Today did not begin auspiciously but atrociously. I sometimes forget that other people remember that I have an eating disorder. For instance, Monday morning: Christopher came into the kitchen, all ready to head out to work, and asked me if I’d had breakfast.
“No,” I said, because my intention, or IT’s intention, was that I skip it. “But I will.” I made all the appropriate motions that signaled imminent dining: got out the yogurt and granola, thawed the blueberries.
“Okay,” he said, and left.
So I couldn’t lie all the way, right? I’d eat something and then be able to claim I’d had breakfast. (See? This is how sneaky IT and the Eating Disorder are—they take great pleasure in splitting hairs.) I measured out quarter portions of everything and at that very moment, Christopher came back upstairs from the garage and into the kitchen, and well, all went to pieces: accusations, slamming doors and fuck you’s.
“I can’t trust you,” he said. “You cheat and lie. Do you even want to get better?”
He was right. I have lost my integrity. I don’t even believe myself when I say I won’t skip or purge because IT is a saboteur—IT preys upon my happiness and well-being and seizes upon any chance to use its black arts of subversion, obstruction, disruption, and destruction towards my end. My end meaning both the end of my life as I know it (aka Warren State for six months, the end of my life inside my family, a life inside love and forgiveness) and the end of my life (the kind of despair that leads to death).
Today? Here is the awful ironic rub. I ate my breakfast. Measured it out honestly. One bite after another until the bowl was clean. But the kids weren’t eating their breakfast—Total cereal. So without thinking of the fallout, I dumped their cereal down the insinkerator and ran the disposal.
Almost immediately, Christopher came downstairs. “I need to talk to you,” he said.
“What?” My tone and posture was, I imagine, absolutely defensive.
Of course he came running. My preferred place to purge was down the disposal—all traces immediately pulverized, the self, which is trembling and mortified, is scrubbed clean. Cleaner than the toilet which needs more than one flush—the horrible bits and pieces floating, in condemnation, around the bowl—leading to panic. Will someone come before I can reflush? Can I avoid humiliation? (Thinking always of the time I was absolutely bat-shit crazy in Greece, manic and purging up to eight times a day; one night, at a dinner party on the beach, leaning down and purging into a glass; Christopher caught me and plain and simple I wanted to die.) So the insinkerator is quick and makes IT all immediately disappear.
“You just purged,” Christopher said. “Didn’t you?”
“No, I dumped the kids’ cereal down the drain.”
“You purged. Don’t lie to me.”
“I didn’t fucking purge. But it doesn’t matter what I say because there’s no way for you to believe me either way is there?”
He eyed me for a long time then pulled out the black Sharpie from the drawer. On my left arm he wrote: What It Takes (from the guiding principle, “I’ll do whatever it takes to have the life I want.”). On the left arm: TRUTH.
Later this morning, I saw my friend Jen, and she suggested that I try to tell myself another story, that the story of IT has taken up prominent residence in my head and I need another story about myself to tell. That is, the story of IT is about my self-destruction; that self-destruction at times can feel instinctual.
“No,” Jen said, “it’s not really instinct, is it? Your true instincts are for self-preservation and self-compassion. You just need to start telling and listening to that story.”
Which brings me back to TRUTH. What I assume Christopher meant by this was the need for me to tell the truth, to be honest, to own up to my slips and mistakes, to admit to the Eating Disorder’s subterfuge. All of which I am trying to do, though to be honest, it is easier to admit to skipping meals than it is to admit to purging and its disgusting, shameful mess—I don’t want anyone imagining me with my head over the toilet bowl or over the insinkerator. It’s like exposing some deep flaw of the self—weakness, failure, self-degradation.
But there’s another TRUTH. Oscar Wilde once wrote, “A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.” Isn’t that true of my relationship with IT? I’ve been so willing to die for IT’s truth: that I am worthless, unlovable, irreparably flawed, crazy, damaging, deserve pain, deserve to die, and should, like some old stray dog, be put down. IT’s story has often been the shaping story of my life. And yet, IT’s narrative, the unhappy ending IT wants for me, is not the TRUTH.
Sure, there was the girl who swallowed the bottle of Flintstone vitamins, but there was also the girl who would make up bedtime stories for her sister about microscopic elves who lived in the curve of our ears and swung, Tarzan-like, between locks of our hair. And there was the teenager who said on the toilet in the middle of the night cutting her wrists with razors, but there was also the teenager who would willingly spend a Saturday night at home alone, reading Hemingway and writing her own stories, longhand on loose-leaf, feeling full of happiness just to put one word in front of the other. And the college student who deliberately OD’d on alcohol believing it was time to stop trying to avoid IT, but also the student who eagerly signed up for one English class after another, slowly but surely becoming a writer and finding a mentor who believed in her unwaveringly. And yes, the wife and mother who felt hopeless and swallowed a big handful of Lithium and woke the next day in the ICU, but there is, most importantly, the wife and mother who loves her family unconditionally, and is equally loved by them.
Today started atrociously but that is not today’s TRUTH or today’s full story. I could talk about my quasi-Reiki session with Jen, or the follow-up tea with Roberta in her blooming backyard, or lunch (yes! More than yogurt) with Christopher on a restaurant’s sunny patio, or the pizza party we’re having, impromptu, this evening with some friends and their kids. Or what I said to Christopher when he asked me how I was feeling.
“Good,” I said. “I’m actually feeling pretty good today.” What a story to keep telling.