How do we gain weight when society demands we stay hungry?
As a trained clinical professional, I know the eating disorder I’ve battled for over twenty years has been both my armor and enemy, the root of which is society’s fear-fueled pecking order. I never wanted to stay hungry but was forced to starve myself as part of an attempt to thrive in an oppressive construct I had no say in creating.
I didn’t edit myself to gain validation, likes or followers. I also never asked to be a burden. I just wanted the simple satisfaction of becoming a functioning, autonomous adult. Reclaiming inherited limits took society and those closest to me out of the equation. My eating disorder was like a thrifted piece of furniture; intentionally repurposed restriction.
The Man told me no. You can’t have this. You can’t have that. These fine things are for those who hustle harder. I once sincerely believed that wealth was earned by people of truly great character and that I was poor because I was fundamentally immoral. I now realize character and wealth have absolutely nothing to do with each other.
God told me yes. Yes you are. Yes I Am. Through me all things are possible. But god can’t pay the rent or physically protect us from seemingly real enemies. It was only this summer that I realized spiritual enlightenment and wealth also have nothing to do with each other. No matter how good, thin or woke I got it could never change the operating paradigm of a society that determines who is and is not on the list. Most of us will work twice as hard to go half as far. For better or worse, I’ve got a great metabolism.
If I was to be at the mercy of men, told to wait and wait and wait, while working towards nourishment across multiple domains of life, I’d be the one solely in control of the deprivation. My eating disorder has been the most accessible form of efficacy I’ve ever known, and it almost broke my heart.
Learning to deny basic needs was not a choice but rather a conscious response to the concrete dangers and limitations of reality for half my life. I say response, as opposed to reaction, because I’ve done it with absolute intention. I entered adulthood with a Ph.D in self-deprivation. I was the marshmallow kid who waited so long for sugar that by the time someone entered the room and said eat, I’d lost my appetite. Pop culture calls it resilience. Shrinks call it anhedonia. We don’t recommend it. You must mindfully commit to twenty years of delayed gratification to escape poverty, according to validated research. (Americans are currently losing their minds because they were asked to miss one barbecue.) I am mercilessly methodical. Ironically, I was simultaneously running on empty towards a life full of meaning, purpose, stability, maybe even joy, but had no concept of what that really meant or how to go about it, other than to get an education, watch QVC so I didn’t forget how to laugh and work a lot.
Being merciless on myself, at some point, became satisfying because it often came with rewards like ensuring my siblings were fed, graduating, offering the illusion of love, building a career, quieting the ruthless judgements of a terrified society and keeping a roof over my head. I was succeeding at creating distance between my right and left thigh, between my self, certain people and being born into a virtually untouchable caste except for a Gargoyle who couldn’t seem to keep his hands off me, all of which equated to a confusing mixture of safety, revulsion, silence, lying, reluctant compliance, gratitude and longing.
Hilda Bruch referred to anorexia as a cage. Cages are helpful in the sense that they clearly define exactly how far we’re allowed to go. Rather than remain exposed to the insult of systemic oppression, or face the once searing pain of being cut off from actualization, I found comfort in a self-determined prison. I became my own warden. Nothing and no one could ever truly get in.
I don’t know how else I would’ve moved up the ladder if I’d stopped to listen and respond to my body. Exhausted poor people who stop to rest are called lazy tax burdens. Exhausted rich people who stop to rest are called successful capitalists; we are both loves’ executioners.
I’d grown reflexively numb to my needs. The majority of wants were best left ignored. If I hadn’t acknowledged the world’s vehement rejection of the poverty, trauma and karmic debt we’ve accumulated, I might not have tried so hard to do something about it. Learning to navigate the gauntlet of exclusive ranks saved my life. Now and then, it threatens to take it.
Long before George Floyd was murdered, I witnessed my neighbors plucked and bloodied at random right from their stoops; one of whom was beaten until he stopped moving. In my three-year old mind I assumed he was dead and didn’t speak of or mourn his death until last year. Back then, there was no global revolution giving me permission to scream so I kept my mouth shut.
Years later I settled for being cattle prodded by healthcare corporations while offering my clients Sanctuary. I’ve been advocating for this transformation to take place beyond the walls of treatment facilities but I’m just a broken, obnoxious record. Knowing it could take centuries more to fully dismantle systemic oppression, I wrestle with looking for opportunities to be kind and remain pliant while clinging to this current rung.
Hold on loosely but don’t let go. If you cling to tightly you’re gonna lose control. -38 Special
When do we really get to say when? Can we set boundaries with God? Can love afford us shelter? Sometimes I wonder if I should’ve radically accepted and settled for blooming in the crack where I’d been planted. At least then I wouldn’t be subjected to Dave Ramsey‘s insulting advice: “Act your wage.” Well Dave, if I hadn’t busted my diminishing backside to get a dual master’s I’d still be 11.25 before taxes. Think about that folks. Can we really expect the majority of us to grow up when we can’t afford the accoutrements of adulthood?
How do we pay for rent, rest, protection and pursuits of fulfilling expression on minimum wage? Why are so many of us deemed minimal, then conveniently essential when pandemic duty calls and later degraded to major problems when the bill comes in? Are there no prisons?! Are there no workhouses?! Social mobility in a western, capitalist paradigm should kill us. If we we’re willing to be honest, it’s been killing all of us in various ways since the beginning. None of which has been soft, but rather the permissible, once invisible, violent erosion of the truth of who we are.
At the moment, I don’t feel proud, strong, brave or miraculous. (You’re a divine miracle. Did you know that? Chin up gutter pumpkins. We’re born in Providence. It all works out eventually.) I feel restless, tired, frustrated, amused and curious. The wealthy housewives, whose homes I once cleaned, confessed to me, long before I became a shrink, that they felt similarly; bored with their free time but too scared or tired to try something they might not be good at, frustrated and lonely in their marriages but unwilling to work jobs considered beneath them and potentially have to live without money in exchange for emotional freedom. There were firm but unspoken limits with regard to the amount of introspection I was allowed to encourage from them. There were no sanctions in place to protect my emotional privacy but parts of my employers lives remained proprietary information. The final difference was, I went home to sleep on a cot or floor and they got to rest their head in the bed I’d freshly made for them. Which begs the question, do we truly lie in the bed we’ve made or, was it made for us?
Climbing out of poverty, while lugging nightmares up the ladder, requires a level of sadism I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. The silver lining is it forced me to sort through all my baggage. I’ve done a ton of laundry, almost as much as professional embezzlers. I’m well aware of my stuff and continue to do the work of evolving. I just wish I could’ve taken an actual break to solely focus on self-regulation instead of squeezing it in between all the jobs, chores and anthropological research on how to be a ‘real’ person. Send my regards to the porcelain pilgrims who get carted off through brave, untamed wildernesses to recovery hotels and five star ashrams in foreign countries when they need healing. The only gentle break some of us get is death.
We’re implored to love ourselves, be kind, believe we’re enough. Pardon my skepticism, but all our best efforts have yet to be enough. Fortunately, I’m mercilessly optimistic too. As it stands, I’ve tried too hard to become slightly more than nothing. Clearly I haven’t tried hard enough to be all I can be, a real American hero for …Ken and Barbie? Who and what are you really recruiting to fight your wars? I’m asking for family and friends. We’re good enough to organize your closets, plunge your toilets, watch your kids, weed your gardens, manage your vacation condos, tolerate sexual advances from your husbands and sons, keep all your secrets, but our truth makes you uncomfortable, and you have the power to imprison, silence and monetize us. Some folks can’t sweep us under their imported Persian rugs fast enough, or worse, tokenize our lived experiences for their flourishing nonprofits. I don’t need a White flag of approval in order to pursue wholeness but I’d gladly offer a truce on behalf of us all.
The antidote to remaining at war with ourselves is choosing love regardless of conditions outside our control, one bite at a time.
It’s hard finding space for miscalculations and honesty in man made survival. There often hasn’t been enough square footage for feelings, transparency, food prep or self-actualized expansion. Eventually I’ll steal sleep to write about my theory on encultured codependence. People pleasing is a prescribed doctrine for the poor. We say yes, please and thank you to anything because we’re all too frequently reminded beggars can’t be choosers. There’s no 12 stepping our way outta that.
The budgets of the working poor can’t afford comfort, let alone the lazy rest medically required for neurobiological recovery in a fifty to seventy hour work week. Did you know it takes our bodies one hour to return to homeostasis after getting cut off in traffic? Now multiply the cortisol and adrenaline by a lifetime of fight and flight. It would take decades, that few have, to reconstruct the individual and collective, potholed, polyvagal highway. There are no idle idols, compassion, excuses or opportunities for intentional day dreaming, despite how tired this story has become. It feels like there is no one and nothing left to trust. But that’s a lie. (Cue Maury)
The truth is, our DNA is pure Love; the quantum creator consciousness of an entire universe lives in every single one of us. No wonder we’re bored and apathetic playing work and war and house. All we have to do is pause long enough to remember the magnitude of who we are before the world made us forget. We don’t need to trust the infallibility of our bank accounts, brother, sister or self. We’ve never needed to fight for or over it. There’s always been more than enough for all of us.