On the broad spectrum of solitude, I lean toward the extreme end: I work alone, as well as live alone, so I can pass an entire day without uttering so much as a hello to another human being. Sometimes a day's conversation consists of only five words, uttered at the local Starbucks: 'Large coffee with milk, please.
American companies spend more than $200 billion each year hacking women's bodies into bits and pieces, urging comparisons between self and other, linking value to air-brushed ideals, and as the girls in my seventh-grade class graduated to high school and beyond, the imagery around us would only grow more specific, more pummeling, more insidious.
Around the time I began starving, in the early eighties, the visual image had begun to supplant text as culture's primary mode of communication, a radical change because images work so differently than words: They're immediate, they hit you at levels way beneath intellect, they come fast and furious.
Cats are narcissistic. Their needs come before ours. They don't understand the word "No." They carry themselves with that aloof, arrogant sense of perpetual entitlement, they will jump up and insinuate themselves wherever they please--on your lap, on your newspaper, on your computer keyboard--and they really couldn't care less how their behavior affects the people in their lives. I've had boyfriends like this; who needs such behavior in a housepet?
There's something about sober living and sober thinking, about facing long afternoons without the numbing distraction of anesthesia that disabuses you of the belief in the externals, shows you that strength and hope come not from circumstances or the acquisition of things, but from the simple accumulation of active experience, from gritting the teeth and checking the items off the list, one by one, even if it's painful and you're afraid.
I once heard a woman who had lost her dog say that she felt as though a color were suddenly missing from her world: the dog had introduced to her field of vision some previously unavailable hue and without a dog, that color was gone. That seemed to capture the experience of loving a dog with eminent simplicity. I'd amend it only slightly and say that if we are open to what they have to give, dogs can introduce us to several colors with names like wildness, nurturance, trust and joy.
Something is missing: that's as close as I can come to naming the sensation, an awareness of missed or thwarted connections, or of a great hollowness left where something lovely and solid used to be. ...There is something fundamentally insatiable about being human, as though we come into the world with a kind of built-in tension between the experience of being hungry, which is a condition of striving and yearning, and the experience of being fed, which may offer temporary satisfaction but always gives way to new strivings, new yearnings.
Anorexia is a response to cultural images of the female body - waiflike, angular - that both capitulates to the ideal and also mocks it, strips away all the ancillary signs of sexuality, strips away breasts and hips and butt and leaves in their place a garish caricature, a cruel cartoon of flesh and bone.
Love—the desire to love and be loved, to hold and be held, to give love even if your experience as a recipient has been compromised or incomplete—is the constant on the continuum of hunger, it's what links the anorexic to the garden-variety dieter, it's the persistent pulse of need and yearning behind the reach for food, for sex, for something.
So it persists, for many of us, hunger channeled into some internal circuitry of longing, routed this way and that, emerging in a thousand different forms. The diet form, the romance form, the addiction form, the overriding hunger for this purchase or that job, this relationship or that one. Hunger may be insatiable by nature, it may be fathomless, but our will to fill it, our often blind tenacity in the face of it, can be extraordinary.
Dogs possess a quality that's rare among humans -- the ability to make you feel valued just by being you -- and it was something of a miracle to me to be on the receiving end of all that acceptance. The dog didn't care what I looked like, or what I did for a living, or what a train wreck of a life I'd led before I got her, or what we did from day to day. She just wanted to be with me, and that awareness gave me a singular sensation of delight.
When you're starving or wrapped up in a cycle of binge-ing-and-purging, or sexually obsessed with (someone), it is very hard to think about anything else, very hard to see the larger picture of options that is your life, very hard to consider what else you might need or want or fear were you not so intently focused on one crushing passion. I sat in my room every night, with rare exceptions, for three and a half years...
But then the wine came, one glass and then a second glass. And somewhere during that second drink, the switch was flipped. The wine gave me a melting feeling, a warm light sensation in my head, and I felt like safety itself had arrived in that glass, poured out from the bottle and allowed to spill out between us.
Was he smart enough? Introspective enough? Was it just enough to love him, or should I attach myself to someone who seemed farther ahead of me, someone smarter and more ambitious than me, who'd be sure to carry me along into the version of adulthood I thought I should be striving for?
Trying to describe the process of becoming an alcoholic is like trying to describe air. It's too big and mysterious and pervasive to be defined. Alcohol is everywhere in your life, omnipresent, and you're both aware and unaware of it almost all the time, all you know is you'd die without it, and there is no simple reason why this happens, no single moment, no physiological event that pushes a heavy drinker across a concrete line into alcoholism. It's a slow, gradual, insidious, elusive becoming.
The dog’s agenda is simple, fathomable, overt: I want. “I want to go out, come in, eat something, lie here, play with that, kiss you. There are no ulterior motives with a dog, no mind games, no second-guessing, no complicated negotiations or bargains, and no guilt trips or grudges if a request is denied.
What is this drive to be thinner, prettier, better dressed, other? Who exactly is this other and what does she look like beyond the jacket she's wearing or the food she's not eating? What might we be doing, thinking, feeling about if we didn't think about body image, ever?