The past few weeks, I’ve been manically cleaning house. Tossing decades old sheets and towels, throwing out gym clothes I’ve been wearing since graduate school days, tearfully burying at the bottom of the garbage pile, my pretty, expensive nursing bras that I’d been hopefully holding onto, just in case things got better enough to try for Bakkenaki #3. Then there have been the kitchen and breakfast room paint jobs, which have meant a corresponding sorting of glassware and needless-ware and chipped-ware and junk-ware and ugly-wedding-present-now-thirteen-years-out-so-we-can-throw-it-out-ware. Baseboard scrubbing (years of dog hair) and shop-vacuuming the basement ceiling and floor of cobwebs, bug husks, and hibernating daddy longlegs.All of this industrious activity is productive and certainly makes me feel like I am accomplishing something instead of just sucking money from the government for being sick. See? Momma extraordinaire. Just yesterday, Alexander walked into the breakfast room where I was repainting a cabinet, and he shouted out to his sister, “Hey, Sophia! Come see! Momma is painting! Come see what a great artist she’s being!”
Both practical proletarian and imaginative artisté. What better model of modern motherhood could there be?But really, I am dodging the intended subject of this post. Just as all that home improvement is a diversionary tactic. It keeps the focus away from me. Literally. No time to look in the mirror. No time, really, truly, cross my heart, to eat. Okay, maybe I grab a handful of Go Lean Crunch Berry here and there. Or a half-handful of Craisins. But the days just pass. I mean, I have to fit in AA, and kid-crap pick-up, and general house-cleaning. So I just forget to eat.
Doth the lady protest too much?I received a response to one of my blogs the other day, and the writer told me how much my honesty meant to her, because I “get IT,” particularly around the matter of eating—or rather—not eating, how difficult it is to explain why it is so hard to eat that last bite, how hard it is to stick to recovering from an Eating Disorder, even when you have every reason to—husband, kids, people who love you. And I realized that for weeks I’ve been dodging my own struggles with ED—I haven’t really written about it here. I’ve been going on and on about how I’ve been hippy-hoppy-happy. Tap dancing, patting my back, whistling, if not Dixie, then maybe some nostalgic Sex Pistols.
Which is not to say, some things haven’t been going well. I’ll just be efficient, like one of my many Home Depot lists these days:1. 8 months sober as of October 27th
2. Graduated from my Partial Hospitalization Program on October 26th
3. Dr. B. has taken me back on! (with conditions)
4. My yoga teacher has asked me to teach a yoga class for him next Fall! (Really?!)
5. No cutting since August.
6. I’m trying to be open and honest and courageous.
7. I’ve made many new, authentic friends through recovery.
8. I’m addressing my character defects and working on changing them.
9. I’m beginning to make amends to the people I have hurt along the way.
10. I’m learning how to head panic, anger, escalating self-harm impulses by talking to Christopher first.
Notice what’s missing? Despite 5 inpatient stays over the past 4 years or so at Eating Disorder Treatment programs, I’m still stuck in the quicksand.
Here are the facts: My weight, once again, is low. Not as low as it has been in the past, but low enough for my husband to say that I look emaciated. Low enough for friends I trust to tell me I look “too thin,” “awful,” and “gaunt.”
Do these remarks bother me? Of course, it stings my vanity. I don’t want to look ugly. But then again, I’ve never really been interested in being attractive, per se. I’ve always been uncomfortable being, well, “beautiful,” something I’ve been called all my life. When I was a teenager and worked for my father at his law firm in the city, we’d ride the train and then subway together, and I’d always get stared at by men, much older-suited-up men, men my father’s age, and get jostled by these men. All I could do was stare at my shoes, hope my father wouldn’t notice them looking at me, because I didn’t want to embarrass him. I hated them looking at me.
Later, my being attractive always elicited unwelcome remarks from guys in bars, then of course, there was the abusive boyfriend in college, and then in graduate school one night, when I was drunk, and not quite passed out in bed, but the party was still going on, a friend’s boyfriend came into the bedroom, and put his hand up my skirt, then under my underwear, felt me up—or down, I guess—and I didn’t move, didn’t say a thing—just kept my eyes closed, kept wishing him away. So all of my life, my being “pretty” has just meant, mostly, attention I haven’t really wanted.
Besides, this losing weight isn’t about trying to be more attractive, isn’t about media influence—it’s tied to trying to get rid of excess—a kind of purging. Whatever isn’t necessary can go. Whatever isn’t essential? Dump. Like what I’m doing with the house.
But okay. I know I’m in the Red Zone. Hair is a mess again. I’m bruising easily and the bruises take forever to fade. So I took action—got blood work and an EKG done. Everything came back normal—except I know it’s not, because I’m skipping meals whenever I can. And avoiding mirrors. Because whenever I catch a sideways glance of myself, I see what my friends and husband see—the hollowed out cheeks, the protruding hipbones, the wan, exhausted face.
Two days ago, I got an unexpected phone call from a friend who was in my Partial program with me over the summer and has struggled with an Eating Disorder for 13 years—anorexia and bulimia.
“I’m dying,” she said. “My doctor has given me at most, 1 year. Even if I turn things around today. My heart has a murmur—I need open heart surgery, but they don’t think I’d survive the surgery. I have a tear in my esophagus from the purging—I’m throwing up blood. I need surgery for that, but they think if they put an endoscope down my throat that will just tear it even further and I’ll bleed out. I’m so anemic, I need a transfusion. My liver is shutting down and there’s no treatment for that. I need dialysis. So basically, 1 year, and if I go inpatient and they’re able to help, that might extend things by a few months. Oh, I have to go. My husband just walked in from work.”
Dying. No turn-around. No recovery possible.
No recovery possible.
Her husband alone with her dead body.
Her friends left with her death.
Her husband alone.
Her dead body.
No chance for kids ever.
Recovery is still POSSIBLE.
Yesterday, Alexander and I were driving home from the grocery store, jamming out to Coldplay’s “Paradise,” my new obsession song (have you seen their elephant freeing itself from the zoo and taking off for Africa video? Impossible, but improbably touching, particularly in light of the recent Ohio massacre of all those lions and tigers and bears, oh my, I cry and cried)…). Right then, in front of me, on our little town highway, a beautiful, three point buck (I think I counted correctly in that flash of an instant), dashed into the road. I barely missed hitting it. In my rearview mirror, I watched the car behind me slam into its hindquarters. The buck toppled to the ground, its front legs scrambling to get up, its back legs paralyzed—momentarily, and then, miraculously, it was on all fours again, all muscles defined, propelling it at top speed, flying and weaving through the now slowed traffic.
The buck disappeared into the woods adjacent to the bike trail. To rest. To catch its breath. To repair. To die? To live?
“Momma,” Alexander asked, from the backseat. “Will the deer be okay?” He was twisted around, his head and eyes following the path of the deer.
Already, I was wiping away tears. “I don’t know, honey. But maybe. He sure is trying to be okay. Maybe he’s running home, back to his family. Maybe they’ll take care of him.”
Maybe. But that sheer, instinctual, absolute, glorious force of will to try to be okay. To leap out of the path of death.
My lessons keep coming exactly when I need them. As a teacher, I know when to listen and study and take them to heart.