I’m getting bad at food again. Lately I’ve been adding breakfast and lunch to my daily to-do list — partly because checking things off makes me feel productive even if it’s things I’d be doing anyway, but mostly because if it’s not on my to-do list looking like an official task, I won’t eat. I’ll rationalize it that I’m not hungry or I forgot or I was too busy or there’s nothing good in the fridge or I just don’t feel like eating. But if it’s not on the to-do list, daring my perfectionist nature to leave it un-crossed-off, I won’t eat until it’s dinnertime and I am reeling and grouchy.
Even cooking dinner is getting harder to manage these days, these school-free days when my schedule is wide-open and I have the luxury of time to cook actual meals. Even so I’ve abandoned meal planning, and half the time when Aaron comes home from work and asks, gently, if I’ve figured out anything for dinner, I’ll say, Oh right, dinner, sorry, as if the fact that my family wants to eat again — what, every evening? — has caught me off guard. So we’ll fix the kids peanut butter sandwiches or spaghetti with sauce from a jar, and Aaron will forage for something else to eat after the boys go to bed, and I will just — not. (And then, come midnight my family is asleep and I am ravenous, standing in the kitchen in the ratty t-shirt that is my summertime nightgown, eating fistfuls of cereal out of the box.)
I am coming detached from my body again. This hard-won presence in my body, stretching myself all the way into my fingers and toes, inhabiting myself — it’s slipping, and I am fading like a ghost. I am losing interest in food, sleep, sex — spending my days and my nights curved into the me-shaped spot on the sofa, disappearing into the internet, pulling out of the physical realm.
Later this summer, I am going to Florida with my family — Aaron and the boys, and my parents and brothers and sister. And I am anxious. Not about traveling with the kids — we’re finally past the constant vigilance of the potty-training years, and we have a travel DVD player for the unbearable flat stretches of interstate in southern Ohio and middle Tennessee — but about being on the beach with my family-of-origin family. I have grown into a self-assurance in my everyday life in this fat body of mine, an easy self-possession that has not been easy to find; but nowadays I am not held back by the size and shape of my body except in those one-off situations that are anxious-making for anyone — doctor’s visits, school reunions, mammograms.
But put me with my parents, my brothers and sister — all thin, toned, long-limbed and lean — and the old patterns are upon me at once: the shame, the sense of hulking hugeness, the judgments I imagine they’re thinking. With my father I become the ten-year-old standing on the bathroom scale, charting each morning’s weight on a line graph on the inside of the cabinet door, a line graph that only ever goes up. I am the girl listening to his catalog of judgments about the women we see at the park — Do you hear that sound when she walks? That’s the sound of her thighs rubbing together. But she’s doing the right thing, out here, walking it off. I can hear the conspiratorially quiet voice he used to describe the flaws of the women around us, just above a whisper, so that only I would hear — he didn’t want them to hear him and feel ashamed; he only wanted me to learn. I can so easily imagine what that murmur would sound like, describing my body, counting my sins.
I can so easily imagine what my brothers are saying behind my back — Flabby Abi, one of those childhood nicknames based more on what rhymes (a lot of words rhyme with Abi — you’d be surprised), a nickname that stuck only because they saw how it stung. When I am around my family now, I have to fight every second against the voices in my head that I imagine are theirs. I have to do battle not to police every bite of food I eat, everything I wear, every drop of sweat or gasping breath that might indict my body as sickly, morbidly obese.
And later this summer I will not only be with my family, but with my family on the beach, wearing a bathing suit.
So it’s little wonder I’m anxious — waking in the morning with my teeth clenched shut and my jaw aching, depending too much on the glass or three of wine after the kids are in bed. And it’s little wonder my jerkbrain is reverting to dieting, food-denying behavior.
My jerkbrain is smarter these days; as I’ve adapted to its lies, it has adapted too. So now instead of openly saying, You are so fat, stop eating, fatty, it wraps the lie in distractions, cloaks it in the little falsehoods about not being hungry, the forgetting to plan meals — pulls me out of my body so I won’t notice the hunger, the discontentment, the shaking. (And all these conversations that have been happening in the progressive-faith-writer blogosphere lately, about modesty and swimsuits and smokin’ hot wives, are only feeding the jerkbrain, reminding it that the male gaze is always, always there, watching, judging. These are important conversations, but I need to step back from them for a while, because they are seeping into my skin.)
I can see what’s happening. I know what you’re up to, jerkbrain. But besides the stopgap measures like putting breakfast and lunch on my to-do list, I don’t know how to make it stop.