girl on fire

creativity, radical self-care, feminism, recovery.

celebrating eighteen months trying my best to have slightly less of an eating disorder than before 

So here’s an unedited piece of writing from today, the first per in a new series of weekly pieces of unedited writing about the side of eating disorder recovery you don’t see on Instagram. The “oh sweet Jesus I don’t even know what I’m doing” side. 

Oh man, but this does not get easier. 
Well, that’s not strictly true. A lot of things are a lot easier. But I come across new difficult stuff all. The. Time. I haven’t burst into tears in the supermarket for a good long while for example. But I’m kind of feeling generally disillusioned and, frankly, bored out of my goddamned mind with eating disorder recovery. The only thing that keeps me going most days is the sure and certain knowledge that relapse would definitely be worse. 

But I’ve been doing this whole recovery thing day in, day out for eighteen months now, and not every day can be instagram-levels of inspiring. Some days are just kind of mediocre. I do what other people do, I just make a bit more fuss about it. And most of the other days I try desperately just to be a “normal” person and completely balls it up. 

Take today, for instance. 

It’s one of my days off, which is a problem straight away, because recovery lives in routine while relapse thrives in chaos. I have no plans except “sort out the huge pile of laundry so you feel slightly more like a functioning adult”. My boyfriend is convinced I need to relax more, and I mean, he’s probably right, because on any given day I’m about as relaxed as a coiled python. So I try it. I lounge around. I sit. I start wondering if I’m doing this right. Maybe I should have a hoodie on for peak relaxation. I wonder if anyone has ever made a graph about that. I think if I wasn’t such a lazy piece of shit sitting down on a Monday morning I could make a graph about something like that but I never will because I’m bad at adulting and also at life and motivation. This is how quickly my brain works – I get from “hmm, maybe a hoodie?” to “you are a waste of oxygen” in about 0.7 seconds. 

Aha! I think to myself. Breakfast will surely help. But I’m a binge eater thinking about how much of a disappointment I am trying to prepare a meal, and that simply doesn’t end well man. So I make a strong coffee with four sugars and congratulate myself on what a balanced diet I am following. Half an hour later, when I can hear colours, I think, wow, that coffee was great. How about another? Now I get fancy. I use the espresso machine instead of the kettle and create something similar to vanilla flavoured kerosene. 

Have you ever drank way too much coffee in way too short a period of time? After the elation wears off, when your eyeballs are starting to do interpretive dance to La Bamba without any input from the rest of your body, do you know what happens? 

You guessed it guys. I got the shits!

They do not post this on Instagram, I’m tellin’ ya. You don’t see this on “14 recovery warriors you need to follow RIGHT NOW”. I can almost guarantee that – IN RECOVERY – they have made dumb ass choices about what to eat and caused fucking mayhem with their digestive system. 

And how do I know I’m still in recovery? When I’m sat on the toilet thinking “maybe some Greek yoghurt would have been a better shout”, how do I know if is that different to when I used to kneel in front of the toilet wondering when I was ever going to get my act together? I absolutely know I have not relapsed. 

Because I sat down for a bit longer after that. Then I made lunch. Solid food lunch. Ate it. That’s it. That’s the difference. I learn from these dumb ass mistakes. I try my hardest to make different and original mistakes every week.
I ate dinner too, and I congratulated myself on it. If some huge part of your brain is saying “how pathetic, to congratulate yourself on eating dinner”, firstly, don’t worry, that’s what I was thinking too. Secondly, welcome, you must be new here. Eating disorders take what is normal and easy and make it a task with a similar level of difficulty and trauma to brushing my cat’s teeth. And really, what would be normal and easy about supporting my body to live when it has housed everything I hated for so long? Why would that be a simple everyday task? It’s so difficult to do things that sustain life when you are hellbent on death. 

(Just try to imagine disliking someone so much that you would be happy for them to die a slow and painful death. They’ve hurt you and let you down and to top it off, they’re fat. Now imagine you live with them and it’s your job to cook for them and force them to enjoy a delicious meal. That is what my recovery is like)

There’s this point that recovery will always loop back to eventually: grow or die. Every type of recovery, every type of getting better from any addiction/mental health/vague neurosis type thing, it all comes down to that choice. Grow, change, adapt. Or die. The thing with the coffee happened today because I knew I didn’t want to die, but I wasn’t totally sure I wanted to grow. And so I sat in the middle, suffering. But the telling, the writing, the sharing – that’s the growth. That’s the change. Christ, today I took myself to a place where making myself a disappointing ham sandwich at 3pm was a choice I made to live. 

And THAT is what they don’t tell you on Instagram. There wasn’t a single thing I could take an aesthetically pleasing picture of today, and yet I still had a day in recovery. I made the choices I had to make in order to live one more day. 

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the return

And I want so badly to tell you that I’m free.

I want so badly to tell you I have left it all behind. That I never even think about eating five chocolate bars instead of one. That I love salads, and I exercise all the time, and the weight loss makes me love my body. That my eating is totally, one hundred percent, never ever disordered, and that this is recovery.

I’m so sorry, but that’s all bullshit.

I still think about food more often than not. I miss my eating disorder the way you miss a friend who as passed away: I know they’re still there somewhere, but I’d have to have a death wish to get to see them again.
I still hate the taste of food I make for myself. Other people have to tell me if my body has changed because I can’t see it. My body hasn’t looked the same to me for a very long time now. Sugar still soothes me. I didn’t use my food diary over Christmas. I feel just as ugly in size 20 clothes that are too big as I did in size 26 clothes that were too small. I feel like a fraud. I miss being too full to feel anything. I get bored of saying “no, thanks”. I want to weigh myself every day. I never ever want to weigh myself again. Some days the very taste of food is a miracle. Other days I miss the shovel and swallow reflex.

I’m supposed to talk to people, but mostly they don’t get it. “Look how much weight you’ve lost! You’re doing so well!” They think this is about my body. This has never been about my body. This is about control. Exerting total control over my emotions. It’s nearly impossible to cry with your mouth full. Try it if you don’t believe me. I’m supposed to talk to people, but they think I want to be thin. They think it matters.  Because my eating disorder made me fat, nobody really cares much where my head is at in my recovery. As long as they think I want to be thin, I could be living on apples and fresh air and I don’t know if they’d mind.

But being thin doesn’t mean to me what it means to them. To me thin has always meant visible – vulnerable. My body has been an insulation between my inner self and the rest of the world. Nobody wolf-whistles or catcalls, because there’s no challenge in prey that can’t run. My eating disorder gave me a body that was sexless. Just a mass. A lump. Seeing my waist return initially filled me with fear, because what if someone could grab me by it? If you can reach your hand all the way around my neck, you might choke me. Fat was protection. I know that not everyone understands that, and I’m jealous of them.

I’m angry at myself, or I’m angry at everyone else. On the bad days, both.

And all this – incredibly, unbelievably, ridiculously – is recovery. It really is.

Because however often I think (fantasise) about relapsing, I haven’t yet. However often I revert back to calling myself a fat bastard, I always correct myself. Eventually. I can run for a bus and still breathe afterwards. I still cook for myself and eat what I’ve made even when it isn’t as comforting or familiar as a takeaway. Even when chewing one mouthful of  vegetables feels like it takes a year. Asking myself if this chocolate bar would really serve me. Getting out of this competitive weight loss bullshit. Knowing that I can have a McDonalds if I really want to and it isn’t even a relapse because I am allowed anything and everything – in moderation.

I can buy matching underwear for the first time in my life, and occasionally I permit myself to think I look good. I get genuine joy out of Primark pyjamas I never would have fitted into a year ago. I can sort of see the changes in my body out of the corner of my eye every now and then, like they’re approaching over the horizon. I can almost imagine loving this body. I see muscles appearing and strength forming under my skin, holding me up when I feel wobbly. I’m starting to feel like I was made for more than just standing still. One day in work I thought I had developed two huge hernias and someone else had to tell me they were actually my hip bones. Necklaces hang between my collar bones in a way I could never pull off four dress sizes ago.

I know the danger signs now. I know the feelings and behaviours that would pull me back into my eating disorder. I know that it’s like a phantom limb. Even though I’m not supposed to, I will still feel the itch. And even if I tried to scratch it, I would never get relief.

And I know what recovery isn’t too. It’s not yoga mats, or avocados, or fucking herbal tea. It’s not your perfect plate of food that you Instagrammed to feel good about yourself or your sodding third eye. Recovery is sitting at the hard edge of feelings you have tried to escape your entire life and knowing there is nowhere to go with them. That you just have to sit in it and try not to die. Some nights that’s the best recovery gets. And your therapist won’t have ever bloody mentioned that to you. She won’t mention that things in life will happen and they will hurt. Sometimes they hurt a lot. And so you sit with that hurt and wait it out. But being able to feel? That’s recovery. Feeling angry and frightened and wanting to hide away but still eating a good breakfast and going to work. To have an emotion and still function like a goddamn normal person. That’s a level of recovery I have never even dreamed of, and it makes me feel like a fuckin’ warrior.

I’m nearly a year in recovery now. It’s amazing.

(Welcome back to my blog. It’s been a while! To see where I was at before recovery came and grabbed hold of me, check out <a href=”https://mizalisonclare.wordpress.com/2014/11/13/everybody-worships-the-only-choice-we-get-is-what-to-worship/&#8221; target=”_blank”>this post</a> )

 

25, Single, Unemployed – or, Why Being Fucking Iconic Doesn’t Help You Get A Job

I could give you the facts of my life, or I could give you the truth.

The facts: I am twenty five years old. I have no job, no partner, no children. I have no vocation. I have no financial security, no credit rating, no criminal record, no major health problems. My last major academic achievement was a slightly above average degree from a slightly above average university slightly less than three years ago. I have only one year of work experience. I have nice parents and nice neighbours and I live in a nice area. I claim an average amount of benefits. I have never spent more than two consecutive weeks outside the city of my birth. I haven’t had a romantic relationship with any depth or meaning since becoming an adult.

This really bothers me.

I try and tell people I am worried about my age – that I don’t like being twenty-five. They seem to think this is slightly dense, or that I don’t know how lucky I am, or that I’m falling prey to some pretty toxic myths about the value society places on ageing women. To some extent, these might all be true. But really, what bothers me it that on paper – CV, passport – I seem to have amounted to very little in a quarter century. Some people try and tell me that this doesn’t really matter. I find they are usually people who are not and have never been in this situation.

Finding a job can be nearly impossible most days. My disposition is nowhere near up to another call centre, I might go mad with boredom in an administrative post. Retail is okay, but targets are not, and I have found myself to be mostly allergic to the politics and bullshit that seems to accompany pretty much all jobs.

I am instructed to tell employers about time served on the phones, and how this has made me patient and understanding. I am instructed to tell them that my communication skills are good – nay, excellent – due to my degree in a language whose usage is in steady decline. These are the facts: the truth is a little more complex. Time served in a call centre had roughly the same effect as time served in prison: fat and dull-eyed from the constant diet of junk food and being told I’m worthless, convinced I will never succeed afterwards. My degree cost years of my life and left me thousands of pounds in debt (ironically, around £25,000 at last count) and isn’t good for much except teaching, which I can’t afford to study.

I honestly don’t think employers need to know any of this. If I could choose, I would tell them such different things. I would tell them about getting sober at twenty, crouched like a child in the ruins of my own life. I would tell them that I actually failed my first two years at university, and about learning that I can succeed in the face of odds stacked almost comically against me. I would tell them that I know I am really fucking strong because when I was late to lectures I would be racked with fear and desperate not to walk in, but I would do it anyway. I would tell them that next month I will, G*d willing, celebrate five years of continuous sobriety, about how I prove myself every damn day, about the deep and profound commitment I made to change and how I stick to it. I would tell my new employer that, yes, I was on my knees with depression and anxiety and that that’s probably a risk to employing me in the future. But I would tell them that every single day I was on my knees, I still got washed, and dressed, and ate three meals, and left the house, when it felt like climbing a mountain and all I really wanted was to stay in bed. I would tell them that I learn quick, I improve quicker, that when the chips are down I will always come through because in the past the stakes have been my life, and I don’t fuck about with my life. Not anymore, at least. I would tell them they’d be lucky to have me, and fools to let me go. I would tell them that I am terrified of everything, including but not limited to: spiders, job interviews, getting locked in a toilet cubicle, someone I love dying, having wonky eyebrows. I would tell them that despite often fucking crippling fear, I can still manage to be brave and funny and sweet and loving and helpful. I would tell them that I try and serve a higher purpose than my own self-interest these days, but that my own self-interest still gets her own way a lot of the time. I would tell them that this is all about progress, not perfection. I would tell them that I can do a brilliant Nicki Minaj impersonation, that my first book will be an analysis of feminism in hip-hop and I will call it Anaconda.

I will tell they’d be lucky to have me, and fools to let me go.

Lucky to have me.

Foolish to let me go.

I am lucky to have me.

I would be foolish to let me go now.

When I Feel Like Crap, I Think About Mighty Heart

So I am back in the same old place: knee deep in my eating disorder for so long that it’s not so much a relapse as normal service being resumed. I don’t think you can relapse when you have so thoroughly given up on recovery. I have spent most of this week bent double in pain feeling that fat-heavy-dirty feeling of too many binges in the last month. I want to stop. I literally want to lie down in the middle of my life and say – enough. No more. Please let this go away. I don’t want to work at it. I don’t want to try. I don’t want to be in recovery. I just want it to stop. 

Despair is exhausting. I am looking for a get-out clause at the same time as convincing myself there isn’t one. I am bone tired, tired of the helplessness and the guilt and the shame and the dread I feel every morning thinking about how much I am going to eat that day. I have convinced myself that I am letting everyone down.  That more is expected of me – that I do not live up to everyone’s high hopes and deep dreams for my life. I wonder if I will ever live a normal life. I spend hours on the couch scared to move in case I am redirected to the kitchen cupboards. This is the reality. I want to tell you that it’s getting better but it isn’t – I am on a downward spiral that seems beyond my control. 

To borrow a cliché: it’s always darkest before the dawn. 

Because the sun is coming. This week I watched Mighty Heart Theatre’s beautiful play “When I Feel Like Crap I Google Kim Kardashian Fat” again. And oh. Oh. It got to that part of me that is so often silenced by one-more-mouthful of food. It showed me what I have suspected for a while. That this is no life – this is no way to love myself. That there is something else, somewhere else. A place of hope. A place where you can talk honestly about it all, make jokes about your relationship with food to women who get that it’s not just a joke. I am making my appointment for treatment on Monday. I am getting back on the merry-go-round. I am eating bran flakes for breakfast. I am going to reclaim my digestive system. And yes, I am fucking terrified of the work. Yes, I am sometimes fucking bored of the recovery. But more than the fear what I want is next summer to go see that play in Edinburgh and say to Lisa and Sam and Esther: look what you have helped me to do. Tell them that I am holding their mighty hearts in my mighty heart and took them to every appointment with me. Tell them that my going out routine no longer involves thinking up comebacks to insults. Tell them that I have a new story. Maybe I had to hear someone else tell it before I could realise how much better I would be without it.

So here I am: rock bottom. Again. But this time I can see people waiting for me further up, I can see people climbing up with me. This time I don’t want to come back. 

All it took was a mighty heart.  

How Do You Feel Better About Yourself? 

And so here’s the thing. Self love takes hard work. I can’t give you the Five Steps To A Fulfilled Life. This implies that at some point you become fulfilled and it’s all great for the rest of your life. I say with deep feeling that this sentiment is bullshit of the most toxic variety. I can tell you that right when you feel most invincible something will take you to your knees again. But what happens is getting up gets easier with practice. 

Self love is not about buying books or herbal supplements. A burning passion is more important than burning calories. If someone tells an insult at you in the street, pray that their pain will go away soon. Don’t take the pain from them and make it your own. I’d say I’m no expert but that would be a lie. 
Self love is your life’s work. Some days the biggest act of self love I can muster is breathing. Some days I love myself so much my hands tingle with it, I understand that to meet me is to be inspired, that I am beautiful beyond all logic and reason. Self love is not the easy way out. It’s about doing the right thing when nobody is watching. 
Sometimes self love is tough love. Getting out of bed even though it’s difficult. Taking part in life when it feels like walking through treacle. Letting go of the people who are served by your denial of your full power. Stepping up and getting your shit together when times are rough. I don’t pander to myself today. I serve a higher purpose than my own instant gratification. I learn to love myself, I yearn to love myself. There is no recipe, no formula. It is alchemy that requires my absolute surrender to succeed. 
Am I willing to work my arse off every day on this? 
Am I willing to accept my total equality to everybody else? 
Am I on the floor with nowhere to go but up? 
Do I trust the plan enough to love my pain and bless my tormentors – even if that means blessing myself? 
Until the answers are yes, I am only going through the motions. I am dipping a toe in the water and complaining that my feet are wet. And I know this because the answers are yes and I am forced every day to work at acts and words of love. 
Tonight I went to see a play that had words in it taken from an interview I did about body image. I wasn’t totally surrendered when I did that interview. I was still in the cycle of hating myself and hating the world alternately. And when I heard the words I knew them as mine but realised I didn’t want them anymore. I forgot how angry I can be. I forgot that I could frighten people with the depth of my disgust. I saw myself, my sweet scared self, as I was. I could have broke my heart crying for that girl. And for about an hour, that hurt. All I had was that seam of self hatred to mine. You are fucked up. You are impossible to love. Look at you. Nobody wants that. 
And yet – and yet. I have that willingness now. I know that feeling that pain is necessary. I know that it is okay. But I know that for the most part my pain talks shite. My pain is not the most sensible part of me. So I do the work. I remember. I say: yes, I was angry. But three women have taken that anger and created something beautiful from it. They have reined its power in and made it something to love. I say: yes, I was hurting. But I have forged the hurting into a rock solid core of self care. I am not the kind of person to sit in that today. So I buy a cup of tea – and a cake, full disclosure – in the train station, and I make something beautiful from it. I make something that I can be proud of. I remember that I am so fucking powerful that sometimes it IS frightening. And I tell myself that it’s okay. 
The Mighty Heart Theatre Company are performing “When I Feel Like Crap I Google Kim Kardashian Fat” in Manchester at the moment. Follow them on Twitter here

Speechless

It’s not like it is on TV.

There are no bleeping heart monitors. Nurses are harried and busy and have twenty-four hours work to do in twelve. The overarching feeling is boredom with an undercurrent of sheer terror. My nana is awake only intermittently. She’s not wearing her glasses, or her dentures. She looks like a distorted version of herself, with her mouth drooping on one side to reveal the sores on her tongue. She hides her now-useless right arm under the covers, and makes loud noises of protest if you try to touch it. She cannot speak, though she tries her best.

The silence is the worst part. My nana always kept up a steady narration of her life. Everything was commented on, everything was scrutinised. If you caught her in the right moods – which are few and far between these days – she would tell you stories, tall tales about the Blitz and the Land Army and being a good Catholic girl marrying a bad Protestant boy.

The silence is the worst part.

She would accuse me sometimes of only coming round because I wanted pocket money. I would give my right arm to hear her berate and nag me. I would let the words leave me, I would let my mouth droop down, to hear once more the story of her brand new white buckskin shoes and how she ruined them by running away over a field from a rubbish date. I would give her my right arm to hear one last time her descriptions of TV shows where she can’t name half the characters.

I sit next to her. I lean on the railings of the bed. In two hours I have more physical contact with her than I have in the last few years. I stroke her hair. I hold her hand. I place my arms on her legs as they jerk and twitch. I speak to her. I don’t know how much she hears, how much she understands. I tell her my name over and over again. I read articles from Take a Break. Sing along to Smooth FM. I buy her a teddy. She leaves it under her good arm and I try to convince myself it has helped. My vigil continues.

The silence is the worst part.

I sip coffee, feel guilty that her mouth is dry and mine is not. I smile shyly at the nurses, consultants. The lady in the next bed offers me a compassionate word and a hand on my arm, and I feel like telling her not to be nice to me because I will fall apart. I wonder why she can talk while my nana cannot. When the tears come I stare out of the window until I can control myself. She must not see me cry. I say the serenity prayer. They talk about her frailties and I want to scream at them. Frail? My nana is not frail. Hell and high water never kept her down. I hear her voice tell me she used to hide behind the couch from the priest because the talk of fire and brimstone frightened her when she was small. I think about Eddie, the first man she loved, who is not my grandfather, whose sister did not like her. I remember standing next to her at the service for Land Girls in Liverpool Cathedral, and pray that she is still as proud to have me at her side today as she was then.

The silence is the worst part.

I try to keep up a continual chatter but find it nearly impossible. I try to retell the story of the buckskin shoes. I ask her if she wants me to just shush up and let her sleep. She doesn’t move or speak in response. I want to get into her bed and rock her like a child. I want to mother her. I want to tell her that everything is okay, but the words stick in my throat because I know that it is a lie. I want to tell her I love her but I am terrified that she won’t believe me. Her silence robs me of my ability to speak. I sit there thinking, my God, I’m a writer, I should be able to tell her a story. But what stories are there to tell to her now? She has heard them all, she has lived them all. She has had children, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She has been married and widowed. She lived through a war, with dead bodies laid out on the table in the back parlour of her childhood home. What can I tell this woman, except that if I had known she would lose her ability to speak, I would have treasured her words all the more.

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Love Your Pain

Once upon a time, I was a girl who walked free of stress, pain, trauma. I was free in every sense of the word. I loved reading, and Disney princesses, and Barbies, and I had no burdens. However, life – as it is wont to do – started to happen to me. Life started off giving me small and manageable stresses, shaped like lumps of coal and easy enough to carry with me. Other people saw them, but they saw me coping with me. As I got older, and life became a little more difficult, and strange, unspeakable things happened to me, these small burdens became a great weight that I had to carry on my back. Other people seemed to still be skipping around, dealing with their stresses easily, and this made me very unhappy. The more I dwelt on how unfair my burdens were, the heavier they got. I was angry, and short-tempered, and mean, and for this I blamed the people in my life whose loads seemed very light compared to mine. I felt hard done by, set upon.

One day, the burdens became so heavy that I simply had to stop walking through life. I had to lie down and surrender. No. I cannot lift this alone anymore. Please help me. And as if by magic, all of the people around me who seemed to know what they were doing, who seemed to be doing so much better than me, all pulled from their pockets lumps of coal, small versions of the weight that was killing me. This seemed to me like the final straw, and a great injustice, until they explained that they had once been like me, that they had surrendered like me, that their burdens had once been so heavy they felt life could not continue. They explained to me that whilst I could do nothing about my burden alone, they would be happy to lift it from me and set it on the ground, and we could all chip away at it together. They promised me I would be surprised by how well it would work.

So we placed my great burden on the ground, and looked at it. For a moment, it seemed even bigger than I had imagined. I was happy to relinquish most of it: childhood name-calling, texts that went unanswered, arguments I barely remembered. These great chunks of pain simply rolled away once I decided I no longer had need of them. I was warned that I could pick them back up any time I wanted, and that they might even lie in wait on the ground to trip me up.

After all of these little nothings had been chipped away, I noticed there were some things that seemed impervious to the methods we tried. Some things that I did not feel ready to let go of. Some things that it would be too hard to let go of. And I grieved this, for I wanted to skip through life without a single burden as I had once done before. Someone took me aside and explained this to me.

Some of these are burdens that you will simply have to carry for the rest of your life. They have become too much a part of who you are and how you think for you to let them go now. They are harder than coal, and heavier than rocks, and they will be with you always

I was much disheartened, but decided that I had let enough of my other troubles go and could once again resume the long walk of life. And so I continued, changed forever by the heaviest parts of me, as it had been predicted. And yet I began to notice that one of these hard, heavy troubles was changing. I brought this secret trouble out into the world, and I showed it to people. I spoke about how it came to be and what it meant for me to carry this. I showed that it still held me back in some parts of my life. The more I talked, the more the secret changed. It grew brighter, it grew so bright that it started to reflect rainbows from its surface.

I got so excited about these changes that I started to tell more and more people. I shouted about it. I posted it on the damn Internet! Look, everyone, look at this! My secret is no longer a secret, and sharing it has made it beautiful! Sharing it has me proud! It no longer looks the same. I can wear it around my neck without weighing myself down, and it will reflect my beauty and magnify my strength, and people will no longer know me for my shame, but for the diamonds I have forged out of the darkest, coal-black secrets of my pain.

The glow of these diamonds is made by shining a light on my deepest secrets. By experiencing the pain I had ignored for so long. This is how I learned to love my pain. This is how I have learned to hold it close and treasure it as part of me. To give it some room to breathe. And when the time is right, I thank my pain and let it go. Polish away the grime of it. I let it go and through that I harden it into something like armour. My pain is my treasure and my comfort, for it teaches me that I can turn my deepest shame into my brightest light. Pain is not to be feared, because one day my experiences will cast light onto my best self. Pain is not to be feared, but welcomed in.

Last year I learnt to love my pain, because it gave me the gift of diamonds.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 760 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 13 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

“Everybody Worships. The Only Choice We Get Is What To Worship”

David Foster Wallace speaking at the 2005 Commencement Address of Kenyon College, USA. 

When I was a teenager, I was an atheist. I was the worst kind of teenager, and the worst kind of atheist – and what a natural Venn diagram that is! I was obnoxious, belligerent, arrogant, convinced of the total right-ness of every single thing I believed. I knew there was no God, just as I knew that anyone who used fake tan was a complete idiot, just as I knew that Morrissey was the greatest musician, nay, human being, known to mankind. It turns out I was massively wrong about all three.

I’m still not a religious woman. I don’t think I ever will be. I can’t foresee the future, but most religious institutions have an undercurrent of misogyny and homophobia that is, ahem, incompatible to my lifestyle. But just as today I am sure that fake tan has its uses for a pale gal wishing to go bare-legged in July, and that Morrissey can be a right tosspot, I am sure that there is a power greater than myself in this world. I know this because every day of my life I have been bent supine at the altar of one power or another. I did not realise this until I started to bend supine to a power that could actually embrace and fulfil all my needs. Until I gave all of myself to a power greater than myself through choice, I could not see that I had unconsciously given myself away every day. Even in the depths of my most belligerent atheism, I had worshipped profoundly.

In the depths of an eating disorder, I have worshipped food with the all devotion and fervour of a Catholic at the rosary. I have set aside other things to make room for my relationship with food. I set aside human concerns and became consumed (pun most definitely intended) by an almost religious ecstasy for the simple cycle of binge and purge. Food would rule my day. Waking early with a belly heavy from the prayers of the day before, I would force myself to forgo nourishment until a certain time of day so that I would know I was fully punished before my God. I would use this time of fasting and meditation to think on exactly the ways in which I had failed: I would meticulously count each calorie, I would confess them to the fridge door and make hideous promises I would never keep about how today I swear it will be different. My life was not my own. Food was my saviour and my sacrifice. I saw other people living a free life, and knew that total anxiety was not the normal reaction to a day without chocolate. The life I led was always on the edge of a great chasm, and to fill that chasm and block myself from the pain of feeling it, I used the great anaesthetic power of sugar. I learnt that if you eat enough chocolate quickly enough it is basically a mind-altering substance. I had mystical experiences in tubs of Ben and Jerry’s. I laughed at people who had fat days and worried about eating one KFC, these Pharisees in my temple who thought that one day of servitude could match the sacrifice I had made, the lifetime of potential I had lay down on the altar and burnt up like incense.

Like any good novice I believed that everything I gave up for my saviour would be repaid to me tenfold. Every meal I skipped, or family pack of Kettle Chips I gorged on brought me closer to divinity, closer to quieting the sense of gnawing unease that only chewing, swallowing, purging, rinsing would bring to an end. I did not realise I had made a fatal error in my calculations. I did not realise that my God did not love me back. I knew that I could miss out on dates with attractive people, shopping in the same places as my friends, feeling sexual, feeling full, feeling hungry. I did not know that I was not being given back something better. I did all of these things because I believed it would pay off. I believed that if I gave enough up it would be paid back in kind. That I would somehow be cleverer, brighter, happier than all of the people who did not live to serve as I did. And so I worshipped, and on many days I continue to do so. I make the same pledges at the fridge door. I tell myself I am doing better because I no longer purge. I convince myself that the heavy feeling in my stomach is contentment rather than a health condition brought on by my lifestyle.

This is why I need something better to worship: because what I have spent most of my life worshipping is going to kill me. My arteries will block up with my love for this God. My limbs will collapse under the weight of my fervour. But as any convert will tell you, changing your religion is hard work. When Charlotte changes her religion to Judaism in Sex and the City, she has one last Christmas tree to say goodbye to Christianity. She has a strength of will I don’t understand. I have one last ritual about every four days. But I do have a new higher power, who does not need to battle for supremacy, who just waits patiently til I am ready to give up mutilating myself in favour of starting to love myself. I’m glad it’s waiting patiently, because this will take a long time. It will take a long time for me to fully relinquish the practices I have adhered to so strongly for so long.

It will take years to undo the damage of years. I know that I may always look at food as something that can destroy as easily as it can nourish. I know that I cannot wake up one morning and unzip the body I am locked into like I used to dream about doing. But in the meantime, the power of the universe, the power of my best self, Love in all its many forms, whatever you want to call that force which sustains you and pushes you towards the life you are meant to have…that force, that power is within me, waiting for me to stop counting, stop promising, stop working so damn hard at feeding something that will kill me. I would like nothing more than to finish this post with a powerful declaration that I have been freed from this demon, that it is exorcised, but I cannot. I still dance this dance every day.

Today my hope and my strength is found in knowing that there is something greater, and that one day I will finally allow myself to only ever be nourished. That voice in my head that tells me the third chocolate bar is a great idea might never go away completely, but one day I trust I will be able to say ‘no’. As simply and as perfectly as that – no, thank you. It is against my religion.

 

 

Things That Don’t Quite Happen, And Things That Happen So Hard I Fall Over

On Thursday 9th October 2014, BBC Radio 5live’s Breakfast show hosted a phone-in asking for listeners’ opinions on whether convicted rapist Ched Evans should be permitted to rejoin professional football when he leaves prison in six weeks’ time. His case is currently under review and he has served two years of a five year sentence. The views given varied widely, but were mostly from men. I was riding in a taxi with a driver who listened to this show. And then something nearly happened. But not quite. 

I got out of the taxi and stood waiting for the bus that was the second leg of my journey to work. It was 9.45am. I did something I had never done before. I texted in to a radio show, letting them know my opinion. I didn’t add my name or where I was from, but I decided that I would give them the truth, my truth, and they could use it how they wanted. This is what I told them:

Seven years ago this month I was raped. If Evans wanted to continue being a professional footballer maybe he should have considered that before he raped somebody. He has received two years imprisonment for a crime that will have a lifelong effect on his target….For the FA to allow him to play would be for them to condone his actions and utterly disrespect and dehumanise a woman who will right now be trying to rebuild her life after a devastating event.

About fifteen minutes after I sent this, on the 14A to Tower Hill, I got a call from a withheld number. To be totally honest, I assumed it was United Utilities. I ignored it. I got a voicemail a couple of minutes later – now, I know that United Utilities don’t leave voicemails. I listened to it. A woman named Lucinda, a researcher for the BBC, had left me a message telling me I had a “valued perspective” and she wanted to talk to me further. She said other things which were as sweet and as gentle as you would want the response to that text message to be. I made the instant decision that I did not want to discuss this on the bus, and resolved to call her as soon as I got to work, knowing that the show would most likely be over by then, but utterly sure that speaking my truth had indeed set me free in some minor way. So I called the number she had left, and was told by someone not quite as sweet and gentle as Lucinda that they were off-air.  I wasn’t quite on the radio yesterday. By this point my body was bursting with adrenaline. I told someone in work what hadn’t quite happened, including that I am a survivor of rape.

In that funny way the universe has of dovetailing experiences that seem unconnected, I have been attending counselling for the issues surrounding my experience of rape for the last few weeks. Today was my fourth session. And I told my counsellor this little story, an amusing anecdote about missing being on the radio because the 14A has such a torturously long route. Yet she found something in my story that was quite remarkable. She didn’t say that to me straight away, but she drew me in, like she has this way of doing, forcing me to look closer and closer at individual parts of my story until I caught up with her.

“SURVIVOR. I said I am a survivor!”

I told someone – nay, I posted on FACEBOOK – that I am a survivor. I didn’t mean it in a general, Gloria Gaynor kind of way, you know, I’ve had bad boyfriends but I live to flirt another day kind of way. I am a survivor of rape. I am a survivor of rape.

This may or may not be a phrase you have heard before. This may or may not be a phrase that describes you. Whatever your relationship to this phrase is, I would ask that you, my treasured reader, humour me to expand a little on what it means to me. Don’t worry – this story has a happy ending.

Until very recently, my friends, I was a rape victim. This may be easier for those of you who haven’t experienced rape to understand. A terrible thing happened to me, which simultaneously crushed me under its weight and left me in emotional free fall. For a really long time. I will not describe the experience itself; I will talk about how it affected me as a person. I used to have a life built on simple truths. That red meant stop, green meant go. That smiling meant happy and frowning meant sad. And if you told somebody to stop, you had a perfect right to expect them to listen to you. Seven years ago this changed. I told somebody to stop and they did not listen. All of a sudden, no doesn’t mean no anymore. And just like that, as if by magic, the world falls apart under your feet. The best way I can describe it is probably to liken it to your house being burgled: someone being in there without your permission makes you feel unsafe in that place. That was how my body felt. Unsafe, insecure. I added other words to that list over time: dirty, shameful, abandoned. I felt like the ruins of an old house that had once been beautiful but was now falling apart, and had a sign on the door saying DANGER – DO NOT ENTER. I felt like the rock solid foundations of my life had exploded. Naomi Wolf discusses in her book “Vagina – A New Biography” that people who have experienced sexual violence are easier to push over – literally – than those who haven’t. I know in my body what this means. My core had disappeared and I felt like I could float away on the wind. I tried many things to ground me, to keep me whole and in one piece when everything seemed to be tearing apart. I put on a lot of weight, I tried to literally be heavier, and have more gravity, and be able to stick to the floor. I drank a lot. I spent a lot of time convincing myself of new truths, more complicated truths. That I was a bad person, that I had been punished in some way for some misdemeanour or other. This is what being a rape victim meant to me. To feel constantly like the ground I stand on shifts below me.

Being a survivor is different, though. I thought for a while that being a survivor would mean that I would get my rock solid foundation back. This hasn’t happened. I don’t think I’ll ever have a rock solid foundation again. But just for today I am totally okay with that, because what I have is more precious and harder-earned by far. That solid feeling, that core that was made of reinforced steel, today it feels like fire. I feel as if I have been burned but emerged purified and renewed. That fire, that I can almost feel when I put my hand on my tummy, is sometimes glowing embers that I neglect and worry over and poke at and think “I’m sure this used to be hotter, and brighter”. And some days, days like today, it is flames that shoot so far up my torso I am certain people can see them in my eyes. This is what happens to me when I have a really great conversation with someone, or when somebody pays me a compliment from their heart, or when I even think about writing. Those flames are dancing in my heart right now as I write this. In my manifesto for healing, more than a year ago now, I wrote that to heal you need to “feed the flames of your own magnificence”. I had no idea how true that would end up being for me. Every day I need to feed the flames of my magnificence. Fire can be destructive, but sometimes it can bring life and light and renewal and purity. And the certain belief that the shame of what happened does not belong to me. That shame is not mine but another’s. What I have today is pride, pride in surviving, pride in being the woman that I am, pride that I remain unafraid of openness and vulnerability and honesty, pride in my writing, pride in my love. I stand firm, ablaze with the truth that I have survived, I do survive, I will continue to survive.

 

There are so many people without whom this post would never have been possible, who have kept me alive til today, but right now there are four people I need to thank: my parents, for loving me consistently and fiercely through all of this and even when it must have been difficult to. Elloa Atkinson, for the best-timed message I’ve ever received. And of course, Lucinda, that gentle BBC researcher who gave me the courage to take more leaps of faith in 24 hours than I have in the past year. I’m going to tweet this to 5live and hope it finds her…