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Toward Integration: Part II


Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change.

–Audre Lorde

Every day a student tells me a story that broadens my world view.

Last week, a young woman told me about working at a bakery counter in a chain restaurant. Every single day, women come up to the counter and look through the glass with wide eyes. Alone, or in pairs, they pace back and forth, talking to each other (or themselves), as if they’re about to commit a crime. The ones who come up to purchase something look at her with pleading eyes, asking her not to judge them. They are buying for their children, they say, or an office party or their book groups, and they explain the details. If they’re buying just one or two items, they offer a rationalization,”I worked out this morning,” or “I’m just going to have this one macaroon,” or “I’m celebrating” or “It’s my cheat day.”

I asked her what men say if they ponder over a baked good. She tossed her head and laughed out loud. “Never. I have never heard a man give me a reason why he’s buying a pastry. He gets one or he doesn’t, but there’s no explanation or weird ass shame.”

The next day, a student told me she’s in cognitive therapy to cope with a persistent sadness left over from childhood trauma. Her therapist suggested maybe she’s depressed because she’s overweight. My student told the therapist she’s trying to lose weight, but when’s she’s depressed, all she wants to do is eat. Instead of encouraging her to see her emotional eating as a strategy to manage repressed anger, the therapist put her on her scale and recorded her weight. Every time she came in, she would weigh her, and if the number on the scale didn’t go down, she would scold her for not making more of an effort. My student asked me if I think it’s ok that she stopped going to therapy.

In her newest book Hunger, Roxane Gay details the way she is treated publicly for living in a fat body, “where the open hatred of fat people is vigorously tolerated and encouraged.” She tells the story of being gang raped at age 12 and how it changed forever her relationship with her body: “I was marked after that. Men could smell it on me, that I had lost my body, that they could avail themselves of my body that I wouldn’t say ‘no’ because I knew my ‘no’ did not mater. They smelled it on me and took advantage, every chance they got.”

It’s nearly impossible to feel safe in our bodies after we’ve been sexually assaulted. Most victims initially react by turning their anger inward and blaming themselves. Whether the perpetrator is known or unknown, it feels too dangerous to fling it outward, even among family or friends. There are centuries of social conditioning to keep us quiet.

Anger is difficult for many of us to recognize or name. Because it’s more socially acceptable for a woman to be sad than angry, female anger rarely looks like the “norm” of male anger. Other than the rare times women snap and “lose our shit” (coming across as a raging, crazy woman), we frequently turn our anger inward, registering as depression. And sometimes we construct a blockade of protection against whatever it is that has made us angry. This protection can be layers of extra body weight, self-medicating through various addictions, or overcompensating to make a bid for love (codependency).

Psychologist and columnist Avrum Weiss argues that “Men have always had a problem with anger in women.” He quotes studies that show how “boys are socialized to feel OK about their anger, while girls are taught to feel ashamed. Angry women make men feel uncomfortable, even threatened. Sad women make men feel gallant and protective.”

Through a yoga practice, I have worked to recognize and acknowledge my feelings, positive and negative. But even after years of dropping into my body to feel, I still struggle with anger. When it begins to surface, I panic.

After being molested repeatedly as a 7 year old child, I learned to live outside my body.  I no longer possessed the ordinary sensors healthy people do. I could withstand hunger and thirst and other sorts of deprivation by watching the girl who felt them, as if from a distance. For years, when I would get injured, I did very little to defend myself or to heal. When sick, I never took time off.  And when confronted with violence, I made myself small, burying the feeling part of me so deep, I didn’t recognize it as mine. I compartmentalized myself so completely, the girl who was being abused wasn’t me. I could feel sorry for her, and sad, but not angry. By 16, I struggled with anorexia and a suicide attempt. After two hospitalizations, I learned to perform normalcy through the more subtle self-abuse of bulimia.

I had become caught in a cycle of repressed anger and self-punishment. I had so much unresolved pain, when it began to hurt, I didn’t think about how unjust the situation was that brought me there. I just wanted it to go away. And so I ate whatever I could find that would fill the gaping hole in me. Then I would experience intense feelings of guilt and shame and vomit it up. Guilt and shame reinforced self-hate, which told me I deserved the pain. I didn’t know how to be angry at the pain in my past; instead, I was angry at myself for causing pain in the present, and that feeling of anger would send me right back to shame.

Audre Lorde says that “Anger is loaded with information and energy” and we can “tap that anger as an important source of empowerment.”

In my second semester of college, I took a course in the humanities and the assigned reading included The Bell Jar, Surfacing, The Women’s Room, and The Feminine Mystique. The professor made us write an analysis that required us to look back at the past 100 years of women’s magazines, including Ladies’ Home Journal and Good Housekeeping (circulating since 1883 and 1885, respectively). The products advertised in these publications varied over the years, but the majority of the slogans and hooks were frighteningly similar. She encouraged us to to notice how the advertising was aimed toward getting women to feel inadequate so they would to spend money. I began to see the the institutional ways we are taught to feel bad about ourselves. And I got dramatically angry.

I haven’t counted a calorie since.

When I began to acknowledge the systemic cause of my anger, something significant shifted. Recognizing the rationale, I was freed from its control. As a result, I adopted a more intuitive eating style. Since early college, I haven’t gained or lost more than 10 pounds (except during pregnancy). I eat what I want, when I want, and I never step on a scale. I’m not perfect about my choices. Sometimes I binge on sugar or forget to eat altogether, but I no longer allow my weight or anyone else’s perception of it to dictate what I put in my body.

Both genders suffer from the scripts we’ve been handed. When we perform gender, we limit access to our full humanity. Our expectations that we should narrow our field of emotions to those we’ve been told are appropriate for a good woman (or nice lady) limits our ability to combat shame and to integrate disparate pieces of ourselves into a cohesive and healthy personhood.

I asked the two students this week what they thought about their scenarios. They both declared vehemently that it was fucked up. I told them I didn’t have the answers, but the first step toward healing is recognizing there is something wrong.

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Infinite Game

…every love story is a ghost story…

Last week, a friend brought me 80% Dunkle Schokolade from Germany and I couldn’t taste it.

He opened the packaging like performance art, broke off a shape resembling a scar. I watched him do this, grateful for the gesture, mesmerized by the movements. I reached out, tried to appreciate the taste and quality and texture of his gift, but it felt cold in my mouth.

I wondered if it was his kindness that scared me.

This morning, I made coffee and I saw the bring pink hues of the Haitian art packaging that protected the leftover chocolate on my desk. I turned it over to read the history, looked at the list of ingredients, curiously fingered the ridges of the foil. Then I wrapped myself in a red wolf blanket, warmed my hands on the coffee mug and held the chocolate next to the heat of the drink, softening around my fingers till it was pliable, like clay.

I licked the chocolate and a wave of resistance sprung up like a flavor, unspoken goodbyes choking me as I swallowed, a machine gun of memories punctuating the background, loud and violent, like a backdrop of war. My parents, my grandparents, the Field, Phosterians, Chapel, the Trip, Quiet Street, Devotions, driving through grooves of mud so thick, getting out is more than dark and dirty.

I hadn’t thought to tell him that Europe is not always a college playground, that sometimes abroad is the only place you can think of to go, but it’s not far enough away.

I dipped the chocolate in the coffee and rolled it around with my tongue and the coffee and chocolate calmed me, like a cigarette. I sensed the taste of fig, with a touch of floral and a tinge of nut, and it was warm and layered and acidic inside of me, the way a lover moves inside of you, and the bitter sweetness alternated in syncopation, like a heartbeat.


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My body knew before I did. I woke every morning, for weeks, my stomach roiling and angry. I forced myself out of bed and tied my running shoes on and threw my body out into the freezing morning for my training. I ran 6 miles, 8, 10, 15, 18, on nothing to eat, only water and gels I forced down for the longer runs. I came home and stretched and took a shower and waited to be hungry. I just wasn’t. I’d make a smoothie and drink it down. I’d have a piece of toast. Or I’d just have nothing at all. I have posted before about how much I love eating, all types of food, how I would think about food when I’d first wake up, or on my commute to work, or mid-yoga class, when my mind was not supposed to be on anything at all. This was not me.

After we decided it was over, it got worse. My belts became bigger. I bought a size smaller, and then a size smaller. The pants I once spilled out of hung loosely. My sister, who hadn’t seen me in a while, told me my ass is gone, my prized bodily possession, but that I refuse to believe. It’s there still, and it is good. I did lose 20 pounds in about a month, however, and I now weigh less than what I lied about on my driver’s license. I am not an unhealthy weight, but the drastic nature of all of it is unhealthy. I know that. I had some baby carrots and a beer for dinner the other night. My dad, who has been through four divorces, told me that he lived on beer, coffee, and cigarettes for about a year when he divorced my mother. I’ve been sticking to beer and coffee, but cigarettes don’t sound half bad, either.

I wanted to make a life for my kids that was different than my life growing up. I have tried to be smart and practical and make all of the best decisions. It didn’t matter. I still somehow fucked everything up. My body knows. This probably sounds strange and irresponsible, but in some ways I can understand a little bit about eating disorders. There’s something a little intriguing and exhilarating about not caring about food anymore. I like to be in control, and I am not anymore, so I have been cleaning the house daily and not eating.

This whole experience has been like an episode of Out of This World, that terrible 80s show, when the teenaged protagonist, secretly an alien, would touch her fingers together and freeze the world around her so she could reassess the predicament in which she found herself.


In the weeks immediately following my moving out, I feel like an outsider, removed from the world in which I once lived, and the one that everyone else still seems to be a part of.  It has given me a sad and bizarre but almost comforting sense of clarity.

In that song “Crazy,” Gnarls Barkley sings,

                          I remember when I lost my mind

                          There was something so pleasant about that place.

                          Even your emotions had an echo

                          In so much space.

I know exactly what he means.

In the past week or so, my appetite has returned. I think about food again, all of the time, and I am always hungry. Before school let out, several students gave me baked goods for Christmas, and I eyed them in their square, holiday-themed plastic containers and thought, I will never eat all of this. But then I did. I ate orange scones, ginger cookies, lemon muffins, and brownies. I ate it all.

I’m still drinking too much beer, and I don’t sleep very well, or enough. But my appetite is back. My body knows. Things will be better.

Photo credit: http://www.fourthgradenothing.com/2012/01/out-of-this-world-tv-series.html

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on (not) eating

I have always had a robust appetite. I can out-eat almost anyone, including my 6′ 4″ husband. My Mexican step-abuela used to call me Gordita, and I once overheard my aunt and uncle’s hushed and anxious conversation about how much of their food I was eating on a weekend visit. I’ve weighed over 160 pounds since the 8th grade. I never had any willowy teenage or even childhood heyday. I’ve always been thick. And I like it all–Indian, Thai, Mexican, Italian, Korean, American, sweet, savory, spicy, salty, mushy, crunchy, moldy (just cut it off. just kidding. sort of.). Even when I was pregnant and had morning sickness, I wanted to eat all of the time. Then vomit. Then eat again.

For this reason, I’ve always struggled with my weight. I have to exercise a fuck ton to compensate for my appetite. After having children and turning 30, my already slow metabolism got even slower. Sure, I could stop drinking beer and have one breakfast instead of two. But I have never been able to. Last year, I trained for 18 weeks for a marathon, and I lost a grand total of one half of one pound. I regularly have vivid dreams about eating.

Until recently. For the last two weeks, I have found myself in the curious position of not feeling hungry, of not spending the forty minute drive home daydreaming about what I should eat next. I look at food I love, like pizza or ice cream or tacos or oatmeal cookies or Mediterranean garlic sauce, and I shrug. I have no urge to snack between meals. A vague sensation of nausea looms through my day. I don’t know where it has come from or when it will go.

This is me now:



I’ve lost 6 pounds in this short time, and I’m thinking maybe I should make a doctor’s appointment. I keep waiting to wake up one morning dreaming of food. Instead, I think about what I can eat that won’t make me vomit and calculate how many calories I need to keep me running without passing out. I still drink beer because beer. And I can keep my food down. Whatever this is is not extreme. But nothing is as good anymore. I used to be ashamed of my appetite, but now I miss it. When I figure out what is wrong and I start feeling better, I will once again dream of maple bars and paneer saag (typing this is making me nauseous again), but next time, I will dream proudly.

Photo credit: www.home-remedies-for-you.com

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Writers Are The Worst Kind Of Exhibitionists, They Keep Their Clothes On

I am reluctant to call myself a writer. I forget how to spell words all the time. I’ve lost my natural flow with words. I find it hard to articulate myself like how I used to. I completely suck at grammar and I’m always self conscious about it on facebook because I have two English professors on my friends list. I am completely grateful for this blog and to Angela for inviting me to be a part of it. If it weren’t for this blog, I’d be on tumblr blogging into the void. Yet this blog in particular is probably why I can’t call myself a writer. All the people who contribute on here are grown up, they have careers, they have babies, they have degrees, they are legit writers but most importantly they just seem to have their shit together. I’m here dreading turning 27 because I’m a fragile genius and 27 is a dangerous age according to Rock N Roll folklore. But I’m no rock and roller(or a genius or fragile.) Far from it. I had my party days, my wild days. Sometimes I’ll go out to LA hipster clubs and grind up against a dude and wake up the next day feeling like I probably looked like that out of place old person at the club trying to rekindle her lost youth, or I’ll feel like the female Michael Cera trying to prove I’m an adult (well if you count the numbers not the merits) with my awkward sexuality.

Faulkner taught me to fuck the credentials. Hemingway taught me to keep it simple, stupid. Miller taught me to keep it sexy. Kafka taught me to stay up all night. Mrs. Parker taught me to keep my head up despite the heartbreaks. And Lil’ Jon taught me to shake my ass and drop it to the floor. All in all, they all taught me one very important lesson, keep it honest. If you can’t strip or bleed on paper, if you’re not willing to face the darkest crevices of your memories, if you can’t face your desires and if you can’t be honest with yourself then you can’t be a writer. I can be a writer.

Right now my stomach is grumbling. I’m trying to ignore it. I’ve been trying to ignore it since forever. I remember my first communion and confessing my sins. On the top of the list, it was a very short list I was 9 or 10, was demanding to eat chicken nuggets. Most of my list involved food because my aunt had told me that overeating was a sin. So I thought, fuck that’s my whole life. I probably didn’t say or think fuck. Even though I was not the chubbiest kid in my family, my cousin was a good 180 pounds at age 9, I was made to feel like I was. That same cousin, clinically obese, would tell me I was fat. I was teased at school for being ugly, short and fat. The way I coped with the pain was to eat more because as cliche as it sounds, food doesn’t hurt you back. Not emotionally at least. Food is comfort. Food is delicious. Food is great. Bad food is the best. I wish I had drowned my sorrows in bags of carrots instead of bags of chips. I suppose my parents were enablers but I can’t blame them. Though, my parents are super thin people. My sister grew up eating worse than I did and she’s a size 4. I’m the Frankenstein of my little family. I feel like my parents just piled on the genes and said fuck it. That was my probably my dad. We have a tendency to start things and just kind of half ass it or give up half way.

My relationship with food is a complicated one. Now in my mid twenties, I am more aware of what I put in my body. I’ve learned to eat vegetables and love them. I love vegan food, vegetarian dishes and I appreciate the simplicity of cooking my own healthy food. I’ll have those vegetarian/healthy kicks. I’ll go to the gym. I’ll ride my bike. I’ll even lose 5-8 pounds and I’m happy because I think it’s easy. I’ll think about how I don’t think about food. I’ll think this is how it feels to be normal. This lasts about 2-3 weeks and then out of nowhere I’ll just feel like pigging the fuck out. I’ll crave KFC even though it gave me food poising. I’ll think about chicken nuggets at midnight. I’ll contemplate going to In&Out and making it animal style, baby. I can recall two awful binges and they stick out like the experiences of an addict. First there is an overwhelming feeling of restlessness. I can’t fall asleep. I can’t read. I can’t watch tv. I can’t do all the things they tell you to do to help you stop cravings. I’ve always been an impulsive person. I want that Barbie and I want it now. I want that dress and I want it now. I want to have sex and I better have it now. I want food and I’m going have it now, whatever time “now” is even if it’s two in the morning. Then the descent begins. I’ve made up my mind and I’m going to buy bad food. I get in my car feeling like a crack fiend. I pull up to the drive thru and I feel an overwhelming sense of shame. I always hope that the cashier isn’t some cute guy because he’ll probably think “typical fat girl getting food at 2am.” Walking from my car to the front door feels like the walk of shame with my fast food bag in my hand and my coke in the other. What must my neighbors think? If they’re up at 2am then they’re losers just thinking about what I am doing with my life. So then it begins. I scarf down the food like I’ve been starving in a third world country. In the moment, while I’m mindlessly chewing my food and its sending electrical waves to my brain and raising dopamine or whatever levels, it’s satisfying. I’m having a fucking Perks of Being a Wallflower moment, “And in that moment, eating a chicken nugget, I knew I was happy.” And then it’s over. And it feels exactly like a cocaine comedown. I just want to die. I’m worthless. Nobody will ever love me. I’m stupid. I’m ugly. I’m fat. FAT.

FAT.  It sounds silly. Even writing it down feels and looks silly. I know, I should get over it. There are worse things to be addicted or sad about. Everyone has their #fatgirlproblems right? I wish I could slap everyone who uses that by the way. I could probably get deeper into the reasons why I overeat or binge. Just like most addictions it’s about trying to replace a void. It’s about trying to find a place where you find sheer enjoyment while everything around is chaotic. You fool yourself into thinking it’s a balance. If I do X then everything is ok but most of the times it’s not ok, it’s worse.

This is a topic I’ve wanted to write about for a while. I don’t think I did it justice and I don’t think I conveyed the seriousness that I wanted to. If you knew me you know I try to see the humor in everything. I once wanted to be a serious and tortured writer, fragile genius at 27. Any creative type entering their 20’s has that wish or goal. I’ve grown a lot. My interests and personality have evolved, as they should. It took me a very long time to find a concrete voice. I’m still learning how to become a writer, a “real” writer. I always have those moments of anxiety where I think maybe what I am writing is not creative nor interesting, it’s just simply too much fucking info. Everyone shares their feelings and their struggles. We live in an age of hyper-information and full disclosure. We put our breasts and penises out there for the world, willingly. Well I don’t but I have sent butt pictures to my friends because it’s funny and the angle and lighting of the picture made my butt look really good. But we need writers. We need real writers. We need poets. We need lyricists. We need writers to convey all the embarrassing, happy, seductive, heartbreaking moments of the human condition in 140 characters or more. We need them more than ever. And this is what I mean about not calling myself a writer because I probably jumped off topic and I’m all over the place and there’s no harmony between my words but that’s ok because I’m a budding 26 year old fragile genius who sees the devil as a piece of breaded chemically engineered chicken nugget.

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We Will Begin Again

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