Before I learned how feelings worked, I lived in a very fragile world. I had wounds that seemed a mile deep. When something touched them, or perhaps, as Millennials would say “triggered” them, my whole world seemed to explode. Like a simple comment by a doctor…. I had seen a chiropractor during my senior year of high school to help with headaches. At some point, my mother found one to treat me when I was in college. He very matter-of-factly made the comment to me that my large breasts were probably to blame for a lot of my shoulder and neck pain and resulting headaches.
No big deal, right? Just stating the obvious, right? Well, not to me at that time. I’m not sure when my breasts reached their full size. In my sisters’ wedding pictures, when I was 15 and 16, they were a reasonable size. Sometime before college, though, they blew up. The teasing and my self-consciousness about them certainly began in high school. By the time I got to college, I hated them and did my best to hide them in oversized shirts.
Thus, the doctor’s statement of the obvious sent me into a tail spin. My face flushed with embarrassment. I had no words. I thought surely this was highly inappropriate for him to speak of my breast size. I seethed with anger. How dare he? It’s not my fault, I wanted to scream at the accusation he never made. I couldn’t wait to get to my car to let out all the tears I was holding in.
I cried all the way to the nearest fast food restaurant. It was an Arby’s. I ordered enough food for four people. I shoved it in, pushing my embarrassment down. My body is a freak of nature, I told myself.
But don’t think, that hurts.
I pushed the pain down with the food.
You’re so messed up, Rebecca, that your body hurts itself. You’re hurting yourself now, loser!
Push it down, push it down. Push down all the feelings. Don’t feel it, just eat! Just eat, don’t feel. Deep breath, just eat.
He saw, he saw, he knows. Everyone who sees you knows, you’re a freak! People told you in high school, and you thought people here wouldn’t see? Stupid, everyone can see you’re a freak. There’s no hiding you.
Oh my God, if I could just cut my head off and stop the thoughts. Stop the feelings. I can’t, so just push it down with food.
See binging and purging were my self-medication of choice. Not much different than other addicts. Life is too much, so the answer is in a bottle or a pill or food.
But I couldn’t just do it with food, though, because I wanted to fade away too. I had to numb with food, but then I couldn’t let my body get bigger, so off to the bathroom to melt away. No, no, I didn’t need anyone else seeing me, judging me, and knowing that I am flawed.
The summer when I finally stopped binging and purging was the summer before I started law school. I spent it in Dallas, and it was a great summer. The night before I was to fly out, I desperately didn’t want to leave. I felt safe and happy here, and what was I thinking going off to Miami. This was scary and hard, and my head started squeezing in on my brain. This is where things get uncomfortable. This is when I might have gone to my old pattern of coping.
Instead, I broke out my journal that my therapist had had me using. I wrote to myself and told myself to be in the moment.
Just stay here and feel it, I’ll be with you.
I told myself it was ok to be scared before going off to a new city where I didn’t know a soul. I told myself, it was normal to not want to leave a comfort zone. I wrote and wrote. I didn’t let myself leave the room. I feared I’d find the bathroom or kitchen and be back to my old game of escaping the normalcy of feeling human feelings.
I didn’t escape. I felt it. All of it, and I lived through it. And I felt the next thing and the next thing and all the pain and joy and confusion and failure and accomplishment that is life.
Now, I’m not above wanting to escape. I can go back, no not to binging and purging, but I can find other escapes when I forget that I’m a warrior. So, I remind myself, I can survive this, whatever this is. I tell myself to feel it, whatever it is. I will live through it.
One of my coaches introduced me to the phrase “winners win.” At first, I thought it silly and redundant. But now I like it. Winners win, because they are in the game. Winners win, because they’ve stopped expecting the game to be painless. Winner win, because they show up. Winners win, because they can be uncomfortable without looking for a bathroom or a bottle to hide in. Winners win, because they take the damned dog for a walk (if you haven’t read my Lessons from a Dog Walk blog, that makes no sense to you).
My boobs are still freakishly big. I won’t add a picture to this blog to prove it! But this is me! And I’m a warrior, so I don’t have to hide from pain. And guess what? You are too!
“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.” -Paulo Coelho author of The Alchemist