I have vacillated about even bothering to write about this for a couple months now...but the words keep knocking around in my head so I think it's time to let them out. The hesitation stems from being worried about what folks will think...but I realized that doesn't really matter because I'm writing it for me. To get it out. To help it lose its power over me. I can't control what people think about what I write or create. So...fuck it.
I have struggled with various aspects an eating disorder for 30 years now. At the beginning as a teenager it was the actual anorexia, which I fortunately was able to reverse physically relatively early, but the mental effects took a lot longer wrangle (understatement of the decade). The anorexia morphed into obsession with exercise and orthoexia. I became a long distance runner, which over time, completely wrecked my digestion. (There are good things about running too....and they deserve credit but this post is not about running). Then it morphed into finding the next "thing" that would help my digestive issues. All the different types of "diets" that exist today....I've tried most of them. Not in a quest to lose weight, but now to help get me healthy again. It felt like I was in a prison of my own making. It started with refusing to eat food and then it became so that I actually couldn't eat a lot of things. On some level I thought I rather deserved it.
I don't talk about it very much because it's embarrassing for me. I have thought of eating disorders are problems that don't exist in a world where there is a struggle to survive. They are problems that happen where people flourish - whether they realize it or not. So I'm ashamed that this happened to me, even though I know why it did. I can't write about it all - some of it is too close to some people in my life, and I want to be sensitive to their feelings - but I was raised in a home with parents who were both wonderful people and loved us kids, but had less than a harmonious marriage. I was constantly exposed to the concept of inadequacy and failure, and I think I took that on myself as well. That plus moving quite often around the U.S. and overseas - which had its true benefits as well - I felt like I didn't have any type of control over my life. So I became the stereotypical oldest daughter perfectionist overachiever. It was a subconscious quest to find control - and not in an overbearing conquest-y kind of way, but more a place where I knew I alone was the ultimate decision maker. Maybe it was my way of saying to the world - you have no power over me. Unfortunately it was an insidious, unhealthy way to go about it.
But this isn't a story about being a victim to your circumstances. Sure, your environment does affect you. The people you live with, and their emotional well-being (or not) does have influence. Everyone has emotional garbage - thought processes that at their best don't serve you, and at their worst, can completely consume your energy and potential. This is a story about overcoming. Even if it takes years. Or decades.
And honestly, I don't know how much of a "story" this really is. I'm not trying to write a novel here. I just recently experienced an epiphany that I believe truly changed my life, and I wanted to share it. It definitely wasn't magic, it took work and the desire to finally throw out my mental trash. It's what happened after I finally, TRULY, did it that felt like magic. I felt I had to put this out into the universe, even if it isn't all that well written.
The thing about eating disorders is that you can recover from them, but they also tend to stick with you. At least that has been my experience. When I was younger I just needed a wake up call from a doctor telling me to eat or else look like the skeleton girl in the waiting room and get admitted to the hospital. That's all it took for me to gain some weight back. It's the mental aspects of it that are much harder to reverse. These toxic thoughts that are quite literally always in your mind, distracting you from living your life to the fullest, and keeping you from reaching your full potential, whatever that may be. I have been wanting to excavate these thoughts from my head for years, but never really succeeded in doing it until recently.
As a lot of you who know me already are aware, starting in the end of 2019 I had an 18-month stretch of life that was absolute crap. By far the worst period of my life so far. My dad passed away very suddenly at 71, followed by the obvious global shitshow, then Scott was away in training for his new job and then moved to El Paso to start that, and a hurricane hit our home in Pensacola leaving me and the pups displaced for the last 6 months of my time in the Navy. It was hit after hit after hit. My stress level was at an all time high, and in addition to that I was struggling to stay sane in an extremely toxic workplace. (I could write a whole other post about that....maybe I will...). I had lost my appetite, and wouldn't feel hungry until mid-afternoon. I was lulling myself to sleep with hot tea with lemon, honey, and bourbon - heavy on the bourbon. Running felt terrible, like an epic struggle every time I'd try to do it - but if I didn't go that would also make me feel bad about myself. I knew I had to change something.
First thing was my immediate surroundings - I needed to get the hell out of the military and leave Pensacola. That finally happened in April 2021. I retired. I made it 20 years. I still don't know how sometimes, but I did it. Then I needed help getting what I knew was my stressed out metabolism back to healthy again. I enlisted the help of a great coach, and started to learn how to lift heavy and properly. Another part of their program was the nutritional aspect, and it seemed like the right fit for me. No fads, gimmicks, or trendy diets that so many folks now define themselves with (like, is that what you really want people to know about you - that you're carnivore or keto or vegan or whatever the fuck hot ticket "lifestyle" you identify with? Please). But it did involve taking weekly photos in a bikini (bleh), measuring my body weekly, and weighing my self and all of my food every day. At first I balked at this - I did not want it to send me down the eating disorder rabbit hole again. But I followed the protocol - I was paying them after all - and it did work. I got stronger and leaner. I healed my poor digestive tract and can now eat dairy again, as much as I want. Again - it was not the goal to lose weight, but that did happen. Their program worked. I learned a lot of great things, and have kept up some of the habits I developed when I was actively being coached. And I will never stop lifting weights - I want to do that until I'm an old lady. That an walking a lot every day have really kept my fitness where I'm happy with it, without the hefty helping of stress that running did.
Eventually we got to the point in the coaching where I either had to commit to being even more strict (veering toward body-building) or reach the end of my time with them. I decided to leave. Overall it was a great 18 months working together, but there was something nagging about it in the background that I couldn't quite nail down. I continued to weigh myself every morning for a couple months after I stopped with the program. Naturally, not being in a small deficit and tracking every little thing I put in my mouth, I saw the number on the scale start to creep up. Some mornings I would wake up feeling refreshed and happy, and then I would step on that scale and my mood would plummet. I would be crushed. It would ruin my day. But I concurrently was thinking - WHY do I care about this? Why does it affect me the way that it does? I am not so shallow or simple that I think I need to be a certain mass in order to be happy - that is quite frankly preposterous and completely illogical. So why? I talked on and on to my husband about it (poor guy....how many times has he patiently listened to this stupid shit coming out of my head) and how I really wanted to get over this for good. Forever.
So the scale went in the closet. Good riddance. At the same time I started really noticing ads on TV - with all different body types. Skinny people, fat people - the ones with the least clothes on were primarily women (I've yet to see an ad for clothing with a fat half naked dude in it). And although I am aware of the "body-positivity" movement and "health at any size" (which I do not agree with), something felt wrong there too. These messages about our bodies, regardless of what they were actually saying - in the 80s and 90s it was all about being skinny (I was heavily influenced by this), and now it's swung the other way entirely - were still ALL about the human body as an object. Your first reaction (mine was) when seeing a larger woman in those Dove ads might have been "oh good for her and good on Dove for showing all different body types." But then my second reaction was - wait a minute...she is being objectified too. Everyone is being objectified. Literally everyone. And that's what I was doing to my self.
The measuring, the weighing, the fitting in certain clothing - all of it centered around me treating my body as a thing. A thing that was consistently inadequate and not quite right. Just an inch less or more here or there, just a a pound or three or four less and "it" would be right. But that is all a lie. A blatant construct of our society aimed to make us feel inadequate so we can be ripe for the picking when it comes to marketing self improvement in regards to appearance. Make your skin clearer, your hair thicker, your waist smaller, your butt bigger.....ad infinitum. Women get pregnant and have beautiful babies and are immediately lambasted for not getting their - pre-pregnancy body back. You name it....It is all bullshit. And we fall for it. I did. But not anymore. That's why the coaching ultimately didn't work in all areas - because all that weighing and measuring was a form of self-objectification. For me, it was disordered eating, just in disguise.
I recently saw a painting at the art museum in West Palm Beach of a nude sitting in a chair. It's not flattering:
But I read the information next to it, and about this piece the artist (Philip Pearlstein) said "I rescued the human figure from its tormented, agonized condition given it by the expressionistic artists, and the cubist dissectors and distorters of the figure, and at the other extreme I have rescued it from the pornographers, and their easy exploitation of the figure for its sexual implications. I have presented the figure for itself, allowed it its own dignity as a form among other forms in nature."
Allowing the human body its own dignity as a form among other forms in nature.
This hit me like a blast of wind. This painting was created 100 years ago, and we have some different distorters of the human figure these days (hello, digitally altered everything), but the message is identical. What if we treated our bodies like we treat a blooming flower or a beautiful cloud formation or a sunrise? Or a dying leaf or a perfectly preserved skeleton in a forest? What if, instead of looking in the mirror (or at other people) and seeing the flaws we can just appreciate the unique beauty of this miraculous organism we get to live in? And if we can't feel that beauty some days, if positivity is just a bridge too far, how about not having any feeling about it at all? Neutrality when it comes to our bodies and their appearance. All of that crap fed to us by the media would lose its power. We would be imperturbable. We would have DIGNITY of and in our own bodies - regardless of our current phase of life. Maybe you do need to lose or gain weight to regain your health. There is nothing wrong with that. But that should not take away your value as a living being that exists in nature. You aren't wrong. You aren't inadequate. You don't need to torment, agonize over, or dissect your appearance. You still have amazingly intricate fingerprints, and gorgeous patterns in the irises of your eyes. Your body exists as a form in nature. That's everything. And that's it.
After that I did a purge of all body appearance centered influences in my life. I unfollowed or hid all fitness and nutrition accounts on Instagram (even if I liked the folks) especially the ones with body image centered photos. I whole-heartedly disagree with the trend that posting a picture of yourself with your stretched out post-pregnancy tummy, or fat rolls, or muscles flexing in the gym mirror is empowering. Maybe it makes folks feel that way, but my opinion is in the end - positive or negative - it's still self-objectification. I haven't weighed myself in 6 months, and I eat what I feel like eating when I feel like eating it. I pared down my "beauty" routine to maybe 4 essentials. And mascara because I love it. You will never see me post a photo of my body in an objectifying way. Ever. I'm not buying into the lie of inadequacy any more. I have too much other shit I want to do.
And no kidding, a couple days after I realized all of this I started thinking about maybe going back to school. I needed something more going on in my life now that I have almost fully detoxed from my experience in the military (there were some good parts about it too...maybe another post in the future). I swore if I ever did return to school, it would only be for art or music - no more doing what I thought I was "supposed" to do to be successful. Since UTEP is just down the road I checked out their art programs first - and sure enough - the highlight on the page was for a BFA in Jewelry and Metals. Within 30 seconds of starting to look for where to start my next chapter, it pretty much jumped out of my screen at me. I start classes in the fall. Then an opportunity came just last week to acquire a gorgeous newly refurbished Steinway grand piano....really very much out of the blue. Something I truly never ever imagined. It really felt like a tangible response from the Universe or God or whatever you want to call it, that said, congratulations you did it. You gave up those thoughts, and those behavior patterns that were truly doing nothing but keeping you from being all that you are. You are free now. And here's the proof. Just like at the end of that movie Labyrinth (remember that?):
You have no power over me.