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.

Knit One Together

Friday, April 8, 2011
Saturday, December 9, 2017

I was looking for a particular circular knitting needle in my box of needles and stitch holders and stitch markers. It wasn’t there. I found it in my box of projects-in-progress, with about an inch and a half of forgotten yellow baby hat hanging from it.

There are half-finished knitting projects all over my house.

I debated over what to do. It was just an inch and a half of work, not representing much time at all. I could easily unravel the little hat brim, roll the mustard colored yarn back into its ball. Forget that I had ever started knitting this particular baby hat. (After all, I’d forgotten about it once already.) On the other hand, I’ve completed a surprisingly small number of projects in my five years as a knitter.

Not even half-finished. Quarter-finished.

Eighth-finished.

Baby hats knit up quickly. I could just finish it.

While I was still trying to decide what to do, I found myself picking up the needles, winding the yarn around my right hand. I could always stop, I decided, if finishing the hat didn’t seem right.

I crave knitting like I crave bread. (There’s something magical about both: honey and yeast transforming flour into loaf; hands and needles transforming yarn into fabric.)

But when I sit with my pattern and my needles in my lap, loneliness descends.

I cannot knit without thinking of my great-grandmother. Most of my knitting supplies used to be hers. I wish she were here to teach me to knit, so I could move beyond scarves and baby hats.

Her name was Irma. I have a picture of her holding my infant mother in a tiny frame by my bed. (For some reason, it’s one of the only family photos in the house.) She had her babies at home and raised four children. And at the end of her life, she was terribly depressed.

The loneliness of being a point instead of a circle.

Longing to have a grandma
or mother
or big sister
or friend
sitting close by, showing me the way.

Here, hold it like a pencil,
not like a baby holds a spoon.
Not so tense, sweetheart.

You don’t need to pull so tight.

That’s a lot of work for just one stitch.

Lately I’ve been fighting off my own depression…It seems to be working, but a dull sadness comes through every now and then. I guess that would be loss. Which everyone tells me I need to acknowledge. But it feels strange mourning something that may have existed only in my mind (and perhaps not even there).

The wholeness of a circle: yarn wound around fingers, stories wound around tongues, center-pull hearts knit together in the creative rhythm of “women’s work.”

I finished the baby hat. Knitting it felt strangely meditative. It was good to create something, to let my hands be hands for a while.

I crave the connection—knitting, weaving, mending, bringing threads together, cloth into blankets, yarn into fabric—like I crave touch.

As I worked, I tried to remember why I had started knitting this little hat in the first place. I hadn’t been pregnant at the time, although I’m sure I wanted to be. Maybe that was it: a little knit talisman. Something to put in my hope chest, if I had one.

Baby Hat 

Here, sweetheart.
Hold it like this.

Gentle

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The word came to me like so many breaths of inspiration do lately: on a yoga mat.

“Set a soft intention,” said the voice at the front of the room.

Gentle, said the voice at the front of my skull.

I was a little taken aback. When I was angry and weepy in my therapist’s dark office, she would say, “Be gentle with yourself” and I’d snarl back at her, “I’m not breakable!”

My ferocity didn’t even ruffle her hair. “Of course you’re not.”

But deep down, I felt breakable and I hated it.

That was spring. I feel less breakable now. It’s partly because I’m sturdier physically. I weigh [_] pounds more than I did then. [_] is not a lot in the grand scheme of body sizes, but it’s enough that my beautifully tailored “date night” dress is uncomfortably snug.

It goes on, I can zip it, but I look “shrink-wrapped,” as my mother says of too-tight clothing.

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I used to say, “I won’t be gentle with myself, but I’ll be kind.”

Unfortunately, my self-kindness easily veers into cruel-to-be-kind, emphasis on the cruel.

Or, you know, unkind.

But the gentle that came up for me recently was not therapy-gentle. It wasn’t the gentle I hear myself using with preschoolers as they reach for a ceramic keepsake or a new baby, a little patronizing, stretched like caramel: “Gennntle…Gennntle touch.”

No. This was a different gentle. It was a refusal to push and pull myself. A refusal to let it my body hurt, to do movements (and later, eat foods) I hate because they’re the “right” ones, the “best” ones, or the “good” ones.

This was the gentle of treating my body like the animal it is. To let it expand out, be soft, and feel good.

In recent pictures of myself, I see those [_] pounds. I see the places where fat and fluid have “puffed” me up, places where I’m filled out, convex. Soft.

And I remember a bit from Carrot Quinn’s memoir, Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart. She’s cuddling with a fellow hiker:

“Here is so soft,” he says, touching my hip. He strokes my quads. “And here is like a rock.”

“I’m a girl,” I say. “Parts of me are soft.”

That line has stuck in my head so firmly. I’m a girl…Parts of me are soft.

I’ve been push-pulling against the soft-animal-girl-ness of my body my entire life. I’ve questioned everything about it, and I’ve been so damned hard on myself.

What if [_] more pounds on my frame is all right? What if it’s exactly right?

I’ve learned to appreciate and love my menstrual cycle. Having a period used to be a huge source of shame, but I genuinely love having my period now. I love that feedback from my body that the beautiful animal machinery inside is running smoothly. It was a rocky, winding path to get to that emotional point, but I got there.

The challenge now is to trust that I will get to a place where being [_] pounds heavier than part of me still thinks I “should” be is no longer shameful. Trusting that I can fall in love with my body’s softness.

The only way to reach that place is by being gentle.

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