catching up

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Wow. It’s been a while. I left this and kinda forgot about it. A lot has happened in my life since 2/24/15, so I’ll try to highlight it quickly.

In March of 2015 I came out as queer to my parents, my siblings, and my extended family in 24 hours. Do not recommend. I then began the process of coming out at my school, which was terrifying and freeing–I attend a conservative Christian university not known for tolerance.

From May-July 2015 I traveled through Costa Rica and Nicaragua. I met a much more diverse group of people than I’d ever met before, and I realized that not everyone cared about who I loved. It was shocking to me that it just didn’t matter to people. They liked me independent of my sexuality. That trip was amazing and eye opening and freeing.

In August, I started college again, along with a new job at a new nursing home (but no overnights; I care about my mental health more now). School was a bit difficult to get used to after the freedom of Central America. In addition, a lot of unfortunate events went down with administration at my school where they harassed gay students and were generally awful. It took a toll on my mental health, and I dealt with enough depression that I couldn’t stand doing much. It has been a while since this hit, and it sucked, but thankfully I’m doing some better.

In November, in the aftermath of the drama with my school, a group of two fellow students and I created a presentation for conservative Christian schools who wanted to support their queer students regardless of theological positions. We proceeded to network, push, shove, cajole, beg, plead, present, build alliances, and work our tails off to see this move forward. (To date, it’s doing better than we ever thought.) It is difficult at times, but has been really worth it to feel like we are contributing tangible betterment to our university’s culture.

December I spent at home with my family, which went surprisingly well. I biked over 120 miles in two weeks, taking every opportunity to hit the road. I also rested, read, and refreshed my soul. I learned that I am in introvert and need a lot of recharge time or I will not be effective at anything and my soul will not be peaceful.

In January I started student teaching, which I thought I might die from but I’m still living through. It’s getting better, but I am not sure it’s what I want to do forever. That’s ok, though, because I don’t have to do it forever. I am enjoying the 6th grade math class I’m in now.

In February I was accepted to the Episcopal Service Corps program in Chicago, the Julian Year. I will be spending a year living in Chicago and focusing on personal and spiritual transformation and growth while serving at a social service agency and living in community. I’m excited! The interview process for the ESC was actually one of the most interesting experiences in my life. It was so amazingly affirming. My sexuality wasn’t a liability, they were excited about the work I was doing at my school, and they didn’t exclude me from Christianity just because I was gay. It was freeing and welcoming. I ultimately got offers from 6 different programs, and it was incredibly hard to choose just one–but in the end the Chicago program seemed like the best fit. I am thrilled and can’t wait to graduate and move on to new things.

That’s a summary of my life so far–hopefully I will continue to update this blog a bit more frequently. I’m probably the only person who reads it, but it’s a good reminder of my life so far and helps me mark progress and see growth.

Peace.

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eating disorders, take 4

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If anyone has followed all that rambling…wow. You are long-suffering. I’d probably like you as an irl friend.

All that aside, I really don’t know much about eating disorders. I know some about my eating disorder, and what I know is that it requires me to keep constant watch on both my food and my feelings. They’re so connected. The only way I can keep them healthy, though, is to be honest, every single day.

Every day, every meal, I stare down my monsters. I eat because I know it is good for me, with the hope that one day I’ll eat because I want to. I rejoice every time I am able to listen to my body and know when I’ve eaten enough, or eaten foods that satisfy my palate and my stomach. I pay attention to my feelings, and when things feel like they are spiraling out of control I reevaluate what my idea of control is and if it’s a healthy one or not. Then I make a list of things I can take charge of. Then I call someone and am honest with my struggles and successes. They offer me an (often metaphysical) hand and I follow them back to the light.

Eating disorders are not about food, and they are all about food. This is life. We talk about things that are really not about themselves at all, even when they are all about themselves–alcohol, drugs, sex, self-harm. The only way I’ve found to escape the cycle is to acknowledge that I am a whole person, blood and fears and sweat and tears and dreams and goals and bone and muscle. One part of me hurting will make all of me hurt. I cannot exist as a purely spirit being. I need all of me. The only way to make sure I have it is to care for my stomach as well as my spirit.

eating disorders, take 3

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Man, all that is depressing. I’m ready to get to the less-depressing parts. 🙂

Eating disorders, simultaneously, are all about food and nothing about food. On the one hand, they are really about control. On the other, they involve food–a fundamental part of us and one we cannot escape. (I once heard someone talk about imagining a life where we didn’t need to eat three times a day, but that was clearly a pipe dream.) Thus, my parents could take me to as many nutritionists as they wanted to, and threaten me with all of the negative consequences; but if I still felt like food was the one thing I could control, I wouldn’t budge. At the same time, I could work on not controlling everything in my life, or realizing what was healthy taking charge and what was toxic control; but without a blueprint for how to rebuild healthy eating habits, I was screwed.

For me, rehab provided both of these things. Let me take a break for a minute here and point you to a TedX talk I recently heard and loved. Glennon Melton, of Momastery fame, gave a talk at TedX Traverse City titled “Everything I needed to know in life, I learned in a mental hospital.” Replace “mental hospital” with “rehab” or “treatment” (or just add them, because I’ve had experience with all three), and you have a talk I could give. One of the points she articulate quite well is the fact that when you are on a psych ward you really have nothing left to lose. Everything you are on the outside is immaterial. In the psych ward/treatment/rehab, you have no masks or capes or coping mechanisms left. You’re naked, so to speak. Which feels terribly, terribly frightening. It is you and your demons, face to face. Your scars, your fears, your monsters, your pain–you don’t have any insulation anymore. But that is not all.

In rehab, you also have other people. And you may not like these other people. You may hate them, or hate how they talk, or be scared of them because of prejudice, or scared because they are seeing you at your bottom. But they are there, and they are not going anywhere. In that safe, controlled, unfortunately-rare setting, you can choose one of two things: open up, be honest, be scared, be real–but SHOW UP–or shut down and pretend you still have your cape and refuse to get help.

I am not perfect. I spent a fair share of time in the shut down mode. But what I eventually learned was that I couldn’t afford it. I could not afford to not get help. I was going to die without out it, inside and outside. So I took that terrifyingly scary first step.

Back to how it applies to my ED: I have had to work on both pieces–the out of control feeling that spiraled me into it and developing healthy eating patterns that sustain and nourish me. But I absolutely cannot have one without the other. I need to be honest with my life. I have to show up in the “brutiful”-ness of live and live the pain and joy and fear. I can’t numb out–it’s too risky. And it sucks. And some days I have no clue what I’m doing, in eating or anything else. But I try, and pretend to be a normal person, and take care of myself, and call someone else who can tell me the truth when I can’t, and I stand back up.

Practically, I had to cut way back on checking my weight. I still do it at times, because…I can’t not, even though I know it might be better. But I’m not a slave to the scale. I check it, and I get off and call someone and am honest and then I go about my life. I eat normally, and when I’m in doubt I make sure I get carbs, protein, and fat at each meal and hang in there for when I can go back to eating by gut feel (literally). Here is the interplay: when I am having a bad food day, I have to make sure I talk about my feelings with someone so that I can keep the food from going crazy. If I have a bad feelings day, I have to make sure I’m eating enough to stay present to feel my feelings so that they don’t engender a food shut down. They’re a toxic, interrelated, crazy mix I can’t afford to mess with. And that is why I have learned to take care of my mental health as closely as my physical health.

 

eating disorders: take 2

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(This is part 2 of some ongoing reflections on my ED. In part 1 I described my ED and some of the things that didn’t help.)

While my ED was certainly partly about food, it was about other things too. I was trying to stuff the pain of sexual abuse, physical abuse, and spiritual abuse. Not eating is addicting because you start to feel less. Your brain doesn’t have enough energy to function, so everything becomes muted. I couldn’t stand to feel everything, so muting was preferable. We went through a major church change, the stillbirth of my brother, and my mom finding out about my dad’s pornography–plus me telling them about the sexual abuse, which happened when I was 5–in a period of two years. I had a lot I didn’t want to feel.

Eating disorders are also often about control, and mine certainly was. I couldn’t control many things, but I could control what I ate. By exercising amazing self-control over every bite that went into my mouth, I felt like there was one thing in my life that I had charge of. In reality, I was out of control with my ED as well, but I didn’t see it that way. Any spare bite that I had not planned into my day threw me into a tailspin. I couldn’t handle changes well, and our daily schedule at the time never looked the same one day to the next. I desperately needed structure, but had none of it.

I started cutting when I was about 15, and that helped me numb more. I cut in places that no one would see, and with my obsession for covering up and dressing “modestly,” no one ever did see them. An enduring testament to the chaos and craziness in my head, two large scars on my upper arms will always remind me of a time when the pain got so bad I couldn’t drown it out, despite my desperate tries.

When I was 18 I spent a week and a half in the psych ward after attempting suicide. I couldn’t effectively numb anymore, and I was terrified of feeling. Given my temporary (though I didn’t know it) feelings, I tried to make a permanent decision, and I failed. I don’t know if I have felt many things as discouraging as waking up the morning after a suicide attempt. I mean, you have basically failed at everything at that point.

At this point, it was clear I needed help. My parents eventually made the decision to send me to rehab. I was 18, so technically I had a choice, but since the choice went something like “If you don’t go to rehab, you have t move out,” it didn’t feel that way.

I refused to talk about my ED in rehab. It was too much of giving up control, too much of letting people into my life. Besides, I reasoned, this was not a Christian treatment center, so they would not understand what I was going through. Not that I did either, but I was sure non-Christians couldn’t help me. And so, stuck at this impasse, I stayed: frightened, scared, dying inside, and unable to get or simply receive help.

eating disorders: take 1

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A friend recently asked me if I had written anything about my eating disorder. I am sure I have, because at that time in my life writing was my main form of escape, but I can’t find it. I probably didn’t blog about it and instead wrote it in one of the many half-finished journals I have lying around.

This will, I am sure, be something I will add to in the coming days, because…well, I just have so many thoughts about eating disorders (ED, for short). I am lucky/blessed/grateful/a combination of the three to be in recovery from it, and mostly just to still be alive.

Eating disorders…hmmm. Anorexia ruled my life from about 12-19, so for seven years. It only got really bad from 15-19, though. I lost a lot of weight, and I exercised obsessively. All the freaking time. I ran every day in the below freezing winter wearing just my short shorts and a light t-shirt and windbreaker. I would work out for hours every day. I counted every calorie against what I burned, only counting it a successful day if I managed to be “in the negative,” i.e. eat less calories than I burned off. I got very pick with what I would eat, and when. I refused to eat certain categories of foods, having good and bad foods. I would “binge” on maybe 600 calories–in other words, what a normal meal for me should have been. I had no context of what was healthy or not. I started to lose my hair and I was constantly tired, cold, and miserable. My parents told me about talking to a nutritionist who told them about a client who had to have a feeding tube because they would not eat, and even though they meant it to implore me to change, all I could think was, “Then I would not have to be responsible for eating anything.” And with where my head was, that sounded preferable.

My parents tried to help, putting me in counseling at 17 and taking me to a nutritionist. Unfortunately, my counselor…well, there’s a whole story right there. She was a biblical counselor, without credentials, who should not have been practicing. She had an ED that she overshared about and also claimed she was in recovery from. Actually, she was still in the middle of it–hyper-controlling of her food and obsessive about working out. I started to pick up some of those habits from her. Her methods of trying to help were at once overstepping boundaries and also not doing enough. All in all, that experience only complicated my ED.

My mom worried that I’d lose my ability to have kids. At my lowest point, both my parents worried that I would not make it. They threatened to take away my workout privileges and tried to force me to eat. They took me to counseling and to nutritionists, and threatened me with hospitalization. They were scared, and so was I They tried really hard to love me back to health, but in the end there was just too much pain for what they said or did to fill up the hole in my heart.

labels and boxes

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Last night, at my school’s LGBT support group meeting, someone asked me if I was lesbian. It’s a question I should have expected, in a conversation about having a discussion about my not-straight-ness with my parents, but it’s also a question I avoid. Mostly, because I really don’t know.

Among all the categories of gender and sexuality and attraction, I find that I sometimes fluctuate, or at least have wishful thinking that causes me to think I’m fluctuating. When I first left fundamentalism some of my friends had strong suspicions that I was gay because I never found male actors hot or sexy or whatever like they did. I knew I had never been attracted to guys, and still never have been. I think kissing is gross–who would want to stick their tongues in someone else’s mouth?–and honestly don’t feel a great desire to have THE SEX either. Honestly, while I love cuddling with people–mostly girls, though a few guys, as well–I don’t look at someone and think, “They’re so sexy! I wish I could have the sex with them!” Perhaps no one does this, and I’m making this up in my head, but even people that I have “crushes” on are just people I’d like to have a cup of tea with, laugh and share and debate interesting topics with, and snuggle up next to at the end of the day. Sex is honestly not that big of a deal in my life. Most of the time, I pretty much hate the physically female parts of my body, while other times I am just “meh” about them. All in all, I’d probably fall closer to asexual but bi-romantic than most anything else.

I answered the question from the person in the group with my standard answer: “I’m not straight, but I’m not particularly sure what I am. And I’m ok with that.” (Which is the truth, despite two years of reparative therapy and countless efforts to get me to “come back to Jesus” by family and friends.)

When I first started learning about sexual and gender minorities, I realized I had an intense need to label people. I needed to find what box they fit in and put them there. I needed to know if they were genetically male, genetically female, whom they were attracted to, what that meant…I wanted all the information. As I listened to other queer folks, I realized that sexuality was a spectrum. I first was introduced to this concept over at Sam Killerman’s It’s Pronounced Metrosexual.

The whole idea is that attraction, identity, biology, and expression are on a continuum with infinite possibilities. (Less so with biology, but it still can be.) This was frightening for me. If everything was a continuum, and a certain orientation didn’t mean a certain attraction or expression, I couldn’t fit people into stereotypes. It wasn’t that I realized I was doing this consciously, I just was so used to having categories that I had naturally been able to do it. It felt like an odd sense of control when I was able to categorize my world.

Gradually, I had to start letting go of that. Reading memoirs, anthologies, blogs, and other literature opened my eyes to the amazing intricacy of gender and expression, and while it was at first scary, it was ultimately freeing. Not needing to fit other people in boxes meant I didn’t need to fit myself in a box. I know what I’m not (straight), but knowing what I am is harder. I don’t have to figure it out today, though. There isn’t a rush, or a reason for me to have everything sorted out. I am unique, changing, questioning, growing, learning–and my own thoughts and expressions and feelings and uncertainty don’t make me less of a person than my straight and queer friends who know where they fit. It simply means that I am experiencing the reality of an incredibly complex system affected by hundreds of internal and external factors.

Ultimately, I realized that I didn’t need labels and boxes because I know myself pretty well. When I wasn’t internalizing other people’s messages about purity, or self-worth, or who they thought I was or wasn’t, I knew that I was ok with being rather fluid. I no longer had to identify other people, and I didn’t have to identify myself–and I definitely didn’t have to identify myself for other people. I will know if something feels right in my gut if I am ever in a relationship, and I can go with that. I don’t have to worry about whether or not it fits in my box.

And that is amazingly freeing.

A Sister, Not a Parent

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Here’s my re:siblings story that went up on Homeschoolers Anonymous today. I am honored that they published it. 

I absolutely love being a big sister. In the darkest times of my life, thinking of my siblings kept me going. I would do anything in the world for them, and they know it. However, my relationship with my siblings is also complicated.

When, as a kid, I expressed concern that I didn’t get to hang out with kids my own age and wouldn’t know how to do that when I went to college, my mom quickly told me that “if you can get along with your siblings, you can get along with anyone.” Naively believing this, I struggled with the guilt of wishing I had perfect, loving relationships with my siblings (“Making Brothers and Sisters Best Friends,” anyone?) and the reality that we just didn’t get along all the time, even though we loved each other fiercely.

As the oldest of eight siblings—a small family by the standards of the church I grew up in—I grew up with mega responsibility. Early on, I learned that my role was to take care of younger siblings. I babysat, cooked, sewed, cleaned, taught, and filled dozens of other parental roles. My younger siblings would accidentally call me mom, something that landed me in the middle of a fury storm as my mom raged at me for usurping her place before retreating back to her room to try to deal with the depression she refused to seek help for.  I was proud that I could run the household. Luckily, schoolwork was incredibly easy for me (even though the material was comparable to a standard traditional school education), so I managed to get a great education even though my time was full with chores and housework. I would often get installed in the kitchen, doing schoolwork at the table while I watched several of the youngest children so my mom could teach the middle ones. From the age of seven, I took on making breakfast and lunch every day—by the time I was nine, I was making dinner as well. I have a knack for involving kids in whatever activity I happened to be doing, something that was honed in my years at home. Some of my happiest sibling memories involve making meals in the kitchen. My mom never had much patience with them, but I loved nothing better than to find something for them to do and have some company while I worked.

Our bond was not always nurtured under such happy circumstances, though. My mom had anger issues and could flare up at short notice. My dad’s way of dealing with it was to ignore it, leaving for work early and coming home late. We had an unspoken rule of covering for each other as much as we could. Any animosity we felt was laid aside in the event of an anger outburst. Walking on eggshells is the best way to describe what our life felt like. When my mom was fine, our normal sibling arguments and jealousies sprang up. We loved each other, and we also fought; this was when life felt the most normal. When my mom was angry, though, we worked like a well-oiled machine. Each older child took a younger one under their wing, and even the babies seemed to realize they needed to be quiet and keep sweet. We came to look forward to when my mom would leave the house for hours or days on end—although we never knew if she was ok or not, we were able to have fun. We didn’t have to worry that any laughter would be shushed and any argument would incur violent punishment. We’d clean the house, make meals, and care for our younger siblings under and unspoken agreement that delegated certain jobs to each of us. It worked, and it provided the most security and schedule we ever had. Sure, we were acting more like adults than kids, but we also got to tease each other and come up with goofy rituals that made the chores seem easier. For example, my next older siblings and I often cleaned up dinner together. We split the jobs into three main parts and each took one. While we cleaned, we’d tell jokes, sing songs, have arm wrestling matches, and talk about our days. When my mom was home, however, we were expected to do our work in silence.

It was easier with my younger siblings. I left home for college out of state when they were still fairly young. While it tore my heart apart to leave them, since I was their surrogate mom, it was the best thing for me and them. I still have good relationships with them—I feel more like I’m their aunt than their big sister. When I’m at home, we will do activities, go out to eat, and have fun. My parents have loosened up some with them, and I am no longer afraid of my parents, so things go much better. Even though I still have a lot of anxiety about leaving them and feel more responsibility than most older siblings probably do, I know that I am no longer responsible for them.

I also know that I don’t have to get along with any of my siblings perfectly. In fact, socialization is an entirely different thing altogether. My older siblings still believe a great deal of the fundamentalist teachings we grew up with, but they are also all still living at home. When I’m at home, I walk the fine line of not disagreeing with my parents’ worldview, principles, and positions in front of my siblings while simultaneously believing that their attitudes are often dangerous and harmful. If I want to continue to interact with my siblings, I have to keep up this balancing act. At the same time, as my siblings get older, I hope that they see me as a safe person who will accept them for whoever they are and whatever they believe. Gradually, perhaps, they will see that the girls have other options than being wives and mothers, although that is perfectly fine if that is what they truly want. They may see that women and men are inherently equal, and that neither needs to conform to traditional expectations of gender from any source.

I will always love being a big sister. For most of my life, though, I did not know what being a sister meant. Today, I am truly a sister, not a parent. And I love it.