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Monday, January 26, 2009

The Elephant In My Head

(no holds barred. Totally making myself vulnerable here. If you are of the harsh and judgemental variety, please click away now.
Thank you.)

I woke myself up at about four oclock this morning because I was kneading my stomach in my sleep. Taking fistfuls of fat and loose skin and pulling at it. As if to remind myself in my sleep that I ought not to accept this, no matter what my logical mind, my sensibilities, my feminist lionness, my strong and happily aging self keeps gently and compassionately hammering at me during my conscious hours. The Fat Grabber seemed to be saying; "You're not to be okay with this. I'm going to sit here in your head and remind you that this is totally unacceptable. If I could, I would have pinchers grabbing at your thighs as well, because your stomach is one thing.... But those thighs...."

I woke up thinking about my weight. Truth be told; there are precious few mornings that I do not wake up thinking about my weight and listening to that irritating Fat Grabber lecture me on the importance of exercise, the wisdom of eating until you are satisfied and not past; the ridiculousness of feeling so disgusted about one's body and yet being unwilling to commit to an exercise regime. Fool. The Fat Grabber always says. Weak, foolish, sucky-pants. Get over yourself. And oh... How badly, deeply, completely I do want to get over myself. Yet, I'm utterly convinced that shame will not propell me there. Only compassion, patience, and yes... some technique. Technique that I've been fully aware of for this entire ten year relapse. I'd had five good years before that. Five years of pretty clear thinking. Very low levels of struggle. Very, very low. But I digress. Wistfully digress.

Most mornings I wake up with that elephant on my shoulder. Most mornings, by the time I am dressed and reaching for my glasses and book of the week, the elephant has been re-caged and doesn't torment me the way she did in the full-blown, really bad, lowsey, no good, fully disordered years. She doesn't torment me in the kitchen, where I prepare and eat food that I love and am able to painlessly enjoy for the gift that it is. She doesn't usually torment me as I move about my business of working, playing, loving, dreaming. She doesn't preoccupy me in social settings so that I feel such intense shame that I believe that everyone is looking at me with disgust and disappointment. She doesn't even stare back at me from the mirror every time I look into it to check for stray hairs, butt crack problems, or whether a little lipstick would hlep instill some confidence in parents who leave their children in my care. (nothing like leaving your cherub with someone who looks like the colour of death....)

But she's always around, waiting to seize me when my defenses are down. Like a virus attacking a compromised elderly man and knocking him dead with the simple flu. Like a whisper that's ever present, but becoming an undeniable, uncontrollable roar that frightens and frustrates me to no end.

Knowing all the facts helps most of the time. But the crazy, senseless preoccupation hangs over me, no matter what. I fantacize about being a different size. It thrills and frightens me. I tell myself not to play with fire. That I'm forty-one, in the healthy range for body weight, with a healthy love for divine food. And crunchy food. And chewy food. And black licorice. I have no shame for these loves, and wish them upon everybody.

But I envy myself the years when the struggle had abated. When I ate out of physical hunger only. When my body held nothing for Fat Grabber to clutch at. When my mental reserves were such that life could throw me a curveball without me being reduced to thinking about numbers on the scale; plans for running, running, running, never eating sugar again; engaging in any number of schemes and rules and plans to manipulate the size of my body.

I miss those days when I was more well than I am now. I think about them often and try to solve the problem of how to get back there. I tell myself that no one can go back; that that was then and this is now. That I should revisit all the guidelines that helped me get well in the first place and achieve again that era of relative peace.

But something stops me. Something powerful and scarey.
And I wake up with the Elephant once again.

I posted recently about the increase in my self editing. I meant everything I said. Now that I know how some people misunderstand my words and thoughts, I will not stop telling my story. I understand that it may not be your story, and you may not be able to identify one little bit. But I also recognize that considering the statistics of women dissatisfied with their bodies, there will also be a number of women who can identify. I write to them.
I don't imagine that anyone can "save me". I try not to worry about those who might feel sorry for me. We all have our shit, and this happens to be mine. I've carved out a pretty darned fantastic life regardless, and I strive constantly for more healing in this regard. Writing helps me to process, and I know that it is comforting to read about someone else's struggle when you find yourself with the same annoying animal sitting in your head.
I am not a head case. I have come a very, very long way. I just know that there is more resolution to be had with this curse. I urge mothers to hope for more for their own daughters. I urge you to find other things to talk about than your bodies, other people's bodies, beauty, or lack thereof. I encourage you to avoid fashion magazines at all cost. Don't buy into diet ideas. Any of them. Learn your body's own wisdom- it saved me. If you need some good books on the subject, check out Geneen Roth's work. Food is one of God's great gifts, and we should not associate food with shame and weakness. It's too precious and wonderful to be reduced to a power struggle and exercise in deprivation.
My desire is to be a voice of a different sort. Not reinforcing the diet and beauty industry's messages of inadequacy, but providing a different voice that acknowledges the damage done to me, while desiring to promote a different sort of message. It's a painful place to be, and maybe refusing to be silent will have some redemption somewhere down the line.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Joyce....we all seem to have our own "elephant on our back" mine is not food but other things...I so very much can relate to this post...thank you for writing it...L-lew

gloria said...

its tough to write like this for everyone to read... thanks for doing it

bria erskine said...

Amen! I am another reader who can fully relate and I thank you for being open and honest about your walk. The line "I urge mothers to hope for more for their own daughters" really spoke to me. I grew up with a paranoid/always dieting mother and feel that the voice in her head has been passed down to me. It's an everyday battle and one that I pray I will not pass to my daughter.
Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

Thanks you, Kathy

Karla said...

I am right beside you. Do you see me? I'm the one preoccupied and silent. "You're so disgusting" is what you'll hear me say as I steal a glance at my naked body in the mirror as I head to bed. What other voices say don't matter - their voices and their words don't permeate through the overhang of flesh and skin. Shame is my companion. Will I still live like this twenty years from now? Will the voices still be this loud?

Linda said...

In the dark moments, when I believe that I have not grown or matured one bit in the last 20 years, I despair. But hearing the struggles of others like you, actually gives me hope because I know that I am not alone.

Roo said...


andrea said...

I saw this amazing documentary yesterday called The Stone Reader and I retained two big messages from it. The one that applies here is that if you want to write, write well and want it to mean something to others, then it absolutely needs to mean something -- important -- to you. I think you are well on the right path, Joyce. Keep writing from the heart and everything else will fall into place.

joyce said...

These comments are da bomb!
so many thoughts, so many questions...

Jenn said...

Fantastic post Joyce.

LN said...


I too have struggled with eating disorders in my earlier life and the remnants of them still play in my head. It is a daily battle to not fall into those areas of despair.
Thank you for writing, for being honest and vulnerable. I know ( I really, really know) how hard it is to put yourself out there. Keep writing and keep being blessed. I too have a fantastic life other than those darned dark thoughts that creep up on me sometimes but I know that there is no darkness where light shines and I hold onto that promise when darkness threatens.

Blessing to you

gophercheeks said...

You know I read this post shortly after you wrote it and I wanted to comment but I couldn't think of what I wanted to say and how to get it out properly.
I, too, have an elephant in my ass( or however you wrote that)! It is always there... when I notice someone glance at any other part of my that is not directly into my eyeballs, when my kids poke around at my love handles( there is no love there btw), or every single time I sit down I have to adjust my waistband to hide my damn roll.
I want to say that I get it!!
I really appreciate this new bold(er) side of your self.... you have hit so many of us bang on... right in the chops.
My favorite line.... 'we all have our shit'! Guess what? Nobody can take that away from us. Bless you and your zooful mind.... I know there is more in there than just an elephant!;-)

Word Verifn: ching :)

joyce said...

LN- I hugely appreciate you coming out of the sidelines like this to share a vulnerable part of yourself. It is a fall, isn't it, and it is despair. The reminder that we are not where we were, is that we no longer LIVE in that place of despair. It threatens us now, but we do have choices.

GC- Elephant up your ass?! I like that even better! I am really thanksful for your encouraging and funny note. Its true. Everyone has something, and hiding in fear that making myself vulnerable means that someone else might be left feeling alone. It really sucks when you feel like you are utterly alone.

Crystal said...

great post Joyce