But there is also time for other things: a walk on the green trail, some grocery shopping, laundry, a nap and a hot bubble bath with reflections. No, not water reflections – the inner kind – the kind that might be termed mulling.
I don’t know where the thought came from, but it did rise up: a thought about my years of eating disorders. Simon and I touched on it briefly this morning while we were walking. And it had come to mind a few times recently because every now and then I have a day or two of feeling fat.
Anyone who sees me would likely laugh at that statement. I am five-five or maybe four-and-a-half and I weigh in at one hundred pounds. But still, there are days I feel fat. I’ve heard it said that anyone who has suffered an addiction will never truly be free of it. You have to always be on guard. I’ve heard the same said of an eating disorder. I know that I have fought for years to eat “normally.” Until this past year, I wouldn’t even carry a snack on the most strenuous hikes because I was concerned with getting fat. Really!
So there I was sitting in the tub, luxuriating in the heat after getting pretty wet and chilly on the hike this morning, and my mind drifted to anorexia. I am not surprised. Because I am writing this book, I have been examining my life more closely. Anorexia was a big part of my experience for about eight years.
I wondered what had caused it. I remember that during the last year of my marriage to Merton I felt isolated and extremely unhappy. There were times I felt I had no control over my life. Doctors have long posited that eating disorders are caused by lack of control. When you feel that your life is not yours to steer, you take charge of the one thing you can be boss of: your body.
This may or may not be true. But I know that I got more and more interested in food and nutrition. I became a vegetarian first. I started cooking – with lots of butter and cheese. I had never once thought about my weight. Suddenly I did because my clothes started getting tight. And then, right towards the end, I started binge eating. I remember going to the bakery and buying a Danish, a tart, a cupcake, a muffin, some cookies – actually, I think I bought one of everything in the store and devoured it all. I felt sick afterwards, but somehow soothed.
Another day I went to the corner store and bought a tub of ice cream and a fistful of candy bars and ate them all. I gained more weight. By the time my brother arrived with his station wagon to load it up with all my worldly goods, I had gained about fifteen pounds. And I was disgusted.
The minute I moved out, I changed everything about how I ate. I restricted my meals. I made a plan. My portions were exacting. I never strayed. I ate small amounts of food but made sure they were nutritious. If people criticized me for my loss of weight, I could point to a half sandwich or a salad and insist that I was eating.
Restricting food was not enough. I exercised. I ran every morning, aiming for ten kilometres. I went to an aerobics class – every day. And I walked everywhere. In the summer, I went to Switzerland and hiked. I got my weight down to eighty-five pounds. Photos of me during that period shock me. But I didn’t see myself as skinny. I thought I was fat. When people told me I was too thin, I was overjoyed: it was the best compliment I could receive.
I look at that period of time and wonder at it. Could a failed relationship really have had such a profound effect on me? Of course, the answer is yes. When I left Merton, I felt nothing. I didn’t shed a single tear. I had no regrets. There was nothing left – not one single emotion. I have to believe that all of my feelings were subsumed in my years-long bout of anorexia. And even when I came out of it, and I did, it left a lifelong legacy. I am and probably always will be acutely aware of the food I eat and how much I eat.
For the most part, however, it does not affect my life. I love good food and I have even eased off on my “no snacking” rule. But the beast is there. It’s one of my scars. It’s part of who I am. In order to be a truly whole human being, I also have to embrace this part of me and treat it with compassion and tenderness. This is the challenge: to give myself as much love as I give to the am I adore. I think of Simon and know that I accept and love everything about him: no exceptions. I love very foible, quirk and scar. This is the love I also have to give myself.
Funny thing: we are our own worst critics when what we should be is our own best lovers.
I believe it is true that we can only love another to the degree that we can love ourselves. Over the past dozen years, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of loving myself and celebrating who I am. But as I examine my life more closely in this creative process I am now involved in, I find more pieces of the puzzle that is me to embrace and care for with real compassion.
I am loving this fearful journey I have undertaken. And on this journey, I know I am not alone.