Saturday, January 11, 2020

The voice of the man in the pulpit rang out with fervor, echoing off the old stone walls of the overflowing sanctuary. My family sat exactly four rows from the front, spell-bound by his words, held in his pronouncements of God's judgment on the wicked.

I was nine years old at the time (nine and half, to be precise), and I felt incredibly small and fragile in comparison to the man's weighty words. I envisioned the deity he preached about to be one that would likely not be pleased with my restless squirming in our stiff wooden pew; one who would look sternly on my desire to dance down the aisles, and one who would, like my mother sitting to my right, be incensed at my ink-stained hands, turned blue-black from drawing comic book characters on my service program.

I supposed that God was much like the preacher in front of us, with greying hair and ill-fitting black suits and a trembling voice with which to express his deep heartbreak over our depravity and resulting damnation.

My creative impulses were always separate from any divine being because as one can imagine, preparing for the end of the world is a very serious thing; there really is not room for a playful, mischievous spirit when your soul is on the line.

But there were times, even still, that I would dream of sneaking out of the pew and spinning in the aisles, my velvet green dress buoyed up by my twirls. My nine-year-old brain did not have words for deep theological arguments, but in those moments I liked to think that there existed somehow, somewhere a god who would dance with me down the aisles, laughing as I did lopsided cartwheels past dismayed congregants; That image stayed with me as a grew older and began to ask questions, that deep contradiction to the God of Not Slouching in Your Pew Young Lady, We Are In A Church; a god who was less tightly constricted breathing lest we lose control and more like the Wind.


The three of us sat around six candles in a darkened room, lifting up prayers and poems for a world that was ripping apart at the seams, our heart-break at the violence and injustice before us was palpable. As we mourned the loss of human life and the destruction of all of creation, our words turned visions and imaginings.

"Perhaps it is not that we don't have language for a just, peaceful world," she said to us in that dark room, "But perhaps we are simply not listening to the right voices: those of the poets and artists and musicians."

In that room, looking at the melting candles, I wondered that the Wind was where my nine-year-old self had found it, though not aware of its name at the time, in creativity and imagination.

I lived the first sixteen years of my life fearing the end of the world as we know it; I am intimately acquainted with the word terror. Perhaps that is why I am so averse to allowing doom-sayers into my life anymore.

I am not in denial: the world is in dire need of repair and horrifying tragedies happen daily. There is work to be done. But I think often of the line from a poem by Erica Jong, "Doom is cheap: if the apocalypse is coming, let us wait for it in joy."

When the voices of extreme panic rise around me, fore-telling the hopelessness of it all, I hear echoes of the preacher in the ill-fitting black suit. I am not advocating naiveté; ignoring the needs and pains of one's neighbor is neither noble nor holy. Yet I believe in in what Jack Gilbert termed a stubborn gladness, a joy that exists in the present, playful and mischievous and creating - always creating. If it is set in stone somewhere, if the fates have decided in their capricious wills that this ship is going down, I will not spend my remaining time on it in fear or despair. The air there is stagnate.

But that always pulling, tugging at me Wind, that Good Presence? There is something playful there, something that I think in the heaviness of the news cycle we forget. Yes, we tend to our wounded and work tirelessly to eradicate systemic injustice. But I believe god is still dancing down the aisles, inviting me to join her in my green velvet dress. As the world seems more bleak, we are invited to dance more, imagine more, write and sing and paint more. There is Life there, capital L Life, and if doom is coming, that is where I will be found: dancing in the aisles past the doom-sayers and politicians and Very Serious Old Men who are appalled at my audacity to dance when the end is near. I want to be found among those who are creating new worlds with the tools they are given, among those who imagine better for this planet and live into moments of deep joy despite the pain and tragedy that is found here. Joy is not made to be a crumb, as Mary Oliver so wisely wrote.

The weight of the world cannot fit on my two small shoulders; I should know - I have tried it on many a time. But I am no longer attempting to carry it. I do not close my eyes to suffering; I stand as a compassionate witness to trauma and pain.

--  and then I imagine more, and pick up my pen and keep creating.

Monday, July 29, 2019

I told a therapist once that I wished I could fix my broken brain and stop all the self-destructive noise, and she told me that my brain is literally reacting exactly as it should be given my trauma history. And of course, I started crying because for so long I had thought that there was something wrong with me. I was the sick, diseased child. I was the one who couldn't stop self-destructing. I was the one who was broken.

She told me that while it is incredibly frustrating to deal with panic attacks or dissociation or flashbacks, and it gets incredibly tiring having to tell myself that yes, we are going to eat today, my brain is actually responding in a really healthy manner. It's simply trying to protect me post-trauma. My brain has always been trying to protect me, and that helps, somehow, on the hard days. It helps to know that despite my brain going to maladaptive ways of survival, it is simply because it doesn't know that we're not in original circumstances anymore. It is desperately trying to get me through the hard stuff. 

I'm learning how to orient myself to the present, to send signals to my system that we are safe now, and to teach my brain that it doesn't need to protect me in that same way anymore. But I'm grateful, nonetheless, for how cool it is that my brain is that wired to survive. It's beautiful, actually, in the moments when my head is above water. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

"This is my body, broken for you," the pastor intones, tearing a loaf of cheap Hawaiian bread down the middle as he prepares the elements for the communion service.

I sit in a pew a few rows back arms folded across a ribcage that once protruded sharply from my skin, and wonder how another broken body benefits this world. 

As he he lifts up a cup and proclaims Christ's blood spilled for me, quickly clarifying that it is grape juice and not wine, I subconsciously run my fingers over the faded scars on my wrists, thinking of the night that my own blood ran red, covering the bathroom floor. No, I think, I do not want more blood poured out on my behalf.

His voice is just the right amount of solemn and reverent and emotional as he says, "Do this in remembrance of me." 

But I can’t carry the weight of remembering, can’t hold another traumatized body in addition to my own: can't take on more sweat-drenched memories or paralyzing flashbacks, the unrelenting heaviness of knowing.

I stay seated in my pew as the congregants line up to take part in the communion table / I am unable to stomach the violence in that juice-soaked piece of bread, unable to consume another’s pain so easily.

As the congregants begin to return to their seats in silence, contemplating the broken body of their Lord, I look down at my body, which too, has been broken, but for which there is no weekly gathering to commemorate its suffering. 

My pain is etched into my skin, my body bearing witness to the unbearable; it is in scars and scratches, burn marks and bruises, in a worn down esophagus and a heart that beats a little too slowly. Who, I wonder, will remember this body, this malnourished, mistreated body?


I am sixteen years old.

A nurse at a treatment center comes to call us for dinner and we obediently file into a cold, clinical cafe where plates of prepared food are set in front of us.

"Are we ready?" a woman asks, wearing a staff name badge that unlocks the doors that keep us caged in. When a few heads nod around the table, she starts a small timer. "Alright ladies, you may begin."

I stare down at the plate in front of me, filled with chicken and mashed potatoes and broccoli, and in this moment, it seems like a herculean task to lift fork to mouth. 

"Just one bite, Lindsay," the woman says softly, in an attempt to encourage me. "You've got to try."

But there is a yellow feeding tube already shoved up my nose, pulsing calories into my stomach, and my brain cannot comprehend why I also need to pick up my fork and eat.

Food is life, and life is not something I am particularly interested in. I am being kept alive against my will, against ever cell in my body that is so very world-weary. 

I sit in silence through the meal, staring blankly at chicken and mashed potatoes and broccoli, and imagine myself somewhere where the Monsters in my mind did not exist.


It is ten years later and she is crying in the hallway of a different treatment center,  and I roll a pole that connects me to my tube feedings over to her, kneeling down beside her as she struggles to gasp for air between sobs. 

She is re-living her multiple rapes.

"Do you want to be alone right now?" I ask her softly.
"No," she says, her voice thick with tears, "Please, no." 

I pull her close and she holds me so tightly I think I'll break, and we stay there for what seems like an eternity, the raw, gut-wrenching pain of our traumas flooding both of our fragile bodies.


In Bessel van der Kolk's seminal text on trauma, The Body Keeps the Score, he writes of a veteran who refuses medication for his nightmares in order to be a living memorial for his fallen friends. He doesn't want to forget.

It's been almost a year now, almost a full year out.

As I navigate this world in a body made strong by months of adequate nutrition, sometimes I too wonder if healing means forgetting. 

"No, Lindsay," she says to me, "Healing and recovery are tools of empowerment."

But my sickly shell of a body was a living testament to the terrors I had seen. There was no turning away, no denying the gruesome details of my pain, when I was on death's door. 

I understand the veteran's dilemma. 

If I come down from the cross and move into resurrection, who will remember the trauma I lived through? Who will remember my friends, the ones lost to the Other World because their pain was too strong to bear? 

Each week, the pastor lifts up the bread and cup, honoring one body torn apart by violence. 

Each week, I stay seated in the pew as the rest of the church rises, and think of all the broken bodies that go unnamed and forgotten. 

Although my body no longer serves as monument to my pain, now colored in and fleshed out, I refuse to forget. 

Instead of remembering a broken body through a bite of wine-soaked bread, I go to lunch after the church service. I order a full plate of pasta and eat every bite, doing this act of nourishment and Life in remembrance of them, the ones who lived through the unbearable and did not survive. 

My flesh is still a living testament, but differently now. I am bound to them, to the women I wept with and held and talked through panic attacks. My body carries their stories alongside my own deep in the marrow of my bones. But the world does not need me to continually offer up my body as sacrifice on their behalf. The world does not need me to perpetuate more pain. 

So it is in remembrance of their suffering, of my own suffering, that I live. 
It is with each bite of food that moves me towards wholeness, that I do in remembrance of us.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


I cried for the entirety of our fifty minute therapy session, crumpled tissues piling high next to me, after she asked me what it was exactly about the eating disorder that I did not want to go back to.

As I described to her in between sobs what is is to survive ten years of violence inflicted upon your own body, something inside of me seemed to break. Remembering the nights of raw throated agony as I kneeled before a toilet bowl to pay my penance for my sins / the days of primal hunger as my stomach burned and my muscles ached, there was a sense of sheer terror that I would ever return to that life of suffering.

And yet it pulls at me, the Monster, always calling me backwards towards sickness, towards dying, towards pain. It roars in my head that there is something unclean running through my veins that must be dug out; that I have, merely by existing, perpetrated the greatest of all crimes, transgressed the laws of the gods, and I must spend the rest of my days on my knees repenting.

I have spent a lifetime, all of my short twenty-six years on this earth, atoning for sins that I have never even committed.

Are the gods satisfied yet?


"Maybe," she says slowly, weighing her words, "maybe, you have suffered enough."

I grab another tissue and hug my knees to my chest.

It is deeply violent to deprive your body of the necessary calories it needs to survive, to heave and convulse before a toilet bowl altar, to run until your body is on the verge of collapse. What is it to live through trauma that is of your own making? What is it to live through such extreme violence at your own hands? 

For so long I have numbed myself to the reality of what I was doing, but I felt the gravity of it all in that moment, telling her about how I used to lay in bed, counting my too-slow heartbeats to make sure I was still alive, all the while praying that I was not. Because, I tell her, to wake up and live another day meant listening to the Monster's orders, being a slave to Its sadistic whims and I couldn't bear that one more day. 

I choke down more tears. 

Reliving those days, those haunted days, brings up gut-wrenching pain.

Yet I have begun to listen to the Monster again lately, buying into Its silver-tongued promises and rose-colored visions of safety and control. I know better, know that the life it offers is a life against my values. 


It's just one snack. 
One run.
One meal.
One day.
One week.
One life.

And I can feel myself falling again, spiraling into the dark place where I cannot choose for myself but can only obey / obey / obey the Monster. 

This is not the life that I want. I don't want to go back to living as the dead, to walking around half-girl, half-ghost. I am terrified of being forced into living against myself again, committing violence against my body, directed by my mind. 

She tells me that I have a choice in this, that I am giving away my power too easily, and I don't know that I believe her. I want to, but it doesn't feel true. 


Just eat your food, Lindsay, I tell myself, eat your damn food. 

I am sitting at a restaurant with friends, smiling and laughing and talking as though I were not starving myself to death. 

The full plate of food in front of me makes my stomach growl and the hunger pangs grow stronger. 

I can hear the therapist's voice in my head, Think about the life that you want. This is not what you want. 

But the voice of the Monster is loud and strong, and I feel small and weak in comparison. 


"I don't know how to want to eat," I tell her. 
"You won't want to," she says, "You just have to go through the motions for a while before it gets easier." 

I open the door to the refrigerator, close it, and then open it again. 

I do not want to eat.

But I am so very tired of pain, always pain.

I am so very tired of dying. 

I am so very tired of the hellish existence of my eating disorder.

I make no promises for tomorrow, I tell her. I’m not committing myself to recovery and rainbows and sunshine. I don’t know that I am even capable of beating back the Monster for any extended length of time. The Monster’s grip on me is tight.

But maybe - I hesitate before continuing - maybe just for this one meal, I have suffered enough. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

She calls me in tears, telling me she's started using again and that can't stop, and all I want in that moment is to save her. I want to fly across the country, throw out all the drugs and make her promise to stay clean.

But I know it doesn't work that way.

"Am I destined to live in this cycle forever?" she asks me, "Relapsing and then going back to treatment only to relapse again when I leave?"

As I lay there, curled up on my couch, I don't know what to tell her. I want to pretend like my struggles are gone and that I am somehow beyond where she is. I want to convince myself I am not in the exact same place, wanting desperately to go back to my demons, to be pulled back into a vicious cycle of sickness.


Sitting in dark, empty apartment after the phone call ends, I pull my blanket around my shoulders and wait for the overcast Sunday skies to break into rain.

I've been flirting with death again lately, letting myself slip here and there, justifying it all by saying it's just one time, what does it really matter?

I know where this path leads, know that this ends in shivering cold misery and obsessive weight loss, that it ends in hospitals and feeding tubes and months and months of trying to undo the damage. Maybe that's the point, though. Maybe that's what I am subconsciously moving towards.  Because I miss it. Yes, In some twisted way, I miss being sick.  I miss living in a mental fog, not being able to think straight or concentrate on anything. I miss lacking energy, feeling faint, feeling like I was on a high when I didn't eat for days. And most of all, I miss dying.

On the spectrum of life and death, I have hovered on the side of death for the past ten years. There was something comforting in not having to face the world, in hiding behind sickness and death. Not having to deal with pain and past trauma, not having to feel, not having to know what it is to be human; the eating disorder was a safe haven, a protection from a terrifying world.

When I existed in a too-small, fragile body, it felt as if there wasn't room in my body for the pain. As though the less mass I took up on the planet, the less space there was for the hurt. As though I could starve myself small enough to not feel, starve myself small enough to rid myself of my trauma.

Despite all of the hard work I've done over the past few months, all of the intensive therapy and self-reflection, the pull is strong to go back to what was killing me. The siren song of the disorder is lulling me towards the water's edge, calling me deeper and deeper in, lulling me towards drowning.

"There are so many good things in your life," the woman tells me, "you have so many opportunities that are life-giving. You have to be healthy for those to happen. You can't have both sickness and your dreams."

She is right that I cannot have those things without being healthy, but being healthy is strange and disorienting. Being closer to the side of Life is uncharted territory and I'm not sure that I like it. I long for the familiarity of a dying body. I don't know how to live in this new place, a place where I use my words to be heard rather than my physical self.

I am so afraid of being okay, of not being in crisis, of stability and health.

I am so afraid of having the power in my own life.


"You spend all your time escaping and avoiding," says the therapist, "and you're never really present in your own life." 

I started to run back to the eating disorder a few days ago, deciding to relapse and let myself lose control to the Monster again. I would have kept going for as long as I could hold out when a friend reached out to me and asked to talk. In that moment, I had a choice to make: to show up for my friendships, to be fully present and have deep, meaningful conversations with people I care about, or lose myself in the haze of starvation, becoming a ghost of a woman again, never really there.

I chose, this time, to be present.

There is something to that, I think. The most powerful moments in my recovery process have been when people have been fully present with me in my experiences of suffering and pain, walking alongside of me through the darkness. There is something there, something important about the idea that presence brings healing.

But for myself, I have avoided presence like the plague, running from anything that makes me feel my emotions, and when pushed to an uncomfortable place, dissociating to protect myself. The eating disorder, in it's desperate attempts to avoid the present moment, has caused me to become so disconnected from my own self, from my body and my own internal experiences.

But what I want - meaningful connections with other people - requires me to show up. It asks of me what I am most afraid of doing: experiencing the range of human emotions in all of its messy glory. It asks me to stop running, always running, from pain.

This healing isn't one sided though: I am healed through the presence of others as much as through my own home-coming to my body and emotions. It is in this dual relationship of fully embodied presence that I am beginning to mend, bit by bit.

I don't know if I'll ever stop missing the sickness fully, or ever really get over the desire to go back to it. But I believe deeply in the power of presence. Not as a magic cure, as if such a thing existed, but as something to hold onto in the midst of the storm. 

Saturday, April 8, 2017


It's been exactly four weeks to the day since I left the treatment center. 

I absentmindedly touch my fingers to the pendant hanging around my neck - four weeks / it feels like an eternity, like I've aged decades in the time since I've been away. 

I'm sitting on my porch in the sun, pen and paper in front of me, breathing in the smell of my neighbor's cigarettes and trying to find a way to displace my pain onto a blank white page. This is what they taught me to do, isn't it? To find other outlets besides my physical self to express my emotions?  "Use your words," they said, and I must learn again how to speak / how to spit out the sadness and fear and hope instead of swallowing it down or carving it on my skin.


My stomach growls and I look longingly towards the refrigerator, but I can't seem to make myself eat today. Today the pain is too acute, twisted in knots in my belly, too much sadness stuck in my throat to swallow down food. And I've been pushing it away, all the grief and the loneliness and heartache, pushing it far, far away from me so I don't have to know it, feel it, be flooded with the weight of it all. I am pretending that it does not exist. To acknowledge it's existence is to make it real, to have to sit with the depth of my own deep ache.

I have been confronted this past week with the sound of my mother tongues: the languages of loneliness and fear and shame, words that were spoken to me when I was young, languages that are more familiar to me than my own heartbeat. When I hear them, I speak them back in razor blades to my skin, bruised eyes and empty bellies. Shame and fear and loneliness are body-languages, felt in hunched shoulders and downcast eyes, and spoken through scarred arms and bony-framed bodies leaning over toilet bowls.

They are asking of me the impossible: to learn a new way of communication, to begin to hear and speak differently. To unlearn the body-languages, to recognize the messages of the past, hear their sound, but respond back with my own true voice. They are asking me to verbalize my experience rather than expressing my pain and grief through my physical self. But my own true voice feels unfamiliar and strange, my words foreign on my tongue; self-denial and self-destruction taste like home. To speak with actual words, to vocalize my pain, is to make it real. And to make it real is to feel it and to feel it is to hurt and good god, I do not want to hurt.

But I am still hearing my native tongues despite it all, the voices of of shame and obsessive fear and always-and-forever-alone-ness rising above the fray. They rattle through my bones, shaking me to my core, and everything in me wants to speak them back, respond to the heaviness they bring by pouring out my pain in prolonged hunger and sharp objects on my skin.

Yes, I am being asked to do the impossible: to do something different.

It's been four days so far since I've eaten, four days and the last thing I want are calories in my body, weighing me down / filling me up with life and feeling. I am speaking, but I am speaking in the Old Languages, Their languages, living into the messages they gave me (dirty:unworthy:broken:never enough) by destroying my very flesh and bone. They pronounced destruction over me and I now I speak it over myself, a woman fluent in tearing herself to shreds.

The question is not why I self-destruct. The question is: how in the world do I stop? How do I stop listening so intently to the words I know by heart, those of age-old, haunting shame, and paralyzing fear and pit-of-my-stomach-loneliness / how do I stop speaking the Old Languages, communicating to the world only through my body?


My mind is foggier today than it has been in the past few months. The number on the scale was down this morning: and I long for it, to start shrinking again, to disappear into thin air. 

I saw it coming from a mile away: the build of fear and anxiety and shame, the emotions I was stuffing down so I wouldn't have to feel them, the increasing pressure to figure out my future plans. It was hardly have been a surprise that I finally broke down and gave in to the ever present desires to deprive my body of nutrients. No, the behaviors themselves were expected. What caught me by surprise was how easy it was to slip back, how effortlessly I went into the mode of self-destruction.

That internal force that drives me is still bent on punishment and pain, still caught up in Their beliefs, the voices that speak the Old Languages. 

I know that the real me, me with a capital M, disagrees with those messages. I know that they don't fit for me anymore. Yet I am constantly caught in this tug-of-war between listening intently to the toxicity in which I am fluent, living out the shame-filled messages, and choosing the new way, the way of self-compassion and faith and wholeness and Life. The toxic voices are louder and more enticing than the new way, a siren song pulling me to the edge of the cliff, tempting me to lean further and further over the brink.

I don't know how to stuff up my ears to block out the sound, how to choose recovery on my own terms, how to motivate myself back into living in line with my values and beliefs.
I do not have an answer yet, at least not one that satisfies. 
The poet Marge Piercy writes
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 suppose that's where I must start too, with my own true hunger and pleasure and rage, things I’ve long suppressed. I suppose this is the only way to learn a language, to fumble through and stumble along like a child until one day it comes naturally, flowing off the tongue. 
Here is to new ways of listening: tuning in to the voices of self-compassion and worthiness and grace; for something besides the Old Ways / those familiar sounds of shame and fear.
Here is to new ways of speaking: articulating my pain and heartache and internal experience through my own true voice, however shaky and rusty it may be, instead of through these body-languages.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

"You seem... brighter," she tells me, as we sit across from each other in her office. I am sitting cross-legged on a blue couch, fidgeting with necklace that I was given up graduation from the treatment center. 

"I've felt it too," I say, "Something has shifted."

It's been two weeks since I left treatment, two weeks of fear and uncertainty and change, but, somehow, two weeks of staying the path of recovery. 

This is a strange new world, like emerging from a fog and not remembering what it felt like to be able to see clearly, trying to navigate this landscape with new eyes. I am used to stumbling around in the dark / I am used to the phrase "you can't see it now, but there is hope" / I am used to having to trust the words of others, having move forward despite not knowing or seeing or tasting freedom myself. 

But in this place, this uncharted territory of recovery and health, I feel an unexplainable sense of peace and centeredness. 

There was a time in the not so distant past when the very idea of hope seemed dangerous, too delicate to trust, too flimsy to grasp onto. The word itself tasted strange on my tongue, like it didn't belong in this worn-down body. And somehow, somehow I am here, now, letting hope, that scariest of words, flood my being / run it's wild course through my veins. It's not that I'm suddenly sunshine and rainbows about life - that will never be my story. But hope doesn't seem quite so foreign now, quite so terrifying and far off. 

I'm not sure how to live anymore. 

Ten years of the disease and suddenly it's like I've woken up from a dream to find myself in Life again. There is no roadmap for where to go from here, how to learn to take my first steps again, speak my first words, start over in the process of being human. 

I should be more afraid than I am right now.

There is so much that could fall through, go terribly wrong. This is a place of complete unknown, territory I have never treaded before. 

And yet I feel an overwhelming sense of calm. 

I am finally living in line with my own self, my soul no longer in chaos or dissonance from living against my very heart. 

That's not to say I'll never struggle again, or never fall back into the waiting arms of the eating disorder.  I am not naive enough to believe the fight is won. The temptation is still present at every meal and I don't know that that will ever fully go away. But the pull of Life is stronger right now, and it is resurrecting me.

I don't remember the last time I felt hopeful, the last time I felt grounded and at a peace, but I think I might just like it.