“You have a hole in your chest.” My memory of an event that occurred nearly ten years ago is cloudy, but the information regarding the pain I was having in my chest as delivered by my doctor at the time comes in clearly. I believe my parents stared back at my physician with a kind of disbelief, a disbelief heightened when they were told how this might have happened. That day on the clinic’s scale, I weighed in at under ninety pounds. Whatever physical activity I had managed to execute in order to keep my frame barely hung with flesh had combined with my malnutritioned state to produce a sort of hole somewhere in my upper respiratory tract. The morning of that fateful doctor’s visit, I had woken up and felt pain and a “rattling” sensation in my chest during respiration. Frankly, after the amount of time between the present and this event, I still have no idea as to the scientific classification for what happened to me. Indeed, from what I recall, my doctor wasn’t entirely certain where the hole was either–but she was concerned. I was told that if the hole was in particular parts of my anatomy, exertion could send me to the emergency room.
I believe it was on this day that my parents were fully hit with the state of my anorexic body. I had gradually whittled my way from 125 lb at age 15 to 88 at age 18. At a little over 5’2″, 88 pounds doesn’t look healthy, but it is possible to obscure the impact of a too-thin frame with clothing, and my gradual decent from a normal-range weight to an abnormal one was probably easy to miss until suddenly, one day, my body was in the process of starting to shut itself down because of its composition.
Suddenly, everything was Alert Level 10. I can describe my consciousness during this period of my life as one that peers out from down a very narrow, long hole. My memories of things that happened to me and things that I did around ages 17-19 are played through a frame akin to the bottom of a well. I had an EKG. I remember the sense of the hospital gown tenting itself around me and the sense that neither I nor the wires that attached to sensors stuck on my chest–sensors that, in a way that struck me as odd at the time, mimicked the size and shape of my nipples–were shielded from the view of the physicians administering my tests. I remember eating ice cream valiantly for the first time in years on one of the pivotal evenings at home following the chest hole diagnosis as I watched my parents confront how far I had gone on my self-destructive path. The ice cream night felt, at the time, like drunken victory. I had thrown open the freezer and grabbed for whatever carton of frozen dairy product lay within. I remember using the spoon to deliver the ice cream to my mouth like it was an object brandished in ritual. Slowly and gracefully the spoon dipped and rose between carton and mouth, and I was pleased to eat hundreds of calories in front of my parents in a show of solidarity with their desire to help me “recover.” I know that guilt over what I had done to myself had consequently done to them did not temper the movements of that spoon–that guilt did not exist until years after I ate that ice cream.
It took years to heal, redirect, learn, fear, fall, learn more, dismiss, forgive (myself) from my most acute period with an eating disorder. The day I truly experienced guilt for how my condition had taken a toll on my parents probably signified the day at which I could be called “recovered.”
I’m not sure how easy it is to stop guilt. You can be forgiven, you can forgive yourself, but you cannot obliterate the past. Knowing I caused another pain is, for me, the most egregious possible sin I can commit.
It is, then, amazing that I have been able to so thoroughly and extensively keep myself in mental pain via self-punishment for lengthy parts of my existence. I have been told to imagine how the way I relate to myself would be received by another human being, and picturing this shift of my punishing attention is difficult. If I treated anyone the way I do myself, I would consider myself cruel, unsympathetic, unyielding.
It is the root of this double standard that, upon introspection, made me choose to treat myself better by not giving myself a space for further self-punishment that was competing in 105 at this point in my life. Unfortunately, there is much in the wake of that decision that gives me opportunity to berate myself, to belittle myself, to feel “not good enough” for–if I choose to. Right now, my project is to try not to make this choice. I cannot mentally self-flagellate for not “sticking it out.” I cannot decide to attempt to eat more in support of my lifting efforts and then rule myself “gluttonous and hedonistic” for doing so. I can’t. Because my lifting will suffer for it. And those who know and support me will suffer from my own self-destruction.
Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about self-destruction in roughly a decade, it’s that its devastation never operates within an isolated bubble of your own consciousness. You cannot love, be loved, and expect self-destruction not to affect those who are important to you. Powerlifting had made me face myself before, and it has made me do so again. This time, again, I hope I can honor the sport for this opportunity by acting in my best interests–and hopefully pulling off some PRs along the way.