I am about to tell you a bunch of True things at once.
It began at control. Control was the reason I began to calculate out the meals. It was the reason certain portions were very small and even skipped all together. In the brain there is a voice that says “You are strong for doing this, for limiting yourself. I am your best friend voice, and everyone asking you to eat more are the people that have been hurting you. They are jealous of you. They do not like you, even if they act like they do. Do what I say, you are strong this way.” I am not the only one who has had a voice like this. The people who want control are people who are very sensitive and very bright, and at once point in their life had Control taken away from them; the difficulty with being very sensitive and very bright is that the world is very rough sometimes, and being less bright is a smart way to avoid being hurt. This is why smallness is nice, you are a smaller target. I loved being very small. I hated being very small. People paid attention to how small I was, and that was nice; I was treated like the victim I was never allowed to be.
This true thing will be hard to understand: being skinny was a consequence of this control, not the reason. For several years I woke up in the morning and lifted my shirt to the mirror. This was how I knew if I was going to have a good day or a bad day. If I was smaller than the day before, the voice in my head said “I am very proud of you.” If I was bloated (which happens very much when you begin skipping meals), the voice in my head said, “You had one job. You work so hard, and you still betray me. This body is showing me that you’re a failure. You are a failure, and this is why you are unlovable. Who would love someone who works this hard, and still cannot even be skinny? No one you will see today loves you, even if they say they do. They are liars, and you are an awful person.” This is when the panic would arrive. This is when I stopped Thinking.
Here is another truth you may not understand: I needed another voice to fix this problem of nonThinking. This voice was of Lose Control. This was the voice that took care of me when I did not let other humans help me (because remember, during this illness, I do not think anybody can help me. I think the world likes to hurt me. I think everybody’s intention is to make me feel unworthy and small. I think people try to get close to me, only to enjoy leaving me.
This voice would shout over all the Unthinking (the panic of realizing I was a failure and should die). This voice would come in because I would begin to be scared of my feelings, they would grow to be bigger than I could handle, they would begin to take over my skull, and my heart, and I was going to explode from how big my fear and anger and desire to kill and die and crumble was. So this voice shouted the only thing that would stop all the Feeling: “EAT!”
This was very smart of my brain, if you think about it. Because eating is nice, I think. Especially when you are three days hungry, maybe three weeks hungry, maybe three months hungry, maybe three years. It does not matter: when you are hungry and a voice shouts “EAT!” you feel cared for, you feel saved, you have something to do with your hands (which you are scared of all of sudden; you are scared of your whole body all of a sudden; it is all filled up with Feelings that you do not like and you can feel them everywhere).
Here is a truth many people will not understand: it does not need to be pizza, and ice cream, and bread and chocolate. Those are just what the back of my head grabs because it has not had it in a very, very long time. Because the Control Voice was always saying “no,” and suddenly we have let go of all the rules. But it does not have to be those things. It is anything (it has been uncooked pasta, it has been raw kale, it has been frozen dumplings: it will take whatever is there and sometimes, if the Feelings are so big the entire world will explode if I do not eat at that exact moment, I will not wait to cook whatever I find) and this mind does not care who it belongs to. It is these moments that I do realize it is an illness, because a conscious version of myself respects other people’s possessions, other people’s purchased food. But when I am in this state, I do not care. I do not care because in this state, I am truly convinced I am going to die afterwards anyway.
Here is a truth that you may not understand: the eating was not the most important part. It was the eliminating of it. This is the part I will not go into detail with, and this is important to read: if you suffer from an addiction, never tell another person more than the Feelings you had, do not share your tricks out loud. All the tricks that I learned came from seeing it on television, googling it, or someone sharing it. Even if it is well-intentioned, never tell anyone how you accomplish these things, because sensitive and bright ears will pick up tricks and not even realize they did until later. For the sake of other people’s recovery, I will never share these things out loud, because they are not even the important part.
The important part is another Truth, which I found so fascinating when I learned it that I burst out into tears, and perhaps you will find it of use, too. When asked during a private session during my time at my recovery center if I “was ever angry”, I laughed. I said no, never, and anybody I knew would say the same. Then she asked if I was angry as a child, and I laughed again. I said yes, always, and anybody I knew me then would say the same. Then she said it would be very strange, then, if I stopped being angry all of a sudden. She said that anorexia was a lonely disorder, and that bulimia was a very angry, angry eating disorder, and asked if maybe I was participating in this whenever I experienced anger? I was shocked and nodded: yes, this could be true. Then she asked me a very interesting question: did I know that anger is a secondary emotion? I asked her what that meant. She said that anger is the messenger emotion of another a primary emotion; she said anger stems from sadness.
This all felt very real all of a sudden. Then, once more, she asked me a question: did I know, perhaps, that studies have found that the chemical being released in the brain while throwing up is the same chemical that is released while crying? This is when I began to sob in her office, and I did so for a very long time, because I became aware of what I was really doing all those times. I realized I had been trying to cry.
These truths may not make sense to you very much, because perhaps you would like more logic. Many people have thought that, because there is so much body and mind confusion, it must be about becoming beautiful and being seen as such. The body dysmorphia is apart of the bigger illness, which is that the body and the mind cannot separate from each other their experiences (if you can imagine sensitive and bright people, you can see how deeply they can catch this illness of information overload). For example: a stomach ache after eating meant I was a bad person, and therefore a disappointment to all who knew me. Feeling I was a disappointment to someone — for arriving late, for getting sick, for forgetting their birthday — gave me a stomach ache, and therefore, too, I became a bad person. And when I was a bad person, I would look in the mirror, and see a bad body. Seeing this bad body saved me from Feeling (remember I said my Feelings would be so big that I did not think I would survive feeling them?), so I would then turn to one of my voices instead: Control or Lose Control.
It was one or the other, then: I would not eat, not eat, not eat, and run and run and run… or eat, eat, eat, and let it all leave me, so I could pass out from exhaustion, and simulate my own death. These were Bad Body days, and they were numerous; but we also had Good Body days. The feeling of Good Body days were so celebrated because they were an exhilarating and liberating change from feeling ugly (deeply, in body and mind, which you cannot forget are the same thing during the Illness).
Here is a truth that you might find helpful: the Sufferers of this illness may appear to have huge egos because they are always examining themselves and have a hard time being there fully for others. I was told very often by close friends that I would only think of myself, that I was always looking in mirrors, that I was not listening to them when they spoke, and seemed to care what everyone else thought about me.
I would like to offer another perspective: these bright and sensitive people care so much about others, but have also been trained by circumstance that caring will also leave them in pain; that caring for others is necessary but also a terrifying burden, and will always result in their loss. The obsession with mirrors was because I needed to check if I was a good or bad person as often as I could; the inability to listen to my friends talking was because I was either fighting fatigue from not eating or because I was calculating out what I just had put in my mouth. People took personally what they did not understand; that I was in the middle of a very big internal battle, almost 95% of my waking moments. I would be excited when I saw Beauty on me; what seemed like a cry for attention to others was a cry of celebration for me. The loudness of my high was merely a short-lived celebrating with myself. “Look!” said Control voice. “You are my hero! Do everything you have ever dreamed of. You are finally enough.” I wanted to live in these moments forever. As long as I listened to Control Voice, I could.
Here is a truth we all know by now: life does not let anything stay the same. Something would change and my Control would change — this meant I would no longer be enough. When I was no longer enough, I was not worthy of all the things I ever dreamed of. I was again simply ‘good’ or ‘bad.’
Here is another truth: with all change is the chance for evolution. Over the years I began to get deeply tired of ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The more of humanity I met, the less I saw ‘good’ versus ‘bad’. The frustration with my disease (which ran on secrecy — it must, always, be a secret) began to grow and grow. When I was younger, I thought ‘I will stop when I want.’ Then I would cry because I said ‘I will never stop, this will be my whole life.’ But I was beginning to think, “I would like to stop.” And then one day it became, “I will not have a long life if I do this.” And finally I had a thought that combined them: “I would like to stop, and I would rather die trying to stop than live in this cage.”
Also, I was beginning to die each time. At the very beginning my insides were like elastic. I could get up and walk around normal like nothing happened. After some time, it became that I would need to lay down for a while. After some more time, I would need to sleep after. The time that scared me into stopping was the time I threw up and could not get out of bed for three days.
Here is a truth you may not understand: since my mind and body were intrinsically linked, it also meant that if I wanted my body to do something, my mind was always able to make it happen. This can be why sensitive and bright people with this illness can also look incredibly fit, and show no sign of suffering; we can build very fitness-orientated bodies because our brain command is strong.
This is why I was so scared when I could not get out of bed for three days: my brain command said “Get up!” and my body said “If you move, your throat will rip, your stomach will rip.” I laid in a fog for three days, confused and scared that my body was saying different things than my mind. I did not know myself. Sleep was the only way to stop this Big Terror, and yet there was one Very Big Truth that whispered while I was in this state, and one that I have not shared to anyone other than my sisters.
This very Big Truth was very clear, and it did not come to me as words, even though I say it “whispered.” What I mean is that it arrived whole, like a picture, but there was nothing to see. It was a fact that did not need to be proven, and it was not something I had made. It was simple, and it laid itself across all of my layers, and it came from neither my head, nor my body, but my Heart. This may confuse you, but I do not need you to understand. I am here to tell you many Truths at once.
I woke up knowing that if I did not promise to get better, I would lose everything. I woke up knowing that if I promised to get better, I would keep this promise and it was going to be a very painful process and I would learn incredible things and I would see the most beautiful things this world has to offer.
Here are several contradictory truths that all exist at once: recovery is a team effort, and only one person does it. My best friend responded to my confession of my eating disorder by immediately providing me a phone number for a recovery center, and asking me every day about it until I finally called them. She is the reason why I began recovery; her soft determination not to change the subject. If anyone ever wonders why I am a forever indebted to certain previous employers, it would be because I confessed to them what I was going through and they told me to quit my job and go straight into recovery, no matter the cost. If anyone every wonders why other friends transcend friendship and now belong in a realm of honorary family, it is because they called me daily for 3 months to ask “How was ‘camp’ today?”
I did not do this by myself, but I was the one who had to do the work of Opening, Letting Go, and Loving. It was terrifying confessing to others what I had been doing in secret — but this was a part of the promise I made, so I had to. It was difficult to tell others how I really felt — but it was a part of the promise I made, so I had to. It was impossibly out of character to treat myself like I mattered enough to invite people to learn to care for me — but it was a part of this promise I made, so I did.
Here is a Truth that you may not like if you are trying to Heal from something: you cannot keep secrets if you are in recovery. Secrets are a part of the Illness. My life began when I told people what I did physically, because then I was asked by professionals and smart, present friends what I was feeling emotionally. If there is any truth I hope you hear from all the many I give you at once, it is this:
My crippling pain was and is about the Fear of Being Misunderstood when I am rushed or pressured to explain myself (“Now!” I felt the world demanding, “explain how you are feeling this instant, and make sure it’s simple, because we don’t have time for the long, complex version!”).
My disorder is not the enemy; there is no enemy. Nor was my disorder my friend; it was never my friend. It was the piece of me that rose as protection when I had no training for how to Feel all my feelings safely. That is all. It is forgiven.
For me it is about that Big Truth voice, the one that whispers without being small; it is massive without getting in the way of seeing people or myself. It is the Big Truth that says “you are enough” before I even start to think. It allows my anger, and soothes it by saying “Okay.” It allows my sadness and then holds it by saying, “Okay.” It touches my sensitivity and my brightness and says, “Yes, this, too.” It touches my sensitivity and my darkness and says, “Yes, this, too.”
A Remarkably True Story That I’ve Forgotten
I'm getting worn out, out here.
I'm not sure what day it is anymore.
We're almost done and I'll see ya soon.
Keep on helping your momma and sisters.
I'm real proud of you, my eldest, and
look forward to watching you grow through life.
No one ever asked, but The Girl found out she was superhuman when she was fourteen years old. It was a pity no one ever asked, because if anyone ever did, she’d have very much liked to share the story. “It was there, by the coffin,” she’d begin by saying. But as no one inquired, the sentence never carried over into air, to anyone’s ears, to anyone at all.
And if someone was to ask her to explain her superpowers, she’d explain them as something like this: “If you cross eyes slightly, the world blurs. And if you take long, shallow breaths, you’ll get dizzy without losing oxygen. And to everyone else your breath sounds steady and your eyes are going to all the right places… but they don’t know that you’re impenetrable and untouchable! You can leave your body without anyone knowing you’re gone.”
But seeing as no one realized The Girl had superpowers, no one inquired, and so the instructions never carried over into air, to anyone’s ears, to anyone at all.
I stared at my computer screen, scanning and re-scanning the one paragraph hanging in the middle of the laptop. Maybe I’m reading too fast? A gust of air escaped from the chamber in my chest, a deep whimper that caught ride on a shallow laugh that was born too early.
Because that was a joke. Reading too fast? No, I wasn’t reading at all. I was observing the obituary just like I’d surveyed the open coffin: I would look without seeing.
If anyone was to ask, the key was to treat words like pictures. I glanced at the pitifully short article between long blinks, looking only for the numbers.
February 20, 1965. Blink.
May 10. Blink.
I began to panic, and in my panic, began to read. I read “survived by” and was sliced by my own name. I was crumbling, entire sentences seeping through my defenses:
Mr. Nelson was
A devoted family man, he
an avid sportsman and
memorial service will be held on
But there it was, first sentence, like it always was: “Jeffrey Reid Nelson, 42, of Upland, CA died April 29, 2007 in Salome, Arizona.”
Every year I tried to commit that sentence to memory, and every year I’d forget again. I shut my laptop and let out a laugh, sharing the shameful secret to the open air, to no one’s ears, to no one at all.
“Tell them I was very good at video games.”
“And that I make the best s’more waffles.”
“And I always washed the car the day before it rained, your mother would appreciate that in there.”
And then The Girl began to cry, and his ghost grew so sorry that it left the foot of her bed altogether. Just hearing his voice hurt, his simplest humors tearing her in two. The chorus of lost moments sang as loud as it did ten years ago, filling the spaces between her days like the tears that flowed into the pillows that lay beneath her, replacing all softness with ice.
They were lined up from tallest to shortest, arranging themselves this way not because they really meant to, but rather out of years of habit. Where other children came to assembly in awkward disarray, the three girls standing in the chilly dull hallway had been trained through enthusiastic compliments from kind grown-ups to religiously and proudly adopt such a polite, sensible organization of themselves. They did this automatically, without thinking, without any effort at all.
The eldest girl had turned fourteen exactly one week ago, holding fast to the far left to anchor her side of the sibling structure. The middle one, squirming as she always did and sneaking looks to her older sister, was twelve. The smallest child – with her eyes still the bluest of the three, the hair still the blondest— could be caught peering up at the both of them, looking for clues as to what to do next. She was ten.
They were lined up and hovering in the hallway of… well, they had no idea. It was a church-like place where the air was solemn and heavy, and at the far corner was a disastrously bright bushel of Bird of Paradise. It looked like a bouquet of scissors, and it cut them just by being there, and it scared them even out of whispering.
The middle sister squirmed and elbowed the bigger sister, nodding nervously to the wood box at the other end of the hallway as if to say “I’m not sure if I’m supposed to elbow you but I don’t want to see this alone and I know we all don’t know how to talk but if I don’t do something like elbow you and point it out, I’ll explode.” The eldest scowled at her sister, as if to say “I don’t care if you explode, you know the rules, don’t acknowledge anything unless I say you can, and even I don’t know what to do right now.” The youngest just kept peering, as if to say to “How can I help?” and “Please help me?” at the same time.
But all their hovering and squirming and scowling and peering stopped when their mother, who’d just been speaking with a thin man and heavy-set woman, turned to them and said firmly “Let’s go, girls.” It was a command they knew but never heard like this. She sounded desperate and angry, as if she rather meant to say “If I have to see him, so do you.”
The three moved in a line towards the shiny wooden box that was visible at the end of the long hallway, which ended up becoming a large, white room with tall, terrible stained glass windows. The box seemed to suck up all the air.
It was the first coffin they’ve ever seen outside of cartoons. The top half was propped open, the tip of a pale nose visible from the distance.
The middle sister squirmed and tried to hide a smile, and so the youngest sister squirmed and tried to hide her own smile. Then, as with any trio, the feelings of two won over the resistance of the third, and all three girls were sucking in their lips and felt their eyes calling for help, never hating anything in the world more than their mouths, their madness, this moment.
And then all of a sudden they were at the pale nose, peering inside a satin casket filled with a lifeless recreation of their favorite person in the whole world.
And ten years later, the eldest still can’t tell you what the Man in the Coffin’s face looked like, because it was at that moment that she discovered she could look at things without seeing.
And ten years later, she only remembers thinking This isn’t really him, maybe he’s still alive, this a terrible, terrible fake body. And then she looked at the hands crossed on the Man in the Coffin’s belly and realizing it had to be the funniest man she ever met, because no one in the world had hands like those.
The three girls laughed so much that their uncle took them away before everyone else arrived for the viewing, took them to a bowling arcade. They were too young to explain to the adults that they thought they were dreaming, and they were too in sync with each other to need words.
Date: Sat, Feb 21, 2009 at 9:58 PM
Subject: well it wouldn’t let me send it in a chat
hey katrina i just wanted to say that i love you so much and i want to write this all out in one BIG message thing …anywho i dont know why i am writing this, well actually i do, i think im just bored stiff so i decided to do something! like i remember when we would fly on daddys feet on the bed…remember that? i remember whn we went to the beach and dad would put one of us on his back and we would go sooooooo far out and we were so scared, but he would say were ok so i forgot about all of the sharks that could eat us and just held on to daddy, i miss that, and i also remeber when we always went to the park to watch the movies and we would get Barbie’s pizza and bring the pink flora blanket or the big yellow one and we would lay it out in the perfect spot and grab a peice of pizza and lay on daddy, then it would be like halfway through the movie and we would start falling asleep, so dad would have to carry us to Hercules the truck and drive home…
katrina i miss that so much, wanna sleep with me tonight? Katrina…i miss him and i think the worst part of this stupid event is knowing that the memories with him ends…no more of them, no more.. i dont think i have told anyone but i was the last person to see daddy leave….. i remember it was dark inside the house but i heard someone moving but i decided that i would just lay in bed and let daddy put everything together, i didnt want to bother him..but then i got to tired of waiting and got up he saw me and gave me a big hug, i wasnt cheery i was actually pretty depresed because i knew we wouldnt see dad for a while, so i helped him pick things up and remembered being happy to see him use my red backpack and i gave daddy another hug and a kiss, then he went into moms room to say goodbye, by that time i was crying, than he started putting things in his car, it wasnt hercules it was his other white work truck, anyway than he had nothing left to put in and i told him i loved him and he gave me a big hug, he told me “I love you honeybun” and gave me one of his whiskery kisses, than he left out into the cold foggy morning and i stayed at the door crying, he waved goodbye and i waved goodbye but didnt stop waving, he got in the car it was facing the mountains, but he had to go down toward 16th so he had to do the little move were he drove in annie’s driveway, i was still waving then he drove down, i dont know if he saw me still standing there, then mom was calling me to go back to bed, but i was crying and i closed the door, locked it and walked to bed…the end..I love you katrina and im goin to bed..i didnt do this to make you sad or anything, i dont know, i just needed to do it, and im sorry this isnt meant to be like ohh boo hoo feel bad for me, darn this wasnt even supposed to be this kind of story it was going to be of all the memories of me and you, but i guess it took a different path. i love you forever and always, never forget it and ill see you upstairs. i know its hard to be the oldest but i think your the best big sister in the world, and i could never be the big sister….i love you so much………….Love Annika
Jeffrey Reid Nelson, 42, of Upland, CA was very good at video games, made the best s’more waffles, and always washed the car a day before it rained.
Nightclub Dance with the Devil
She told me later that her friends called her Lucifer.
It made sense.
I’d never met anyone more like the devil in my life.
It all bore, and it hurt all over.
She asked me what I was drinking.
I said water.
She asked me to take her hand.
It was shaking.
“See how it shakes?” she asked.
I took it.
“Drugs,” she said.
Oh. Now her eyes made sense.
She asked me what I had done.
I said nothing.
I don’t know why I blushed.
It doesn’t embarrass me.
She told me I was rare, that she liked that.
I knew she meant it.
She noticed the bartender wasn’t helping me.
She asked for my glass and left with it.
I stood there until she broke back through the crowd.
Always that smile.
“Sink water,” she said.
I thanked her but stared down into the cup for too long.
“I would never drug you. All you’d have to do is ask, but no.
I’d never drug you.”
I can’t explain how.
But I knew it was the truth.
I tossed it into planter when her back was turned.
It was the principle.
We moved downstairs to the show.
It was hot as hell.
She put some strange glasses on my face.
Everything got darker.
But the strobe lights sharper.
It made the music scorch my skin.
Had I ever moved like this before?
She told me I looked more beautiful with them on.
I took them off.
It was the principle.
But she never grabbed me.
Didn’t stroke my face, like that tall one did.
Didn’t tug my shirt, like those other ones did.
She never pulled me, never touched me
Except to help my hands to the ceiling
Or when she rubbed my shoulders to wake me up
When my dancing slowed.
It was a total nightmare.
I was so exhausted.
I was so confused.
I wanted to stop moving...
But knew I never would
Not while the darkness played.
I dared once to look at her,
And she had the biggest smile yet:
“You dance all night with nothing. I want your whole spirit."
I knew she meant it.
Paired with the music this reignited my dancing.
I was fueled by the sudden vanity…
And I implore to you understand.
You must understand.
I learned how the devil works that night.
She is honest, that is the scariest part.
She makes you decide for yourself.
She will offer you Sin like a lady.
She will be the most interesting, toxic conversation you’ve ever had.
She already knows how it All works.
…But she doesn’t force your evils.
She inquires you to reflect on them.
She can cater to the temptations, if you want.
Only if you want.
And there I was,
Dying to get away...
And feeling like I'd die if I left...
When suddenly the approaching sunrise broke the spell.
I stopped dancing
And walked out.
She didn’t try to stop me,
She just made that smile.
It made me shudder
And wish to see her again
At the same time.
And as the distance grew…
As the sun rose over my nightmare…
I realized that though I walked with angels,
The devil makes one hell of a dance partner.
By the time I made it home
It was light out.