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Wednesday, October 06, 2010


Twelve years and twenty-five pounds later, I think I've had an epiphany.

I've spent a lot of time yearning to "go back". Back to the years when the bathroom scale would confirm that I'd made my peace with food and weight. Back when I ate almost exclusively to satisfy my natural, God-given, physical hunger signals. When I liked the feeling of lightness in my stomach and knew just exactly where the line between "too much" and "just right" lay.

Sure, those days I often woke up with the very same thought that greets me every single awakening morning that I've had since.

"You're Fat."

But in those days, the scale that I mostly ignored and shunned would confirm in a factual sum that I was indeed very not fat. And so, I could move on. The hard numerical facts and the clothes that continued to fit verified that all the hard mental work I had done to overcome my compulsions and disorders had indeed paid off.

Fast forward to catastrophic event in my personal life. To surging, edgy, skin-crawlingly intense anxiety. To a magnified feeling of helplessness. And terror. And disbelief.

Then interpersonal conflict, word flinging, and fragmented relationships.

The strangest thing began to happen. I had a figurative space at the back of my throat that opened into a chasm of terror and anxiety. I needed not to feel hungry. It frightened me. I felt completely conflicted about my body. I wanted to be thin, but I felt guilty about it. As though it were selfish (snobbish, superior, threatening) somehow. The hole at the back of my throat wanted to eat more food. I, meanwhile, feared the results, all the while feeling conspicuous in my smaller size, but dreading growing larger.

And so the years of conflict ensued.
I ate more because my body asked for more.
I wanted to want to eat less.
I tried everything to convince myself that I wanted to eat less.
I wanted to be thin again, and to not want, and I wanted the anxiety and conflict to go away.
I wanted to stop growing in size and I was afraid of what it all meant. Afraid that I was just dangling inches above a terrible chasm.

But all the while, I was figuring things out, bit by tiny bit. I figured out what different pieces of the conflict were really about. I figured out how to come (mostly) to terms with it.

I eventually noticed that I really had not regressed into the full-blown horrible years of illness. I noticed that my body was asking for more, but just that. Not endless, bottomless, piles of comfort stacked and scooped in bowls and platters. My body simply did not desire the sense of near empty lightness that I'd loved in the days before. It wanted to be solid to the ground, and not in a physical place of anything that felt like lack.

And so I grew.
Alternately accepting my sense of self, my size, and my voice and then feeling terrified and ashamed of them.
Despising the impossible pressure to be successful, thin, hungry, full, fit, perfect... and then making new resolutions to become all those things.


In recent years, I've noticed a new, fledgling voice. A voice that resonates with one I heard in real time at one of my outrageous dress-up parties for women.

We were standing outside in the frost, wine glasses in hand. We were proposing toasts, and then flinging our wine glasses at the porcelain claw foot bathtub that resides in the back yard.

My friend raised her glass and proposed a toast that has rung in my ears ever since:

"Here's to never being hungry again"
She was really and truly quitting. Marching straight into herself with eyes wide open, grinning ear to ear. She refused ever to go hungry again in order to become a size that she felt she ought to be. She decided that maybe her body knew.
That it was time to be. To eat. To partake.
I think my entire insides momentarily paused as I heard her words. They were so simple, so courageous, so terrifyingly tantalizing.
I've been thinking about them for almost a year now.
Meanwhile, I've continued on my quest of psyche- detangle-ing. I've read a lot of books, always hoping that I'd get the sort of return on my investment that I'd received back in the eighties when I discovered Geneen Roth and her wonderful, life-changing words. Re-reading her work led me to discover that I was in pretty good health, mentally. I was no where near back to where it had all started. (thank God...)
On a more recent Amazon search, I ordered the book Transforming Body Image : Learning to Love the Body You Have by Marcia Germaine Hutchinson. I liked the intro. I liked that she didn't fit the typical bill of perfectly nipped and tucked women who go on Oprah to pretend they don't believe in the lies of the beauty myths. This author was not thin, and she'd worked really hard at establishing how to live out her life fully in the vehicle that she'd been given.
I skimmed through some of the guided imagery exercises, and skipped past a section entitled: Worksheet: statement of intent. But after thinking about that idea for a few days, I went back to it. What did I in fact intend? Did I want to be thinner? well... yes and no. Not thin at the cost of crazy. Too expensive. Did I want to "straighten out my head" so that I could go back to being thin? well, that's what I thought I wanted. It's what I thought I've wanted for all these years.
But as I stared at the blank spaces beside numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, it slowly dawned on me.
  1. I want to live in conscious awareness.

And that was it! I wanted to stop trying to talk myself out of where I was. Where I am. Who I am. Where I'm going. I wanted to be aware of being afraid and then be gentle in my reply.

I want to stop being afraid that I'm wasting my life worrying, and just listen to the worries. Notice. nod. Skip the lectures. Sit with my own self. Take my time.

And when my mental apparitions arrive in their hazy shapes of disapproving humans, I want to notice that too. Remember they've got their own boo-boos that make them a bit crazy and a touch judgemental. They probably need a touch of the same kind of gentle that I do. Their harsh edges don't have to be absorbed by my own fear of lack and fear of disapproval.

I might be hungry again, and I might not.

But I intend to stay awake for every nuance, every new piece that becomes part of this picture called woman. May I invite you to come along?

A toast then. To women, wherever you might be.


Karla said...

Those words from your glass-smashing party a year ago have rung in my mind many times since too.

This is good work, Joycie.

You don't need to invite me to come along. I'm already sitting in the seat beside you.

Anonymous said...

can you and Karla pull along a bowler?

Anonymous said...

uh... I should no this.
not the hat!

Anonymous said...

ok. I should go back to bed.
bowler - boler.
no - know.

janice said...

I'm in. Powerful words.

The boler has a wine cellar, right? I no it is a trailer.

joyce said...

I think that while we're in the boler, we actually sip wine out of bowlers. I'm pretty sure. But I don't (k)no(w) for sure.

Thanks for the comments, me maties. It's always a bit frightening to post something like this...

christine said...

thanks joyce.
i love that you voice the conflict in your brain.
i love you.

Mary K. said...

Well said, again Joyce. We are always learning... and I love that. What I love even more is learning to love myself. It's a good place to be. ...some days I do better than others! You are a beauty. Oh my...guess what my word ver. is???? retch -- let us NOT do that!