The One With All The Triggers
Trigger warning: Just all over the place. I’m sorry. I’m triggered.
Sometimes something jumps up and bites you, and you don’t see it coming until its too late.
For me this week, it was a story. Beautifully written, utterly heartbreaking.
It made me remember hiding a whole month’s worth of allowance, plus fifty cents from the tooth fairy, in a piece of my mom’s best stationary, taping down the quarters, stealing a stamp, and ordering an 800-calorie diet plan with some nasty powder that made me throw up. I was ten.
I wanted to be as thin as my little sister, who was inches taller than me and as beautiful as Brooke Shields without even trying. Everyone said so.
It made me remember sitting on the floor of the shower, sobbing while I tried to shelter a double handful of stolen, soggy Oreos from the steam and the spray as I shoved them into my mouth and chewed and chewed, then spit the brown cookie juice down the drain. My mother kept a mason jar that she took to some weird weight-loss-cult meetings where women got together and did this: chewed without swallowing and collected their chewings. I still don’t know why or what they did with them.
It made me remember spending money I didn’t have on point programs and pills that made me shit my pants and strange, alien-looking torture devices. It made me remember choking down spoonfuls of apple cider vinegar, standing over the sink in case my stomach rebelled. I still can’t eat oregano or even stand the
stench smell of it after forcing myself to swallow capsules full of it, the oily, pizza flavor rising up the back of my throat and making me nauseous all the time.
It’s weird when those feelings come up — memories that I haven’t remembered in years. Decades.
The book was Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. She wrote Speak as well, which is as beautiful and probably just as triggering for people whose past problems aren’t about food and numbers. Wintergirls is about eating disorders, and it was a hard book to read. Harder than I anticipated.
But I’m not sorry I read it. It’s scary and very true and, in the end, it’s full of hope. I think if it had been around when I was a teenager, and if I had read it, maybe I would have skipped my whole Susan Powter phase. That was the one where I pinched my side with purple calipers until my fat was bruised. I might have also skipped over obsessing about the one handful of fat I had on my stomach, that was only visible when I lay on my side. Or at least I would have recognized that those things — those thoughts — weren’t healthy.
Just like the girl in the story, I know how many calories are inside everything I eat. I started learning with that first 800-calorie diet in 1982. How do you unknow three full decades of information about fat grams and protein percentages and carb counts? The truth is, you don’t. You acknowledge that you used to be a girl who needed that data. And now you’re not.
I don’t even know whether or not to recommend Wintergirls. When I write about it for my book blog, I’ll talk about how girls who struggle with food and their parents should read it if they need a once-removed entry into figuring out what’s going on inside. I bet it’s been a path to help and healing and recovery to many readers. The story isn’t a pretty one, or a sweet one. It’s beautifully written, but it hurts to read. Sometimes the truth is that way.
The last two times I was in the pool, I had to remind myself with every stroke that I’m not trying to lose weight. I swim because it feels good. I swim because when I’m in the water, I feel strong and graceful and accomplished. I’m careful. I don’t let myself confuse exercise and fitness with self-punishment. I don’t let myself count calories in and calories out and try to make them equate.
I am strong and graceful, and I am getting stronger. I feel good. I deserve to feel good. My body is just my body. It isn’t a measure of my success as a human being. It isn’t a punishment for some awful wrong I did in a past life. It isn’t perfect or disgusting. It just is.
The whole country, including the White House, is at war with my body, but I don’t have to be.