II: Paradigm Shifts Begin at Home
My personal definition of the Sanskrit term Ahimsa is "dynamic nonviolence." It is the Green Tara, sitting serenely to receive the pain of the world but with one foot extended, ready to step up and act on her compassion. It's a form of love that is constantly growing and evolving as our consciousness expands, but a ripple must have an epicenter. Change may be inspired by an outside stimulus, but it still has to come from the inside or it goes nowhere.
For most of my adult life I have been quietly violent toward myself. Violence, suffering, and pain are not interchangeable terms; pain is unavoidable in life, but violence usually is, and suffering is often a matter of perspective. There are some kinds of pain that are in fact good, even necessary--growth is not a comfortable thing (and neither is a tattoo). I've spent years inflicting both violence and suffering upon myself out of a mistaken belief that I didn't deserve any better. If I were to direct that same hatred at others that I have toward myself I wouldn't have any friends at all. As it is, my tendency toward self-directed cruelty has at times leaked out, usually unintentionally, via my acid tongue. I am slowly--very slowly--teaching myself to mind my words, but as I said, that applies to the things I tell myself as much as others.
Some people cut themselves, some people shoot up heroin, some people have empty unsafe sex. Some people belittle themselves and cling to abusive or simply negative relationships. Others do all of the above.
I'm always going to be a curvy girl, or at least I hope so. When I was my happiest in my body around age 16 I was a size 14, which is perfectly respectable whatever the charts and "experts" say. But when I moved to Austin, I started smothering my emotions and abusing myself with food.
My weight crept up slowly at first, but after I was assaulted in 2001 a switch seemed to flip inside me and suddenly I wanted nothing more than to disappear. It's funny how getting fatter and fatter makes you less and less visible to the world; you become a sexless floating blob that is somehow too big to be seen. I wrapped myself in comforting layers of fat, on the wobbly logic that food couldn't hurt me, wouldn't abandon me, and was always with me. Things evened out after a while, but every time my depression overcame another medication I started working once again on a long term unconscious plan for slow and secret suicide.
This last year was especially bad. I put on, and I'm not exaggerating, at least fifty pounds in 2008, topping out at 295. I gorged on ice cream and pizza almost every day and then lay awake at night waiting for my heart to give out. I felt like I didn't deserve health and well-being, but should resign myself to diabetes and heart disease because obviously I was too weak and pathetic to do anything about it. I was a worthless, fat slob, and I would die alone and be found with my face chewed off by my cats, and have to be lifted out the window by a crane.
I wanted to carve off hunks of my flesh with a machete, starting with my enormous belly. I wanted to be humiliated and insulted, to have the rest of the world affirm how useless I was. But most of all I wanted to eat--I wanted to fill the gaping hole in my soul with cookies and cheese. I wanted to eat as much dairy as I could to prove that I was too powerless to be vegan.
I can't say for certain exactly when the moment came, but I remember quite clearly, in the midst of one of my internal litanies of damnation, stopping long enough for a thunderous voice in my head to shout:
I'd been struggling with the realization that Ahimsa is not something that I can only apply to animals for months; I even got my tattoo with that idea in mind. It took a long time, however, for that understanding to sink in past the rage and self-abnegation I had built up around myself for years. The strange thing is that once I finally got it, it was as if the decision had been made already and all I had to do was let it happen.
I started working on my health at New Year's, and it's been almost easy. For a great many people losing weight is a form of abuse, but for me it's more of a process of letting go. I've been holding on to so much for so long and most of it was hurtful. I've been terrified that without my fat I would lose my identity, lose the Fat Girl image I've been living behind. After my thirtieth year, however, I have decided that my identity isn't what I thought it was, and that I have to surrender to something higher than my fear if I want to thrive.
I'm finally letting my body speak without censure or censorship, and my body has said, "Dance, drink water, stop talking shit to the mirror, and stop eating crap."
And my mind replied, "Well...okay, I can do that."
I'm trying to treat myself with patience and love instead of severity, and while I wouldn't say I'm all that good at it just yet, I am getting better. This past weekend for example I had a bit of a setback in the form of a drunken binge that ended in an all-night prayer to the Porcelain God, because I had a depressive episode and threw all my hard-won health discipline to the wind, but afterward I realized that such destructive behavior is simply not worth it. Ahimsa toward myself is the only way I can live. It may take a while to fully embody that practice, but I am determined.
When I wrote The Body Sacred, as with my first book, I felt like I was channeling a voice that came from somewhere beyond me, but I'm starting to think that it was actually my real voice, the one that's been bound and gagged for so long. The words were true and beautiful, but it took them a while to become more than words to me. I started the book during an "up" phase of my body/mind relationship that unfortunately didn't last much past the last page. That loving inner voice wanted me to hear it and understand, to be inspired the way other people were when they read the book.
What can I say? I'm a little slow sometimes. And as stubborn as a grey pubic hair.
Devoting myself to the practice of Ahimsa means so much more than veganism and not calling myself Shamu. It means that I have to consider all parts of my life part of that practice, and gently but persistently bring all my behaviors in line with that ideal. It's a pretty massive undertaking, but I can already say that just the amount of progress I've made in the last few weeks has taken such a huge weight off my shoulders that I already feel like a different person. I'm looking at the way I treated myself in 2008--or, really, my entire life off and on--and finding myself amazed that I've survived so long, but also feeling an upwelling of empathy for myself for all those years of misery and confusion. It's just so sad to me that I felt that way, that I still struggle against feeling that way, to have hated myself so very much when I absolutely did not deserve that kind of cruelty from anyone.
I hope I never get that lost again.
For now, I'm concentrating on being found...and I have to say that so far it feels pretty wonderful.