Too Short for a Blog Post, Too Long for a Tweet XCIV
I am marked, in so many ways, by what I went through. I survived it, but that isn’t the whole of the story. Over the years, I have learned the importance of survival and claiming the label of “survivor,” but I don’t mind the label of “victim.” I also don’t think there’s any shame in saying that when I was raped, I became a victim, and to this day, while I am also many other things, I am still a victim.
It took me a long time, but I prefer “victim” to “survivor” now. I don’t want to diminish the gravity of what happened. I don’t want to pretend I’m on some triumphant, uplifting journey. I don’t want to pretend that everything is okay. I’m living with what happened, moving forward without forgetting, moving forward without pretending I am unscarred.
This is the memoir of my body. My body was broken. I was broken. I did not know how to put myself back together. I was splintered. A part of me was dead. A part of me was mute and would stay that way for many years.
I was hollowed out. I was determined to fill the void, and food was what I used to build a shield around what little was left of me. I ate and ate and ate in the hopes that if I made myself big, my body would be safe. I buried the girl I had been because she ran into all kinds of trouble. I tried to erase every memory of her, but she is still there, somewhere. She is still small and scared and ashamed, and perhaps I am writing my way back to her, trying to tell her everything she needs to hear.
During my twenties, my personal life was an unending disaster. I did not meet many people who treated me with any kind of kindness or respect. I was a lightning rod for indifference, disdain, and outright aggression, and I tolerated all of this because I knew I didn’t deserve any better, not after how I had been ruined and not after how I continued to ruin my body.
My friendships, and I use that term loosely, were fleeting and fragile and often painful, with people who generally wanted something from me and were gone as soon as they got that something. I was so lonely I was willing to tolerate these relationships. The faint resemblance of human connection was enough. It had to be enough even though it wasn’t.
Food was the only place of solace. Alone, in my apartment, I could soothe myself with food. Food didn’t judge me or demand anything from me. When I ate, I did not have to be anything but myself. And so I gained a hundred pounds and then another hundred and then another hundred.
On a visit to Los Angeles, my best friend and I were drinking wine in a hotel room. During a pleasant lull in the conversation, she grabbed my hand to paint my thumbnail. She had been threatening to do this for hours and I was resisting for reasons I could not articulate. Finally, I surrendered and my hand was soft in hers as she carefully covered my nail in a lovely shade of pink. She blew on it, let it dry, added a second coat. The evening continued. I stared at my finger the next day as I sat on an airplane hurtling across the country. I could not remember the last time I had allowed myself the simple pleasure of a painted fingernail. I liked seeing my finger like that, particularly because my nail was long, nicely shaped, and I hadn’t gnawed at it as I am wont to do. Then I became self-conscious and tucked my thumb against the palm of my hand, as if I should hide my thumb, as if I had no right to feel pretty, to feel good about myself, to acknowledge myself as a woman when I am clearly not following the rules for being a woman—to be small, to take up less space.
Before I got on the plane, my best friend offered me a bag of potato chips to eat, but I denied myself that. I told her, “People like me don’t get to eat food like that in public,” and it was one of the truest things I’ve ever said. Only the depth of our relationship allowed me to make this revelation and then I was ashamed for buying into these terrible narratives we fit ourselves into and I was ashamed at how I am so terrible about disciplining my body and I was ashamed by how I deny myself so much and it is still not enough.