Month: September 2013

On Wanderlust

Sir Alistair Rai

“I want to do something.”

She looks up from her magazine with surprise. “Okay, so do something.”

“No, I mean really do something,” I say back, stretching my hands forward to grab my toes. “Not just, like, I want to go get some pizza.”

“We could, if you want. Go get pizza.”

I sigh and release my stretch. “I don’t want pizza. I want an adventure.”

She rolls her eyes and casually flips to the next page of the magazine. She takes a moment before she sighs and laughs a little. “What are you, Inspiration Barbie?”

“Never mind,” I tell her, bending into a forward fold.

“No, really,” she says in a softer tone. “What do you mean?”

I straighten and look her in the eye. She is concerned, and wondering, and she has every right to be. But in her eyes there is sturdiness and a sense of peace. She knows where she belongs. She has people and places and things that make her whole and complete. I see her and I think, she will never understand what it’s like to be missing so many pieces.

I like to imagine that when we are born, we scatter fragments of ourselves all over the world. Sometimes they fall into some specific place, like a beautiful lake shrouded by mountains, and sometimes they fall into people. And then when you go to those places, or you meet those people, you can recognize those tiny little pieces and allow them to fill the empty spaces of your soul.

If you are lucky, maybe you can find them pretty quickly, at least enough of them to feel satisfied. But sometimes it feels like you’re losing more than you’re finding. Sometimes more of you gets lost along the way.

And when there’s too much hollow space, you get hungry. You get cravings nothing in the world can satisfy. You become a creature of lustful desire, hunting down new people and new places and new things until you’re too exhausted to carry on. You settle in and try again to live a normal life, but you can’t. There’s too much of you left desolate and alone.

I can’t be here, practicing yoga poses on my living room floor. I can’t be here, listening to lectures and following dress codes and completing assignments. I can’t be here, eating the same quinoa pilaf every single day.

I have to do something. To fight the emptiness. I have to try.

But she is so sure. I will not break her with my brokenness.

“I could go for some pizza after all,” is all I say.

She puts down her magazine and picks up her car keys. “Well then let’s go,” she says with a smile, scooting her feet into her boat shoes and turning to me expectantly.

“Let’s,” I reply as I stand to meet her. Pizza doesn’t sound so bad. I am, after all, insatiably hungry.

My Next Grand Jété

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Remember very recently when I started off a post with the exact words “I am not a dancer”?

Guess what? I changed my mind.

Lately, I’ve been starting to work my way back to a normal exercise regimen. I swim twice a week, have begun strength training (I lift at the gym – eeee!), and do a lot of yoga. Like, a lot of yoga. Probably more yoga than a human being should do. I just love the feeling of being all stretched out and pretzel-y.

The thing is, maintaining a healthy relationship with food is only part of recovering from an eating disorder like mine. That comes first, of course, but a healthy relationship with exercise is also important. After all, there’s a reason doctors recommend 30 minutes of aerobic activity five times a week – it’s healthy. And ultimately, recovering from my eating disorder means having a lifestyle that is balanced and healthy in every way.

So, with the blessing of both of my wonderful doctors, who are finally happy with my vital signs (HALLELUJAH), here I am.

When I was sick, I had a terrible relationship with exercise. I ran miles and miles every day before I would allow myself to eat anything at all. I was brutalizing my body, expecting it to continue performing at extremely high levels without stretching, resting, or fueling. Every time I laced up my running shoes, it was about the calories I was going to burn. Nothing more.

This time I’m being really careful. I’m taking everything I do slowly and deliberately and paying attention to its effects on my body. I stop when I’m tired, regardless of how much I feel like I “should” be able to do. I eat more when I’m hungry and shaky after a long swim. And I’m not going to pretend like I can lift anything more than a ten-pound dumbbell. Have you seen the sticks that are attached to my upper body? I’m lucky I even can lift my math textbooks.

Oh, and I’m not running. For now. Until I can be positive that it won’t be a trigger, I’m just steering clear. I think that’s probably for the best.

But most importantly, I’m not measuring the quality of my physical activity by any aspect of my appearance. I don’t weigh myself anymore. I don’t body check my stomach or my thighs in the mirror whenever I have a spare moment. I don’t get that gleeful feeling of satisfaction when I have to punch a new hole in my belt, or that horrible self-loathing when my clothes fit slightly tighter.

Instead, I’m taking the time to appreciate all the awesome things my body can already do, like swim a technically perfect crawl stroke and sit comfortably in a Turkish Twist. And when I find myself pushing during a workout, it’s not because I want to burn more calories or lose more weight. It’s because I’m consistently amazed by the tricks this seemingly inadequate body can pull out of nowhere.

I mean, I started doing yoga to relieve stress. Gentle yoga. Like, stretching. And I had a really hard time with it. I couldn’t touch my toes or sit up straight with my legs extended, which was pretty embarrassing because all the 60+-year-old women in the class definitely could. But just by going to class twice a week, I am now able to say with great pride that not only can I touch my toes (standing or sitting) but I can also put my foot behind my head. Which is pretty freakin’ cool.

On a whim, two days ago, I enrolled in a beginner adult ballet class. It’s been in the back of my mind as “something cool to try one day” since high school, but then it hit me – why not now? So I registered, ordered myself a leotard and a pair of ballet slippers, and asked my roommate to help me figure out how to get my super-short hair into a bun (I expect a struggle is coming).

It’s something new. It’s something I’ve never done before, unless you count the ballet/tap/jazz class I took when I was five, which I don’t. It’s something that I know I’m not very good at, and I’m doing it by myself, which is pretty terrifying. But it’s also another way to learn to appreciate and strengthen my body, and I’m lucky to be given the opportunity to do that.

So I may not be a dancer. But I’m going to dance my way through recovery whether ED likes it or not.

The Lover I Never Had

This post is written in response to WordPress’ Weekly Writing Challenge. The details of the challenge can be found here.

He looks at me with a cold glint in his already icy blue eyes.

“You lied to me,” I whisper softly, edging away from the sharpness of his gaze. “You lied.”

Leering closer, he smiles the smile of a thousand empty promises, a thousand heartbreaks. “Believe me now, you ungrateful little bitch.”

He backs off again, retreating with deliberate steps into the storm of dust from whence he came. “No one will ever love you.” The wind carries his words to me like a dagger in the chest.

**

I met him on an airplane that was flying from Chicago to Boston in December. His seat was next to mine; our arms were so close that the slightest turbulence caused us to bump elbows and apologize profusely to each other, too embarrassed to meet each other’s gaze. When I finally gathered the courage to glance at him as he asked the flight attendant for a black coffee, I found myself immediately spellbound by the light, bright blue of his eyes. The corners of his mouth crinkled slightly when he noticed my stare.

“Do you want anything, miss?” I heard the flight attendant ask politely, drawing my attention away from the ocean I was drowning in.

“I’ll take a coffee, too, thanks,” I replied, taking the small napkin she offered me.

“Aren’t you a little young to be drinking coffee?” he asked, those beautiful eyes drifting across my face.

“The life of a college student.” I found myself picking slightly at the corners of my napkin, too shy to really look at him. He laughed, a pleasant and almost musical sound that seemed to soften my nerves and make the stuffy airplane cabin feel quite a bit airier.

“What’s your name?” he asked me curiously, tossing me a packet of peanuts that had just been passed to him from the aisle.

I met his eyes, his hypnotizing eyes, and I trusted him more than I should have. “I’m Gwen,” I told him.

“It’s nice to meet you, Gwen,” he said, resting his head back against his seat and offering me a lopsided grin. “I can already tell you’re somebody special.”

**

I cried and he was there and he stroked my hair with his long, slender fingers. “It’s going to be okay,” he whispered over and over again into my ear. “I promise. I’m going to make it all okay.”

**

I was curled up on the couch, half-studying for my algebra final and half-dozing off into dreamland, when I felt his strong hands on my shoulders. “Don’t fall asleep now,” he said good-naturedly, taking a seat next to me. “Not when you’re so close.”

I moaned and let my face fall forward into my textbook. “But I’ve been staring at this book all day. There’s nothing left in here that isn’t already somewhere in my brain.”

He lifted my chin up and looked at me with sincerity in his glacial eyes, the eyes I loved. “I know you’ve been working hard,” he said, running his index finger along my jawbone. “But you need to work a little harder.”

I sighed and touched the hand that was kissing my skin. “I know.”

As I moved toward the kitchen to brew myself a cup of coffee, he reached for my hand and squeezed it. “I’m only doing this because I love you.”

The Lie.

I believed him. He loved me.

**

I returned, sweating and panting, from my 5:30 am run.

Pouring myself a glass of water and wiping my sweaty hands on a paper towel, I took off my headphones and pressed “stop” on my iPhone. It had been a good workout. I’d beaten the heat and run my fastest five-miler ever. All I wanted to do was collapse onto the couch and celebrate with a giant spoonful of peanut butter.

When I reached into the drawer to pull out a spoon, cold arms pulled mine back. He spun me like a top until I was looking straight into his eyes, never releasing his grip on my biceps.

“Five miles?”

“Fifty-four minutes,” I announced proudly, waiting for him to give me the gorgeous warm smile I’d been lusting after all summer. Waiting for him to say that he was proud of me, that he loved me, that I was strong and capable and lovely.

The smile never came. His face remained as cold as the fingers that were wrapped so tightly around me.

“Not good enough.”

His words echoed through the darkened crevices of my brain as I slammed the drawer shut.

**

“Come get ice cream with me,” pleaded my best friend desperately. “I haven’t seen you since June and I miss you!”

He put his hand over the mouthpiece of my cell phone. “No,” he declared menacingly in a voice so low I could barely hear.

“I can’t, I’m sorry. Some other time.”

I pressed “end” and looked up at the face I loved, at the eyes that had become so unfamiliar. I was angry and scared and yet still I barely moved, holding a state of nothingness until he finally told me what I had to do. I was going mad waiting for something I did to make him love me again, for him to hold my hand and tell me he was going to fix everything. Instead, I got an icy stare, a loveless face, a charming sadist.

He was everything. He made me better than I was. He pushed me to be better than ever. He kept me on track and he oversaw my routines and sometimes when I did something right, I saw a tiny glimpse of the man on the airplane who’d drawn me in so cleverly without a word. I craved those moments, no matter how infrequent and difficult they became. I was special; he’d seen that in me. It was my fault that I couldn’t live up to my potential. It was no wonder he didn’t love me anymore.

**

I throw up violently and silently on the side of the road. Embarrassed, I try to kick some dirt over it, managing only to stir up a dark cloud of hot dust. I cough as the heavy air enters my lungs, so that I do not notice him step out of nowhere until he is standing right in front of me.

I am humiliated. I am red and soaked with sweat, still reeking of vomit and stale air and barely able to stand up on my own. And of course he is there. He is always there when I am at my worst, ready to throw the knives of my inadequacy into my already broken heart.

He is fierce. And I am nothing.

The Parts I Left Behind

I am not a dancer.

In fact, I am a pretty terrible dancer. Uncoordinated, having absolutely no idea how to manage my strangely disproportionate limbs.

Once, as part of my four-year stint as a high school actress, I had to learn how to waltz – and believe me, it was painful for the choreographer (also my best friend at the time) to explain and demonstrate the steps in a way I could possibly understand. My partner, although very kind and talented himself, didn’t help matters by being roughly half my size, and I’m fairly sure the audience laughed audibly when he had to “lift” me in our first scene.

You would never know, watching the DVD of that performance, how much I had struggled. Onscreen, my dancing looks polished and precise, although certainly not professional quality. But by the time the curtain rose on opening night, I had gone from a hopeless tangled mess of body parts to a reasonable semblance of a graceful human being.

Two years before, I had enrolled in a lifeguarding course at the summer camp I’d been attending since I was nine, without the faintest idea of how to swim. The first day our group was instructed to “try a few laps,” I collapsed halfway through a valiant adaptation of the doggie paddle. But by the seventh week, I had passed every single test required by the American Red Cross with flying colors.

I mean, I’m never going to be a world-renowned dancer or a champion swimmer. I gave up my Broadway dreams the moment I realized I didn’t even know how to do a piqué turn, and I’ve been beaten in a breaststroke race by a seven-year-old to whom I was supposed to be teaching lessons (needless to say, that kid passed lessons a few weeks early). It really is quite sad, because I would love nothing more than to star in a musical’s national tour – I just know, self-pity aside, that I simply do not have the talent and experience to be successful.

Initially, what I took that to mean was that I should find a new hobby. I have not stepped on a stage since high school for that reason, because I thought I would be happier if I invested my time in something I could actually succeed at. But watching my little brother light the stage for a huge company of performers (some talented and some mediocre), I realized that when I took my final bow, I left behind a part of me. The fearless part. The part that contained passion and drive and openness to connection. To an extent, the part that was truly confident.

I want that part back.

Maybe It Wasn’t Meant To Be

Today I’m doing something a little different by sharing a piece I didn’t write. I mean, but actually, there’s no way I could have penned anything this beautiful.

This piece captures everything I want to say but can’t. Thanks, Kovie Biakolo, for putting my thoughts into words.

Thought Catalog

People can be perfect on paper; they can be perfect in person, and yet the stars just appear to be unaligned. And I suppose you can wonder about all the times you should have said something, the times you should have taken that five seconds of courage. But maybe this just also leads to wondering why they didn’t say something , why they didn’t take those five second of courage. Maybe crushes are always and only meant to crush. Because no matter how dressed in perfection they may seem and you believe together you could be; if it hasn’t come to pass, maybe it’s because it wasn’t meant to be.

I think in these modern days, however advanced we think we are; however much we tell ourselves that there are plenty of fish in the sea (and with over seven billion people in the world, there are.) Still, the rules of…

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Loving You When You Don’t Love Yourself

I wait for you outside the dressing room and hold your shoes because you don’t want me to see you in clothes that don’t fit. When I ask you if you need a different size, you say no so that you don’t have to admit to me that you might be bigger or smaller than you thought. You model the dress you like for me, but you won’t let me tell you that it looks beautiful. You just close the door and take it off and walk out like I never said anything at all.

I sit with you when you cry and wonder aloud if there’s something I can do for you. You always say no. You tell me things are bad for you and that I don’t have to stick around if I don’t want to. You don’t believe me when I say I do.

Sometimes floods pour out of you; not of tears but of words. You have no one, you say. You’ve pushed them all away. You’re out of control and terrified. You shouldn’t get anything good because you always fuck everything up. I listen to you, I challenge you, I reassure you. Like someday what I say will matter. It never does.

I love you, but you won’t let me. I love you, but you won’t believe me. I love you, but you can’t accept it because you don’t think that you deserve it.

I love you because you’re goofy and silly and sarcastic. I love you because you can turn my sobs into fits of giggles. I love you because you care so genuinely about the people you have in your life. I love you because I’ve seen you fight like hell to face your fears, pushing through the darkest of emotions to get to a place that doesn’t always feel satisfying.

I can tell you I love you until I lose my voice, but you’ll never hear it. You won’t let me love you because you don’t love yourself. And I know what that’s like because I used to be that way.

You do deserve my love, but more than anything you deserve your own. You deserve to look back on your life and be proud of the person you’ve become. You deserve to glance into the mirror and see a friend, not a rival. You deserve the happiness that comes from knowing that you are enough, at any moment, just as you are.

I will always love you. Even when you don’t love yourself. But the moment I will love you most is the moment when you don’t need it, when I see that my love for you is simply a reflection of your own. I can’t wait for the day when you really fall in love with a wonderful guy because you can finally see why someone would want to be with you. I can’t wait for the day when you walk down the street with the kind of confidence that makes people stare in admiration. And I can’t wait for the day when I compliment you and you say “thank you” with a huge honest smile that leaves no doubt in my mind that you understand your gifts.

You’ll get there. You’ll love yourself someday. And I’ll be with you every step of the way.

An Attitude of Gratitude

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“What do you mean, you’re grateful to have had this chapter in your life?” my mom asked me that night. Not maliciously, just curiously. I understood what she was asking, but I didn’t want to answer. I was in so many different frames of mind at that moment. I was proud that I had successfully completed three levels of eating disorder treatment (that kind of makes it sound like Candy Crush, but nevertheless it was an accomplishment). I was terrified of moving forward and terrified of not being able to stick it out on my own. And I was stuck in this awful place where I was no longer actively and dangerously anorexic, but I hadn’t yet learned how to shut off the horribly self-deprecating thoughts. I knew, clearly, that there had been something positive in this experience, but I couldn’t quite place what it had done for me.

Well, Mom, I’m ready to explain now.

Let’s rewind to January 2012, to the day I decided I wanted to lose twenty pounds. The day I downloaded MyFitnessPal onto my iPhone and started obsessively tracking every calorie. The day I started going to the gym every morning the second it opened.

Those days didn’t feel monumental. They certainly began a series of events that turned a human into a skeleton, but they didn’t feel any different to me.

They were also not the beginning of my unhealthy relationship with food. The first year and a half that I was in school, I used it as a coping mechanism in a totally different way. I stress ate. The busier my schedule was, the more items I piled onto my to-do list, the more I consumed. But even more importantly, those days were not the beginning of my unhealthy relationship with myself. I had spent years as a terrified perfectionist, hating all the things I was and all the things I wasn’t. I suffered from low self-esteem, social anxiety, and constant fear of rejection.

I was a functioning disaster. Good at hiding most of my issues behind a polite, positive demeanor; constantly aware that it could unravel in a heartbeat. I was good at following rules and telling people what they wanted to hear, but always a step away from a breakdown.

I’m not glad that all the internal turmoil and external triggers led to an eating disorder.

But I’m glad they led to something.

I was a functioning disaster. Keyword: functioning. I wasn’t in good shape, but I could have graduated college. I probably could have found a job and done pretty well and gotten promoted. I probably could have lived my whole life that way. After all, I got through the first 20 years without too many hiccups. And if I hadn’t been crippled by starvation, I would have gotten through many more.

But what quality of life could I really have that way? A mediocre one at best. I was speeding through things a mile a minute, hoping that someday the choices I’d made would magically make me happy. I had hastily declared a math major my freshman year of college when I felt pressured to know what I wanted to study, because it was practical and I was good at it and I told myself it didn’t matter if I really loved it. I was always preoccupied with the future instead of concerning myself with (what I considered) the frivolity of the present.

Being diagnosed with anorexia pulled the emergency brake. It forced me to immediately stop everything I was doing and reevaluate. It forced me to confront all of the truths I’d been running away from for years and years. With no forward momentum, I had no choice but to examine the present, and I didn’t like what I found.

Look at who I am right now, in today’s present. After almost a year of struggling and soul-searching, I’m no longer the disaster I used to be. I have a clearer picture of who I am and more realistic expectations of myself. I’ve learned how to ground myself in moments and get back down to earth when my mind starts wandering. And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am smart and strong and valuable and yes, completely and utterly imperfect.

I’m grateful that things got so bad. Unbelievably, incredibly grateful. I know that some of the scars from this experience will never heal, and I’m not thrilled by how closely I danced with death. I’m not naive about the severity of what happened to me. But now I get to feel happiness in ways I never have before, and I know I have the tools to make a pretty amazing life. I don’t think pre-ED Gwen would ever have been able to say those things.

I don’t know if this answers the question my mother asked me eight months ago. I hope it does. But even if it doesn’t, at least it will have explored something I’ve been trying to put into words for a long time.