Again, October 15, 2015
Fuck. Really. Not again??
Mornings become tainted with a cup of failure that fills my belly with its pressure and disgust. People don’t get it. Can’t you just not eat? What if you have a glass of water? What if you make a sign? Or lock your door? Or lock the food?
No I can’t control it and yes I am scared, melting into the self-induced diagnosis of “Will This Ever Go Away?” It’s like clockwork: I wake up, I’ve noticed, usually on the dot. 1:30 AM, 2:30, 3:30. When a cycle reopens its mane, it picks a time and sticks. This last week it’s been 1:30 and 3:30 — the date has been picked, and I am scheduled to arrive. I wake up — always on time — but it is as if my legs get out of bed while the rest of me remains sound asleep — the rest of me still lying down, still cozied in pearl-white silk night gown, in pokey-triangular Rainbow Moonstone necklace, in coconut oil skin. Still cozied in the nighttime symbols of slowing down and settling in. Of my dedication, and devotion, and perseverance to myself, from myself. I tuck myself in bed with a hug and deep breath — the silk feels so smooth and generous on my well-worn skin: tonight will be the night. Tonight I will know better. I will be stronger. I will be more aware. Tonight I will not do it.
The earliest memories are from my sophomore year of college, waking up in the middle of the night in our sunset-orange room with my favorite Jack Kerouac quote sharpied on the glitter-painted doorframe. I tiptoe across the floor, praying with every pore that I do not wake Lynnea up. As kitchen manager of our 150-person coop, Lynnea often kept back-stock of bulk foods in the corner of her room next to mountains of clothes, textbooks, and collection of old, used mason jars: whole wheat flour, dried oats, and, yes, buckets of 100% organic, crunchy, salted peanut butter. I would tip toe across the room and use whatever dirty fork, spoon — and sometimes in desperate endeavors a near-by ball-pointed pen — to scoop clumps of chunky peanut butter into my mouth. It would drip and drop and I always woke up with the smell of the crime still on my hands. Sometimes I even scrambled to break the plastic off. I don’t know where I’d hide the remnants. Maybe I would bring them back with me to bed. I don’t know if Lynnea ever found out, or noticed. I was always too embarrassed to ask.
My legs would move and get up on their own and before I could recall I was in the downstairs kitchen ripping chunks of bread off of stale sourdough baguettes, grabbing dirty knives, or whatever first-small-thing-utensil-device I could find, drenching the white stale crumbs with spills of almond butter, jam — strawberry, raspberry, plum — sometimes making cereal-granola concessions sprinkled with dark chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, raisins, walnuts, almonds, coconut flakes and on, and on, and on.
But that was then: that was when I summoned myself to the mighty challenge to not eat chocolate chips, to not eat peanut butter or granola or raisins — to not eat the delicious-goddess-heavenly-goodness to see if I could do it, to see what my body would look like without its welcoming, without it back. But that was then. That was when restriction met necessity, and I counted not with calories but with items. Back when radical was ordinary and all-or-nothing thinking poured its way into every drink, every meal. I restricted, so I binged. It made sense. It was in the books and I learned about it in class. But that was then and this is now — and now I buy myself that dark-chocolate-caramel truffle in the pretty royal purple and gold wrapping in the Trader Joe checkout aisle just because. I let myself indulge in the bites of the sweet avocado-based chocolate fudge cookies at work. I always put peanut butter in my oatmeal.
Nighttime Eating Syndrome — the internet says I am not the only one, yet I have never felt more alone in my entire life. NES is characterized by a lack of appetite in the morning, overeating at night, and waking to eat throughout the night. Researchers describe it as a delay in the circadian rhythm of food intake while retaining a normal sleep-wake cycle, it is defined by two core criteria: the ingestion of at least 25% of daily calories after supper and/or awakening to eat at least three times per week. Well when my cycle hits, I am waking up on the dot, every night.
I thought if my mind let my body eat whatever it believed it wanted, I would be good. I would be solid and golden. But the nighttime eating comes back. It comes back in waves that last sometimes a few days, a few weeks, or a few months. And then it passes. It always passes, right? But while the passing feels inevitable, feels releasing, feels relief, it is the coming back of the wave that is drowning, that is debilitating, that is disturbing. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck — not again. I write signs and tape them night after night on my door reading: “Baby bee, it is so okay that you woke up. It is so okay that you want food. Think about for me, for yourself, how you want you and your belly to feel tomorrow? You know repeated night time eating gives you that pressury-bloat that feels icky. I promise I am here for you. And I promise you can do it.” The tape is losing its sticky and I am losing my patience, desperate for a guiding sign, hand, or embrace telling me what to do, when, and how, just to promise me that it will stop — I will stop.
In my Buddhist philosophy books I read about the interconnectedness of all things — how my actions effect the atmosphere and the trees, how my family and friends and surrounding energies influences me. The way yesterday’s thoughts create today’s environment and today’s actions pave the way for tomorrow. I am a believer and I build. But maybe our bodies — my body — too crave the recognition that it is complex, it is interconnected, it is related. I read research on NES late into the night, tucked in the same pearl-white silk nightgown, reading about hormonal cycles and insulin and leptin and ghrelin and peptide YY, the communicators of satiation, of energy, of digestion. And then I read about the largest perpetrator of all: cortisol, the stress hormone.
While a student in Berkeley I worked as a Research Assistant testing the rises and spikes and dips and draws of cortisol through both “stressful” and “non-stressful” environments. I acted as a confederate and would show up to the research experiment, dressed in my student garb of yoga pants, chacos, and backpack, weighed down to the ground with laptop, apples, textbooks, and Kombucha bottles filled to the brim with homemade coffee. I would show up and act either “friendly” to the other student, or “hostile.” The other students did not realize that they were the only subject, that the research did not care for their answers — or my answers — to the questionnaire displayed on the outdated 1990’s computer — but rather were curious of the effects of everyday “stressful” experiences — like someone not being friendly — on our immune systems, on our body’s over-extended over-used stress-response system: the HPA axis. We are no longer signaling stress and alert when we see bear in the woods and have to run for salvation. Our bears have become more prevalent, more domesticated. They have become internalized. They have become our own. Our thoughts and fears and minds have evolved faster than our brain, pushing our body to overdrive, and perhaps it can’t keep up.
I have read that single photon emission computed tomography has shown significant elevation of serotonin transporters in the midbrain of night eaters. Elevations in serotonin transporter levels lead to decreased postsynaptic serotonin transmission and should impair circadian rhythms and satiety. I read: “while elevated serotonin transporters contribute to the brain chemistry component, depression, anxiety, hostility, and stress are strongly implicated in NES. These negative emotions, merged with the guilt and embarrassment associated with such unconventional eating patterns, form a perfect psychological storm that exacerbates the problem.”
But I want to be able to talk myself out of it, I want a sense of control. I go to sleep at night repeating: tonight will be the night, tonight you can do it. But it is precisely this lack of self-control, this lack of self-awareness and understanding that breaks me down into bones, scrambled on the floor, collapsed, defeated. This lack of explanation, of rationale. For a person so grounded in a primal awareness of her, it kills me not to know why. Not to know how. But maybe that’s it — this separation between mind and body, body and mind, maybe it is all more interconnected than I think. Stressful thoughts on underemployed jobs and extended hips and existential angst push my body to a silent overdrive that I can’t seem to hear. I wake up with belly undigested and full, and my day becomes tainted with double-takes at food and body, trying so hard to do things “right” so that tonight I may stop. But these habits breed obsession, which breed compulsion, and doubt, and anxiety, and in the meantime, while I think I may be “talking” myself into not waking up and eating, my body is being pushed pushed pushed and does not know how to stop.
Because maybe there is a difference between letting myself indulge and indulgence itself — because in order for something to be let, there must still be a controller controlling the controllee, there must still be power and fight: tug and pull. There is still a split — there is still two in me. The designer working on the garden, the master controlling the slave.