Thursday, October 25, 2007

Therapy on Three Inch Heels

I ran out of gum last night.

Now hush yourselves and your replies of "So what?", because for me, running out of gum is a BIG freaking deal. I buy gum or mints or breath strips every single time I make a trip to a store, so that every pocket of every purse from every decade in which I ever bought a purse can be overflowing with some sort of breath-related paraphernalia. I am obsessed with minty freshness. I need gum.

So, of course, during my trip up to the trendy Bohemian part of KC, in which I got lost in the interwoven, poorly marked streets and terraces and avenues, and during which I stopped at a pretentious, arty European bistro where I ate a pretentious, arty, and overpriced vegetarian crepe with lots and lots of garlic and tomatoes, I ran out of gum. I parked underneath a SURVEILLANCE IN PROGRESS sign in a vaguely seedy apartment parking lot and began frantically rummaging through every fold of the three purses currently occupying the passenger side floorboard of my car. I found empty gum packages, and discarded gum wrappers, and even the pistachio colored dust from a package of spearmint Extra, but there was no actual GUM to be found. I pondered going back out into KC Bohemia long enough to stop at a grocery store and replenish, but that would've involved maneuvering my giant boat of a car back across several pedestrian crossings and through the langorously moving throngs of college students with their charmingly sloppy clothing and their messenger bags and their beaming, unstressed faces just radiating the joy of responsibility-free living, and at that moment...driving my inherited powder blue '95 Buick Lesabre with my grandmother's United Methodist Women bumper sticker still clinging tenaciously to chrome, smoothing down the soccer mom haircut my stylist decided I needed earlier in the day, and so desperate for non-garlicky breath I would've been willing to French kiss a stranger for the toothpaste in their mouth...at that moment I was just not having any of it, so I sat in that darkening parking lot and just fumed over my situation, silly as it was. It was going to be a bad evening.

Part of the reason I was so uptight was because last night was my very first time to try dancing again after this incident occurred in the fall of last year. Over the past twelve months I've mooned over tango-tagged YouTubes, browsed vacation packages to Buenos Aires, and kept a close eye on the Kansas City tango forums, all without actually doing anything about getting back into it. When I found out that our local tango teacher was going to be in town for a few weeks before leaving for Argentina, I decided there was really no more excuses for not dancing, so I signed up for private lessons with him. I was already shaky and nervous about the prospect of coming back to an activity from which I backed away to spare myself further humiliation; the idea of doing it on a private basis while breathing my toxic waste breath on a near-stranger was enough to send me over the edge.

While I was changing my shoes in the little family room of the sprawling American Foursquare manse my teacher owns, I wondered where my omnipresent pessimism had come from. If I had to fill out a personality inventory, I'm pretty sure I would've marked "optimist" if given the choice. I think, or at least I used to think that way. I have optimism for other people and situations that happen to me; I completely believe my friends and family will pull through whatever crisis they're experiencing, and when my finances are stretched or I'm faced with a problem at work I have every confidence in my ability to pull through and make the best of the situation.

But when it comes to my sense of self-efficacy in accomplishing things that would make me a happier person, or a more fulfilled person...well, I have none. I spend a few minutes each day researching ideas for a new career, but the prospect of returning to grad school or starting out on a new job path petrifies me. I make excuses to avoid social gatherings because I'm certain I'll have a rotten time. I doom new relationships before I give them a chance because I assume they'll end up like my marriage. I am an unequivocal, unabashed pessimist when it comes to doing anything that would soften my cynicism for the world and my place in it. While I was sitting in that little room waiting for my lesson, I realized that 100% of that negativity came from the way I feel about myself, and that I blame external circumstances as a way to hide the fact that I don't really think I'm worth having the good things in life. The undesirable people at potential parties or evenings out hide the fact that I'm scared that no one will talk to me, or I'll be the ugliest, most awkward person in the room. The cost of continuing education, and the risks involved in leaving one career for a completely different one are all things thousands of other people have had to conquer in their lifetime, but I refuse to believe it can happen to my satisfaction because deep down I'm really frightened that all I'll end up being is another unmotivated, underachieving employee with an extra diploma in the back of my closet. And this gum thing...well, I knew it had very little about what was going on in my mouth, and way more about what was going on in my head about my body and my appearance. Let's face it, a lifetime of being not very attractive has probably made me more self-centered about my looks than I would've been had I ended up a raving beauty. The "bad evening" wasn't going to be bad because my breath could cut crop circles so much as I was going to have to let a man put his arms around my body, legs and torso up against mine, and guide me to depend on him for movement and standing still and expressing something we couldn't do without the intimacy of a physical connection.

The first quarter of our lesson together was...rocky, I would say. We danced a song to see what I remembered, and I was so stiff in his arms I actually gave myself, like, tango whiplash from holding my shoulders tight. When he turned off the music, I silently congratulated myself for not falling over, not sweating, and not breathing, in or out, at all (although if I had, I really doubt the stank breath would've made much difference...he had a good 18 inches on me in height, so the only thing I potentially could've offended was his left nipple). He looked at me, cocked his head, and kind of sighed before he said that somehow my body managed to be simultaneously weak and rigid at exactly the same time. This was not news to me; I had nearly passed out from the combined effort of sucking in every single one of my bodyparts that had jiggle potential and also holding on to him without actually putting any of my weight on his body. I was basically a how-to on embodying every single bad tango habit in the first five minutes of my dancing career.

We spent the next hour talking about how essential being aware of where your partner's body is, being present in the moment and in the music, and being patient and trusting enough to wait for your partner to move when he wants and stop when he wants. We did lots of exercises that involved leaning into one another with my boobs smooshed into his chest and holding our arms out at the sides, and the entire time we were doing that I fought the mental image of one of my favorite scenes in cinema history ever, except mirrored by my instructor and I like a Rorschach blot of total awesomeness.

I was really surprised at how much just dancing and learning with this man dredged up all sorts of really intense, shitty reactions. Like, how I stiffen whenever someone touches me, and how I can't trust anyone enough to actually depend on them for something as simple as moving my legs to the music in the direction they want to go. It took me at least 30 minutes of the lesson to finally believe that pressing my stomach up against his pelvis wasn't going to result in him recoiling in disgust, and even though right now I intellectually believe he was fine with it, I still have this awful thought in the back of my head that he's going to dread dancing with me every single time I show up because I'm just not worth it. This whole concept of just...letting go...it's been a problem my whole life, and a lot of my relationships and ambitions have suffered for the lack of it. I can't hold hands with a boyfriend while we're walking down the street, or lie on the coach together to watch TV without the fear of somehow crushing his body with my own. In all the plays I did or the recitals I performed in college, my performances were always marred by the fact I could never really get inside the music or the character until the very last second before the curtain rose, and then it was too late or not enough. I walk through life with my shoulders squared for battle, because the idea of just embracing the freedom abandon, even once, means I will make a fool of myself, and in my addled brain I already have enough reasons to look like a loser on a normal day; I don't need this too.

And I know that's not really true...I KNOW it's not. But I still don't really believe it, you know? My friend Veggie B! and I talk often about holistic medicine and whole body wellness because she's living out in Hippie Xanadu (Asheville) and learning about natural healing and massage. Our last conversation revolved around the idea that everything going on in your body, good or bad, is intrinsically linked to what's going on (or has been going on) inside your brain. And some of it is obvious: indigestion is related to stress, depression can cause all sorts of maladies, when you're anxious your immune system is less able to fight off infections. I mean that's all pretty duh, right? But the idea of it really got me to think about the whole pathology of why I got fat in the first place, and why I'm still fat now. I mean, I know I was a chubby kid because I ate a lot and I sat at home and read instead of going outside and playing like I should've. But after a point, when the innocent overeating turns into emotional overeating...why does your body go along with it? Why can't your brain discern that this isn't good at all, and it should be stopped. If Veggie B's theory holds true, I'm fat because something in my brain tells me I should be. And I knew, right there as I was clinging on to my teacher's neck for dear life while I learned the back ocho, that maybe I'm fat because it keeps people far away from me, and that I create the distance for myself because I don't really think I'm worth getting close to...that inevitably I'll be a disappointment to whomever sees through the sarcasm and emotional frigidity and then my secret'll be out and the world will know that I'm not much. Pasta Queen once explained obesity as kind of a superpower...that it gave you the ability to be invisible enough in society to observe the true character of the people you know. I agree with that, but I think maybe if you wanted to extend the whole Justice League theme, it's also kind of a ready-made force field too...a 100 lb. flak jacket that lets you hide from meaningful interactions and relationships because you can always assume they're going to reject you offhand, just because you're fat. Apparently, obesity is my uber-lack of gum. Or something.

When the next couple came in to dance at 8:00 pm, I absolutely did not want to go, and it only had a very little to do with the usual, "Hey, I'm getting better! Or less bad!" kind of reaction. I just wanted to stay draped around that man's neck for the rest of my life, not out of any sort of lust or crush or anything like that, but because I COULD and it was okay and he didn't start projectile vomiting when I touched him and Paraguay didn't spontaneously combust when the back of my neck started to get a little sweaty and for at least, you know, five seconds of our first lesson together there was a connection...a total abandonment of reserve and pretense and my infuriatingly omnipresent internal monologue that so easily stymies the joy I can find in truly nice things.

Anyway, I have three more lessons coming up, and I think they'll be good, and even if I end up being a totally horrendous dancer, at least I'm getting some pretty inexpensive therapy in the process. And yesterday morning before I had coffee, took a shower, fed the cats, or made my bed, I went to the store and bought three variety packs of gum, two Listerine breath sprays and a tin of Altoids. Next time is going to be a good one.

8 comments:

Bean said...

I can't even begin to tell you how much this post has hit me. You nailed it. Totally.

Lauren said...

I can't even function after reading that, I cut and copied the ".that it gave you the ability to be invisible enough in society to observe the true character of the people you know. I agree with that, but I think maybe if you wanted to extend the whole Justice League theme, it's also kind of a ready-made force field too...a 100 lb. flak jacket that lets you hide from meaningful interactions and relationships because you can always assume they're going to reject you offhand, just because you're fat." portion and will put it on my blog. And I want to think about it and delve into it so that I can deal with it, but then there is another part of me that says NO DON'T DO IT.

Thanks

Anonymous said...

Hi Erin! Amazing, as usual. I had a similar problem with going to the gyno. I didn't want him/her to see the fat and dark gross skin on my thighs from them rubbing together. I finally told my doc my fear of my body and she said, that's what he does for a living. You think you're the only one that has gross thighs? So what if you do, it's your health, your body, take care of it. That's what I was thinking about when you described your dance lesson. That's his job. That's what he does all day long. He dances, people sweat, people trip, etc. He's even danced with sweaty, hairy men. Make this about you. Your recovery, your life. One day at a time. One meal at at time.

Take care,
Jessica Ann

*ccc* said...

Wow...insightful, much? This is why I love your blog...what you write, so many of us that are overweight can relate to.

The part that struck me was this: "Let's face it, a lifetime of being not very attractive has probably made me more self-centered about my looks than I would've been had I ended up a raving beauty."

I am one of the most vain people in the world. I'll spend an hour getting ready, making sure every hair is in place, making sure each nail is filed prettily and properly painted, I take great pains in selecting my clothing, my shoes, my handbag. I apply makeup--even lipstick--with a brush, thinking it hides everything. Hoping it hides everything.

But it doesn't. I'm still overweight. No amount of makeup is going to hide that. No primping will cover up the fat. But I just keep trying.

And hiding behind our fat? Dude, we've all done that too. Thanks for your story :)

Nora said...

Thank you for your post. It really touched me in many ways.

Abba said...

Great post Erin. I love your humor about all things serious. This made my day. Thanks!

Grumpy Chair said...

Erin, such a great post (as usual).

This really hit home:

"maybe I'm fat because it keeps people far away from me, and that I create the distance for myself because I don't really think I'm worth getting close to"

Though, I am married, I currently have very, very few friends and use the excuse "I'm too fat to go there or do that" (things or places where I would meet more people.

Enjoy your lessons.

JPask said...

This is the first time I've left a comment here, but I started reading your blog a few days ago when it was linked on Elastic Waist. This entry really hit home with me. This thought, in particular: "And I knew, right there as I was clinging on to my teacher's neck for dear life while I learned the back ocho, that maybe I'm fat because it keeps people far away from me, and that I create the distance for myself because I don't really think I'm worth getting close to...that inevitably I'll be a disappointment to whomever sees through the sarcasm and emotional frigidity and then my secret'll be out and the world will know that I'm not much."

This is the feeling and the thoughts I have been trying to realize when I attempt to rationalize the reasons I am fat. Thank you for helping me to realize what I am truly feeling. I am going to show this to my husband tonight as I am always trying to find ways to tell him how I really feel. This helps a lot.