Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ketchup on Eggs: An Anorexic Gives Up Her Game

"If you are a turned on woman, you are a special woman, and have likely paid for it--that very thing that has made you too much to handle, a little different, that makes you feel like your wants are too big--that thing that has been used against you, your huge appetite, is your power. It is not there to be fought or beaten down, it is there to be well fed!"--Nicole Daedone, from her post "Turned On Woman"

I’ve been in San Francisco for eight weeks now. Since coming here, I haven’t had my period. A spot here or there, but nothing more. This is always a red flag for me that the anorexia is back. Or at least my stress levels are up. And I feel a deep amount of shame when I miss my period. It’s a brutal reminder that I am somehow “less than a woman.” I am not a “normal, healthy, mature, sexual being.” I’m sick. A lost cause. Broken. Wounded. Irreparable beyond all measure (apparently with the anorexia also comes the drama queen).

And I have to admit, for the past few months, the voices have been coming back stronger. And very seductive. They tell me that if I am going to be successful in LA, I have to look the part. And that part is of a thin, well-dressed, sophisticated, powerful woman. And anything less than that is simply unacceptable. They tell me that going down just one more pants size will really put me in the competition. They tell me that eating too many carbs/fruit/meat/fat/sugar/fill-in-the-blank will leave me bloated and fat and undesirable. And even more frightening is they know how to hit me where it really hurts. They tell me that if I am not successful in LA, then I have failed my mission on this planet. That all the people who invested in my being here will be disappointed. I will have let them down. Failed them. And then everyone will be wondering how could someone with so much potential end up just a nobody on this planet.

It goes beyond simple vanity. This is my life purpose we are talking about. And anything that feels beyond my control leaves me paralyzed in fear—I mean literally, frozen in a life-or-death struggle in sheer terror. So I reach for the one thing that I can control.

The food.

I recently had lunch with a friend. I had an omelet with salad. He had a fat, juicy burger. And there was a part of me that didn’t want to show him how hungry I was. I also didn’t want to show him how low-brow I could go by dumping about 1/3 of a cup of ketchup all over my eggs. Like somehow I was exposed and my dirty little secret was out. A refined woman should be content with salad and eggs and should leave about a third of the food on her plate. She should use only the finest quality ingredients, not go slumming with Mr. Heinz. And she should take very small bites, take the time to chew thoroughly, never use her fingers and never, ever lick the plate clean.

And yet, everything in me wanted to dump a mound of ketchup on that plate, use my hands to shove it in, over-salt and over-oil everything, lick up the scraps from my dish—and then polish off his burger too.

And this raw, deep hunger leaves me so crippled, that I will go to extreme lengths to manage it so that it never sees the light of day.

This whole internal exchange lasts about 5 seconds. My eating disorder is rather sophisticated at this point, so it looks completely effortless as I gently pick up my fork and take a small bite, lightly dipping it in the tablespoon amount of ketchup I have neatly dolloped on the edge of my plate.

As the conversation continues, my friend makes an admission to me that he has been smoking for the past few months and that he has a whole routine he has in order to hide the secret. My ears perked up. I wanted access to his taboo little world.

“Give up the game,” I told him. “Tell me your routine. Tell me how well you hide your shame. Tell me about how you feel each time you get away with it.”

He smiled. His face got a little red. The balloon of orgasm swelled between us and we shifted a little closer to each other. Then he started to tell me about the certain clothes that he wears. The place around the corner he walks to smoke. The tree he hides behind. The place where he keeps his cigarettes hidden. The concomitant feelings of shame and euphoria that come when he doesn’t get caught. The backup plan he has should someone catch him off guard.

I felt so close to him in that moment—and profoundly grateful that he trusted me, that I gave up one little secret of my own. I told him that I felt a little shameful putting ketchup on my eggs. That somehow, this was a marker of how low and dirty I was. That I hesitated in doing it, and in fact put less on my plate than what I actually desired. He quietly took that in, with only a slight uplift of the corner of his mouth to give away his amusement.

Now I am here. The controlling has gotten worse since the huge change from NYC to SF. And now with the desire to move to LA coming on (with a projected date of April 1 in sight), I feel the fear deep within my core. I feel how utterly helpless I am. I feel like a liability on anyone who comes within 20 feet of me. I feel like I flash bright and exciting in the first few seconds, but when people see the dirt under the shine, they run away in terror and anger that I sold them a false bill of goods. A human “bait-and-switch” if you will.

I started my first diet when I was 19. Atkins. All hamburgers and cheese and bacon for two weeks. It was pretty miserable, but it started a new way of relating to food that has continued to torture me for the past 12 years. It’s an enemy. One that must be vanquished every day. And the less I put into my body, the more superior I feel. The more “together” I think my life is.

I was in NYC when 9/11 happened. 4 days after I turned 21. Quite a traumatic experience for a girl coming into her womanhood. And instead of fully feeling the fear, I hid it in my body and pushed on, using work and relationships to cover up the fact that I felt so frightened and out of control.

I had 3 months of counseling the beginning of 2003, but since then, all the work I have done has been on my own. Co-writing a play about my experiences has helped. Getting coaching has helped. Practicing Orgasmic Meditation has helped. Yoga teaching has helped. Raising $1000 for the National Eating Disorder Association has helped.

But it keeps coming back. Subtle. Convincing. And it just feels so goddamed good each time I make it through another meal without those weak fuckers knowing just how slick I have been. How I avoided eating the “wrong” foods. How I ate even less than them. How little I need and yet I can still top them all.

Except I can’t anymore. I am getting sloppy. Tired. And living in a community with 50 pairs of eyes always around me and other people cooking my food has left me scrambling to adapt my game. But I can’t hide it anymore. I don’t want to. It’s a cold, hard, painful place to live. It’s a second job. Managing your food. Managing your fear. Managing the hungry shadows that bark louder and louder each time my Orgasmic Meditation partner puts his finger on my clit or a steak is put on my plate.

So here I am openly admitting that I am not recovered. Recovering. But not recovered. Perhaps I went into a bit of remission. Sure, since 2009 I have gained 15 pounds. I am no longer playing the how-close-to-under-a-hundred-pounds-can-I-get game. And though that may seem like “progress”, there is still a powerful anorexic inhabiting my mind—and the closer she gets to getting everything she wants, the harder she plays. The stricter her rules become.

The self-sabotaging, anorexic girl needs to stop. Or I at least need to make friends with her. So I have started seeing a nutritional counselor. It’s embarrassing for me to admit that I need help. That I am powerless to handle it on my own. That I am not really an inspiring leader to help others in their process of transformation, but just a tired, hungry woman with a lot of issues. But there you are. My little admission.

And in the spirit of full disclosure, I am writing this down for the world to read. Yes, I am giving up my game. Maybe a healthy dose of vulnerability will disarm the power the anorexic girl wields over me and then we can sit down together for a cup of tea.

  1. I eat by myself as often as possible. Pretty obvious, but this keeps anyone from feeling my hunger and watching me in my weakest moments of giving in to eating. It also keeps the annoying questions to a minimum (Is that all you are eating? What is that? Can I have a bite? Why don’t you eat meat? Want some of mine?)

  1. I prepare all my own meals. Again, obvious. It allows me to know exactly how many calories are in it and ensures that “safe” foods are only included.

  1. If I have to go out to eat, I try to go to a place that has some sort of “serve-yourself” buffet line. This way I can control what goes on my plate and portion sizes.

  1. I restrict certain foods from my diet in the name of health or personal intolerance. And the beauty of this one is that I can easily get away with it in our culture. We all know that we shouldn’t eat McDonald’s or sugar or too many carbs. Because Oprah/Vogue/Morgan Spurlock/my yoga teacher tell us so. So if I tell you that I can’t eat “that” because it has meat/soy/gluten/dairy/white carbs/sugar/non-organic/GMO products, you will completely understand, give me a free-meal pass, and no one will be the wiser.

  1. If I have to go out to a restaurant, I look at the menu online ahead of time and decide how I will mix-n-match my meals to include only acceptable foods. This way I won’t fumble in front of other people and give up my game. What’s even better is when I can call the restaurant in advance and find out what substitutions they will allow me to do.

  1. Since I live with other people, I hide the “good” foods to the back of the fridge and put the bad ones out front. This way everyone else will eat the “bad” food and the “good” will be leftover for my meals. Even better is when I can set the “good” food to the side somewhere, with my name on it, to ensure that no one will eat it.

  1. If I go out to eat and I don’t have the option to order a meal of only “good” foods, then order as much “good” food as possible, then give the bad food away. This not only ensures my safety, it also makes me look like a selfless and giving person because I am sharing.

  1. If I go out to eat with others, I convince them to order the “bad” foods that I am really craving and then order just a small plate of “good” food for myself. This way I can be around the “bad” food, maybe even ask for a bite (which is also a good cover for looking like I am a “normal” eater), but I am silently sitting back superior while watching others give into their animal cravings.

  1. I have my list of excuses of why I can’t eat ready. There are truly a million I could come up with, but the top ones include: I’ve already eaten, I’m not that hungry, I can’t have that in my diet, I am not a fan of that, I’m feeling sick today, I’m too tired to go out, I don’t have the money to go out, I cook healthier anyway, I’ve still got plenty of leftovers, etc.

  1. I stay in charge of the kitchen in all its aspects. Harder now, but still doable. That includes shopping for food, cooking the food and packaging the leftovers. This way I know what foods to offer others (the “bad” ones) and which ones to set aside for myself (the “good” ones). Also I can make sure that my portion sizes are acceptable (i.e. small) and offer bigger ones to others. This gets the food out of the house faster. Because there is nothing more terrifying for an anorexic than lots of uneaten food just hanging around the house. It’s like an alcoholic just hanging out at a bar. The constant call of temptation is only 20 feet away.

  1. I have lots of gum, mints, water, tea, coffee, vegetables, cough drops on hand. This keeps my mouth busy and my belly filled up so I don’t actually have to feel the real hunger underneath.

  1. I bring “safe” snacks in my purse for when I am “on-the-go.” This keeps the hunger away as well, especially if I am in an area of “unsafe” foods or end up at a restaurant with “bad” foods. What’s really classy is when I can sneak off to the bathroom, shove the food in my mouth while standing in the stall, then head back to my friends with no one knowing the difference. My rebel is satisfied, my hunger is squelched for a moment and no one saw me in my ugliness.

So here I am. Naked in my shame in front of my friends, family, enemies and strangers. Each day is a package of excruciating choices—this food and that food; in front of this person and not in front of that person; this indulgence and that restriction, etc.

Because as slick and sophisticated as this game is, I also know that a bigger one awaits me on the other side of addiction. One where I am acting in film with major Hollywood players. One where I am teaching Orgasmic Meditation to thousands of people. One where I am making a lasting impact on the evolution of human consciousness. One where I am building and fostering deep and intimate relationships with friends and lovers. One where I have the energy, speed and skill to keep up with the best players in the field. And one where I feel my true power and the freedom that comes with making friends with my appetite.

Quite frankly, I am just tired. Exhausted. I want to feel alive. I want to feel like I am surfing on top of the wave, rather than fumbling and drowning each time the ocean swells. I want to feel the thrill of surprise and the freedom of being in flow, rather than the bondage of fear each time my edges are stretched. I want to be a responsible adult—making a living wage and consistently being well-used in service.

This is where you come in. To keep me awake. For the price of playing a bigger game is the dropping off of the old one. And now that you know my secrets, I can’t hide anymore. I can’t slide back into lazy, destructive patterns that keep me small and safe. I have no choice now but to burn through this piece that has consumed the past 12 years of my life.

My friend gave up his entire game in exchange for just one secret from mine. Ketchup on eggs. And this one admission has changed everything.

I will make the same offer to you today. I have given up my game. If you want to play, I’m only asking for one secret from yours. You don’t have to post it to the world. You don’t have to tell me. You don’t have to tell anyone. All you have to do is tell yourself (that’s the only person that really matters after all). Write it down. Admit your dirty, little secret. Acknowledge it. Feel it in your body. Take the time to listen to what it’s saying. Why it entered into your life. What function it serves. What gift it has to offer.

You have little to lose (5 minutes and a sheet of paper) and a world of desire to gain.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Orgasm in the Marketplace: Engaging Hunger, Turn On & the Shadow

December 2, 2011, 4th St and Mission, SF

I went out yesterday afternoon on an errand.  I wore a short, black dress for the unseasonably warm December day in San Francisco. Low-cut. Spaghetti straps. I was only going to the dry cleaners, but I felt “on”. I felt good. And I wanted attention. I walked downstairs. The men in my community started flirting with me. Watching me as I walked to the bathroom. As I swung my hips. As my legs swished past each other in my arrogant strut. I could feel just how badly they wanted to fuck me. I loved it.

And then I turned the corner. From my insulated little block, I headed towards the open streets of SoMa. And at first it started with just a guy on a bike with a bright orange shirt.

“Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey girl, I’d like to get to know you!”

He bellows this as he circles past me a few times. It’s harmless. I crack a smile. “Approve,” I say to myself. But some part of me is starting to shrink back. I walk down Howard, past a grocery store with immigrant workers unloading boxes from a truck. They take their time to watch me as I walk past.

And then I turn onto 6th street. Clumps of men standing everywhere. Hungry. For everything. Drugs. Food. Connection. Pussy. Care. Love.

“It’s only one block,” I think to myself, clutching my bag and covering my exposed chest. And how I hate myself for this. A guilt rises in me that screams, “You arrogant, little white princess. Look at you running. How would you like to be fucked now, huh? You have it so good. And what did you expect wearing something like that?”

I move quickly past as one of the guys screams out, “Hey, I like them legs! Mmmm mmmmmm…”

I duck into the cleaners—safe for now in this business-focused interaction. The script has been worked out and rehearsed in this scene and my sex has nothing to do with it (or so I tell myself).

I head out of there, back to the urban jungle of 6th street, and quickly start to make my way home, when I see a very old man hobbling (drunkenly) down the road. He has a deep limp, a cane and very floppy sandals that do not bode well for his intended trajectory towards the sidewalk curb. I keep moving though—until I hear a crashing scrape just behind me. The man has fallen over and is bleeding from his ears (though, by the looks of him, the blood could have been present even before he hit the sidewalk). Myself and three other men (one of them wearing a suspicious Fedora hat) gather around.

“Are you alright man?” one of them asks. “Hey, hey don’t move,” he says. He starts banging on the locked gates of the shelter, trying to get some assistance. The door is open. I can see people inside moving in response to the situation at my feet.

The situation. This man is not a man, but a situation. And I am frozen. Impotent. This human being is lying here in front of me. Completely out of contact with the present, and yet he is still a human in need of immediate attention. All the horrible, self-centered thoughts come up.

“What if I touch his blood and get some sort of disease?”

“What if I bend over and expose the fact that I am not wearing underwear to the denizens of 6th street?”

“Am I really helping him here or just standing here because I think I should help?”

“What if I go to pick him up and clutches at my breasts or bites me or hits my face?”

I feel so ruthless and disgusting. The men who reflect my light are worthy of my time and attention, but those who reflect my shadows are to be handled by those of a lesser kind.

And when I see that the shelter workers have it handled, I rush on (but not before Fedora man offers me a piece of silver to buy—never miss an opportunity, that one).

I think I hear one of them commenting on “that girl that’s running away,” (or is it just my own conscience—a sort of vanity-driven Tell-Tale Heart?) as I turn the corner onto Howard street into the sunshine of the late afternoon. As I make my way down the final stretch onto Moss, I catch from the corner of my eye an older man slowing down and to stare at my ass.

I make it back home and somehow feel saddened. Not quite crushed, but muted. Dampened. And confused. How much of that was me in my own shame-y, me-centered world imagining everyone looking at me and how much of that was actually the cloud of others’ starvation engulfing me. A little of both, I imagine.

And this leaves me wondering: how do I go out into the world and shine my turn on and still stay conscious and feeling into all the pain that surrounds me, while still maintaining healthy boundaries? How can I both in approval of my extreme vanity and humbleness. My insecurity and confidence? My repulsion and my compassion? When am I acting out of “shoulds” or daring myself into some extreme situation just to prove how brave I am and when am I outing out of true desire?

Honestly, I don’t have a clear answer for any of this. The only things I can come up seem vague and not very comforting, but there are a few:

2. Remember that you are not alone. We all have our vanity. Our insecurity. Our entitlement. The places where we more important than others and the places where we feel like pathetic pieces of shit. It’s in remembering our common human frailties that the seeds of compassion are sown.

3. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. To look a little rough and ugly. That’s living an orgasmic life. In the involuntary. Without a Step-by-Step How-To Manual. Just a present-moment compass and some vague sense of North. Learn the lesson, say you’re sorry, clean up and move on.

4. Express what is real for you in the moment. If you are feeling scared and want to run away, admit it. If you are repulsed, don’t try to be a “good, loving person.” Just admit you are repulsed. Until you are comfortable looking at ALL the emotional options on the table, you will continue the unconscious pattern of choosing the “shoulds” as opposed to being authentic. And then you are not truly free.

So instead of getting caught in the mire about how I am not Mother Theresa and I should have kept my turn on out and I should have more approval and say thank you and smile and be nicer to people, I just said Fuck It. I am freaked out and scared and horrified and hate my sex and hate the world and wish everyone would just wake up and take responsibility for their lives so we can all tap into our orgasm and live from purpose and desire so we find love for ourselves and stop war and save the planet and be ready for the next evolutionary phase of our existence. Is that so much to ask?!

OK, maybe I put a little too much pressure on myself. But this is the edge I am riding these days. Living a turned-on life and exposing myself to a hungry world that either tries to kill you with a jealous hammer or suck you dry of your turn-on.

What that also requires of then is to acknowledge the places I am hungry. I think that’s the biggest piece for me to get here. Their hunger reflects my own scarcity. And I don’t want to look at that because then I have to admit that I am not independent, invincible and can hold it all together. I see the beggar in me through their eyes. I see the hustler in me through their words. I see the vampire in me through their actions. And no amount of glossy, attractive men wanting to fuck me can cover that up.

But if I can learn to love myself here, then I can truly learn to love it out there. Then wherever I am, no matter who is there, there will be no need to cover the flame of my orgasm.