I knew this month would be stressful, but somehow even when I anticipate stressors, I never fail to be surprised by how tough the times can be to get through. In the moment, it feels like it will never get easier again, even though it always does. I recover, I carry on, I get right back on track. But as it unfolds, it feels bottomless, like I'm slipping and there's nothing to grab onto to keep me from falling all the way down.
My eating has been on and off this past week. One really great day is followed by an absolutely horrible one. I'm not only eating way too much junk, but I'm not eating mindfully. Physically, I'm experiencing feelings I never wanted to feel again - the stomach ache, the pain in my mouth, the gassiness, the bloating. Worst of all, though, I'm finding myself seeking the comfort of old rituals to help cope with how out of control I feel, and I totally hate myself for it. It doesn't matter what the scale says - when I eat this way, I might just as well be 345 pounds again. For me, my physical progress is secondary to the emotional progress I want to be making, and a setback like this feels just like regaining every ounce and then some.
My mom has always remained silent about my weight and my issues with food - there were occasional remarks about my appearance, but never suggestions to lose weight or try to get healthier. And she never said anything about what or how much I was eating, even when she must have known it was missing. So something I can't understand, then, is why such a big part of my secret food ritual is being sneaky ... stuffing cello packaging deep into the empty box, burying the wrappers in the trash, and especially eating quickly and quietly in rooms with the doors closed while everyone else sits together somewhere else. I'd eat in my dorm room, my brother's room, even out in the backyard - but especially the bathroom.
At my dad's house, there was a window in the bathroom that lead to the side porch. Sitting on the lid of the toilet and stuffing my mouth so full that it hurt, all the while listening closely to see if anyone was coming home. If I heard the door open through the window, I had to shovel even faster, swallow, then rinse out my mouth in an attempt to hide any crumbs, any smells left from whatever I had just hurriedly consumed.
If Mom doesn't seem to care about my size and no one ever mentions the huge quantities of missing food, why do I hide my eating? Why am I ashamed of exposing this secret behavior if no one seems to really notice or care either way?
I'm the one who's ashamed. I'm the one I'm trying to hide from.
Even at my biggest, I knew better, but I still felt this need to eat a lot, as fast as possible, and secretly. My goal was not a physical fullness but an emotional one, and I think the purpose of the secrecy is because I'm ashamed at needing a dozen snack cakes or an entire pizza in order to feel emotionally satisfied (or at least what I assume in that moment to be emotional satisfaction). My intentions while sharing a meal at a table with family and friends are entirely different from my intentions when standing at the bathroom sink, cramming one cookie after another into my mouth as fast as I can. There's a mirror in the bathroom, and I watch myself as I do what I am doing. It's almost a punishmment in itself - humiliation on top of the original shame: Look at you. Look what you are doing. Look what you have allowed to happen to yourself. Other kids have parents who talk to them. Other girls have boys who look at them. You're alone in this bathroom. You have to look at yourself. This is your love. This is all you get.
The other day, I found myself walking through my kitchen; without being mindful, I picked up a cookie my mom had bought in Chinatown, and without realizing, I ended up in the bathroom in front of the mirror. The cookie was not what I wanted. What I wanted was to feel in control of my sitation. Illogically, I'm falling into this old habit because I'm stressed out about feeling unable to sustain my new habits when my family is around. I was thinking yesterday afternoon, trying to remember when was the last time I felt this food-gross - and it was Christmas. Another time with my family. I'm really concerned that I'll never be able to spend as much time as I want with them because it's just impossible for my lifestyle and theirs to co-exist. I keep trying, but I'm just not strong enough yet. Emotional weight loss isn't enough - I need some emotional strength training.
This month has been stressful so far, but it isn't over. There are more stressors to come - the end of the semester, the end of my job, and the beginning of whatever comes next for me - but with my mom and brother leaving tomorrow, I can't help but think the worst is just about over.