This is 39: Day 26.Survival.

 

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You’ve spent your whole life convincing yourself of things.

He’s not a bad boy. He loves you. He puts his poison in your mouth and you drink it because he doesn’t hit you. He knows you. He loves you more than all the rest.

I can live without you.

They won’t notice your body-big and blooming. They will notice the hard-fought poem that kept you up last night-the slant rhyme, the image, the effortless onomatopoeia.

I can live without you.

He will do what he says. She means what she says. They will do the right thing.

I can live without you.

He can’t live without me. I am a tether to this earth, and he must hold on.

I can live without you.

Your value is not defined by the weight of your mattress. It can hold one. It can hold only you.

I can live without you.

He is a good man. He will do the right thing. He will mean what he says. He will do what he is supposed to do. He will shelter me. He will protect me.

You’ve spent your whole life convincing yourself of things.

And then one day you stop.

They will notice only your body. He is not a good boy, man, woman. He will not mean what he says. She will not be honest with you. You will need to protect you. Your value is defined by the throb of your heart-broken or whole.

You can live without him. You can live without her.

You know how to survive now.

This is 39.

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Amye Archer is 39. She is the author of Fat Girl, Skinny, a memoir about skinny jeans, Weight Watchers meetings, and horrible life choices. Follow her at @amyearcher

I Fucking Hate My Body, and I’m Tired of Pretending I Don’t.

A few weeks ago I read an article called I F*cking Love My Body.   I tried to get into it, to understand the message, to feel the same pride in my inherited features, but I cannot pretend to be something I’m not. No matter how hard I try. So, this was born:

I fucking hate my body, and I’m tired of pretending I don’t.

I buy dresses, hike them up above the knee, feel the swoosh of them on the back of my thighs, but cannot forget the purple inky veins slinking across my skin. Blue, black, deep red, these lines remind me to pull it down, tug it over my ass, stay grounded, stay knee-length in all things.

I buy new bras, smaller across the back, skinnier straps for a slimmer body, yet the cups remain overflowing. My breasts hang heavy with past mistakes. The valleys in my shoulders remind me of their heft.

I buy panties with the most elastic, walk past the lace, past the high hip cuts, straight to the strongest, sturdiest pair. I buy black, hoping there is some sex appeal left in color.

I buy tools to quantify my being. My digital scale holds bad news. My FitBit says I haven’t done enough. My Fitness Pal says I’ve overeaten again.

I fucking hate my body, and I’m tired of pretending I don’t.

I can’t wear short shorts because of my veins.

I can’t wear tank tops because of my floppy biceps.

I can’t wear a bathing suit in public.

I can’t sit down without worrying about muffin top.

I can’t be naked in the daylight in front of my husband, ever.

I can’t fake it. I never could.

I fucking hate my body, and I’m tired of pretending I don’t.

But, I love the inside. The red, gushy throb of my love, the seemingly endless canals of hope, the equal parts sweet and snark.

I just wish I could turn myself inside out and meet you heart first.

 

Amye Archer is the author of Fat Girl, Skinny, a memoir about waiting, weight-ing, skinny jeans, fat girls, bad choices, and happy endings. You can buy it here.

Grief Part Deux

What Not to Do When Grieving Your Grandmother

  1. Listen to the Norah Jones channel on Pandora.
  2. Listen to voice-mails you’ve saved in which her voice becomes a blanket-warm and familiar.
  3. Drive past her house two times each day.
  4. Watch any movies, even the comedies, because you will cry whenever the interaction moves up the matriarchal chain, reminding you of the break in your own.
  5. Shop at her favorite store.
  6. Sleep

I’m working on the rest.

Our Song

An excerpt from the new book I’m working on:

You are dying. We are driving home from a car dealership in a nearby town, when suddenly- your leg starts to thump, that’s how I know. It’s my signal, my auditory cue. The thumping starts slowly and softly at first, like a slow clap. Your body begins to rock, slightly. Streetlights click on around us and the orange of the sunset dims to pink. We are in the dark.

“You need to get me home,” you say.

“I know, I know,” I answer and press down on the gas pedal.

But my acceleration and half-hearted assurances cannot stop the madness in your veins. The streetlights are streaks now as I speed down Route Six and into Scranton.

“Please, please, get me home, I need to go home.”

“I’m trying, Babe, I’m trying,” I say.

I reach out for you and you pull. You cling to me like I am air. It becomes hard to drive, and I think about pulling over against the blackness of the woods lining the shoulder, but time is of the essence and I know I need to go on. We need to move forward.

“I’m dying, I’m dying, please help me.” Four years earlier, this phrase would have alarmed me, sent me into a panic as well, but I’m becoming familiar with your death, and I react like a woman who has left something in the oven too long.

“You’re not dying honey, you’re not. It will be okay, I’m getting you home. Close your eyes, take a breath.”

Amazingly, you attempt this.

“I can’t,” you snap, “I think I’m having a heart attack.”

It’s either the heart or the head, always, a heart attack or a brain tumor, I prepare for both.

heartbeat[1]_3“Here, let me check.” I slide my right hand across the fabric of your shirt. My touch is magical, it calms you. The thumping slows, the pumping of your blood under my palm is the only sound in the world right now.

“One, two, three,” I count aloud as the car wisps around darkening corners.

This is our song, the thumping, the push of blood against arterial walls, the rush of your breath, the hush of my voice. This is the rhythm of us, the melody between us.

There was a time when I thought our song was Heaven, by Bryan Adams. We made out to it in the back seat of your friend’s car about a week after we started dating. You pushed your tongue hard into my mouth and cupped my face with your large hands. It was early spring, and the windows fogged easily. A boy had never kissed me like that before, with such desperation. But the song disintegrated quickly, and we forgot the heat of that night. Now, our song is medicinal, born out of fear and need, much like the story of us.

“Seventy-four,” I land on a final number as the headlights swipe across the front of our apartment building. We are home and your heart rate is normal.

Later that night, we curl into bed together, a rarity in our lives. But your panic has been especially bad in the weeks and months following the terror attacks, and you’ve needed me, even at night. For a long time after the towers fell, we watched together as the news channels played an endless loop of horror: planes into towers, towers disintegrating into dust, people running from dust, a plume of smoke and dust rising from the belly of Manhattan. That’s what I remember the most: the dust. But these images bother you. The worst part is the falling, you tell me one night while we are wrapped together in bed. My hand still covering the space where I believe your heart to be. Those people jumping, that is the worst. Your heart quickens and the room darkens around us. Now, we watch old game shows to calm your panic. Your heart is slow and steady like the dripping of a faucet, and I lay pressed against you like a dam.

“I’m so sorry,” you whisper one night and pull my arms around you.

“For what?”

“For being so fucked up.”

“You’re not fucked up,” I whisper, “you’re perfect.”

Did I really say that? If I didn’t, I’m sorry, I should have. The jumping bothered everyone. I should have said that too.

South Franklin Street

I just finished watching the movie, Wild, based on the wonderful memoir by Cheryl Strayed.  And as I walked out of that theater, I couldn’t help but feel sad and more alone than I have felt in a long while.

I wrote a memoir about getting married and divorced.  I wrote a memoir about how lonely I was, about how it felt to have someone you love reject you, about how sometimes you need to start your life over again even if you lack the basic tools to do so.  An agent loved my book, took it on as hers, and I thought that was the beginning of something.  But publishers didn’t love it like we did.  They felt that nothing happened.  They like books like Wild, because in that book something happened.  So I had to make something happen.  Now it’s a different book.  I miss my memoir.

Crises are not always big.  Sometimes they are small and fall into the crevices of our hearts.  Hearts are not smooth, nor are they heart-shaped.

What if your crisis is that you eat too much?

What if your crisis is that you let your kids have too much sugar, or that you and your husband had exactly two therapy-worthy fights in front of them?

What if your crisis is that you told your father you hated him once, and have never forgiven yourself for it?

I walked myself to sanity once too.  It was not the Pacific Crest Trail, but it was South Franklin Street in Wilkes-Barre, and that path back to the one and only place I have ever lived on my own, was just as treacherous.

What if your crisis is that you don’t protect yourself from anything or anyone?

What if your crisis is that you don’t always know where to put a comma?

What if your crisis is that you loved someone that you shouldn’t have?

What if your crisis is that you don’t like playing board games with your kids?

What if your crisis is that you feel like no other person on the face of this earth understands you just as you are?

I don’t have one big crisis to sustain a book.  I have a million little ones that I carve into my chest day after day.

Keeping up with Everyone

Last week, a woman I used to work with announced she is having her third baby.  During the same week, a different friend, a girl I went to high school with almost fifteen years ago, got married in a seaside ceremony in France.  Three of my friends got new jobs, two made tenure, and four sold their books.  It was a week of good news delivered via Facebook.  Meanwhile, at my house, nothing great happened, nothing at all.   And suddenly, for no good reason whatsoever, everything about my accomplishments and my life seemed dull by comparison.

momand_joneses2The idea of “Keeping up with The Jonseses,” a seemingly perfect family acting as a benchmark for the rest of society, is hardly new.  In fact, the saying is believed to have originated from Arthur R. “Pop” Momand’s comic strip, “Keeping up with The Jonseses,” which he created in 1916.  But for the better part of the 20th century, including during my childhood in the 80’s and 90’s, The Jonseses were singular, limited to one or two families in your lifetime.  Now, thanks to social media, the Jonseses are everywhere.  Their perfect lives are splashed across my computer screen every day.  And they’ve multiplied.  Now there are a hundred Jonseses.  And this is why I have decided to leave Facebook.

I’m just going to say the thing you’re not supposed to say: Facebook makes me feel shitty about my own life.  And I have a good life, believe me.  In my early twenties I was married to the wrong man, thought to be infertile, and stuck in a dead-end job.  Fifteen years later, I am happily remarried, the mother to two beautiful twin girls, and have embarked on the career of my dreams.   Yet, like anyone, there is a small bag of regrets I keep tucked away in the back of my closet.  I’ve never lived in an exciting city, and never traveled much.  I can’t seem to finish the book I’ve been writing for five years, and I can’t find a full-time job in my field because I chose an MFA over a PhD.  I will never have another baby because I made my husband get a vasectomy after our twins were born, and I never had a honeymoon because I was four months pregnant with my girls on our wedding day.

A Seaside Wedding

A Seaside Wedding (must be nice!)

These are small regrets, and it bears saying that I wouldn’t trade anything that I have to make those unrealized dreams come true, yet, Facebook seems to exasperate the discontentment I feel over these incomplete parts of my life.  And I’m embarrassed to say that I often find myself swelling with envy when I see my writer friends selling books (which they deserve because they have worked very hard, but still….), having new babies, travelling to beautiful far-off lands, living in the cities I wished I lived in, or losing the weight I wish I never found in the first place.   Seeing my unrealized dreams realized by others day after day is enough to break anyone’s spirit.  I’m in a great relationship right now, thankfully, I can’t imagine what this feels like for people who are unhappily coupled.  I have no doubt that If Facebook had existed while I was married to my first husband, I would have driven off a cliff.

And the blame is not on Facebook, or my friends who are basking in the glow of their wonderful lives, it’s squarely on me.  I’m an oversharer, a social media junkie with over 700 friends-most of whom I had never met.  So, I’m going to change some things.  I’m going to purge my friend list (more on this later), and work on using Facebook for the good that it brings to my life: connecting through my author page with people who like my writing, connecting with family members and close friends, and reading great writing from my literary friends.

For more on Facebook envy, read this article from HuffPo.  Or this great piece by Sonya Huber about being a writer and feeling, well, inadequate.

Would it be completely hypocritical of me to suggest you follow me on Twitter?  Don’t answer that.

 

Seeds

“There are 206 bones in the adult human body.  Most of us can only name a few: the mandible or jaw bone, the cranium or skull, the ribs, the humerus or the “funny” bone, the leg bones: the femur and the fibula, and maybe, if you’ve really paid attention in anatomy class, the bones of the hand: the phalanges, the carpals, and the metacarpals.  These are the bones we can see, we can feel, we can break.  These were the bones I knew about… before.  Now, as Georgia curls into a fetal position to sleep and her blue hospital gown peels away from her back, I can see every hump, every curve, every peak and valley in her spine.  I can see every bone pressing against her skin like it’s a sheet.  It’s an image that will forever haunt me.  My best friend is a living, breathing, archaeological discovery.  Six months ago she was alive, full of color and shape.  Now, her body is white and gaunt.  She is a dandelion gone to seed.

This is from a scene in my book-in-progress, Fat Girl, Skinny, in which the main character visits her best friend in the hospital and for the first time, realizes the gravity of the friend’s eating disorder.  This was hard for me to write.  Not because as a fat girl, I have been so tempted to take up an eating disorder that writing about one might just seal the deal.   No.  Writing about Anorexia was difficult for me because I honestly could not understand what it was like to think in terms of starvation.

I once had a friend who used to quip, “I wish I could develop an eating disorder, it would be the answer to all of my problems.”  I used to look at her like she was insane.  The answer???  How could anything so horrible and self-deprecating be an answer?

The truth is that for most of my life I thought I was too healthy to develop an eating disorder.  My parents loved me, my family was “normal”, I had no parasite eating my insides.   But, through the process of writing this book, most of which is autobiographical, I made a  startling discovery.  I do have an eating disorder.  Unlike traditional disorders, however, mine is marked by lack of control rather than a compulsion to control.  Eating has destroyed me more than once in my lifetime.  Eating has become a thief in the night taking with it my self-worth, my self-esteem, and any integrity I thought I had.  Yet, it keeps happening.  I suffer from overeating just as an anorexic suffers from under-eating.  And as with Anorexia or Bulimia, there is an underlying psychosis that goes along with sabotaging your own life.

I’m not here to compare the severity of eating disorders.  I’m here to say that whether you allow yourself to whither away, or you abuse yourself, stuff yourself, and blow up your own life, we all suffer together.  Once I found that level ground in my brain, I was able to write about my character’s anorexia with deeper authenticity.  I guess I just can’t stop writing memoir.

Three Things to Keep me From Jumping off a Cliff

This week, no, this year, I have been met with more disappointment in my professional life than I know what to do with.  Jobs I was certain I had -slipped through my fingers, publishers I was sure would offer-passed, everything I thought would happen, the plan I had dreamed in my mind for myself, is gone.  Each week there are rejection slips in my inbox, each month there’s another person/publisher/editor/chairperson telling me I’m not good enough, my writing isn’t good enough, my credentials aren’t good enough.  This is the life of so many of us who write and teach or teach and write.  It’s what you sign on for when you decide to become a writer.  It’s not just my experience, this trampling of ego echoes through the masses, I know that, it’s just so, so, so…. humbling.  And before you send me hate mail, or call me a whiner, yes, I know there are writers who are way more talented than myself who have been plugging away for twenty-some odd years without catching a break.  This is not a competition.  This is just me, telling you, how I plan to deal with this influx of negative energy.

girl_cryingI’ve been here before.  After my divorce it was the same feeling only the destruction and utter disappointment was happening in my personal life.  I had broken up with my ex to search for a better life, a better mate, a better fit, and I was finding…well, not that.  So I slowly began to work on the things I could control.  I began to exercise, lose weight, read more, focus on my job, and in the end, I was better for it.   More importantly, I took the risk of leaving a bad yet comfortable relationship in hopes of finding something more, and in the (very) long run, it paid off.

Four years ago, I took another risk.  I promised my husband that if he supported my decision to go back to school, it would pay off someday.  I told my kids as I dropped them off at daycare every morning so that I could finish my MFA, that this would all be worth it someday.  Now, that someday seems to be fading further and further into the distance.  I know it will come, the risk will pay off, but it’s getting harder and harder to keep looking up.  But these are things I have no control over.  I can’t control the fact that publishers and editors don’t think a book about a fat girl is going to sell right now.  I can’t control the fact that the job market is in the toilet.  The only thing I can control is me, and what I do with my life and my family, my writing.

In honor of this, I have decided that I’m going to do what I have done in the past at every lull in life.  I have reinvented myself more than once, and I’m ready to do it again.  I’m going to commit to doing three things everyday.  If I can do this for a month, I will add another.  So, just in time for April, I’m asking you, too, to make a list of three things you can do everyday to nourish your mind, body, and spirit.  Here are mine:

Mind:  I’m going to read for thirty minutes a day (at least.)  My life right now is full of “too busy to read.”  That needs to change.

Body:  I’m going to drink 100 ounces of water each day.

Spirit:  I’m going to spend an hour a day doing something my kids love.  Playing Candyland, reading Pinkalicious, building with Legos.  Whatever they want, one hour.  That’s the deal.

These three small things will help me to feel better about myself, connect me with my children, help hydrate my body after a long, cold winter, and help my writing by reading great stories every day.

These are my three things.  I will do them every day in April.  This may not solve my problem, but it helps to exercise control over something.  By the end of April, I will have read, played, and hydrated myself to a better frame of mind.  Hopefully.

The Movie Flight: Allow me to Ruin it For You.

(SPOILER ALERT)  I recently saw the movie, Flight, with Denzel Washington, and it stunned me.  Not because of its quality, which is okay but not great, but because of the storyline.  If ever there was a crystal clear example of addiction, this was it.  Denzel’s character, Whip, was grasping at life, trying to beat the addiction that threatened to engulf him.  And all I could see on that screen was…me.  I have suspected for years that I was a food addict, but never had it been made so obvious to me as this weekend as I watched Whip’s behavior which was so eerily similar.  Three key behaviors resonated with me.

1.  Purge.  No, not the kind where you’re bent over a toilet, but the kind of purge you perform often on Monday mornings where you think to yourself- This is it.  I’m done.  This diet starts today.  You then proceed to throw everything you deem as “junk food” into the garbage can, bag it up, and drag it out to the curb. Whip did the same thing with his booze, several times.  And each time he ended up at the liquor store within a few days time.

2.  Lie.  One of the cornerstones of the movie is Whip’s ability to lie about his addiction.  In fact, in one of my favorite lines of the film is when he tells his lawyer, “Don’t tell me how to lie about my drinking, I’ve been doing it my whole life.”  I lied about my eating, all the time.  To myself, to my family, to perfect strangers.

3. Regret.  Like a drunk, I began many a days with a food hangover.  Knowing I gorged myself the night before, knowing I destroyed my diet and broke my resolve, I would feel AWFUL the next day.  Like I robbed someone of something intangible.  Like I blew something up inside of me.

I have made many excuses about my reluctance to face my food addiction.  I have made the argument that food addiction is very difficult to overcome since we must continue to eat, while alcoholics can completely avoid their substance of choice, we cannot.  But this is bullshit.  I am not addicted to all food, I am addicted to high sugar, high calorie, high fat foods.  I can eat things that do not contain these ingredients.  Just like alcoholics can drink iced tea, lemonade, soda, etc.

I have made many excuses, but when I saw that movie, I realized what my world looks like.  I realized what I’m doing.  I’m still doing, even though I’ve gained remarkable control over my eating, I’m still a long way from where I need to be.  I’m not sure how to get back, how to find solace.  But I think it’s time I face what I am.

I am a food addict.

Much more on this to come.

 

 

Dr Oz and The Magical Melting Belly

Somehow I think Dr. Oz will fix me.  I’m not sure where or how this idea originated, I just know it exists   I don’t watch his show, or any daytime talk for that matter.  I don’t own any book he’s ever written, yet I feel a strange kinship with the good doctor, as his marketing team intended, I’m sure.  So even though I know what I need to do to feel better about myself, and even though I’ve started embracing my life and who I am without letting my inner critic destroy me, I still compulsively reach for the magazine.  You know the one…. the thin, glossy monthly that promises Dr. Oz’s miracle diet will peel 80 pounds from your belly in just two months.

The truth is, I know what I need to do.  I know enough about nutrition and processed foods and all of the bad stuff,  that I can and do make good food decisions now.  Yet, it never fails, I never empty my grocery bags without seeing Dr. Oz’s face, or the promise of a quick fix, staring up at me.  What am I expecting to find anyway?  I guess, if I’m being honest, I expect to find help of some kind.  An answer.  A solution.  I expect to find some sort of unraveling to the riddle that has engulfed me for the better part of my life.  OOhhhhh, it’s food X that’s the problem.  That’s it, food X!  I can eat cake and pizza and anything else I want all the time and drop weight like rain.  Only, the answer is not there.  Yes, Theresa from California lost 68 pounds in thirteen weeks, and Martha from St. Louis has her sex drive back, but I am not Theresa or Martha.  I am me.  And the answer to my problems is not on the cover of a weekly periodical with Dr. Oz’s white teeth shining out at me.  The answer is within me.

Scale Update:  Still no weigh in.  I went to the doctors last week and was terrified he was going to fight me on this.  Instead, I ended up in a pow wow with three nurses who loved the idea of giving up the scale.  On another note, I discovered yet another benefit.  Without my scale and it’s lack of motion, I can make smaller, long term changes and stick with them.  For example, I recently gave up sweets.  No more candy, no more baked goods, nothing of the sort.  Before the Scale Diet, I would have given up if my scale had not shown immediate results… oh screw it, why am I depriving myself?  It’s clearly not working...  But now, I feel good and I feel proud of myself that I’m making these changes and the numbers on a scale are not derailing that progress.