My mind often wanders to places it shouldn’t.Continue reading
In Ann Patchett’s craft essay, “The Getaway Car,” she explains that all of her novels follow the same basic premise: a group of strangers are thrown together by circumstance and form a society.Continue reading
I never imagined that at 25, I’d be stuck with the same bad habit I developed at 13.Continue reading
Part of schizoaffective disorder involves a mood disorder, in my case bipolar.Continue reading
It’s great to be home. I missed sleeping in my own bed, my friends and family, Gilligan, and my synagogue, but I am very glad to have done the work I did in treatment. I spent four weeks in a psychiatric hospital in New Orleans on a unit that specializes in treating trauma-related disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and dissociative identity disorder. While I was there, I talked about traumatic instances of abuse that happened to me in childhood, in high school, at my first college, and as recently as December of last year.
When a person is sexually abused, especially at a young age, and especially when it happens over and over, the abuse can lead to a feeling of worthlessness, at least, that’s how I felt. I called myself a “throwaway girl,” meaning that I was disposable, lacking in value, and easily replaced. I felt like all I was good for was sex, but also believed I was too unattractive to be desirable. Most of all, after being abused by four different men at different, unrelated points in my life, I felt that there must be something wrong with me to bring on these incidents. “I should have left the first time he hit me, not stuck around for a year. I shouldn’t have been intoxicated around a stranger. I shouldn’t have been hanging around someone twice my age who probably has a criminal record.” These are the warnings I constantly repeated to myself after it was too late. I was more angry at myself for making mistakes, mistakes every young woman is entitled to make as she finds herself, and mistakes for which no child can be blamed, than I was at the men who took advantage of my vulnerability and treated me like a punching bag or a sex toy.
At the hospital, I heard horrific stories of abuse, violence, and trauma, everything from cults to combat, from people who claimed to be broken but were somehow still vibrant and full of life. These people still made amazing art, told gripping stories, laughed boisterously, and did their best to help the newcomers on the unit. Most of all, they had not been robbed of the capacity to love. When my roommate’s children came to visit her, I was astounded at the warmth that emanated from her as she saw their faces. This came from a woman who had seen horrors and suffered losses no one should have to endure, yet there she was in the bed next to me with her contagious laugh, her soft sketches, loud oil paintings, and a heart full of love for her kids.
As the days wore on and I started to do the work of the program, I began to feel akin to my fellow patients. I, too, had been through some terrible things, but if they weren’t broken, perhaps I wasn’t either. One night, I had a dream that I was married to another woman, and that we were both pregnant. We had our babies at the same time, and we laid in a huge bed with soft, white sheets and nursed them together. We both had daughters; my wife’s was born with no hair and dark skin, while mine was pale with messy blonde curls. I named her Sienna, and as I held her in dreamland, I was overwhelmed with joy. I laughed and cried at the same time, and my wife hugged me while I hugged my baby. When I woke up, I felt serene and optimistic. I felt like I’d been given a gift.
I may be a little young to start dreaming about having babies, but I think the dream was less about reproducing than it was about the capacity to love. As I struggle to make sense of my abuse, I’ve doubted if I am even capable of love. Maybe I was too selfish, too sex-crazed, too analytical, too impulsive to ever love someone else romantically. The dream showed me that I have the ability to be overwhelmed with joy at my connection to another individual, and that, I believe, is God’s presence on earth. After having that dream, I realized that no abuser has broken me so long as I can still love another person. It is only when I become an abuser myself, treating others with complete disregard for their humanity and individuality, that I am broken. There will be no hope for me then, but I will not allow myself to reach that point. This is the chapter of my life where I walk in love, where I strive to make genuine connections with people, not shallow relationships based on sex or any other superficial commodity or desire.
But before I go falling in love with someone else, I need to show that love to myself. Just as misery loves company, unhealthy people attract others who are also in need of healing. I want to radiate positivity, to attract people who value me for my intellect, my creativity, my friendship, and my passion for teaching. My confidence was destroyed by middle school bullies and the voice of anorexia, but neither of those are realities in my life anymore. The only one preventing me from having confidence is me. Today, I stand tall, unbroken, strong, and confident.
I’ve been self-harming a lot lately. It’s not something I talk about much because it tends to get me in trouble, but more than that, I’m ashamed of the adolescent habit that’s followed me into adulthood and turned my life upside down. My bed sheets are covered with blood; I’ve gone through three packs of razors in the past two weeks, as they keep getting taken away by the people who love me. How do I return that love? I go and get more razors, angry at those people for having the nerve to care about me when I don’t even care about myself.
I don’t have a good reason for continuing to cut myself. I don’t think there is a “good reason” that would justify the countless nights spent in the bathroom waiting for the bleeding to let up enough to put on a pair of dark sweatpants that won’t show bloodstains.
Having my body covered in scars, bandages, and cuts is just a way to reflect how I feel on the inside, cliche as that may sound. I feel unworthy of basic care and affection, even when it pours out of those around me. I simply don’t understand why people treat me with the love that I receive, and I don’t know why I can’t wrap my head around their kindness and love. Cutting myself is a physical manifestation of the negative self-talk that constantly beats me down.
I take most of my bad feelings out on my thighs, which are now covered in scars and fresh cuts from years and years of abuse. So today, I decided to do something different with that part of my body. Today, I got my first tattoo.
The tattoo is partly a tribute to the Orlando shooting victims because my friends and I easily could have been among them. The aftermath of the shooting was an incredibly spiritual experience for me, strange though that may be. Not long after, I started working the Twelve Steps and solidified my connection with God. I believe I was made in God’s divine image, made with care, divine love, and cosmic magic. Who am I to hate something that was made by a perfect Creator? Talk about playing God. Today, I will practice humility and not suppose that I am so great that I can see God’s mistakes. Today, I will practice self-love and take care of my body. Today, I will honor my story of survival and strength by being proud of who I am and loving myself. It’s about damn time.
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.
Ever since I started experiencing psychotic symptoms, I’ve had a really hard time with religion. Going to temple is just inviting the voices in, and prayer only stirs them up and gets them screaming at me. I don’t even know how to start a conversation with God. I thought God hates me, or even that God isn’t real. I’d basically given up on having any kind of spirituality in my life, which was a big deal, considering I previously wanted to become a cantor. I was recently hospitalized because I was suicidal and having flashbacks to a traumatic childhood event. While I was in the hospital, I had an illuminating conversation with the hospital chaplain. After talking to him, I felt lighter. The chaplain, Tony, told me that God must love me because God made me, and She doesn’t make garbage. God loves Her creations, and God can be whoever I want her to be, so I decided that God is a woman. If God loves me, then She has to understand how devastating it was to be hurt by men. I love women so much more deeply than I could ever love a man; I connect to them; I understand them; I laugh with them; I ache with them. I am sure that God, that my God, is a woman, and She loves me.
As a child of God, I have no right to hate Her creations. If I can love my own creations– my photos and my writing– then I have to be able to love the person that God made me. So that’s it. After a lifetime of hating myself, I’m going to do something about it. I’m going to love myself. It’s hard, and it’s weird, and I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m managing. I am learning not to tear myself down, but to build myself up– or at least keep my head above water. I am loved from all around. My parents love and support me no matter what I do. My elementary school classmates have stuck with me through my very first hospitalization to college; I don’t think they would have done that if I was the bad, worthless friend I thought myself to be. My English professor from last semester stopped me at work to tell me I’m a spectacular writer. I doubt he was doing that just to be nice. I have my friends from GSA who I always have fun with. And of course, there’s Christin, who pours so much love into our relationship that it’s almost impossible to believe I’m not everything she says I am.
I’m learning that it’s painful to love someone who doesn’t love herself, and I don’t want to put people through that pain anymore.
I’m finally gaining insight into all the nights I spent crying in my mom’s arms telling her I would do anything to see my collarbones again. She would tell me that I was beautiful as I was, and I’d argue with her because I hated myself so much I couldn’t understand how anyone could see any goodness at all in me. I have learned firsthand that you can’t plant self-love in someone else. That’s why it’s called SELF-love– it has to come from inside. Christin has inspired me to make a change in myself. If she can treat me as caringly and lovingly as she does, then I’m going to return the favor to myself because I am worth that much. I no longer say mean things to myself. I don’t tolerate it. I’ve gained enough confidence and self-respect not to let anyone else talk to me the way I talk to myself, and I’m not going to be a hypocrite and continue to treat myself like trash. I am a good person. I am smart. I am valuable. I am kind. And yes, I am beautiful.
Happiness is not getting on the scale and seeing that you’ve lost weight. Happiness was what I experienced today. I went out to brunch with Christin, and we walked on the beach where we tried to feed stale matzah to the birds. On the drive home, we held hands in the car, and I felt truly present in the moment. We had the windows down, and I wasn’t obsessing over my hair getting messed up or my makeup running. Why would I have wanted to think about that when I could have focused on the beautiful girl sitting next to me laughing at my passenger seat dancing and holding my hand? I was grateful to live in such a beautiful place, grateful that God brought so many wonderful people into my life, and grateful to be in love.
Small Steps Forward
I am not the same person I was at age fourteen. No, I am taller, smarter, more widely-read, more experienced, happier, healthier, and yes, I am heavier. But why shouldn’t I be? Can you imagine how dull life would be if all progress stopped at fourteen? No driver’s licenses, no college graduations, no weddings… In my current state of mental wellness, it seems silly to want to pause my life in 2010, but when I was in the grips of anorexia, I was obsessed with the idea. If you have ever been fourteen, you’re probably wondering what in the world was so great about that age for me, and the answer is simple: nothing. My first two years of high school are a blur of poor study habits, subpar boyfriends, and waking up too early. The only clear memory I really have from that age is my weight. That’s what was so great about being fourteen; I was comprised of a very small amount of mass.
As my adolescence wore on, my eating disorder tagged along. I lived in a constant fog of hunger, and very quickly forgot how miserable I was at my lowest weight. As I sat in a treatment center during my sophomore year of high school, I thought, as soon as I get out of here I’ll start restricting again. I’ll get my fourteen-year-old body back. During my senior year, when I bought the biggest pair of jeans I’d ever worn, I gazed at pictures of my fourteen-year-old self. She looks happy, I thought, ignoring the tired eyes and the fake smile the photos depicted.
The truth is, I was not happy. I was prioritizing weight loss over friends, family, school, my writing, and everything else. It wasn’t worth it. I missed out on a lot of what high school had to offer. I missed out on parties, friendships, concerts, publications, and life itself. Today, at nineteen years old, I am proud to say I am a completely different person from that anxious, miserable fourteen-year-old. I’m finally learning what it means to have a normal relationship with food. I’m learning to accept my body unconditionally—not when I hit a certain weight. My mind is sharper and more creative, and I actually feel in control of my life, not just in control of my food. In fact, it was only when I relinquished control of my food to a treatment team with my best interests at heart, that I was finally able to take control of what really mattered. Today, my fourteen-year-old self is just a memory, not a goal. I joyfully embrace change and growth, and I am excited to see where life will take me next—without anorexia in the passenger seat.