26 March 2010

Of fireflies and recovery

Thousands of fireflies would dance through the deepening night; golden luminescence darting back and forth. Damp smells rose from the deep blue-green grass, and my toes curled against the dirt underneath my feet as I would run and play.

Summertime in Kentucky meant hot days and humid nights. The very air felt like velvet, and the western sky would darken from deep yellows to rich-reds, finally melting into angry hues of dark blue.

Then the sky would literally explode with millions of stars, and I would stretch out on that carpet of grass and gazed upward, my mind swirling into the vision above.

My step-grandmother, Dean, would cook meals large enough for ten families, the table groaning with fried chicken, mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese. The centerpiece of these feasts was fresh cornbread made the old-fashioned way, in a black cast iron skillet. This skillet was carefully seasoned throughout the years, and each baking added its own unique flavor. It was never washed, only carefully wiped off. The skillet stayed in the family for more than fifty years, then it suddenly disappeared, taking its secrets and memories with it.

The skillet, along with Granny's handmade block quilts and Mamaw's collection of six husbands, represents one Southern family's life. The memories are there, but the only way to retrieve them would be by scraping off each layer of seasoning; an unthinkable desecration.

I crave the beautiful parts of my childhood, the dances with fireflies and the velvet nights of mystery. I have been inexplicably drawn to Avatar and its luminescent world. I want to walk through its gossamer strings of the palest of whites, baby blues and royal purples.

I was moved by this fictitious people's connection with their world and each other. Our bond with the natural world largely has been broken; the fireflies of my childhood are gone and the grass no longer touches my feet. We struggle to come together when our world is threatened; we are more likely to believe in the strength of the individual and admire people who solve their problems without help.

I long to run through its woods, to perhaps be briefly touched by its gently floating, fluttering creatures representing Eywa and reminding me of soft blossoms of cotton. I want to fly through the air with the wings of a bird and shoot an arrow with razor precision. I want to gather in a circle of people and collectively pray, to reach out to both God and each other.

I want to be free.

I will have to scrap off each layer in order to heal from anorexia. I will have to commit desecration, unveil secrets that shouldn't be told. There really isn't any other way. But I realize for true healing, I need a circle to surround and support me. I absolutely cannot do it on my own.

I dream of healing, of recovery, of freedom from fear of food and weight and numbers on the scale and what all that represents. Since I first saw Avatar, I have been dreaming of possibilities. Of life without anorexia. Of freedom.

My dreams and thoughts sometimes threaten to smother me; it all seems so unreal and impossible. I take a step forward, such as spending time with friends and enjoying the simple pleasure of eating with them. Then I take a step backward, and purge the food in a moment of panic. My body is empty of the food that makes me feel dirty, and I see the joy of the moment swirl downward into the sewage; life denied and fear placated.

But I still believe in my dreams and refuse to let them go. Several weeks ago, I started thinking about more aggressive treatment options, and found myself calling The Renfrew Center one afternoon. I knew it was a long shot; my insurance told me in 2008 it doesn't pay for residential treatment.

The people at Renfrew are a bit smarter about these things than I am, though, and found a way. I can go through the center's intensive 30-day day treatment program (100 percent covered by my insurance) and live in transitional housing, basically creating a residential treatment experience for me. The one hitch is we would have to come up with about $3,000 to $4,000 to pay for housing. We haven't figured out that part yet; I'm hoping with prayer and some creative thinking, we will be able to swing it.

I had been feeling fairly hopeless before I made that call. My thought was I am going to die of anorexia. I felt I might overcome this relapse, but then what about the next? And then the next? I have an incredible doctor who has worked with me hard through these past years; I would not be alive without him. But a 24/7 program for one month just might give me the skills I need to prevent the next inevitable relapse and could make my work with my doctor so much more productive.

I felt the first stirrings of hope, hope I haven't felt in a long time, since I made that call. I'm still too scared to completely hope, because part of me think this just won't happen, that it's an impossible dream.

But I've been dancing with anorexia for years, and I'm ready to bow to this partner and exit stage left. I'm ready to leave this behind and build a new life with my husband, family and friends. I want a life of laughter and love, books and learning, good conversations and opportunities to help others. I want to fill my eyes with the sight of the night sky and its stars; I want to gaze upon Stonehenge and think about the people and why they might have built it. I want to return to Haiti, and this time give the people all of myself, not just what was left after starving myself and could barely think. I want the ability to take every part of life and embrace it, learn from it and grow.

I want to dance with the fireflies.





7 comments:

Eating Alone said...

I say you stay on the stage and kick his but off!

I so hope you can come up with the housing part. I think it will do you so much good.

I grew up in MA and remember the fireflies. I remember being a kid. I still sit her wondering what the heck happened. I'm a 40 year old guy how could I have an eating disorder?

Please get the treatment you need!

Anonymous said...

Fireflies are magical; I also find joy and inspiration from them, and my memories of dancing with them in the moonlight on summer eves. What a great image to try and hold on to, and use as a kind of mental talisman throughout your journey.

Tiger said...

Oh yes. This dance with the ED must stop, and then, your husband can cut in, and you can continue dancing. at your own speed, and with a genuine sense of self. You'll get there, I'm sure you can. <3

Lyn said...

You can do this! Good for you for calling Renfrew. I'm hoping all good things for you. I'm too tired right now to say more, but I will be back. I didn't grow up with fireflies, in fact, I saw my first firefly when I was over 30. They are fabulous.

Tiptoe said...

First off, it's really good to hear you feel hopeful. It's weird how those moments happen--the ones where we find ourselves aimlessly calling for help. I hope you will be able to do this treatment.

Yes, fireflies (lightning bugs) are wonderful. I grew up with them and would put them in jars and release them. I'm quite used to those summers you mention.

I agree with you about Avatar. There was such a luminescent glow to the screen. I wanted to be able to reach out and touch it.

Take care of yourself. I wish you all the best.

Anonymous said...

I see nothing beautiful about cuting and vomiting.

Angela E. Gambrel Lackey said...

@Anonymous
I'm going to allow your rather smart-ass comment for one reason - you're right, there is nothing beautiful about cutting, vomiting, restricting or any ED behaviors. You missed the blog's point - the beauty is in fighting for recovery and living each day in spite of these symptoms, and the hopes and dreams and possible reality of being free from anorexia that I hold in my heart in spite of everything.

I hope you come back; maybe you could learn a little compassion.