Monday, June 18, 2012
ED Talks #3--by Jesse P.
I lived in Mexico for a spell when I was in college. I forged some deep, endless bonds with the men and women I studied with and the experience changed me forever. It not only changed me psychologically and emotionally, it changed me physically in a pretty drastic way.
I went to Mexico weighing 256 pounds. I happen to be a tall and broad shouldered 5’9” but tall or short 256 pounds is pretty substantial. I had been heavy my entire life. I had been obese, in fact, for most of it. I endured an onslaught of painful and derogatory comments about my body. Interestingly enough there are only a few people in my life that I can’t remember harassing me for my body, two of them being my brothers. One younger, one older. I have never explicitly stated it but for never placing my value on my body I will be ever grateful to them. It seems important to mention that. It would be a long and self pitying diatribe to list off all the offenses against me over the years but I will expound on the one that forever changed me.
Within our group studying in Mexico I happened to be one of just a few that were in the advanced group. We were upperclassmen, spanish majors rather than freshmen taking intro courses and seeking early immersion. I already had a very firm grasp on the language as I was just a semester from graduating. I was the only girl from Gonzaga in the upper division courses so when I went out to discos with the girls I was the one to hail the cab, order the drinks, figure out directions to the next bar. Unfortunately, given my appearance, I also was the one the boys wanted to talk to the least. One evening a few very charming, athletic Mexican boys had used whatever english they could muster and wooed the girls in my group. We began to bar hop with these guys and as they walked on ahead of us I could hear them talking in very fast Spanish. It didn’t take much for them to realize that we were silly white girls without much language experience. They hadn’t taken the time to figure out that I was fluent and therefore could understand every word. Their conversation was an ugly one, trying to decide how many drinks it would take to get each girl in the group drunk enough to make some bad decisions and they each took their guesses and placed their bets on who would be matched with who by the end of the night. I was matched with no one and toward the end of the conversation one of them piped up with, “and Jesse, it would take a dumptruck to get that fatass drunk!”. Cue the uproarious laughter.
Something happened. Something in that very moment happened to me and has been a force I contend with every day since. That was the summer of 2007. I quit eating. I simply quit eating. I put every single hateful comment and petty slur about my body that I had heard over the last 20 years into a drive to not eat. I was punishing myself and rewarding myself all at once. It is impossible to describe unless you’ve experienced a disordered relationship with food. I ate an apple before school and an apple at lunch for the duration of my stay in Mexico. I smoked cigarettes and chewed my nails and drank copious amounts of liquor to distract and self medicate myself. My body did begin to change and I was starting to get positive reactions. I was still mightily overweight but people were noticing weight coming off. They didn’t seem to notice my destructive and erratic behavior.
Back in the States, after my trip abroad, I sunk deeper into self loathing. I had a scale in my room and would weigh myself up to 25 times a day. I gave up on apples as they have too much sugar in them and I wouldn’t give up alcohol which is entirely sugar. I began eating spinach. Just spinach. Spinach with mustard and Cholula on top. A Special K bar for breakfast, spinach and mustard midday and liquor every night. Weight continued to come off and I continued to get positive feedback. Some close girlfriends commented on their concern with my eating habits but I didn’t listen, I was obsessed. I recently found an old college notebook from my senior year and instead of notes there were pen drawings of fat people. Stick people with big inner tubes drawn around their midsections. Pages filled with the words, “every taste, lick, and bite. Every taste lick and bite,” as well as tallies of calories eaten and calories burned. I didn’t keep my smart phone in my lap during class to text, I kept it in my lap to go to CalorieKing.com, seeking validation, adding and readding my calorie totals for the day to be sure that I hadn’t exceeded 400. 400 was my magic number. If I went over if I would take laxatives, diuretics, and force myself to throw up. My gag reflex is hard to trigger so I would push hairbrushes down my throat. I yearned for the hollow pain that accompanies going to bed hungry. I would tug on and pinch at any excess skin all day to constantly remind myself of all the work yet to do. It kept me distracted from how unhappy I was. All the pain I had endured growing up feeling unloved and unworthy was more than I wanted to face. So instead I kept on with torturing my body to make the rest of it go away. Somewhere in between all this time I had moved home. Without school to concentrate on, my frantic behaviors expanded to include frenzied workouts and constant trips to the gym so I had definition in my biceps, toned thighs, deep, bony collar bones and a flat, hard stomach.
I was back in the place where it all began and I was bound and determined to make these people see me for the body I had become and finally accept me. Beyond their acceptance I wanted to be revered. I was finally beautiful by nearly universal standards. I was a size 6, tall, tan, leggy, blond with a very well put together face and big, memorable smile. No one knew I had stopped having a period 6 months before, would become weak and have to sit down in the shower, had 2 teeth fall out and had makeup covering the peach fuzz on my face and flaky skin. I intimidated men and women who were constantly surprised to find a nice, funny girl behind the beautiful facade. I finally made it. I finally was worth something to these people. And all this time I never put together that none of these people matter. Until I learned to love myself it didn’t matter who else did.
I didn’t have quite as striking of a realization that I needed to change as I had before. There were no athletic Mexicans picking on me this time. I started reading. Blogs, books, essays. I began learning of other women who told stories of living exactly like I had. It was like they knew me. They were in the same nightmare. But they had woken up. It’s not quite as easy as opening my eyes. It is time consuming. It is all consuming. It is necessary to strip away all of the behaviors, triggers, habits, rules and regulations of living inside of an eating disorder and learn why I lived there to begin with. And then start over.
I have bad days. I have lots of bad days. I have more good days than bad days. I am more often in control of my brain than letting it control me. Any addict will tell you that once an addict, always an addict but just for today I will choose to be clean. For me choosing to be clean is choosing to nourish my body and not punish it. Choosing to provide my son with abundant and rich breastmilk and not worry about the baby weight yet. Choosing to let my partner love me for who I am and not constantly seeking validation that he finds be physically beautiful. Choosing above all to love myself for my sense of humor, my ever ready smile, my ability to love. Choosing to love my amazing body that stuck with me through all of it and still does what I ask of it and even created another life within itself, my son, who is 10 weeks old is a constant reminder of how perfect this whole mess is. After all I put it through my body is still my strongest ally and gave me life’s most precious gift.