Because all you can see from the outside is what we show and what we say, people are very easily tricked into thinking we’re doing okay. When we do this ourselves, they call it lying; when they teach us to do it, they call it therapy. All they can see is the same: a smiling face. crossed legs. someone who speaks up just enough, articulate and intelligent but without needs or identity. They call it recovery.
They look at your body and all they can see is sadness and fear. You wrote it there, years ago, for yourself, to try to scream to the world: I am sad, I am afraid. This is not what they see. They do not see anything–they feel the emotions I broadcasted to the world. They feel the sadness, voices dripping with pity I never asked for. They feel the fear, shying away, groping eyes unsure. Never bothered to ask me what I think, what I feel about it, instead projecting their own views onto you: it must be so hard with a nightmare of a body, it’s really no wonder you think you’re ugly. Nevermind that I don’t think I’m ugly. Quiet, girl, don’t you know that it’s only what other people think you think that matters? won’t you just let us fix you? it’s for your own good, just let us help, let us give us your sympathy for those scars.
They see what they think is wrong with me and try to fix it. I tell them, no, you’re making it worse. I tell them I don’t care if I have a body made of monsters, I beg them to fix what’s underneath. I tell them, I’m not a girl, I thought you were going to teach me how not to be quiet, how to care what I think, how to be free. They don’t listen. They never do.
They recommend scar creams.
I am monitored. The eyes feel like they’re in the air, pressing in on you from every direction, an oppressive atmosphere heavier than the worst humidity. I do not know how to say this. I am not allowed rope or sharp objects; my pills are doled out in small packets, twice a day, so I can’t overdose. Fear and pity, fear and pity, permeate the atmosphere. Danger to herself is whispered in hushed voices. The unspoken question hangs in the air as everyone’s emotions vacillate: Is she the monster or is she the victim? When I shower, my mom knocks on the bathroom every five minutes, ear to the door to make sure I do not stick my fingers down my throat while the rushing water hides the gags. They ensure I do not get even the smallest of self-destructive comforts.
It is supposed to help. That is what everybody says, that this is supposed to help. It’s for my own good. I can’t hurt myself like this.
I am once again working very hard to be neither. My training to be perfect student, daughter, friend is shown off as I become the perfect client. Compliant, that’s always the highest compliment that can be given. Compliant, meaning yielding, bending, pliant, submissive. Not assertive, not strong, not honest, not authentic.
I untie the noose hidden in my room, as per the contract, but I keep my razor blades, even though I don’t use them. A small resilience. A statement: noncompliant.
It is always in absolutes: Don’t do that to yourself. You’re not allowed. You’re worth more. Abstinence-only.
I want to tell them: How did you decide this? How did you decide what counts and what doesn’t, what’s normal and what makes you crazy, what is enabled fully and what is stigmatized, driven underground? It sure as hell isn’t our feelings about it–I’ve seen too many people, quietly miserable, hurting themselves with exercise or smoking or high heels or diets or alcohol or working while sick or even compliance to believe that. It’s how it looks to the observers. It’s the sorrowful silence when they see my body, the disgust at the vomit trailing down my chin when I wash up. It is the extreme, the primal: drugs and sex, blood and bones. That’s what gets attention, what gets you the heralded label of crazy. There are the things that you are required to do, and there are the things you are forbidden to do, and some of it feels pretty goddamn arbitrary from the inside but I’m not allowed to notice that.
They declare their ultimatums, and they have guaranteed one thing: that we will not trust them with our freedom, that we will not go to them for help. If we do hurt ourselves, or have sex, or do drugs, we will not know how to do it safely. They do not give us condoms, or replace rusty razor blades with clean ones, or tell us to gargle baking soda instead of brushing our teeth after vomiting. They do not do needle exchange programs or buy us extra-large bandages and burn cream. They tell us, as if it were easy: Stop. Don’t. Say no.
There is the unspoken threat: We will do whatever we need to to make this happen. We will take away your privacy and your freedom as much as we need to, so that we can make sure you’re never a danger to yourself. It’s all for you, really. Nevermind that I am begging for my freedom. Don’t you know, they say, that you are our prisoner? Don’t you know that we are doing this all selflessly, for your own good?
Because that’s what looks good. It looks like you’re not allowing dangerous behavior. Not, god forbid, enabling. It signals to the world: no scars here, no messy and imperfect freaks, no outbursts. Just a quiet, intelligent girl who doesn’t know how to say I want anymore. Doesn’t matter that you feel worse. You look better. No more behaviors. So you’re doing better.
(This is how they tell you, insidious as love, “your feelings don’t matter.”)
Dangerous behavior is everywhere. Humans invented roller coasters and skydiving and extreme sports. To control me with concerns for my own safety is to push things under the surface, to let them fester in the silence and distance that seems like it stretches on and on. If I do not have the freedom to say yes I have no choice to say no, to recover and grow and be kind to myself. If I do not have the freedom to say yes I cannot own my desires unashamed, cannot fight for my autonomy and rights. My own desires and boundaries are overwritten–too crazy to think for herself, to know what she wants, got to think for her (“not a her,” i say, quieter this time. barely audible). The ultimate control. Strip me of my personhood, my individuality, my bad decisions and the pieces of my identity that are jagged and sharp and inconvenient, and fill in the blank pieces with compliance.
It’ll make you better. The first step towards recovery is just following directions. Don’t be so hesitant–don’t you want help? You’re lucky. You’ll be grateful someday.
I know. I know. I should’ve known better than to think you’d listen.
I wish I could be free from the fear of this essay being used against me. Of a therapist reading it, getting on me about the razor blades. Of it being used as evidence of my insanity, as proof that I don’t deserve freedom.
I’m not. I’m so, so afraid. Fear and sadness. Fear and sadness. But this time it’s not because of what things look like–no. If it happens it will be cloaked in sugar and kindness. I will be the one in the wrong: bad girl. if you’d have just let us do what was best for you, this never would have happened. if you’d have just been more quiet.