Holding Back the Ocean

I used to watch people eat and wonder how they could just stop. How they could feel like they ever had enough, and how they could let it all just sit in their bodies when they were done. I watched in curious amazement, questioning how they were able to pull it off. And I sat in overwhelming self hatred, questioning why I never could.

I couldn’t wrap my brain around how people seemed to simply feel ok. How they seemed to feel like enough. How they became full and stopped. How they didn’t feel like they had no other choice but to empty themselves of everything over and over again like I did.

Food stuffed my inadequacies down a few layers so that I could pretend to function. Without something heavier than my feelings, everything rushed to the surface and I was swallowed whole. My vat of shame bubbled underneath my skin and in the absence of something to numb it, I felt every second like I’d be eaten alive by my own body. I filled my emptiness one bite at a time, and with every bite I disappeared a little more beneath it. I was safe in the depths of that valley. I couldn’t breathe; but that was better than feeling. Eventually that internal suffocation became too much and I had to free myself.

The toilet was my reprieve. My sanctuary. The place that could handle all my filth. The place that rid me of me. In the bathroom is where I could come clean. It was the only place I felt safe because I knew that for at least a few moments, I’d have somewhere to put all my emptiness AND all my overflow. It was the only place that being both not enough and too much made any sense. 

I surrendered myself in that space. I’d lean over and cleanse myself of all I carried in my body, and then I’d stand back up emptier than I started. The vile I saw in that porcelain death hole matched the vile my body encased; but in the next moment, I got to wash it all away. I got to begin again. 

On my way out, the mirror would capture me; but only my body, never my eyes. As if I had no choice, I turned to the side to evaluate my worth, inevitably disgusted by the amount of space I filled. Always too much; never enough. I seldom looked myself in the eyes in those days. Not only because I couldn’t bear the image, but because the image couldn’t bear me. In order to soothe the intoxicating shame of everything I’d done, everything I’d become, and everything I believed I’d never become, I had to fill back up. 

That process made sense to me. But watching what other people did? Having enough? Being enough? Letting it all sit? That process I could never comprehend. 

So, I sat in solitary defilement, scorched inside my self created hell, comforted by the flames. The noise of my thoughts was so loud I couldn’t hear. The fire of my feelings was so hot I couldn’t tame it. Food was the only thing that quieted those piercing internal screams, and watching it exit my body was the only thing that eased the sharpness of my pain. I coated my shame in whatever I could find and I absolved my disgust in vomit. The rise and fall was a force too powerful for me to contain-like trying to hold back the ocean. Even an attempt at that effort would wash me away. 

For years I acquiesced to that tide. I stopped believing I’d ever figure it out. I lost hope that I’d ever be able to live like them. And while I carried my shame like an internal branding, I quietly coddled the release it provided. 

It took me years of surrendering my soul before I figured out I didn’t have to learn how to hold back the ocean. That was never my assignment. The ocean isn’t meant to be contained. The ocean is meant to be glorified and appreciated in all its power and beauty, pain and grace, misbehavior and obedience. 

None of us really have it all figured out. We just keep showing up; respecting the rise, accepting the fall, and balancing our place in the midst of both. 

I eventually stopped emptying myself of me. I learned how to sit inside my own body. I figured out how to flow with the tide. As with the overwhelm of the ocean, I decided to stop trying to contain myself, holding space for the lack as well as the overflow. I recognized the need for both. 

There is a natural cleansing when we allow ourselves to be who we are, taking up as much space as we require. Freedom, I learned, would never become available to me if I didn’t avail myself to it. And freedom could never exist within the confinement of my shame-endorsed walls. 

I’m no longer confused when I see people who seem ok inside their own bodies. After all this time, it finally makes sense. I too have found that gift. 

The beauty is that we don’t have to hold back the ocean. We don’t have to run from it or drown beneath it. We can simply exist with it, hold out are hands and say, “Thank you,” for all it has to offer.