July 23, 2018

Brave

The first time I lived in California, as my time was winding down, my home became increasingly empty. A few possessions were shipped to Chicago, but most were donated or discarded with reckless abandon. I wanted to be free of California, of the year, of the heartache, of the angst - and purging my belongings translated that need for relief of an emotional burden into a physical lightening.

A few relics of youth were shipped out, plus some more recent souvenirs, clothing besides what went into the suitcase I carried back on the plane, a few dishes and kitchen things.

The couch sold, then the washer and dryer, the bookshelves, the bed.

My last night in California, I slept on the floor. Suitcase by the door, backpack packed for my last day of work - I planned the next morning to teach my final course, sign my early cancellation forms for my apartment lease, then catch a train to San Francisco where I'd board the one-way flight back to Chicago, the place where I'd last felt comfortably myself and at home.

By the light of the hallway (I'd sold my living room lamps and there was no overhead lighting in the room), I read poetry and cried. If there was ever a night, ever a moment where my youthful angst and melancholy needed poetry more, I can't recall. That night, it was absolute perfection. Allowing myself to begin a long grieving process in tears on the floor of my empty apartment, I sifted through a collection of words written by people in various situations, but I could hear echoes of my own feelings in all of their words.

When Anne Sexton wrote "The Truth the Dead Know," she was processing loss in her own quietly raw way. I've always been so deeply drawn to one of it's first verses:

It is June. I am tired of being brave.

That period in the middle - that natural sigh of grief-stricken resignation. She's not screaming in anger - maybe not ever, maybe just not yet. For now, it's just breathing and contemplation. Drawing an essential line in the sand, even as she is not yet sure what her next step is.

The verse has returned to the front of my mind a few times since that last quiet night in my empty apartment. The beginning (and end) of my marriage, the separation, the finish line of divorce, the transition back to the West Coast ... there have been so many changes and so many different situations to process. The most consistent one, now and always, has been the war with my body. When I turned 30, I promised myself: I spent my 20s anxious about my weight - eating too much, eating too little, making myself sick with volume, making myself sick *because* of volume, losing and gaining massive numbers. I didn't want to enter my 30s saying "This will be the year, the decade, the era of health!" and then focus obsessively the same way I always had. I wanted gentleness. I wanted mental quiet. I wanted to fall in love with my soul and make peace with the body where I house it.

Self-love and self-empathy are challenges. My childhood was spent vacillating between diet obsession and food obsession, and they're both loud devils on my shoulders still. Geneen Roth wrote about it - essentially, you can't shun yourself thin, you can't hate yourself into loving yourself. But goodness, have I tried!

My greatest struggle is finding balance in it all. Wanting to be healthy but not wanting to be diet-obsessed. Wanting to be free of food obsession but not trusting myself to ever be relaxed enough. Wanting to love myself as-is but still wanting to pursue my healthiest life.

It's a constant war in my head, in my heart, in my body. I want to be at peace with myself. I want to be unburdened by the weight on my shoulders as much as the weight on my body. I want a lot. I work a lot. I slide a lot. I come back. The cycle repeats, repeats. And every now and then, I sigh.

I am tired of being brave.

I'm 31 years old, and this blog is nearly eight years of that. But I've been on some form of diet for as long as I can remember - bringing diet snacks in my school lunch to elementary school, skipping lunch in high school so no one would have to watch me eat, exercising to the point of blackouts in college, binges, purges, laxatives, takeout ...

I am tired ... no. I'm exhausted.

Eight years ago, I dreamed that I unzipped my skin and my bones went for a walk. Finally free of the weight of my body, the wind whipped through my ribcage making a lovely whistling sound, almost like bamboo windchimes. Without ears, though, I couldn't hear it - and, upon waking, I called this "a small loss." I would trade my senses for even just one day where I could walk unburdened by my physical self.

It wasn't a unique dream. I'd dreamed since childhood of accidents - besides the Nutty Professor-esque dream of an overnight chemical savior, breaking both my legs was a depressingly frequent childhood fantasy. I would be trapped in a hospital bed and forced to regulate my eating for weeks or maybe even months, and finally I would be thin. In my mind, thin meant precious and valuable - I wouldn't be invisible to people, I wouldn't be worthless.

Even in moments of seeking help, I have felt worthless - despite loving her work, I've always felt that I could never go to one of Geneen Roth's workshops, because I don't look like the women in the pictures of her audiences. My disordered eating doesn't look like the stereotype, so I'm a phony and a fraud and I don't deserve to take the care and professional attention away from someone who *really* needs it.

It's been over three decades of sad dreams and obsessions, weighing and measuring, exercise and restriction, ordering and hiding, and crying and crying and crying.

I am tired of being brave.

There's more healing to do. Self-love, self-respect, self-care ... perhaps it's just me, but it's not entirely intuitive. There's more recovering on the road ahead. It's the most critical part of my journey to health, and it's sincerely the hardest one, too. Finding balance with food is tough. Finding balance between motion and rest can be a challenge, too. But finding balance between loving myself as I am and striving to be my healthiest self is essential, and it's what needs to happen first before I can set any of the other pieces into motion.


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