And seemingly for no reason.
When I published “I’m not perfect” a couple of months ago, I received a flurry of different messages. Some wrote to me about the anger of the people in their life, and wondered was I justifying the often destructive and violent actions that stem from anger? Some even wrote, in accusatory tones, that clearly my work was based entirely on my “fucked-up”-ness, and if I stopped identifying as “fucked up” (which I don’t; for the uninitiated, the title of that post is from my favorite movie), what would I have left?
I’ve been wanting to clarify what I meant in that post. Consider this, if you will, an addendum to “anger.”
Almost all my issues with eating have stemmed from an attempt to suppress my negative emotions.
I started binging in sixth grade out of extreme loneliness after the woman who raised me went back to China and I came home to an empty house every day at age eleven; I binged more in eighth grade because I was bullied and depressed and wanted to kill myself; I binged even more in ninth grade after I fell in love and had my heart broken for the first time; I began restricting and purging after I was sexually assaulted.
I started to recover, let go of the restricting and purging, and then binged some more because I was so lonely at finding myself in a new place without any friends.
I recovered, and then began binging again because I was so bored with the unchanging, unchallenging state of my life a year later.
A year ago, I started pressuring and stressing myself out and succumbing to perfectionism again, and I relapsed.
I ended a long-term relationship last July. I binged the whole summer.
It was only until this winter– this soul-sculpting, challenging-to-the-death of a winter, and the worst depression I’d ever experienced– that things started spilling out.
I didn’t binge anymore. I didn’t restrict anymore. I stopped purging, permanently, a long time ago.
And without my eating issues, I seemed to have nothing left.
Nothing left to suppress all the pain: the pain of losing the one and only person I had trusted as my family, the pain of losing the life and innocence that I had up until then. The pain of having chosen to shackle my own freedom, practically accidentally. The pain of coming to terms with my past traumas and scars. The pain of coming to terms with my own self, my own truth, and my own reality. My own life.
The thing is, ever since I recovered from my eating disorder the first time around, and up until the end of this January, I had been dancing with the perfectionism of trying to be happy all the time.
I thought that being happy validated my work.
I thought that if I wasn’t happy, nobody would care, that I wasn’t “worthy” enough to share my story with the hopes of helping others find peace with themselves, as well.
I thought that if I wasn’t happy all the time, I was a failure.
So every moment I found myself less than happy, I thought there was something wrong with me. I wouldn’t let myself not be happy.
I had been so depressed after the end of my relationship. I first revealed a little bit of my own true weaknesses, vulnerabilities, and thus strengths, back then. But I thought that I had to be superhuman and get over it just like– (snaps fingers, even though in real life I can’t snap)– that.
Isolated in my sister’s house in the unforgiving Montréal winter due to a family obligation and misunderstanding, I couldn’t escape my depression anymore. I couldn’t escape my pain anymore.
I couldn’t escape my anger, and myself, anymore.
Somewhere along the way, I began to believe that if I experienced any sadness, my work wasn’t worth anything.
Somewhere along the way, I began to believe that if I, too, experienced relapse and foibles, everyone would abandon me.
Somewhere along the way, I began to believe that if I really was a Good, Spiritual, And All That Jazz Person, I wouldn’t ever feel anger, because I would have transcended such “petty” emotions.
I had based my identity on something very, very dangerous– a transient state of feeling that no human could ever constantly and consistently maintain-no-matter-what: happiness.
One night in Austin a couple of weeks ago, I was riding the bus with a full bladder. I had been holding my bladder for three hours, now (which is a miracle for my tiny bladder). The bus had been Mercury-retrograde-ly late. I had gotten little rest, having gone to sleep at five in the morning the night before. I had just that morning bitterly attempted to cut off ties with someone I loved. I was hungry and tired and damn I fucking need a bathroom.
And the bus was rather crowded, at least for a bus in the U.S. (You ain’t seen crowded until you see a Shanghai bus at any hour of the day, I tell ya.) Half the bus had to stand. And, right there, behind me, was a manboy taking up two seats– one to set his backpack on.
Rage boiled inside of me, and my first reaction was:
No! You shouldn’t feel angry. That wouldn’t be very Good and Kind of you, would it? I’m sure he has his reasons for taking up two entire seats in a goddamn crowded late bus when everyone is tired and– argh!!!
And then I took a deep breath. And I stopped pushing.
I stopped pushing against the anger. I let it come. I let myself feel it.
I made up stories for myself. I thought to myself that he was arrogant (I could hear him bragging about the parties he’d been to and the things he’d done and how late he’d stayed up the night before). I was pissed.
I hadn’t let myself be genuinely pissed in a while. Read: I hadn’t been letting myself be human in a while, at least not until this year.
And slowly, as I processed through the anger, I began to exhale. I began to let go. And I began to envision the kid as my mother, my firstborn. I began to envision the kid crying, getting his heart broken, as a helpless five-year-old.
And something else came up: empathy. Maybe he knows he brags a lot, maybe he’s just insecure like the rest of us. Probably. Maybe. It doesn’t matter. He’s human, and so am I.
I got off the bus.
And I let my anger go.
My problem was that I thought that negative emotions were bad and that I shouldn’t feel them. But I feel hurt and sad and mad and depressed and angry just as much as the next person.
My whole history with eating disorders has been an attempt to suppress, and behind that lay just one terribly pernicious belief: that emotions, particularly the painful ones, were “bad” and shouldn’t be felt.
What I see now is that emotions are vital, but they are not who we are. They are simply passing states and feelings and signposts. They’re landmarks on our journey.
Nowadays, I feel like I’m falling apart maybe at least once a day, for at least five minutes. And when that comes up, I see it as an opportunity, now, instead of succumbing to an instinct to suppress it.
I lean into how I’m truly feeling, and then I look to see what the beliefs are behind the feelings, and what they’re trying to teach me, and what I need to let go of, now.
I am not my emotions, but they are a vital part of my experience, living and loving and growing.
I’ve let go of happiness, and allowing myself to feel the pain when it does come has made me happier than ever.
Now, I recognize the peace underneath the pain. And throughout and after the pain, I breathe and return to that peace, knowing that at my core, I am nothing but love.
And then sometimes, I get stressed and angry and rage and want to punch walls.
And damn, do I learn a lot from those moments.