Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the month “September, 2012”

Does Lady Gaga understand that revolutions are complicated?…and usually bloody…

I really thought I was gonna stay away from talking about Lady Gaga, and stick with my own story. But it was either this or talk about how my love is a burden and no one is ever going to want it…So Lady Gaga it is!

If you don’t already know, Lady Gaga has come out about struggling with anorexia and bulimia since she was 15. She said she did it to “inspire bravery. and BREED some m$therf—ing COMPASSION.” She wants to start a “Body Revolution” of self acceptance.

Um…Yay? I feel like I should be psyched. Because she’s bringing light to the conversation I want to bring into the light. So why does it feel so yucky to me? Am I really jealous of a superstar? Not for her money, fame, or status, but because she has a built in audience and she’s talking about “my thing”? Really, Kate?
Or is it maybe that she posted “fat” (?) pictures of herself in her underwear and she doesn’t have a single stretch mark, while I am covered in them. And she does have a flat stomach, while I have a big round belly and flaps of skin that embarrass me. Maybe it’s because I look at her stick-it-to-the-man, 25 lbs-heavier-than-her-usual-Hollywood-standard photos and note that her body is still so much closer to the American standard of beauty than my own. And really, is still within the perimeter of that standard. Maybe blurs the edges. But just barely. And that made me feel even worse about myself. When I have already been dealing with my body image issues for weeks. If Lady Gaga’s “fat” body isn’t good enough, mine is a disgusting blob of ugly. Who would ever love that?
Yes I understand that she was feeling shamed by the media for gaining 25 lbs. And that she was making a point. I am willing to believe that it was meant as an act of bravery. Defiance of “the system.” And yes, I think it is gross, wrong, and even evil to express opinions about another person’s body. Even if you are in the media and she is in the public eye. Yes, I know she’s there by choice. It doesn’t matter to me. She’s a human being. That body is her only vehicle. And it belongs to her alone. It should be respected.
But I have a hard time forgetting that her practically naked image has been shaming women for years. Regular women in regular bodies. Me, by the way. She has been shaming me. Hasn’t she been selling skinny as sexy for the past several years? Am I supposed to forget that she has been part of the money-making, ideal-woman-image machine? She is certainly a victim. I won’t begrudge her that. But isn’t she also a perpetrator?
Or maybe I’m feeling jealous and yucky because she’s selling a “quick fix” to an issue that has complicated my entire life. Not only is she talking about my issue, but she’s totally half-assing it.
Does she really think we can just “out” our perceived body flaws and as a human collective we will stop judging one another? And stop hating ourselves? Will we also stop photoshopping the hell out of women in ads to sell an impossible image? And will we stop buying that image? And stop buying it for our daughters? Will we join hands around the world and sing “What the World Needs Now Is Love” too?
And will Lady Gaga declare that her body is beautiful exactly the way it is and be able to believe it? I mean really believe it. Will she stop starving herself (if she does that)? Will she stop making herself throw up (if she does that)? My point is, she’s claiming some serious eating and body disorders. So whatever her issues are, will she stop engaging in the behaviors that make up her personal brand of disordered eating? And will she be able to share that with her community so that they can find some relief? And peace?
I know that eating disorders are no joke. I know that anorexics and bulimics suffer. And that must include Lady Gaga, for all of her money and fame. That it is not about what one looks like on the outside. Or what one has. Or has accomplished. I know that eating disorders are equal opportunity destroyers. That it is the head and heart that go crazy. I know the kind of self-hatred that you have to experience to torture yourself with food. And starvation. And all of the other awful things there are to do to oneself. I know because I have tried a bunch of them personally. And that in many ways, it is this kind of eating disorder that is more damaging than run of the mill, get fat, compulsive eating/binge eating.
At least it was for me. Being fat was hard. Not being able to stop eating was deeply humiliating. And living in a big body was shameful and exhausting. But the exhaustion of the body was nothing compared to the exhaustion of acting on the whims of the bulimic girl in my head. The scheming and worrying. The hiding. I lived in constant action and panic. It was imperative that nobody should ever find out my secret. That I am a fat girl. That I have no will power. That I can’t stop eating. That I am unworthy of love and I will never be good enough. That I am an utter and detestable failure as a human being. My fat girl let it all be out in the open. But my bulimic girl wanted to hide it. She would go to any lengths. To her, my life was a lie, and every day I lived in a socially acceptable body was one more day she managed to fool the world into thinking I had any value as a person.
I have had my eating, as well as my eating disorders, under control for over six years now. I have more peace and freedom than I ever had in my life. My worst day living within my food boundaries is better than my best day with no boundaries and my eating out of control. But none of it is solved for me. I have to cultivate it. I have to honor myself every day. I have to have integrity in my life. I have to have integrity around eating. It remains intensely complicated in spite of all that I have accomplished around peace, self-love and food.
Yes I had to learn to love myself so that I could get some peace and love around my food and my body. But part of that love is in actions of self-care and honor. Actions! Every single day! And it’s still f*cking hard to love myself!
So yes. Declare your self-love to the world. Yes, out yourself for your stretch marks. Or that your breasts are two different sizes. Or that your thighs rub together. Or that you make yourself throw up your food. But what are you going to do to take care of yourself? What are you going to do to hold the demons at bay every day? What are you going to do to not fall into the hole of punishment and torture and despair? How are you going to let go of self-hatred? Because that f*cker is sneaky. And regardless of where it originates, it does not live outside of the self. As much as I would like to blame the beauty and fashion industries. Advertising and society. Self-hatred lives in the boys and girls (men and women) who are taking drastic, dangerous, and harmful actions just to feel worthy of showing up in the world.
I really don’t want to be a hater. But I’m angry. Because today’s publicity opp is not going to stop anorexia and bulimia from living on in actual human beings (who don’t have millions of fans). I want to know what comes next for them. What do you say to the girl who wants to love herself, but can’t. And feels like a failure? And are you willing to be honest about the actual struggle? Because it’s hard to be honest about the actual struggle, Lady Gaga! It can be deeply embarrassing. And shockingly unglamourous. I know. I’ve been doing it for about 10 months. And it’s scary!
I will say that I am grateful that somebody has brought about a call for self-acceptance and love. But I would like it to be a responsible, empowering, honest call. Maybe sh*t’s about to get real. But I think I could handle that. I could be on board. In fact, if that’s the case, I say Viva la Revolucion!
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When you say womanly, you mean hot not fat, right?

Yesterday I spent much of the day in bed. Crying. Because I hated my body.
Today, I put on a sexy dress and some knee-high boots and went into the city to meet some people. I didn’t hate my body so much today. I wasn’t in love with it, like I have been before. But I could see that to an outside observer, I am really lovely.
My dismorphia has been coming in waves. And I have just been trying to keep my head above water and not get swept away in the current.
I have been comparing myself to me a year ago. I keep thinking that being 12 lbs heavier than I was before I quit smoking means that I’m 12 points (units? notches?) uglier than I was then. But friends and strangers keep complimenting me. One of my neighbors actually asked if I had started working out because I look so good. So healthy. A friend of mine said that she could see that I had gained a bit of weight. But that she thought it made me look more beautiful. Less drawn. More womanly.
That’s the consensus. Healthy. Womanly. I am a sensuous woman. I like the idea of being round, soft and warm. It fits nicely with the kind of wife and partner I would like to be someday. Nurturing, loving, empowering. And I know that I am beautiful, and sexy. These are traits I learned to own when I got my food under control. Well nourished, well rested, with strong integrity and a good amount of genetic luck.
So why am I having such a hard time with my dismorphia lately? I think a lot of it is that I am not in control right now. And that scares me. I have no idea when the weight gain will stop. I have no idea how much more weight I could gain. I don’t know how long it could be before I feel happy and comfortable in my body again. 3 months? 6 months? A year? (Oh dear God, please don’t let it take a year!) I don’t get a say about my body right now. I am in free fall. And I am having a hard time trusting that this will end well.
Maybe it’s just because I spent my first 28 years in a body that I hated. I have a lot more experience thinking I am ugly than I do knowing that I am beautiful. I have been experiencing a lot of those same old feelings of body shame lately. I noticed today that when I am out in public, I have not been breathing. That I have been keeping my neck and shoulders rigid. I am waiting for someone to make a comment about my body. I’m waiting for someone to tell me I’m fat.
I, of course, am not at all fat. There is nothing unhealthy about my weight. At 145, I fall well within the normal range for a woman my height. (5′ 6.5″) My 12 lb weight gain comes from doing something very healthy. Quitting smoking. Plus all signs point to much of the weight being temporary. I have gone up one pants size. Now an 8 fits me comfortably. A 9 in juniors sizes. This is a normal size.
I wish I felt like a normal woman in a normal body. I wish I knew for certain that I would stay a normal size. I wish I had some idea of when the weight gain would stop and I would get some measure of control back. I wish I knew how long before I stopped being uncomfortable in my own skin.
I’ll be honest, if I had known that this was going to happen, I would not have quit smoking. But what’s done is done. I’m no fool. I can see that there is no turning back now. I’m already in it. At this point, the only way to the other side is through.
Here’s another thing. I have a reputation among certain people I know for being non-judgmental. The one who accepts herself, and therefore them. The person people can come to and tell their secrets and failures, without fear of being shamed. I am the woman who teaches people to love themselves by example. Because I learned to love myself. And here I am hating myself. Being ashamed of my body. And I feel like I am letting everyone down. Like I’m letting you down. And I am embarrassed to admit that. I want to be better than that. I want to be stronger than that. I thought I was made of better stuff…
And maybe the most difficult part of this whole experience is not knowing what the lesson is. Or if there is a lesson. Maybe I’m supposed to have some room for the self-hatred. To let it in so it can flow back out again. Maybe I need to stop resisting hating my body. Maybe I just need to hate it until I love it again. Not hurt it or abuse it. But hate it. Think it’s ugly and let that be ok.
Or maybe I should ignore it. Perhaps I need to stop caring about what I look like for a while. Stop looking in the mirror. Stop dressing to be cute. Stop worrying about whether or not men find me attractive. Because I do worry about it. Which is kind of ridiculous, since I have not been dating for a very long time now.
Or maybe the lesson here is that I just have to keep doing what I am doing. Longer. Just keep managing my self-hatred. Keep putting it down. Keep finding some way to love myself one day at a time.
And there is one more possibility that has occurred to me. And it’s that I have had this self-hatred for my whole life. And that I ate it. And when I stopped eating it, I smoked it. And now that I am not smoking it, all there is to do is feel it. And maybe if I feel it for as long as it takes, I will move through it. And I will be able to love my body because it is mine. Not because it used to be fat and unhealthy and now it is thin and healthy. And not because I managed to make it a shape that I think the world will find appealing. But simply because it is the only vehicle for the life that belongs to me. Because it is me. And I am worth loving.
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Even the angry, destructive side of me likes sexy pants

I have multiple eating disorders, hence I have a whole cast of messed up characters that live in my head when it comes to food, eating, my body, and my emotional life.

I talk a lot about my fat girl. She’s relatively easy for me to talk about. She’s lived in my head for almost the longest. (The girl who is a burden has lived in my head the absolute longest. We’re not going there today…) And in many ways, I think my fat girl is the easiest for you to process and handle (unless you have an eating disorder of your own). She’s sad and a coward. She couldn’t stop eating. She hopes I’ll go back to being a coward so she can have her cake back. That’s about the extent of her. Don’t get me wrong. She’d kill me if she got the chance. But it would be a slow death. Diabetes and heart disease. Death by chocolate, if you will. Which I bet sounds great to you if it’s not actually a possibility for you like it is for me.

But there is also a bulimic girl who lives in my head. And she’s the scary one. The one that is the most dangerous. And damaging. The kinds of things I was doing to myself because of my bulimic girl scared me into quitting sugar entirely. She is the reason I keep such strict boundaries around my food. She would rather see me dead than fat. She is angry and obsessive and cruel. And she’s excessively vain. Not a healthy, see-how-I-take-care-of-myself kind of vanity. A seven deadly sins kind of vanity. She has no peace and no love. Nothing is ever ever good enough for her. Especially not me.

My bulimic girl has a tag line. A particular thought. Get it out. Actually it’s more like Get it out. Getitoutgetitoutgetitoutgetitoutgetitout Get. It. OUT! NOW! (And this is said through clenched teeth.)

It was this thinking that had me abuse laxatives, drink castor oil, run 14 miles a day and eventually make myself throw up my food. My bulimic girl was full of hair-brained schemes to deal with the aftermath of my fat girl and her binge eating. If it were humorous, it might be a version of The Odd Couple. A grotesque murderous version…

Since I quit smoking 3 months ago, I keep gaining weight. I have gained 12 lbs since June 1st. It has been hard for me to deal with. (This may be my understatement of the year.) I put on a pair of jeans the other day, and they were tight. This was especially embarrassing and sad for me. In February, they were comically big. They had to be held up by a belt and sagged around my butt. I wore them to babysit when I expected to get dirty. Feeling these jeans pressed up against me was incredibly uncomfortable. Emotionally. Because it was a reminder that I feel incredibly fat. And I know there is nothing for me to do about it. It is not about calories. When I first quit smoking, I didn’t change my eating at all and I gained 3 lbs. The next month, I ate lighter than usual, (more salad, less cooking in butter) and I gained 4 more lbs. So it is not that I have been doing it wrong. It is not something I can control. My body is changing. I don’t get a say.
Guess who hates this? Any thoughts? My bulimic girl. This is killing her. She insists that there must be something I can do. At least don’t get fried onions this week. At least chill out on the full fat yogurt. At least walk a couple more miles a day. Do SOMETHING! Do you WANT to be this fat? GET IT OUT!
So my fat girl wants to give up and eat cake (not like she’s popped up this week – she just always wants to give up and eat cake), and my bulimic girl wants to resist and starve me. I decided not to give up or resist. I decided to accept. My body is what it is. Right now. And I don’t know for how long. And I don’t get a say. There is nothing for me to do.
But that is not true. There was one thing for me to do. And I did it. I went out and bought bigger pants. I bought pants I feel sexy in. Because maybe the hardest part of this weight gain is that I have been feeling incredibly unsexy. And sexy has been a very important part of my life for years now. It is a part of my personality. It is one of the things that I love about myself and my life.
And buying sexy pants that fit my body the way it is right now has shut my bulimic girl up. For now. I’m sure she’ll be back. Just like my fat girl, and my burden, and my good girl. But today, because I have my eating under control, none of them get to run my life.
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She’s not hungry, she’s my fat girl

As a person with eating disorders, I don’t really know what hunger is. That evolutionary trigger that says “you need fuel or you will die” does not function properly for me. So when I’m “hungry”, I can’t always judge if that feeling is a physical feeling or an emotional upset. And when I was eating compulsively, I promise, it was never a physical feeling. If you can imagine how much and how often a person has to eat in order to maintain a morbidly obese body, then you can imagine that at no point was my body in danger of starvation.

Knowing this about myself is important. Because I have eliminated “hunger” from my reasons to eat. There is actually only one reason for me to eat now. Because it is time to eat. That is part of my food boundaries. There’s a time to eat. Not just one. Three of them every day, in fact. Big, beautiful, abundant meals. And then that’s it. If I have eaten lunch and I am “hungry” I just “be hungry” until dinner. Being hungry for a few hours is not the most horrible thing in the world. Especially for someone as well fed as I am. So far, I have not died from it.

A few weeks ago I may have actually been hungry. When I quit smoking, my metabolism changed. Is still changing. And I was not feeling satisfied after my meals. So when it was time to eat, I made some different choices about what I ate. Giant cantaloupes. Less salad, more vegetables cooked in butter. And that hungry feeling went away and my body started feeling full and fed and content again. So it could be that that was real hunger. The truth is, I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter. Real hunger, emotional cravings. As long as my eating is within my boundaries, it’s basically none of my business. I don’t have to care. I don’t even have to wonder. (it’s very freeing, frankly.)

But this week, I have been feeling “hungry” and it is definitely not a physical hunger. I have been feeling this “hunger” even though my meals have been incredibly decadent and filling. Even when I have just finished a huge, gorgeous meal, and my body is stuffed, I have been “hungry”.

Even knowing that I am stuffed is something that only came to me after I had my eating under control for a while. When I was eating compulsively, I was basically disconnected from my body. Not only did my thoughts tell me that I was “hungry”, but they kept me from ever feeling the sensation of “full”. All of those feelings that lived in my mind and my thinking that occurred to me as hunger trumped any actual physical sensation. I didn’t (still don’t?) have that thing that regular people have that tells them they have had enough. All of the discomfort and shame and pain (and joy – any intense feeling is hard for me to deal with) registered as hunger. And I fed them.

But now, because I have boundaries, and therefore some clarity (not to mention sanity) I can look at feelings of “hunger”. And I have a shot at distinguishing what they really are. And I think I understand what this week’s “hunger” is about.

Right now, there are some areas of my life that are up in the air. There are some things that are not settled. And it’s not time for them to be settled. I don’t know what is going to happen. And I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next. I don’t know when I’ll know what the next right action is. I don’t even know what the next right action is supposed to lead to. So I have to wait. And be still. And I have been getting impatient. I don’t want to wait. I want to know. I don’t want to be still. I want to move. Now! And the not knowing and the not moving are making me uncomfortable. And that discomfort registers as a kind of emptiness. Like there’s something missing. Like there is a hole in my life. And the fat girl who lives in my head wants to fill that hole with food.

Here’s what I already know: There is not enough food in the whole world to fill that void.
I am grateful that I don’t have to eat compulsively today. The clarity that I have has not only let me see that impatience is the real feeling behind the illusory hunger I’ve been feeling this week, but it lets me see that it really isn’t time for me to act yet. And then it will also allow me to be alert and know when it is time to move. And to know what to do when that time finally comes. Not a rash decision and a drastic action. Rational. Honorable. Honest. Maybe not perfect, but definitely not shameful. All that for being “hungry” for a few hours every once in a while. Yeah, not a bad deal…
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The practical lesson of chicken sitting

I have been away from home this week. Not just away from home, but away from people too. I needed to not be with people. It’s been me and animals. And though I was attacked by a rooster, and bitten by a spider, it has been pretty fantastic otherwise. I’ve seen deer outside the window in the morning as well as when I went walking in the woods. There have been wild turkeys outside the fence. I have been surrounded by butterflies and humming birds. Watched chipmunks chase each other. Seen a frog perched on a flotation toy in the pool as if it were a lily pad on a pond. Hawks in the sky (not to mention sitting on the chicken pen – scary!) And of course the chickens I am here to look after. Yes. I’m chicken sitting. Frankly I do not like the chickens. As I said above, the biggest rooster keeps attacking me. But…The eggs. Fresh eggs! As a girl who eats a lot of eggs packed in styrofoam cartons purchased from grocery stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn, let me tell you that fresh eggs are special. Almost worth being pecked. (Can you tell I love food?)

I expected to come here to this (very modern) house in the woods and do a lot of writing and reading. I half expected to spend my time staving off boredom with no city to up and head into at a moment’s notice. Instead I have been wondering at the end of each day where the hours could possibly have gone and wishing for an extra four or five.

I’ve been spending my time here in a lot of quiet reflection. I have begun to unravel some jumbled up ideas and beliefs and caught glimpses of half-formed epiphanies. But there is one thing in particular that I want to share with you. And it is not the result of sitting quietly for hours every day. It’s the result of being willing to leave my house and my kitchen. It is the result of being willing to step out of my comfort zone. Sure, a baby step. But a step none the less.

When it comes to food and keeping my food boundaries, I find a lot of comfort in sameness. In many ways it’s just because I already know same works. I know what to expect. And I know the procedures and the pitfalls. And if something is the same, I have to do minimal preparation, both practical and emotional. When I go to my favorite restaurant, I don’t have to call ahead, to find out if they add something like honey or wine to their vegetables, or if they marinade their meat in something I don’t eat. If I have a reason to go to a new restaurant, I usually do call ahead. I like to be as prepared as possible. But even then, I have to psyche myself up. I have to reassure myself that nothing can go wrong that can’t be fixed. And still I’ll be nervous. Because I am a nervous person. I could of course just go and ask when I get there. And figure it all out then. But I don’t do that. Because that’s way out of my comfort zone.

And this isn’t just about restaurants. I do this at home too. Even in my kitchen, I often eat the same things. Because I know how it fits into my boundaries. And I know that I like it. And I know about prep time and cook time and quantity. If I get tired of something, or want to try something new, it can take me days or even weeks to get around to making a change. To overcome the anxiety of change.

Part of it is that I take my food boundaries that seriously. There is room for honest mistakes, of course.  And I don’t worry about making honest mistakes. But I do worry that some day, if I let my guard down, I’m going to decide to say “eff it” if I make a mistake. Because there is a fat girl who lives inside me who wants her cake back. And the best I can do is keep her on a short leash.

Plus I’m compulsive. When I do something new with my food, I often second guess myself. Is this within my boundaries? Yes. Ok. Wait, are you sure? Yes. Ok. But did you consider (blank)? Yes. And it’s me talking to me. So there is nobody to tell me that it’s all fine and to shut the hell up already.

But then if I’m in my own kitchen making the thing I make, or in my favorite restaurant where I go all the time, and something goes wrong (as it does sometimes, because it’s life and sometimes shit happens) I panic. Or at least get really really upset. I’m so used to the routine, the cadence and the rhythm and the sameness, that a glitch can totally catch me off guard. It’s not that I let myself slip out of my boundaries when this happens. I have never said “eff it”. But I suffer! I torture and punish myself. Maybe for 10 minutes. Maybe 5. Or 2. But I panic and I suffer.

But this week I have been in someone else’s kitchen. I came in with no preconceived notions about how it was going to go. There was no routine in place. There was no way it was supposed to be. There was no sameness. And it was kind of freeing…

It turns out that they have an electric stove, not gas. This was no big deal. But I guarantee you that if my landlord decided to change my stove from gas to electric, I would panic!

I’m almost done with their roll of paper towels and don’t know if there are more. Or where they are if there are. And I can’t get to the store to buy more. I’m ok with this. I’ll figure it out. I’m not worried. If I ran out of paper towels at home and couldn’t get more, I would panic! (By the way, I don’t run out of paper towels at home, because I keep a backup roll. Because I know I will panic…)

When I first stopped eating sugar, I tried plain yogurt and I didn’t like it at all. I didn’t like the sourness. I didn’t like the sharpness. I was used to yogurt being super sweet. I was used to everything being sweet. But if I don’t like something, I don’t eat it. (Even if it’s “good for you”.) So I didn’t eat yogurt anymore. But as the years have gone by, my palate has changed. And a few weeks ago, I had the thought that I would really like to try yogurt again. That I might really like it now. So I bought some from the new-to-me grocery store, on my way to stay in a different house. In my regular Brooklyn grocery store, I have been picking up the yogurt container and putting it back for weeks. Standing in front of it. Leaving the yogurt section and coming back. I would be about to put it in my basket, and I would panic! What if I didn’t like it? Where would it go in the refrigerator? What if all hell broke loose!?!? (By the way, I am totally digging the yogurt. I think I may need to buy a blender to make smoothies. And I’m having fantastic homemade frozen yogurt for dessert!)

I said to the friend whose house I’m staying in that I don’t like to leave my own kitchen. That the thought of traveling makes me worry about my food boundaries. She looked me in the eye and told me that I needed to get over that because I can keep my boundaries anywhere. And keeping myself from seeing the world was going to affect my happiness.

And what I noticed this week was that, like so many other aspects of my thinking, when it comes to sameness vs novelty, like begets like. The more I stay in my comfort zone, the more afraid I am to leave my comfort zone. The more I stay in my own kitchen and eat at my go-to restaurants, the less I want to leave my kitchen or try new restaurants. But then the more I branch out and try new things, the more I trust that things will work out. The more I trust, the more willing I am to step out of my comfort zone.

Look, don’t expect me to post next week that I suddenly booked a trip to Japan. I’m a huge fan of baby steps. But I would like to feel empowered to leave my own kitchen. To try a new restaurant. To just show up and figure it out on the spot. To travel. To see the world in between my meals. To trust that as long as I am willing, I will always be able to keep my food boundaries. Even in Japan (some day).

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