Saturday, August 11, 2012


I’ve known Helga ever since I became anorexic. It’s no coincidence that these two took up residence simultaneously. Because you can’t have an eating disorder and be a balanced, confident, whole-hearted person at the same time. It’s one or the other. You either have respect and admiration for yourself as a human being or you have an eating disorder. You just can’t have it both ways. If you can choose starvation, you’ve already decided you’re not worth feeding.

Helga is a jerk. She’s that voice in my head that convinced me I was literally devoid of worth. I didn’t deserve food. I didn’t deserve happiness. While her influence on me has lessened as I’ve recovered these past few years, she is still that voice of evil, of manipulation, of hatred. She’s loud and obnoxious and comes fully-loaded with abusive, critical comments about my body, my reflection in the mirror, my skin, my abilities, and my value as a woman.  I used to get her voice confused with my own. I used to think that we were one and the same. But I know better now and I’ve learned to distinguish my voice from hers.

Recently, I’ve been reading the book When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies by Jane R Hirschmann and Carol H. Munter. They talk about how we know the critical voice in our head, but we need to refute that with a voice of truth. We all have the need for an inner care taker. A presence within us that knows forgiveness and grace. That comforts when we’re down and cheers when we’re up.  For most of us growing up, this was our mother. But we’re not kids anymore and some of us have not learned how to healthfully care for ourselves when we’re uncomfortable or scared or anxious. So find ways to cope and they're not always better than the pain we started with. 

Helga needs an opposite.
I’ve named her Grace.

Grace is new around here. She’s still settling in as I’ve only recently begun wanting her around. I hate Helga with a passion, but at least she’s familiar and predictable. Grace is neither.  She doesn’t use sarcastic comments and guilt-ridden aggression as a means to control me. Instead, she’s kind and compassionate. She’s not forcing her way into my consciousness, but she’s just waiting until I’m ready.

I think I’m ready. I think I need her. I need to be reminded at times that my transgressions are forgivable. That my needs are not insatiable. That my heart is not a problem. And that I—right here, and now—am doing just fine. Grace reminds me that I am worthy and valued and good.

This starts to look much like those cartoons we've all seen with a good and bad presence on each shoulder. But I've never seen those images and found them to be un-true. They've always made complete sense. Because I've lived with Helga for awhile. I've become familiar with the notion she preaches that with just the right amount of self-hatred and contempt, maybe, just maybe, I'll be good enough. But that's never how it works. Grace reminds me that I can't get to a place of love and balance and peace with hatred and name-calling and cruelty. Grace is good like that. She speaks the voice of truth I've always known, but needs uncovering. 

I’ve been putting this thinking into practice this week, learning to listen to the voice of Grace. On Thursday night, we went to a get-together where there was chili, cornbread, and apple pie; all foods that I enjoy, but have gluten in them and always make me sick. So I avoided them, right? Nope. Ate ‘em. Quickly too, as if to dispose of the evidence as soon as possible and convince myself that what just happened didn’t just happen.

Under typical circumstances, I usually realize what’s happening, hate that it’s happening, and eat as much glutenous food as fast as possible because it-tastes-so-good-and-I-shouldn’t-be-eating-it-but-I-am-so-screw-it-I’ll-just-make-it-an-all-out-binge.

But that didn’t happen on Thursday night. My recognition kicked in somewhere around my third bite of cornbread. I realized I could stop and might not feel too stomach-achy in the morning, but I didn’t stop. I just kept eating. And instead of letting Helga harass me about it, I listened to Grace instead, who said, “This might not feel great in the morning, but I’m not going to leave you. I’ll be right here when you’re done.” So I kept eating the food that would make me sick and went to bed feeling not awesome, but okay.

The next morning, with my bloated tummy and stomach cramps (per result of gluten allergy), I was quite susceptible to Helga's attacks and she let me have it. But instead, Grace reminded me, “We’ve been here before. It’s not comfortable, but it’s not the end of the world either. Let's move on.” And I did. And that was that. I was uncomfortably bloated and sick the rest of the day. I regretted eating the dang cornbread. But Helga's guilt only makes me feel worse, so I'm learning to shut-down Helga’s abusive rants every time I make a wrong turn. Because I’ll be more likely to make positive changes when I welcome the acceptance that Grace is eager to give.

Disclaimer: I am no artist. So I have no idea why Helga is larger proportionately or why her eyes are so huge. Their hands are behind their backs, because drawing hands is so flippin' difficult. But the act of giving these forces a face was important for me. There's a reason why they are both female in my mind, why Helga's breasts are larger and clothes are skimpier. There's a reason why Grace has freckles and a smile. Through this process, I realized how much these things matter.


Caitlyn Brianne said...

Thank you for this Heather! Girl you need to get down here to Tenn in October for Climb!

Keep being you, honest, courageous and bold!

Mindy said...

Love... Thank you.