There are no facts, only interpretations.- Neitzsche

Today’s blog is about perception/perspective- whatever you want to call it.

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                 Me, circa 1986.

Here is a photo of me from my days as a dancer. I took dance classes very seriously as a child. Dance classes and singing in church were my gateway drugs into theatre. I would probably still be a dancer had the sole company in Corcoran not left town when I was in middle school. But they did, so I started begrudgingly playing sports instead. I sort of blame my half-assed rhythm on the fact I never had the opportunity to fully hone my skills as a ballerina. While we’re at it, let’s blame my body on that, too. (Just kidding. Sort of.)

Back to the photo. This image of me was taken during my first delve into the dance world; I was one of the bunnies in our town’s production of Sleeping Beauty. I loved my teacher and classmates, I loved the music and the pretty clothing. I loved everything about dance class, except for the fact that our bunny costumes had tails, smack dab on our fannies.

For whatever reason, I found this very uncivilized. I suppose I don’t need to mention that I was a sensitive child, but the horror of a cotton ball poof attached to my bum was literally the worst thing that had ever happened to me up until that point in my life. I was horrified. Somewhere in the world, a video exists of me dancing with my other bunny cohorts. The few times we are required to shake our bunny booties to the audience, you see the other dancers obliging, “And shake, two, three, four…” while I flash my back side towards the audience with a speed my physique has never been capable of before or since, then grimace as I count out the remaining beats of the music shaking my bum towards the back of the stage. You see, it didn’t matter if the bunnies in the row behind me saw my horrific tail. They were worse than me; bunny tails AND second row placement? Ugh. Losers.

I remember the day the photo was taken. I, always having the sensibility of someone much older than myself, was mortified to learn there were a pair of junior high boys in the room. Whether these boys were babysitting their younger sisters or related to the photographer I can’t remember. But because they were older (and therefore cooler- a correlation I’ve only recently come to understand does not always equate), I would not, could not, dare not show my damn tail. It was bad enough I was wearing bunny ears. Like a child! And pink, for christsakes. I spent the entire time trying to make sure that, at any given point, my cotton-tailed butt was facing away from the hip young men. I mean, I was in second grade! What sort of mature, classy, sophisticated second grader dresses up like an animal, replete with a tail? How barbaric! I could feel a panic attack coming on (I had no idea what one was then, but I’m nearly certain I had one. Or it’s possible I may be exaggerating a little here for storytelling purposes). In any case, I do remember asking if I could just postpone the picture. “My tummy hurts,” I whined, half telling the truth by that point. But I was informed this was the only day to take the picture, ever, in the history of the world and since I was the sort of kid who tried not to ever disappoint anyone, I stepped out under the lights and tried my best to dictate how the photos were shot. I’ve never before or since been so loose behind a camera. My reasoning was, “I will do anything as long as I do not have to show this tail to those boys.” So I posed and contorted my little body in a million possible ways that made me look like a bunny, but did not show that stupid tail.  I put my hands out like little paws in front of me. See? I’m posing like a bunny. I jumped and hopped in the air. Just like a cartoon bunny! I sat on the floor and brought my knees up to my chin. Exactly like a real bunny! 

It didn’t work, though. The photographer, my mother, my aunt, and my cousin who had just finished taking her shots (the little traitor), all encouraged me to do the same humiliating pose as the rest of my classmates. I tried, unsuccessfully, to protest.

“But everyone is doing it this way,” reasoned the photographer.

“And your little rump is so damn cute!” gushed my aunt.

“Other people are waiting, Haley,” added my mom, with a tone implying it was her final warning.

My face flushed. “FML,” I thought to myself (or would have, had I known what that meant at that age).  I let the photographer take the gdamned picture and then raced to the nearest bathroom to remove my “accessories”.

I HATED the resulting photo for years to come. If you look closely, you can actually see the worry and discomfort in my eyes, the crimson of my embarrassed cheeks, the strain in my tight, forced smile.

Of course, I look back now and think, “I am the cutest fucking thing since an actual baby bunny.” Especially knowing the story behind it.

This past weekend, I joined some of my friends (31 adults, 2 children in strollers and 3 dogs, to be precise) in a 5K for pancreatic cancer research. Our group was the 2nd highest fund-raising team out of the whole race, following only behind the founder’s team. I got to spend an entire day with some of my favorite people and relish in another visit with Jarvis. At this point, every one is sacred because we don’t know how much longer we will have with him.

Upon coming home, I saw some of the pictures taken from the event and immediately my old cantankerous voices came forward to remind me how the whole day was a joke because I am so very very ugly and very very fat. They even got some new zingers in, courtesy of my new haircut. I mourned for a while- not only that these stupid, antagonizing murmurs still exist within me, but that I was giving them the freedom to take away such a special, perfect day.

And then, when I got home from trip, I randomly saw this bunny picture and remembered the parable hidden within it. I thought of my voices, “Oh, just shut the hell up.”

Part of this journey is coming to accept the fact that nothing is gonna change by me snapping my fingers or climbing up a hill and then descending into a easy, even, moderately paced solving of my issues. This has been, and always will be, more like a roller coaster ride. I had a bad moment this weekend; I’ve had a few bad moments lately. But they are at much less frequent intervals than before. And I am able to come of out of them so much quicker than I could do a year ago- to a much higher and better state of ‘neutral’.  For that, I am thankful.

I said something in my last therapy appointment about feeling like I am really “in recovery” now. Then, completely involuntarily, I began weeping. “What’s going on?” my therapist asked.

It was the realization that I fully do see myself “in recovery” at this point. I am no longer in the throws of an eating disorder and body dysmorphia and self-hatred and all those other things. I am truly at a place where I believe I am in recovery from it. There are moments that remind me not to get too cocky, but I do see a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is brighter and closer than I ever dreamed possible. All this, from only taking half a year to face it, head on. Imagine what all of us could do if we faced all our demons head on?

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Years from now, all I’ll remember is: this was a great day.

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                 Team Jarvis at the finish line.

So you see, my dear friends? Perspective. Perception.  If you don’t like the way you’re seein’ something, change your point of view. There are no facts, only interpretations.

A Change Gonna Come

I haven’t binged, purged, or done that weird thing where I chew my food and spit it out since August 27th. This is not to say that I haven’t over-eaten or made bad food choices, but I haven’t gone too far astray since before Labor Day. I feel this is something to celebrate.

I have also had several conversations with myself where I’ve acknowledged the fact that “conquering” my food and body issues may ultimately mean doing so only in an internal, spiritual way.  My physical body may never change (at least on the outside), and I need to be okay with that.

I was starting to believe I could be.

Then I see one photo of myself and am reminded how much work still lies ahead.

My family went to an awards banquet for my father last night. He was nominated for an Educator of the Year Award.  The nominees were judged 50% on their own speech and 50% on the essay their nominators wrote about them. With these as the voting guidelines, my dad should have easily crushed his competitors. His speech was powerful, fluid, and void of the million cliches all the other speakers used. I think his downfall was that he was too good, though. He doesn’t speak or think like a middle school teacher; he speaks and thinks like a college professor- and not one of the near-retirement, jaded and cynical variety either. Anyway, I think his words might have been a little too sophisticated for the judging panel (the man referenced the Gordian Knot, for christ sakes).  This is not to put down anyone in the room, or belittle what K-12 educators do. My dad has influenced countless lives as a middle school teacher and high school basketball coach. But sometimes it saddens me to see glaring examples of how much he really settled in life. I wonder how much of what he chose to do with his career was because of my sister and I. Without us, would he have felt less tied down to the goals he made in his twenties? Would he have gone off and done even greater things? Or would he have never gone back to school in the first place and still be working a blue-collar job at J.G. Boswell company? Either way, I spent the evening proud of him- proud of the respect he has rightfully earned from his peers and the community, proud of the values he has instilled in my sister and I, and proud that (whether or not this is the life he would have picked for himself) he has done so much with the path he has taken.

My grandparents were in attendance, cute as ever. My sister was there too, and I always feel like a truer version of myself in her presence. With the exception of some awkward dinner conversation with other people at the table and a few really bad speeches, it was a great night. At the end of the event, it was picture time. They were taking several of our family for the local newspaper and school records and things like that, which I dutifully lined up for. Then I asked someone to take a picture of me and my sister with our grandparents; I’ve been on a kick, trying to get as many pictures of my Granny and Poppa as possible while they’re still alive.

When I saw the photo on my iPhone screen, my heart sank. Staring back at me was a gigantic, ugly, insecure, unhappy football linebacker with round cheeks and an ill-fitting ensemble. I immediately began tearing into myself. My sister had to stop me. I’m ashamed to admit she had to stop me several times over the course of the next 12 hours, because even this morning I had to bring up how frustrating it is to have had a breast reduction and still feel like I have humongous, saggy tits that make me look 10 years older than I really am. She tried to help by reassuring me that I didn’t look any different in the picture than I did in real life. This (unintentionally, of course) made me feel worse. I made myself post the image on my Facebook, because I have been wanting a picture of me with my grandparents to use as my cover image. Although I uploaded the picture, I couldn’t go so far as to make it my cover photo. I have gone round and round about deleting the picture all-together for the last fourteen hours, horrified every time I see my face and figure in it, but subdued when I look at the kind and lovely faces of my family. Bottom line is, for whatever strides I have made in food management and talking to the mirror, I still have some major body dysmorphia concerns. I can acknowledge I’ve made enough progress to recognize this solely as dysmorphia and not any true reflection of reality. I know my eyes are playing tricks on me; but I have not quite got to the point where I can figure out how to see beyond that.

I say this not to complain, but to state a marker point for where I am in my recovery. Three months without binging or purging is a mile-stone and something I am very proud of- but I have more battles ahead.

And I am up to the fight.

I will try to leave the picture up. I will try to even promote it to my cover photo at some point; to remind myself not only how much I love my grandparents and sister, but that I am more than any one picture- that I am more than any or all of my physical characteristics.

Please, no comments about ‘You’re beautiful, Haley” or anything like that on this post. Though I appreciate the sentiment, that’s not what I am aiming at here, nor does approval from other people necessarily help with the issue. This post wasn’t to incite compliments; I just want to look back in a few months and gage where I was at.

And where I am at is: better than I was five months ago. And that’s great, by my estimations.

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