Listening to a woman being interviewed on the radio the other day, I was reminded of advertisers’ desire for your self-dissatisfaction.
Ask yourself, she warned, if the point of the advertisement is to get you to be unhappy with some part of who you are in some way.
It’s difficult to separate what I hate about myself and what advertisers want me to hate about myself. I’ve hated most things about me since I can remember. And they aren’t specific things. Although I’ve punished myself all my life using food and weight control, the object of my dissatisfaction doesn’t really end with weight. In fact, I’m not too sure it even starts with weight. My weight is naturally very normal. My dissatisfaction is more energetic than physical, more internal than external.
For instance, I’ve always had this crushing blow to my self-esteem when I see my own smile in pictures. ~ They all know you hate yourself, why even bother to smile? You’re annoying. You annoy these people. They tolerate you because they’re sweet and mature, unlike you. You’re uncouth. You’re nuts. They know you have problems so they make sure not to upset you by pointing them out. You are the ugly one here, put away your face as soon as possible ~ I don’t make friends because I don’t want to put people in situations where they’re forced to tolerate me and do me the favor of politeness. I’m so anxious having to live in the uncertainty of acceptance that I isolate myself in order to avoid it completely.
This is the root of my anorexia, the root of my bulimia, and the root of my alcoholism. Each keeps me lonely, serving as a wordless best friend. Each provides the illusion of a predictable immediate environment. And most of all, I’m realizing since I quit drinking, each keeps me from having to ever acknowledge my true self.
When you’re following the itinerary of an eating disorder or addiction, you are always conveniently “busy.” You’re either thinking about the next fix, or you’re hung up on the bad feelings of the last one, or you’re planning how you can revamp the addiction so you don’t spiral into shame or boredom. You do all of this alone.
The entire time I was underweight, I knew how sick I looked. I saw pictures and I looked unreal. It didn’t feel like me, I barely looked like a girl. I looked like a prisoner. I knew people were worried about me. I knew people were talking about me behind my back. And I knew I finally didn’t care. In a way it was like hanging my self-hatred over their heads mockingly, as if they no longer deserved the luxury of ignoring my suffering. I didn’t have to hide it anymore. THIS IS HOW MUCH I HATE MYSELF! (Pretty attractive, right?) I remember being so self-satisfied then to be able to show it to the world. Like I didn’t have to swallow my shame in silence. I thought it was gravely unfair that I was forced to live in myself, and – it felt – forced to be ashamed of myself. It seemed like there must be something I could do to relieve this burden. Sure, I was born this way, but couldn’t I fix that?
The strange part is that losing weight will not change your smile (besides that it becomes all jutted out and boney), and it will not change your hair (besides it all breaking off and thinning out), but those are the things I desperately wanted to be separate from. That and my family.
As I regained weight after years of starvation, alcohol was the first thing that helped me cope with the loss of my thinness. (Phew, at least I can forget that was ever a problem!) I immediately jumped anorexic ship for alcoholic island. Now, after almost a decade of binge drinking, hiding bottles, blacking out, and impulsive haircuts, I have finally realized I have issues surrounding drinking as well. In the last four years, I’ve been cycling through bulimia, alcoholism, and severe depression and anxiety – overconfident when I’m starving and sober, desperate when I’m starving and drunk, miserable when I’m bingeing, and vowing to change when I lose track of my old body.
I’m feeling grateful at the moment that I have found Alcoholics Anonymous and have come to a point where I’m devoted to making booze a thing of the past. I understand it can take a long time to sort out all the issues you’ve created for yourself and the emotions you have after you quit drinking. I understand that especially the first year can be hard. Yeah. The first YEAR. So because of that, I’m trying to take it very easy on myself.
But the issues surrounding my love relationships and my eating seem completely out of my …control. I get so afraid when I eat because I know I am overeating for comfort. But when I exercise even lightly to ease my anxiety, I have constant chatter in my head about how fast I should be going and how much I can “improve” by summer. And I still see food and exercise as the only reason the other exists. I take my little aggressions out on my partner and I’m completely unable to tell if I am being taken advantage of, or if I have truly found someone who loves me for me. It depends largely on my mood how I feel about him and I make very serious internal judgements about our relationship that flip flop almost every day.
The people I read about online and the people I meet in AA almost all say they gained weight after getting sober. Either that or they’ve started smoking more cigarettes. The weight gain scares me so much. I talk about it with people, but I haven’t found anybody who seems genuinely afraid of it. There’s a lot of laughing and patting their sober bellies while telling goofy jokes. Please don’t let me get fat, is the only superficial thing I can think. I don’t know if I’m ready to find out who I really am yet, especially since I started all this mess when I was 14. Seems like 20 years is a lot to make up for. I’ve just been looking in the mirror at my hair, trying to tell myself I’m okay.