When I was a kid I attended a lot of AA meetings. I can't say it's something that many of my friends did, but there was someone in my family who needed to attend. We were a working class family that made ends meet, but not with many luxuries and babysitters were a luxury. Not that anyone really wanted to babysit for us. We lived in the country, didn't have cable, and on top of that didn't even own a VCR. So I'd get piled in the car with some books to read and more often than not I'd fall asleep part way through the meeting.
Parts of those meetings are ingrained on me. I still know the Serenity Prayer and kind of hate it which means I'll be able to recite when I'm 80. I still remember the coffee and donuts that were served after. I remember the clatter of chairs and the hum of people talking. I remember the respect that was given to each person in attendance. This isn't leading up to a declaration of sobriety, though I can tell you that I rarely drink wine now because it gives me insomnia and I turns out I like sleep a lot more than I like wine. It does mean that whenever someone tells me they are an alcoholic I tamper down the inclination to reply with a resounding "Hi [insert name here]!" But as I was lying in bed last night, after another crappy day in a string of crappy days, I realized something and spent most of the night thinking about it.
Hello, my name is Karen. I am a disordered eater and it is how I self-harm.
Those of you who know me well, or who have read my other posts around the web, are probably familiar with my disordered eating. It started in university when I didn't have money. My only insurance was my pantry full of food that I was terrified to eat since I didn't know how I would replace it. If that pantry had food in it I was okay, even if I couldn't bring myself to eat. But once that food was gone I'd be hopeless. Those were the days when I borrowed rent money from a professor and didn't leave the apartment because if I did I might have to spent money and that made me panic.
It was a pattern that would repeat itself for years. Money would get tight and I would tighten the control on my pantry. When things became too stressful, I wouldn't eat -- couldn't eat, actually, without forcing myself to gag down bites of food that would otherwise be appetizing to me. And perhaps it should have been evident this was the way I self harmed, but I never thought of it that way until last night.
It has not been a good month. It's been an even worse week. I've cried more days than I haven't in the past seven days. Yesterday was not a good day and I desperately needed an easy night so, of course, dinner was a disaster. I turned away from the slow cooker, whose meaty contents had the texture of a rubber ball, two hours after dinner should have been served and declared to my husband that I was just DONE. As he came into the living room with a banana, game to wait it out in the hopes that the rubber may turn into something edible, I burst into tears and begged him to please just make himself something to eat.
So he did. And I ate nothing. We finished watching our movie and I crawled into bed. I thought about how goddamned lucky I was. There was a man on one side of me who would love to be able to do nothing more than slay all the dragons but knows that there are some things he just can't fix for me. On the other side was my furry, grumpy guardian, taking up far too much of the bed than she really needs but sensing something was wrong and therefore was being velcro-kitty while armed and ready with a wicked right hook should it be needed. I was lying there, surrounded by my dragon-slayers, thinking how stupid I was being and crying and yet not willing to give it up and go eat.
Because the knowledge that I was being stupid wasn't as powerful as the comfort of that empty ball of hunger sitting in the pit of my stomach. The hunger and emptiness gave physical feeling to my mental state. It felt like how all of me felt and it was both comfort and relief. In the moment I realized that I recognized it for what it was -- self-harm. I wish I could tell you at that moment I hauled my ass out of bed and ate a damned piece of cheese but I didn't. I stayed there and I cried some more and I eventually fell asleep.
I know some of you are still judging my parents for taking me to AA meetings when I was kid but it was probably the one of the better parenting decisions they made. I didn't understand much of what was being said at the time. I remember little of what people confessed. I do remember that I saw people from all walks of life. I saw mechanics and fishermen and teachers and successful businessmen and politicians. I learned that being smart has little to do with some of the decisions we make and that everyone has their dragons. I watched people who had picked up 5 year chips in one meeting, fall off the wagon and pick up their 30 day chip a few weeks later.
I learned that we face our dragons every day. Each day is a new battle. We face those dragons alone, even if we have dragon-slayers who want to help, because at the end of the day it's just us and that stupid dragon. But I also learned this -- every day is a new beginning. Every day we get to make choices. We can choose to let the dragon win or we can tell that dragon to suck it.
When I shared on social media last night that dinner was a disaster and I'd just be sitting in the corner crying, a very smart woman told me to be gentle with myself. I thought of that last night in bed, too.
Before I woke this morning, my dragon-slayer kissed my forehead on his way out of the house, as he does every morning. When I got up, the cat stood guard at the door while I showered. I got dressed, did my hair, and came downstairs. I made myself a bowl of yogurt and granola. I poured myself a glass of orange juice. I decided I'd make better choices today than I did yesterday. Today I will be gentle with myself. Today I will slay the dragon.