Your Body is not your own

Your body is not yours.

The first time you realize this you are on vacation with your family. You are at the beach and girls in bikinis and boys without shirts run across the sand. Suddenly your one-piece bathing suit feels too tight, too revealing, as it points out the imperfections you are trying to hide. This is the first time you only eat part of your sandwich.

The second time you realize this is first day of High School when you realize that all the friends you had are now to cool to hang out with you. They are taller now, thinner, and their perfectly tanned bodies glisten and glow with each sashay of their hips as they walk. Now only eating part of your sandwich is habit.

The third time you realize this will be the day you are looking for a Prom Dress. You want to look like a Princess but the crown was placed on somebody else’s head. While everyone else is fitting into their little dresses, you are too big. You grab a dress that could make the cut if the Beauty Pageant judge was blind in one eye and liked whales. And as you make your way down the aisle to the dressing room to squeeze into a dress, you try not to get your hopes up, because everything falls sometimes.

When your mother asks to see you, you tell her there is a mirror in the room.

Your body is not yours. It is the four white walls they built to enclose you as you try not to stare at the image looking back at you—an image who is four sizes too big  to be beautiful, with a throat that has forgotten what delicious tastes like, and a mouth that has forgotten how to form the word “beautiful.”

The fourth time is Prom Night. And while everybody else is enjoying themselves, the only thing you can think about is the way the fabric feels around you, hoping it covers the parts you hate the most, the way the gazes feel around you as people try to figure out what you are doing there, because you don’t belong. You can’t forget the way your stomach heaves when you breathe, so you hold in your breath.

Your lungs forget how to do their job.

There will be a fifth time, and a sixth time, and an “I’ve done this so many times I’ve lost track” time. You will be at the grocery store checkout line wishing your face to be on the bodies of perfection. And no matter how many times you airbrush out your imperfections, your body will still be so far from perfect that perfect has forgotten your name.

Your body is confined by price tags and bar codes and beauty treatments you think you need. Your body is a slave to society so you count how many calories society has allocated for you.

Your body is not yours. Because the money you save from not buying ice-cream will be spent on a scale to figure out how much you’re worth. Your body is the portion of food left untouched, the calorie count on the pack of chips you don’t deserve, and it all amounts to the size tag on the back of your dress.

Weight equals mass times gravity, and you learn this in physics, but you understand it when the bathroom floor pulls you against its cold, flat surface after you’ve emptied last night’s calories. Because you have too much body, and you have long since memorized your relationship with numbers. Your value is inversely proportional to your body.

Your body is not yours. It’s the mirror on the wall, the pieces on the floor, and you know all the laws and reactions governing this puzzle, but the one thing you do not know is how society could have let you devalue yourself to accommodate others. Your body is not yours. It’s generations of society defining perfection as a dress size.

And all you want to do is regain control of your mind and tell society that you have value, because your heart is too big for a little body.

 

This poem is a continuation of my last poem “Accidental Inheritance.” 

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Accidental Inheritance

In her kitchen, my Grandmother prepares enough food for a small army, which is more than enough food for our 13-person family. She’s not afraid of food, but so many people are.

Sitting in the dining hall, I watch young women count the calories. They say they don’t deprive themselves, but my instinct tells me better. I’ve learned to find hidden meanings in every movement of the fork pushing the food around their plate, in every held back tear as they take one more bite. I wonder if they eat when no one’s around.

I wonder if this is why the world feels so big: it’s proportional. As girls shrink to fit themselves in the box labeled “perfection” by society, the unoccupied space around them increases exponentially. This world seems increasingly vast.

And it’s not that we are scared of food, because our lineages are intermingled with stories of big, strong women who knew how to eat. As humans, we are genetically-bred to love food, but we’re not bred to love ourselves. This world is focused on obesity and malnutrition, plenty and need, excess and want.

And somewhere in our history women were taught they were lesser without a man, and men only wanted women without excess fat.  Somewhere in our lineage, excess women turned into less women: shrinking women made space for men to enter their lives.

I have been taught that everything’s better in moderation, but I’ve learned not to accommodate others if it means devaluing myself. We’ve been taught to have a relationship with food. A love-hate relationship: love the taste, hate the calories.

The world needs more confident women. Women who know that they are beautiful despite being excess, women who know how to exude confidence when they open their mouth, women who know how to mix the words they speak into the food they eat to fill everyone up. Women who don’t begin every sentence with “sorry.”

The previous generation teaches the next generation, and even though genes are inherited, behaviors are replicated, which is why I don’t know how to knit. But I can still feel the silence weaved by the previous generation onto this collective blanket of “Topics Society does not talk about.” This blanket feels heavy as it covers this ever-growing world.

And we unknowingly pick up the habits of society when we deem somebody less because they are excess. And we pick up the crumbs of food dropped by a fugitive stealing food she does not deserve. We are prisoners to society.

I watch these girls as they figure out how many bites they are entitled to, and I’ve learned to mimic them. Because sometimes inheritance is genetic, but sometimes it’s accidental, and while I try so hard to unlearn this learned behavior, a girl more perfect than I walks by. I don’t know whether to hate her or be like her, but I don’t want to do either anymore.

We don’t want to do either anymore, but the burden of society has wrapped us up tight, which is why we don’t know the requirements we need to graduate, but we know how many more calories we can eat.

Because we spend an entire lunch time deciding whether or not we deserve another piece of pizza, a circular obsession we never wanted, but have accidentally inherited.

And all we want to do is not start every sentence with the word “sorry.”

 

see also: https://alltherestisunwritten.wordpress.com/2013/07/06/game-of-comparisons/    AND https://alltherestisunwritten.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/your-body-is-not-your-own/

 

Run Away

Before you move away from home, you will probably think about running away at least once, statistically speaking. Some people will run away; some people will get half way down the street and realize they have no idea where they are going, so they go back.

If home is where the heart is, my body is not my home. My mind has threatened to leave so many times, and my hands have carved a map into the walls of this body. I’m not sure how I’ve made it this far. My feet are on the ground, but my heads in the clouds, and sometimes if I dream hard enough and long enough my heart falls in love with impossibilities formed by the imagination.

And sometimes I’m scared my heart and mind will pack their bags and leave this body for a less tormented soul. Because if I can’t love myself, how is anyone else supposed to love me? On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m pretty darn naïve, so I don’t have all the answers. But I have all the questions.

Like, how some infinities can be bigger than other infinities, and howmymindcanmovesofast but m y m o u t h m o v e so s l o w, and how people can write books and poems and use words that just tear at your soul and make you question everything you thought you knew about everything you thought you knew.

Because when I’m speaking, my mind is a complex connect-the-dots with no apparent connection, but when I’m writing, the world makes sense. Perhaps John Green said it best when he wrote: “My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.” Because right now, my mind is the sky, my thoughts are as numerous as the stars, and the connections between thoughts are like shooting stars moving from Point A to Point B in this intergalactic sphere of connectedness we call humanity.

And I don’t know many things, but I do know about love, because love makes the world go round. John Green once wrote, “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once,” which is true. But I also believe you can fall in love in an instant, if only for a moment. Or at least you can fall in love with the possibilities and the ‘’could have been”s of what might have been possible in that moment. Time is not linear, because a moment can last forever, even if it’s only in the replays of our minds.

Because I once saw a boy on a bus in Seattle with muddy brown hair and eyes so blue they put the sky to shame. I wondered what his life was like, and if he was in love or out of love, or even if he believed in love. I wondered if he had a Mom and a Dad or just a Mother and Father. I wondered what his hobbies were: does he read, play the guitar, dance in the rain? Does he fall in love with words the way that I do and as easily as I fell in love with him (because in that moment, we exchanged a glance, and my heart left my chest and connected with his for just a second. But it was one of the most beautiful seconds this heart of mine has ever experienced). Because on that bus in Seattle, I saw a boy with muddy brown hair and a crooked smile, and big, sad blue eyes, and I wanted so badly to save him from the darkness of his own mind, but how can I do that when I’m not able to save myself?

But none of that mattered, because when he got off at his stop, I knew I was never going to see him again. It was by pure happenstance that we met, and it was by chance that I saw the weight of the world on his shoulders. But I can’t help but wonder what might have been had we met in a different place and time. Because even though I don’t love him, my mind is in love with the idea of him. And even though I can’t control time, I wonder what he’s doing now. I wonder if he’s happier. I wonder if that crooked smile has finally connected with his big blue eyes. I wonder if someone’s saved him, if someone’s loved him, like I’m learning to love myself.

Because if home is where the heart is, I want to build myself a castle with a moat and alligators and a fire-breathing dragon. Because I’m not afraid of loving, I’m afraid of leaving.  My heart won’t run away, but it might sprout wings and fly.

And you could fill a novel with all the ways to love.

Plan B

I wear more makeup on days that I can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror, hoping people won’t look at me and hate me as much as I hate myself. But at the same time, I’m hoping that somebody will hate me more, because than I won’t be the one left hating me the most.

It’s hard being a survivor. Anybody who says it’s easy is lying to you and probably themselves as well. It’s hard being a survivor, because even though I’m trying to heal, 90% of my being is telling me that I deserve to stay broken.

There are days when I feel like closing the door, collapsing in a heap on the floor, and putting myself in the washer with the worn clothes. Because that’s how I feel: dirty. I have lost the ability to wear white, because I am no longer pure. I am not red, but pink, because somebody mistook my purity to be theirs for the taking.  And I have been hung out to dry so many times before.

And no matter how many times I wash myself, I still feel dirty. Because the grime I’m carrying won’t come off without a power-washing with the water from above. In order for this Cinder girl to wear her Cinder dress, some magic needs to be worked in this body and mind.

It’s hard being a survivor when it’s easier to be the victim. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from Atlas, it’s that I can hold the weight of the world on these shoulders because I am stronger than I think I am, and I’m not doing it alone.

And even though I can rock my superhero cape, I can’t help everyone. But, I can certainly try. My hands may be small, but you can bet that when the rain falls, I will be out there with my rain-boots on, hands outstretched, trying to catch all the falling tears. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching all those cheesy romance movies, it’s that rain can wash away all your fears if you just let it. After the rain comes the rainbow, and to me, that’s the most amazing thing: beauty after the storm.

And even though I break down over and over and over again, I’ve made it this far, which is a miracle. So don’t you dare tell me miracles don’t exist. Because I’ve seen it in the way the waves refuse to stop kissing the shore no matter how many times they’re sent away. I’ve seen it in the way the sun comes up in the morning and sets in the night to allow the moon to shine. I’ve seen it in the way a baby learns to walk, and how it gets back up no matter how many times it falls.

And even though I may not know all the words to my favorite songs, even though I talk too much or too little, even though my brain moves a mile a minute and my mouth can’t keep up, there’s a healing power in words. There’s a healing power in friendship.

I’ve done a lot of things wrong in this life, but I must have done something right. Because if wealth was based on friendships, I’d be the wealthiest person in the world.

 

Dear Fellow Cutters: A letter

Dear Fellow Cutters (And Those Who Aren’t),

I’m writing this letter because this is an issue that needs to be discussed. I want you to know that you are not alone even if it feels like you are.

And I know I’m quoting from other things I’ve written, but this needs to be talked about.

I know what it’s like to be tormented by inner demons, who are constantly telling you you’re not good enough, or pretty enough, or insert adjective here enough. I know what it’s like to be waging a war on the battlefield of your body where the enemy is nothing other than a darker version of yourself: two sides of the same coin that will never work in tandem. You’re trying to save yourself from yourself, which is the last person you should have to worry about, but is also your own worst enemy.

I know what it’s like to hate yourself so much that self-hate eats at your soul until you are unable to feel any emotion. I know what it’s like to feel as though you are not human, because let’s be honest: A human void of emotion is no human at all. So to cope with the numbness that we feel, we cut. Because for that one minute, when the warm blood is dripping from our skin, we are allowed to feel something, anything, which is better than nothing.

I know what it’s like to become addicted to this release. I know what it’s like to hide the scars from judging eyes and from those who don’t realize anything is wrong. Because, let’s be honest, we want to see the best in people, and we don’t want to believe people around us are hurting this badly. And we don’t know how to explain we are not trying to kill ourselves; we are trying to stay alive (because in that moment, when the razor of hate touches our skin, we are not thinking about suicide. It’s after we’ve stitched ourselves back up that those thoughts begin).

But I also know what it’s like to hit your lowest point: to look down and realize your skin is not your skin anymore. After years of being bloody from fighting last night’s battles, it’s become a puzzle to be put back together. It’s become a battlefield marked with the gravestone of those lost in the fight. it’s become a maze or a timeline; traceable lines mark the path you’ve walked, how far you’ve traveled. I know what it’s like to wonder how you’ve made it this far. I know what it’s like to be scared by the future because you didn’t think you’d make it to see today.

I know what it’s like to tear the Band-Aid off, to feel the pain, to fight the fight, to put down the razor. And it’s not easy. Every day I have to tell myself that I don’t need to pick up that razor: I am better than this. For three years I have been telling myself this, and it doesn’t go away, but it gets easier.

So, dear friends who are reading this: I understand. I understand that it is hard to stop. I understand that it’s an addiction, and a method people like us use to feel alive. But if you are trying to stop, or have beaten it, I am so proud of you! For the rest of you, keep fighting. Life is hard, but it is also so beautiful.

Perfect

Find somebody who’s perfect. NO. Don’t find somebody who’s perfect. Find somebody who’s so imperfect that the Spectrum of Acceptable Levels of Perfect doesn’t even apply.

The problem with being human is we try so hard to be perfect and fail so miserably we might as well be called “Adam and Eve,” because we ate the forbidden fruit and were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, which essentially means perfection because paradise is perfection, or as close as we are going to get. So, we are separated from the One who is Perfect because of our own iniquities, and are so afraid of failing (which coincidentally looks an awful lot like falling) we begin to shave off part of ourselves because we will never measure up to this line defined by perfection—because humans are born with the innate fear of falling.

And this changing who we are to fit the standards that Society defines brings us even farther from perfection. Because if I’m not perfect for society, how can I be perfect to me? And so we reach into our pockets to find any loose coins to throw in the Well of Change and transform who we are. Because if we lost paradise once, we can lose it again, and everybody knows that paradise is conforming to the rules of society so you do not stick out like a sore thumb, like a weed in a garden of roses.

But even roses have thorns. And you don’t know beauty until you’ve been broken, so don’t be afraid to fall and shatter. It’s the regrowth that makes you beautiful. So be a weed in a garden of flowers, because weeds choke out their enemies (ok. Bad metaphor. Because the 6th Commandment is do not kill. So do not choke out your enemies).

A better metaphor would probably be the regrowth of a forest after a devastating fire. Beauty comes from ashes. So do not be afraid to burn up every once in a while. Nobody’s perfect.

The problem with being human is we are so focused on being perfect that we forget about the one who is perfection defined. We are not perfect, but we are made perfect by the washing of his blood, which is good enough for me. Because I’m busy trying to save my body from myself and I don’t have time to worry about being perfect. Because how am I supposed to be perfect when I can’t even get my hair to do what I want?

Somebody so perfect loved people so imperfect that we don’t have to be good enough for society. Because despite all our failures, we still have a place in Paradise.

Monsters: A poem within a poem

As Children we looked under our beds for monsters. Our monsters hid in closets. They lay in wait for the flick of the switch to conceal the room in total, utter, all-consuming darkness. Monsters that didn’t really exist, and that were really nothing more than shadows transformed into hideous beings by our overactive imaginations.

“Daddy! Daddy! There’s a monster!”

Somehow between the ages of naivety and experience, the monsters created by the imagination changed into monsters no imagination could create. Monsters hiding in the recesses of our soul until moments of weakness signals the beginning of feeding time—a feeding time that puts all the troops on high alert:

Watch out, there’s an invader. But the invader is only a darker version of ourselves threatening to destroy us. And the battlefield is our body: we are protecting our bodies from ourselves. Because the mind is a dangerous place, especially the mind of a tormented soul who doesn’t know how to deal with the pain.

And cries of “Daddy! Daddy! There’s a monster!” won’t save you this time.

The cries won’t save you from the battle raging on in your mind for control of your body. A battle that is best exemplified by a poem in the diary of a young girl who has just started fighting, a girl who has been so consumed by self-hate that she began cutting to stop the thought of ending her life.

An unnamed poem that reads:

Looking in the mirror, a tear stained face stares back at her.

She sees the hurt in her eyes.

Flashbacks of memories from the life shoe once lived control her mind;

She closes her eyes and the memories come flooding in.

Worthless. Worthless.

Ugly. Ugly.

Lying in her bed at night, she’s reached the breaking point.

Delirious from the tears, subconsciously her hands grab the scissors.

Slash.

The warm crimson blood trickles out of the newly made wound on her abdomen.

It stings like a slap in the face.

But it provides a temporary release for the pain, the anger.

Slash:

Another one.

This time on the wrist—

A cut that feels like it’s on fire.

She opens her eyes.

She looks in the mirror for a second time.

She dries her tears.

She covers her recently created marks of all-consuming self-hate.

She walks out the door to start her day.

That day’s battles will leave her with two more scars.

But the poem doesn’t have to end that way. Your story doesn’t have to end that way. The monsters don’t have to win. A simple asterisk with an alternate ending turns the poem to a happy one:

She looks in the mirror for a second time.

She dries her tears, turns around, and walks away;

She leaves the person she was behind.

She’s stronger now.

All that’s left are the scars and the memories of those long, sleepless nights.

You’re stronger now.

I’m stronger now.

We’re all stronger now.

 

 

Dear Attackers: A Letter

Dear Attackers,

You’ll probably never read this, and that’s ok. Because now that High School’s over, I don’t have immediate plans of seeing you again.

But I just wanted to let you know that I forgive you. This decision is one of the hardest I’ve ever made (let me tell you that I am a very indecisive person, I think. So every decision I make is relatively difficult). But, in order for me to get on with my life, it needs to be said.

I forgive you.

I forgive you for hurting me. I forgive you for making me feel like I was worth nothing. I forgive you for making me believe that I would never be loved and that I would never amount to anything.

I forgive you because I have proven you wrong. I am worth something. I deserve to be loved. I will do great things.

For a while, you destroyed my faith in God. For a while, you made me believe that I was so ugly, so broken, so worthless that not even a perfect God could love someone so completely imperfect.

I called out to God so many times without an answer, and I began to wonder if he had forgotten my name and the sound of my voice. His name became a rotten taste on my lips, because if there was a God why did he allow his people to suffer?

But suffering happened. I could do nothing but watch as my innocence was stolen from me as if it was never my own. And I wanted to fight back, I did. But fighting back becomes exhausting, which is probably why I sleep all the time. So, I let you take advantage of me. What else was I supposed to do? You were popular; I was not. And since school is filled with the wrong kinds of people, I said nothing.

But God knew what happened. God saw. And even though I tried to destroy the temple he made. Even though I cut myself open with all the hate that I could muster, he stitched me back together.  Someone perfect loved someone so imperfect that he didn’t run away when I wanted nothing to do with him, and as I lay in bed crying, he wrapped his arms around me and refused to let me go, despite the screaming.

That’s why I forgive you. It’s not because of my own power, but God’s power.

These last five years have taught me so much about myself. I’ve learned that finding yourself is the same thing as losing yourself. I’ve learned that beauty comes from brokenness. I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I think I am. Albert Camus once said, “But in the end, one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.”

It’s true, you know. It would have been easier to give up; it would have been easier to just do what you said. But, that would be akin to me admitting defeat, which is not something I do easily. I prefer winning and coming out victorious. So I fought. And I fought hard. Even when the air was knocked out of my lungs again and again, I got up screaming through the pain, determined to prove you wrong.

And I think I’ve done a good job of proving you wrong thus far. And even though the odds are stacked against me, I refuse to give in. I’m going to keep fighting to stay alive.

A lot can happen in 5 years: you grow up, you change, you learn to forgive.

Today I am forgiving you. Today I am saying goodbye.

I won’t forget what you did. But I’ll use it to help others, because everybody has a purpose, and I have found mine.

 

What doesn’t kill you

…makes you stronger.

Kelly Clarkson once told me that little nugget of wisdom. Well, Kelly, I hope that’s true. Because Depression hasn’t killed me, yet. But, I sure as hell* hope that it’s made me stronger.

( *I don’t swear on principle, but sometimes when you’re writing, swear words used in moderation help make a point. )

In one of my more recent blog posts, “You’re Better Off Dead,” I also wrote about this topic. Apparently, I need to reiterate.

People who live with Depression are often misjudged to be weak, selfish attention-seekers. I have never in my life heard a statement that is more false than that one.

Allow me to paint you a picture:

Imagine that you are fighting by yourself in a war against an army that is 7 billion strong. The other army has all the weapons available to them; you, on the other hand, have only a plastic fork and a metal trash can lid to defend you. Clearly, you don’t stand much of a chance. But, you, being the innovative person that you are, use the fork to dig yourself a hole. You jump in the hole, and use the metal trashcan lid to cover the hole and protect yourself from the bombs and bullets that are raining down on you.

This is Depression. The bombs and bullets are life and everything it throws at you. The fork is the voice inside your head telling you to fight like hell to survive—a voice that can be silenced so easily. The metal trashcan lid is your own personal sanctuary, wherever or whatever it may be.

My personal sanctuary is my bed. On my good days, it takes me an hour to get out of bed after I wake up (and that’s only if I have someplace to be). I’d much rather curl up in my bed, hide under the blankets, and not face life. But I get out of bed. I face life. I fight with my plastic fork, and even when I am too weak to take one more step in that marathon called Life, I do anyway. Because even though it feels as though I am sometimes breathing through a straw, my lungs are still filled with air. And as long as my lungs are still filled with air, I refuse to be another teenager lost to Suicide.

Because I easily could have been another Suicide statistic.

But, I chose life.

I chose to fight. And even though I don’t go through every day undamaged, even though my Depression causes me to regret somethings I do, I live. I do not suffer from Depression; I am living with Depression.

One day, I will die. But it will because I lived.

Depression will not be the death of me.

Depression:  “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”

 

Mirror, Mirror

As young children we are taught to say “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?” As if wishing on a star isn’t enough to make us feel inadequate because our wishes don’t come true. So we ask ourselves this question because Snow White’s Wicked Stepmother was too concerned with her own beauty to teach us any real lessons, like how not to compare ourselves with others 101, true beauty is on the inside not the outside—you know, the things that count.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”

Not me. Not me. Anyone else but me. The answer is always the same: someone else.

So we stand in front of the mirror, listing off our imperfections as if it’s a list of things to pick up at the new body store:  Hair (check), nose (check), smile (check), but wait. There’s more.

And we hide these imperfections behind layers and layers of make-up and clothes, afraid to show who we really are. Because if we are not good enough for ourselves, who else would we be good enough for?

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”

Not me. Not me.

So we compare and we compare. If I had this one’s nose, and this one’s smile, this one’s hair, and this one’s personality, I could build myself a castle and call me Cinderella, because this is a rags to riches story. But this is not a fairy tale. There are no fairy Godmothers, and even if there were, they wouldn’t waste their magic on something petty like beauty.

So we sit in silence. Struggling with the fact that we are not good enough. Struggling with the fact that the pretty girl always gets the guy. And we are so far from beautiful that we don’t even see the light from the sun.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”

Like some twisted lullaby it repeats in our heads until we become our own worst enemy. It engrains itself into the recesses of our soul, and its cruel words are pumped through our blood until we can’t even look at ourselves without the concealing shade of darkness.

 

 

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”

You are. You are. Because I Am. I Am.

You are beautiful because you are made in My image, and you are continually made beautiful because of the washing in My blood.

You are beautiful because I made you.

Move over Cinderella, because I have been built a Castle. My body is a Castle. My body is a temple. I am a Princess. I am a Daughter of the King. This is my rags to riches story.