Underneath It All

Bricks.

Heavy. Like bricks.

The weight on my chest
Or, not so much on my chest,  but within my heart
Hot blood tracing my ventricles like a stencil
When I see it

A word
Movie
Song
Some begotten photo
That begets an unwanted reminder
Memories
Of what was
Of you

You see, I do not miss you
Until, I do
I do not think of you
Until, I recall
I find ways to forget
Until, you appear
Wrapping myself in the cloak of my new life
Ever smiling
Changing
Clamoring off to new cities with new identities
This is the new me
Older and wiser
Prettier and bolder
But sometimes, cloak strings come loose
Hearts still beat, even when we will them to not
I am revealed
Bareboned, I am still the same me
Who once was loved by you

Lately, you visit me in my dreams
Uninvited
But spreading a warmth I haven’t known in some time
Gingerly, you sit beside me
And there is peace
And there is love

 

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Heartbreak & Nostalgia

I experienced my first heartbreak when I was 8 years old.

It was September of third grade.  Her name was Stacy and I loved her in more ways than my 8-year-old brain could have elaborated back then.  I loved that she was a tomboy through and through; she had no shame in sporting a bowl cut and wardrobe of nothing but baggy t-shirts and flannel.  I loved her zany sense of humor, I loved her brazen and outgoing personality in contrast to my own shrinking violet self.  I loved that we went on adventures together in the woods behind her house-adventures I would have never thought up on my own.  I loved that her large, loud, and chaotic family informally adopted me as one of their own- a family so different from my quiet, single child, household.  But most of all, I loved the feeling of closeness and belonging I had with her- the feeling that this one person understood me, and I her, more than anyone else in the world.  I loved that I felt loved by her and sheltered by our clandestine world of inside jokes and shared memories and disclosed secrets.

Of course this was not, in any sense, a romantic love.  I can assure you that it was entirely platonic.  But the soulful connection akin to that of a romantic partner was very real.  And so, after spending an entire summer side by side, day after day, building our own world together, I felt my heart rip to shreds when I walked on the playground and she introduced me to two girls I had never heard of as her “best friends, Kim and Amber.”

I was devastated, betrayed and confused.  I thought we had an understanding of best-friendship.  I thought knew her. I thought she loved me.  I thought it meant something that we had matching bracelets proclaiming our superior friendship title of ‘best’.  It was a gut wrenching feeling that I had no name for at the time but it has come to live with me several times since, and is now well recognized as heartbreak.

Naturally,  there have been other best friends as time marched on and many times these relationships also ended in heartbreak.   Some left me behind as their popularity surpassed my own, some became consumed with boys or other friends and other times we simply grew into different lives and different people.  Sometimes physical proximity became an issue and several just ghosted me out of the blue.

Of course, I’ve experienced my fair share of heartbreak of the non-platonic category, as well.  I’ve spent entire weekends in bed, in the fetal position, listening to the saddest songs I can find on repeat after being dumped by a boy. I have cried more than I ever thought capable of crying.  I have drowned my heartache in vodka, tried running away from the pain by keeping busy and tried covering it up with sex and rebound boyfriends.  I have felt the whole range of emotions from numbness to sadness to anger back to numbness in mere hours.  I have fixated, I have obsessed, I have screamed, I have sent angry letters and texts.   Those heartbreaks- the romantic ones- were always the most raw, but also the more quick to heal.  I still maintain that platonic heartbreak, the loss of a best friend is the worst of all.  You don’t expect a friend to break your heart like a lover or boyfriend.  You find yourself with someone you feel is your kindred spirit or a sibling and they become like an appendage that you don’t know how to live without.  They become family and we are always taught that family is forever; a bond that surpasses everything, and all this makes their loss harder to accept.

Nonetheless, with of all these heartbreaks, no matter if platonic or romantic, it always circled back to the idea that people always leave.  For a long time, I was solidly fixated on this.  And so, I have lived most of my life with notion that people inevitably leave, and therefore I could not-should not- trust anyone.  If nothing is permanent,why should I put myself out there? Why have my heart on the line?  Trust people with my secrets?  Try and put effort into a relationship that will only likely see a demise?

For a long time I tried to become completely numb to love  in both romantic and platonic situations, and when that inevitably failed, I tried doing everything I could to prevent their abandonment which often led me to put their needs above my own.  But what I  have learned, and come to really accept, is that it’s a universal law: no matter what you do, people will leave.  People leave all the time in this life.  People leave to live their own lives.  People leave because they grow up; they become a different person with new wants and needs.  People leave because they don’t know how to be honest about their feelings.  People leave because of mistakes either you or they (or both of you) made.  People leave even when they don’t mean to- day to day responsibilities of life can overtake them, other priorities take hold, people face addictions that consume them. People leave because they die or get sick or take a new job.  Relationships can wax and wane and wax again or fizzle out for good.  Paths diverge and sometimes it is mutual and sometimes it is not.  Sometimes relationships can be fixed, solved and salvaged but other times, there is just too much damage done by the burnt bridge.  I’ve also learned that sometimes I will be the person who walks away and that can result in just as much emotional angst and hurt as when you are left.  Your heart will break whichever way you slice it.   it’s inevitability of life; your heart will be broken a thousand times over and in ways you never could have guessed.

I used to see all this heartbreak as a negative thing, as most people tend to do.  Often in the wake of heartbreak, we can feel like we lose pieces of ourselves; that it chips away at us, leaving  chinks in the proverbial armor so that you are broken, damaged, or in some way less than whole.  But maybe we don’t want those pieces back.  Maybe heartbreak is weakness leaving the body. Maybe after the initial grief passes, it leaves us raw, but healing.  And when we heal, we have the ability to heal into better selves than we were before.  If we let ourselves, we can become softer, yet stronger in wisdom and empathy .  Under each emotional scar, the memories become muted but nonetheless live on beneath them, housing  moments of joy and happiness; times we learned about ourselves or the world; stolen moments in time where we were content and carefree and in love- moments to cherish even if the end result wasn’t what we had ultimately hoped for.  These moments make up who we are and who we become.  Maybe at the end of the day,  all we are is a mosaic of old emotional scab wounds- pink and raw flesh cobbled together into a brilliant picture of love and loss, ultimately making us into something that is nothing short of a work of art.

Sometimes I wonder about all the people who were once so significant to me- and not in any way that social media could assist with.  I could look them up and see their latest profile picture or learn they now have a two-year-old, but what I really want  to know is who they are today.  I want to know if her favorite movie is still Dirty Dancing or if sometimes they still listen to Fine Young Cannibals on blast or if he still plays Eric Clapton when he wants to get laid.  I would love to ask all these nagging questions:  Do you still obsess over the movie Goodfellas and do you still dream of becoming a psychiatrist?  If I were to get in your car would I still leave smelling of you?  Do you smell the same?  Does your family still vacation on The Cape every summer?  Do you still secretly write rap lyrics and send money to your family in Colorado?  How is your relationship with your brother doing?  How about you with your dad’s wife?  Are you still really self-conscious about your teeth- your acne-your weight?  Are you happy now? Is your life all that we imagined it would be when plotted it  all out when we were young?   Do you ever get reminded of me in that haunting, unavoidable, way like I do when I see The Notebook or catch Rick Astley on the radio or talk about traveling throughout Asia?

And I would like to tell them that that it’s ok.  I have accepted the fact that they left – or I am sorry that I had to leave- our coveted relationship and our subsequent life together came to an end.  I now know it is not personal, just a part of life and I hope that they can accept that too.  I would hope they know that even with the nastiest bits of the past, there is still some part of me that holds love for them.  It may have hurt like hell then, and it can still hurt now- to give up on love often feels unnatural and wrong and painful and sometimes I miss the life I lived with them- but I know we are both where we need to be.  I would say, “I hope you know I still think you are beautiful- inside and out.  I truly hope you are happy. ” And most of all I would say: thank you for any and all moments of love and happiness you gifted to me.  Thank you for helping me build this beautiful mosaic of a person who I have turned out to be.  My mosaic would never be the same without you in my life.  And for that I owe you.  I hope you have healed into someone better than before, too.  Your mosaic can be just as beautiful and bright, if you only let it.

 

I wish you bluebirds in the spring
To give your heart a song to sing
And then a kiss, but more than this
I wish you love
And in July a lemonade
To cool you in some leafy glade
I wish you health
But more than wealth
I wish you love

Adulting

Big News: today officially marks 2 months until my birthday.  This countdown is actually pretty abnormal for me.  Outside of some general recognition of my birth and spending time with friends and family, I am not usually one for elaborate celebrations.  But this year is the big 3-0, or the dirty thirty as they say, and being the baby in many of my social circles continually begets the infamous question: “are you ready?!” or other lame comments about being “over the hill.”

What these people don’t realize is that I am actually beyond thrilled to finally reach the 30 year mark.  This is what I have waited my whole life for.  Columbia Pictures may very well have lifted the premise for the movie 13 Going on 30 straight from my young diary since I was often found exclaiming “Why can’t I just be 30 yet?!”

In my prepubescent (and eventually adolescent) mind, 30 was a shiny beacon of hope- the golden era, if you will.  Being 30 meant no drama about being asked to a dance or not.  30 meant you didn’t have to worry about where to sit at lunch or being ditched by your friends who all went to the Incubus concert without you.  30 meant you had boobs, your own money and made your own rules.  You probably had a kid and a significant other and a white picket fence to boot.  30 was when you had your shit together. 

When I think about this now, I get a good belly laugh.  Now, I know that thirty is just the tip of the aging iceberg and by no means is a guarantee that anyone has their shit together.  In fact, I’m learning that it’s more than likely, your shit never really gets figured out. Most people in their late 20’s or early 30’s that I know- myself included-still are searching for some combination of that right job, right relationship, or just their right place in this world.  All of this in addition to a petering metabolism, an over abundance of bills and increasing gray hairs all points to some major flaws in my idea of the golden era that is your 30’s.    But when I really sit and think about it, and I mean really think about it, maybe my twelve-year-old self was on to something.

Is adulthood really that bad?  It guess most of my peers think so since I often I hear complaints (“ugh adulthood”) or see social media posts like these:

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It reminds me of a quote by the great Cher Horowitz : “I don’t want to be a traitor to my generation and all, but I don’t get how guys dress today” except what I don’t get is the constant hating on adulthood.  I’m sorry, but can we stop the big baby cry fest?   Have we really thought about what it would mean to be a kid again?  Not that my childhood was awful by any stretch of the imagination, but being a kid, in my experience, meant that you had to rely on everyone else around you to just…exist.  If you were lucky, the people in charge of you were kind and took good care of you and maybe even tried to make you happy.  But even in best of childhood situations, they controlled you- be it gifting you that glorious trip to Disney World or a teacher simply giving you the hall pass so you could pee- you were at their mercy for it all.  Adults had complete control over what you ate, what you could buy, and where could go and sometimes, even who you could talk to.  Not to mention that at some point we all had our moments (my moments happened to be years) of awkwardness, feeling utterly unsure of yourself and the trials and tribulations of figuring out all sorts of relationships as you grew up.

So, in honor of the 60 days that lays between me and my long awaited 30’s, I am going explain what I have known all along: why being an adult, is actually pretty rad.

Food.  I will give you that as a kid, even perhaps through college, you probably needn’t worry your pretty little head about things like grocery shopping, meal planning, lunch packing or cooking- things I feel we can all agree are generally annoying.  Duly noted.  But lest you forget that not doing these activities meant someone else made these choices for you.  You eat your goddamned vegetables or else.  You don’t like chicken piccata- tough.  You want another soda?  Sorry kid, house rules are no soda after 6pm!  Craving sushi?  Too bad- you can’t order take out because you’re a kid.  I mean, do you even know the splendor that is sushi?!  This would entirely depend on if you’re parents also liked sushi and/or offered you some.  And you can forget savoring a good glass of wine with a beautiful steak or piece of pizza on Friday night.  You a’int 21, friend.

Money.  Savings, Budgets, Retirement, Bills, Credit Cards, Student Loans- they all make my head spin.   And since I am not well acquainted with any millionaires, I can confidently say that 100% of the adults I know carry some concern over money.  Most people in my general age bracket  are bogged down by so many bills and student loans that it leaves us wondering how to strategically fit a doctors appointment in this month without that co-pay sending our account into overdraft.  Money is stressful and confusing and you generally have to work to get said money.   But the truth is, as adults we have money.  Maybe not as much as we would like and more often than not it goes toward things that are lame and boring (I’m looking at you health insurance), but we still have it and we still decide, more or less, what to do with it.  If I want to blow my whole tax return on a trip to Bora Bora that’s my prerogative.  If I’ve had a bad day, I can choose to dip into my (albeit, small) discretionary funds and say ‘screw it, let’s go to happy hour’ or treat myself to a mani/pedi.  If I want to go to the movies this weekend I don’t have to ask anyone for the $10 to afford it or work out a way to get there.  Which brings me to my next one…

Driving.  Most of us started driving at 16, but unless you were Cher Horowitz (done with the Clueless references, promise) , there were still strings attached to that license.  Drivers education class, taking the driving test, not being able to drive after nine, high insurance rates and any rules your own parents imposed on your driving abilities, all meant you had a limited say over how, when and where you drove.  Even if you were able to purchase your own car with your own money so that your parents couldn’t dole out so many rules,  think of the innumerable hours of bullshit minimum wage jobs you had to work to save up for what probably was a less than primo car.  As adults, we not only often have the funds and credit to purchase/lease a car, but we then can do whatever we (legally) want to do with it.  No one tells me to stay home if it’s late or snowing.  I don’t have to ask if the car is available if I want to go away this weekend.   Or hell, I can rent a car when I get there!  And my car insurance is way lower now that I am nearing 30.  I’m good right here, thanks.

Friends.  30 is an odd age to be in the friend world, because we are all in different places- some of us are getting married where others are already getting divorced; some are having kids while others are working on skyrocketing their careers, and yet others are starting entirely new life paths in the wake of their quarter life crisis.   Our interests and personalities at this age change so much that it can be hard to maintain connections with friends we were once so close to.  Add this to the shrinking opportunities to make new friends and I’ll be the first to admit that finding and keeping friendships alive is no easy feat at 30.  That all said, I still maintain that friendships are easier now than before.  Things are, generally, less catty and popularity driven and you usually have the opportunity to take space from each other unlike when you had to see your ex-BFF at school every single day laughing loudly with her new pals or live with your BFF as a roommate until next semester.  And while cliches are still omnipresent, friendships no longer necessarily need to be contingent on everyone being in the same social circle, so you aren’t clamoring for each other’s attention.  Also, as grown up, I know that I am far more sure of myself, and thusly I don’t feel the need to maintain a friendship with someone if we simply don’t click or if they aren’t a positive force in my life.  Today, I also have maturity on my side, so if I have a problem with a friend I can talk to her about it instead of seething and taking it personally.  It still makes for some uncomfortable moments and tensions certainly still exist from time to time, but there is so much less in the way of jealousy or exclusions than there ever was growing up.  By 30 you generally realize who matters and hopefully you have a smattering of friends- new and old, and from all sorts of walks of life and perspectives.  This kind of eclectic friendship circle is what keeps you learning about life and about yourself.  You don’t all need to wear pink on Wednesdays and worry about if there is a seat at lunch.  Even sitting by yourself sometimes is actually just fine.

Dating.   I guess there were some simplicities in dating world of yesteryear.  I will give you that it was far nicer to be asked out by being slid a note under your desk or after chatting on AIM instead of via a dick pic on Tind.  More of us were (legitimately) single  all you had to do to meet someone was show up to school.   But how devastating- or a the very least awkward- was it when you were the only one of your friends who didn’t have a date to prom?  Or you confessed your feelings to a crush, and then they never answered your note or called you like they said they would.  Or they did call and your mom picked up the phone extension ten times.  Then there is the whole production of being picked up at your house in front of your ever judgmental parents or trying to sneak out to meet them for a date without your parents even knowing.  And how about when you break up and you still have to see them every day in school with the girl he dumped you for (who, like, totally used to be your friend)?  I think I will pass on ever returning to that special kind of hell.  As an adult, if a dude is not your cup of tea it can be as easy as swiping left or in worst scenarios, deleting him on social media and blocking his number.  Not to mention that nowadays, I know who I am and what I want in a relationship- but that only comes after some major trial and error which includes massive heartbreak.   Of course there are still devastating blows (hello divorce, nice to see you!), but in general break ups are so much better at this age.  As an adult you have wine and easier access to your girlfriends and can even buy yourself a beach getaway for the weekend or an Eat, Pray, Love style self-discovery journey but at 16 I just had my journal, my BFF over the phone, and maybe my mom if I could skirt around some of the sexual details of my relationship.  Speaking of sexy time- it’s pretty great.  Sex, now, is so much healthier emotionally and physically whereas in adolescence, it was hard to acquire birth control, more of an emotional mindfuck and never really all that great since no one had enough experience to know what the hell was what.  I would take sex at 30 where I can own my body and my desires over any day in my teens where I was shy, unsure and had to sneak around to find private time.

Parents.  Maybe you always got along with your parents, or maybe adolescence was a whole lot of screaming and foot stomping while your parents were totally unfair and ruining your life.  Or perhaps it was even worse and filled with some seriously toxic or harmful situations.  Either way, chances are your relationship with them is better now (and if it’s not you are more able to cut them out of your life as you see fit).  You can be adults together and enjoy adult things together, making the dynamic totally different.  Dare I say you might even be friends with your parents- and I don’t mean in the creepy Amy-Pohler-in-Mean-Girls kind of a way.  There is something that shifts with this relationship once you both realize that at the end of the day- they can’t tell you what to do anymore and this new kind of relationship is something I have genuinely come to adore more and more year after year.

Alcohol.  At the risk of sounding like  a total alcoholic, I’m still adding this to the list, because if we’re being straight up, sometimes, alcohol is simply fucking amazing.  Not to mention sanity saving.  When I have a rough day, a glass of wine and a bubble bath go hand in hand like Donald Trump and Sarah Palin (although minus the vomiting that the idea induces…).   Vacation to me is mimosas in the morning by the beach, the holidays mean spiked egg nog by the fire, sporting games are all about beer and tailgating and summertime equals overpriced wine as you soak in an outdoor concert.  I can’t tell you how many moments of deep bonding I’ve had with friends that might not have been the same without a few cocktails to make us emotionally more open.  And can you imagine going on a blind date now without the help of alcohol as a buffer?! As long as you’re being responsible, alcohol is the shit.  It’s awesome and delicious and makes me smile.  And once you’re of age it’s no longer illegal and once you’re 30 the pressure to chug or funnel is permanently called off.  I call all of this a win-win.

Jobs.  More often than not, when my alarm blares at 7am, I am seriously the most miserable human being as there is nothing I want to do less than put clothes on, drive in traffic and function at work.  And if you’re like me, jobs are nothing new- I worked all through my adolescence.  That all said, jobs now are way better. We have a lot more choices, regardless of degree holdings, since as adults it is likely that we have racked up experience and connections which also usually means better pay than the $10 an hour I got at Target when I was 17, plus I can work more hours without things like school and child labor laws in the way.  Also, jobs can be fun and/or fulfilling at times.  Maybe not all parts of them or all of the time, but certainly more than any retail job I was ever forced to work.  Add in the fact that there can be some awesome coworkers who make you laugh and the fact that you probably get PTO and/or sick time which means you can call in sick even if you aren’t really breaking a fever.  All in all, I’ll take it over going to school.  At least I don’t have to take tests , I don’t need to raise my hand to use the restroom, and after I leave, my time is generally my own and not a slave to homework, which segues nicely into my next, and perhaps final point…

Free time and fun shit.  I guess this goes hand in hand with some of the aforementioned, but you guys, as an adult our free time is our own.  I can’t tell you how many times I would come home from a working my crummy retail job or tennis practice on top of  a long day of school and just want to relax without the stress of homework or chores.  Now no one tells me what to do outside of my working hours.  If my laundry hasn’t been done in three weeks that’s on me and no one else.  If I want to binge on Netflix all weekend and just have popcorn and wine for dinner, so what?  Or if I feel like some retail therapy on a random Tuesday afternoon it’s completely up to me to find a Tuesday without any dire deadlines and take a day to myself- no Ferris Bueller-like farces needed. Not only am I am more or less free to do what I choose, but the options for activities are vastly larger since I have spare money (even if it’s not a ton), a car that’s mine, an ID and no one to answer to.  Wine and beer tastings, vacations or weekends away, boozy brunches, adopting a pet, festivals near or far, decorating my own apartment/house, Happy Hour, concerts, Broadway shows or going to a sporting game, and renting cars  are all things that we couldn’t do or would require great lengths to get to in our younger years. We get to do so many fun things as adults that are just taken for granted and the truth of the matter is- we still can do many of the things we might miss from our childhood if we wanted.  No one is, realistically, stopping me from making a fort in my living room (I have actually done this!) or taking a nap on lunch (I have napped in my car many a time!).

At the end of the day the point is this:  as an adult we do have more responsibilities, but we have a lot of latitude in how and when we take care of them.  On the whole, we get to go where we want, when we want, with whom we want.  We have control over our lives.  There are moments where we choose to be responsible and, say, show up for work instead of sleeping in, or actually make a healthy dinner when we would rather rot on the couch with a bag of chips, but those are our choices to make.  Even the annoying choices, stressful choices, and bad choices, are at least are our own.  So if you’re dreading turning 30, or any other adult age for that matter, remember this:  your life is your own now in a way it never was as a kid. It’s up to you to make it what you want and you create your own happiness.  At least to me, there is something pretty damn liberating about that.

It’s Only Pretzels

It’s 10:22 am and my  mid morning snack sits in front of me on my desk.  ‘Just 100 Calories!‘ boasts the package of pretzels while sitting next to a reduced fat string cheese .  It sounds like the quintessential dieters snack but I am not dieting, just eating.  Somewhere over the years, I have become trained to gravitate instinctively toward choices that include promises of all things ‘reduced’, ‘non’, or otherwise exclusionary.  However, that’s old news.  What really causes me pause between my fury of typing and mindless munching , is that this particular bag says”the perfect pretzels for kids” that come in “5 fun shapes” right along side with it’s exultant “just 100 calories!

I get it.  Obesity is an country-wide “epidemic”.  Or so they say.  Sometimes, I feel like anything can be an “epidemic” if we spin the numbers the right way, but I’ve got no scientific or factual knowledge to counter the claim, so I digress. I just find it bemusing that we, as a country, have issues weighing in on both sides of the literal and figurative scale: eating too much or not eating enough.  Because everyday, while we as a nation battle with childhood obesity, we also have a raging war with eating disorders: anorexia and bulimia or whatever combination of labels and diagnosis you want to call not eating properly or having a disordered relationship with food because you fear being fat and have poor body image.

I guess this probably caught my attention more than a passing thought, because it’s National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

I guess this probably caught my attention more than a passing thought, because somewhere on my medical file, in a small box, not often referenced, largely unnoticed and definitely not discussed, there is a note that states “history of eating disorder.”  It is simply a note that was added to my file as a reference point after it came up in a fairly benign way that my eating had once been a point of struggle in therapy.

I’ve never been formally diagnosed or treated for an eating disorder, insofar that I was never sent to a treatment facility or ever bordered on death because of malnutrition.  Even at my lowest weight in high school of 90lbs, my periods did not stop and my hair never fell out.  However, I have obsessed and severely calorie restricted and at times, though I don’t like admitting it, I have purged.  But without treatment for anything specifically surrounding my weight or eating habits, I really can’t flounce around the label of either anorexic or bulimic, nor emotional eater or over eater etc., with either pride of ownership or embarrassment.    I am neither of these, technically.  But I am all of these, technically; at one time or another, irregardless of documented medical diagnosis.

But who isn’t?  When it comes down to it: isn’t this how most of the modern day female population thinks, feels and acts?  And it’s not unequivocally how most of the modern day female population thinks, feels and acts?  And it’s not unequivocally ‘my generation’ because I see it in so many girls and women with the same kinds of thoughts and behaviors.  They say the average age for a girl to start dieting is now 8 years old.  Fucking, eight.   I see it everywhere and at nearly every age: the insatiable need to be thinner and alter our bodies to meet some preconceive notions of beauty or even worthiness.

I see it in the constant office conversations about weight watchers recipes (these chicken wings are baked not fried!) and the ubiquitous Facebook posts (Jane ran 7.2 miles with MapYourRun!) and seemingly insipid comments my girlfriends make (I’m totally being a fat kid today, don’t judge me!).

I see it in my 17 year old sister who complains her thighs are her real problem and demands every photo be taken ten times before we can settle on one that is ‘just okay’.

I see it in my 60 year old mother who can’t miss her daily work out and eats a yogurt for dinner in the name of “having had a large lunch” and yet despite her hard work, swats at her belly in disgust when we’re in the fitting room at Macy’s.

I see it in pop culture and the media, where while now celebrating ‘curves’, it still boasts an enormous obsession with being “beach body ready” (read: thin), “sexy”(read: thin) and “healthy” (read: thin).   It is painfully clear through the media that women are seen as their bodies.  Being smart, funny or talented  is just a bow on what should otherwise be a neat, thin, package.

Several years ago, a therapist asked me what my life would look like if my eating issues went away.  I started crying.  And not for myself or my struggles, but for the fact that is was simply that hard to picture a life where eating did not silently hover over me 24/7.  I could not think of a (sober) time where I did not mentally account for every, single, calorie- either in defiance (fuck you non-existent omnipresent presence: I’m getting pizza AND cheese fries and I’m going to enjoy all ten thousand calories) or in an effort of logic(if i have this pizza for lunch, I’ll stick to a salad for dinner, or better yet, won’t eat dinner at all and then I will be okay). 

Moreover, I could not picture a time where I didn’t use food as a method for feeling something-happiness, depression, or to ease anxiety, or most of all, as a method of control in my otherwise chaotic world.  I have been groomed to think of food as a vice and, more than that, to think of being thin as the ultimate goal if we want to have any kind of value, success or propriety in this world.   The lessons started early and innocuous as my father’s comments on any larger woman’s weight (she’s bigger than a Buick!), or coveting the disproportionately tiny waist of my beloved Barbie and accompanying my mother to her weigh-ins with the local Weight Watchers groups.

By adolescence I found myself rather awkward, but receiving a lot of praise and attention for my particularly tiny, almost frail, build which I possessed naturally, until a late blooming pubescent development took over and I grew into a slightly larger size than the rail thin frame I was used to.  I didn’t know who I was anymore without being the tiniest person in the room.  If I didn’t have that attribute what did I have?  So I dove into books on weight loss and and being a quick study, I easily hit a dieting stride.  This stride included obsessively measuring food out, counting calories and keeping track of how many I had eaten for the day by writing the totals on the sides of my hands.  Before long, I shrank in size and felt once again, worth something.

This strained relationship with my body, self worth and eating has waxed and waned over the years.  I know this because I’ve worked and reworked different iterations of this post for three years now and each year I am in a markedly different place in my relationship with eating and self image.  But  how can anybody truly let go of the dieting obsessing when it surrounds us everyday?  The ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality is romanticized with every person I hear talking about Cross-fit and every Jillian Michael’s DVD I exercise to or every calorie restricting/point calculating diet I hear about.  The obsession with thinness is shoved right down my throat with every article published about another celebrities ‘surprising’ weight gains, or tracking their ‘post-baby bods’ and every TV show that only casts women with 2% body fat.

And as I reach a certain age where child rearing is starting to exist as a far, far, far (did I mention far?) off possibility, I can’t help but wonder what kind of world I would be bringing my child into.   How can they escape unburdened in a world where the diet industry turns children’s pretzels, fucking pretzels,  into a tool for calorie control?  How will I teach my daughter that their success and worth does not ride on the coattails of the number on the scale, when even Oprah- arguably the most accomplished, seemingly self-aware and strong women of our time- is saying that “Inside every overweight woman is a woman she knows she can be”, as if tipping the proverbial scales makes you somehow less than.

With all my therapy, all my awareness, soul searching and women’s studies classes I admittedly still struggle.  I still have days where I ignore the hunger in my belly or berate myself when I ate too much.  Fat is still the nastiest word I can call myself even though I know it’s not empirically true and not the worst thing I can be.  I know that this is false and wrong.  I know this.  But I also know this: I am, beyond a doubt, more than my weight.  And while I can’t help but think of calorie calculations every time I eat and I would be lying if I didn’t say I feel some incredible self loathing when the scale goes up or that I don’t get some form of anxiety when I don’t have time in my day to exercise, I know this isn’t all that there is to me.  I have conceded that some of societies rules and expectations are just too far ingrained in me to be removed.  But others aren’t, and those are the ones I try and hang on to.  So, I’m throwing out these stupid, ridiculous, fucking offensive, pretzels.  And instead I’m exchanging them for one more small piece of self worth. And maybe in the far…far…far..off future, I can try and wipe the slate clean with a new life in the form of my child and teach them about love from the inside out; a love that is not dependent on anything to do with how their body looks in a particular piece of fabric or that the smaller they are the more valuable they become.  And in doing so, we can heal the world as we heal one another.  Because it’s not just a package of pretzels- it’s our fucking lives.

**[ For more information on the National Eating Disorders Awareness Group or National Eating Disorder Week visit: http://nedawareness.org/ ]**

Rendezvous

I turned the corner and there you were
Blindly crashing into me, all unawares
Slow motion recognition
I try to shuffle along, unaffected
But in just a moment you are already bypassing flesh, seeping languidly into my bones
You have found me again
A visitor without an invitation
An unwelcome feeling that feels like home nonetheless

For years I have lived with you in the shadows
Ignoring your mocking undertones
Moving through life aware of you, but keeping my eyes averted
I did not miss you
But now that you’re here, I can’t find the strength to walk away
I’m not sure that I want to

And so it begins
I shrug you on like an ugly old coat that is warm and welcoming despite its rips and tears
Closing my eyes in moments of weakness, I feel you quietly course through my veins
Giving way to a silent and discreet kind of crazy
A lone secret that is mine and mine alone
As if having something to yet reveal gives me some kind of unique ipseity

Allowing you to stay is an exhilarating form of anguish
In the rewards that you bring, but maddening hell you create
Silent victories but also silent tears
You give me life, even though you might very well be what takes my life away
So I keep chasing the high of the next moment of elation
Which is always there, buried surreptitiously under layers of numb pain and strife

Someday, I will try and shrug you off again
Maybe come spring
When bright, long days make hope seem like a rule I can abide by
When, finally, I find strength in my own weakness
Finding myself
Outside of you
Once again

Slow & Steady

Two years ago, it was a grey and bleak Monday in February.  The weekend had left me hungry for more sleep and weather had me craving the warmth of my own bed.

As the evening neared, my nerves started to twitch.  I had a date with a guy I’d been steadily chatting with for about a month.  Our chats had been enjoyable enough.  He was witty, and seemed genuinely interested in learning about me instead of sticking with banal surface conversation, or even worse, sending inappropriate photos.   But with each passing minute, I started to break out into a cold sweat.  What if he was totally different, in person?  What if *I* was totally different, in person?  I quickly began stalking my own social media pages, scrupulously reviewing all my photos, trying to gauge how much they really looked like me in real life.   I couldn’t tell.

I felt an overwhelm thinking about all the other dates I had recently been on.  The pregnant pauses, awkward silences, stale kisses, and often unrequited amorous feelings afterward.  What were the chances that this would work out?  He seemed cute and funny, but then I started listing all the things I didn’t see in him or potentially wouldn’t like.  Did I really want to let another guy down? It’s so painfully awkward.  The odds of me actually liking the guy were in inversely correlated to how high my emotional walls were- which is meant to say the odds were low.  The outlook was not good. Not with him, not with anyone, really.  All of this led to one final and obvious conclusion: cancel.  Cancel the night of inevitable awkwardness and go home to your over sized pjs, cup of tea and How I Met Your Mother reruns.

I was in the middle of concocting some plausible excuse, when the coworker who sits across from me asked what I was doing after work.  Before I could answer, another coworker emphatically answered for me: She has a date!”  I rolled my eyes and shrugged it off,  nonchalantly mumbling something about canceling.  My coworkers shot over to my cubicle and harangued me about following through.  One said I needed to go for the free meal. The other said it would be an asshole move to cancel this late.  I texted my best guy friend to consult, and he wrote back: maybe it’s time to put some doors in those walls- you can always shut them later if you don’t like it.

They had a point and so the next few hours found me wrestling with my closet for suitable outfit options while my best friend sat on my bed offering me wine and encouragement.

At 7 pm sharp, he arrived  and we went to dinner.  And as it turns out, I was totally right. It was terribly awkward and he was not quite as I had imagined him.  He was bigger than expected, bald, and had a slight stutter.  But at the same time, as I peeled off my black sweater dress later that night before slipping into bed, I realized that I had fun.  We had laughed.  A lot.  And something about his genuine demeanor and kind eyes made me decide to not write him off just yet.

This unsure feeling would live with me for another few months.  But so would the tiny voice in the back of my mind that whispered “Don’t let go yet.”  And so I didn’t, even though we continued to navigate a sea of awkwardness and communication obstacles.  Until, one day, it wasn’t so awkward anymore.  Instead, all of a sudden, I felt at ease in his presence and our conversation flowed freely.  We talked every single day and I never grew tired of it.  One Friday in the late spring, I realized that I had a little bounce in my step as the anticipation of spending another weekend together grew with each tick of the clock toward 5 pm.  And another day, some months later, I found myself saying the words “I Love You” while lounging in bed, shrouded in the lazy Sunday morning sunlight.  And meant it.  And he did too.

It’s been two years since I almost canceled that date, and those two years have changed me as a person. I thought I had myself and my life entirely figured out. I was happy and my life was lacking for nothing.  I knew my heart was closed off but I was OK with that darkness in my life because it was safe.

I was more wrong than I could have ever imagined.  This boy with the kind eyes and beautiful, caring, heart has made me want to be a better person so I can be half as compassionate of a human being as he is.  He has restored my faith in love, and made me feel more accepted, just as I am, than anyone ever has before.  He looks at me with the same overwhelming love and adoration first thing in the morning as he does when I’m dressed up for a night out.  He lets me cry and makes me laugh even when I am in my most rancid of moods.  He reminds me to be kind to myself. He reminds me of the good that is still in this world.  And he reminds me that keeping my heart open is well worth the risk.

Our story is not flowery and romantic or even out of the ordinary.  It was not love at first sight or a sure bet from the start.  No, ours has been a slow and steady kind of love.  But slow and steady, wins the race.

“It’s the heart in you
I know it in my bones
That made me change direction when I thought better off alone…”