Monthly Archives: October 2014

Gonna Make This Place Your Home

There’s a line in a pop song by Phillip Phillips: “Just know you’re not alone, ‘cause I’m gonna make this place your home.” It came out nearly two years ago, and it never fails to make me uncomfortable. Why? Because its release coincided with the time, shortly after selling our home, that I found out about the hidden debt that meant we had no chance of getting a loan for a new place, possibly ever. The song seemed to mock me.

I always tell myself I’m lucky to have anywhere to live. I tell myself I’m extremely lucky to have had the privilege of home ownership for a while, even if I never have it again. It’s true. But I get scared and anxious when I’m uncertain about where I’m going to live. A year ago, after this news, my family went through a hard process trying to find a place to rent; we were rejected from many due to the abysmal credit rating that had come as such a shock. We were really lucky to get this place, and I’m pretty sure we only got it because of some minor quirks it has.

Last night, we were informed that the owner of this house is pretty sure he wants to put it on the market in the spring.

Naturally, I took the news with all of the serenity and maturity one would expect from someone working a program of recovery…and if you believe that, I have some lovely metaphorical swampland to sell you. I’m scared. I’m having trouble drawing a full breath. I sneaked downstairs and ate slices of bread at 5 a.m. to try to ease the pain in my chest (and damn it, I’d had nearly a week free of that kind of fucking around.)

It’s not going to be pretty when the time comes–we’re good tenants; we have the income to pay our rent and a history of doing so on time, but people really care about credit ratings these days. But I can’t afford to freak out about this! I have a daughter to teach, a school system to answer to–and, as always, two-plus potentially disastrous conditions to treat and manage.

Go to any meeting in the recovery community and you’ll hear people going through much harsher situations. I know, oh, I really do know. This morning alone, I talked to someone who was counting his blessings about the fact that a few months drug free has gained him a bed away from the streets for the first time in years. I want to operate with perspective, and gratitude, and faith. So many people tell of things falling into place for them when they trust and ask–it’s foolish of me to assume the worst.

My fears are fed by that little girl who never trusted the homes she had, I know. There’s a part of me that never thinks of my home as my home until I have to leave it; sees it as temporary. And, in a spiritual sense, all homes are, but my view wasn’t spiritual. I’d like it to become more so. I’d like to see all of the places I live as my quarters for the time being–like the accommodations given to a traveling officer–not out of distrust but out of Zen-like nonattachment.

But I’m not there yet–I hurt with the longing for security. She hurts. That singer’s voice mocks me with the male nurturing she missed; Daddy’s voice promising comfort and safety. (Daddy issues? Me? There’s a shock.)

There is a truth–a hard one, but a precious one–that can help me if I let it. The truth that I don’t have a home like that, and I never will. There is no way for me to undo that wound, and there’s no way for me to attain an external sense of security strong enough to make me free of it.

My true home is here.

It’s anywhere I write, or speak, or dream. I’m creating it, word by word and thought by thought; it moves where I move. Nobody but me can evict me from it.

Hunger Shames

I’m hungry, and it’s a good thing. It’s a good thing because it means I’m trying to start a more intense repair of the damage I’ve done lately, and I’ve been doing it long enough for my body to start protesting the absence of the junk I’ve been pouring into it.

But oh, being hungry fills me with shame.

Let’s go back many years, to a time before drugs, to a biology grad student caught in the grip of her eating disorder. She lives in cycles of the bipolar disorder she doesn’t yet understand is part of her, and she goes through cycles of her eating too. After days of bingeing and missing classes and work, she near-fasts and puts in long hours at the lab and drags herself contritely to an eating disorder support group to talk about how this time she’s going to stick to a plan.

Repeat. Repeat again. And again.

One Saturday morning, after being awake all night with Pop-Tart toxicity, she skips breakfast and gets on a trolley to a morning meeting of the eating disorder group. She gazes dully out of the window, separated from the fresh autumn. Halfway there, the trolley stops and stays stopped at an intersection. She looks out of the window to see what the delay is, and sees a huge crowd of people in lettered white T-shirts making their way across. “Walk For Hunger,” the shirts proclaim.

The emotion of that moment is what comes back to me at times like this. I’m not talking about it to beat myself up, just to acknowledge that voluntary hunger–and me being in a situation of needing to choose it in order to balance unneeded food I’ve eaten–feels twisted and wrong in this world of so much involuntary hunger.

It’s called an eating disorder for a reason, I guess. It’s not the natural order. The natural order is that hunger is bad and eating nourishes the body. My sickness, originating so young, has twisted and warped one of the most basic human drives.

I’ve done a lot of voluntary hunger over the years. I’ve lived on water. I’ve lived on protein shakes. I’ve lived on plans where every morsel is weighed and measured and consumed at exact times. I’ve done stupid and extreme schemes and I’ve done reasonable ones that still felt like starvation at first because it was such a contrast. I’ve gone through “junk food detox” and its accompanying headaches and mood swings enough times to draw you a schematic of what to expect when.

Becoming willing to tolerate hunger is part of my surrender when my food needs to be changed, and I also need to be willing to tolerate the emotions that hunger brings to me. The shame is one of them, but there is also fear–the fear of not having enough, the fear of not getting enough sleep, and the fear of the hypomania (already beginning to build) that always accompanies the detox phase.

Why do this? Why choose hunger and discomfort? There are those who would tell me that it’s better to eat what I want when I want it and let go of all guilt and judgment. For me, that hasn’t worked for two reasons. One, there appears to be a weight beyond which I suffer serious health problems. Two–and even more significantly–I don’t appear to be capable of unboundaried eating without traveling into binge territory and producing pain instead of pleasure.

Enduring this hungry phase–and occasional bouts of hunger that crop up later–leads to a place of less insanity. Less insanity is good. My readers know I would never, ever claim that I know what I’m doing where food is concerned. I’m just trying not to harm myself today.

Unfinished Business

Am I done yet?

“Are you done yet?” a substance abuse treatment professional or recovery mentor might say to an addict seeking help after the latest stay in hell. As I continue to struggle with the addictive eating behavior that has so frightened and shamed me recently, I ask this question of myself. A week ago, I thought I was emerging…and was proven wrong a day or two later.

How do I know if I’m done? How do I give myself permission to be done?

Acting out on an addiction is like a ritual; it has stages and a story that’s hard to interrupt. There’s a point beyond which, in the absence of extraordinary grace or intervention, some kind of completion is required. Whether it’s running out of drugs, getting too sick to do anything at all, getting caught…some external force ends up being the thing that ends that bout.

It’s been several years since drugs were a part of my life, but I remember that impetus to finish. Midway through using up my latest supply, I might reach a place of misery strong enough to awaken a desire to stop–yet it always seemed necessary to finish off what I had. And I’d do so as fast as possible, heedless of consequences, knowing that only this would release me. It seems arbitrary, I know, since there are always more drugs out there. But ritual is often illogical.

Rituals, when intense enough, can also induce an altered state of consciousness. If you’ve ever had a loved one in the throes of addiction and seen them actively seeking a fix, you’ve seen this–the person you know and love is overlaid with something primitive and driving.

Years ago, I sat in my therapist’s office talking about how difficult it was to show my anger. He was trying to help me begin to show it to him in that safe place, and my progress was slow. Drawing back from my latest attempt, I huffed in frustration and met his eyes. “You really want to see me angry?” I asked him. My voice took on a low, alien resonance as I went on. “I wish you could catch me at that moment one day. Appear before me when I’m deep in the trance, when I’m beyond the point of no return, when I’m actually holding the pills in my hand, when I’ve done everything I need to do to be alone and able to do this, and I’m about to take them…show up right then and try to take them away from me. Then you’ll see something new.” “I wish I could,” he said with regret.

Lately, I’ve been aware of the rituals around compulsive eating for me. I’ve experienced the trance and the drive, and I’ve experienced the need to finish–a need that carries me well beyond the point of discomfort and regret. In order for me to have permission to stop eating compulsively once I’ve started, it seems to be necessary to make myself so thoroughly sick, shamed and impaired that I never want to taste or even see food again.

When is it enough? How sick do I need to get? How much damage do I need to do to my health? What degree of misery will melt the sticky resin around my brain and allow me to start applying recovery principles to this part of my addiction for more than a few hours at a time?

I’ve said all along that I’d have to struggle with these issues after my medical program was finished, but I didn’t want to be this right. And when I’m in that place, my creativity is seriously muted. Writing this is very hard; it doesn’t flow and the voice telling me to shut up gets fewer rejoinders. I’m doing it anyway because it’s been too long and I don’t want to fall into silence.

I wish I could treat myself very differently. I wish another incarnation of myself would show up and help me be done hurting myself a little faster. I wish she’d coax me into a hot shower, wrap me in a comfortable robe and entertain me while we wait for the sick filled-with-cement feeling to go through its life cycle. I wish she’d help me make a plan–one plan, not the thousand that jumble around in my head–for tomorrow, and I wish she’d hold my hand through the headaches and anxiety that will come if I make it that far.

Today I write with honesty, but not with the hope I would like to bring. I want to improve from this slump not just for me but for all who suffer; to bring word of unlikely change and unlikely grace. Those types of stories are my favorite message, and they will come again.