Chapter 13: Food

It happened like this:  After a hike through the Santa Monica mountains my athletic, Baltic Papa took my ten-year-old apron of extra belly and grabbed it.  I’m sure he spoke words while holding onto my flesh and fat, but trauma can cause bits of your brain to collapse for a moment, or until you go to therapy every week for eight months decades later and decide to talk about your weight shame.

Every photo taken of me before the age of fourteen (when I started cutting instead of eating) proves I binged every possible moment of every day, or imagined food I would enjoy shoveling inside.  No barfing for me though, because the more padding between the scary, yell-y world and little Claire the better.

So much padding.

Around the age of eleven I realized all of my XXL and size 16 clothes came from countries that documentaries informed me were poor.  Citizens of Cambodia and Thailand are tiny, I thought.  What do they think about the disgusting fat people for whom they manufacture all these tents?

Replaying their snickers and laughs as they held up giant pairs of cotton shorts with elastic waistbands became a hobby.

Stretch marks found me before babies.

Of course it is wrong for a woman’s thighs to touch; but when you’re a kid and your thighs press together it’s punishable.  Which is maybe why Papa grabbed me?

Oxycodone was the drug that got my ass into rehab, but food was the one that kept that ass big.  To this day I am 35lbs “overweight.”  Even after all the Goodhardgood work of finding myself.

This tummy has ruined my life.  It’s why the boys didn’t like me (in addition to my scary intensity and insecurities).  It’s why no nurses could get a good heartbeat of the babies in the delivery rooms, and why ultrasound techs always seemed bothered by its mindless folding & flopping.

They made me hold the flesh back at a recent biopsy in my pelvis.  For 45 minutes I mashed my underbelly back into myself, apologizing the whole time to every person I offended with my XXL presence.

My flesh was always the problem.

Inhale.

Exhale.

This is a tricky one for me, because I’m at the tail end of my addiction to cheese and bread and veal marsala.  It’s still steaming, just barely, like a dog turd starting to loose that pungent edge.  Sarah Bessey talks about the sanitized stories we like to tell, and I want to dab this one with hydrogen peroxide so badly.  If only this part of the tale would fit nicely under the control top underwear instead of bulging and flopping out.

But the truth is, I ate thirty cookies the other night.  Will you judge me less if I clarify that they were the tiny Trader Joe’s ones?  Still, that’s at least 3 regular cookies.  Three regular cookies is no fun.  Thirty tiny cookies is very fun for people who enjoy mindless conveyor belt handfuls of food.

Until you’re done and the headache hits.

“What the hell just happened?  Here I was, flipping through Instagram and now I’m hungover, my biceps hurt, and my sofa is covered in crumbs.”

“Oh, that’s because you just ate four handfuls of cookies, Sweetie.  It was an interesting choice.”  God replied.

Adam and Eve know how that feels.

“Wait, we have clothes on and God is calling our names.  What did you do, Eve?”

“Me?  You took the first bite!”

“We ate the fruit?!”  They say in unison, but not so loud that the Gardner hears.

When God finally finds them it hits the fan, right?  Instead of headaches it’s childbirth (sans epidurals) and shittier soil.  I really hope God taught them how to fashion a garden ho, it all seems impossible without a ho.

My network of healers have carried me through the last three years with holy care and insight, so when two of them suggested I try Mayan womb massage to release the traumatic energy my stomach holds I decided it was time to stop laughing at how it sounded leaving their mouth holes, and maybe give the woman a call.  It was exactly what I didn’t want to do, which meant it was something I had to do.

At her home office a week later we spent over an hour talking about the first twenty-six years of my life: the cancer, the bone marrow transplant, the men, the dead sister, the dads, abuse, oxy, self-harm and the eating.  I bared it all, imagine Lena Dunham but clothed.

She asked questions like a sage-y preschooler, respectful and rapid fire.

“My stomach has always been the problem, and you digging into it makes me want to cry.”  I started tearing up.  She held the truth & tension so well.

“Well why don’t you go to the bathroom and then come back in here and undress and we will get started.”

Horizontal and waiting I tried adjusting my underwear, the warm sheets, my agony, anything that would make my pudge seem smaller.  But it behaves like soup in a Ziplock—there is no removing or flattening.  Just slopping.

Inhale.

Exhale.

She starts at my feet to prove her loyalty.  The heat begins to melt my tension & feels like a sunrise, or morphine.

Then she moves up to the warm batch of belly soup, and I can sense that she doesn’t want to gobble me up.  She has no desire to shame me.

“This is a beautiful belly,” she exhales.

“I was so worried it would be too big for you to do your work.”

“Have you seen the Mayan women who developed this technique!?  They are spheres; size has nothing to do with this.”

Inhale.  But not all the way because that would make my middle puff out.

Exhale.

Five minutes of soup-kneading pass.

“This is such a soft belly.  This is a miracle house to four beautiful babies.  This is a Good belly.”

I swear to God she said those words.  Somebody told me I had a Good belly.  Capital G.  For the first time my stomach didn’t fuck it up.  No excuses needed; an apology would have fallen flat on its face.

Wait… you mean it’s perfect?

Old Story: Fat is bad and unhealthy.  Having flabby skin, flat hair, brittle nails, wrinkled foreheads, cankles, and imperfect breasts should cause anxiety and correction, they deserve punishment and camoflouge.

New Story: No, none of that’s true…  I’m a human, so is everyone else—and God adores humans.

Which means wounded family members, deceptive beauty campaigns, and insensitive medical professionals don’t know shit.  My tummy didn’t ruin anything!

Inhale.

Exhale.

You are perfect, you are perfect, you are perfect.  It’s what Adam and Eve and you and I forgot.

On the way home from my jungle healer compassion tsunamis in and ravages the landscapes that hold so much horror, here is a fresh start.  I can barely smell that dog turd.  In a moment of silly joy I put my big hand on my big belly and smile out the words, you are a soft and Good belly.  I’ve been saying it ever since.

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Mama Bear Monday: Why You’re A Mama, Even If You Aren’t

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I have a good friend who survived three miscarriages in two years.  One evening, after a day spent hanging out with a handful of our mutual mama friends and handfuls of all our own children, she called with a confession.

“You know when you refer to all of us as ‘the mamas’?”

I have a habit of using the term to direct my children when we’re in the group.  You’re sippy cup is over there—no, near The Mamas.  Don’t go near that wasp nest, stay close to The Mamas!

“I wanted to tell you that it’s triggering, and it hurts, when you use that language around me.  Because I don’t have my babies, and I’m not a mama.”  Her voice softened and shook.  The most recent miscarriage Love-sledgehammered every last piece of her heart.

“I’m so sorry.  I don’t ever mean it like that, it’s just, to me you are a mama.  You help me, and all of us moms, mother and love our own children.”

“I know,” she replied.  “Which is why I also want to thank you.  You’re the only one who’s ever referred to me as a mom.”  The softness in her voice and heart melted and dripped down her cheeks in the form of salty, silvery prayers.  “I know I haven’t held them,” referring to the three, “but they’re still mine.  And even though it’s hard to hear, I love being a part of the community of mamas we have.”

“Hug.”  I said over the tear-soaked phone.

Something I joke about to those close to me is that, while I LOVE being a mama, I’m not a fan of parenting.  Parenting involves the training-up of a child who probably shares your DNA.  And when something shares your DNA, it means they also stir up all the shames and self-hatreds inside you, the parent.  At least that how it works for me and every human I’ve spoken to.

Growing up, I had four women who served as my stand-in Mamas, and without them I would not be standing here today.  God gave me a woman on each side to help protect the pieces of me that my own parents could not.

Parenting is different than mothering.  Mothering implies the more tender mercies of the job, not that it’s easier—my four mamas held heavy things.  But they didn’t snuggle into bed at the end of the day dripping with shame & regret over the numerous behavioral and emotional ailments they passed down to me.  They weren’t tempted with thinking, if I had just done this or that differently.

You are a Mama if you hold a piece of a child that a parent can’t protect.

You are a Mama when you whisper (or scream) prayers for a baby, regardless of what the birth certificate says.  If there even is a birth certificate.

You are a Mama when a kid gets more excited to see you than her own mother.  (Yes, it’s happened to me.  At first, it stung.  Ooooh, I must be doing something wrong.  Lucy loves Nana more than she loves me.  Then it hit me, No, I am doing something right.  I’m letting other Mamas help protect the parts of her that I cannot.)

That same friend met her first-born son a few months ago.  All the pieces that God Love-sleghammered began to mend when she breathed in his sweet-smelling breath.  The ooze will stop, and scars will remind her of the years she joyfully spent as a Mama, begging Jesus for the gift parenthood, too.

I give you permission to claim the title of Mama, even if you’re not a parent—if you want it.

Lord, thank You for all the Mamas out there.  Thank you for providing surrogates to help bolster up all of my broken bits, and the brokenness of us all.  

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Three Things You Need To Say When You’re Dying (and all the rest of the times)

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I had a PTSD flashback the other day as I put Nell into the same onesie Lucy is wearing under this star hoodie (pictured).  They’re about the same age, the Luce in this image and the Nell currently asleep upstairs.  Each fastening snap wound me a little tighter until my throat and heart closed up completely.

I knew I had to look at this photo, this altar to and evidence of God’s Wild Love.  I knew I needed to go back and hold this version of Claire, because she still needs holding.

My mom took it in the waiting room of the infusion center a week or two after my bone marrow transplant.  At my second session with my therapist she asked me to describe the scene, which I did—suspiciously dry-eyed.  Not a tear in sight.

“What didn’t you get to say?”  She pried.

“Huh?”  I replied.

“Look, you’re wearing a mask over your mouth.  What didn’t you get to say?”

And then I melted away and all of me landed on the floor in a silvery, teary puddle.

So here they are, the three things I didn’t say that I wish I had:

“I’m afraid.”  We all are.  Let’s just tell someone about it, please.

I’m afraid of driving home and telling everyone that I have cancer again.  I’m afraid to bond with Lucy anymore than I already have, I need to protect her from my loss if I end up dying.  I remember how sick I was the first time I got cancer and did chemo, how will I manage gnarlier treatment WITH A BABY?  Who will take care of Lucy while I’m away during the transplant?  Could David’s caliber handle a destruction of this magnitude?  What if he leaves me?  What if I leave him alone with a baby?  Will I lose my hair?  My eyelashes?  Please Lord not my eyebrows.  I’m afraid of dying.

Why didn’t I honor those fears?  Why didn’t I confess, “I’M AFRAID OF DYING AND LEAVING MY NEWBORN BEHIND.”  If you are afraid and you don’t write or speak the words, “I am afraid of ____” then it will not go away.  It will burrow deeper into your brain and spirit until you believe the fears to be Truth, creating anxiety and shame.

I shooed away my worries instead of honoring them.  Unhonored fears start tasting bitter after awhile, like something forgotten, scorched, and blackened in the oven.  Enter anger.

“I’m angry.”  Or, since I’m an honest woman, “I’m so fucking mad!”

Does God not see what’s going on in the world?  How is this good?  Didn’t He see my fourteen-year-old sister dying?  Didn’t God see me dying?  Do suicide bombers and corrupt cops get a free pass?  How did Love win in the bloody streets of downtown Dallas?  What about the babies inhaling the Mediterranean Sea after their boats capsize?  Be angry but to not sin, every major religion reminds us.  BE ANGRY.  (I actually do believe that everything I listed above will be made Good and new, because I know that God is Good.  I just had to grieve and die before I could accept and Live.)

Anger is an energetic response to an injustice, abuse, or threat.  If we do not have a response to injustice, abuse, or threats then WE ARE NOT HUMAN.  That bitterness and heat deep within always combusts, fueling either passive aggression (sighing, tardiness, obsessiveness, secrets, gossiping, manipulating) or aggression (bullying, blaming, threats, throwing, self-mutilation).  The world needs less of all of that, and lots more Love.

What gets you angry?  Who gets you angry?  Speak it, “I am angry at _____” (hint: it’s often God we resent, don’t worry, God can handle it) and then rest in it, figure out why (hint:  you’re afraid of something, because anger is just fear with armor on), and then focus that energy into making it right, into bringing the Kingdom closer.

“I need help.”  

Yes, I sort of asked for help from friends and family when I was diagnosed again.  But I didn’t ask my Helper in Heaven.  How could my humanity be an asset?  How could I benefit from fragile vulnerability?

We asked for help with housecleaning because compromised immune system and germs don’t belong in the same sentence.  Family helped out with Lucy and with my physical recovery.  For our month-long stay in the hospital our friends gave David gift cards to near-by restaurants so he wasn’t stuck eating hospital food.

Please pray for me.  God, heal me.  But unlike the bleeding woman who reached out for Jesus’ cloak hoping with all her heart that He was the Healer everyone said He was, I kept my distance.  “Lord, help.  I think?” I whispered from the back of the crowd. I didn’t believe I was worth helping.

So I looked at the photo and I spoke the three things I didn’t allow myself to say all those years, giving a voice to the feelings whose existence I denied.  Then I spoke Truth, which I will also pray over all of us:

You are worth helping.  You are worth helping.  You are worth helping.

You are allowed to be afraid, but try not to stay fearful.  Remember that unhonored worry sidetracks us from our pursuit of courage and love on this long journey home.

And please, if you want the world to be a better place, get angry (but please don’t be an asshole), figure out why you’re angry, and then get moving.  May it fuel your every passion as we move toward wholeness, healing, and unity.

AMEN.

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