Pinning a Wave Upon the Sand
It was like trying to pin a wave upon the sand; I knew there was something wrong but I couldn’t quite grasp the answer. I could feel the wax and wane of unsettling awareness of a problem present just below the surface of my life. Yet, each time I almost had understanding clasped within my fingers it would slip away once more.
What was wrong? What was wrong? What was wrong?
Hints of an answer came in journal entries about obsessive secret weigh-ins and food restriction, in my sibling’s teasing and my friend’s concerned comments of “you’re so skinny!”, in my pants slipping off my bony hips and my shrunken breasts no longer filling my bras, in the early morning waking full of hunger and shivering with body-fatless numbing cold, in the runs I did not want to go on when I would almost faint, and in the moments when my striving smile faltered to let through the inner empty desperation. In those many months of denial before I realized I had an eating disorder I clawed at these hints hoping to catch an answer to the undercurrent of depression I could feel (but chose to deny). I chased after these waves of comprehension only half-heartedly, wishing with my whole heart to fix the “problem” whose form alluded me while also avoiding it at all costs.
Dissonance. Two notes played close together on a piano so that their sound waves rub together discordantly—the vibrations don’t fit with one another causing discomfort to roll up my spine. It’s not quite right.
Dissonance. Defined as incongruity or conflict.
Dissonance. The two parts of my being that I discover to be at war when the wall of denial sheltering me from the realization of my eating disorder shatters one April morning. The earplugs are out and I can hear the cacophony; now I cannot only feel but also hear the battle in my being. The conflict has been revealed. On one side my being clings to my non-conformist values of self-acceptance, self-love, and self-respect, wanting to present my unique authentic self to the world. On the other side my corrupted thoughts scream about the values of perfection, appearance, limitation, caution, and risk-avoidance.
“I just want to be me. I love myself and respect myself. I am enough just as I am.”
“No, I’m not! I must try harder. I’ll never be enough.”
“I don’t value promoting an unrealistic ideal of skinny beauty. I don’t want to be this way.”
“Too bad. I have to. I want to be better than others. It’s fine for them to be at normal—cough, fat, cough—bodyweights but I’m different. I need to be skinny. I need to be better.”
“I just want to be healthy. I want to be fit and strong. I want to accept my natural body type and eat well. I want to set a good example for others…especially my little sister.”
“That’s so unrealistic. If I just let my body do what it wants I’ll get fat. I have to push myself. Being healthy means looking like a model. If I can’t see muscles, they don’t really count. I must eat less.”
“I just don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t know how to be happy with myself and that’s all I want. I just want to be me.”
“I know what to do. Push harder. Work out more. Smile, Get energy from somewhere and just quit thinking about it. I’ll be fine. Just keep pushing.”
Psychologists call this inner battle cognitive dissonance. Stigma calls this internal conflict going crazy. I did not know what to call it…
But, I could feel the fight in my mind and the battlefront progressing towards my heart and soul: two convoluted armies clashing on depleted soil. I did not want to have anorexia but I also did not know how to live without it. My deep values were malnourished and weak, allowing for the eating disorder energy to dictate my actions. I desperately tried to manifest my true self but at each step I was beaten back by guilt and shame. I felt trapped within a body I hated and a mind that was at war. I was dying from the inside out and I did not know how to escape.
How did I get better? How did I get out?
I thought I knew pain.
I burnt my forearm in the kitchen when I was nine. My skin puckered up white, wanting to peel away from my body, and even the cool metallic cream would not calm the throbbing I felt night and day.
I got menstrual cramps so bad I lay on the bathroom floor with hot knives stabbing through my back and gut-wrenching knots in my stomach. The pain was so severe I threw up.
When I was fifteen my appendix tried to rupture. On the way to the hospital every bump in the rural road sent shots of pain through my writhing body and gritted teeth. After surgery I could not laugh because the healing muscles hurt so bad.
I thought I knew pain.
I was wrong.
The pain of recovery from anorexia was utterly excruciating. That pain was self-induced, emanated from inside, and was entirely necessary.
Stripping off the denial of having anorexia was like ripping a Band-Aid off a hairy arm to expose a deep sore on the newly exposed skin; I did not want that ugly truth. It smelled putrid…of a wound left untended for too long, of the stab of realization, and of the pain of guilt.
Sitting with the discomfort of eating and feeling again was like thawing feet numb a long day of skiing or a leg coming alive after falling asleep; I knew the jaw-clenching red-hot pinpricks of pain crawling through the very core of my being would pass but oh how toe-squirmingly uncomfortable! And I could not make it stop. Sometimes I just wanted to stay frozen, at least then I could not feel the pain even though it was there.
The worst pain came with the battle raging in my soul. I felt myself stretched thin in all directions as I reached with as many arms as a Hindu goddess for distinct types of perfection. I felt every cell of my being questioned by another pressure from society or from myself or from who-knows-where. I felt the groundwork of who I was stripped away. I felt agonizingly vulnerable and unbelievably betrayed. The pain of being lost, of being constantly vigilant, of being continuously uncertain, was unbearable.
In order to heal I first needed to wash out the ugly infection in my mind. I needed to scrub the wound raw, expose all my weaknesses that had been covered by the messy chains of infected debris trying to hide the holes in my being I did not want to deal with.
Dump in the hydrogen peroxide and hose out the dank passages. Time for fresh air and lemon juice on these deep cuts. Time to thaw up to the reality of this pain and move forward.
No use stitching an infected wound closed. No use slapping another Band-Aid on that hole. It’s time to go deep, bite your tongue against the fire-ants-beneath-skin tingling pain, the thawing red-hot pain, and the raw exposed pain of vulnerably tearing open an infected soul for major mind surgery.
I knew pain then…the tears of letting go of control, the fear of trusting my body again, the uncertainty of accepting worthiness and love, the risk of being happy. The pain waxed and waned like the un-pinnable ocean waves, never ceasing but slowly fading as I transformed that pain…transform those tears to hope, that fear to joy, that uncertainty to acceptance and trust and love and connection.
Pain washed me clean
…………………………………leaving dissonance behind
……………………………………………….….to live in greater harmony