The Starving Girl Today

Candice in August 2008

Candice in August 2008

I was not the starving girl today. Having put in a full day's work (plus dealing with this incessant heat for the past 3 days), I nonchalantly strolled into my local raw food spot for a well-deserved cacao mousse.

I haven't been the starving girl in a long time. Nearly 12 years have passed since I last measured that precious quarter cup of chickpeas, counted out those 12 raw almonds, or scooped up that half cup of non-fat cottage cheese.

I was not the starving girl today when I plucked the mousse from the fridge (already melting the moment I engulfed the plastic with my warm hand). I was not the starving girl when I sampled the cacao bar on display on the middle shelf. I was not the starving girl when I drank the free watermelon juice in the compostable paper cup.

However, when I went to pay for my delights, I found the starving girl. She reminded me of—well—me several years ago. Skin dripping off bony elbows. Sunken cheekbones beneath bulging eyes. Boyish clothes limply hanging over the outline of hollow hips.

Now to be clear, I can not say for sure if the woman I saw was anorexic. She could have a medical condition or be undergoing some treatment that is causing her to lose a profound amount of weight. Not all folx who are skinny have eating disorders and not all folx with eating disorders are skinny. So I can only speak to what my projection of her brought up in me.

I choked back my gasp as the cashier rang me up. Time passing with a tortuous slowness akin to a 6-year-old child waiting to fall asleep on Christmas Eve. I was caught between my desire to hold her, run away, or shake her awake by screaming, "Please, eat something!"

And yet, I know none of that worked on me. No amount of compassion, berating, or rejection could have helped. Only when I began to feel the pain of sleepwalking through a life as a spectral death wish did I make a 180 and confront my appetite square in the face.

Once I scrawled my signature with my finger on the iPad and grabbed my goods, I bolted out of the store and began sobbing—grateful for the large, movie star glasses that hid my tears. The most prominent feeling was shame, closely followed by regret. Shame that I had given myself over to mental illness for 7 years of my life. Regret that those years had been wasted in a prime period of my 20s. When most people are building careers and wealth, I was counting half-second sprays of Pam and placing my value on it.

It's easier to forgive yourself the years lost when you are in your 20s. It's much harder when you're pushing 40 and feel like this brain chemistry handicap still sits like a feral gremlin ready to pounce the moment you start to feel normal.

I'm crying now as I'm writing this. Feeling so much loss. Finding it hard to love that starving girl in me when I am confronting so much anger towards her during this phase transition from youth to middle age. Noticing the areas where I still shrink—my voice, my thoughts, my dance. The places in me where I am screaming with diminishment.

I'm not even sure why I'm writing this today—except perhaps that it was through writing that I found the will to live 12 years ago. It was through art that my body felt safe to come alive. It was through dance and the exploration of eros where I discovered what I felt was more important than how I looked.

So I guess I'm just admitting that the starving girl visited me today. No, she doesn't run my life like she did so many years ago—but she still keeps residence in my body. And like Rumi suggests, perhaps this is an unexpected guest whom I must continue to welcome, entertain, and treat honorably. In fact, that might be exactly what the starving girl has been longing for all along.