Reed All About It returns. . .again

In the eight months since I left my Saturday post as a newspaper columnist for The Observer in DeWitt, Iowa, I’ve floundered. I’m not a perfect candidate for structured 8-5 work, but I’m TERRIBLE at self-employment. Maybe it’s fear, maybe it’s laziness, maybe it’s brain chemicals, but within six weeks of leaving the paper, I wasn’t writing and I was in trouble.

Who knew writing (or not writing) would foster such pain. My trouble was in the mental department. See, my Saturday gig for the paper was a simple little column about whatever was going on during that week of my life. And I quit, abruptly. Mind you I have no regrets about leaving the paper. New ownership was taking it in an uncomfortable direction. My family was supportive, but I had no game plan. It was a classic case of “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

Today's writing partner. Ever my protector, Clyde has not strayed from my side.
Today’s writing partner. Ever my protector, Clyde has not strayed from my side.

When I left the paper in February, I was in the midst of what I preferred to call rigorous “brain training,” forcing disciplining myself to put healthier foods and liquids in my body. Ignorant of the brain’s power, once I stopped writing, much of my rational, healthy thinking stopped as well.

I found myself binging, sometimes on junk food, but usually on rice cakes and crackers, then crouching over a toilet, vomiting. Too real? My apologies. I wish I could clean it up and make it sound better. I can’t. Physically my body had never felt stronger. I was training for a full summer of racing which included two half Ironman events. I was swimming and biking, running, planking and lifting weights. But I couldn’t swim, bike, run or lift enough to keep my mind quiet. And I wasn’t writing.

Without the writing, I wasn’t going inward. I wasn’t listening for that “still, small voice.” Rather, I was keeping everything on the surface, “controllable,” noting every good calorie and bad gram of fat, every good swim and every bad run. And when I’d look at myself, all I saw was failure and obesity. I couldn’t see the strength and the power. I only saw rigid food rules and an inability to work hard enough. No matter how much I ate, it wasn’t enough. No matter how far I ran, it wasn’t enough. No matter how heavy I lifted or how long I held a plank, it was never enough. But the purging? As crazy as it sounds, I’d feel so good after doing it. And yet I also knew the brief reprieve vomiting gave me was a complete and utter delusion.

I started dropping little hints about the darkness to a couple of friends, only in texts, never in person. By March I was scared I’d reached a point where I had to binge and purge. I wanted to be strong and healthy! I didn’t want to be chained to the terrible pattern of overeating and vomiting! And that’s when I found myself telling one of my sisters. It wasn’t planned. I had every intention of keeping it a secret, but I told on myself and got involved with a therapist.

Since March I haven’t made myself sick, but I’ve wanted to. When I shove awful junk food in my mouth, at the time it’s as if I go mindless and am watching myself, knowing I shouldn’t be eating, but unable to stop. And then when I’m done? When the reality of what I just ate sinks in? I want it OUT so badly. Take today, for example! My lunch? I ate a bunch of Halloween candy and a full canister of Pringles. What the hell?!!!!!! I had a great 6 mile run this morning as well as a session with my therapist and yet it’s taking everything in me not to give up and just walk to the bathroom. First world problems . . .

Obviously I’m not better and there’s so many things tangled in this knot! Just this morning I listened to the 26 October 2015 interview of Gloria Steinem by Terry Gross for NPR’s Fresh Air and how Steinem, a self-proclaimed ‘foodaholic’, at age 81 still can’t have certain foods in her house. So will I ever get better? Will I ever be cured? Doubtful. Gross quoted Steinem’s own words to her, “I’m a fat woman who’s not fat at the moment.” In the interview, Steinem admits, “I’m still a sugar junkie. I still find it very difficult. I can’t keep certain kinds of food in the house because they talk to me . . . I cannot keep ice cream or bread or anything too rewarding in the house.”

How depressing. I crave balance almost as much as a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. But if it were just about the Reese’s or the Pringles or the bread, the solution would be simple: don’t eat it. Just like with alcoholism, right? Don’t drink and life gets better, right? Wrong. In 2001 when I quit drinking, my life got worse until I had no fight left, until I was beat up enough to start listening for that “still, small voice,” until I could hear what people were trying to teach me. I suppose my food issue is no different. Fuck.

So I guess that’s it? I’m not making myself vomit, but I’m still binging? If I can frame my food issue in the context of drinking, it’s possible for me to have hope. If I keep working at it, I’ll get better, right? Hopefully. Hopefully I’ll gain a stronger, healthier sense of self. And I guess to some degree that’s already begun. I can’t see my day-to-day growth, but when I look back at where I was in March, you bet your ass I’m in a much better place. And most importantly, I’m writing again.

. . . whew! What a heavy way to restart “Reed All About It,” eh? If prior readers know anything about me, it’s that I’ll always be real. Who knows what future posts will bring, but I will never offer fakery . . . so please come back, and thank you.

Poetry triggers gratitude for fearless mom

In May 1970, my mom was at the halfway point of her first pregnancy. Back then, I don’t think expecting mothers were honored like they are today. My mom was probably focused on honoring her own mother.

I used to think Mother’s Day was just a made-up Hallmark holiday, but a quick Google search told me it was started in 1908 by Anna Jarvis to honor her late mother, Ann, who was a peace activist and nurse of wounded Civil War soldiers from both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Wikipedia reports Jarvis’ intention was to honor her mother’s life by continuing her work with “Mother’s Day Work Clubs to address public health issues.”

20140503_212626_AndroidIn the Land of the Free, as with so many good-intentioned efforts, capitalism and commercialism quickly turned Jarvis’ vision of Mother’s Day into a money-making opportunity for greeting card companies, candy makers and all sorts of other peddlers eager to cash in on the desire to show Mom how much she means to us. Ugh.

Even now that I’m a mom myself, I don’t think much about Mother’s Day because of the stupid pressure media and vendors put on people to prove their undying devotion to ‘the She who gave us life.’

As if with one day, we can wipe away the prior year of being too busy, too tired, too grumpy, too lazy, to simply take a few moments out of our busy lives to fold our arms around our mothers’ shoulders and sit with her, listen to her, ask her about a memory or take her out to lunch.

Recently I was listening to the public radio program “Fresh Air” in which Terry Gross interviewed poet laureate for the state of New York, Marie Howe. Of the poems featured, the one that struck me was about the death of the author’s mother titled “My Mother’s Body.”

Prior to reading it, Howe shared that she was the oldest of 9 children and that sometimes, when the oldest is a daughter, women can struggle separating from their mothers.

I don’t think Mom and I struggled. Rather, it was like Thor and Odin, lots of shouting and ranting and screaming. I couldn’t wait to get away from my mother and off on my own! God forbid I listen to her, recognize her discipline as love, see the fear behind her efforts to tame her wild daughter.

Listening to the poet Howe talk about her mother, I found myself wondering about my own, about the woman she was before she became “Mom.” Those nine months when her working and walking would rock me like a soft cradle, when her talking was the muffled song that lulled me, when her slumber was undoubtedly the time for my fetus-self to jump around and party. Who was she?

I’m sure she had all the universal thoughts, fears, hopes, dreams, hesitations and questions so many of us do when we’re carrying our precious cargo.

There’s only a few things Mom has shared about her pregnancy. One, that in 1970, doctors let women labor for hours until the urge to push came and then they were sedated.

Those of us who have labored know the relief the urge to push brings and how frustrated Mom said she was, “You labor for that long and when you’re finally ready to push, they put you to sleep!”

Mom also gets perturbed remembering that at just 2 weeks old, her doctor ordered her to feed me skim milk because I was too fat. “Can you imagine?!” she’d sigh, “but you just didn’t question things back then.”

We all get a good laugh out of it, but there’s a part of me that feels bad . . . not for me, but for Mom. Obviously she was doing a pretty great job of taking care of me and how was she rewarded? By being told she was doing it too well!

While I’m sure she was a little scared about having a child to care for, when it comes to babies I’ve never thought of Mom as anything other than fearless. Like when our own Moira came home from the hospital and I was totally freaked out and clueless. With her host of feeding issues, I felt a constant panic that she would die at any moment.

Mom instinctively knew when to step in and help. Whether it was doing dishes in the kitchen while I fed Moira in the living room, I never felt more safe then when my mom was at the house. Whenever she was there, I knew that for the time being, Moira would live and everything would be ok.

When all else fails . . . when the sky is falling and you’ve nowhere to hide . . . when you’re beaten down and no one’s in your corner, Mom arrives and things are instantly less scary.

Though I’ve never admitted it, I’ve always needed her, and no Hallmark card or flower arrangement can ever express that. My mom is in me . . . in my own hands starting to weather with age; in my own eyes, that squint shut when we laugh; in the smile wrinkles on my cheeks that no longer smooth out once our laughter subsides.

I watch her, and see that everything is, and will be, okay. . . And for that, no thanks will ever be enough. I love you, Mom.

Originally published 10 May 2014 in The Observer.