Sunday, November 27, 2016
Hunger by Lisabet Sarai
I’d like to welcome my friend and colleague, Lisabet Sarai, to my blog.
Note: A few weeks ago, Rochelle sent me a list of interview questions for this guest appearance on her blog. When I visited to see what sort of content she liked, though, I discovered that she and I had some things in common, and I put together this more personal and possibly more relevant post.
I dream of heavy-laden banquet tables. Crisp-skinned, savory roast chickens, their walnut-and-raisin-studded stuffing leaking out onto artfully garnished platters. Barbecued lamb skewers arrayed on beds of saffron-scented pilaf. Broiled salmon brushed with tamari and garlic. Brick-colored candied yams piled into gleaming, sticky pyramids. Sweet corn glistening with melted butter. As I wander from room to room in this endless, deserted mansion, I spy a dozen kinds of cheese, two dozen varieties of olives. Dainty pastel-iced pastries tempt me. Massive apple and pumpkin pies tickle my nose with cinnamon and nutmeg. A fountain dispenses an endless stream of vanilla soft ice cream.
The mingled aromas of my favorite foods assault me. Saliva gathers in my mouth. My stomach growls. I want to eat it all. Confronted by such bounty, I don’t know where to start.
Then I remember. I can’t. I mustn’t. Hunger tugs me toward the lusciously-arrayed buffets, but I must resist. Already I feel the flesh ballooning on my thighs and belly, from the mere thought of such indulgence. I run through the corridors, pursued by the scent of spices, roasted meat, caramelized sugar. There’s no exit. I’m trapped.
I wake into a full-blown anxiety attack, my heart racing, sweat drenching my skinny, naked body. Calm, I must be calm. It’s only a dream. I capture my bony wrist, encircling it with the thumb and forefinger of my other hand to reassure myself. I’m still thin enough. I’m still in control of that terrible hunger. I won’t give in to it, ever.
I promise myself that I’ll skip the slice of cantaloupe I usually eat for breakfast. Just in case. The gluttonous desires of my dream may have polluted me. Black coffee with artificial sweetener will be enough for today.
This is the nightmare of anorexia.
From the outside, anorexia looks trivial, capricious, especially compared to other forms of psychological illness like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. “Oh,” people think. “She thinks she’s fat. She doesn’t like her body. She wants to lose weight. Nothing wrong with that, she’s just taken it a bit too far. If she’d only start eating a little more, she’d be fine.”
The fact that our culture equates thinness with beauty makes anorexia seem almost rational. I can assure you from personal experience, though, that an anorexic is as crazy as someone who thinks she’s Queen Victoria or who raves about being possessed by aliens. Anorexics suffer from equally disturbing delusions. We see ourselves as eternally fat and feel constantly threatened by our own bodies. When I was anorexic, I was possessed too, by a voracious demon whose hunger could never be appeased.
What the heck? you may be thinking. Hungry? When you’re choosing to starve yourself? So if you’re so hungry, then eat.
If only it were that simple.
I’ve come to understand that anorexia is not really about food at all. It’s about control, or more precisely the fear of losing control. It’s no accident that most cases afflict women in their teens, struggling to deal with all the changes of puberty and the pressures of emerging sexuality. Girls who have a perfectionist attitude tend to be more susceptible—you know, the ones who despair when they receive a grade of 98 instead of 100 or who spend hours every day practicing so that they’ll make the varsity gymnastics team or the cheerleading squad or the All-State orchestra. That was me, the grind, the egghead, top of the class in every subject. We want to be good—the very best. And then we realize our bodies, our hormones, our desires are totally haywire. What we really want—oh, but it’s unspeakable.
We can’t control our carnal needs—indeed, consciously we might not even be aware of them—but food is something concrete, something we can manipulate and ration. We can apply the same discipline we exert in our studies, our athletics or our cultural pursuits, to cut down on the things that will make us “fat”. By depriving ourselves, we can prove how strong and pure we are. As our bodies shed the pounds, they become bright beacons advertising our virtue and self-control.
When I looked like a concentration camp victim, I thought I was beautiful.
Of course, food is symbolic of other things as well. Like many mothers, mine equated food with nurturing, comfort and caring. When I rejected the (quite delicious) meals she cooked for me, I was rejecting her love. At least was the way she saw things. Meanwhile, I saw her as the enemy, trying to undermine my resolve to get my appetite under control—trying to “make me fat.”
The superficially rational aspects of anorexia and the hostility that often develops between the sufferer and those who are closest to her make the disease very difficult to treat. If the disease is about control, what is the remedy?
I can’t speak for others, but my recovery started when I learned to trust someone else enough to give up control. My therapist, whom I saw for more than four years, somehow convinced me that he could keep me safe, even if I started to eat again. He was the total opposite of the Freudian stereotype, a short, chubby, jolly Latin who had no qualms about giving me a hug. I guess I fell in love with him (Freud’s transference, perhaps, or maybe something more genuine). He told me once that I could do anything I wanted, and he would never judge me. “If you decided to go to the Moon,” he said, “I’d be here when you got back, applauding.”
It took nearly a decade for me to learn how to trust myself with food and eat “normally”. I believe I’m past the point where I’m terrified by my own hunger. Now I feel tremendous sympathy for the girls and their families still trapped in that nightmare. I’d like to tell them that there is a way out—that I escaped from that haunted mansion to live happy and healthy into my sixties. Perhaps that’s a message they need to hear.
(By the way, the images accompanying this post are scans of some of the art therapy work I did while I was in the psychiatric hospital.)
On a lighter note, I’ve got a blurb and excerpt for you from my outrageous erotic romance novel Rajasthani Moon. If you like steampunk—or ménage—or shifters—or BDSM—or BBW heroines... you’ll love this book. In fact, I’m giving away an e-book copy to one person who leaves a comment on this post. Just be sure to include your email address in the comment, so I can find you!
Rochelle: I was diagnosed as an “anorexic who gave up,” when I weighed about 200 pounds. After I was also diagnosed as bipolar, meds caused me to reach 300 pounds, where I stayed for many years. Lisabet and I are at opposite ends of the same spectrum, although the “monster” in her drawing looks a lot like me. Yeah, I’ve relapsed. I wrote a book about losing 150 pounds and have regained 75. I’m back up to 200.
I admire you being able to maintain a healthy weight, Lisabet. I absolutely know what a struggle it is.
Neither kink nor curse can stop a woman with a mission.
Cecily Harrowsmith, secret agent extraordinaire, is a woman on a mission. When the remote Indian kingdom of Rajasthan refused to remit its taxes to the Empire, Her Majesty imposed an embargo. Deprived of the energy-rich mineral viridium, essential for modern technology and development, Rajasthan was expected to quickly give in and resume its payments. Yet after three years, the rebellious principality still has not knuckled under. Cecily undertakes the difficult journey to that rugged, arid land in order to determine just how it has managed to survive, and if possible to convince the country to return to the Empire’s embrace. Instead, she’s taken captive by a brigand, who turns out to be the ruler’s half-brother Pratan, and delivered into the hands of the sexy but sadistic Rajah Amir, who expertly mingles torture and delight in his interrogation of the voluptuous interloper.
Cursed before birth by Amir’s jealous mother, Pratan changes to a ravening wolf whenever the moon is full. Cecily uncovers the counter-spell that can reverse the effects of the former queen’s hex and tries to trade that information for her freedom. Drawn to the fierce wolf-man and sympathizing with his suffering, she volunteers to serve as the sacrifice required by the ritual—offering her body to the beast. In return, the Rajah reveal Rajasthan’s amazing secret source of energy. In the face of almost impossible odds, Cecily has accomplished the task entrusted to her by the Empire. But can she really bear to leave the virile half-brothers and their colorful land behind and return to the constraints of her life in England?
You can buy the book at your favorite online store: