I said something in therapy that sort of startled my therapist. I've been seeing this guy for about three months in his office that is basically a living room for the geriatric. There's a weird rug, a rolltop desk that is a reissue of the actual early 20th century design, and the temperature is consistently hovering around 82 degrees. Like a grandfather, he has his chair, a pocketbook calendar, some large books with thin pages, and a couch which sort of tips me towards the exact middle regardless of wherever I position myself.
A look of surprise seized his face as soon as I said, "I fucking hate my body."
I've hated my body forever. My calves are too thin in comparison to the rest of my legs. My ankles are too thin so walking in any shoe with a heel over two inches presents a challenge. If released into the wild, my eyebrows are something a female Russian wrestler might exhibit (only two of those adjectives are accurate). I feel like I am heavier than I should be. My hair has crazy split ends I am unwilling to part with. At the depressing age of 28, my skin began blemishing and displaying acne around my shoulders and down my spine. For a number of years, I remained confident in my appearance. Not wearing make up seemed like a feasible option a few days out of the week. But as soon as I became sober, I became hyperconscious of my appearance.
I drank to avoid most emotions, feelings, doubts, most anything which dealt with insecurity. If I was drunk, I didn't have to think about a cowlick or two. If I was drunk, the matter of my normal BMI dissipated. If I was drunk, I was oblivious to hair growth patterns. The dawn of this spawning insecurity began while I was in inpatient. I was eating three meals a day for the first time in years: breakfast, lunch, and dinner intermingled with really really really watery coffee. I gained weight because of the additional meal almost immediately. I really wanted to offset my new regimen of hospital horseshit food, so I used an exercise bike for 17 out of 21 days I was there. I biked for a half hour, which left me usually around six or seven miles. The bike was facing this outward window towards the University of Minnesota campus and the river separating its geography. In early March, the ice started to crack and create small subarctic islands, most of which were gone by the time I was discharged. The first time I got on the bike, I turned on my newly purchased iPod Shuffle. I was told prior to entering inpatient I could bring an mp3 or CD player, but nothing that made music yet also featured internet access. In a wife beater and basketball shorts, I slipped my feet in the stirrups of the exercise bike. I turned on the Shuffle as soon as I found a comfortable pace, and the first song to come on was "Going Back to Rehab" by Sage Francis.
I exited inpatient while in a darkening depression. My medication was blindly increased by a doctor I only met with one time, which in turn made me extremely lethargic. I know some of you know me as a "severely relaxed" individual, but I was moving at the speed of primitive AOL. I mean like, came on a CD-ROM AOL. I was talking noticeably slower, the pace of my footsteps constantly left someone a few feet in front of me (and still does). My reactions to situations, television shows, or general stimulation was delayed. If I did ten things during the day, seven of them were sleep. I love sleep, so I didn't declare war outright. I simply slept, went to AA, and the occasional open mic if I was feeling more loquacious than usual. The weight I gained hovered for a few months after I was discharged, but getting back to two small meals a day rather than three really awful meals per day helped. Moving a bit more and getting out in the world helped, as well. But the pang of distaste for my physical representation remained.
Being sober means being out in the world, which increases my chances of other people seeing me. Not people I know necessarily, but the cashier at Walgreens or the Starbucks barista or the Amazon delivery guy. I discovered today I only want attention when I actually want it, or when I expect it. Occasionally a stranger will compliment my tattoos, or an audience member will talk with me after a show. But I don't want attention if someone is going to become aware of the flaws in my design. I only want to be seen while in pristine condition, like an open house or a new airplane. Good thing I like hats because I would probably never leave the house if my hair wasn't exactly right. Somehow I got the impression that my worth is determined by how perfect I am, and I'm not perfect, so I can't be worth that much. That was incredibly painful to type.
I am incredibly self-conscious when it comes to being diabetic, the other reason why my body leaves a salty taste in my mouth. On occasion, someone who is not familiar with the disease will ask me an onslaught of insensitive or uninformed questions. Other times, someone tells me about a cure for my incurable disease. Here are some of the things people have asked me, or just right out told me:
Can you eat that? Yes I can fucking eat that.
My (insert relative) lost a foot to diabetes. Would you say that exact same thing to a cancer patient?
Are you sure you should be eating that? Yes I'm fucking sure I should be eating that.
But you don't look diabetic! And you don't look like someone who knows when to keep their mouth shut.
I could never be diabetic, I'm too afraid of needles! Do you want to be diabetic and stay alive? Because you're going to need needles to stay alive.
If you exercise more, you won't need to take insulin. As a Type 1, I need insulin to live. If I don't take it, I'll die.
You can reverse your diabetes with diet and exercise! Again, I need insulin to live. I'll always be diabetic. And to be honest, don't you think I would have hopped on that train like five fucking years ago?
Did you eat too much sugar as a kid? Of COURSE I did. Who didn't?
Diabetic people experience these statements and questions far too often. One woman in an online forum I frequent actually had the cops called on her while in a restaurant because another woman saw her injecting insulin in the restroom, which she assumed to be illicit drugs. I understand the disease is probably mystifying to those whose pancreases actually function, I get that. Part of it is that the media discusses diabetes as one disease and not four separate diseases (Type 1, 2, gestational diabetes, and LADA), so the public sphere is under the impression every diabetic is Drew Carey. But a lot of people can't keep their mouth shut about my dietary imperfection, once again causing me to be hyper aware of the fact that my pancreas shit the bed for no reason. My family is incredibly understanding of my schedule. If I consume carbs with a meal, I can only eat every four or five hours. That duration gives the insulin from my previous meal a chance to work its way out of my system. If I eat carbs again too soon and take insulin to compensate accordingly, known as "stacking," I heighten my chances of getting low blood sugar because the previous insulin I gave myself was still active. Science!
When I'm offered a snack by someone who doesn't know I'm diabetic and I politely refuse, they look at me like I grew a second or sometimes third head. Yes, I am refusing your free food. Weirdly enough, we're both going to survive, but not me if I eat that. I don't want to have to launch into explaining the chemistry behind why I can't eat right then and there, so I need to take their quizzical looks with a grain of salt, which fortunately has zero carbs. I once again become self-conscious of my abnormality, my body not functioning as intended. It's times like this where I really want a factory reset option.
I can't control the fact that I'm diabetic, but I can control treating it. I've faced the fact numerous times that there probably will be no cure, and while some are working towards some kind of developing treatments, surgeries, or procedures, it's not like diabetics will be able to afford them. In 2013, Americans spent more on their diabetes supplies (mostly insulin) than the NFL and NBA spent on advertising combined. The number is staggering. It's in big pharma's best interest to not fix my pancreas, even though some organizations really do attempt at providing some faint hope. The dream of not worrying about what time the holiday meal is taking place, the dream of not doing long division before most meals, the dream of not eating or possessing Skittles at all times, the dream of not seeing a special doctor, the dream of not sweating and shaking while I drink juice on the floor, the dream of accepting that free snack isn't real.
So that leaves me as a vessel with less than perfect cargo. Getting sober allowed me to take care of my diabetes better, so hopefully I won't turn into that aunt who lost a foot to the disease. In turn, getting sober made me extremely aware of all of the things that are wrong with me. I used to be able to avoid these imperfections while I drank Coors Light in bed and watched The Office on repeat for months at a time. I have an incredibly hard time accepting that this is the body I was given. I hate it. I can't take a compliment well because I'm constantly paranoid they are lying to me to make me feel better, as if they're trying to smooth over that they noticed my imperfections. I can't shut the fuck up and say "thank you." Instead, I need to sadly stammer through a response that discredits their observation because I don't believe them.
Positive affirmations and acceptance are both big parts of sobriety. I am strong! I am beautiful! This is the body I was given and I accept that! No, I don't. I see it sort of a "Serenity Now" situation, where you basically bottle all this shit up and later you explode like Lloyd Braun. Sometimes I feel like I am strong! or I am beautiful! are just lies I need to tell myself so I don't drink. The truth is that I have an unparalleled hatred towards my body. Most days, I am unhappy with myself, like there is always something about me that could use improvement or fixing. And I know we aren't perfect, so why is my drive to be perfect so fierce? I think it goes back to that attention thing: I want people to notice me when I'm feeling confident, perhaps when I'm on stage is a good example. I knowingly take an instrument which amplifies my voice and the things I have to say, and I'm the only one in the room who possesses its sometimes deafening power. That's the kind of attention I want, positive attention.
Otherwise, I consistently believe I'm being judged for being less than perfect. The struggle to be perfect has affected me in both personal and sexual relationships. Men watch porn, it's a simple fact I like to believe most of us are aware of. If you want proof that the media creates unrealistic expectations for women, I am defense exhibit 1. Comparing myself to others is useless, and I realize that idea is mostly what this post has been about. But when it comes to barebones sexuality, porn inspires a female thirst for expectations which don't exist. In most of the relationships I have participated in, most boyfriends have watched porn. Maybe it's a drive for attaining the unattainable in that very moment, immediate sexual gratification. I don't know. That's not what this is about. It's the fact that when presented with the idea of porn, I immediately begin scrutinizing myself. Maybe he would love me more if I was like that. I wish my hips bent that way. I don't measure up. I don't measure up. I'm realizing now I have this scary idea that the women featured in porn are "perfect," and they certainly aren't with names like Dystyny or names with bad alliteration. Men sexually gratify themselves by using pornography, and I'm not a woman who believes "porn is cheating." I'm the woman who becomes jealous or envious because a boyfriend is giving Jesse Jayne (dry heave) particular attention and in his eyes, she's better than me. Is it just that I want to be loved, or for someone to look at me like they look at a grainy .mov? Do I want to be objectified? Do I want to be wanted? These are difficult questions for me, and probably for you (the royal you). It's the reoccurring struggle that I have with myself: I want attention, but only when I want it, when I expect it, and if it's positive.
Holy fuck this has been a brutally sad and honest post. There was a lot of anxiety all Serenity-Nowed up inside and I'm feeling better now that it's sort of out in the virtual arena. When I say "better," I mean that I won't have to ruminate about all of this for hours before I go to sleep tonight, but I probably will anyway.