Foodstuff, body humiliation, and fingering trauma

TRAUMA SEEPING OUT OF CREVICES

This guy who broke up with me recently (let’s call him Kyle) gave me a list of complaints (which of course should have been rendered while we were still together, when they were actionable), stuff that he assumed reflected my “sucking,” stuff that he assumed I wouldn’t be willing to work on or didn’t want to fix. What he didn’t get (because he couldn’t be bothered to put effort into understanding my preferences and, instead, wrote me off hastily), is that the origins of my reticence to do mundane, normal person stuff are trauma-based. As I explained in response to his categorizing my suffering as “some really terrible years when you got sick,” what he was “touching” wasn’t a few terrible years, it was decades of trauma. I got sick when I was 14 and never graduated from high school. I’m now 35. My life has been vastly different from most everyone else’s because of my chronic illness. It will continue to be foreign and it will continue to be a dividing factor in all of my relationships which fucking sucks. I will always feel like a liability.

For outsiders it’s hard to grasp that one could be unable to attend high school (and go on to attend grad school); for people who were raised working class it’s hard to comprehend that, to some, working is a privilege; for those who have only met me recently, during a period of relative rest and good fortune, it’s hard to estimate how monumental my illness has been—that it’s been a defining factor and organizing principle in every area in my life. It’s challenging to impossible to see all these things, it’s challenging to impossible to truly see me, because it’s technically impossible to see an invisible disability—directly.

But my illness comes out in everything, from how worn I feel after a day of work (which I am grateful I’m now able to take on), to how unwelcomed I feel in an academic environment when I read a course syllabus with built-in microaggressions, to how reluctant I feel to have a simple meal with a guy I’m dating. I have upsets and anxieties that peek out from every fold and corner. I accommodate these encroachments on my functioning via avoidance and alternative options. Only these seemingly imperceptible sidesteppings inevitably creep up on my relationships. And how I feel, when a guy I’m dating miscategorizes the impact of my illness or fails to recognize my peculiar behavior as stemming from and stepping around an underlying agony, is how could I have allowed someone access to my body who denies its history. How could I have let him touch me so deep.

EXCERPT FROM KYLE’S LETTER TO ME ABOUT WHAT WASN’T WORKING

But I was having serious reservations about being with you, and it never seemed to me that you would really change anything. I mean, [conflict we had about him looking for a discarded lamp for my apartment without asking me if I wanted one] was so weird to me that god forbid I ask you if I can cook you dinner again (one time when I invited you and you declined you did so by saying “that sounds disgusting.” I realize that’s your sense of humor, but it also makes me think you suck a little)…. Those were some things that weren’t working for me. Others are more about some basic compatibility. I like cooking and cooking together, but you don’t know how to cook and don’t seem interested in even entertaining the idea of cooking together. Maybe I should have asked more directly or told you I was serious, but you laughed at me the one time I vaguely suggested it, so fuck it.

MY RESPONSE AS TO WHY I AVOIDED COOKING WITH HIM

My relationship with food is complicated, and not the kind of complicated that most women mean because society sucks and food is bodies and we have extra pressure about what our bodies look like. My relationship with food has 25% to do with privilege and 75% to do with my meat casing attacking itself and, by extension, my seeing food as the enemy even though there is nothing intrinsic to the ulcerative colitis process whereby food triggers an immune response. My relationship with food is illogical because trauma responses are illogical. Food takes up a prohibitive percentage of my day. I try to eliminate it by making food consumption as fast and divorced from the food making process as possible. I know if you knew what I am about to tell you, you wouldn’t say “you suck” in response to my rejecting your plans to cook with me. You don’t have to feel bad about what you said, but you do have to listen to what I’m about to tell you and accept that my reaction to your request has nothing to do with “fundamental incompatibilities” and everything to do with the fact that my body doesn’t function normally and everything about food is going to be arranged around that humiliation.

At first I was annoyed by your annoyance. Like who is Kyle to tell me that I should eat the specific food he wants to feed me. People have preferences! This reminded me of a boyfriend who bought me a necklace, which I accepted graciously when he gave it to me because the timing and effort he put into considering my preferences were thoughtful, and it resurfaced months later and I confessed to appreciating him but hating it, and he told me I should like it because it should remind me of him (his dick was in my mouth almost constantly, I didn’t need a trinket to remind me of him!) and my rejecting it was some fundamental rejection of him. The point of doing something nice for someone is not about the gratification you derive from it. At first I was annoyed by your annoyance but I was also like, Oh, I said something weird and irritating about food, that tracks. I also tortured the last guy I dated who wanted to cook for me, there was a lot of miffed miscommunication around it.

So, here’s the deal. I spend a large percentage of my time thinking about “ins” and “outs.” In the way that a diabetic would think about sugar and insulin. In the way that a bulimic would think about items swallowed versus items barfed out. You wouldn’t think I have massive issues around food because I’m not very self-conscious about the way my body looks, and when people think of women’s food issues they think of “superficial” aspects. You wouldn’t think I have massive issues around food because my eating habits are fairly unremarkable; I don’t eat obsessively healthily or “clean” and I don’t scarf down total junk. You wouldn’t think I have massive issues around food because it goes against the rest of my personality; I’m the girl who fucks dildos on second dates, I like my body. You wouldn’t think I have massive issue around food because I work with bodies all day. It is my literal job to convince people that their body functions are perfectly “normal” and perfectly “healthy,” and I even believe it; it is rare that a patient grosses me out. I’m humiliated by my body and humiliated by my being humiliated by my body. It is a compound issue. It makes me feel like a bad feminist. It makes me feel disgusting. You are interacting with someone on a very intimate level who deep down thinks her body is disgusting.

And look, if you want evidence of how deep this pathology lies, I’m sure you remember this story, because who the fuck would forget this story, why would I even tell you this story. I told you about how when I lived in Ireland and the food there was shit, I used to go to Tesco, the most revolting supermarket, and wander the aisles and immediately overwhelm and think about how I’d rather fuck myself than go grocery shopping and actually consider that I could masturbate instead of eat and it would satisfy me for at least 15 minutes. During that time period, I ate a lot of Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough, even though it’s a mediocre flavor, because it’s uncontroversial. And familiar. And thoughtless. When I realized how much I dreaded the trip to the supermarket, I restrategized and started fucking myself before I headed to the grocery store, so bolting wouldn’t be as enticing. Unpleasant activities aren’t quite so noxious when you’re filled with endorphins. And once I was there I would fill my basket with Cully and Scully shepherd’s pie, which looks like literal shit with mashed potatoes on top, because if I was spending all my time contemplating “ins and outs” and what foodstuff would look like once it was transformed into shit, I might as well preempt it with repugnant imagery. What’s one more cardboard tub of shit when you have toilet bowls full!? It became a ritual, the whole supermarket masturbation racket. Which I could finally drop once I moved to Philly. Oh god don’t be one of the people on [contentious neighborhood blog] who yells about groceries and gentrification and racism, don’t @ me! [Food coop] is small and I can handle navigating it without any “prep,” yet I still purchase food there that requires minimal prep because food gives me cognitive overload. The whole supermarket masturbation thing is so weird and deeply personal and I said it for laughs. Because I like joking about the strange things that make me feel uncomfortable in and alienated from my own body. I seek acceptance. Thanks for accepting me.

I talk about my GI issues, and I’m getting a colon caterpillar tattoo for christ sake, and we can laugh about my GI issues to some extent, and it’s no secret, and I seek to confront stigma via lack of secrecy, but talking about my psych issues around my GI issues is a whole other level of personal, and we weren’t quite there yet. Though I did share with you that I went to an IBD psychiatrist who referred me to an anxiety clinic. So we were *almost* there. Another aspect of “we weren’t quite there yet” is talking about the realtime state of affairs of my intestines and how exactly my anxieties around my GI issues versus my physical digestive differences manifest in my daily habits. I’m extremely self-conscious about my shitting problems. I hated that when we were on acid I shat literally about 20 times. I love that in your house the bathroom is on another floor so you never have to hear me shit. The last time a guy tried to cook for me, all I could think about was that we would eat and then he would want to fuck me right away and I’d have to be like hold on let me process and shit this food out first, there is no room for your dick inside me rn. Once we brought take out food back to his place and he made some snarky joke about how I was gonna shit in his apartment then go home, and it wasn’t his fault because he didn’t know how self-conscious I was, but I found it more embarrassing than funny. Instead of getting a toothbrush in [his] bathroom, I asked him to purchase me more substantial toilet paper as [a] token of his devotion; you have substantial toilet paper already—good job! I’ve shat in your apartment and you’ve shat in mine. We haven’t concealed our body functions from each other. Organizing food and toileting for me is such a big deal that I remember that the time we had pizza at [local restaurant] together I debated whether I should shit there or in your apartment and decided that I might as well wait until your place because by that time all the food would be ready to come out at once. Do you remember how you organized that day around eating and shitting? Probably not, because it’s mundane for basically every other human.

When I think about cooking together at your place, I think about shitting at your place. I think of the possibility that you might want to fuck me after I’ve just eaten. I think about talking about the foods you are making for me and how they will sit in my stomach. It is nonsensical because regardless of whether we eat at [local restaurant] or at your place, it will happen in your presence, but when we’re at your place cooking, that means my evening is more centered around food and body functions and it feels somehow inescapable. Now, I know logically that you don’t actually care about my bathroom habits and you’ve been nice about recognizing food that I can’t eat and understanding that it is a medical issue and not just entitled pickiness. I know you’re not squeamish and my lack of colon doesn’t make me any less attractive to you. You recognize women as humans. You come from a family of sisters and duh women shit because humans shit. I know that [] my lack of colon doesn’t make you want to *fuck me* any less. You kind of like my weirdness and grossness, I think. Nevertheless, I’ve been socialized as a woman and will never escape the harmful social norms I’ve internalized. Even if we lived in a society where no one equated concealing body functions with femininity, and no one was concerned about being unladylike, I would still be anxious and self-conscious about this stuff.

I spent every day of my life for years living in well-founded, palpable fear that I would shit my pants. Even if you are alone at home, the insight that you have no control over your bowels is mortifying and humbling. It sort of bothers me that you’ve brought up shitting in bed with [your ex who you travelled in South America with] so many times, which of course you think is funny, because it is for a normal person. It felt really ableist; it felt like a humblebrag. [Like why would you keep making jokes about your “accident” to someone who for years wasn’t able to control their bowels. To commiserate? You think I can relate? It really just diminishes what I’ve been through.] Even though I can generally take jokes at my expense, if I ever shat my pants around you it’s something we could never ever joke about. It’s something you could never tell your friends about. Which is sort of besides the point because there is basically a zero percent chance of me shitting my pants now; I have physical control. But I still think about it constantly. My day is organized in increments around when I last shat, what I’ve eaten recently, where the nearby bathrooms are, how hydrated I am. The thing about trauma, is that even when the threat is removed, the fear lingers—it rears its head at inconvenient times; it bleeds into areas of your life that are otherwise benign. When we started seeing each other, I told you I didn’t sleep with guys I was fucking because I’m a terrible sleeper, which is true, I’ve always had trouble falling asleep and another human exacerbates the situation by adding an extra stimulus. Pretty early on, I started liking the idea of waking up next to you and *asked* for you to stay over. You are a good, non-tumultuous sleeper. You were a calming presence. I was comfortable enough with you so you didn’t seem like a foreign stimulus. But I had this big problem that prevented me from falling asleep. I’m usually unable to fart; it’s physically impossible for me because liquid shit propels itself with air backlighting it. Lying on my stomach to go to sleep is the only time when I can fart, something about the gravity [settling] and air rising, my abdomen compression squishing [the air] out. Except, I can’t fart with you in my bed, so I had to get up to go to the bathroom periodically and had tons of anxiety around it. I know, this is more than you bargained for when you invited me over for dinner. I am more than you bargained for.

Food was complicated even before my body collapsed. I told you I had an eating disorder when I was younger. You probably are rolling your eyes at the dumb little rich girl entitlement of having an eating disorder and are gleeful that I got what was coming to me. Once I got better and stopped investing my time obsessing over the math of food, I couldn’t spend time thinking about food prep anymore. Even though I am fully recovered and no longer have distorted cognitions around food and body image, habits linger. You noticed the way I handle garbage is peculiar and sometimes people who are familiar with eating disorders comment on the method by which I disassemble my food. Even though I am fully recovered, regimens around food (such as measuring ingredients) can be triggering. Eating disorders are ritualistic and so too is cooking. I know other people who had eating disorders also try their hardest not to engage with food and totally tune out when people offer recipes. There is a reason I eat ice cream, bananas, and peanut butter; it’s thoughtless and marginally nutritionally complete. A more commonplace reason I don’t cook is that cooking when you’re single is inefficient and unrewarding. It’s just a chore.

I thought back to what I could have said to you that you thought might be a reflection of my weird sense of humor, and I didn’t just say “Ew, gross.” I said something about cauliflower’s lack of nutritional value and high “fart index.” I was trying to make light of something that isn’t funny to me. I would have cooked with you, Kyle. I would have cooked with you if I knew it was important. But since I didn’t know that, since you didn’t tell me, it was easier to make weird jokes about cauliflower and farting. I’m sorry I suck. You keep saying you like my honesty and how direct I am about what I want. When we were with [your friend] at [neighborhood bar], you said you had never been a relationship with anyone else who was so honest before, and you appreciate that you always know when I want to have sex, because otherwise I would shove you off in no uncertain terms. But there are some times that you don’t want me to be disagreeable; this is apparent now. And you never expressed when those times are. We never had established a mechanism for “I don’t want to do this, but I will because it matters to you and you matter to me.” You avoided supposed conflict over things that I could have easily rallied around and that wouldn’t have been a big deal. And you accrued resentment toward me for not attending to your unstated needs. This sucks.

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