Friday, August 10, 2012


The tiny dot in the middle of the frame is me, on my way back to shore

Each day in Maine I take the time to swim in the ocean.

I put one foot in front of the other with purpose as I enter the freezing water. I keep walking even though my calf muscles seize and twitch in horror. I walk out to my waist, letting the icy waves wash over my belly. I walk out up to my armpits, clenching and unclenching my fists.

I swim for as long as I can stand it--sometimes for 20 minutes or more. I swim in a straight line out to the horizon, not daring to look down into the waves or back to shore. I move slowly at first, fighting the urge to gasp for breath as my lungs shudder against the cold. I alternate between the crawl, sidestroke and breast stroke. If I keep my face in the water for too long my chin will go numb and my lower lip will droop. Salty rivulets will run down my neck.

At first the cold is all-consuming. I cannot think of anything but the water temperature--my body won't allow me to forget what an idiot I am for doing this. After a few minutes the fact of the cold disappears, leaving a feeling of being scraped hollow in its place.

My limbs are heavy, but they keep moving. My scalp is taut and my eyes are clear. My whole body is numb--plunging forward through the water. I feel like my brain and the beating of my heart are the only things that matter.

I enjoy this feeling of weightlessness.
I enjoy the feeling of being on the brink of disaster.
I enjoy the silence, and the sun, and the knowledge that there are unseen worlds beneath me.

Back on land I am breathless as my blood begins to warm. I become aware again of the parameters of my form, of each hair on my skin. I hear the birds, and my children, and the sound of the waves hitting the rocks. 

I miss being numb--and that feeling of loss follows me home to Texas.

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At home I find myself trying to withdraw into the numb, to avoid the world around me.When I step outside the heat rushes in to wrap my head in fire. It is like living in an oven, the opposite of being numb. Instead of feeling nothing I feel everything: every pore, every wrinkle.

The sweat and the sun serve to highlight physical sensation, and I hate it.

I don't want to be reminded of the mosquito bite on my ankle, or the too-long-hair at the nape of my neck.

I want it all to be erased by the ocean, with only my brain and heart left.

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I watch the Olympics with my daughter and sit with the knowledge that only thing I could have medaled in as an adolescent was disordered eating. I roll the desire to be numb, and feel scraped hollow, over and over in my memory. I find its match in the strictly regimented days of my youth, when conquering hunger through sheer will power was my ultimate goal.

I have a physical memory of how triumphant I felt with an empty belly. Of how it felt to be dizzy and shaky and still feel like this was winning. Eventually, I could flip the switch and disconnect my mind and body. I could be numb.

It is scary to recognize that my daily swims in the ocean summoned that physical memory. That now as an adult, who prides herself on being balanced and healthy, my mind and body could betray me. 

Right now everything in my life is turned upside down: my professional life, my role as caregiver, my daily routines....All of it has changed. I can't control any of these changes--and I thought I was ok with that. But part of me is still panicking. Part of me wants to lock down the self-control to get a handle on all that is changing.

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The difference this time around is that I am aware of why my mind/body are reacting this way. Why I crave the numbness in the face of the unknown and uncertain. And I am prepared.

I have my support people, I have my friends, I have my group work (which I really need to tell you about in another post).

And I'm going to be ok.

Even in the heat.

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