Sleeping with the Enemy

Last night was another rough night, just like last Monday. Usually it’s Sunday nights that get me, but that’s during a regular work week. It took forever to fall asleep. I’m not sure which of many frivolities I was contemplating when my brain finally threw in the towel. But I responded better this morning than I did last week. I got my ass up to stretch, walk, and shower before going to the dentist for the first time in :::mumble::: years.

The connection between going to the dentist, not sleeping, thinking about faith, and how last week wasn’t great based on my own criteria for success isn’t easy to explain, nor is it all that interesting. That said, I’m trying to write every day and I’m aiming for honesty, so it’s worth a blog, especially since I mentioned Albinism and my lifelong struggle with my weight in my first blog.

Albinism is a congenital condition. I’ve been like this since birth, so I have no way of knowing anything else. I don’t know how to explain what I can see or if it really is “as bad” as I say when I tell anyone I can’t see something. There is nothing with which I can compare my vision. Because humans are incredible creatures, I began adapting the minute I was born. I didn’t know it, just like all babies don’t know it, I was figuring out the world and how to interact with it in a way that worked for me.  My infant niece looks like she knows all the secrets of the universe and can’t tell them to me, but on the other hand, EVERYTHING is new to her as a baby. A baby doesn’t know its not “normal.” I didn’t know I saw things any differently than anyone else. It wasn’t like I could have a long talk about it with anyone. In special education speak, we talk about adaptive behaviors. Many of those behaviors need to be taught, but some of them come through trial and error. I was adapting my behavior without consciously knowing it. Stupid example, but this is what I mean: when you can’t see something, you get closer to it, right? You stop getting closer when you can see it. Now imagine that you’ve had no social conditioning about what you can and cannot do to get closer to the thing you’re trying to see. That’s what it was like when I was a baby and a toddler. I probably didn’t know that most people don’t get so close to something to see it or use their hands and mouth to test what something is (although, babies are big fans of using their mouth to get a sense of things).

My older brother blazed the trail, so I’m sure I benefited from all the mistakes my parents made when he was little. When it was time to start school, he got to try it first. We went to the same schools, so most of the teachers knew me through him before I even met them. We got services through the county, but mom opted to put us in general education classes, or “least restrictive environment.” Our impairments were entirely physical and in no way intellectual. We’d both had IQ testing and were genius level. We didn’t need services for learning; we needed them for seeing. Again, at five when I began kindergarten, a great deal of my adaptive behavior was subconscious. Mom did teach me how to self-advocate, so on the first day of any school year with any teacher, I stayed a few minutes after class and briefly explained Albinism, asked to sit in front of the classroom, told the teacher that if I was talking in class it was most likely because I was asking for a classmate to help me see something. In elementary school, I even asked to give brief presentations to my classmates to explain Albinism to them. My mom is awesome for many reasons, but instilling that self-advocacy is one of many things I do not thank her for often enough. Kids were still assholes, but they’re little humans, and humans are assholes, so y’know (insert shoulder shrug here).

There’s a ton more to say on the subject of adapting to my vision, but I think the point I’m aiming at is that my body did what it needed to do to make life work. I didn’t really have a say in it when I was little. Obviously we don’t pick our genes, so that was my body’s first strike. Then as a baby I didn’t know I was “impaired,” so my body and brain assimilated the world as best I could. By the time adaptive behaviors could happen on a conscious level, I was already doing so much “behind the scenes” that it didn’t strike me as a big deal. The bottom line is that my body did things of its own volition without my consent. It was a thing separate from my mind, or at least it feels that way a lot of the time.

Add to that the fact that I was raised in church where I heard things like the body is a vessel of temptation, the soul is divine. The body is a temporary thing, the soul has permanence. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust” is about the body. We store up our treasures in heaven; the physical world and its trappings can lead us into sin. It’s not like these things were pounded into my head, but they resonated with me. I think these kinds of body/soul dichotomies hit me because I already understood the separation of my body from my mind; to extend that to the soul going heavenward and the body dying away just made sense. It also made me feel even less connected to my body. For some reason the ideas of the body being a temple for the Lord and the body being a miracle (though I have always seen healing as miraculous) didn’t sink in the same way. Because it didn’t work with my mind, often worked against what my mind told it to do, and because it was a physical thing that was unimportant in the grand spiritual picture, my body became an enemy.

I didn’t take care of it because it didn’t take care of me. I knew about eating healthy and exercising because I’ve never been a moron, but my body wasn’t ME. It was just a thing – a thing I didn’t control and a thing that would lead me to sin, so not a good thing. It’s not as dramatic as it sounds now. I didn’t know I was drawing these battle lines in myself. I know gluttony and sloth are also sins. I know that I used food as comfort without thinking about what I was eating or how much I was eating. I played some sports, not well, and I danced, a little better than I played sports. But I was silently nurturing the divide. The body, the mind, the soul were not friends working together for my best me. I’m not even sure I thought they could do that. I can’t say how much of this was conscious, but it’s crystal clear in retrospect. I look at my teenage self and the decisions I made about makeup, jewelry, clothing, sex, alcohol… it all says I AM NOT MY BODY and MY BODY IS NOT ME. Two completely separate things, one of which I favor (the mind) because it hurts less and doesn’t get criticized as often.

I’ve never been good at seeing my own beauty. I’m a woman who grew up with a toxic standard of beauty.  Because I didn’t think I was anything to look at, doing anything to ADD to my visibility to others was a no-go, hence the no makeup, no jewelry, no fashion. I was (and am) all about comfort and ease. The one thing I didn’t like compromising on after about 14 years old was my hair. I took care of my hair because it was the one thing I thought others saw as beautiful. I’m not even sure if -I- saw it as beautiful until later, but I got compliments often enough to know that other people thought it was. The images of beauty all around me were just more reason to hate my body.

When you hate your body and view it as a thing separate from your soul and your mind, you try to sublimate it in any way possible. I did that with food… exacerbating the problem of hating my body for being fat. Hooray vicious cycles! I did say I’ve been in some kind of therapy since I was four or five, right? (See Shrinks’n’shit) It’s a weird, complicated head space.

I can’t point to a moment when my body stopped being the enemy or I decided to integrate my mind, soul, and body. I’m not even fully there. My body is still very much not a friend. I am, however, better now than I’ve ever been about understanding that if I don’t take care of my body, I also feel bad in my mind and soul. I’m more interested in balance these days. I can’t share my mind and soul if my body craps out on me… if it dies, there’s no telling what happens to the other two, besides faith that something better awaits.

But my mind is still at odds with my body. We don’t understand each other. Even more telling is that I can still talk about body and mind as if they are two different things – one me (mind), the other not me (body). It’s why I’m not great at yoga. I try, but while it’s good for my body, my mind wanders. It’s why I have unexplained aches and pains. I don’t move mindfully, just like I don’t often eat mindfully. I don’t slow my thoughts to let my body keep pace – because my mind moves WAY faster than my body ever could.

It’s a war, trenches dug, lookouts standing guard, decades of bloody battles remembered through scars. We have peace talks every so often, but I still find myself sleeping with the enemy.

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