becoming infinite

always learning. always growing. always lifting heavy things.


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i haven’t cut myself in ten years, and this is why i’m terrified.

i’ve mentioned a few times before – most notably here and here – that i battled through an eating disorder for a pretty good portion of my adolescence and 20s. but something i’m much less forthright about is that years before i fell into the rabbit hole of anorexia and bulimia, i became ferociously addicted to tearing open my skin.

self-harm was a completely different animal for me to fight and attempt to conquer. while some aspects of it were linked to my eating disorder, most of it related only peripherally. i have no better way to explain it than, i just got hooked. anyone who has ever felt the grip of addiction can attest, to some degree, to that hopeless, helpless need, to the pathway of “I’ve got this under control” and “I could stop any time I want” to, gradually and then all at once, “Oh my God I can’t not have this in my life.”

and so at thirteen years old i became an addict. by seventeen i was running out of real estate, my hours upon hours spent attacking myself relegated ferociously to only those places where the cuts and scars couldn’t be seen.

not even a month after i turned eighteen, i entered Treatment #1.

less than a year later i started attacking my arms, my legs – things i had told myself i would never do. too obvious, too visible, too risky. my eating disorder worsened, i drank too much. i felt everything and nothing. and i tore into myself with a reckless, i-don’t-give-a-fuck abandon that would eventually lead me to Treatment #2, which slipped seamlessly into Treatment #3 when the kind folks at #2 deemed me a poor fit (i.e., a little too far gone) for their program.

I was in the beginning of my 6-month stint at Treatment #3 when i cut myself for what would become that last time.

it was February 15, 2005.

and here i am, ten years later. anniversaries like this are funny things. once i realized i had a “streak” going i began meticulously counting weeks, then months. at one year i bought myself a bracelet (which i still have). every year for the first seven years i got myself something on my “sobriety” date – a new shirt, a fun snack, something. at five years i got a custom-made necklace that i would wear every day for a few years, and after that, every February 15th. last year, when i thought i had lost that necklace i tore through my entire apartment until i finally unearthed it, tangled amid jewelry i rarely ever wore and had all but forgotten about.

and here i am. ten years. one decade. a pretty significant milestone.

but instead of it feeling celebratory, it all scares the shit out of me.

the terrifying thing about being addicted to hurting yourself is that you can never get away from your intended target. every night i go to bed in this body that i crave to attack, and every morning i wake up in it. we are inextricably linked, this body i live in and the demon in my head that yearns to destroy it. and even though it has been ten years – ten entire years – when i’m acutely distressed my default emotional response is to want to dig into myself.

ten years. and i am still frighteningly attracted to sharp things.

ten years. and when i feel like my heart is breaking, i am compelled to break open my skin.

ten years. and some days i am still that 13-, 17-, 20-year-old girl, literally shaking with need, and the best i can do is close my eyes and bite the inside of my cheek and remember, recall, but try not to fantasize. because that is too dangerous.

because it takes only eleven steps from my bedroom door until i am standing in front of the butcher block stocked with a plethora of tantalizingly sharp edges.

because there is no “only this once.”

because ten years is a long time. and while it may seem like a badge of honor, some days it feels like an albatross. like a thread that has been stretched just one inch too long, my timeline is fraying, spinning in upon itself, threatening to snap.

so i try not to think too hard. i try not to remember too much. but i try to remember enough that the ten years still seems worth it.

ten years. and i’m still afraid to let it feel permanent. because above all else, i am always myself. and this is part of my story; some chapters never end.


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3…2…1…

if i’m counting (which i totally am), i’m three days away from my 30th birthday! now i don’t even make resolutions or hopes or wishes on New Year’s because i think that the amount of things that can happen in 365 days is so mind-boggingly vast that trying to predict your progress is just counter-intuitive…but…

i’ve been thinking a lot about my 20s – what happened, what didn’t, what i thought would happen and if it did or didn’t – and relating it to my pending decade of good times and loud laughs.

i turned 20 on the last day of my sophomore year at cornell. seven months later my bulimia and cutting were out of control and i was admitted into renfrew and then, after about six weeks, transferred to a DBT-based program at columbia presbyterian in NYC.

i was 22 when i started my dream degree (voice) at one of a handful of dream schools (hartt).

when i was 25 i started dating somebody. i fell in love with her. i started to think about things like marriage and babies and happily ever after. i graduated from college, got into grad school – two, in fact! – and accepted a spot at the university of kentucky. 25 was a good year.

at 26 i moved 750 miles away from everything i had ever known, to start my master’s degree. i was 26 when i got engaged. i met people who grew to be cornerstones in my life.

and then 27 hit. my mom died. my family self-destructed. “i love you, don’t ever leave me” turned into “you’re not being fair, i can’t be with you any more.” i successfully defended my master’s thesis and graduated, but missed the ceremony because i had my leg sawed into by a wonderful surgeon whom i adore even though it sucked.

with 27 barely in the rearview, 28 brought the decision to stay in lexington another three years and become a PhD student. most of 28 was overshadowed by knee rehab; my physical therapist and my advisor kept me sane and alive that year.

on my 29th birthday i found out that what i had thought was just a bump in the road in my grandma’s health was actually terminal. i sat on the tennis court outside the gym and cried for an hour that day. i went home and booked a flight to florida to visit; it would be the last time i would see her.

the same week my grandma died, i started training with my powerlifting coach – i was actually driving home from our first session when my dad called to tell me grandma had passed away. i broke 5 state powerlifting records while i was 29. presented at my first professional conference, visited texas for the first time, and successfully completed my PhD coursework.

after the crap that was 27, i’ve found myself hopelessly smitten with somebody and it’s weird and surprising and a whole lot of fun.

i have no grandiose ideas for my 30s. i don’t necessarily want to: get married, have babies, buy a house in the suburbs with a white picket fence. maybe i will! and that would be cool. but if i don’t, that’s just as cool.

in 3 days, i’ll turn 30. i’ll teach a sunrise yoga class at 630am and i’ll run sprints a little before nine. after i crawl back to the gym i’ll foam roll and shower and i’ll spend the rest of the day at the library, studying for my qualifying exams. my uncle will call at some point, and my dad will too. when the library closes at five i’ll go home and have dinner and look at my training schedule for the next day.

at some point while i’m 30 i’ll pass my qualifying exams and maybe even get a dissertation proposal approved. i’ll start applying for sabbatical replacement positions and for fellowships.

i’ll lift a lot of things and i’ll laugh a lot. probably loudly, because that’s how i roll.

you never know how the chips are going to fall. am i happy that 27 went the way it did? of course not. but am i in love with the way my life is in the last three days of 29? you better freaking believe it. and i’m going to try my damnedest to make 30 just as great.


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becoming That Girl.

after seeing countless “chick flicks” and reading scores of young adult, coming of age-type books as a pre-teen and adolescent, it seemed like it was some sort of twisted rite of passage: get heart broken, spend an entire weekend in your pajamas crying and eating haagen-dazs and swiss rolls, emerge from your cocoon on monday (much to the relief of your friends and family) with a new lease on life – one fueled by either a fuming desire for revenge or a never-say-die attitude that the best is yet to come so there.

* * *

it’s an otherwise ordinary tuesday night. when i finished my pint of phish food – did i really eat that quickly? are these smaller than they used to be? – i found myself torn between getting more ice cream or searching for the sharp things i thought i had fallen out of love with some eight and a half years ago. i absently rub behind my left ear and ruminate on the tattoo i have had for over two years but have never seen, an infinity symbol we got together when i was home on spring break during my first year of grad school. if we were IMing as we got ready for bed it was always a race to see who could manage to type “<3 x ∞” and then log off before the other could respond and have the last word, so to speak.

love times infinity.

the tattoo is forever, at least.

when i was younger, watching those movies with my friends at sleepovers filled with popcorn and teen and cosmogirl quizzes (“is your crush into you??” “what’s your lipstick personality?!”), i was always left slightly baffled. i could not for the life of me imagine myself becoming a 48-hour hermit with precariously high sugar levels over some guy. but then two things happened: (1) i got it through my thick skull that i did not, in fact, have the remotest interest in guys; and (2) i fell in love.

and then i got my heart broken.

…and then an entire goddamn year went by.

and now – what? now i’m sad? now i find myself fetal in my bed watching my train wreck of an adult life play behind shuttered eyelids as my fingertips count the train tracks written in my arms when i was 14, 18, 21? why now?

the movies don’t show this part, they don’t let you in on how, while you’re absentmindedly yet somehow also manically devouring that ice cream you’re also wondering if your landlord will just write off the rest of your lease in the event that you disappear, or if your father will somehow be saddled with that on top of the realization that the only remaining piece of his immediate family has also checked out. as your spoon hits the bottom of the carton you remember how, just a few weeks ago while you were shopping for boric acid you looked up one shelf at home depot and saw a display of utility knives and were pleased that you were no longer lulled to the display, that you could barely remember how it felt to slide the blade out – click click click – and hold it in the curve of your fingers, weighing all the power it held.

you silently curse yourself for owning nothing sharper than a butter knife. you curse again that you care.

no, those teeny-bopper novellas don’t also tell you that while you can pretend to bounce back all you want, the pain you swallowed initially will eat at you like a cancer, until finally, a year later, you look down and realize that it has come back around to devour you whole.

and none of those insipid story lines will tell you the most important and terrifying thing of all: that you will look around and realize that somewhere along the line, you stopped giving a shit.

and while this is not the stuff of blockbuster mega-hits, this is the stuff of real life: ice cream doesn’t cure jack shit, there are no second chances, and the only thing you can “get over” in a weekend is a fucking hangover.

i’m too exhausted to end this eloquently. and that, too, is the stuff of real life.


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don’t talk to strangers.

i went to NYC to see a friend yesterday. about ten minutes after i got on the train, we stopped again and a guy sat next to me. i was working on logic puzzles (my favorite!). he commented on it and we started Friendly Stranger Chatting. he was also going to penn station so we transferred together in secaucus.

when we got to penn we stood outside by madison square garden and he offered to wait with me for my friend. he was a nice guy, probably 20 years old, and we had had a fun time chatting, so it was cool. and then:

“can i ask you something?” (two things: this is always rhetorical, yet i need to learn to JUST SAY NO.) “…what happened to your arm?” his eyes are straight on my scars.

i can count on one hand the number of times somebody has asked me that in the past decade. not that the scars are unnoticeable; i have just assumed that people don’t ask out of tact. social cues. delicacy. ya know.

i don’t even remember how i responded. i stared down at my phone, pretended to text my friend, and mumbled. what i didn’t say was “none of your damn business” – which would have probably made the most sense. instead, i became extra awkward and wished the ground would swallow me up.

when i first got out of treatment, my mom kept asking me if i wanted to get my scars removed. and by ‘asking’ i mean…strongly suggesting that it was something i should do. she and my aunt magically produced jars of vitamin E while we were at the pool. it was clear that seeing them made her uncomfortable, almost disgusted.

i was 21 and finally learning that i didn’t have to be perfect every second. my parents had very diligently hidden my six months of treatment from everybody, and it was clear that the whole ordeal was not to be spoken of. so half out of spite, i refused to get my scars removed. seven years later, i very rarely remember i even have scars.

and then this happened.

once i got back on the train later that day and started thinking about it, i became more and more enraged. it was clear in the tone of his voice that he knew “what [had] happened.” we had met ninety minutes prior. what goes through a person’s head that makes them think that asking such a question, just for the sake of asking, is appropriate?!

i’m furious because i have taken great pains to come to terms with everything in my past and to be very decidedly unashamed of who i was. because that angry, anxious, hurting girl eventually became the person i am today. and her, i like.

nobody has the right to make me feel ashamed of my past. by the same token, i’m responsible for how others effect me – especially how a stranger effects me.

but the next time i take the train, i’m wearing my ipod and ignoring everyone.


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spatters.

apparently a side effect of percocet is dehydration. since surgery, and my subsequent steady stream of oral percocet, i’ve been having sporadic bloody noses. they’re teeny-tiny – a drop or two of blood and then they’re over – but enough that i keep napkins on hand in bed with me, just in case.

i must have tucked one under the corner of my pillow during the night, and just now i scooted my pillow over and saw it. napkin folded over and over, rust-colored spots of blood on every layer.

it’s been years, but i can still feel the panic pounding heavy at the base of my stomach. standing trembling in the bathroom stall, tucking neatly-folded squares of toilet paper into the waistband of my underwear, hoping they would catch the last droplets of blood that refused to stop blooming even though i had to go to class and i was out of bandages.

we’re in AP government and i drop my pencil, lean over the side of my desk to pick it up. the pain shoots across my hip like a flame, taking my breath away. slowly, ever so cautiously, i ease my way back down into my seat, pencil hanging limply between my fingers. once i’m seated i immediately slide into what, over the years, has become my new position: slouched down in my seat, legs long out in front of me. no bending at the hip, no need to worry about denim raking open scabs.

i remember standing in the bathroom of our house, feet gone numb because i’ve been there for so long, shower water running cold. blood snakes down my leg in five, six, ten little streams. i stand, blandly mesmerized, watching as two join and  rush twice as quickly down my calf. i hobble-hop my way to the shower and add hot water to the freezing jet streams, get in with my back facing the spray. as the water hits the scarlet rivulets on my leg, pink droplets spatter the tile in front of me.

last wednesday at the doctor for my one-week post-op, i  asked the nurse if i could have more gauze to cover the steri-strips still covering my incision, before i covered that in a compression sleeve. she smiled and asked if i was squeamish. still fighting to keep down my chocolate milk, i responded with a weak grin, ‘oh, you have no idea.’