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.

 

 


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