“You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.” -Amy Bloom
I have grappled with this paradox the majority of my life. I am still trying to understand how both statements, so oppositional in nature, can be true. My desperate need for perfection has ruined so many moments. My continual disappointment in mine or others’ perceived flaws and short comings, will be my unraveling.
As a child growing into my new body, I began to hate it. Seemingly overnight were thin white lightning bolts tearing at my porcelain skin. I felt as if I was expanding at an alarming rate. Photos of myself felt alien and distorted.
I remember sitting on my bed wondering if I cut my skin, if I could squeeze out the fat. A DIY liposuction, so to speak. As a child, my rationale was that scars would be better than fat. I was on the cusp of serious self harm. Three cheers for my healthy sense of vanity and proclivity to perfection. Scars too, were unacceptable.
At fourteen, I had my first encounter with body image issues that weren’t my own. Leah* was intelligent, athletic and daring. She was also using an 18 inch silver chain around her waist to ensure she didn’t go up from her 00 pant size. At sixteen, I met a graceful dancer who was in recovery. Tara’s passion was shoved to the side because the temptation to resist eating was too great. When I was twenty-three, a close friend’s sister confided that even though she had been pregnant, she couldn’t stop purging.
My own pregnancy would finally break me. By the time I was six weeks along I was diagnosed and hospitalized with severe hyperemesis gravidarum. For unknown reasons my body was rejecting the pregnancy hormones and causing intense sickness. I lost twenty-eight pounds in five weeks. My face was gaunt and grey.
Malnourishment was a real concern. A thin tube, called a PICC line was threaded through my vein, until it was millimeters from my heart. The PICC line fed liquid nutrition directly into my bloodstream, my stomach being taken out of the digestive process. I was alone the day the clergyman came into my hospital room to discuss my living will and pray over my body.
When the forty weeks were through I was blessed with a small but overall healthy daughter. But, in the back of my mind I was left with something darker. I gained over fifty pounds in six months that first year after she was born. I sat over my plate crying, choking it down until I was sick. I was now a slave and food was my master.
A year later as my marriage was failing and I was abandoned on my mother’s doorstep, I was desperate for control. I began the meticulous calorie counting, portioning and weighing of every bite. What I thought at the time was control was me falling deeper into food’s hold. Intrusive thoughts soon became obsessive. Understand that at no point in my one hundred pound weight-loss journey did I starve myself or purge. I found the tightrope between mental illness and self harm.
Now in the beginning of my thirties, my mind continues to fire rapid and constant thoughts about food and my body. Last winter I found myself once again binge eating in the secrecy of my garage, hiding the evidence like an addict. Tomorrow I will face dozens of sugar cookies during our traditional Christmas cookie bake. I will talk myself off the ledge. Heroin and alcohol addicts (not to belittle their fight) have the ability to recover out of denial. Further denial of my demons would be increasing servitude to my Master.
I have yet to find the balance needed for a life of accepting my imperfect and permanent flaws. My pleasure and punishment are entwined in food. I can sit here open and honest and tell you I have no plan. Recovery is not in sight and its daunting.
In 2017 writer and director, Marti Noxon, delivered a heart wrenching and poignant movie titled, To the Bone, about her own struggle with anorexia. The film made me physically ill with its raw honesty. To the Bone held up a mirror that I did not want to gaze upon. I was crawling underneath my skin and as uncomfortable as it made me feel, I recommend it to everyone.
*All names were changed to protect privacy.