I ate when I wasn’t hungry yesterday. Twice. This is a thing I do when I’m feeling disconnected. I can even remember doing this as a child.
Mom used to joke about how I was the little mouse in the house who would sneak away slices of American cheese from the fridge. I would scurry back to my bedroom, and the ritual would begin. I’d fold the piece of cheese as many times as I could manage, and eat each piece, hoping to stretch the feeling of bliss indefinitely. A slice of cheese would transform into a tall pillar of smaller squares, like bricks, building a wall between me and the outside world.
By the age of eight, I had enough sense to hide the wrappers in my backpack and throw them out in school. The weight didn’t really start to show until sixth grade, but I was so embarrassed about the accelerated emergence of my breasts that baggy clothes would soon become an ally. It didn’t hurt that the age of flannel was just around the corner. By middle school, during an already insecure age, my awareness of my actual body began to dissolve. Three weeks after celebrating a bittersweet 14th birthday with a collection of my closest friends, my family packed up our Long Island home and we moved to Orlando. That was August 1995. By Christmas, I had already gained fifteen pounds.
I couldn’t control what was happening to me. I didn’t understand it, and dieting was furthering the disconnection. I was silent about all of the wrong things.
While returning to my locker after running the track during gym class, the boy who used to harass me whenever he’d see me advanced behind me, and pinned me against a chain link fence. I’ll never forget his face. I tried to squirm free. He smelled like that disgusting mix of sweat from the September heat of Orlando and bad breath. After asking him to get off of me repeatedly, a crowd of girls from my gym class found me and pulled him off of me. Eventually the coach intervened and sent him back to the locker rooms. I remember him looking at me and asking me if I was okay. There were no broken bones. There was no blood. I said I was okay, but there was no way I could really know the answer to that question in that moment. My parents never found out about the incident. The school didn’t do anything, and I didn’t really have friends yet. More disconnection.
A walking blob with giant breasts – this is how I would have described myself at sixteen. I couldn’t run during gym anymore. By seventeen, I was wearing a sports bra over my bra just to make my chest look smaller. I felt like a freak. I would wait until everyone was asleep and sneak into the kitchen to make buttered toast. I remember gently opening the fridge, and the bag of bread, and the toaster. I’d wait for just the right moment, and I’d turn the toaster off before the sound of the bell. I was the tiptoe champion. I was always worried Mom would notice the missing bread and ask about it, but she was usually either too busy to notice, or I was smart enough not to eat too much.
My brother was a picky eater, so when he needed help finishing his food, I was always there for him. These moments, when laid out independently, feel benign. Give yourself enough perspective, and you begin to get a sense of the horror show of which you are the star.
The pattern didn’t really make sense until my freshman year of college. Compulsive Eating Disorder. I self-diagnosed, and so I stopped. Cold turkey. I stopped gaining weight. I worked part-time jobs. I went to class. I maintained a great GPA and kept my scholarship. I never dated. I had lots of friends. I started writing in anonymous online journals like Open Diary and LiveJournal. And I still didn’t feel connected to my body. A blob with breasts.
After graduating, I lost a lot of weight very quickly. Two years later, I gained it all back. It was like clockwork. Every eighteen months, I’d lose the weight, and then it would return. This body was telling me that it didn’t belong to me at all. At the same time, all of my romantic relationships resulted in total failures to launch.
The summer of 2006, I took my very first solo trip to DC to visit a friend from college. Like most of my friends who leave Orlando, he was trying to convince me to see the town through the eyes of a proper District resident, also known then as… The Hipster. There was a lot of dancing, and drinking, and meeting new people. I was having the time of my life. On my last night there, I accompanied him and his strange girlfriend to the event of the season dressed to the nines. I remember there being drink after drink. There was art. There were attractive intellectuals everywhere. I started to wonder if I should move to DC. I barely remember the cab ride back to his place. I remember passing out in my pajamas. And then I remember waking up to my friend’s girlfriend on top of me, and he was passed out. I wasn’t sure what was happening at first because I was still disoriented, but when I felt her hands move under my pajama bottoms, I froze. I couldn’t move. Her mouth was on my mouth, and I turned to stone.
“Just pretend you’re dead. She’ll stop. You’re dead. Be dead.” Like a chant, I repeated this over and over again in my mind in one stream, and then in the other stream, I was screaming. With my eyes sealed shut, I was floating above myself, watching this person violate me, wondering if it was actually happening, trying to yell at myself to move, to kick her off, to do anything. When I woke up in the morning, she was gone. My friend was gone too. I was alone, and I felt sick. I stood in the shower, trying to remove my skin with the scrub cloth I packed in my carry-on bag. I could hear a new chant in my mind now. “Nothing happened. This didn’t happen. I’m fine. I’m fine. I’m fine.”
The two-hour flight was somber. I cried without interruption, and quietly, for 100 minutes. Once the plane started its descent, I went back to the chant. My parents were going to receive me from the airport, and the real tragedy in my heart was not what happened to me; it was that my parents would not be getting back the same daughter they dropped off.
I broke out into hives a week later at work. On my drive home, I remember thinking, I’ve never had hives. I think this is a symptom of trauma. Thank you, Psych degree. I needed to solve this problem. My very efficient solution was to validate what happened by sharing it with a friend from work, hoping I could move on.
When I returned to work a few days later, I readied to unburden myself to a friend. If I didn’t make it a big deal, it wouldn’t be a big deal. That was the plan, and so I told her. When I turned to look at her from the driver’s seat of my car, she was in tears. I made her cry. Fuck. Maybe this was a big deal. I was sure it was my fault. I was drunk. I shouldn’t have been drinking so much. I shouldn’t have been so friendly. I should have trusted my instincts. I should have, but I didn’t. To add insult to injury, the friend from DC who praised me regularly for my writing begged me to keep this story to myself because everyone would know it was him, and he didn’t want to have to deal with it, and because his sister also read my blogs. So I buried it down deep. Disconnection.
It wasn’t rape because it was a woman. This is what I told myself for years. No one would ever take it seriously because rape is always about the victim and never about the perpetrator. It would always be about what I did wrong and never about the choice someone else made to violate my body. I thought about that “1 in 3” statistic. That was never supposed to be me. And because I knew I wasn’t going to tell anyone about it, I had to acknowledge that the stat had to be higher to account for the people like me. Fuck.
I started misbehaving. Drinking. Putting myself in not-so-healthy situations with guys I didn’t like. What did it matter now? I was damaged goods. And this body definitely didn’t belong to me – it belonged to everyone else. It didn’t do any of the things I wanted it to do. It didn’t want to give me children, it didn’t want to keep me healthy, and it attracted the worst kinds of attention. Disconnection.
Life went on. I dated. I worked. I bought a house. I turned thirty. Interesting changes take place at thirty. The era of intense self-examination begun. Enter Therapy.
I was trying figure out two things: Why do I feel like an android (why can’t I connect to my body), and why can’t I be in a successful relationship (why do I keep dating guys who aren’t emotionally available to me)? Two years later, I’d finally use the word ‘rape’ for the first time. And my dialogue changed from my saying “I think” to “I feel.” That was a big deal. I started to actually feel again. Maybe my body was finally becoming mine. And that’s when everything became harder. My relationship to food. My relationship to men. The pressure put upon me by others, and by myself, to provide good explanations to the recurring “Why are you still single? You’re so pretty!” question. Contrary to popular belief, a woman’s worth is quantified and qualified by more than just her marital status – but just because you know that doesn’t mean you feel it.
Self-examination is excruciating. But it’s also pretty magical when done right (for you). Therapy, for me, was the adapter that took all these beautiful lights that wouldn’t turn on inside of me and got them to flicker. When you know the connection exists, and that it isn’t inherently flawed or broken, you just have to find the electricity to keep it on. Having this colossal realization didn’t mean that the ideal path ahead just unfolded in front of me like a magic carpet. This is where the work shows up. This is where the power of choice shows up. And, this is where you realize you do have control.
You start to feel your feelings more. You take the time to ask questions like “Is this good for me? Are you good for me? Do you want to hurt me? Am I hurting myself by doing this?”
And then you ask the scariest question of all – “Am I abandoning myself right now?”
I learned to disconnect at a very young age. Most of us do. And most of us carry within us a collection of silent traumas that eat at us. While it’s eating your soul away, you consume more. You abandon yourself consuming food, alcohol, sex, drugs, sleep, television, or even exercise (I’ve seen it). The list of ways to abandon yourself is long. For me, it’s always been food.
Food has never abandoned me. Food has never disappointed me. Food is always there for me.
Even knowing everything that I know about the mind-body-spirit connection, I still wrestle with this relationship.
So yesterday, when I sat on my couch, I made the choice to eat when I wasn’t hungry. And the whole time I ate, I told myself it was okay. That I would get through it. That a new day was right around the corner. I reminded myself that I will find connection again. And that this feeling I was feeling was temporary.
Knowing that connection is basically the only way out of the dark, I had to power the light bulbs inside with these truths.
And now that I have, I feel pretty full.