Saved By Voice
Words by. Lindsey Sailors
I come from a long line of women who did not trust their bodies, and so I grew up being afraid of what this tall, lanky, eventually full bodied, now athletically curvy vessel would do to me, and how I was going to defend myself against it.
If you turn out pretty and keep yourself thin, they said, everything would be fine. Better than fine, even. It would be how life is supposed to go: perfectly in line, not unlike my stick thin aspirations. Of course you can’t control everything that happens in life, they said, but you can control how in control you are with yourself. What are you hungry for? A salad? We thought so.
When I was 22 years old, 10 years ago, I had returned from a semester abroad in the Middle East having gained who knows how much weight. It had been a long time coming, I see this now. If you grow up as I did and don’t understand hunger to be the source of appetite and desire, but rather all of the many feelings, fears, and eventual liberations to inform whether to eat that falafel or that jar of peanut butter, if you see eating as liberation from the women in your family who told you to stay small, if you are ashamed of how much you enjoy eating and then put some Nutella on that shame and go to town...what happens are nonstop weight fluctuations. What ensued after returning home was a series of humiliating conversations, a radical shift in my own self-understanding, and a belief that my only option was to lose weight.
Shortly after returning from abroad, I joined a teaching program and was placed in rural New Mexico, so I promptly packed my bags to join my new cohort and new life after graduation. Rural reservation land is desolate, raw, and empty, and keeping a strict diet of a peach yogurt for breakfast followed by a fruit leather for a snack followed by steamed vegetables for lunch followed by 4 almonds in the afternoon followed by half a packet of cream of wheat for dinner made my insides feel like my outsides: desolate, raw, empty. If I ever went outside of those lines, if I failed and had a piece of chocolate or anything with carbs that wasn’t in my usual routine, I’d throw it up and forget it ever happened. Anorexia and bulimia quickly became my closest friends.
It’s a unique experience to be shrinking so visibly and so rapidly, without anybody to witness it. There was no need for me to hide anything because I lived alone, taught 1st graders, and only spoke on the phone with my people. If I wasn’t with 7-year-olds, I was with myself, and when my eating disorders joined, it felt a little less lonely.
It felt intoxicating to be losing so much weight so quickly, it felt like a high to see how little I could eat today than the day before, how the jeans that I had just bought a month prior now felt like I was swimming in them. My favorite activity was lifting up my shirt in the bathroom to see as many bones as possible. I had never seen those bones protruding like that before, and I haven’t seen them since.
I no longer have that body; not because I gained back my fullness (which I did), and not because I made the choice to not have an eating disorder anymore (which I did), but because truth and ego are two very distinct entities, and only one has any power, that is to say, only one has a voice. They’re at opposite ends of the spectrum and can’t survive all at once; if you’re lucky, you get to choose.
My ego had everything it had ever wanted in this moment: I had been chosen for the most prestigious post-graduation service program around, and I was always the thinnest girl in the room. Saving the world and an enviable body was the whole package, and I had arrived.
The truth is that the best part of having a body is its primality; it is inherently grounding and solid. Having a body is how we experience the world. How we have our bodies is how we have the world. How we have our bodies is how we have our voice. It is how we know what it is; it is how we make it so, how we share it.
This is a real fly in the ointment for people like me who have been taught to be suspicious of my body and its tellings of hunger, of desire, of forewarning, of satisfaction. Voice depends on truth and truth depends on our ability to listen to and access our bodies, and all bodies are mysterious unfoldings that we are at the mercy of, that we are invited to surrender toward.
I’ll never know the real catalyst for why I was able to pivot so quickly months after disordered eating had become so much a part of my identity, why my truth didn’t get buried, why in my drowning, I was able to scream.
But one fall evening I went to dinner with a friend 3 hours away, and after vomiting my vegetables and salmon in the bathroom and driving 3 hours back home, I called my mom.
“I have a problem, I’m not doing okay.”
“What are you talking about Linds?”
“I freak out when I eat now, and I need help.”
“What do you mean ‘you freak out’? It’s fine that you’ve lost weight, you probably just need to start eating a bit more.”
“No mom, I freak out like I throw up. And I’ve lost a lot more weight. And I have an eating disorder and I’m calling because I need help.”
Help came in imperfect, tattered ways, the way help always does. It came with me insisting to keep talking about it with my parents, forcing them to be in the nightmare with me. It came when I reached out to a nutritionist and then to a therapist and then to a doctor, when they monitored me, when they fished me out. It came when I decided to start writing and blogging again; when I shed light onto the darkness. It came when I gave my voice an inch, and it saved my life.
Lindsey Sailors is a poet and essayist based in San Francisco. By day, she is working to make the tech industry more diverse, thoughtful, and intentional. By night, she is writing her first book. Follow her talk about everything we’ve been told never to talk about at enterthegray.com
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