New Year’s Revolution (or, Why January Fucking Sucks)

This is the worst time of year to be recovering from an eating disorder.

Starting in late November, the pressure is on.  This is the holiday season, and that means we eat!  We eat in excess!  With tables full of food and counters laden with sweet desserts, we’re forced to test our boundaries – not by dipping our toes in the pool, but by being unceremoniously shoved in fully-clothed during the party.  For me, a month into recovery, it meant it was the first time I wasn’t in control of the food I spooned onto my plate in portions that seemed too big, the first time I let myself eat dessert, the first time I was consistently full for weeks at a time, and it was overwhelming.  For nearly two months during the holidays, I could no longer restrict my meals or manipulate food, but I also wasn’t able to determine for myself what I was eating via meal plan.  I wanted all these delicious meals I had banned myself from for three years, which meant I ate a lot of them, which also meant I counted down the days, waiting and pining for the end of the holiday season to come around because nobody ever tells you how exhausting, how triggering, how pleasantly unpleasant, eating can be.

And then, when you think you’re free, January hits.  And now, instead of everyone telling you to Eat Eat Eat! everyone is telling you that you should feel Bad and Guilty, that eating was not eating but Overindulging, that now you require lose-weight-quick diets and detoxes and fasting, that you need to hit the gym five times a week for thirty to sixty minutes, that it’s time to set resolutions that involve less less less food and more more more burning off all those calories.

January hits, and it’s somehow worse than the holidays ever could have been, and now your goals to eat more and work out less are suddenly targets for scrutiny and criticism, and now you’ve got another beast to tackle on the already-fraught road to recovery.

My eating disorder started, in part, as a New Year’s resolution.  Having swapped glasses for LASEK, it seemed an opportune time to cut off all my hair and, while I was at it, lose some weight.  It started with eating 1200 calories and 30 minutes at the gym a few days a week.  It progressed a little more during each successive year, where my resolution was to hit an impossible 100lbs by consuming under 600 calories a day and spending no fewer than 4 hours working out.

I bought into the fads.  I went vegan, bought whole foods when I did eat, added spirulina powder to my smoothies, made sure my ED looked Instagram-good.  I was afraid of fats and carbs, worried about toxins, doused everything with dried red pepper flakes in the hope that the spice would speed up my metabolism, stopped going out to eat, spent every free moment at the gym, tried to maintain my image as Healthy and Fit.

It was exhausting.  I could feel my body wasting away as my fingernails snapped in half, my toenails popped off, my hair fell out, my teeth ached.  When I wasn’t at the gym, I was in bed berating myself for not being at the gym.  When I was doing homework, I was mostly just thinking about eating (or, really, not eating).  I was living in a perpetual state of anxiety about my weight and appearance and food intake, which meant I really didn’t have time for things like friends because that usually meant food, or going home to see family on the weekends because that meant I wouldn’t be able to spend the entire day at the gym, or going to class because there just weren’t enough hours in the day.

There’s nothing wrong with changing up your lifestyle in pursuit of a healthier self and nothing condemnable about using the first of the year to get a fresh start at eating better and discovering how awesome it can feel to work out.  But the health industry has turned our insecurities into marketing strategies.  It’s an exercise in exploitation, where the only aim is to make a profit on a lifetime of self-doubts by fostering new problems, by making you constantly think you’re not doing anywhere near Enough, that you aren’t Enough.  You can always be skinnier, stronger, prettier – and here’s how eating only these foods or signing up for this fitness center or adopting this diet can give you the body of your dreams.  You should constantly be scrutinizing your body, trying to incorporate as many health trends as you can.  But, because it’s subtly peddled by beautiful down-to-earth Youtubers and Instagrammers, because it’s reinforced in every single store and restaurant, because your friends and family all pick up the lingo – it seems normal.

No one actually teaches you how to be healthier.  They don’t teach you how many calories you really need, how to have a healthy relationship with the food you eat, how to work out because you love what it does for your body, how to even find the kind of workouts you enjoy because not everything works for everyone.  They don’t teach you that, for as much as you can enjoy food, it doesn’t need to be the sole consuming feature of your life.  They don’t teach you to love and honor yourself, because that’s not profitable.  And that’s a goddamn shame.

It feels like no one takes the time to think about how harmful our “normalized” relationship with food is – year-round, but especially during the holidays.  We eat delicious foods and talk about how rich and indulgent they are, how we aren’t going to eat for the rest of the week, how we need to find ways to burn all those calories, how “bad” we are, even as we eat more of them.  And then, suddenly, we do a full 180.  Now, we weren’t “bad” cheekily, like we were when you have that second cookie at the Christmas party.  Now, we were just bad, and we have to do penance for our sins.  We need to restrict, diet, get back in the gym, be “good” again.

We don’t think about how much better it would be if we let ourselves enjoy those holiday foods without guilt or shame, if we didn’t separate our year into times of indulgence and restraint, of excess and abstinence.  How, maybe, we wouldn’t feel like we need to overeat if we let ourselves enjoy food every day and how, then, we wouldn’t need to diet.  We don’t think about how our body fluctuates like this naturally, how it’s normal to have days where we eat more than usual and how, if we listen to our body, it will tell us we need to eat a little less the next day.  And for someone going through recovery and trying to understand that a few extravagant meals aren’t the end of the world, it’s so, so frustrating.  I have to manually remind myself at every meal that eating is okay because, societally, we preach food as Bad when we enjoy ourselves and Good when we eat less of it.

November and December are hard, but January royally fucking blows.  Everywhere I look there’s another reminder that I am not skinny enough, not fit enough.  Everyone has opinions on how I should treat my body to make it acceptable for someone else’s standards.  I don’t even have to leave the house to run into another trigger, but now I know better.  Every day feels like a balancing act as I walk the thin rope of recovery overtop the abyss of relapse, but I know.

I know what it’s like to have energy.  I know what it’s like to lift heavier than I thought possible, to feel satisfied, to not be so hungry and so paranoid about losing weight that I have to think about restricting food or how to earn my next meal every waking second of every single day.  I know how to take a rest day, how to have cake for dessert, how to go for a run because the sunshine and the fresh air and the capability of my body feels good and not because I need to end the day in a calorie deficit.  I know what strength and health feel like.  I know I want that again tomorrow, that I want to feel even better next month, that I want to sustain that for a year.

And I know that my resolutions – that eating more, working out less, learning how to love myself and really mean it – aren’t the ones I’m Supposed To Have.  But they’re the ones I need to hold onto right now, and I’ll be damned if January gets me down.

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100 Words: #43 (Age of) Consent

43.  Consent

Consent should be easy.

I was fourteen, a fledgeling feminist dipping her toes into female-fronted punk rock, when I learned about the politics and definitions of consent.  It’s an enthusiastic yes.  A vocal yes.  A yes at every stage, not a ‘yes’, then a ‘no’ or an ‘I don’t know’ or nothing at all.  Consent is not “I owe you for dinner”, is not “I changed my mind but now it’s too late”, is not “I feel obligated”.

It sounds easy.  It should be easy.  In theory: easy.

The reality is that I’ve given consent to one person – maybe two.

In practice, it’s hard.  In practice, a boy will take you out for your birthday, for wine and pizza and Shakespeare and forget (‘forget’?) the corkscrew.  In practice, he’ll hint that it’d be a waste to take the whole bottle home himself, that it would be lonely to drink it without you, that he has roommates – so you offer to bring him home with you, to watch a movie.  You won’t know any better, won’t know what that means, won’t know until his hand is up your skirt and you don’t want it there but now it’s too late, you think, to tell him no, to tell him to go home because you’ve both shared a whole bottle of wine and he can’t drive home.  He’ll spend the night in your bed while you chide yourself – you should have known better, should have known that no engineer is going to take an English major out for Shakespeare expecting nothing in return and you should make his time worthwhile because he’ll for wine and he’ll pay for pizza and he’ll pay attention to you, but not quite enough attention to realize you’ll cry when he comes on you and tells you that you better not tell anyone else, your mutual friends – it’ll ruin his reputation.

In practice, another boy will take you out to see Christmas lights and he’ll seem so nice and it’ll seem so innocent that you agree.  It’ll seem polite to take the beers he offers you before you leave, and your hopeless romantic heart will sing when he holds your hand and kisses you under the Christmas tree.  And you’ll have such a nice time that you don’t mind going home with him (“to sober up before you drive home,” he’ll say) and that you won’t mind listening to records and having a few more beers, because you’ll like him for weeks that turn into months and you won’t be able to believe it’s happening.  But you’ll think you’ve learned, you’ll know the warning signs when he asks you not to post anything on social media, you’ll have friends who warn you about him, warn you to stay away from him.  You’ll kiss him, but you’ll tell him “no” when his hands slide up your shirt, tell him “I need to leave” when his hands stroke up your thigh, tell him “I don’t want to” when you try to stand up and he pulls you back down next to him.  He’ll tell you “you can’t drive like this” and “don’t be nervous” and “we don’t have to fuck” and “we can do something else”.  And you won’t know how to protest any further, you’ll choke on your words, you’ll say nothing, you’ll stay up all night and leave at six in the morning, you’ll think it means something and he’ll take another girl to Hawaii two weeks later.

In practice, a boy will text you for weeks.  You’ll like him, but you’ll know he likes your convenience, so when he asks you to drive out to see him, you’ll say no.  No, thank you. No, but I hope you have a nice birthday.  No, I’m busy.  No, sorry.  You’ll feel bad, because he’ll have talked you into sucking him off in the back of a rental car months before and you couldn’t think of a reason to say no so you said yes – you’ll feel bad because he’ll have expectations, because he’ll spend his birthday alone.  You’ll finally agree.  You’ll drive three hours to see him, a sick feeling in your stomach that you won’t quite be able to define as ‘regret’ or ‘excitement’ or ‘anxiety’.  He’ll kiss you when you’re mid-sentence and fuck you with enough time to watch the football game.  He’ll take you out to dinner, ignore you, let you sleep in his bed with enough space between you to fit a small family, offer you a granola bar in the morning before he drops you in the lobby.  You’ll feel dirty, used up.  You’ll take a shower when you get home, scrubbing your skin raw.  You’ll tell yourself you asked for it, you technically agreed.  You’ll make it a joke, a story; you’ll make fun of yourself, you’ll try to make it okay because you asked for it, you drove out there, you didn’t want it but you did it.

In practice, boys will buy you drinks and try to fuck you outside a concert venue because they’ll be taller and bigger and you’ll be too drunk to stand up on your own and you’ll almost let them because you feel guilty they spent money on you.  In practice, boys will press you against the stage at a show, will press their erections against your ass and kiss you before you find the words to say no.  In practice, boys will have their friend pick you up from the airport, will take your bags up to your room, will invite himself in and press you against the counter and ignore you when you tell him to leave.  In practice, boys will be older men who tell you they have connections to the band you just saw, who tell you they’ll drive you home, who tell you he’ll introduce you to the band at the next show but only if you show him how good you are on your knees, who tell you he’ll pick you up and drive you away with him to Dallas, who text you over and over despite how many times you say you’re not interested.  In practice, boys will do that a lot – will text you with propositions that you have to ignore or decline, will text you and text you no matter how many you ignore or decline, until you actively avoid being near those specific boys.  In practice, boys will surround you with their friends in corners of grandstands so that you can’t leave, will ask you for your number, will find you again in the paddock to ask again, will hold your wrist until you kiss him.

It should not be this difficult.

Itsy Bitsy Skinny Minnie

I developed an eating disorder on purpose.

 

It sounds counterintuitive.  It’s like the DARE program telling roomfuls of terrified preteens that “nobody wants to be a heroin addict when they grow up” as they flip through a slideshow of skeletal mugshots and emergency room abscesses.  Nobody asks to have an eating disorder.

 

Except sometimes, you do.

 

Continue reading

100 Words: #26-31

26. City
A pier. New York City at night. New Jersey waiting on the other side of the river. Lights over the city dance like incandescent fireflies, halogen fairy lights, fluorescent candles – light pollution hanging like a haze of possibility. We’ve been awake for twenty-one hours, walked as many miles, lost ourselves in corporate consumerism and dead midnight streets. There is exhaustion, first and foremost, a filter that every other sensation must battle through to be felt. I hold your hand, tangle my fingers with yours, let my body fall heavy against you, drape my legs over your own. The city makes my eyes heavy with dreams, the cool wind curls me into your sphere like a tendril of wayward wispy smoke.

I want to sleep, but now is not the time. Not here – not in the city, not on the pier, not next to you, not when the seconds tick closer to my leaving with every breath that I wish I could so desperately hold because maybe if I hold the breath in my lungs I can hold the clocks at bay and hold you in my arms for just a little longer.

 

27. Endings
When my pining stories became love stories – when heartbreaks wrote themselves into heartmends – when I sought out the happy ending instead of the this-is-the-fate-we-have-to-accept ending – that’s when I knew I’d fallen for you.

 

28. Sprawl
Legs tangled up in yours, I never liked sleeping next to anyone until your body was sprawled next to mine. Too close, a breach of personal space, I should have pushed you away and I didn’t.

Legs tangled up in yours, fingertips finding meaning in the faint lines and creases of your skin, draped over you tied up in me, I waited to hate the way I could feel your breath tickling the hairs on the back of my neck. I waited and changed decorative finger paintings to movements with meaning, to quicken your breath, to wait for the moment I could no longer stand it, and I didn’t.

Legs tangled up in yours, skin sticky with the day and the hours and the city and the rain, skin sticky because of the way your skin moved against mine – legs tangled, I closed my eyes and fell asleep to the rhythm of your heartbeat, hoping to claw my way just a little bit closer.

 

29. Venemous
Bitter poison pills swallowed down one by one – words choked back, actions buried deep in the gut, acid memories eroding stomach lining. Bitter poison pills I can’t spit out, can’t retch from my body even with violent force. Bitter poison festering in veins, trapped, bitter poison warping minds, twisting gnarled fingers that pervert and defile everything they touch.

 

30. Tell
“You can’t tell anyone about us,” he said.

“What do you think I bought you all those fucking drinks for?” he said.

“I’m bigger than you. Try to push me away,” he said.

“We’re just friends. That’s it,” he said.

“It’ll make me look bad if they find out,” he said.

“I’m trying, but I can’t,” he said.

“I’ll come over again if you want me to but I need you to do something for me first,” he said.

“I don’t know what you want from me,” he said.

“You looked better last summer,” he said.

“That was just one night, it didn’t mean anything,” he said.

“That’s your fault,” he said.

“You weren’t the only one,” he said.

“Whatever,” he said.

 

31. Pour
The words drip from your lips drenched in tetrahydrocannabinol, palliatives, and dopamine. You’ve waited for the moment, planned for it, imagined it, tested out the weight and heft of these words in various settings, with different inflections, with every possible reaction – and then they slip from your lips with the ease that sinks ships and you can’t bite your tongue fast enough because it’s not the right time or place, because you’re drunk and high and half out of breath buried in a dark night wrapped in humidity, but it’s too late.

Your heart misses a few of its quick, steady thumps in the silence that follows and somehow you’re still sure of your choice – because of course it would happen like this, of course it wouldn’t be the beautiful planned moment turned robotic from all the times you ran it through in your mind, of course it wouldn’t be the perfect fairytale hopeless romantic unrealism you’ve dreamt up, of course it would happen here, of course it would be this simple, of course it would be messy and rough-around-the-edges and imperfect and spontaneous – because that’s who you are. Your heart misses a few more because of how positive you are that you’ve made the right choice.

And they ask, “Really?”

And you breathe, “Yeah.”

And you wait. And in the space of the seconds where you wait, you begin to dream up grandiloquent responses and declarations and echoes of your words, where they seal the letters with hot-wax kisses pressed onto your enveloping thighs, where star paths cross and everything falls into place and you fit that last piece into the puzzle and it’s like all the books told you because maybe it can be a mess and maybe it can still be a fairytale hopeless romantic ending and maybe it can be the story you’ve always wanted to write and maybe it can be modern day American realism.

And you wait.

And wait.

And you hesitate.  And you stop breathing.  And you wait.

And.

And and and.

And

nothing.

And the heart you’ve torn, bleeding, bruised, broken from your chest – the heart that’s tumbled awkwardly from a thick tongue – the heart you sewed to your sleeve to bare to the world – that heart withers, ashamed and defeated and distrustful. And that heart pries open your clenched teeth to slip past your tongue and bury itself in your throat and dig its claws into the tender flesh there. And that heart chokes you every time you open your mouth so that it will never be made to feel so foolish again.

100 Words: #20-22

20. Beat
I flatten my palm on the center of your chest, five fingers splayed wide like roots in a fertile garden. Your heart beats a steady rhythm of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard against my palm. I spread my fingers a little wider. Maybe, if I try hard enough, your heartbeat will fill the spaces between my fingers. Maybe, if I try, I’ll never have to let you go.

 

21. Stop
My life is a process of leaving. Perpetual transience. The unstoppable force without an immovable object, I’ve existed in past-tense terms as I left destination after destination in my wake. It doesn’t hurt to leave when leaving is all you know how to do. You’re just a force without an object to give you a reason to stay for a while.

I never thought I’d find anything to make me want to stop leaving things in the past and start living in the present. I’d been committed to my suitcase being my permanent residence, to friendships being as fleeting as a tree flying by outside the window of a speeding car, to a life best lived in the process of moving.

And then I met you.

 

22. Insecure
I wear my insecurities like armor and wield them like weapons. It’s easier to use them to keep the world away than confront the hard truths about myself that I’d rather choke on than swallow.

100 Words: #17-19

17. Dead
You count the dead flies lining your windowsill. Like tally marks carved into wooden bed frames or concrete jail cell walls, they track the weeks spent trapped in your own head, prisoner to the cocktail of chemicals that make bedsheets an impassible barrier.

 

18. Fool
i’m a fool
– for you
– about you
– before you
– because of you
– with you
– around you

 

19. Silence
I’ve settled comfortably into the spaces between your words. Living alone, its intimacy is as familiar to me as the moments I align together to make up my every day. Grandiloquent declarations of affection strung next to uninspired chatter has always made the latter pale in importance in my eyes. Let me hear your laugh, your stories, your testimonies, your thoughts – but let me share the authenticity of your silence.

100 Words: #14-16

14. Good
I am not a good person, but I am trying my best to learn how to be.

15. Voice
The lilting dance of your accent is one with which I am unfamiliar. I could dedicate hours to tracking how sincerity and heartbreak and laughter alter the choreography, how once dancer can be so fluidly adept at performing variety.

I have yet to see the way your lips come into play as a setting – a vehicle – upon which your uniquely-you accent comes into its own. How do downturned lips and teeth ground together and curling-ivy smiles change the way you pronounce your ‘a’? How does nature give way to nurture every time you say my name? How many pages can I fill with its every quirk and detail?

16. Commit
Each of Maggie Nelson’s novels are stories of fixation. Hundreds of pages exploring the color blue, what it means to be a queer mother, transition, loss, death, murder. Her life is dedicated to things and ideas, to inanimate objects and abstract concepts; she analyzes personal stories, anecdotes, objects, definitions. She learns histories and makes them her own.

 
What kind of thing would I focus on like Nelson? A color, like pink? A theory, an event? I’m not sure. I don’t know if I’m the kind of person who can commit to anything, even an insentient substance, with enough zeal to write a whole novel about it. But I think I’m ready to try.