Sunday, February 19, 2017

"What does it look like for you to have the power in your own life?" the therapists asks me. It's been a week now since I last thought about death, a week since I sat with the pills in my hand contemplating silence and nothingness and stopping the fight altogether. 

And I think of the lines from a Marge Piercy poem:

"She must learn again to speak
starting with I
starting with WE
starting as the infant does
with her own true hunger
and pleasure
and rage."

I don't think I've ever truly known what is is to be control of my own life. I lived for years under the oppressive weight of other people's beliefs, controlled by fear and shame and swallowing down my own thoughts and desires as I tried to make myself less. I remember the nights of guilt-induced sickness, trying to rid myself of the sinful parts of me. And I wonder what it is to live free from their reign, free from the grimy fingers always pulling on my skin, tugging me back, back into their dark world. I wonder what it is to not be owned by anyone, Monsters or men, except myself.


"I can't stop," I say. "I have to lose weight / self destruct / set myself on fire. It helps, oh god, I know it shouldn't, but it helps." 

As I began to move towards Life and recovery and hope, the fear's grip on me got stronger and the Monster roared louder and I grabbed hold of the eating disorder as tightly as I could. I found comfort in the arms of rules and structure and certainty, respite in letting someone else run the show. There was an escape in allowing The Monster to be in the driver's seat. But sweet Jesus, for the sake of all that is good and beautiful in this world, I have to say that I am so very, very tired of being told what to do. I am tired of my body being passed like an offering to the gods, of being bound and tied to the altar and burned alive as a sacrifice. I am tired of belonging to everyone else, tired of being the main course for their never-ending appetites.

I want, I think, to determine my own life: not let their twisted words rule me forever, not let the messages of shame haunt me till I die.

For years they told me I was tainted and broken, taught me to make myself small and shrink away from thinking too much of myself lest I commit the sin of pride. Their words wrap around me like heavy chains, the weight of them sinking me to the bottom of the sea. I am drowning in these voices that lay claim to my soul. What would it mean then, to live out my own truth? To cut myself loose and swim to the surface? What would it mean to taste the first breath of air in my lungs as I live in alignment with my own desperate heart? 

My own power: it is so unfamiliar to even consider it, such strange and uncharted territory that I'm not sure which direction to go. I'm not completely sure I want to be in control. Holding the reigns of my own life is simultaneously liberating and terrifying.  And it comes on suddenly, the sickness nostalgia, the rose-colored images of what things used to be: memories of hospital gowns and feeding tubes and a cold burrowed so deep in my bones that no amount of heat can make me feel warm -- and I miss it, miss disappearing into thin air, miss the safety and support of treatment, miss the days of not having to face the problems of the Real World because I was too lost in a fog of the disorder. The glazed over, sugar-coated images of what life was like inside of the disorder are tempting, drawing me in and towards that world of the unwell -- but somehow, despite it all, my heart is pushing pushing pushing for something else. It is desperately beating inside of me, pulsing to be free and owned by no one, no words, no beliefs, no Monsters. 


"You can't avoid life forever," she says and I want to argue with her, tell her that I am, in fact, capable of long-term avoidance. But I know that is not what she means: she and I both know that I can hold on to this disease till it inevitably kills me. She means that if I want to live, with a capital L, I will eventually have to face what I have been consistently turning away from in favor of the disorder, looking directly into the eyes of that which terrifies and paralyzes me. 

The only way out it through 

Over the past few months, I have clarified the direction I want me life to go in, analyzed to bits the motivating and grounding forces in my life, and yet when theory comes to action there is a disconnect: of course I want Life and hope and happiness / I do not eat my food; I want to travel and sing and have a family / there I am, kneeling before the toilet again. It seems that no matter how much work I do in therapy, the Monster is always stronger, more desirable. And just like that I begin to sink into despair again,  believing that I will never get out of this dark place, believing that this is all there is, as good as it gets - and dear lord if that's the case, I want off this ride.

I am fooling no one: I am not happy here. I am in chaos, my bleeding heart incapable of being ignored, but me, here, still trying my hardest to stop it up nonetheless. I am denying who I am with each meal skipped, each bruised bit of skin, each bloodied blade. I am suppressing that spark of light, that Something Else that comes around when I sing and write and create. She calls it passion (I call it magic) and says that it is what makes life meaningful and that I should pursue it with everything inside of me. The spark pulls at me, pulses through me, calling me back to surface. In each small moment of inflated lungs I feel a tug of hope, a reminder that this is what I was created to do: create. When I refuse my own identity as an artist, suppress my creativity and return to the eating disorder, I betray my own soul.  How long can I - will I - keep denying who I am?

My own power: there is no "taking back" to be done, since it was never mine in the first place. But coming into my own power, owning myself for the first time in my life: where in the world do I even begin? To be powerful, to be a free agent, to have autonomy and belong to me and me alone / this is what I want, what I long for in my most honest moments. It begins with food, of course, and kindness towards myself, since that goes against every message They gave me and the Monster's loud raging voice. But it's going to be so much more than food and not destroying my body. It's going to be embracing a family of choice, surrounding myself with a community because I deserve more than isolation and loneliness. It going to be practical things like being proactive in taking steps towards building a future life that I would want to live in. It is owning my artist identity and pursuing my passions with ferocity.

When I think of power, I think of Toni Morrison's words about love: "Don't think I fell for you, or  fell over you. I didn't fall in love, I rose in it."  There is a rising that must happen if I am to become my own: a rising into an identity that I have been running from, a rising to face the lingering, ever-present Fear, a rising into self-possession and a stubborn refusal to allow anyone else's beliefs define my actions or self worth. I don't believe that deep down I want to continue to be dragged along, bound to their truths forever, a slave to the messages that they gave me. I must rise, must become, must liberate myself somehow:

: if only I knew how - how to motivate myself to stop listening to the old tapes that play in my head, how to treat myself with respect and care, how to find safety in something other than destruction. It seems that no matter how motivated my mind may be, the Monster is stronger, looms larger, fights dirtier. I may know that what I want is liberation and wholeness and agency, but that doesn't suddenly mean that I am free, doesn't guarantee that I am strong enough to fight back and escape the clutches of the Monster. Here, in this place, I feel enslaved to the disorder, to living against my values and beliefs and desires and passions. I don't know what will get me out of this place. I am dying an internal death as I obsess over calories and how much I've walked and How Little Can I Eat Today?  I don't know how to claw my way out of the trenches this time,  I don't know how to tune out my demons; I only know that the longer I go on, the more desperate I feel - the more my heart screams in my chest, pounding, raging against my ribcage to be let loose. I don't know how to get free, I only know that I need it.