Saturday, April 25, 2015


I have no plan or intent to kill myself I write, trying to make my handwriting as legible as possible. I am sitting in a tiny office across from a steel-gazed therapist signing my name to a safety contract that I am required to write as a result of "recent life choices."  I set down my pen and hand the therapist the piece of notebook paper with my carefully written reassurance that I will not attempt to off myself again in the immediate future.

What is going to keep you from acting on suicidal thoughts or urges again? she asks as takes the paper from my hands.

I pause as though I am thinking hard about her question, as though I have not carefully planned exactly what I am going to say, as though as I watch her jotting down my answers on her yellow legal pad she is not determining whether or not I will be shipped off to a psych ward.

"Well," I begin, "I have lots of things I am looking forward to in my future. I want to finish college and get a job and maybe travel some."

What I do not say: The pills that I did not take that night are still sitting on my kitchen table.

"I have plans with friends this week and next weekend I'm going to a wedding," I tell her. "I also have a lot of people in my life who care about me and will help to keep me safe."

What I do not say: The truth is, I don't know how to answer your question because I don't know what I'm going do when the thoughts come again or how I will react. I'm supposed to regret what I did, have had a come-to-Jesus moment with a realization that I actually do want to live. But nothing has changed: I am still a non-believer.

It's been a little over three weeks now since the earth and sky decided to switch places on me.

My memories of that night are a haze: pills in my hand and then down my throat / telling her what I'd done as began to lose consciousness / ambulances and IV's and doctors hovering around me.

I say: I did my research. It wasn't like I took enough to actually do any damage.
She says: I was there. You almost died.

In the moments immediately after I swallowed those pills time blurred into fast-forward - purge - drive - fall - ambulance stretcher - hospital bed - almost died. But in the days the days that have followed, waking up in the strange disorienting world on the other side of I just tried to kill myself, time has crept by in slow motion.

You could have died, she said and I wanted to shake my head no, argue that I am, in fact, invincible, that I would have woken up the next day as healthy as ever. But instead I say nothing, because whether I like it or not the facts stand in front of me, cold and angry and confrontational:
  1. I did not want to live.
  2. I tried to kill myself.
  3. I did not succeed.
  4. I am not, actually, invincible. 

I unlock the front door to my apartment and am greeted by the familiar smell of oil paint and turpentine and Febreeze that has been applied a little too generously. I drop my keys and wallet on the kitchen table and head towards the refrigerator, and in the few seconds from door to table to refrigerator I see it, sitting exactly where I left it, the quietly unassuming bowl of all of the pills that I did not take that night. I stop and stare at the pills, and the pills seem to stare back at me, and we stay like that for a few moments, considering each other / sizing each other up. 

I am halfway to the refrigerator when the thought comes on with sudden intensity: I could take them all now.

For a moment I actually consider it, as though it were a completely normal, rational suggestion. The pull is quick and strong and urgent / deep breath in / and then just as quickly as it came / in and out / it is gone.

I am shaking my head to clear the fog from my mind because no of course I cannot take pills today because I have to go to class tomorrow and going to class requires me to be alive.


I told her that I didn't actually want to die that night, and maybe I didn't, but the reality is that I knew exactly what I was doing: I was trying to kill The Monster who lives in my head, the the one who forces me to convulse before a toilet bowl altar each night and deny the growling in my belly each day. Eight and a half years and seven times in treatment and my bathroom still smells like vomit from my nightly ritual of paying penance with my fingers shoved down my throat. I realize that wanting to die might sound morbid, but if we're being gut-level honest here, can I really be blamed me for wanting an out? For swallowing a bottle of pills in the hope that I wouldn't have to wake up to this reality one more day?

These days I do feel like the word "shatter;" I am a woman fragmented by pain.

She told me once that when we do things that go against who we are at our core it causes a sense of dissonance inside of us. It seem like I've been in chaos for as long as I can remember. The dissonance in my bones has become unbearable. I wonder sometimes what it must be like to feel actual, real live happiness, to not live in a constant state of self-destruction, to not always set my myself on fire from within. I am shattered and bleeding and gasping for air, and I wonder what it is to have a body that is not simply a geography of war wounds from battling the Monster. I wonder what it is to feel whole.


"You're a fighter, Linds," she tells me. "You say you've given up, but you haven't. You're still here. You're still alive."

I may not agree with all of that, but she is right about the last part. I am still here. I am still alive. There is a line in Adrienne Rich's poem Planetarium that says, "I am bombarded, yet I stand." I have always read that as a statement of triumph or as a display of bravery or strength, but now I read it as a simple statement of fact. I think I like it better that way, because I don't feel particularly strong these days. I don't feel like an inspirational story about overcoming obstacles: I simply survive. I am bombarded, yet I survive and survive again. This is not a story of David beating Goliath, it is about me shivering in a hospital gown trying to figure out why I am not dead. Willpower and courage make for great motivational speeches, but when I'm lying on the floor trying to convince myself that living is an important thing and that eating is an important thing and not taking a razor blade to my wrist is an important thing, sometimes I am not strong and sometimes I do give up. Sometimes I say THAT'S IT, I CAN'T TAKE THIS ANYMORE AND I'M THROWING IN THE TOWEL. And sometimes I survive anyway, despite giving up.

I don't know how to stop feeling fragmented. I don't know how to kill the Monster in my head, I don't know how to stop wanting to hurt myself, and I don't even know how to want to live. Years of pain are packed so tightly into my malnourished, mistreated body that sometimes seems like every cell in my body aches. I don't know how to begin to heal wounds that deep.

 But what I do know is this: I survive. I am still here, for better or worse. I am still alive. I am bombarded, yet I stand; I am bombarded, yet I survive and survive again. I survive and I am not throwing a party or shouting it from the rooftops. I am not holding my head high in victory as I cross a finish line. I am weak and lethargic and curled up in a ball after another panic attack. I survive, choking down activated charcoal after an overdose and hooked up to IVs. I survive, crying because I am still unable to finish a meal. I am here, still in the dark and still in the midst of Monsters, but here, surviving.

Saturday, February 7, 2015


1 month in the dark.

I sat in the parking garage outside of the treatment center and cried for an hour when I ate my first meal in a month.

I don't think I can do this.

hugged my knees to my chest, took a few deep breaths, and wiped away a layer of tears with my sleeve.

It had taken everything inside of me just to drive there that morning and this felt like more than I could handle. I still wasn't even sure that I wanted recovery in the first place - what was I doing at a treatment center again? Why had I reached out for help? 

Recovery had come to symbolize everything that I was most afraid of: it meant becoming solid, giving up being a ghost-girl. I wasn't sure if I was ready to trade haunting lightness for presence and weight and substance.

I stared at the building in front of me through tear-blurred vision and wondered what part of me thought that going back to treatment was a good idea.


Relapse is not what I had in mind when I left my last treatment center. I signed recovery contracts, set up aftercare appointments, taped motivational quotes around my apartment and prepared menus each week according to my dietitian-approved mealplan.

But it was always lingering there, the desire to be sick.

It didn't take long. It was surprisingly simple actually, deciding to dance with the devil again. I let myself be pulled back to the Land of Shadows, to the familiar, terrifying terrain of self-denial and frail non-existence. 

When my body survived off of caffeine and adrenaline, I felt invincible. Look at how powerful I am, I would say, stepping on the scale to find that the number has gone down again. I am so powerful that I can make myself disappear.

I would suppress my hunger with gum and coffee, and reward myself at the end of each day with a small, obsessively measured allotment of calories. 

My body was in agony, but as I entered a foggy haze of starvation again, the Real Pain, the one that never let up, began to thin out. It seemed to shrink in proportion to my shrinking body.

This is what you wanted, I would remind myself, when my stomach growled too loudly and the jar of peanut butter in the cabinet was the only thing I could focus on. You want to be numb to the pain. 

And I was right. It was what I had wanted.

But there was always a pause after those words.

A moment.

A breath.

A hesitation.

1 week in the light. 

I had survived another day of treatment, showing up even when I didn't feel like it. I did not want to eat.  At every meal I was faced with a plate full of food and a mind that was resisting. 

Emptiness had been a welcome relief. Starvation had felt preferable to the pain of being.

While I might have gone back to treatment, I still didn't know how to stop wanting The Monster.


today, in the shadows

I cannot tell you for certain if the real Me, with a capital M, still exists somewhere in this ghost-shell of a body. 

Most days I cannot hear anything in my head except The Monster. 

Are you even in there? I whisper to her in the darkness, huddled under layers of blankets in my bed. Have you managed to survive the war

And from some deep, buried corner of my soul, I think I feel her stirring.

Me with a Capital M doesn't respond. If she were to speak, I don't know that I would even be able to distinguish her voice from The Monster. But it is something, knowing that she is still in there after all of this time.

When I eat, the Monster begins to roar in my head, telling me that there is a deep dirtiness swimming in my veins. It rages and screams that the only way that I can atone for the crime of existing is to starve / purge / bleed these tainted parts out of me.

But I am beginning to feel her in bits in pieces now, Capital M Me, and she is pushing for something else.

And I begin to wonder: what would happen if the gods did not get their sacrifice this time? What if I were to stop punishing myself endlessly to satiate their bloodthirsty appetites? What if She were allowed to stand and speak more often instead of The Monster? 

Would the foundations of the earth shatter? Would the planets collide?

And I am so afraid --

 Not of planets colliding or earth-shattering disruptions,
I am afraid of life and happiness and freedom.
I am afraid of change.
I am afraid of losing the ghost-girl that I hide beneath and beginning to fill in with Me.
I am afraid of losing my power,
And of gaining it.
I am afraid of the anger of the gods when I stop offering up my body as a sacrifice.
I am afraid of healing when it feels so very much like the last thing I deserve.

I am caught now between wanting to listen to Me, with a Capital M, whose words feel more authentic and true and resonate in my bones, and giving in to The Monster, whose abusive voice is set on replay. This is the unholy tension in which I live, and for which I do not yet have an answer. 

But: there is a weak sliver of light shining in, barely enough to see in front of me, that is keeping the shadows from swallowing me whole. In the light there is a glimmer of maybe and what if that will keep me getting up in the morning, showing up to treatment, facing that plate of food again and again, and listening for when Capital M Me begins to speak at last.

The truth is, I don't know how I'm going to get through each meal everyday. It gets overwhelming if I think about it for too long. But for whatever reason, that Space In Between, that sacred hesitation after "I want to be numb," is holding me back from falling headlong into the darkness. 

Friday, January 2, 2015


8:00 PM

I’m curled up on my bed across from an unfinished painting and a pile of dirty laundry on the floor. I am tired beyond words and I want to close my eyes and make the world disappear for a while.

 My dietitian will be proud of me because I actually finished dinner tonight, which is probably the most I’ve eaten in the last few days. And to top it off, I didn’t go run afterwards to burn off the calories she tells me my body so desperately needs. So here I am, me and my thoughts and this food in my body, just us, them and me, sitting on my bed and acting opposite to emotion as per the skills that dialectical behavioral therapy has taught me.

"You’re body doesn’t trust you," my dietitian says when I ask her why I cannot lose weight anymore. 

This is probably a smart decision on the part of my body.

Why should it trust me? The evidence of my own self-hate is tattooed all over my skin in scars and scratches, burn marks, and bruises. It is in my worn down esophagus and my inability to, as a fully grown adult, feed myself on a regular basis. No, my body and I are not on good speaking terms right now.

"But I don’t want to eat today,” I tell her. “Or ever again, while I’m at it.”
"I know," she says, without missing a beat. "And you need to do it anyways."

That’s probably the hardest part of all, the counter-intuitive nature of recovery, that to move forward I must act against every impulse in my body that is telling me to self-destruct. 

 starve / purge / cut / run 

1:00 AM

I'm laying awake in the darkness sobbing, because, godammit, the unraveling is painful and I feel helpless without the ability to cope using my old, tried and true methods. (“These are ineffective behaviors,” I am told.) 

When I first started this process they made recovery sound appealing, all bright and shiny, talking about how you get your life back, and just imagine all of the things you’ll be able to do when you’re healthy again! Healing and life and happiness!

I throw another tissue onto the growing pile beside my bed.

They should put this part on the treatment center websites instead of those stocks photos of smiling women: me, red-eyed and tissue-laden and too exhausted to move. They should that tell you recovery feels like having someone rip you open at the seams, examine your insides for the most dark, painful places that exist there, and attempt to dig them out with a knife. The surgery that is required for healing just might kill you - that should be the slogan for recovery. 

I've heard people say that eventually it will get easier, that The Thing won't always be as loud as it is right now. Maybe that’s true. But I am still here and The Thing is still in my head, and everything - getting up every morning and living and breathing and eating - hurts. 

2:30 AM

The worst of the storm has passed, at least for tonight. The Monster has finally gone to sleep and my mind is quiet for a few rare moments before the heaviness of sleep pulls me under.

In the morning I will have to wake up and decide to eat again. I will open my fridge and try not to obsess over nutrition labels staring/glaring back at me and instead look at my personalized meal plan taped to the door of the pantry telling me BREAKFAST: 1 grain / 1 protein / 1 fat / 1 dairy / 1 fruit. I will hear my dietitian’s chirpy voice in my head as I pour a bowl of cereal saying that If you want things to be different this time, you going to have to try something different! Each bite of the stupid cereal will be painful and I won't believe her that this is going to help anything. Eating just makes The Monster louder. But this is my trying-something-different phase, my dipping-my-toes-in-the-water-to-see-if-maybe-just-maybe-they-could-be-right phase, my well-clearly-what-I'm-doing-isn't-working-anymore-so-dear-god-let's-try-something-new phase. So I will put another bite of cereal in my mouth, and pretend that I am a normal girl, that I am eating because I am hungry! and I love cereal! and I got up just so I could eat my breakfast and drink coffee and enjoy another day! I will not fool myself, but it will help somehow. Chew.Chew.Chew.Swallow.Chew.Chew.Chew.Swallow. I will find a rhythm to it, make it a game. I'll turn on the radio and chew to the beat. Anything to not listen to that Thing. I will dance around the kitchen with my bowl and sing with my mouth full. I will...

My eyelids are getting too heavy now for my mind to keep running and I'm sinking into the safety of sleep. I still have a few more hours before I have to face the world again. I pull a blanket close over my shoulders and go to a place where my problems can't find me. There are no Monsters are allowed in this place. No scary foods or hospital rooms or scales or hovering therapists who are so very worried about me. It is just me in this place, and for right now, I am safe.