Embody

Last year, I took my first yoga class after a six-year hiatus. I love being not-quite-a-beginner in classes. I love moving with other people. But the thing that has stuck with me for the past seven months was one teacher’s correction:

In downward-facing dog, “bring your ribs back inside your body.

How strange, I thought. My ribcage is trying to escape.

My body was working too hard for the mental snark to stick. And I had a teacher standing over me, which is like catnip for my Obliger nature (shoutout to Gretchen Rubin).

I put my mind in my lowest ribs, and imagined them looking down (up) at my hip bones.

Her tone of voice signaled her approval. “Feel the difference?”

I did, immediately. Not just the position, which felt more down-doggish, but my entire body. It felt familiar, but strange, too, like seeing a picture of your grandmother as a baby.

In that moment, with my ribs back inside my torso, I had the unusual-for-me sensation of being A Whole Body: limbs, trunk, neck, head all connected.

Breaking my body up into parts or trying to escape from it altogether has been my default for as long as I can remember. I was a preschooler when I started zooming in on my belly, my fingernails, my hip creases…and then I’d jerk away (mentally, of course), wishing I could be somewhere else, in some other body.

Running away from your own body is a great way to feel terrible all the time. For one thing, you can’t do it. And life is full of opportunities to re-experience that impossibility: living with chronic pain, experiencing childbirth, and recovering from surgery come to mind.

I still tend to zoom in and get lost in some body part that doesn’t look or feel or act how I think it should. But I’ve felt it now—that whole-body, whole-self sensation. I know it’s possible to feel whole-body embodied, and that I have the power to create that experience for myself.

So I’m practicing. When I wake up in the morning and roll over in bed. When I’m standing in the kitchen, bringing my ribs, my belly, my hips back inside my body. When I dance, of course.

It’s easiest to feel whole when I’m dancing. I must tune into myself as a whole body if I want to stand a chance of jumping, turning, and landing without falling over. My balance is improving. To stay still, suspended on relevé for as long as the musical phrase demands, I draw stability up from my toes, into my ankles, up my calves, checking in with every part of my body as I go, linking up the train cars: thighs, hips, glutes, core, sternum.

When I pull my strength into the center of my chest, connect my whole body to itself through my heart, I can balance forever.

 

What Was Lost

“…60% of your blood volume.”

“…not clotting…”

“…buckets of blood.”

“You really scared us.”

“We almost lost you.”

But I wasn’t there in the first place.

I’m so confused. I knew it was an emergency situation. When the paramedics wheeled me out of my front door, down the front lawn and into the ambulance, I knew it was an emergency. I knew what happened with retained placentas: postpartum hemorrhage. And postpartum hemorrhage can kill a mother. I knew that. It’s why, as they prepared to wheel me out of the house, I looked my partner in the eye and said, with as much strength and conviction as I possess: “I love you.” I didn’t know when I would see him again.

I didn’t think I was going to die, but I knew it was a possibility. In the same way that I know that I’m perfectly healthy on paper, but one of these days my heart could junk out on me, just throw up its hands and say, “I’m done.” And that would be the end of my life.

I’ve always been more than a little morbid. I gravitate toward narratives that examine the darkness. Between a long, drawn out miscarriage and a complicated third pregnancy, I became fascinated by horror stories—both fictional and real. The bloodbath following my daughter’s birth seems fitting.

The bloodbath: I’ve only heard about it, but it can still paralyze me when I think about it. I freeze when I try to wrap my mind around the fact that I almost died.

“We almost lost you.”

And then, in the mind-wrapping, I get angry. Rage floods me: How dare you?

How dare you come into my recovery room and parade your horror story around, for me, the patient. The girl who lived, despite leaving buckets of blood behind in the operating room. What the fuck!?

I can imagine the horror of that scene: a new mother on the table, bleeding and bleeding and bleeding. I can only imagine the feelings of helplessness and inadequacy. To “lose” a patient who’s right there in front of you…

But I didn’t need to hear about it. I didn’t need to know. If the goal was to impress upon me the severity of the situation, a simple, “You lost a lot of of blood in the OR, and you’ll need at least two units of blood before you can go home, though I recommend three” would have been just fine.

Instead, I’ve been carrying this thing that I don’t know how to manage, because it happened to me while I was unconscious and I didn’t fucking do it on purpose! I didn’t want to die. I was bummed about not being home, tucked in bed with my sweet little girl, I was worried about my partner. I was angry about missing out on that lovely post-birth glow, with the biggest surge of oxytocin of my life coursing through me. Instead, my body failed.

That was five and a half years ago, and I still haven’t put the story down completely, because I don’t know how to let it go. It’s all over me, like a greasy film I can’t wipe off.

This is not my bloodbath. This is not my trauma. How dare you try to make what was lost about me?

A Starved Heart

My hand plunging into a stiff plastic bag, over and over and over. Salty fingers, hand-to-mouth, chewing, not tasting, touching, not feeling, over and over and over again. Eating without eating.

My naked body spread out like raw chicken on the bed, get it over with get it over with get it over with. Alleged pleasure, weight on top of me, moaning, feeling, but leaving and leaving and leaving. Tuning out, in my body but only as an organic machine, until that final moment, pleasure and release from myself. But not until then. Faking without faking.

Hand-to-mouth, teeth crushing, over and over and over. I don’t need this. There is no hunger in me. Not body-hunger. Not food-hunger. But I’m chewing, swallowing, my numbness easing into a feeling I understand: full. Too full. Stretched, sore, too much. I don’t need to eat this.

Hands-to-bedsheets, grasping. No, too grounding. I touch the body above me. That’s worse. That’s skin-on-skin, connecting me to the body on my body. I reach for the headboard: too arched, too photogenic, too pornographic. Hand-to-heart, I touch myself. I need to feel this. There is hunger in me. Body-hunger. Touch-hunger. But I’m zoning, disappearing, letting my electric skin dissolve into numbness I can accept: empty. So empty. Blank, soft, yielding. I need to finish.

Why, once my hand is inside the bag, can I not stop until it’s over? Why, when my body is stretched and dry and already swollen from salt do I need to mash and fold all the food inside, fill myself until the bag is empty and my hands and tongue and jaw are numb with the work of it? I could just stop in the middle. I could stop before my body starts screaming that it’s too much. But then I would be eating.

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Why, once I feel myself numbing, do I try to come? Why do I think I can reach a high point of physical pleasure when I’m pulling away from the experience, scurrying into some unaroused part of my body whenever the energy or movement or friction shifts and I start to feel? I could stop him. I could say no, and rearrange our bodies when the disappearing starts, press into the yes please more. But then it would be real.

I am hiding behind the kitchen wall. Hiding in my hands and in my mouth. Hiding in the grinding and the mashing of my animal-teeth-on-man-made-food. It’s almost over now. I’m going to finish.

I don’t want to finish for the pins and needles of my grasping core, but for him. So he’ll know that he’s good, and that I’m faithful and present and not disappearing, not numbing out to the rhythm and the movement and the yielding of my body. Not numbing out to the pleasure that he seems to be experiencing while I make myself dead weight, while I go somewhere else, while I try to tap into my orgasm by imagining him with someone else. Never me. Never my body.

Full. Over-full. Buzzing from the frantic consumption, I’m in my body now, hip against the counter, stomach screaming. The roof of my mouth is raw. There’s a feeling of weakness as I deposit the now-empty plastic bag in the trash can under the sink, fully aware of what I’ve just done. Taken more than I need. More than anyone ever needed. Just so I could feel, and be in my body in pain.

It’s not going to happen for me, and I know it. I wonder if he knows it. I stop thinking of my body at all, and let myself disappear into him and the bed under me, and I wrap my arms around him and make all the right noises until his weight shifts, his movements change. Hold on, just a minute longer. Stay away, just a minute longer. I’m gone. It’s almost over.

Where do I go from here? What does this mean for the rest of today? This strange, unearned energy that will be stored as soft-solid and the familiarity of shame.

It’s over and he’s breathless but trying to touch me and I roll to the side, curling my body into itself, away away away. It’s over. The pressure is off. Where do I go from here? Lying, feeling sick and empty, back to myself and the nausea of having done it again. I feel hungry. A non-stomach body-hunger, aching to be filled. How long do I have to lie here before I can escape to the kitchen and eat?

How long can I stand here in the kitchen and pretend that I have not just eaten?

Sound Poem

I want to take a bath in your voice.

I want to stretch out in it,

or stand under it like a waterfall and wash my hair in it.

I want to enter into your voice slowly, like walking into a lake, your long vowels on my body.

I want to wade in to heart-height

and duck my head under the surface.

There’s no air here,

and a different sort of gravity.

I hold my breath, open my mouth

and flutter my eyelids open.

Your voice flows into me and stings my eyes.

I want to stay here

Buoyant and unafraid,

my body submerged in the sound.

What is “Joy,” Anyway?

I’ve been on an etymology kick lately. Roots of words feel more meaningful than definitions, which seem to change with the linguistic seasons.

So I’ve decided to cultivate joy. Embrace joy. Find out what I’m like as a person by figuring out what brings me joy.

But what is joy, anyway?

The dictionary definition links joy to happiness (I’ll get there in a minute), but the root of joy is Latin: gaudere, “rejoice.”

I think of rejoicing as being linked to gratitude. I’m not a scripture-quoter (at all!), but when I hear “rejoice,” my mind immediately goes to “rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:12), which I come by via Godspell.

(Side note: I’m in a semi-hopeful agnostic-theist phase right now, but I will always love feet-reading, rainbow-suspenders-wearing Godspell Jesus.)

I associate the root of joy with praise and gratitude, and I think there might be something to this.

The deepest joy I ever experienced happened in the space between my daughter’s birth and the postpartum hemorrhage that nearly ended my life. As I was being carried from my house, across the front lawn to a waiting ambulance, I looked up at the most beautiful blue sky I had ever seen. I was suddenly awash with love for everything and everyone, and I sighed, “What a beautiful day to have a baby!”

Despite the circumstances (or perhaps because of them) everything seemed good. Of course, I was high on the biggest rush of oxytocin I had ever or will ever experience. But I was also filled with the unshakable sense that everything was so right!

That “rightness,” that sense of this is good—that, to me, is what joy is.

Happiness feels good, too, but there’s a lightness to it. Happiness is pleasurable in the moment. “Happy” was originally synonymous with “lucky,” so meant good, but in the sense of good fortune. And fortune is like weather: fleeting, and not very predictable.

Because of that lightness, it’s hard for happiness to exist alongside other emotions. Happiness tends to get weighed down by anything extra, especially heavy experiences. But joy, at least in my experience, can survive difficult circumstances. I can be sitting with a friend in a deep state of grief, feeling sorrow and heartbreak, and still feel joy: the joy of being with someone I love, the joy of witnessing another’s experience, the joy of empathy. The joy of this is right.

There’s no happiness in shared trauma. But gathering around people in pain, in trouble, in a state of emergency, and helping (or being gathered around and receiving help) is right, feels so right, and merits rejoicing.

Doing Recovery

Early last year, I was doing recovery well. I was moving in non-punishing ways. I was drinking my water, and eating balanced meals. I wasn’t binge-eating. You know what else I wasn’t doing? Anything else.

I’m not kidding. I had no dates with friends. I went to ballet class a couple times a week, and therapy once a week, and to my co-op preschool work day, and that was it. I wrote a little here, trying to be OMG so recovered you guys! I didn’t really watch TV. I didn’t go to the movies. I didn’t read much. I ate my balanced meals and did my balanced movement and drank my water and didn’t binge.

I didn’t go to events or gatherings, so I wouldn’t have to think about not binge-eating while I was there. On the few occasions when I felt like I had no choice but to attend, I didn’t engage with the food at all. I sat at the end of a long table with nothing but a bottle of water while everyone around me laughed over heaping plates of potluck decadence. At home, I weighed every chip. I weighed every lettuce leaf. Because accidentally binge-eating lettuce was a thing I thought I needed to worry about.

That, my friends, is not “being in recovery” from binge-eating disorder. That is “doing” recovery. That’s an eating disordered horse of a different color.

I was doing recovery so hard, that I sort of lost sight of the actual recovery part. And I think I knew that—I could see it, just below the surface of my “recovery”—but my body was inching closer to dominant-paradigm-shaped, and I wasn’t binge-eating. I felt pretty good about myself.

And then I tried to add life back in.

I went to dance events. I had lunch with friends. I went on vacation, first with my girlfriends from college, and then for an anniversary weekend with my partner. I realized (unconsciously at first) that I didn’t want control. I wanted connection. But when I let go of control, I opened up to the fact that I didn’t know how to balance caring for my body and caring for my spirit. Once again, food was black and white. I could have the joy of friendship and connection, or I could have the control of “well, at least I’m not binge-eating.”

I chose friendship and connection. And for a time, that also meant choosing binge-eating.

I’ve done this dance before. If I clicked around in my own writing, I’d probably find a variation of this same choreography. Hold recovery so tightly you crush it. Let it go by hurling it to the ground, smashing it. Either way, it ends up in pieces.

My brilliant friend and yoga teacher, Autumn, often encourages her classes to set an intention but to “hold it loosely.”

Don’t crush it, and don’t toss it away.

It’s taking me a lot of snail’s-pace self-honesty and hard work to untangle connection with others from self-harm with food. Balance doesn’t look how I think “should” look. But it’s where I am now, with food, with friends, and with living: holding my own growth in cupped hands.

This is being in recovery.

Trust

Another yoga-mat word. Goddamn it.

Trust:

  • that everything will work out with my daughter’s change of school.
  • that [_] more pounds on my frame is okay. Good, even.
  • that this too shall pass and all shall be well all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well, to quote Julian of Norwich, who might have been a little crazy (and I can say that because I, too, am a little crazy).
  • my body and my intuition.

I had it backwards for so long. I kept thinking, I can’t trust my body/intuition. I have to “portion-control” forever.

But if I’m honest about the situation, my body/intuition hasn’t been able to trust ME. I was hurting it. For decades. OF COURSE it couldn’t trust me!

I’m fatter than I’ve been in several years. “Fatter” as in “I have more body fat than I used to,” not as a value judgement. You know what got me here? Always trying to be thinner.

One more time: I got fatter by trying to be thinner.

Even when I purported to be working on “wellness,” in the back of my mind, it was always there: Maybe this will help me lose weight.

I slide into the headspace of wanting to be thinner so easily—because it’s the primary thing I was taught to want for my body. As much as I truly love what my body is capable of, I catch myself mourning the perceived “loss” of my “old body.” That sense of loss is a red flag.

Written on that flag: “I’m still in it.”

I’m still weighing and measuring and tracking. I’m still worrying over clothing size and body shape. Not every minute, not every day. But I am still in it. I wanted to trust my body, but I don’t like the truth it’s telling me.

My body, to me: “I don’t want you to hurt me. Please don’t hurt me anymore.”
Trust:

  • that my body is telling me the truth.

My paid membership with the app that’s measuring my “okay-ness” via food data (behind the lie-to-myself—”just information”) expires on March 4th. That seems a little heavy-handed on the wordplay—”march forth”—but I’m going with it. I’ll spend the time between now and then slowly, gently stepping away from last of my “diet-y” behaviors, starting with acknowledging that they represent a colossal lack of self-trust and body-love. They’re not “wellness,” or “healthy living”: they’re dieting:

  • weighing and measuring all food
  • worrying about “portion control”
  • having food “rules”
  • (still, on occasion) thinking in terms of “good” and “bad” foods

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I’m almost 35 years old. I’ve been holding this part of myself hostage for way too long.

I’ll never “just not think about” food and my body, because, well, there’s food to be eaten and I have a body—and I wouldn’t want to “just not think about” those things! Food and my body are realities, to be enjoyed.

I also can’t go back in time and unfuck my relationship with food. I will always be a person who has binged, and purged, and starved, and dieted, and punished—in the past. But I can give myself a present (pun so intended) where I have more ease with food and my body, where I don’t worry so fucking much all the time! A present where I have the headspace to think about things other than what I’m eating, or how I could (should) be thinner or “leaner” or whatever than I naturally am. Things like:

  • writing
  • podcasting
  • supporting Ivy with her emotional-intelligence-building skills
  • supporting Westley with game- and story-building skills
  • music
  • figuring out what the hell I want to be when I grow up
  • yoga
  • weightlifting
  • pole-dancing
  • doula-ing
  • loving and supporting my friends
  • hiking
  • taking road trips
  • rock-climbing
  • knitting
  • photography

…and so on and so on and so on and all manner of thing shall be well.

So.
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Trust.

Firm, kind, gentle, no-nonsense, loving, bullshit-free trust.