Saturday, June 14, 2008

Much Ado About Nothing

Today I took my eating disorder with me grocery shopping and bathing suit shopping.

I didn't invite him, mind you -- he has an unfortunate habit of tagging along with me uninvited at the most inopportune moments, whispering surreptitiously in my ear words of discouragement, at times devolving into an all-out frontal assault.

Our first stop was the grocery store. As usual, ED rejects my sensible shopping list outright as soon as we walk in the store and begins making his own suggestions despite my loud protestations. He vacillates wildly between wanting to buy only carrot sticks, diet Coke, and low-fat low-carb tortillas, and filling the cart with gargantuan quantities of junk food.

"ED," I try to reason with him. "You know I shouldn't buy a massive bag of peanut M&Ms. I'll wind up eating all of them at once and then purge."

ED makes the counter-suggestion that maybe if I weren't such a fat-ass with no self-control, I could handle having the jumbo bag around without eating it all.

"Look, ED, that's completely unfair," I answer, irked. "You know I eat the individual packages of peanut M&Ms at work and am completely fine. I just don't want to put myself in jeopardy by pushing myself too hard."

ED is, as he tends to be, pissed at any attempt at rational discourse, and promptly begins a vituperative and wholly irrelevant rant about the size of my thighs.

"You know what? You're cut off," I say, taking the bag away from him and firmly putting the M&Ms back on the store shelf. "No one invited you along anyway."

That quells him for a bit, until we hit Kohl's and go bathing suit shopping.

Going bathing suit shopping with ED, I think, must be something akin to having your pain-in-the-ass mother-in-law with you in the delivery room. In both cases, YOU'RE trying to get something important done, but their overbearing negativity is both palpable and debilitating.

"Do you know how much weight you've gained since you've been eating the past few weeks?" ED asks me.

Of course I know, but I'm not going to give him the pleasure of admitting it.

He is all too willing to pipe in with the exact number, of course. "THIRTEEN POUNDS," he crows, jack that he is. "Thirteen pounds of pure, unadulterated blubber. For God's sake, Donna, you put on a bathing suit and you're going to look like a beached whale. Why don't you try on a nice muumuu, because that's all YOU'RE fit to go to the beach in this summer."

The Kohl's dressing room is a warzone, with every suit I try on a knock-down-drag out battle of the wills.

"Wow, you can't fit into a size-2 suit? You ARE a cow," he says, standing beside me in the mirror.

"I am not a cow, you jerk," I say through gritted teeth. "I'm looking way healthier now than I was a month ago. And I feel great."

"I bet you could have fit into the size 2 a month ago," he says, evenly looking my reflection in the eye.

I ignore him and try on a black two-piece.

"A TWO-PIECE? Are you KIDDING ME?" ED is aghast. "At least buy a one-piece with the most coverage possible. You don't want to go around showing off all that new poundage around your abdomen, do you?"

That particular two-piece doesn't fit. I'm on the verge of tears, and ED is amused. "You should listen to me once in a while," he says, smirking.

"Because that has served me so well in the past," I retort, trying on a lime-green two-piece with little white flowers on it.

"For the love of Mike," ED says, as we both observe my reflection in the mirror. "At least go with a nice neutral slimming color like black. You're not as thin as you once were, you know. Lime-green will only emphasize how fat you've gotten."

For a moment, I nearly listen to him, and dejectedly start to untie the straps. Then I stop and stand in the mirror, staring down my reflection, trying to forcibly peel back the many layers of psychological distortion which have congealed and built up over time and see, really SEE, the girl looking back at me.

There are few magical epiphanies in recovery. Grunting and bearing it is about the best you can do sometimes. So I can't say I think she's beautiful. It's not that easy, and I'm nowhere near there yet. But the suit fits her very well, the color is pretty, and the print cheerful and summery. She looks, well, okay, I guess. Maybe, if I squinted, even a little good.

And then, for a fleeting moment, I got outside my own head for a moment and suddenly saw myself as a random observer would. And like the observer, I could only look at the sheer ludicrousness of the situation and laugh. A cute, skinny, reasonably attractive brunette, all by herself in a dressing room, is tearfully agonizing over which swimsuit emphasizes her nonexistent fat and progressively getting more and more irked at being egged on by the obstreperous monkey-on-her-back who nobody else can see. Sure, it's tragic, but let's face it, it's also really damn funny. I was reminded of a passage in C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters:

Your patient has become humble -- have you drawn his attention to that fact? All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, 'By jove! I'm being humble!', and almost immediately pride -- pride at his own humility -- will appear. If he awakes to the danger and tries to smother this new form of pride, make him proud of his attempt, and so on, through as many stages as you please. But don't try this too long, for fear you awake his sense of humor and proportion, in which case he will merely laugh at you and go to bed.

And then the strangest thing happened. ED tweaked when this realization occurred to me. You see, laughter scares the hell out of ED, and the ability to laugh at yourself is an indispensable tool for recovery. The ability to laugh at the ridiculous, at the incongruous, is a uniquely human one; it is both raw and real, two traits ED hates with a burning vengeance and seeks to obliterate. And as refreshing, genuine peals of laughter erupted from somewhere within me, the whole thing got put back into perspective and I locked the jerk out of the dressing room once and for all.

"Go screw yourself!" I shouted through the door at him. "I'm getting the lime-green one whether you like it or not!"

So that's why I left ED in the junior's department at Kohl's this afternoon, still fuming to himself. He had caused me enough trouble for one day.

Then I ate a Three Musketeers bar on the way home. And damn, was it good.

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