“He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains e*ting dis*rders, disordered eating, body image, rape, trauma, ancestral trauma, and topics of race and pandemic. Reader discretion is advised.
It’s been a long few months. I don’t even really know where to start. I’ve been thinking about writing this post for well over a month, and frankly, this is probably going to be all over the place.
We all know about the terror of this year and how incredibly exhausting and painful it has been. The mental fatigue, frustration, illness, stress, sadness, loss. For that reason, I’m not going to be speaking much on the pandemic and its impact on my year. Because despite it being a pandemic, I really do feel like this year was one that was full of learning, growth and personal reflection. I guess I’ll just start. I’m already stalling. Here goes.
I had surgery in October. It was Bariatric surgery. Some know this, many do not. I struggled with discussing this here. Many have mixed feelings about it, some see it as “an easy way out” while others can empathize. Frankly, I don’t have time for judgement on it either, way and I especially won’t make room for it here. I was going to get the sleeve, until my doctor found precancerous Barrett’s Esophagus. He explained that I was at a 70-80% chance of it turning to full blown cancer, and if i continued with the sleeve it would only decrease to 40%. So he insisted on doing the full on RNY. This was news I was not ready for and I certainly was not expecting. It was a long, painful, and frankly infuriating road. It has left me with some major realizations and some painful traumas. So many folks say it was the best thing they’ve ever done. I am still on the fence about it. I worry constantly about what having this surgery tells my brain about my ability to love my body as it was. After the surgery, I was so emotional. I cried every day for at least a week. It was not because I was in pain. It was mourning, real unbridled grief. This grief has come from a place I did not realize existed. This surgery has asked me to reflect on my relationship with me body. But more than that- this YEAR has asked this of me in big big ways.
Those who know me, know how important bodily autonomy and control is for me. Given my past, I don’t think it comes as surprise. I was on a liquid diet for eight days before surgery. When I went in for surgery, all I remember was being in the hospital bed, my stomach completely empty, and rolling into the operating room. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in post-op. The surgery was smooth, other than a lot of bleeding. I had the kindest nurses. I was up and walking around the same day, not by choice and it was incredibly hard. This was the first time I had ever been fully aware of my internal organs. I could feel how they had been re-arranged. How there were things attached and in my body that did not belong there. I felt terrified. I knew part of me was missing, literally. I was in the hospital for two days, and on the last day, the PA removed the drain. This was perhaps the most startling portion of all of it. It felt like someone was inside my abdomen stirring a pot of soup. I had limited visitation due to COVID. I had to learn to position my body a certain way in order to get out of bed without overdoing it and ripping my incisions.
For over a month, my body was in starvation. I was smelling things that weren’t there, and having mental breakdowns. After surgery, I found myself in a very deep depression, with moments of total disassociation and complete numbness. I am still adjusting and learning the things this new body loves and hates. So far, I cannot eat sweet potatoes or broccoli, but I can handle yogurt like a champ.
I am telling you all of this because it feels like there has been a veil lifted, and it was one I was not ready to lift. But I am not sure I ever would have been. This year has been a year of truth telling and discovering and of reclamation and coming home to myself. If there is anything this surgery has taught me, it is about just how far away from myself I have forced myself to go.
I spent my whole early life so heavily focused on my appearance. I may have mentioned when I was young, my body and skin was always subject to the gaze of those around me. Approval was sought through my appearance. I worked hard to make sure I always looked a certain way– that which would allow me to be the most visually pleasing for those around me. This forced me to denounce parts of myself that truly felt like me (examples of how I did this: doing my hair a certain way, always wearing makeup, staying on top of my weight etc). But I also never really looked at what I was doing to hide from society’s gaze- to protect myself.
After I was raped, years and years of trauma had come to a head. Things I hadn’t dealt with. Realizations about the people in my life who were supposed to have my best interest at heart. I stopped wanting to be noticed and recognized for my appearance. I stopped putting the effort in to feel good about myself because I didn’t think I deserved to feel good about myself. So I did what was always most comforting to me. I ate. And for three years I kept eating. I kept adding “protection” to my appearance. We live in a society where being fat is criticized. Until you actually are fat, you cannot ever understand what it is like to be looked at “funny” when you are simply trying to nourish yourself. Or what it feels like to be walking around a store and get the stink eye from someone who fits the “ideal”. Thoughts like “oh, she’s so much prettier than me–I bet she’s wondering why my partner would ever choose to be with me–and frankly I don’t know the answer” would pop into my head. I did not realize until after I had the surgery, that I had pretty strong disordered eating habits. I did not realize that my consumption of food was directly tied to my emotions. I would gorge my vessel full of food, because I was not allowing myself to the space to feel real pain. I didn’t think I deserved to feel light, and flowy and full of energy. So i stripped myself of it by hiding behind a body full of things it didn’t need. In so many ways, I see now that I used my overconsumption of food as a means of punishing myself for the things that have happened to me. Trauma impacts us all in such different ways. And I don’t think it was until I really began reclaiming my heritage that I started to feel like I didn’t need food to be the thing that kept me safe. There was nothing to be safe from.
In previous posts, I have discussed my heritage briefly. I have discussed that I have always known I am mixed race, but white assumed. I am made up of years, and generations of love, trauma, resilience, culture, richness, pain, loss. These things get passed down. Trauma, if unhealed, gets passed down. Cycles remain unbroken. This manifests in fears, phobias, and yes. Body types. It makes a difference. But the reason I am telling you this, is that I had to deeply reflect on what it means to be a woman of mixed race, white assumed, and fat. And the answer is that I don’t have many answers. It means feeling the need to choose sides. It means living in a world that accepts you as white, and dismisses you when you reveal the “something else”. It means living in a world that only allows fatness to exist in certain spaces. It means that the only acceptable space for a fat woman is if “it’s genetic”. And yes, it is. But It’s not always. The body positivity movement was created by WOC, and has been dominated by whyte non-men and even so it is only accepting of a certain level of “fatness”. Gaze. I have lived my life through the lens of wanting to be accepted in by someone else’s gaze.
This surgery, this reclamation of my heritage, these things would not have happened if the events of this year would not have happened. The pandemic forced me into silence, and curiosity. The surgery forced me in to facing my music, while my heritage allowed me true escape for when it all became too much. My heritage is what has allowed me to learn to love this body again-and yet I feel the need to apologize to my ancestors for “resorting to surgery” because of the struggles they were forced to face. This relationship is complex and I have been trying to reframe this surgery as something that has allowed me to reclaim freedom in a body that wouldn’t exist without the love of my ancestors. I try to reframe to this surgery not just being for me, but for all of them. And yet, it was still a wealthy, whyte man who had his surgery stick inside my abdomen while I was asleep. There is still so much healing to do, and I doubt this will be my only post on the complexities of learning to love a body that has so deeply craved love for so long.
I know that my body deserves good, healthy life flowing through it just as much as the next person. I know that my body is worthy of not needing to justify its existence. I know that my body, simply because it exists, is enough for the stars to sing when they lay their light upon it. My skin is a history book that will never be taught in schools. My DNA is history repeated. There is dominance in the color of my skin, and stories in the features of my face. There is violence AND healing in the soft rolls around my back. There is boundlessness in the freedom my hair claims for itself when it won’t lie flat. There is joy in the wrinkles starting to form around my eyes. It is okay to use good quality skin products on the skin that serves me every day, tirelessly. I do not have to prove that I deserve that to anyone. There is restless in my toes, and when my thighs jiggle, they are having an engaging conversation– who am I to interrupt them? The scars from the surgery are simply reminders of what my body can do to heal. My hazel eyes are story tellers lying in wait. My hands, dry and cracked from the winter cold, are a direct expression of creativity. And it is okay for me to use them to love me up. I do not need to hide. I never needed to hide. I never needed to make myself more palatable. And in reclamation of myself, my heritage and my body, I am ending palatable practice.
This year was hard. It forced so many of us to come home. Whether to a physical location, or within the vessel you inhabit, you were likely not given a choice. And when we don’t have a choice, we become scared, angry, sad. We feel. We have no choice but to look in the mirror every damn day and try to make peace with what we have done to ourselves, or what the word has done to us. It’s exhausting. It’s unfair. It’s anything but beautiful, and yet there is nothing more beautiful. This year was a year full of grace. This year gifted me time. This year allowed me to birth myself once more. This year was a year full.
So as it has comes to a close, these are the things I am bringing with me into 2021:
1. Whenever you think you have fully put a button on the shit from the past, you can almost certainly guarantee that button with pop right off. This is not something to be fearful of. You have dealt with this before. You will be able to do it again, and having to do it a second time gives you an advantage.
2. I do not have to choose sides to feel I fit in. I have never fit in, and I am comfortable there. I am allowed to make space for myself in communities that are my birthright. I do not have to prove anything, to anyone, ever.
3. Colonization is the root of every single pain point in the history of this country.
4. Rest is critical if you plan on doing anything that means something to you. Sleep the extra hour. It’s not going to kill anyone.
5.No one has 100% access to you. Nor do they deserve it.
6. Anger is just a lesson in understanding when your boundaries have been crossed. Don’t ignore it.
7. Advocating for yourself might make you look angry. Do it anyway.
8. There is no judge who determines if your story is worth telling. So tell it.
9. Science is the answer.
10. Question everything authority tells you, think critically, and if you don’t know-ask.
11. Do not simply offer your time, education and knowledge to people without compensation, and a return. It is okay to be paid for utilizing the things you work hard to do and obtain.
12. Respect is an uphill walk. Disrespect is downhill sprint.
13. Hold yourself AND your community accountable.
14. You don’t NEED anyone. But community sure is nice.
15. You are not defined by anything. Not even by how you spend your time. You get to decide who you are. And you get to decide when and how that changes.
16. Transition not always lonely. But even if it is, it is only temporary.
17. Collective experience is both a unifier and a divider.
18. When someone shows you who they are– believe them.
19. Your feelings show up in your body first, so check in. The mind hears everything the body says.
20. The only way out is through. You may find that entering a cave is not always going to lead to a big scary monster, but to a small hurt animal. Be prepared to nurture, and keep going. Better to make this discovery than to be lost in the woods.
21. Support networks don’t have to be in person. And they are not always people. But human touch is something I will never take for granted again.
22. The work waits for you everyday. Pace yourself. Take breaks. Decide what “the work is for you”. And really do it.
23. Bodily autonomy and control is not the equivalent of safety. You can have all of those things and still be a danger to your own damn self. There is no formula for emotional and mental safety.
24. No one has the right to decide how you get to exist in this world.
25. The weight of the public gaze is not your responsibility.
26. Becoming a cycle breaker is not only about going to therapy. It is about reclamation, deconstructing and rebuilding. And it is going to hurt.
27. Minor inconveniences can save someone else’s life. Some people don’t care. You cannot control this.
28. Never hang up without saying you love them.
29. Sometimes there is not a solution. We have to live with that. SOmetimes the solution is going to be unpredictable, scary and hard. We have to live with that.
30. You are not the equivalent of what you produce or contribute. Your worth is so much more than that.
31. Loss is not always the predecessor to grief. Grief can show up in all that you do.
32. Nourish your body. But also your soul, and your mind.
Bonus: Wash your damn hands.
Happy New Year, Ya’ll.