Sunday, April 28, 2013

I Think I Lost It (When I Lost It)

A few months back, I wrote It Could be Perfect as a contest entry.  It was a picture prompt, based on a photograph of a gravestone sitting in an overrun lot, surrounded by a red clay fence.  I put it here because I think it mirrors my point today:

Maybe this is what perfection is…

An overrun landscape, neatly gated
But on the brink of spilling over
Soon the world will know the chaos within…

An overlooked corner, too much mess to appreciate
Longing to bear fruit and give solace
If only I’d stay and learn how…

An endless red fence, sturdy and smooth
No door for entry, locking me out
For fear I’ll discover there’s no life inside…

Maybe this is what perfection is:

All things wrong, layered until they seem right
Moving me to come closer or to run away
But moving me all the same…
© Arissa Freeman, All rights reserved.
I used to say as a mantra, “There’s no such thing as perfect.”  I’ve changed my mind.  Now I say “You’ll never be perfect.”   I have my reasons.
Eight years ago, I weighed over 250 pounds.  I was 23 years old with bad knees, heartburn and no perception of my self-worth.  I’d already been through an eating disorder, but despite its presence I still managed to pack on weight.  Bulimia will backfire like that sometimes, especially when teamed with stress and no exercise.  So, I decided to do something different:  lose weight the right way.  I don’t remember there being any epiphany or turning point that made me start doing sit-ups.  I just knew I would be happier if I were feeling and looking better.  So one day, I stopped buying junk food.  Then I started exercising along with the TV.  Then on my own. Most importantly, I didn’t binge once.
Then the weight came off.
Of course I hit plenty of walls during this time, and the total loss took every day of these eight years to achieve.  I should be proud.  But I found myself a new drug along the way. 
It hit me one morning when I started a ritual I hadn’t realized had become a ritual.  I raised my arms and pinched the skin around my muscles, measuring if there was more or less.  Then I did the same with my stomach and thighs.  Then I stepped on the scale and saw that my weight had gone up a pound.  I froze, realizing I was angry at a single pound.  That couldn’t be right.  I would get upset at weight gain when I purged, but I was doing the right thing now…right? 
Back to the mirror I went, and yelled at my reflection, “Where did you go?”
I lost the weight.  I hadn’t counted on losing my mind. But I had. 
In my head (because at that point I didn’t need a calculator) I counted every meal’s calories, read labels religiously when food shopping, and weighed myself every morning.    If I’d put on more than a third of a pound, God help the world.
I could no longer taste food. It’s like every bite I took was a math problem.  This bite + that bite – skip a snack later = success.  Or maybe, this breakfast + that lunch – this workout…
…Ugh.  The numbers followed me everywhere.  Even when I watched commercials, I’d see calories where the food should have been.  Like going to McDonald’s and ordering a 6-piece Mc-260’s with a side of 380’s.   
I’d just wanted to wear a single-digit pants size.  But when I slid the jeans on, the mirror image still wasn’t doing it for me.  I didn’t get it.  I’d won.  Where the hell was my prize?
That’s when I realized that I still had a disorder.  I’d just traded one version of it for another.  I don’t mean the purging.  I mean the compulsion.  I compulsively expelled any excess calories I thought would hurt me.  Then I compulsively counted every calorie before it went in.  More than that, I’d looked at a size 6 pair of pants and thought I’d be finished when I could wear it.  But one pinch of bulge where I thought there shouldn’t be and that finish line jumped back another mile. 
I still had no ability to see the world and myself for what we are. What a cruel joke:  a diet became a lifestyle, then a habit, and now…a trap.  Well, nobody traps me. 
I still struggle with it daily.  I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to order dessert at a restaurant, or appetizers, for that matter.  But I called my foul, and for now that’s enough. 
So what do I take away from it?  Something to help me cope, however disturbing it sounds.
Maybe this is what perfection is:
All things wrong, layered until they seem right
Moving me to come closer or to run away
But moving me all the same…
My idea of a perfect goal was bad.  Not because perfection doesn’t exist.  I believe it does, but because of its susceptibility to our moods, our personal brands of perfection will always change, never to be achieved.  Perfect isn’t an actuality, it’s a perception.  And as we grow, our ideals change, morphing our idea of what perfect is.  Sometimes it’s gradual, other times instant.  I thought a size 6 was the greatest.  Eight years later, I still find flaws on every inch of me.  So, yes, perfect does exist.  We’re just never satisfied.  I understand this is an arguable point.  And just like the path to perfection, we could go on for miles...
Think of a woman who walks into a café, Hermes scarf draped over her shoulder, Prada bag on display.  She orders whipped cream on her iced latte, then spins around and your eyes meet. 
You’re a woman with her hair in a sort-of-bun, your kids making food art on the table.  Their shrieks and cries annoy everyone around you…except her.
You eye her bag and her perfect hair, the cream on her latte and wish you could be that awesome.  You’ve still got baby weight to lose, so it’s green tea for you.
How are you to know that she’s looking at your kids, wishing her life were as perfect as yours?  She’s miscarried both times she’s tried to have one.  She’s thinking of giving up.
At the park, you see another woman.  She’s dressed in vintage wear, playing guitar, surrounded by an audience.  You wish you could give up your responsibilities to play guitar again.  You would have been so happy just travelling and letting a dart on a map decide your next destination. How perfect…the saga continues…
You can run as fast as you can; perfection runs faster.  And just when you’ve crossed the finish line, along comes something that will change your mind about what perfection is and put you back at Start.  Mine is one theory of many.  Feel free to add yours.
When I think back, I see a hundred finish lines I’ve crossed in the wrong race.  I won’t stop running, but I will probably change my track.  And again.  And again.