Alas, I cannot post as many photos as I'd like, so I must ask you to imagine pictures of a sojourn: from Indonesia to France, Switzerland, Italy, and Spain. Use your most innovative and provocative visceral reasonings because it's all currently too much (technologically speaking) and when I feel like throwing my Ipad into the abyss, I have to let go of what doesn't work and focus on what does.
There is much to be said about this journey: namely, that being in Europe is not as cush or familiar as my naiveté expected. It's been eventful, to say the least; with experiences including but not limited to climbing through a window at 2 am and scaring/waking new friends half to death; an idyllic picnic in front of the Eiffel Tower where one local told us that he just LOVED the food in the US when he studied as a student– McDonalds, Wendy's, KFC, etc etc; sleeping one evening on a sidewalk in Nice due to unfortunate timing accompanied only by the homeless and my bright idea to soothe our malaise by finishing a crime show we'd been watching for a few weeks as we tried to fall asleep on the streets; sneaking a wine and dine in St. Mark's Basilica in Venice; and finally arriving in Spain to the most heavenly shower and bed my eyes did ever see.
I was speaking with my most excitable and prophet-esque friend the other day, telling her about our travels thus far. Logistics had their moment, we then talked relationship dynamics between Austin and I, I explained certain photos and their contexts (the beach in Lembongan! the church in Venice!), and then I was knee-deep in something I didn't really plan on sharing, something I didn't really think belonged in our conversation. She wanted to know about the trip, and I started telling her about how it is to be feeding myself here (and there and there); about food and body and struggle.
"I'm really coming face to face with my habits, but very up-close," I explained. "I tend to eat, or want to eat when I'm bored or when I'm anxious, which happens a fair amount nowadays, and has been happening for a while. But I don't want to, I want to become more mindful—like entirely mindful about my appetite, instead of influenced by so much that's outside of myself. And I also want to be healthy but not too restricted, or not restricted at all. But the desire sort of feels like it's all-consuming sometimes."
In hindsight, it was a watered down and very culturally appropriate way of explaining that since the onset of my anorexia 5 years ago, I have known many a weight fluctuation and have cycled through what feels like thousands of seasons of thought and habit when it comes to how I feed myself and view my body. And now, while on this trip, it feels like I'm facing the largest mirror I've encountered yet; I am looking outwards as well as looking in, and there is brutality & ruin and also beauty in both.
The mirror reminds me that 23-year-old me would have never wanted to go on a trip like this. And as Anne (Lamott) so brilliantly articulates, we are truly all of the ages we've ever been, and often, some feel closer than others. My 23-year-old has been feeling close lately, and I know she would have thrashed against the notion of not having control over her choices or having to be so flexible. She would have bought a fully refundable ticket and been home within the week.
But you see, there was this morning sitting in a cafe in a town outside of Paris, nursing a cappuchino and tartine, perfect with butter and salt. And without a lot of forewarning, something in me changed.
Ornamentally speaking, this meal was nothing worth writing home about, but my experience of it holds its ground among many a monument, temple, view, and mountain top. This meal was when, for whatever reason and with whatever grace, I really tasted the food that I was eating. I wasn't reading or talking across the table, as is a perfectly acceptable custom; I was noticing the chew and crumb of my toast, the groundedness of my espresso. And just like that, I wanted to shout from the rooftops that perhaps, after many a therapy session and breakdown, this may just be progress. I HAVE EXPERIENCED JOY AND PLEASURE IN THIS MEAL AND THERE IS NOTHING MORE EXCITING RIGHT NOW! I NEED TO BRUSH UP BIG TIME ON MY FRENCH SO THE SURROUNDING PATRONS CAN SHARE IN THIS WITH ME!!!!
And, well you know, this topic of eating and body and life as we know it, it's been written about so, so, soooo often. There's plenty of dialogue (though there could always be more) that borders on self-help and anger around our infuriating culture regarding women and how we should look. There's plenty. But not yet by me.
I'm not sure that eating has ever been a non-emotional experience for me. For a while, the everyday experience was laced with restriction and fear. When people would compliment me on how much weight I'd lost or how 'great' I looked, I felt like a fraud. 'Can I really keep this up?' I'd silently ask myself with each snack or meal as I calculated how much I was taking in. And now, though that old mindset wafts in like a fine dust often enough, I'm realizing that my appetite for food is directly linked to much else: am I stressed about something at work? Am I bored? Am I worried that I'll never eat again and have to stash away as much as possible right at this very moment? Am I so tied up in this conversation that I don't notice what I'm choosing and what I'm not?
I really thought that my eating disorder ended around the time when I stopped having to be monitored by a doctor weekly (I even wrote about it here: http://lindseyvz.wordpress.com/2011/04/02/only-the-boney/), or when my nutritionist and I parted ways, or when I was able to occasionally break my daily eating habits (like oatmeal for dinner every night) without falling apart. But alas, it is a daily choice to not fall back into those patterns because that is what it has to be. Unlike some other addictions of the habitual bent, I can't just give up eating altogether, nor, might I add, would I want to. But, as I'm seeing on this trip with its ups and its downs, with its wins and its losses, that old mindset and addiction are my default and healing looks a lot like failing a lot of the time.
This is not a fast fix, clearly. And the process therein still begs for absorption and insight– all in due time. But I will say that the end goal, or rather my ultimate hope for myself is far too expansive to be defined by any one weight or shape, as it once was. My desire is to be able to mindfully and joyfully eat in a way that is bursting with attention and therefore, with gratitude. It looks and sounds like that morning outside of Paris, eating a piece of toast and drinking a coffee and feeling lost in the glory that was its simplicity and satiety. Perhaps it was the ambiance or the view or the way the word croissant sounds when it rolls off the tongue or the pure perfection that is European bread, but I'm not sure it even matters at this point.
Because the thing of it is that this trip is acting as a catalyst for much that has been present but hiding in myself below deadlines, to-do lists, workouts, and social engagements– my desire to be the type of person who knows the ins and outs of finding a bathroom wherever, whenever and can consider the world her toilet; the ultimate rural dream of working a farm in a southwest-desert-y landscape; many a book and paragraph read and written; and exploring how to enjoy and prepare food with a lighthearted and watchful attention– as we would prepare a meal for someone we love, as we would when dealing with a gift such as this.