Dear Body: A peace treaty with my queer, trans, and recovering body.

When we entered into this world, I can’t imagine that we feared becoming more. Back then, the moon was full and the world was fuller; the majesty of being small was only in relation to everything that was still unknown.

We had not yet been told to fear hunger. We knew hunger in the way we know our names — you always answer to it.

Body, this is my olive branch to you.

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I was 27 years old when “anorexia nervosa” appeared on my medical chart. In a quiet moment, staring at a flickering screen, I listened to my breath empty out of my body, a mix of relief and petrification.

Someone named what I could not: I was hungry.

The kind of hunger that moves in like an eclipse, enveloping your whole world in empty shadows. The kind of hunger you invite because staying small, in a cocoon or a corset of your own painful design, feels safer than stepping into the fullness of your life.

Your stubbornness and mine, colliding day after day. I ask you to die; you demand to live. I ask you to diminish yourself; you hold the line. I ask you to hide; you remain tangible. I am angry at every headache, every dizzy spell, every time I nearly fell down on the train. I am angry that you keep me tethered here.

I mistook your refusal to allow me to starve as a weakness, but I’m breathless now, looking back at all the ways you would not back down from survival. All the times you revolted, sounding every alarm, as if by sheer force of will we might find the urge again to live.

Body, I am in awe of you.

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You are daring and spectacular. You’ve shrieked in defiance of every label you couldn’t hold. You held the truth of “boy” before I could feel it for myself. You were uncompromising in the truth of what you carried, chest open on an operating table, with a river of bright red blood exposed by two perfect incisions.

The truth of the body, you whispered, runs deeper than the mind. When I woke up, shrouded in the fog of anesthesia, I felt us move closer — like two pieces of a puzzle, surrendering to each other — and I was not afraid. The shape was new and the picture was clearer.

The bottom of the glass, the bowl, the bottle was not enough to dissuade you from being. When I hid, you followed; when I silenced you, you boomed and bellowed like thunder. I am still here, you sighed. You would not disappear. You would not dim.

Body, you are a vision.

/

When I began to eat again, I could feel you coming back to life. The noise was ecstatic and overwhelming. Sometimes I raged with so much hunger, it scared me. It was the first time I knew myself as an animal first, above all else.

Somewhere along the way, I’d forgotten that you needed me, that I needed you, that we were bound to each other. You were so patient still. You promised me a home when I had nowhere else to go. You promised me a vessel for the adventure of a lifetime. You were the light that drew me back, like a moth continually pulled from the darkness again, and again, and again.

Sitting in the dark with me, you waited. A lighthouse on the cove, a flare popping open in the sky, a smoke signal spiraling — every pang of hunger, every shaky hand, every heart palpitation and terror a subtlety that said, “More than this, Sam, we need more.”

Body, your courage stuns me.

/

I realized I was truly starving when I couldn’t shake the tunnel vision. Had the walls around us been any smaller, it might have become a casket. Back then, the world was a single dimension, an endless stream of self-imposed calculations. They were abstractions I used to comfort myself, to convince myself that I’d done good.

I will be exactly enough, I told you.

For the boys who couldn’t love me, the parents who couldn’t understand me, the world that couldn’t see me. I will make myself so small and inconsequential, I’ll be as harmless as the fly that sits on the windowsill. I will be the closest thing I can to being nothing, because to be nothing means that I will never take up more space than I deserved, more love than I’d earned.

But you refused. You kept the lights on. I shattered every lantern; you reassembled the pieces.

And stubbornly, you survived, so that I might one day understand that worthiness is not awarded like a ribbon at the spelling bee.

There is space here. There is love here. And both are the gifts of being.

Body, teach me.

/

I am learning to love you back. I pause to feel the spaciousness between each breath.

“Marvel at this,” you remind me, eyes fixed on the horizon. “Let me show you.” One bite at a time, you restore me. The warmth returns to my belly. The sweetness to my laugh. The glow to my cheeks.

I will not pretend that I’m not afraid. There are days when I will be withholding. Being alive is a tremendous responsibility, and every so often, it scares the hell out of me.

To be a breathing, feeling, trembling animal is something none of us are prepared for. We enter this world screeching and gasping and blue, and spend a lifetime learning to breathe our way through it.

But I will not abandon you. I will come back, again and again, as many times as it takes to live.

That is what I can promise you.

I’ve teased apart the taste of honey when drinking my tea. I’ve let raspberries slowly dissolve on my tongue; I’ve savored every bite of a sponge cake flavored with cardamom and pistachio, so decadent you wouldn’t trade it for anything.

I’ve learned to cherish the warmth of someone’s chest against mine, the ephemeral magic of a song so loud it reverberates inside me, and the ripeness of a pea-pod from a stranger’s spring garden, sliced open between my teeth.

When you speak to me, the cadence has become familiar — I need, I want, I am, we are. Together, we move with clumsy but purposeful choreography.

And I know now to hold the gratitude for where you’ve carried me. I know that you are not an anchor, but rather, an altar. You house everything that is sacred in me.

Body, you are a blessing.

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This blog post was sponsored by Eating Recovery Center in honor of this year’s Eating Recovery Day on May 7th! The theme, #MyRecoveryLetter, is an open invitation to reflect gratefully on what has helped us in recovery. I invite every one of you to share your own letters to whomever or whatever has helped you in your journey!

Struggling with food? Body stuff? Or just need someone to talk to? The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) is a wonderful place to start. They’ve been an incredible resource for me — and I hope they’ll be for you as well!

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Hey, before you go…

This blog is not sponsored by any fancy pants investors that are trying to sell you stuff.

It’s funded by readers like you via Patreon!

Photo by Chris Jarvis on Unsplash.

Fat by Choice: Happy (and Healthy!) At the Intersections of Size and Mental Health

The illustration features a place setting with breakfast foods, and two hands: one clutching a spoon, the other clutching a bottle of pills.

Illustration by Jessica Krcmarik.

Almost two years ago now, I began taking a medication with the hope that I could finally manage the aggressive symptoms that came with mental illness. I was experiencing despondent, suicidal lows; I felt panicked, paranoid, and inexplicably angry.

But by far the worst part of what was happening was the feeling that I wasn’t a “somebody” and, instead, the host for this parasite known as bipolar.

And it was this feeling – the feeling that I was no longer a person but rather, a shell – that compelled me to try a medication that had not been around for very long.

To the surprise of both my doctor and myself, it worked. It worked astonishingly well. As the months progressed, I began to level out. The loud noise in my head began to dial back. The hopelessness gave way to a hesitant, fledgling optimism. The anger dulled and I was able to problem-solve without coming undone. I began to feel human again.

I remember thinking that it was too good to be true. In every fairytale I’d ever read, miracles like these came with a trade-off. You could have effortless beauty, but give up your first born; you could have strength or immortality or riches, but there was always the fine print.

Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy, but when I noticed my body beginning to change, I was convinced that my day of reckoning had come. I could be mentally healthy, sure, but in return, the universe was going to issue me a new challenge.

I know what you might be thinking. No, gaining weight was not the challenge, though at first I thought it was. Gaining weight is not inherently a bad thing. Bodies themselves are not inherently bad.

The challenge was dealing with the internalized fatphobia I didn’t even know I had.

I was a good little feminist. Wait, wasn’t I? I had no problem with fat. In fact, both my parents were classified as “obese” and I had some idea, as someone who considered themselves very committed to body positive activism, of what it might mean to occupy space as a person of size.

And yet, when I went from being a tiny, petite little queer to being a member of the Chub Club, I reacted in such a strong, visceral way, that it became obvious that this body change had come with a lot of baggage – and I’m not just talking about physical weight, I mean, the weight of internalized oppression.

Because, holy cow, the words that flew out of my mouth? I’d look down at my round and protruding belly and say something like, “This is disgusting. I’m disgusting.”

I’d glance at my stretch marks and say something like, “I failed. I should’ve been dieting. I should’ve been exercising. This is my fault.”

As if the fat on my body made me inherently bad, some kind of failure; as if being fat makes me some kind of disgusting and unlovable human being. These are the ideas I swore I’d never think, let alone say about someone, and yet here I was, taking a shit on myself.

Being thin had allowed me to bury the fatphobia and leave it unchecked. But having highly visible fat, rolls, stretch marks – the whole shebang – finally brought to the surface what was there all along. As thin, I had the privilege of not confronting my fatphobia. But sixty pounds later, I had no choice but to examine my attitudes, because there was nowhere to hide.

I not only could see the fatphobia in myself, but I saw it in others around me.

When I was thin, no one had ever questioned whether or not I was healthy. Now that I was “overweight,” people around me started to ask if I was “okay.” As I received my official classification as “overweight,” and doctors began to suggest taking away the medication that had finally stabilized my life, I was disgusted.

Disgusted because it was as if my mental health counted for nothing. At my heaviest, I was undoubtedly at my healthiest – I was mentally sound, happy, eating well, stretching my legs. I had never been this whole, never felt this human. I was able to live my life without the constant, looming threat of bipolar, putting my life in danger and turning me into something I could not recognize.

And yet, the idea was that it was better for me to be thin and suicidal than it was to be fat and mentally healthy.

At times, horrifying as it is, I found myself thinking this same thing.

Many people around me, doctors included, ignored the psychological aspects of health and the risks associated with a relapse of my disorder and, instead, obsessed over my weight. Everyone around me was more concerned for me when I was heavier than they ever were when I was depressed, empty, and thin.

Thankfully, there were good doctors in my life, too, just as there were good people, who assured me that health was more than just a number on the scale. I began seriously investing in my practice of self-love, challenging the fatphobia when I felt it kicking in.

I became an advocate for myself, and discovered what it meant to put body positivism into action – not just as a way to boost my feminist cred, but when I face myself in the mirror and decide if I will smile back or pick myself apart.

To this day, I am still on that same medication that transformed my body. This is my choice. I will proudly remain a member of the Chub Club, and rock this curvy, chunky, fabulous body with pride.

I refuse to return to the days when the thought of ending my life was as mechanical as brushing my teeth in the morning. I refuse to return to the days when depression was a given, and happiness was a stranger. I refuse to return to the days when I had no hope, no desire, and no purpose.

And moreover, I refuse to buy into the idea that health is not possible at every size. I’m healthy in all the ways that count, and I know better than to equate thinness with wellness; I know better than to equate fatness with bad, with ugly, with less than, with harm.

When I look at the stretch marks, pink and fresh and new on my body, I’m reminded of all that I’ve weathered to get to this place of health, wholeness, and happiness.

Why would I ever apologize for that? And why would I choose any differently?

Editor’s Note: We use the word “fat” in the title to be an alternative to “overweight,” as we believe that “overweight” suggests a normative weight and upholds the privileging of some sizes over others (hence placing it in quotations throughout the piece). We in no way seek to undermine the struggles of folks who actively identify as Fat and are perceived as fat in the world, which Sam only experiences to a very limited extent.

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