21 08 2011

 

LIKE A GIRL ON A WIRE

 

L. C. is my man. I own every record by him. I have at least tried to learn to play all his songs on my guitar. It is 1979 and L. C. is out of style, killed by punk-rock. I try to fit in with my friends, to dress  more punk-rock than  romantic hippie dresses, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. Even though it should, because I am always angry. Anger is my life force. Deprived of its logic and its livid energy I question my survival.

That’s why I listen to L. C. only at home, secretly and I don’t talk about it. I don’t wanna share him with anybody anyway. I know of course, that a singer worth his money is supposed to make  you feel like that he sings only for you alone, but still…

My  first almost-ex husband is the only other person who is allowed to share  my love for him. Last time we kicked dope for two days, he listened to “You Know Who I Am” and “Bird on a wire” so many times that it got him to cry. Not that you need any songs to make you cry when you go through Heroin withdrawal, but he is a tough guy who needs a lot of help to cry.

But tonight L. C. will be performing at the ‘Koncert Haus’ and my husband is out of town on some  bizarre project with the alcoholic sculptor, he’s been working with on and off for some time. Of course I’m broke but I show up anyway in the hope that somebody will get me in on account that I’m young, cute and dressed like a true seventies groupie.

I wear a dyed purple silk dress, that I made this afternoon, slightly tattered on purpose and a purple fur coat from the flea-market, falling apart at the seams. On my feet are purple vintage boots, laced up in the front on high stiletto heels. I have dyed them purple myself. My hair is long and henna red, cut straight with long thick bangs that hang over my eyes. I look like Cleopatra in rags. This look always works for me. People always say I look mysterious.

In front of the ‘Konzert Haus’, where I show up without a ticket, a crowd has formed. To my relief, I recognize a group of people I have met before at the academy. I work there as a nude painter model, since I myself haven’t found the courage yet to show up for the yearly entrance tests. This way I’m getting paid just to stand around at the academy of applied arts without having to find out if I have what it takes or not.

One of the group knows somebody who knows somebody who knows the drummer in L. C’s band and the two of us run off to find this somebody and I cant believe my luck, but we do. He is an older, very handsome man and it turns out that he manages the band’s show here in Vienna. He is dressed in a suit, just like L. C. and I introduce myself. His name is Daniel and our conversation ends with him offering me a ticket and an invitation to join him later, after the show backstage. This really is  my lucky day, but then again, I have never had to pay to get into a show so far. It certainly helps to be 20 years old and to be a painter model.

I float through the show in my plushy seat in one of the front rows. The only thing that’s not perfect, is all the other people in the same room. Like I said, I don’t like to share L. C.

Backstage after the show, I stand by myself, while my new friend Daniel talks to a group of woman in evening dresses and there in the middle of the small crowd is L. himself. He is holding a drink in one hand. His other hand dances over the exposed skin of one of the older women. I experience a wave of jealousy so immense that it makes my eyes sting. But the tour-manager has caught sight of me and waves for me to come over. On shaky legs I swim through the crowd and then I’m there in front of my fantasy, holding out my hand to receive a much needed drink. I say ‘Hi!”, because that’s all I can say right now. I hardly speak English. The only English I know comes from trying to understand L. C’s , Sex-Pistols and  Donovan songs. There was also one summer in England with a strange and kind family – a very long time ago.

And even if I would speak his language, I wouldn’t want to waste my words with banal bits, like “I really liked your show”, or “How do you like Vienna?”, but obviously, I would like to be able to say something, that makes me sound more interesting than a nervous school girl. But I delay to worry about that because L. looks at me, smiling. He asks Daniel something, while he keeps his eyes and his smile on me.

“L. wants to know where you’re from” Daniel translates for me and I turn to L.  I’m not sure if I even understand this question. But L. laughs and Daniel explains that he thinks that I don’t look Austrian.

“What do I look like from?” I ask both of them.

“He thinks you could be from Russia or from Mongolia or even an Eskimo”

“OK. My mother is an Eskimo and my dad is an Indian chief. But don’t tell anybody. My parents don’t know that I know that I’m adopted” I say, while I fish for my cigarettes. There, my English is not all bad.

L. lights my cigarette with a match from his breast pocket and drops the matches into my bag. He grabs two glasses of wine from a uniformed waiter and toasts with me. He takes my fur-coat and drapes it over his arm. He leans against the wall, watching me. There is some response between us, I feel it each time I meet his sad looking eyes. I respect the power of songs, the vibrations, all the things one cannot see. Occasionally those things are more powerful than all the rest – you either bow to them, let them in, or their force will break you. It is hot and noisy in here.

“Do you want to take a walk?” he asks into my eyes.

“Yes, outside!” I smile back.

He takes my arm and outside the cold winter air hits my flushed face. He helps me into my fur coat and I have no idea where to go from here. My curiosity is roused by not knowing the outcome of this. I have suffered for this – more than once – yet my impulse remains, has even strengthened over time.

My idol, this old man decked out in a suit, with sharp and very deep lines in his face, this L. C. kisses me right outside the ‘Konzert-Haus’ and I don’t even have to stand on my toes to reach him. His hands grab for my hair and I place myself entirely into his hands, pretending not to know it, pretending to think that I am in charge. I have learned enough about seductions over the years to know this: real desire, the kind that gnaws and lasts is nearly always mutual. We exchange another tangled kiss,  a kiss that opens a series of doors to a series of rooms, so that stopping is difficult and torturous. He reaches down into my dress and holds my breasts. It gets way too cold to keep standing outside, even loved and desired like this.

“I wish I knew where my hotel is” he looks at me and laughs “Opera hotel or something  like this…?”

“Oh!’ Hotel bei der Oper’! I know, it is not far, we can walk!” I know a lot more English than I thought.

We walk through the ‘Stadtpark’, where a thin layer of ice has formed on the little lake. His arm over my shoulder and both my hands under his shirt, we are slowly making our way to the hotel.

When we get to his suite, I drop my coat to the floor and L. calls room service for more wine. On the windowsill stands a little plant, a citrus tree that fills the air with sweetness, much sweeter than the little lemons growing on it. He lies down on the velvet sofa, arms at his side, staring at my face. I lay down beside him, not touching.

“No, stand there and take your cloths off!” he points to the French door that leads into his bedroom. He lights cigarettes for him and me and I unbutton all the tiny little buttons on my special dress. I make it last forever. Then I unclasp my bra and roll down my panties. Thank god I wasn’t too scared of the cold to not wear stockings. I would hate to have to step out of some ugly pantyhose in front of L. C. I want him to see what I would like to be: a beautiful young girl from Vienna, naked but for purple stockings and boots, smoking.

“Yes! Now come over here and stand in front of me!”

I love standing naked in front of a so much older and fully clothed man. He is still in his suit and tie and this feels so deliciously nasty and ‘verboten’. Most of the time I can’t  tell if I even like all the sex I’m having.

Ever since I have found out that my husband is gay, I’ve fucked my way around Vienna. There are a lot of cool bands and artists that I run into when I go out at night and I never, ever return home by myself. But I hardly ever feel  turned on and I’ve never had an orgasm with anybody but myself. I connect with the people I fuck on some other level, but sex is just the vehicle. I  do it because I don’t know how to do anything else to not feel lonely. And I kind of enjoy the kissing and touching, its just when it comes to actual sex, I turn off. It hurts. It just hurts and I want it to be over. Fast. That’s why I always pretend to have great orgasms, because I want them to be done and think I’m a great lover. All I really want, is the cigarette afterwoards.

Now when this man looks up at me with all the lust and desire in his eyes, I feel turned on. He reaches up, harshly and pulls my face down on his shoulder. He strokes my back while he keeps on smoking. I lift my face from his shoulder and kiss him. First lightly, a feathery lip-brushing baby kiss, then a kiss of deeper inquiry. Than as if a drawer has fallen open in him, dislodging its contents, he suddenly kisses me back, pushing his tongue deep inside my mouth. He runs his hands down my back until he grabs my ass. A bucket of desire empties over my head, covering my eyes. I reach down grabbing him through his pants but he takes my hand, lacing our fingers together. “Not yet!” he says. He places me so that he lays behind me, kissing my neck until I cant stand it and press my ass against him. His laugh fills my ear with warm breath. He pinches my nipples until the block in my body, a block that had been solid ever since the rape, melts slowly away. When he reaches down between my legs I find it almost unbearably sensual. I shut my eyes and let the wetness and my greed for more dance through me. Blood rushes to my face and makes it ache. In an never ending universe, everyone must choose a few coordinates and I choose mine:  to lie next to L. C.

He breathes my smell “Chocolate?” he asks. “Perfume” I say “from Vienna”. I feel the mattress trembling beneath me. I’d been afraid all along of wanting it more than I’m used to, but he doesn’t know that.

“I love it” he says and takes my hand, which is hot and dry. He rolls me over to face him. He holds me for a long time. I sense that he can feel my strength, the pounding heart inside my small frame and at that moment he recognizes me at last: the innocent. I know in my skin that he feels an impulse to protect me, to shield me from an overwhelming danger. But he has only himself to look for strength.

This time when I reach for his fly, he helps me to undress him. He dims the light even more and when he is totally naked, he spreads the cover over us. He makes me get on top of him and I ride him, slowly,  trying to feel some more of what I got a taste of before, when we just kissed and he wouldn’t let me have more than that. I feel a little bit. It doesn’t hurt! I fake that I’m coming, because I have no idea how not to fake it. I almost really feel that I could maybe come, if I would keep going slowly like that, with him kissing my neck and holding my breasts. For now that possibility makes me giddy with joy and satisfaction. For now that’s as good as it can be.

We lie naked in bed and drink some more wine. We try to talk, but every attempt ends with us laughing and giggling because of the language. We fuck some more, drink some more, fall asleep, have sex again, fall asleep and next time I wake up, I climb out of bed, silently so not to wake him and get dressed. I don’t mean to sneak out, but I don’t want to be there when the daylight shatters through the windows.

Fully dressed, I tiptoe over to the bed and kiss him lightly on the cheek. He hugs me, half asleep and mumbles: ”Thanks for the sweetest Vienniese pastry I ever had. Thank you!”

At least that’s what I hear him say.

 





The scale in the Sky from “Showrooms of Perfections”

8 08 2011

 

The scale in the sky – yes, really, in the sky, because this happened on an airplane.

 

I stumble into recovery. It hits me and is way stronger and bigger than the bulimia and me. I did not expect it at all. I certainly did not expect it to last. But it did, it stuck.

 

I am on an airplane, returning from New Delhi where I had spent two weeks in a factory, designing my new collection. The night before I left, I looked at the samples I was about to bring back to my business partners and knew with squeezy and shaky certainty, that each one of those dresses and tops I had worked so hard on, sucked and would certainly be rejected and ridiculed by my nasty French Business Partners. After I packed the ill-fated samples and my belongings, I called and ordered room service.

The cart with covered dishes arrived, complete with a set of four plates and I signed the check, made out to my room that was paid by my partners.

“Where is your company?” the polite and quite attractive waiter asked as he laid out the feast.

“They are on their way” I smiled “leave the covers on to keep it warm, they are delayed by an accident on the main road”

“As you wish, mam” the waiter smiled back and handed me the room-bill to sign.

“Would you like me to keep you company until they arrive?” he winked.

“No, no, it’s quite all right, they’ll be here any moment” I flirted back. Get the fuck out of here you smuck and give me space to do what I need to do.

He finally left and I sat down to my lonely dinner, not even bothering to get to the bathroom a few feet away to throw up in between stuffing the excellently prepared cuisine down my throat. I used the flimsy wastebasket to get rid off the shrimp and lamb, the chutney and rice to make room for more. I tried to pace myself and at least enjoy the excellent and quite expensive meal for four, but it took less than an hour until it was all gone. Now what?

My fear and apprehension about the ill-fated samples in my suitcase stuck to my brainpan like the sticky mango-rice I could not vomit up, no matter how deep I stuck the hotel supplied toothbrush down my raw and bleeding throat.

I wake up bloated and fat, tired and so depressed, that I ca not even look at the array of empty dishes, covering every surface of my beautiful hotel room.  To the cleaning personal it must have looked like the end of a decadent party and I drop a handful of Rupees and Dollars on the nightstand before I roll out of the room, dragging my overstuffed suitcase out to the waiting taxi cab.

I do not know this then, but for reasons that I still don’t understand, this hotel-orgy was to be my last binge.

 

On the airplane, I ask the stewardess to remove my tray with the gloppy and over-salted grub after a few bites. I snake my way through a crowded isle to the dirty, piss smelling lavatory but before I can bend over to relieve myself of the few bites I have eaten, a vision of an enormous, old-fashioned picturesque scale appears between my face and the dirty toilet.  The scale is loaded with grains on both sides in perfect balance.  It stops me cold. I see this scale and in a vividly bright and eerily colorful vision, I imagine how my self-destructive action would add that one-grain to cause the scale to tip over, causing a horrible earthquake, floods and worldwide destruction.

The precarious balance of our earth, already tipping towards irreversible damage and death is just one grain away from total annihilation and adding that one-grain, that one self-destructive action would now be my fault. Shivers run down my spine and I sit down to pee. A wave of diarrhea grips my body and I sit there for what seemed like hours, wracked with cramps and fear.

Even though, nobody on earth would know about what I did behind the locked bathroom door, the scale of love and death would.

“It’s the things we do when nobody is looking that count the most” I had read this sentence that same morning in my meditation book – not for the first time – but suddenly it sinks in. What I do behind closed doors counts. More than what I do in public, when I pretend to be that perfectly skinny and hard-working women, who never allows anybody entrance into my secret and shameful reality.

When I am finally able to get up, I have decided that I will not to be the cause of the destruction of the world that is after all, home to my beloved daughter and my friends, who mean so much to me. This moment is the end of my double life. The end of my self-serving believe, that every addict carries like a shield to justify the harm they cause: “I’m only hurting myself, so leave me alone”. I had always hurt the people around me and most of all, my daughter, who learned from me that food was a drug. No matter what I told her about healthy eating – what she witnessed about the way I ate, has turned her into a chubby teenager and she suffers the consequences of my example in a way that  brings tears to my eyes.

 

I retun to me seat. For the first time in 19 years, I have left a toilet without vomiting. A sense of peace and calm envelopes me and I join a conversation between a professor of art who flies back after evaluating a collection of antique paintings and a women who has just gone through a serious cleansing process in one of the many ashrams in the South of India. The conversation and my ability to take part in it exhilarates me and makes me feel like a worthy part of the human race. Instead of sinking into one of my magazines or books, while sneaking food into my mouth, I participate and care about others.

When I arrive in Los Angeles, I step into a limousine my wealthy boyfriend (and almost husband) has arranged for me to pick me up. I am bone –tired, as one should be after a 24-hour flight, but at the same time, I am awake and excited. I have finally achieved what I have wished for so desperately for so many years.

 

As I have expected, my partners in our fashion company roll their eyes when I present them with my work. I excuse myself, claiming extreme fatigue from traveling and drive home to the crappy cottage cheese ceilinged apartment I have rented; so that my daughter could go to the High School she has begged me to go to for years. I take a much-needed shower and unpack my suitcases. Then I drive to my future husband’s mansion in Mt. Washington.

I call my business partners  “I don’t want to do this anymore. I quit”. Now I am without a job and that scares me. But I am done with the bulimia.

I spend the next few days with my boyfriend, my other addiction, that will take a few more years to recover from. I eat very little and never once throw up. We get along and we’re in love like we were a long time ago. I attribute this to my sudden honesty and lack of secrecy. I am myself, vulnerable and totally open, without the veil that I have pulled up between us. Everything is beautiful and honest in the way we treat each other – at least during those first few, almost magical days.

But if I had known how difficult and painful my new state of realness would soon turn out, I’m not sure I would be able to live though this.

“Who am I?” I wonder when I go for hours of walks with him and the dog, instead of staying behind to rid myself of the lovely meals I cook for us.

“Who are you?” he asks soon enough himself, when I start to voice opinions and questions, I have not dared to speak of.

“I don’t recognize you anymore”, he complains when my new personality surfaces. “What happened to you in India?” he wonders. “You are so different, I don’t recognize you anymore”

Neither do I. Something has shifted and will never be the same again.

“Struck Sober”. I’d heard this expression over and over during my 20 years in a 12-step program that shall be unnamed because I respect the concept of anonymity. But let me just say that it was the wrong program for me. I mean wrong because it didn’t address my real addiction.

All those years, up to five times a week, I was praying and hoping that those rooms, filled with loving and struggling people would heal me. I silently replaced the word “alcohol” or “drugs” with “food”.

I loved those meetings so much, all my friends, lovers and husbands, they all went there and I couldn’t imagine my life without the structure and companionship of this Ersatz Family. I really tried and kept coming back, as they say.

But sadly, most of the time, as soon as it was over, I would stop at a Ralphs or Trader Joes and greedily grab what I needed to stay sane.

Bagels, Cereal, whipped cream cans, Ice cream, pasta on days when I needed to be careful with money, butter and honey and bags of nuts; all carelessly thrown in my shopping cart. I would look over my shoulder and sneak around isles when I recognized anybody who might know me. Having a kid made those overloaded carts somewhat explainable, but still…I had no time for mindless chitchat when I needed to get my drugs into my car and home as fast as possible.

Then I’d spend half the night cooking and eating and throwing up. In order to entertain myself, I had become super-creative with the way I combined food. I came up with meals that might even have been delicious, certainly novel and, well, a little strange perhaps, but I managed to never bore myself.

No wonder, my clothing designs had started to lack life and luster, considering where all of my creativity went to.

But, I always assured myself, at least I’m not shooting heroin.

The truth was quite different. Because I felt worse now then when I was drugging, drinking, wasting my nights in clubs and with one-night stands into the early mornings.

Because there is nothing lonelier than bulimia – it can only be done alone.

All other addictions involve at least some form of social interaction – from cooking dope together, sharing needles and joints, drinking in bars and at parties, sex with strangers, gambling, shopping – as shameful and destructive all those vices are, at least they involve others. And I’m all about others. I crave people, noise, distractions, chaos, love and friends and being stuck in this particular hell of isolation was so painful, that I often wondered why it wasn’t me who died from a raptured esophagus or a heart attack. I mean, it happened all the time, to other women, so why not me?

But now, back from India – I AM struck abstinent. I’m done. It’s not something I choose. That moment on the plane where I keep that sandwich down is the moment that changes everything.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been praying and wishing and praying some more to get to this place. I’ve done it all. From therapy and meditation, Kabbalah, inpatient and outpatient hospital treatments, medications, acupuncture, Marianne Williamson lectures, anti-parasite-diets, every New-Age and spiritual novelty, obsessive work, success, motherhood, marriage, divorce, feeling-diaries, 12 step work, Yoga, …way, way, way too many desperate methods to count – I really wanted to be free from my tormentor and I had the bills and hours to prove it.

But after so many years of helpless struggle, freedom from bulimia means so much more than just not binging and purging. By now, I attach magical and totally unrealistic qualities to my recovery.

In my fantasy, once I’m free from this, I imagined myself as a perfect being. Free from my obsession with Payne, hugely successful as a designer( and  maybe even as a writer?), inspired and happy, at ease with everybody and myself – a parade of magical and fulfilling moments with nothing to interfere in my own recovery paradise.

But guess what? I’ve stopped and I’m more out of my mind now than I’ve ever been.

I can’t disappear in food anymore. I can’t blame “it” anymore. I’m so far from perfect and inspired, I’m so anxious and scared and so fucking hungry all the time, that I want to scream, pull off my skin and run so fast until my mind and my feelings hopefully catch up to one another.

Now I know. Now I know why I needed this hell and why I could not stop, no matter how badly I wanted to.

I’m raw and vulnerable. Hello, life!

As my days of abstinence add up, my world falls apart. I’ve  lost my designer job. My already always-rocky relationship with Payne becomes a minefield of constant aggravation. I’ve worshipped him and given him my undivided attention for so many years and he is used to his little co-dependant, submissive and always available wife. But without my tranquilizer of food and shame, I start to see the cracks in his charismatic and handsome veneer. He falls and crashes from the pedestal I’ve built for him, faster than I can scream, “Wait. Stay up there. Don’t you dare to become human and weak!”

Without the humiliation of my secret, I start to doubt his power. I’m like a teenager who realizes that her parents are not perfect.

It’s impossible to respect him without the illusion that he is the powerful, monstrous and all-knowing man-god we both need him to be. I’m starting to rebel against my role as muse and listener. I don’t agree with his view of the world anymore and that is another problem I did not anticipate.

A stooped little lady lugs a few grocery bags across the street in front on us. Payne shakes his head and sighs:  “Look how sad and hopeless she is. She has nothing to live for. Man, life is just so sad”.

“Why? How would you know?” I challenge him. “She could be totally at peace with herself.”

“I don’t know how to explain it. I just know,” He pouts.

He turns to me and stares me down. “I can’t do this anymore with you. I can’t be with somebody who doesn’t even like me,” he moans and cracks his knuckles.

“Ha. Because I don’t agree with your depressing observation that, by the way, might be totally wrong?”

“No, No, it’s not only that. It’s because you don’t like me anymore. Have you noticed that you’re never on my side? I mean, lately? ” He steps on the gas.

I surprise myself when I yell. “I like you just fine, but what you call liking sounds to me like you need me to worship you at all times and agree with everything, or all hell breaks lose. I’m a person, not a parakeet.”

He shrinks back, as far away as he can get without falling out of the car.

“No baby.” He looks confused. “You are not the women I love anymore. Who are you?”

I laugh. “What kind of question is that?”

“I don’t know you anymore. You criticize me every chance you get. You make fun of me in front of our friends. You make me feel so unloved and lonely.” Now he looks sad and I wish I could swallow my words.

“Let’s just go home. I don’t feel like going to the movies anymore.” He stares straight ahead, his face a mask of impenetrable pride.

“Drama Queen” I mumble just loud enough for him to hear. I sneer. “Okay, asshole. Life sucks for this lady. She is sad and hopeless. Everything sucks and we’ll all die from global warming and our kids have no future. Happy now?”

He is right. He doesn’t know who I am but neither do I.

I’ve never told him. All those years of disappearing in bathrooms, showing up late and pale, the compulsive teeth brushing, the huge amounts of food I’d consume while remaining frail and underweight, the unworldly dentist bills he pays without getting his own teeth fixed – he is used to that. He has stopped long ago to ask me because all I ever give him are lies.

I put my boots on the dashboard. “Great, so now we can’t even go see a movie? Fucking wonderful. There goes another Sunday with Payne.”

“I don’t trust you. I can’t deal with the possibility of you starting a fight and a scene in a public place.” He says without looking at me.

I cringe when I see the hurt in his posture. But I have to say it anyway: “That’s all you care about. A scene in a public place. Fine, Fuck you too then.”

We drive home in stony silence.

While he prepares a loveless meal of beans, brown rice, kale and an acidic drink that smells like water from a public pool– it’s another new and most likely very expensive diet that is supposed to clear his liver – I tie up my running shoes, hop up the stairs and as soon as I’m around the corner of our house, I get on the phone with my Kabbalah Coach. She is the only person who knows the truth. She’s been working with me for months on this and until three weeks ago, I would always stuff my face during our phone sessions. I wonder if she knows this.

“I can’t stand this. I hate him. He is such a dick. I just want to leave him” I whine hysterically. “I mean, how am I supposed to be in recovery with this?”

Of course, she doesn’t agree with me. I should have known better. She has met Payne a few days ago after a reading. He showered her with his polite and benevolent smile while he signed her book with a personal sounding and probably very funny quote. Of course, she I smitten, like everybody always is after those events.

“Tell him the truth.” She suggests, “ Allow him to understand, to get to know you. You are not giving him the chance to love you by keeping this secret. It’s time. The light has brought you here and …”

“Ya, Right.” I snap “ Oh, by the way, Payne: I’ve been lying about me and everything for 12 years. And I need you to be okay with what I’m about to tell you. I don’t think this is gonna go down well. I’m sorry, but you are no help either.”

I hang up, frustrated and irritated. I run uphill until I feel my blood burning and pulsing inside my hungry stomach.

I catch my breath and just stand there. The Mt. Washington bird sanctuary hums with late afternoon insect activity. I watch a glimmering ruby ball of summer sun sink behind a black silhouette of palm trees, bathed in shadows of warm orange and yellow streaks of smog-clouds. A lonely airplane glides silently across the evening sky. The air finally cools off after another brutally Los Angeles scorcher.

I feel a gentle breeze on my skin. I mean, I really feel it. I’m in this moment with all this unbelievable beauty around me and soon it will be night and another morning and then another day and another night. My first thought when I wake up every morning makes me want to jump out of bed and jump up and down inside my new life: I’m free. I didn’t throw up yesterday, I’m fucking free.

I touch my stomach and it is flat and smooth.

I’m really doing this. Oh God. I really am. I haven’t thrown up in 21 days and I’m not fat. Something inside me, or outside me – I have no idea – is giving me a strength I never knew I had. My most stubborn believe that I clung to with every inch of my fading life, that without my bulimia, I would be the “Girl with the pretty face, if only….” is turning out to be totally wrong.

I’m aware that I’m measuring this miracle with a very shallow stick: As long as I can do this and not gain weight, there must be something like a God. But for now, that’s deep enough.

 

 





Interview with the Hip Mix Membership Team about Belly Dancing

4 08 2011

1)     What brought you to belly dance?

I had just gotten into recovery of the most awful addiction I can think of (and I’ve had quite a few others, so I know): 19 years of non-stop bulimia.

19 years of binging and purging, day after day. A good day would be three times, but most days, I threw up five to 15 times. Even when I was not binging and just eating a perfectly healthy and low-calorie, vegan and balanced meal, the feeling of food in my stomach was unbearable and I had to get rid of it.

Every restaurant I went to, the first thing I did, was make a beeline to the restrooms and check out if the doors locked and the flushing worked. Only then did I order and eat. Most of he time, I managed to eat like a normal person, ordering what everybody else ordered and eat just that. But when anybody left food on their plate, I wanted to snatch it and stuff myself. I could not understand, how one could leave food on their plate – what a waste! I always cleaned my plates down to the last morsel and as soon as there was nothing else to munch on, I’d sneak off to the bathroom.

I could vomit without a noise. Even with somebody in the stall next to me, I flushed to scramble the sound of splashing, bend over and let it all come out. I had this insane believe, that since it was so easy, I was meant to do that. No big deal. No retching and burping, just a little splash and it was all over, all gone.

If the toilet looked like it might not be able to handle such overload, I’d just throw up in the wastebasket. Still today, more than four years later, I wonder how to make amends to the poor fuck who had to handle the garbage bags. I imagined a tired overworked janitor, lifting the bag out of the basket, ready to go home after a 12 hour shift of cleaning toilets and tables, getting splashed by a totally unexpected exploding and leaking bag of vomit.

Afterwards, I’d feel such relief, such a surge of adrenaline and dopamine, that I could return to the table and rejoin the conversation, high and happy, with much more enthusiasm than before my visit to the ladies room. Of course, this high never lasted. All too soon, I’d find myself hungry, shaky and desperately looking for the next food-fix. I’d suggest “Hey, what about dessert?” and greedily grabbing the dessert menu.

“How can you eat a whole meal and still have room for dessert?”

“Oh, I’m just blessed with a real good metabolism.  Look at my mom and my dad! That’s where I got it from” I’d lie with practiced lightness in my voice. The people who had met my parents nodded their heads.

“Your parents are really in great shape. Man, you are lucky! I wish I could eat like you and be as skinny as you. I guess it’s all genetic after all”

What I failed to disclose, was that both my parents were anorexic, obsessed with exercise and diets and that I grew up despising overweight people, as if they were the source of all evil in the world.

And of course, I never, ever let on how panicked and terrified I was to gain weight and join the group of humans that had obviously no self-control and dignity and no right to take up so much space in the world.

During dinner, when I had to live with my father and my overweight stepmother when I was a teenager, my dad told me that he had gotten into a shuffle in the subway. He was full of pride when he relayed his triumph:

“I was pissed that there was standing room only and when I saw this fat cow taking up two seats, I asked her politely if she had paid for two tickets. Of course she snapped at me, how to mind my own business, but I got right into her face and ordered her to get up and make room for others who had paid their fair share. Half the wagon got into it and agreed with me. She heaved herself out of he seat and out at the next station. Everybody was laughing. What a hoot that was and best of all, I got a seat!” he boasted.

Not funny, you asshole.  I kept that thought to myself and pushed the food on my plate around, high on diet pills, supplied by my grandmother, who was always on a diet.

Finally, alone at home, I did not have to keep the show of being a normal eater going. I prepared and ate such enormous amounts of food, plates and pots lined up in front of me before I sat down to read fashion-and literary magazines, and book after book; well written, convincing, intellectual and smart books and articles about politics, global warming, conspiracy theories and manifestos that would scare me to tears without the buffer of food between me and the information I was able to inhale and comprehend. I was able to focus and read difficult to understand information because I was stuffing my face with my drug that kept me emotionally just removed enough, to read on for hours.

I was very well read and informed during those years and could join just about every conversation. People thought about me as smart and intelligent and were in awe of the amount of knowledge I could provide during every discussion.

During those reading-and food sessions, I had to get up every twenty minutes or so to rid myself of the food I shoveled into me without tasting anything. Then I would go back to my books and magazines as if nothing had happened and keep going until I would either pass out from fatigue or because there was nothing left to eat.

I had heard of people who would eat what they threw up and that really grossed me out. I would never do THAT. That would be really sick and I was not that crazy. No, not me.

Until one day, I was out of food and sneaked to my neighbors trashcan to look for left over’s. They were spoiled and disgusting, but what did it matter? It would not be long enough inside my stomach to do any damage. I ate green bagels, gruesomely covered with fungus and rotting chicken wings, spoiled cheese and once – be still, me heart, I came across a half eaten birthday cake, fresh and moist, dripping with rich frosting and sugary letters on top. All I had to do was scrape off the drips of candle wax and – hell, what’s wrong with eating a perfectly good birthday cake from a trashcan?

I was sick a lot during those years, going from doctor to doctor, from quacks to healers, always complaining about the fatigue and the bloating of my hands and my stomach and the paralyzing depression that I could not explain.

Even during my pregnancy, I was binging and purging day after day, racked by guilt and fear of what this would do to my unborn baby. But no matter how firm my promises and decisions would be every morning to stop and eat like a normal person – by noon, I’d find myself shuffling tuna, corn and beans from the can, not even bothering to use a plate. I was a hopeless case of an addicted women, so out of control, that nothing, not even the concern about my baby, could keep me from gorging myself with food I did, for the most part, not even like or enjoy.

Then, after almost 19 years of this insanity, I stopped.

I was on an airplane, returning from New Delhi where I had spent two weeks in a factory, designing my new collection. The night before I left, I looked at the samples I was about to bring back to my business partners and knew with squeaky and shaky certainty, that each one of those dresses and tops I had worked so hard on, sucked and would certainly be rejected and ridiculed by my nasty French Business Partners. After I packed the ill-fated samples and my belongings, I called and ordered room service.

The cart with covered dishes arrived, complete with a set of four plates and I signed the check, made out to my room that was paid by my partners.

“Where is your company?” the polite and quite attractive waiter asked as he laid out the feast.

“They are on their way” I smiled “leave the covers on to keep it warm, they are delayed by an accident on the main road”

“As you wish, mam” the waiter smiled back and handed me the room-bill to sign.

“Would you like me to keep you company until they arrive?” he winked.

“No, no, it’s quite all right, they’ll be here any moment” I flirted back. Get the fuck out of here you smuck and give me space to do what I need to do.

He finally left and I sat down to my lonely dinner, not even bothering to get to the bathroom a few feet away to throw up in between stuffing the excellently prepared cuisine down my throat. I used the flimsy wastebasket to get rid off the shrimp and lamb, the chutney and rice to make room for more. I tried to pace myself and at least enjoy the excellent and quite expensive meal for four, but it took less than an hour until it was all gone. Now what?

My fear and apprehension about the ill-fated samples in my suitcase stuck to my brainpan like the sticky mango-rice I could not vomit up, no matter how deep I stuck the hotel supplied toothbrush down my raw and bleeding throat.

I woke up bloated and fat, tired and so depressed, that I could not even look at the array of empty dishes, covering every surface of my beautiful hotel room.  To the cleaning personal it must have looked like the end of a decadent party and I dropped a handful of Rupees and Dollars on the nightstand before I rolled out of the room, dragging my overstuffed suitcases out to the waiting taxi cab.

I did not know this then, but for reasons that I still don’t understand, this hotel-orgy was to be my last binge.

On the airplane, I asked the stewardess to remove my tray with gloppy and over-salted grub after a few bites. I snaked my way through a crowded isle to the dirty, piss smelling lavatory and before I could bend over to relieve myself of the few bites I had eaten, a vision of an enormous, old-fashioned picturesque scale with grains on both sides of the scale in perfect balance appeared between my face and the dirty toilet. It stopped me cold. I saw this scale and in a vividly bright and eerily colorful vision, I imagined how my self-destructive action would add the one-grain to cause the scale to tip over, causing a horrible earthquake, floods and worldwide destruction.

The precarious balance of our earth, already tipping towards irreversible damage and death was just one grain away from total annihilation and adding that grain would be my fault. Shivers ran down my spine and I sat down to pee. A wave of diarrhea gripped my body and I sat there for what seemed like hours, wracked with cramps and fear.

When I was finally able to get up, I had decided not to be the cause of the destruction of the world that was after all, home to my daughter and my friends.

I retuned to me seat. For the first time in 19 years, I had left a toilet without vomiting. A sense of peace and calm enveloped me and I joined a conversation between a professor of art who flew back after evaluating a collection of antique paintings and a women who had just gone through a serious cleansing process in one of the many ashrams in the South of India.

When I arrived in Los Angeles, I stepped into a limousine my wealthy boyfriend (and almost husband) had arranged for me to pick me up.

As I had expected, my partners in our fashion company rolled their eyes when I presented them with my work. I excused myself, claiming extreme fatigue from traveling and drove home to the crappy cottage cheese ceilinged apartment I had rented; so that my daughter could go to the High School she had begged me to go to for years.

I quit my job and spent the next few days at my future husband’s mansion in Mt. Washington. I was done with the bulimia. I ate very little and never once threw up. We got along and were in love. I attributed this to my sudden honesty and lack of secrecy and maybe I was right – at least during those first few, almost magical days.

But I was terrified of gaining weight, I fact, I was convinced that I would certainly get fat, so fat that somebody would eventually ask me to give up my seat – not in the subway, since I never had set foot into the LA subway (except once, when the only way to get to the anti-war protest in Hollywood was by subway), but maybe somewhere else, on a plane maybe?

My solution to that phobia was to spent hours at the YMCA. I did not enjoy this at all – to work out, run on treadmills, doing Pilates, Yoga and swimming, because I only did it to feel good after words and to calm my overwhelming panic.

To make matters worse, my back, that had been bothering me for years, started to hurt again. I was in constant pain, probably from over-exercising and at one point; it had gotten so bad, that I was scheduled to have back surgery. Thank God I backed out of it at the last moment. But now, with my new, even more brutal and Nazi-like regime, the pain had become almost unbearable.

One Saturday afternoon, on my way downstairs to the hateful smelly locker room and the torture machines, I noticed a belly dance class going on in the big hall upstairs.

It had been a difficult and painful day so far. My new husband (we had finally gotten married after 13 years of me nagging him to) let me know once again that he had done me a huge favor by marrying me and I felt unloved, unwanted and alone. From the moment I woke up, I could not stop thinking about food. I needed relieve so badly. I imagined and obsessed over the almost orgasmic pleasure I would get from buying a cake at the Glendale Armenian bakery, sit down with it at my kitchen table and read all the magazines that were heaped on a huge stack of things I could not read without food. I missed reading. I missed my best and always reliable friend to provide me with comfort and ease, if only for a few hours. I knew how horrible and disappointed I would be afterwards, but the tension that had built up inside of me over the last five months was about to explode and take me down. I ate my regimented breakfast of one egg and half of a toasted bagel and took a bite out of the other half.

I chewed for a few seconds, relieve and pleasure washing over me, the trance I was so familiar with, so close and so available, almost winning, when I remembered.

What the fuck are you doing? You know where this one bite will lead to!

I spat that bite out, jumped into my workout clothes and raced down  to the Gym.

I gingerly opened that door to the class in progress, guilty and scared because my new husband had told me at several occasions that “the last thing I want in my life, is a wife who belly dances”

Why? I don’t know. I was too sacred to ask. I was a co-dependant and scared little women and pretty much followed all his (sometimes quite bizarre) rules.

But as soon as I stepped into that room, I immediately fell in love. With the music, the clothes and the challenge of it. I had done ballet as a child and some go-go dancing, but I never was any good at it. I had tried Jazz- and Modern dance but quickly given up because I was to inpatient and un-coordinated to follow the simplest choreographies.

Now this wasn’t any easier either. But something inside me, the same power and determination that had kept me from being bulimic for five months by then, made me stay inside this room. I was totally bad at it, I could not even make a turn without bumping into somebody and I was anything but graceful. I was a wooden stick figure, ungraceful and ugly. Every glance into the huge mirror reflected a stupid and ridiculous creature back to me, an untalented creep who drew undisguised contempt from the other dancers and what had to be annoyed disgust from the pretty and snake-like moving teacher.

But I stayed. I tried. And suddenly, that one step and move that looked like I could never do would never be able to conquer fell into place. I was doing it! Damn it, I did that little combination without stumbling and falling over my own feet.

I dared to take a closer look at the teacher. Something about her felt familiar. Her voice? Her dark hair with the bangs that fell over her eyes? That small, but curvy little body, clad in tights and a shimmering hip scarf?

Before I could figure it out, she walked over to me, took my hand and announced to the rest of the class: “This is Monah Li, one of my oldest and dearest friends in the world. Please welcome her. I am so happy to see you here!”

Oh my God! Now I remembered her. Eloise, the long time girlfriend of my ex husband, the father of my daughter. I had stolen him from her, just as he came out from rehab. He was the most beautiful man I had ever seen, a Billy Idol, but way more attractive and hot. We fell in love immediately. The fact that he had a girlfriend, who had been standing by him through the years of his heroin addiction, was lost on me.

Now, almost 20 years later, this same women offers me, not exactly friendship, but kindness and welcomes me into her class. I start to go to every one of her classes, two times a week for two hours and slowly, but steadily, I learn the moves that save my life.

2)     In what ways has belly dance improved your life?

First of all, my back problems have completely disappeared. I became friends with some of he women in my class and I needed those friends when I finally left my husband. Going against his rules was my way of taking my life back and I started to ask myself what I wanted, not what he asked me to like.

I wanted to become good at this and I started to go to other studios. Soon, belly dance was all I did  – in regards to exercise – and every little success, every little step I mastered, made me more confident. I realized that I could learn if I put my mind to it. No more watching the clock or the treadmill read-out, hoping that the hour would be over soon. The hours I spent learning to belly dance went by way too fast.

I also watched other women with bigger bodies and I was able to see their beauty – every women of every size became beautiful once they danced.

I stopped being so paranoid about gaining weight, because I could see a different kind of beauty that did not depend on size. To my surprise, I did not gain any weight, even though I had stopped all my other exercise routines and allowed myself to eat more. I actually have a better body now, more shapely and defined than when I was slogging through boring routines.

3)     How long have you been dancing/performing/teaching?

I have been belly dancing for more than three years now and have performed in a few showcases in different dance studios and street fairs. I take classes 5 times a week, about 7 hours per week and I’m steadily learning and progressing.

One thing is sure: I have talent in many areas in my life: fashion design, writing, meeting new people and making friends , painting, even some singing and playing guitar– but dancing is not one of them. I lack the natural ability that I see in other dancers who pick up moves and steps much faster, with way more ease than I do. I have to make up what I lack in talent and natural ability by working really hard.

4)     How does belly dance make you feel?

Happy. Pretty. Accomplished and excited. It has influenced the style of clothing I design and I have new love and interest in designing. Most of all, it helps me to say abstinent from the bulimia – because I dance almost every day, I never want to be to weak or too ashamed to show up. Whenever I learn a new step, I new move, a new cill-combo; I realize I can learn in small steps and it all adds up eventually. No step is ever too small, a achievement too little to let me know, it pays to be humble and willing to admit that I don’t know something, so I can be open enough to learn it.

5)     Who is your biggest inspiration?

Mesmera, Oceana, Kat Scraba, Brandi Centeno, Jen at Dance Garden – almost every teacher inspires me.

6)     Who is your biggest supporter?

I think my teachers. Most of my friends. One of them, Jane Cantillon just asked me to do a little solo performance before her next show, her band “Dick and Jane Family Orchestra” (Good bluesy rock and roll) at TAIX Restaurant in Echo Park. It’s at 10.30 at night and with most people in the audience, including myself, being a little intoxicated by then, I think I can do it. I’m working with Brandi on a cute little 4.30 minutes choreography. But the best part of doing it solo is that nobody will know that I’ve messed up.

7)     In what ways has belly dance boosted your confidence?

I think I described that in detail in my answer to your  first question. Basically, the fact that I’m able to learn and get steadily better gives me confidence. And of course, dancing at parties and clubs and getting attention for dancing the way I can now, makes all this a lot more fun than it was before.

8)     How do you practice?

I go to different teachers 5 times a week and have no time to practice at home, unless of course before a performance. I do little moves in my car, like hand-rolls and hip-shimmies at read lights.

9)     What was your “Ah-Ha! I’m a belly dancer moment”?

One was when I bought the red belly dancer sandals from Mesmera and they made me look like a real belly dancer.

The other one was when I could do a shoulder shimmy for the first time. After almost a year of trying, suddenly, there it was.

10)   How does belly dancing help balance your life?

It gives me something to look forward to, especially on days where I feel like smoking cigarettes or relapsing into bulimia. It gives me much needed structure that I don’t have as self-employed artist/ businesswomen. I am not so much tempted to skip meals, because I don’t want to collapse during class, so my way of nourishing myself has greatly improved.

11) What made you want to try belly dance?

Ten years ago, when I opened my first retail store, the guy who designed and organized my fashion show at the store, hired belly dancers and drummers for life-entertainment and life music. The sow was a huge success, mostly because it was totally different than most other fashion shows. But I was so scared of my husband’s disapproval; I did not even dare to look into the possibility of doing it myself. Plus the knowledge that I was so devoid of talent when it came to dance, kept me away from it for another decade. Until that fateful day when I stepped into the class at the Y, instead of getting downstairs into the gym-torture chamber. Please refer to more on this in the first question.

11)   Where would you be without belly dance?

Without being too dramatic, I probably would still be married and be mousy, quiet and scared little women. I might be dead, because if I hade gone back to bulimia, I would have been dead in a year. Women, who suffer from this illness, usually die in their late 40ies, when their bodies just give out. At the very least, I would still be dragging my starving little body to the gym, to Pilates and onto the treadmill, counting the seconds until I could go home again.

12)   Any obstacles that you faced or still face as a belly dancer?  Please share.

My lack of talent for dance in general – it does not come naturally to me. That I started so late in life, when my body was already battered by my disease – I have full blown Ostheo Porosis – and that I have to be extra patient with myself and my progress.

13)   What advice would you give to a newbie?

Enjoy and take it easy. Belly dance is not a competitive sport. It’s okay to feel like the last person in the class to get it. Make friends with other dancers and develop a friendly, kind and helpful atmosphere. Be patient and kind to yourself and others – you will learn it, no matter how long it takes. And last, but not least: appreciate and celebrate every tiny success.

14)   What’s in your practice bag?

A few skirts and tops that are light and not too heavy (it does get very warm sometimes) to change into, since I usually come to class from work. Ratty ballet shoes. A bunch of hip scarves to loan to newbie’s who show up in sweats. A few veils to loan out. Cillls and a hairclip – my very long hair, as pretty as it looks, sometimes feels like an extra blanket of heat. Dance cards and fliers for upcoming events.

15)   What do you wish people outside of belly dance knew?

That belly dance is meant from women for women and has nothing to do with strippers, even though they use a lot of our movements just because they are sexy, looked at it in the wrong light. The moves are sexy, but because this empowers us as women to experience our selves as sensual beings, that enjoy our connection to our bodies. Belly dance is therapeutic and spiritual. It’s no coincidence that the Eating Disorder Community of therapists and doctors has started to recommend belly dance as an additional tool to healing.

16)   Anything you want to leave us with?

I said already so much, too much – please feel free to edit my ramblings and story telling.

I do credit belly dance with my new, really awesome life.

 








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