Friday, October 28, 2011

The Genesis of Disorder

I've written before about the problems that I've had with my starvation-type eating-disordered behaviour.  I've talked about the health problems it's caused me; if I've been restricting again, I even experience rumination syndrome for a few days afterwards, no matter how little I eat, though I find that it does subside after awhile.  I've talked about the possible reasons behind my tendency to ignore my body's hunger cues.  I've been an advocate, as much as a small-time blogger possibly can be, of the concepts that fat bodies are not necessarily diseased, that health is not a moral imperative, that fat people don't deserve to be treated badly, and that eating disorders, even if they're cleverly disguised as diets, are as harmful to us as they are to thinner people.  But I don't think I've talked much about what kept me dieting long enough for it to become an actual problem for me.

The thing is, as awful as I felt, for the first week and a half or so of my doctor-induced state of starvation I felt as if I was accomplishing something.  I was acting grown-up; after all, adults go on diets all the time, don't they?  (I was about 21 years old at the time, and I'd already developed my distaste for alcohol—remember, the drinking age in Ontario is 19, so I'd been legal to drink alcohol for two years by then—and was unfortunately somewhat offended by anything to do with sex at the time, particularly after a not-exactly-stellar experience a couple of years before, so it may not be very surprising that I felt that dieting was a Very Grown Up Adult Thing To Do; it was practically the only Special Adult Thing that I could allow myself to experience without offending my tastebuds or my prudery.)  I was Taking Control Of My Health.  So as awful as I felt physically, and as afraid as I was to eat anything at all, there was still something activating the reward centre of my brain.  My doctor had constructed a doom-and-gloom picture of my future as it would inevitably be if I didn't drop approximately half my body weight as soon as possible, but she'd also promised redemption of a sort if I did my damndest to force my body into a thinner shape.

Dieting became, as much as anything I'd learned about in my Catholic school, an absolution of mortal sin, which in this case was, of course, fatness.  And as resolute as I was at the time that I'd never be swayed by organized religion again, I was completely taken in by the Cult of Dieting and Thinness.  And as short as my "conversion" lasted, it was years before I really realized how truly dangerous and harmful it had been to me.  Somehow that three weeks managed to rewire my mind to the point where my default behaviour, unless I continually remind myself of the necessity of good, nutritious fuel for my body, is to avoid ingesting anything but water or tea, which has led to a number of problems over the years.  And I suspect that the initial feeling of control and purpose that I had in that first week and a half was a major reason why this happened.

Dieting, restriction, and self-starvation can be awfully alluring because of what's promised to you if you faithfully keep on with them.  But in reality, their results seldom, if ever, include better physical or mental health.  Don't let what happened to me, what's still happening to me, happen to you.  I'm still discovering what the long-term consequences of these behaviours are for me, and so far none of them have been pleasant.

No matter what you look like, no matter what your size and shape are, you are worth more than this.  So am I...but even as I've acknowledged this on the conscious level, it has been, and it continues to be, ridiculously difficult to break the old starvation pattern that was set up for me seven years ago.

Blog Note

Just a heads-up: I'm not planning on abandoning or deleting this blog, but I did decide that it might be a good idea to back it up elsewhere, just in case, so from now on everything will be posted both here and at the WordPress version of Meditations of a Surprised Christo-Pagan.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

This is not respect for life.

Talk about a lack of compassion.

According to this article at Firedoglake, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has banned Catholic nursing homes and hospitals from "removing feeding tubes or ending palliative procedures of any kind, even when the individual has an advance directive to guide their end-of-life care."  Where there used to be some leeway for judgement about whether it would be more compassionate to let the patient go in individual cases for patients in Catholic hospitals who were terminally ill whose lives were being extended by some form of medical intervention, that leeway is now gone.  And as if it weren't already plainly obvious that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops is very keen on maintaining people's suffering rather than alleviating it, "The Bishops' directive even notes that patient suffering is redemptive and brings the individual closer to Christ."

This is why the preserve-life-at-all-costs crowd infuriates me.  This sort of thing isn't even the preservation of life.  It's the prolonging of existence.  When my grandfather died last year, he went slowly and painfully, and he'd suffered a lot in the months leading up to his death already.  But what he went through, particularly in the last week and a half of his life, was truly horrifying.  He was constantly in pain, though sometimes it was worse than others, and even when he was comfortable enough to sleep, hearing him struggle for breath was absolutely heartbreaking.  The best anyone could do for him was give him pain medication and just enough water, transmitted via a small sponge, to keep his mouth from being uncomfortably dry; anything more would have added substantially to his distress because he had gradually lost the ability to swallow.

And every moment I sat there by his bedside, I prayed that the end would come soon.  It wasn't out of hate or disrespect.  It wasn't because I was in any hurry to say goodbye to him.  It was because I loved him and I couldn't bear to see him suffering like that.  He was dying; any fool could see it.  Even I saw it before his care officially became palliative rather than curative, and I'm a teacher, not a doctor or nurse.  Nothing on Earth was going to restore his health.  It was bad enough that we had to watch him die so slowly as it was.  If the hospital had insisted on prolonging his pain on the basis that life must be preserved no matter what, or because of that bullshit idea that suffering brings people closer to God, it would have been even more unbearable than it already was.  Extending life in circumstances like that isn't compassion.  It's cruelty of a most brutal and sadistic sort.  I would even call it evil.

If there was anything at all that I learned when my grandfather was dying, it was that sometimes the most compassionate thing you can do for a person who's dying is to let them go.  It's not creating or embracing a "culture of death" to do so.  It's acknowledging that because their life has worth, the person deserves better than the slow and torturous death that extending their days will give them.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Day For Purple

In some ways, I was lucky.

I grew up without any real concept of sexual orientation.  When I was in Grade 2, it was briefly mentioned that some kids had two moms or two dads, and I believe it was in the context of remarriage after a divorce, but it was easy enough for my mind to come to the conclusion that some kids had two moms or two dads who lived in the same house.  It seemed like a strange concept to me, but nothing particularly bad, just different.  Everywhere I looked, the concept of the type of love that leads to marriage as only possible between pairs consisting of one woman and one man was being upheld, and yet even when I was seven years old, there was something in my mind that, however subconsciously, told me that this wasn't necessarily the case.  So maybe that's why it wasn't as big of a shock to me as it could have been when I developed a brief crush on another girl when I was thirteen—while I couldn't help wondering if something was wrong with me at the time, I recall that it was more shocking to me that I was having these feelings when I was already crushing pretty badly on a boy who had become a pretty good friend of mine several years earlier.  Nonetheless, as strong as my memories are of what was to me a fairly confusing time, the crush on that girl never actually made it into my journal.  I'd already internalized the idea of same-sex attractions being somehow wrong, though I couldn't have said why, and I thought of it as some kind of phase that would end at some point.  And although I'd long since changed my mind about same-sex relationships by the time I'd left high school, I was well into my twenties before I was able to admit to myself that although I wasn't a lesbian, I wasn't entirely heterosexual either.  I hesitate to use the phrase "coming to terms with my sexuality" to describe the process, because that implies that I thought that there was something wrong with it, but the fact is, it wasn't easy.  And even now, in my day-to-day life I'm only "out" to a few close friends who I trust not to hurt me because of the knowledge that I'm bisexual.

In retrospect, I was lucky because I was able to pass for straight at a time and place when it wasn't just unwise, but actually occasionally dangerous, to be anything that wasn't strictly heterosexual.  Although it was infrequent, guys at my (very Catholic) school who were rumoured to be gay were sometimes shoved around a bit or even beaten up; girls weren't subject to the same sort of violence, but teenage girls' capacity for cruelty to other teenage girls is legendary, and physical acts of bullying aren't necessary for bullies to make their victims' lives hell.  When the culprits were caught, the teachers and principal punished them as harshly as they could, but it could rarely be proven that they'd done it because of their victim's supposed or real sexual orientation.  Bullying for any reason wasn't tolerated, but that didn't stop the bullies; it only inspired them to be sneakier about what they were doing, especially when their attacks were motivated by homophobia.

Mind, I never really thought the term "homophobia" was strictly appropriate; whether or not fear is behind this hatred of same-sex couples, the expression of what we call "homophobia" is in the end a manifestation of hate.  Which brings me to the reason I've called this post "A Day For Purple."

Today, October 20, is known as Spirit Day.  On the LGBTQ (etc.) Rainbow Flag, purple stands for spirit, and we are encouraged to wear purple to honour the people, especially the young, who have been made to feel that their lives weren't worth living because of their sexual orientation.  If I'd been a little less straight-leaning, or a little less able to pass for straight, I might have been one of them.

I'm wearing purple today.  Are you?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Those WWJD Bracelets

I was in high school when those "WWJD" bracelets really became a trend. "WWJD" is, of course, "What Would Jesus Do?"

I have to admit that I never liked them. At first, it was because I thought they were too self-consciously pious, too self-righteous. They didn't seem, to me, to be asking; they proclaimed that the wearer was religious and they implied something holier-than-thou about them, that they knew all the answers and would preach at the slightest provocation.

I still don't like those bracelets, though I'm not as judgmental about them these days. Rather, I dislike them because even when the reminder is given with the best intentions, it's all too often much too easy to justify our own biases with Jesus' name as an excuse. "What would Jesus do?" becomes "What do I think Jesus would do?" Eventually, that can become, "Jesus would do what I'm doing, because I'm right," and that way lies the self-righteousness that turned me off of organized religion for so long.

The fact is, though we can guess what Jesus might have done in any given situation, we don't really know.  So, whether or not it works, in order to avoid that sort of self-righteousness, I prefer to take my cue from one of my favourite anthems, composed by Maurice DurflĂ©:

"Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est."

Where there is charity and love, there is God.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I just realized something.

Just now, I was re-reading the post that I wrote on the day of Troy Davis' funeral, and I realized something.  In that post, I refer to "the state of Georgia," but (I hope) it is implicitly understood that I meant its institutions; its government, its legal and judicial systems, etc. rather than its people as a whole.  It seems to me that in general, we tend to refer to provinces, states, entire countries in this way; we talk about "the country of Canada" or "the province of Prince Edward Island" or "the state of North Carolina" and don't actually mean the general population, just the people and systems that run everything.  It is a tendency, I must admit, that I don't particularly like.

I'm not quite sure where I could take this thought, but I thought it was somewhat interesting.

Monday, October 3, 2011

When All Else Fails...

It seems to me that the phrase "when all else fails, read the directions" isn't always a great piece of advice.  Sometimes the directions don't work, or are too vaguely outlined, or, in the worst cases, are set up so that only some people will ever really get the full benefits of whatever we're supposed to be reading the directions for.  Sometimes the best advice can be "when all else fails, completely disregard the directions" or even "when all else fails, forget that there were directions in the first place."

Today's semi-deep thought brought about, of all things, by my tendency to experiment when I'm cooking (or, it seems, deciding on a spiritual path).  Hey, I haven't ever blown up the kitchen, poisoned anybody, or caused a church or sacred grove to spontaneously implode, so I guess that's an optimistic sign. ;)

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Reflections on the Death of Troy Davis

As I write this, there's a funeral going on that should not have been necessary.  I have the live stream of the celebration of Troy Davis' life on in the background, and this is what is going through my mind.

Since Davis was put to death on September 21, two other men have been executed in the USA, not counting Lawrence Brewer of Texas, who was also executed on September 21, a few hours before Davis' death.  Other executions were scheduled for this period of time, but most of them have been stayed.

I keep thinking that maybe the great amount of attention paid to Davis' case may have helped to send him to his death this time; it seems to me like the state of Georgia didn't want to be seen to be bowing to public pressure.  Certainly the people involved in the decision not to issue a stay of execution wanted to be seen as being "tough on crime" and if I had been a gambling woman, I'd have bet that at least some of them reasoned that he'd had twenty-two years to prove his innocence, and if any of them had any feelings of guilt about their decision to allow the state of Georgia to take this man's life, the fact that he was unable to prove his innocence in court must have assuaged them.  Never mind that the odds were stacked so overwhelmingly against him.  Never mind that he was a black man accused of murdering a white man, a situation which more often ends with capital punishment than white men accused of murdering black men.  (Though somewhat ironically, on the same night in which Davis died, Lawrence Brewer of Texas actually was executed a few hours earlier for having brutally murdered James Byrd, Jr., a black man.)  Never mind the fact that seven of the nine eyewitnesses whose testimony convicted Davis have since recanted or significantly changed their version of the events of that terrible night.  Never mind the allegations of police misconduct during the investigation of the case, in which some officers allegedly coerced some of these witnesses into identifying Davis as the perpetrator, including one person who signed a statement that he hadn't read because he is functionally illiterate.  Never mind that there was never any evidence found that actually linked Troy Davis to the scene of the murder.  Never mind that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable.  And never mind that one of the people who didn't recant their testimony, Sylvester Coles, was also a suspect in the murder investigation and is alleged to have issued death threats to a person who claims to have heard him confess to murdering Mark MacPhail.

This has been a terrible injustice for so many reasons.  I believe that nobody has the right to take another human's life, except in cases of self-defence; the premeditated death of any other human being is a terrible thing, whether it's a murderer or a judicial system who's planning to kill someone.  A horrific crime, no matter how appalling, is not an excuse to perpetrate an equally horrific crime.  Capital punishment isn't justice.  It's vengeance thinly disguised as justice.  Justice will never be served by committing injustice.  All this can do is unleash yet another evil on the world.

I will always be in great awe of Martina Correia, Troy Davis' sister who so courageously and tirelessly fought for his life even while fighting cancer.  Her strength and her determination are so far beyond inspirational...that she was able to keep her brother alive for so long is a miracle, and a testament to what can be done with enough determination.

On the night of the execution, when word came that Davis was dead, two hymns came to mind, both of which my church choir often sings when we've been asked to provide music for funerals.  One is actually a prayer known as the Nunc Dimittis: "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people, to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel.  Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end, amen."  And the other, an Easter hymn, called "All Shall Be Well":

All shall be well!  For on our Easter skies,
See Christ the sun of righteousness arise.

All shall be well!  The sacrifice is made,
The sinner freed, the price of pardon paid.

All shall be well!  The cross and passion past,
Dark night is done, bright morning come at last.

All shall be well!  Lift every voice on high;
"Death has no more dominion, but shall die."

Jesus alive!  Rejoice and sing again:
All shall be well for evermore, Amen!

I suspect that "All Shall Be Well" will always remind me of Troy Davis from now on.  I pray for those who knew and loved him, that they may be comforted in this difficult time.  And I hope and pray for the day when the death penalty will be abolished once and for all across the world.  We should so be beyond this brutality by now.