Three Bites Bigger
Perhaps you noticed that I didn’t include my name on this article. That’s because who I am has no bearing on the value I hope to offer with it. This article is for you. If you found your way to Stigma Fighters because you want help and support with depression, anxiety, eating disorder, etc, or you’d just like to understand someone’s experience with mental illness better, this story is for you.
I’ve never been one to handle failure well. In fact, growing up, I thought I was the prettiest, smartest, most artistic, athletic, clever and capable human being to ever grace this green rock because that’s what I was told. In addition, I was told that respectable young ladies don’t act a certain way, say certain things or question certain “truths”. It wasn’t ok that I couldn’t pay attention in class so I was put on A.D.D. meds to correct what was wrong. Too young to know better, so I took all this as gospel and years later find myself the torn, anxious, yet poised and deliberate adult you see now. I know my shit. I’m great with people. I look nice for the most part and am easy to get along with. I crave adventure, but appreciate the balance of a quiet life, and am always happy to help if I can. It doesn’t make sense that I would hate myself and that I want to die; not because I want to kill myself, but simply because it would be less effort than living yet another day of lying and self-loathing.
Both of my parents have eating disorders, suffer from anxiety and have battled depression. My father grew up in near destitution, so his deep seated fear of starving leads him to gorge. To him, failure isn’t an option, especially since he was able to lift himself out of the streets to a position of wealth and influence. My mother, who also grew up in unfortunate circumstances, has been anorexic for her entire life, perhaps, but certainly as long as I can remember. I doubt a day has passed when she didn’t felt like a failure for some reason or another; like someone completely undeserving of love, success or food. She’s the one who taught me that being fat was unacceptable, and that the best case scenario for me involved getting married and having a successful man take care of me. I’m certain that their alcoholic parents and their parents and so on have a lot to do with how my folks turned out and the attitudes they impressed upon me, but knowing that only helps me understand. Blame and finger pointing has gotten me precisely nowhere.
Looking back, I realize my folks were trying to save me by pushing me to be the best. The beatings I got for misbehaving or not trying hard enough in school were their way of exorcising the fear and anxiety that I might someday live as they did – poor, hungry, struggling, etc. These expectations, combined with a natural knack for figuring things out meant that I did well at just about anything I tried, and if I didn’t do well with something on the first try, I was quick to avoid it. Failure and disappointing anyone wasn’t an option so I did everything I could to stay within the bounds of my abilities and strengths. I grew comfortable in my easy successes and learned to leverage my good looks to bolster my other talents.
Imagine what a shock failure and rejection were to my system when they started to hit me as a young adult. I quickly learned that lying and hiding failures or bad decisions were great ways to avoid disappointing anyone. For example, one of my first boyfriends dumped me because I wasn’t ready to have sex with him. I responded by attempting suicide but told my parents that their fighting stressed me out too much. Later on, another boyfriend left me beaten and bloody after he saw me “flirting” with another man. I responded to this by hiding it because I couldn’t admit to making such horrible decisions that would have put me in that situation to begin with. A few lies were all it took. “Oh, mom, it’s nothing. I was playing pool and this drunk idiot a the table next to me swung her cue too fast and it hit me in the nose. It’s nothing. Just a bruise.”
But in hiding traumas like these, and there were many, I took on their full weight. It was heavy and uncomfortable. It made me cry and lash out for no reason, to deceive my friends and break their trust. It also led me to seek drugs, sex and eventually food as a way to escape what I was carrying around. Whether I was getting black out drunk, giving abusive boyfriends another chance, drugging myself into a stupor, sleeping with married men and women, riding manic highs that kept me awake for days or accepting expensive gifts in exchange for being someone’s company, I was busy avoiding what I was carrying around. The funny thing about carrying that kind of regret and sadness around is that it creates a vacuum, rather than taking up space. Excess of this kind begets emptiness and the hole it created in me will always be about three bites bigger than any amount of food I can possibly shove down my throat. No amount of booze, casual sex or risk-taking has ever filled it. Considering how smart I was led to believe I am, you’d think I’d have figured something out to alleviate this sadness by now, but that’s not the case.
Fortunately, I am in no way doomed to this life forever. In the past few years, I’ve grown more weary of my habits and thoughts than I find comfort in them. I’ve peeked out from the myopic vantage I’ve called home for so long and I saw chances to leverage my fears and join what I’d call the “flawed human race.” While I am afraid of admitting what I’ve done, who I’ve been and how I feel about myself, there are a few things waiting for me on the other side of that fear. First, there is the comfort of being flawed. Being right and on point all the time is utterly exhausting. Just thinking about letting myself off the hook for a moment sounds like heaven. Second, there is peace. I’ve tormented myself and held myself solely responsible for so many horrible things that the very idea of putting it down and walking away brings tears to my eyes. Lastly, there is a life patiently waiting for me to join it. In this life I am free of the daily burden to keep up my appearances. I am capable of being flawed and inaccurate and, gods forbid, wrong. In that life waiting for me, I am free to pursue what makes my quiet little heart shiver with joy without being haunted by the criticism and harassment I’ve subjected myself to for so long. In that version of my life, the emptiness is replaced by nothing else but me.
I may have eaten half a pound of peanut M&Ms for breakfast today and hated myself for it, but I also spoke to a therapist about my eating disorder for the very first time. I’m not even close to being where I want to be, but I’m farther way from where I was 24 hours ago than I’ve ever been. Perhaps one day my shame and regret will be far enough behind me that I’ll be strong enough to attach my name to this essay. Until then, I hope my story inspires you to peek out from behind whatever wall separate you from the life you want.
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