfriend.  I loved to work with food.  No longer.  I am nowhere near as bad as I was–nowhere near–but even now, the idea of cooking beyond a subsistence level is incomprehensible to me. 


     And tonight, this.  This back-and-forth with myself, this struggle. It is all internal to me.  I have created it.  It is mine, my pure gold baby.  


     Another hour, and I can go to sleep and wake up hollow, leaner, smug.  I’m never hungry in the morning.  It’s smooth sailing till mid-afternoon, at least.  


     You see, gentle reader, what an evening I’ve had.  One day, when I have the courage, I’ll write about what it’s like to be insane with an eating disorder.  The really scary stuff.  At the party I went to on Wednesday, an English Lit professor I am quite partial to told me that I ought to stop drinking 2-liter bottles of diet Coke every day.  “It’s awful for you,” he said.  “You’ll ruin your beauty.”  


     I let out a short, barking laugh.  I didn’t mean to be rude; I couldn’t help it.  “My beauty,” I snarled.  “I could tell you stories about what I’ve done to myself.  They’d make your hair turn white.”


    In the course of my studies and therapy with a psychoanalyst, I have been told that every masochist is also a sadist, consciously or not.  We possess the opposites within us.  I’ve blogged about this before; I won’t go into detail now.  


    In this case, this dynamic, I am both.  I am a disobedient and disappointing child, and I send myself to bed without any supper.   

Some of That Weight Came From My Heart

     I gained 3 lbs and have retained it.

     I hope at least a little of it went to my heart.

     You know, after I taught myself how to not eat, I sought the advice of a professional who specialized in dispensing advice to students who don’t eat, or eat too much, or reject what they eat after they’ve eaten it, or otherwise get freaked out about the idea of eating.  I’m sure you know what I’m talking about, gentle reader.

    (One of the things we talked about was the Minnesota Starvation Experiment.  Voracious bookworm that I am, I read that baby forward and back, backward and forward.  If you can get your hands on it, I recommend it highly.)

     Anyway, one of the things this professional told me was that when a person loses weight so quickly, that weight comes from multiple sources in the body–water, fat, muscle, and on and on.

      It came to me that my heart is muscle.  And I kept thinking:  I’ve lost weight off my heart.  Some of that weight came from my heart.  I kept thinking of it–it’s poetic, you know, like thinking about how we are compositions of carbon, just like trees.  How, if a person was burned to ash subjected to the right conditions of heat and pressure, they could become a diamond.

      I’m so sick of starving my heart.  Literally sick of starving my heart.

     It is true that I grew up in hunger, of sorts.  But now, I am the one who starves myself.  I abandon my friends and isolate myself.  I pick men who are incapable of nourishing me.  When I find one that could love me, I reject him.  I have become my own abuser.

     Now that my mind is clear, and I have perspective, and I have my power back, I have a choice.  I get to decide.  The freedom to accept.  The freedom to refuse.      

Mom and Dad: An Instructive Comparison

           I don’t spend much time writing about my family on this blog (I think I only gave any specifics here and here) because 1) I’m concerned with my privacy, 2) I’ve worked through all that shit in very expensive therapy and I don’t think there’s anything new to be gleaned from going over it—the land has been mapped, as it were; and most importantly, 3) other peoples’ families are usually boring as hell to read about. 

            However, something concerning my parents happened this week that I think my readers will find both entertaining and insightful. 

            I will return to the faraway, barbaric land of my birth for the Thanksgiving holiday.  In a recent email to my mother and my brother, I included several digital photographs of my neighborhood and me running about town.  They were recent photographs, and a few of them have been published (in edited format, of course) on this blog. 

            Through my own error, I CCd the email to my father (my parents are long, long divorced).  I don’t communicate with the man and haven’t done so in years.  We are quite literally estranged.  If he reared parented controlled your childhood, you would be estranged of him too, gentle reader.  I assure you. (Some people find the notion of terminating contact with a parent to be offensive and appalling under any circumstances.  It is my experience, however, that the only people who get judgmental and angry with you for cutting off a toxic relative are the ones who are too cowardly to do the same thing themselves.  They resent you for liberating yourself).    

            Anyway, I got back a response from my mother.  I can’t quote it here for obvious reasons, but basically the tone of her note was cheerful and she wrote that she was glad to see me looking so happy, healthy, and contented. 

            My father wrote back as well (I opened the email after much hesitation).  His reaction to the photographs?  “Are you eating well?  You look kind of undernourished.”

            Indeed, and it was you who undernourished me, you asshole.  How do you like your blue-eyed girl? I thought, but of course I did not respond to him in any way.  My anger, though intense, was ephemeral.  I am told by my analyst that eventually the man will mean nothing to me, one way or another.  I will be very glad when that happens. 

            (For the record, I do not credit—or “blame”—either one of my parents for the choices I have made in my adult life, or for any of my happiness or lack of it.  My father’s contribution to my life was almost entirely detrimental, but that is only a partial explanation for who I am and what I have done in my life.  It is not an excuse.  The distinction is crucial.)  

            I bring all this up because it perfectly, and hilariously, demonstrates my mother’s chief psychological defense mechanism: denial.  Her capacity for denial is truly exceptional.  If there was a Denial Olympics, she would definitely bring home the Gold medal.  

            My brother—who is different than I, and understands our mother, I think, more astutely than I do—explained to me once, with characteristic frankness: “Mom doesn’t see what Mom doesn’t want to see.” 

            At the time (this was a few years ago) I didn’t understand what he was telling me.  Not see? What do you mean, not see? She is successfully employed for decades in a profession that requires considerable and unrelenting powers of observation.  Nothing escapes her notice. The woman has eagle eyes, I’m telling you. 

            Shortly after that, I embarked on a little experiment.  Mom and I went on a long, long trip together, where we were in each other’s company constantly.  I decided to put my brother’s observation to the test: I decided that I wouldn’t eat, and see how she would react. 

            Of course, I ate something.  I couldn’t not, nobody can.  We shared every meal together.  Just the two of us.  I ordered a salad, dressing on the side (untouched), no protein.  Every time.  Every fucking time.  I kept waiting for her to say something.  Sometimes I would order soup, too.  By the end of the trip, I was practically egging her on—like I’d order the vegetable beef soup, and pick out the chunks of potato in front of her, and put them on the side of the plate and not eat them.  (I was also, incidentally, going out of my mind with hunger by the third day and sneaking candy bars out of the vending machines at the motels at night, wolfing them down in the parking lot.  Pretty funny.)  

            By the end of the road trip, I’d lost six pounds. 

            The first thing my mother did when we got to my apartment was to start cleaning it.  

            The only thing she said about my eating habits?  The result of my little experiment? 

            “Boy, you sure eat a lot of salad!  I’ve never seen anyone eat as much salad as you.” 

            Quite a laugh.  I mean, really.



            A person could die laughing.