Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Lucky Girl

This is the series that prompted me to write again on a regular basis.  While Little Girl, Big City is focused on the present, here's my backstory in short form.  This is the Lucky Girl Series in it's entirety:

Part 1

It's really not often that I talk about this, but it seems to be problematic and I see the glorification of thinness around me.  I have radar for eating disorders since I've been recovered for some time now.  I spent my last stint in the hospital almost eleven years ago.  And I remember the tears that were never mine, the bright hospital lights, and being brought back to life at some point every day.  I suppose recently I've been staring down the barrel of the anorexic gun but I've managed to get my weight back up.  It makes me recall all the women, men, and children that I've spent time with during all my in-patient treatments; and that effing "Dying to Be Thin" documentary that occasionally comes on late at night and I see my thin face drawn up and on a camera next to people who may or may not still be alive.  Eating disorders are one of the most ill-interpreted and misunderstood conditions.  It's an effort at disappearance and not a vanity cry.  It's an addiction to make amends for outside forces and not an upper-middle class white girl's "right of passage."

I know how lucky I am.  I survived  four years being severely underweight and came through without many long standing health problems.  My heart is fine, I can still dance because my bones support me now, and I know how to pull myself out of the eating disorder mindset.  And it breaks me to see praise for self-deprivation or ignorance and insensitivity towards a person's physical build.  And if ever my past experiences can be a comfort or an education to someone, then maybe those bright lights will cease to glare and turn into something beautiful.

And I want to thank the friends, family, and medical staff that never let me go down.  I know I was vastly unpleasant and a fighter in the worst sense of the word back then.  But that scrappy, feisty side of me was the one part that had the upper hand on the anorexic side.  Luckily, it's still there.

 Part 2

People often talk about the bright light they see when they think they are about to pass out of this world.  I remember the fluorescence and the tall doctor.  I remember the feel of plastic pushing past my esophagus and the taste of charcoal.  I remember the questions asked in mid-stupor and the feeling of utter embarrassment.  Nothing like a catheter and the faded sounds of sirens to knock you back into reality.  And like the lucky girl I am, I can remember these events vividly.

What is so often surprising to people is how comforting an eating disorder becomes to an individual.  Its a means to combat an outside source of pain that is beyond that individual's control.  Whether you're too young to fight back, or too little in your mind; you cling to the one thing you can master.  And so very often food becomes the simplest form of control.  I have never been overweight, but I have envisioned myself for many years as being "fat."  It took me far too long to realize that feeling "fat" was a misrepresentation, and all that time I was really experiencing fear.  But since fear is unappealing, it was easier to make myself feel predominant by deprivation.  Superiority can be found in the most bizarre notions when you are blatantly ignoring your emotions.

Anorexia instilled the greatest sense of false pride I've ever had.  Because I assumed I was great at nothing else, I knew for a fact that I was supremely talented at restriction.  I was "one of the worst" the doctors had ever seen.  And still I never saw myself as that tiny, frightened bird that everyone else watched fluttering and on the verge of having her wings cease to support her.  There are no pictures of me from that time.  I have no need to remind myself where I was ten years ago.  I only have the desire to never be there again.  I missed years of high school, strained friendships, and remained speechless when I should have shouted.  Now I'm shouting.  But I know now how to shout with my voice, not my weight.  And this is why I'm still a lucky girl.

Part 3 

Jill gave me a blue Bic lighter that she used on her Marlboro Reds.  India bought me a pack of Marlboro Lights that warranted me a two page essay in the adolescent ward.  Dr. B gave me a toy dog that barked when you squeezed the underside.  I loaned Jen my teddy bear when she went in for shock treatments.  I suppose those were the more blissful images I took with me.

I've stepped barefoot onto a bathroom floor thick with Aquanet to cover the stench of my neighbor's vomit.  I watched Suzy pull her feeding tube out of her nose and suck the Ensure back up and out into the sink.  I've slept in hallways and isolation rooms with cameras because I managed to lose weight while on watch.  I went without shaving for months just so I could shower with the curtain drawn.  I've heard Brittni scream in the middle of the night because she couldn't sleep without feeling the gun on her.  I watched the "Karen Carpenter Story" so many times it became ineffectual.  These are the more disturbing memories I take with me, yet they are the ones that are firmly fastened to my brain.

For as terribly blunt and vocal as I can now be, I was for so very long - quiet.  I had the ability to piss off the medical staff by not speaking.  And if I did; it was vague, guarded, and with a guise of sarcastic humor.  To be perfectly honest, none of those hospitalizations "cured" me.  They did manage to keep me alive and for that I am grateful.  I know why I no longer need to protect myself by controlling what I eat.  That reason ran away years ago.  Sometimes I feel ridiculous that I am almost 29 and just now figuring these things out.  Better late than never some say.

There have been so many beautiful people who have offered me words of encouragement and shared their struggles with me.  And I am more than honored that my words are being viewed as signs of strength and not literary refuse.  Please keep sharing if you  would like.  I think it's kind of cool.

Part 4 

As a recovered anorectic, amidst other things, I've been fortunate enough to glean insight into my own brain.  If this doesn't make sense, let me explain.  After enough hours of therapy, one on one observations, and changes in prescriptions; one can actually discover how insanely normal they manage to exist in extraordinary circumstances.  And in almost twenty-nine years I'm finally realizing why I coped the way I did, and why the desire to retreat back into old comfort zones is so appealing.  I've never thought of myself as "crazy," since I am always cognizant of what I am doing.  It's just that my brain had managed to form black holes and a strange wasteland in which my body learned to coexist.  The black holes made me cease to eat in an effort to fill an infinite void; and what was left made me a submissive, silent, and shrunken china doll.  But as I hearken back to years ago, the Lucky Girl inside me realizes I was never once shattered.  At 29, I do not need someone else to glue me back together like I've so long thought.  Mostly because my pieces are still relatively intact and the survival mode type of existence is finally starting to fade into actual living.

I don't know if its irony or just my inevitable stumble into adulthood that is allowing me to realize these things at this point in my life.  Either I'm wildly fortunate or unequivocally beyond repair.  I prefer to think it's the former.  Apparently, I finally figured out it was time to quit waiting to be rescued.  Because I don't need to be anymore.    Therefor, I will keep lifting weights until I am as inwardly strong as I am outwardly.  Let it be known that I do indeed fight like spider monkey.  And the amazing friends and family, that I still can't figure out why they still stand beside me - are a formidable force.

There are some truly remarkable figures in my life.  Some I've known forever, some I've recently met.  In a most simplistic statement - they make me happy.  They make me realize that the past is just that - where I've come from.  And where I'm going can finally let that go.

Part 5

Now that Thanksgiving has past, I remember the holiday I spent in the DePaul Tulane eating disorder unit and the holiday I spent at Our Lady of the Lake adolescent unit.  At Our Lady of the Lake I got a pass to go out to dinner with my family who had sacrificed their holiday to come visit me and take me out to some hotel buffet.  At DePaul, I had to eat dinner on premise and then I got a four hour pass to leave the hospital and go to my sister's boyfriend's parents' house.  We watched Austin Powers.  I can for some foreign reason recall laying on the bed in a pair of green corduroys and a striped sweater thinking how Thanksgiving had lost its appeal.  It's a terrifying realization at seventeen that you don't feel thankful, or that you can't feel anything at all.  As Christmas approaches, I remember seeing the decorations going up on different hospital walls and wanting nothing more than to be home for Christmas Eve. There were always trite banners in red and glitter green trying to compensate for the overcast fog that seemed to hang about the units.  But no amount of sparkling Santa faces makes up for the sound of weeping, or the sound of wretching.  But somehow, I always made it out just in time.  Whether I said what they wanted to hear finally, or they just said, "good riddance" - I never had to spend a Christmas in any of those desolate dirge holes.

Eleven years later and I shared last Thanksgiving with my immediate family and there was no time limit, or mandated amount of food I had to consume.  And now I'm putting up my own holiday decorations; albeit they are very Charlie Brown this year, but dammit they're mine and no one's crying down the hall.  And that's reason to be thankful enough.

Part 6

It's been several weeks since I've turned my past into verbal meanderings to share with those I know and individuals who only know my story.  I suppose I've been rather distracted , but in that really grand and serenely smiley kind of way.  And in this absence from writing I've realized even contentedness fuels creativity.  I was for so long under the impression that the only motivation for my words was the wreckage that constituted my childhood.  Now, as I write the words to push past the sludge with greater strength than I've ever had; I can see how possible and beautiful it is to write from a place of acceptance.  I may never find closure, but I have the fortitude to fend for myself without disappearing.

When I was at my most ill, I would often write in journals with outbursts of inadequacy and self-doubt; followed by calorie counts and exercise regimes.  The numbers made me feel like there was a sane equation to my existence.  Four hundred calories minus a three mile run equaled Rebecca gaining the upperhand on outside forces.  It made sense on the page.  Words have always been my first line of expression as I was painfully silent up until that night I was hospitalized prior to turning eighteen.  As I felt the words not form when the questions were asked and the tubes were pushing down my esophagus I knew it was time to fight back.

And for many years I thought fighting entailed stoicism by starting over and forgetting.  It took another ten years for me to open my mouth, scream, cry, begin to remember, and grow the fuck up finally.  And I'm not proud of the time I wasted, the people I hurt along the way, and the opportunities I watched disintegrate because I couldn't move past certain events in my life.  But as I see each day a little bit brighter than the last, I can allow myself to be knocked off my blunt force barfly barstool I've been so fond of sitting atop.  No, I'm not an angry little girl like I was so often called.  I'm just a lucky girl whose relearning how to write.

Part 7

It's been an interesting week for this self-professed "Lucky Girl."

As the year comes to a close, I've realized that perhaps I haven't traveled nearly as far as I thought I had.  I felt that I was putting everything into a pleasant, precise perspective and picking up the pieces.  It's been brought to my attention I hadn't quite done the bang up job I wanted to pat myself on the back for.  And I needed that bluntness so to speak.

"Time was talking, guess I just wasn't listening."

I've looked for acceptance, approval, control, and superiority in self-destructive forms that make me ashamed.  I've starved, I've cut, I've burned, I've hurt people I cared about, I've purposefully overdosed and still I'm here.  I suppose there's a reason for my existence after all.

That broken-winged sparrow finally needs to be put to rest.  It's like I'm flailing around wildly and clawing at those I don't mean to scratch.  And this is the part of this series where I realize I'm not the grand force I thought I was.  I share my story to reach others; I share my story to grow.  So, I suppose "Lucky Girl 2011" will be frequenting your walls if you want it.  It's a journey to self-discovery and subsequent acceptance.  Thank you deeply to those who have joined me, cried with me, drank with me, and shared your amazing experiences.  And to those who have come out on the sharp edge of this particular Lucky Girl, I apologize with everything I have left in me.  Everything.


It's time to close out the Lucky Girl series.  As my move to Chicago approaches, I'm attempting to completely shut the shoebox lid on certain elements of my 29 years of existence.  Scraping snapshots off the bedroom floor and fitting them between ceramic knickknacks and old pillowcases - it all seems to furiously fit.

I think it's time to give up the persona, the survivor-style facade I wear and just move on.  I too often let my past define me; and subsequently, it's become my identity.  This past week I was forced to let that identity die.  And I was floored to find it is far more painful to part with that part of myself than cling to it wholeheartedly.  I suppose it feels like I'm not as tough-skinned and brave as I thought I existed.  And perhaps, it makes me negligible without that serrated edge.  But I figured it was time to either let the past that I've been holding helplessly hostage die, or continue to live and be cyclically ruined by it.

I will most likely always be a sarcastic, somewhat self-deprecatory realist.  It just won't necessarily originate from a place of melancholy.  More like a place of legitimate snark and contempt.  I will always have that shoebox with me.  But it will just have to stay in the closet beneath layers of sweatshirts and old Skechers.  I have to admit that it is terribly frightening losing an identity, even if it is an unhealthy one.  I am no longer the Lucky Girl; I want to be a bit more simple than that...

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