Came to Believe

Why did God abandon me? Where is God? I thought as I cried during church yesterday morning.

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I Am.

This is not just a story. This is my story. This is relaxation, transcending discomfort and becoming one with the body, the vessel that will propel me towards my dreams, my goals, the only thing I will own all my life, that no man can ever take away from me no matter how hard he tries. This is violence and diamond-studded teeth sinking into jagged fingers. This is love and softness, holding hands on the beach and peach-blushed, sunburned skin skin. This is housekeeping, picking up trash on the floor of my heart and putting everything back in its place so that I can heal, and that the garden of my heart will flourish. This is admitting, accepting, embracing, and screaming that I am not broken, that I have always been as cratered and glowing as the moon herself. This is no bra and stiff sandals on the way love in home, all the way to body love and letting her in. This is amazement and feminine magic, hair out of place, and being seen, loved, and deemed beautiful without makeup. This is cheap lipstick and men’s deodorant, all the random beads I strung together the year it happened to me and all the little girls in the world, and how their discordance hummed and throbbed and glowed with all the magic of the first time I saw a firefly at summer camp. This is healing, and loving, and letting myself grow. This is admitting, accepting, enjoying, annd loving that I have a body and knowing that I am.

journal
My journal 

 

Ana Is NOT Invited

Ana is getting more than a little clingy. Last weekend, I went to the fair with Christin and Kerry, our friend from GSA. I love fairs and carnivals. I brought my camera and got some shots I’m really proud of.

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Christin and me being silly while Kerry played with my camera. 

I rode a ride that went upside down, which was something I’d always been too scared to do in the past, and I got Christin a caramel apple even though she told me not to, and it put the biggest, most adorable smile on her face.

Still, I wasn’t as happy as I wanted to be. Eventually, we got hungry and decided to eat something. I was really, really hungry, but I didn’t want to eat. Let me rephrase that. I wanted to eat. I wanted to enjoy fried food on a stick, something I’ve always loved (I mean, who doesn’t?) and not think about calories when I could have been laughing at the powdered sugar all over Kerry and the water he spilled on his crotch when his friend leapt up from the table to buy fried butter on a stick. (No, I’m not making that up.)
But instead, even with Christin’s hoodie wrapped around me, Ana was whispering in my ear that it would be better if I didn’t eat anything, and if I did, I’d better slip away from my friends and purge. “You can just pretend that the rides made you sick,” she said. Ana isn’t exactly the brightest. She tells me lies, like that my friends will like me better if I don’t eat, that I’ll like myself more if I’m half my size.

Ana also showed up uninvited at the GSA movie night/pajama party at my house last Friday. There was pizza and a plethora of desserts, but she kept dragging me away from Christin to remind me that I “couldn’t” eat anything. “I’m having fun with my friends,” I told her. “Who cares if I eat a slice of pizza? That’s half the fun.” Still, she wouldn’t leave me alone.

I’m sick of Ana crashing my parties. On Friday, the GSA is going to Applebee’s to sing karaoke, and even though the event is four days away, I’m already worried about what I’m going to eat. Nevermind the fact that I’m learning a new song and I’m going to rock it at karaoke, the fact that a bunch of my good friends (including Christin) will be there, and the fact that Applebee’s has this amazing chocolate cake I love.  Ana has already tried to convince me that I can’t have the cake. At the fair and the pajama party, I let her win, but she’s actually given me an advantage this time. Since I started worrying so far in advance, I’ve had time to check out the Applebee’s menu and devise a plan of attack. I already know what I’m going to order, and it’s something I want, not what Ana wants me to eat. I WILL get that chocolate cake, and I’ll share it with my friends. Time in college and time spent with the GSA is about making memories and strengthening friendships, not isolating myself in eating disorder hell.

I’m posting this article to keep myself accountable. I’m making a promise to myself that I’m going to order the pasta dish and cake I want, not diet water and air, or whatever it is Ana will try to get me to eat. I have escaped Ana’s clutches in the past, and I will do it again and again and again.

 

It Gets Better

I was told a million different times by a thousand different people, “Just hang on. It gets better.” I never believed them. I was firmly convinced that depression and anxiety would be my normal, that I would never stop hating myself, and that anorexia would rule my life until I ended it. I’ve never been happier to admit that I was completely wrong.

On Monday, I attended a meeting of my college’s Gay-Straight Alliance for the first time. Despite never having been at any of the meetings before, the small, welcoming group eagerly voted me into the position of secretary. In the past, I would have preferred to go unnoticed in the meeting. I would have listened quietly and left without talking to anyone. But, as Demi Lovato puts it, “What’s wrong with being confident?” The answer: absolutely nothing! I’ve gained quite a bit of confidence over the past few months, and I’ll put it to good use in my new leadership position.

As the GSA’s newest officer, it was my job to run our booth at my school’s Club Fair today. This entailed a great deal of talking to strangers, designing and printing fliers, and baking cookies. This is a lot of work for any individual, but my mental illnesses decided to throw some extra challenges at me. Yesterday, I was having a pretty bad psychotic episode. The voices in my head were suggesting that it would be a good idea to set myself on fire, stab myself with a pen, or bite the unsuspecting student next to me. Past experience has shown that hurting myself quiets the voices, but I was not willing to give in to them this time. Instead, I talked the situation out with my wonderfully supportive mom, and eventually the voices went away on their own, leaving me free to bake eighty cookies.

Anxiety has always been a challenge when it comes to social interactions. It can make even the most superficial conversation seem as daunting as a sword fight, and twice as tiring. I thought about making up an excuse not to go to the Club Fair, thus avoiding having to explain to people what the GSA does, when we meet, and so on. I was scared to talk to strangers and act friendly when I really felt like hiding. But, hiding has never been much fun, and I had a job to do, so I told anxiety to take a hike and I headed to the Club Fair with my fearless face on.

The Fair was a success. I talked to lots of people and even reconnected with an old friend from middle school who is now the president of the Democrat Club. I’m learning not to minimize my successes. It’s easy to say, “Oh, anybody could have sat at a table and said ‘hi’ to people,” but I did so much more than that. I overcame huge hurdles to do what I did, and I am very proud of myself.

The GSA has already made a huge difference in my life. I’ve finally found a place where I feel I belong, and I’m thriving. I wish I could go back in time and tell my miserable high school self just how much better it gets. I am so glad to be where I am. I’ve worked hard to get here, and I intend to stay.

 

The Sea of Jake

This is the story of how Jake pulled me out of the water in the middle of the night, as though I was baby Moses floating helplessly down the River Nile and he was Pharaoh’s daughter, young, beautiful, and seemingly willing to take care of me. But my dreamy, midnight perceptions are never accurate. If it wasn’t for Jake, I might have drowned, or I might have been forced to find my own way out of the water.

***

I met Jake on move-in day at Eckerd College, and we became friends almost out of necessity. We sat next to each other at Eckerd’s Ceremony of Lights, during which the figurative “lamp of learning” was lit, and everyone wondered who smelled like pot in the back of the auditorium. Jake told me I had a pretty singing voice, and I asked him if he was high. He said no, but I had my doubts. We parted ways after the ceremony, but kept bumping into each other around campus. Eventually, we exchanged phone numbers, and that was that– we were friends. We started spending more time together, and eventually we started to talk less, kiss more, and smoke as much pot and as many cigarettes as our bodies could handle.

I came to like Jake with the same sort of terrified compulsion I had felt for Zach the previous year. But Jake wasn’t at all like Zach. He was funny (in a perma-stoned sort of way), he was nice (whatever that meant), and he had great music taste. Jake played the guitar. He chain-smoked Camels while I burned my way through pack after pack of Marlboros. He always had pot.  Logically, it made sense for me to like him, but I found myself wishing he were a Jane, not a Jake, and willing myself to be “normal.” I’m still learning that love and logic do not exactly go hand-in-hand (although I do not claim to love Jake). I have a habit of convincing myself I like someone. A second date wouldn’t be so bad, right? I guess he’s kind of cute, in a way. Sure, all his jokes were totally sexist, but they would have been funny if I weren’t so uptight. No, it’s not weird that he brought a knife on a date. And the most prevalent of all: He’s probably as good as it gets for someone as fucked up as I am. I should consider myself lucky.

I was lucky to have Jake. He introduced me to his friends, and we became a homogeneous group. We were on the campus radio station together. We traversed campus, our pockets stuffed with cigarettes and the white Bic mini lighter we shared, and together we found the only two ashtrays on campus. When he kissed me, I pretended I was somewhere else. He said I tasted like cigarettes. I was lucky to have Jake.

***

The white lighter became a point of contention between the two of us. I was always in the cycle of quitting smoking, then starting again, then quitting, only to find myself at the drugstore at 2:00 AM in my pajamas buying three packs of cigarettes. It seemed perverse to throw cigarettes or lighters away, but I knew if I hung onto them, I would start smoking once more. So, I gave them to Jake, who was happy to take them.

Smoking was not as simple as a bad habit for me. I felt a deep sense of shame with every drag, every pack, every butt I kicked under some dirt. I am self-destructive by nature, though I am also cautious. I like to toy with mild addictions. At least I’m not a crackhead, I thought as I puffed away. At least this is helping me lessen self-harm. At least I’m not an alcoholic. At least I’m not a sex addict. I took another drag. At least I have most of my life under control, even if I can’t control this.

My parents, who I look to as examples of how to lead a healthy, successful life, were never smokers, as far as I know. As my dad put it in a stern lecture I received upon my unplanned arrival back home, “There are no positive benefits to cigarettes.” My brother helped me do that math: I was spending 15% of my meager weekly paycheck on cigarettes. Every time I flicked the lighter, the sense that I was nothing but a disappointment flickered in me.

So, as I was boxing up all my clothes, pictures, and books to take back home with me, I gave Jake my white lighter. “Throw it away,” I said. “Use it to light your bowl; I don’t care. I just can’t take it home with me.” I chomped on a piece of Nicorette, spit flying everywhere.

“I’m going to hang onto it. I’ll give it back to you,” he said from his place on my bed where he was staring at his phone.

“I don’t want it.”

“Yeah you do.”

He was probably right.

***

Eckerd College is on the Tampa Bay and has its own beach and waterfront, complete with paddle boards, kayaks, and sailboats available at no charge to students. Jake and I spent a lot of our time there, soaking in the beauty that is the Sunshine State. “Does the waterfront ever close?” I asked the sophomore working behind the boat-checkout counter.

“No, not really,” he said. “I mean, all the boats have to be back at 8:00, but you can swim whenever.”

“Literally whenever?” Jake asked. “Like anytime? Like, even at night?”

“Yeah, anytime,” the sophomore said, bending down to tie his shoe.

Jake and I walked out of the enclosure, to the picnic tables where we both lit up. “Dude, we should go night swimming,” he said.

I agreed enthusiastically, thinking this was just one of the many advantages of the lack of parental supervision for which college campuses are notorious. It was settled, we would part ways to finish our homework and eat dinner, and we would rendezvous at 11:00 PM by the waterfront. I had passed the swim test. I thought I was prepared.

***

In the water, fish brushed against our legs, and our feet were entwined. “Was that your foot?” We asked each other over and over. Sometimes the answer was yes, but often, it was no. The water was tepid, and the night air was thick.

I swam away from Jake and contemplated my own private oceans. The water is full of boys who cannot swim, boys who claim to be too broken to do anything other than cling to me for support. They often push my head under the water in an effort to breathe for themselves. I let them. I pretend I can absorb oxygen through osmosis, by clinging to their feet, their hair, their swim trunks. I am wearing swim trunks myself, partly as a nod to my aspirations of androgyny, but mostly to cover up the days-old razor slashes that sting faintly in the salt. In the dark, none of them can see the damage I’ve inflicted on myself. I am the perfect girl: sweet, quiet, sexy, obedient. I’m drowning.

***

The time comes for Jake and me to leave the water. Because we jumped in, we didn’t realize that there is no ladder in sight. We tried to walk up the algae-covered, rocky slope where the kayaks are tethered, but our feet couldn’t tolerate the sharp pains. We swam back to the ladderless dock and tried to pull ourselves up. Jake was successful, but I was still treading water, imprisoned by my lack of upper-body strength. Laughing, Jake pulled me out of the water, and we laid on our backs trying to catch our breath and looking up at the stars. Dazzled by the myriad constellations, I imagined myself somewhere else, lying next to my perfect Jane, content with her and with myself. Jake stood up and walked to the picnic table where we had left our keys, phones, lighter and cigarettes. Within moments, we were looking at each other through smoke, and it was like I’d never left the water at all.