Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mind the Gap: Eating Disorders and Clothing Fit

Yesterday, I was swiveling back and forth in the beauty salon chair, paging through the latest issue of Vogue, waiting for the timer to ping! so my stylist could wash out the purple-that-will-turn-black dye from my hair.  One of the results of being Black Irish?  Silver stands started showing up in my late thirties—and they’re not the cascading Emmylou Harris kind of silver, but the wiry crone variety.  So, I do my best to fight time and get to read all the magazines I don’t buy for myself for the forty minutes or so it takes for the magic to work.
Except this time what should have been a vapid fashion ad knocked the breath out of me.  A model, beautiful, of course, long, almost colorless blonde hair, pinned in a half up-do, wearing a halter top, no doubt made of calf-skin, or some material that cost more than my monthly mortgage payment.  She teetered on rickety heels, from what I can remember, not much to them other than strings across her toes and around ankles.  Her face was glacially clean, as if she had spent a week scrubbing it so only the clean angles of her bones, which were beautiful and hard, were left.  But all of this, really, is ordinary—you can flip to most pages in Vogue or Elle and find this presentation.  What stopped me was this:

The gap.
Between her pants and her body.

Rather the waist of the pants and her waist.
Her pants didn’t fit.

The anorexic gap.
I looked at the model and though: Either A.) They put her in pants that were too big or B.) She is too small.  I dismissed A.) Because from what I know of the industry, they generally use a fit size of 0 or 00, so that would be just silly for a 0 or 00 to be too big; which means she is B.) Too small?  Or maybe  C.) WORSE.  The ad deliberately makes her look like she is too small for the clothes, that she is underweight, has grown out of/is undersized for the clothes she is wearing.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to go on a diatribe against the modeling industry and their links to eating disorders.  Certainly the industry didn’t cause my eating disorder.  As most of us know, Eating Disorders are complex, have many “causes,” though I prefer the term “triggers,” and these triggers work in chaotic combinations.  Obviously, when it comes to Body Image triggers, seeing images of underweight bodies as represented by women in the modeling industry can be a trigger as they can be used as ideal aspirations.  But for me, and for many women who have or are struggling with Eating Disorders, we move past these “ideal aspirations” into Anorexia.  You don’t usually see the emaciated, feeding-tubed woman skipping around in her cute, green ballet flats and flouncy champagne pink skirt on the cover of the latest J. Crew catalogue, do you?  Not exactly going to sell a lot of cashmere cardigans.
So I saw that gap, that space between the pants fitting and the pants not fitting, the pants touching and not touching, and I felt that old, or not so old trigger, rear its ugly head.  Because for me, when I was deep in Anorexia, that was my yardstick.  First, it was trading pants sizes down.  A sense of accomplishment.  This is too big, let’s move smaller.  This is too big, too.  Smaller still.  Smaller still.  Smaller still.  Until I got as small as I could go.  As small as the sizes would go.  Until there was the gap.  And then the gap became me.  See?  Nothing can touch you.  That’s how you know that you are small enough.  That’s how you know you haven’t become big again.  That’s how you know that you are okay.  If the waist touches you, then you are fat, big, wrong, a failure.  Just like the Tube announces in London: MIND THE GAP.

But there was this moment, close to the end of it all, close to when I was sent away for my last inpatient Eating Disorders recovery, when I was in a store trying to buy a dress for some party.  I grabbed three or four in the smallest size and went into the dressing room which had a three-way mirror.  Ages since I’d looked at myself in any real way and suddenly I was face-to-face-limb-to-limb-stomach-to-ass with myself and I was breathless because I didn’t recognize who I was.  But…I wasn’t about to find out because I wasn’t ready yet, so I quickly slipped Dress #1 over my head.  Enormous.  Dress #2.  Enormous.  Dress #3.  Enormous.  Nothing fit at all.  I had fallen into the gap and disappeared.
My clothes fit today, even if there are days when I resent that.  Sometimes I catch myself wishing for my jeans to start sliding off my hipbones.  Or I start wondering what the point of exercise is if not to lose weight.  Or just the need to keep on top of myself to eat consistently if I am exercising because that’s how I maintain a healthy weight and prevent disappearing back into the gap.  Which is funny. If anyone is as old as me and remembers back in the early, early ‘80’s, The Gap’s ad campaign had a jingle that went, “Fall into The Gap.”  Of course, about luring you into their stores.  But for me, is the perfect antithetical complement to the Tube’s “Mind the Gap.”  It is so easy for me to fall back into the gap, into the kind of thinking that triggers Eating Disordered thoughts and behaviors—a slippery slope.  It is much harder, but payoff means living in recovery, if I am mindful, always, of the gap.


Saturday, March 9, 2013

Surrender to the Second Act


Ladies and Gentlemen!  My deep apologies for the extended intermission.  I know you’ve grown restless, but please, bear with me for just a while longer.  Avail yourself of the concession stand.  Of course, it’s Recovery themed, so Mixed-Berry Smoothies, Latt├ęs, Dark Chocolate-Cashew Brittle, and Hand-pressed Fruit Roll-ups inscribed with AA’s Twelve Steps.  It seems there’s been a malfunction with the curtain’s pulley system.  The microphone, as you can tell, is inconsistent in volume.  And the chorus—essential back-up for our headliner!  They sing AND dance.  Tap dance.  The tiny metal pieces keep skittering off their shoes and buttons keep popping off in the most inappropriate places  So we need to get them all refitted before we can send them out. 
But really, I know you know the show could go on without all this.  Our headliner could just say, “To hell with the back-up!”  I mean, a chorus is helpful, but not essential.  Every now and then, you need to take the stage alone.  Sing a cappella.  Deliver the empowered monologue.  So of course, she could just push through the curtains and Get On With the Show!  We’re all restless, aren’t we, to see what’s next?  So what’s the problem?  Is our star being petulant?  Demanding?

Oh shit.  I was never meant for Broadway.  I’m just petrified, caught in-between Acts.  I knew exactly what to do in Act One of my life.  I had the script typed and bound and memorized from the time I was a kid: 1. Be very, very smart and be as perfect as possible in school because that will earn you admiration and approval which is just as good (or equal to) love; 2. Follow the rules (that you will be taught) to become the kind of writer that you want to be; 3. Choose your role model (Writer/Professor) and follow their path, but try to outdo them—do it faster and all at once (Writer/PhD/Book/Wife/Mother/Tenure-Track Professor); 4. Ignore Craziness/Eating Disorder/Alcoholism.  As the heavy red curtain falls, (let’s add gilt trim) I am lying in a hospital bed, my hacked up arms wrapped in gauze, suicidal, hung-over, and twenty pounds under-weight, about to be given the ultimatum (to be redundant) of a lifetime, from my husband: “If you don’t stop drinking stop cutting stop starving you can’t come home to the kids and me.”
So here I am waiting in the brilliance of Intermission.  Waiting and wandering and working on well-being.  It’s been two years since that ultimatum, two years since I last had a drink, two years of sobriety, from alcohol, anyway.  Time to regain much of my physical health.  I no longer wake up at night because my heart beats so fast against my chest I think it might punch through, I no longer hide cuts on my arms under bandages and sweaters.  I no longer stockpile medication to take by the fistful when things get “that bad.”  Time to gain stability--for once in my adult life.  It’s been almost eighteen months since I’ve been inside a hospital—mostly due vigilance, though in part due to Dr. B. telling me that the next time I go inpatient I’ll either go to the state hospital or to a group home.  What can I say?  It seems ultimatums work.  Time to work through my SHAME, Shame, shame.  Today, I was telling a friend that I know my shame over being an alcoholic, over having Bipolar Disorder, over struggling with an Eating Disorder has largely left me when I realized I no longer taste the bloody metal in my mouth every time I’m confronted with some moment from the past tied to my drinking, manic-depression, starving, or purging.  Rather, I’m usually grateful because I can see myself in those awful, tortured, sad, past imperfect scenes as someone who was (and still is) worthy of compassion, help and forgiveness and in need of succor.

Most importantly?  Intermission has given me (most obviously) time.  A break.  A rest.  But now it’s time for the Second Act.  Spring Ahead.  The clock moves forward.  And guess what?  I’m sitting in my dressing room, scared shit.  Because I don’t know what to do or who to be when I leave and go back on stage.  I don’t have a clear place to go once I let go of the last page of Act One.  No more Professor Kerry dream.  That PhD that’s framed sits in my office up in the attic of my house, not in an office on campus anymore.  No more Sure Thing, Sure Bet, Do This, and I Know I Get That.  And I should feel liberated, right?  I get to start over—rethink what I want from my life, rethink how I want to direct my talents.  But I’m 40 and have two kids and am married and by now, should be adding to my retirement fund, or at least have some idea as to what my Second Act could be.  Instead, I’m just sitting here looking at a whole rack of potential costumes, eyeing their feathers and frills and sequins and baubles, but I don’t see one for me.  Okay, maybe the green Flapper number, but that would require some moonshine Gin drink and I can’t have that, soooo.
Maybe I just can’t see my Second Act yet—can’t see past my own past, if that makes sense.  The worst kind of stage fright. 

But this is not who I am, burying myself inside Intermission.  Just break down the word.  “Inter”-“Mission.”  Between missions.  Act One was only the first mission of my life.  Act Two is going to be the second mission of my life—and I need to think of this AS an actual Mission—a calling that I am charged with carrying out, something that reaches beyond myself, though using my talents, for some larger purpose.  The idea of this feels grandiose, feels like maybe I’m betraying my dream from Act One.  Makes me feel guilty, like I’m wasting those PhD years.  And yet.  Didn’t those years also lead me to blackouts and scars and starvation and Electric Shock Therapy and hospitals and countless separations from my family and suicide attempts and finally, thank god, Intermission?

Ladies and Gentlemen!  Please excuse the lack of fanfare.  We apologize in advance.  The chorus will not be onstage.  The curtain does not work.  The microphone is shot.  But the lights!  Cue the lights!

I’m here.  Center stage.  Open to suggestions.  Humble and Hopeful and Heartful.