The soft orange glow of the late sun gently pressing the sky above Mt. Emily. Damn. I've overslept.
I think of a refrigerator.
I pull my legs in and my plaid-green ripping covers above my hair, as if a tattered quilt could deflect the thoughts inside my own head. I tell the pillow repeatedly toshut up and get out, shut up and get out.
My life is one tinctured with an eating disorder.
Most of you who read this blog already know about my struggle. You who don't, I'm very open to talking about it, as I began to be near the end of my 7-year addiction to pornography that concluded, by the grace of God, nearly three years ago.
As a person, I have a favorite color: it's red. I wear size 11.5 shoes, go swimming or to the gym every morning. I hate the idea of a 'fart button' app for the iPhone. My favorite novel is Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse. I weigh between 168 and 173 pounds on various days and am tall with dark-razzled hair that curls at the edges. And I smile incessantly.
Most people who meet me won't guess I binge eat.
Today, for my disorder, I have accountability partners, coping strategies. I've read books and spent countless hours praying, countless dollars indulging. It hurts. A lot.
Self-reflection is a forced hobby. Many people I meet insist I have an overabundance of intelligence. That may be true, and whatever powers of reflection I've been given are most often dedicated to analyzing and wrestling with my own vices.
Some days, I thank God for this. Confucious said, "a gentleman adheres to his own moral principals, beginning with self-cultivation, and thereby brings peace and order to the world." Thomas Hobbes wrote, "Nosce te ipsum." Paul: "Abhor what is evil, cling to what is good." The surest way to solve world hunger is to eat less and give the rest away.
Other nights, deep-red shafts of La Grande sunset rays painting my dark apartment, I beat my fist on the floor and scream at God how I'm so tired of struggling. How I want to simply be. To compromise and feel O.K. doing it. To eat three bowls of ice cream without knowing I'm going someplace other than God's grace for my comfort and stress-coping. After rolling your eyes back, directing your pupils into your own brain long enough, your forehead hurts. It would be easy to just stop looking inward.
But I can't. I'm incapable. Whatever 'intelligence' I have synthesized with a developed uncompromising sincerity won't let me simply accept my 'sins,' my 'maya' dependence, my coping methods. So I think a lot about my disorder.
Addictions, I think, are subconscious acts of transference.
Each of us has, beneath the layers of clothes (jobs worked, hobbies developed, cars purchased, recipes from Pinterest cooked, artwork conceptualized, created) we have a cold, naked corpse of understanding that death is an algid breeze. It's night, we're standing in the middle of the freeway, and, though we turn and face down-traffic from the oncoming lane, we see the headlights of the oncoming tractor trailer illuminate the concrete around us. And it's terrifying, though we pretend we can't see. Worse, we realize our inability to step off the highway.
So we get jobs, we go to college, we get married, we take pictures of our kids and hang them around our houses. We post pithy stati to our Facebook wall hoping someone will click the little blue thumb and affirm our attempts to tell ourselves and others that something has real meaning. We paint Starry Night or directMidnight Sonata or develop philosophical systems like hypothetical realism orphenomenalism or nhilism (the system of there being no system) all in a hope to pigenhole reality into a smooth stone we can hold in our hands, turn over, inspect, brush the dust off, into which we can eventually carve our eulogy.
But we fail even at these things. We get fired. We flunk out of college. Marriages end or become hangnails you can't pull out. Nobody clicks the small, blue hand. And even if we have some level of worldly success, though the crowd roars at the sonata we've composed, we know its crescendos will never impress the reaper.
Next stop, addictions. Compulsions.
To be brutally honest, binging, in a way, feels right. As I stuff profuse dinner rolls, several plates of spaghetti, Cliffbar after Cliffbar into my gullet; as I spoon ice cream, soups, small peas, carrots and cereal between my lips; as maculatory drips of Dr Pepper flow from the corners of my mouth onto my pure-white t-shirt, I know it's right. This is who I really am. A poetaster. A small, pathetic, worm of a man with greasy potato chips spilled over his hairy torso. A man who reads philosophy and theology in desperate attempts to make some kind of intellectual sense of the cosmos around him. The little boy who slapped his sister in the Honda CRV because she wouldn't let him have the radio on his own station. The fury who carved small bits of flesh out of my father's face with his knuckles when he was 16. The doctor who wants to provide the world's panacea but can't even diagnose himself.
Addictions are humans' way of matching our acts with our deepest-seated feelings of insufficiency, I think. Of transferring all our feelings of insufficiency into one act of emotional sincerity. Of allowing all our doubts, frustrations, brutally honest convictions about the depravity of who we really are to flow into and through a single act or habit from our inner convictions to our exterior actions. I binge not because food is of any special importance to me. It's not (honestly, I'm kind of of a stoic). Rather, I have an irrepressible urge for the world to see me for who I really am. To see myself for who I really am. When I binge, for just that hour, and for the hours following, my actions match my mental self-image: a young man desperate for something to fill, desperate to feel stuffed, to have his existential hunger satisfied. And, in a disgusting, depressing kind of way, it feels good.
Next stop, grace.
Christianity has been, for many years, a small, quiet room with gentle-blue curtains where I can retreat to in my more honest moments. Well, not necessarily Christianity the religion, I suppose, with all its entrapping of liturgy, dogma, history, mythology, eccelsiology and prophesy hung from it like dozens of plastic grocery bags hooked to my arms while I try to climb the porch stairs and fumble with the keys. If I'm being brutally honest, in my deepest convictions I dropped many of those a long time ago on the porch of agnosticism. When will Jesus come back? Is it pre-mill or post-mill? Is there even a mill? Was the Torah written by Moses or compiled by a redactor? Was Jesus an escatalogical prophet in the pure or a small child who clapped his hands together gaily as a child and birds popped out and fluttered away (as is asserted in several of the Gnostic gospels)? Was he a historical person or are we left with only the keyrgma of Christ? I have my convictions, but, honestly, much of it I just don't know.
Further, I've read nearly all the scriptures of the world's major religions, several surveys on and a small portion of the original works of Western philosophy, changed from an unreflexive realist to an Berkelian idealist, from a dualist to a monist, from a monist to a dualist, from a dualist to an I-don't-know-ist, from an assumed-fundamentalist to a liberal Christian, from an Armenian to a hypercalvinist, from a hypercalvinist to something of more uncertain convictions. I'll probably change again.
Philosophies and theological systems are furry hats we purchase and throw away, put on and take off to keep our heads comfortable depending on the seasons.
However, I've realized I'm not a 'Christian' because it makes sense of the noumenal world, scientifically explains the cosmos, or even parts of it, logically describes the world of 'sense objects', serves as a satisfying historical lens, or makes sense of human consciousness. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't, depending on how honest I'm being with myself. And honestly, simple Christianity isn't the most theologically or intellectually satisfying of the world religions. It's true. Buddhism, Hinduism, and even Mormonism have much more self-contained and logically rational systems.
I guess, for me, it comes down to this. Every religion (and here I go theologizing again) postulates some ideal state of Being and describes how man is to achieve that state. Buddhism: Nirvana, achieved through Enlightenment by self-annihilation in meditation. Hinduism: Union with Brahman, achieved through Enlightenment by self-realization in meditation, through works of compassion, or by the way of knowledge (the three yogas postulated in the Bhagavad Gita). Islam: Paradise, achieved through belief in church doctrine and good works. Etc, etc, etc.
Christianity, however, all its mythology, ecclesiology, religious practice and symbolism aside, postulates Heaven: by grace, only through faith and trust in that grace. The sects and facets of Christianity that have always attracted me the most are the ones most honest to the human condition. We are 22-year-old heavily bearded boys, sitting on our couch, stuffed full of our depression and insufficiency and immorality and inability to fix our world and our own lives, trying desperately to fill the void. How could one such as that ever achieve union with Being by his striving? I can sit, covered in potato chip remains, stuffed full of my own insufficiency and irrelevance, and read the the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus (supposedly) says, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted; Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs are the kingdom," are know he's talking to me. Because that's what Jesus is all about. Grace. "Grace fills empty holes," says Simone Weil. And when I look at the fumblings of the human race, most intimately my own parcel of it, I'm looking down a deep well and don't see the bottom. I've dropped a rock and have yet to hear the plunk.
Occasionally I think about death. That cold, angry breeze we only escape in this life by turning on our pathetic little heaters. If this life is any gauge, all of us, sitting in our cars when the gas runs out and the frigid breeze slips into our vehicle, when the molecules stop dancing, will have no clothes to keep us warm. And maybe religion is just another parka.
I suppose, then, grace is really more of a hope. A hope that if I stand naked after death, if there is an after death, because didn't trust those bargain-brand trousers from Value Village or small, furry hats sewn at the local Walmart, but I wanted something warmer, there will be an Inkeeper who will set a blanket over my shoulders and take me into the lodge.
My eating disorder is not my first compulsion. Video games, vicious anger, pornography and masturbation have all been God-given glasses through which I saw my own real condition. And maybe that's why God gives them (yes, gives them) to us, little hints of what it will feel like to stand naked in the cold.
And nothing proceeding is to assert addictions are inescapable, as my list of past-addictions shows. I've come through them by grace in moments or over extended periods when, sometimes after years of feeling the dirty carpet tickle my cheek during desperate begging sessions, God has taken them away. As of now, I haven't actually binged in about a month, which is quite a bit considering two years ago it was about every 3 days. I've been talking about it, admitting it, repainting the self I show to others to match the self I paint on my mirror every morning. This helps. A lot. "Sincerity is the key to the spiritual life," wrote Albert Schweitzer. I think it's they key to a lot of things.
I'll binge again, I'm sure. Like Paul, I've asked God to take away my 'thorn in the flesh' more times than Jesus said to forgive. More times than Zeus cheated on Hera. I'm not sure which was more. But, like with Paul, I keep hearing my grace is sufficient for you in my mind. Is it God, a divine Being wiping the chips off my chest in my depression? Maybe not, but I hope so.
Terrance hays writes in his poem Lighthead's Guide to the Galaxy, "All species have a notion of emptiness, / and yet the flowers don't quit opening." Grace is the sun that spreads my petals.
And through my struggles, though minuscule in comparison to the hardships of some others, I think I've learned things about Being and our reunion with it. I won't work my way through my eating disorder. I'll try, but I'll fail. But I'll keep asking God to take it away. Someday, I hope, years or maybe hours in the future, I'll open my front door and there'll be a small package--plain, light, wrapped in newspapers and torn out Bible pages, no return address--sitting on my doorstep. I'll open it, meticulously unwrap the box, remove the contents. I'll never binge again. I hope Being (whatever name you want to call it) is achieved the same way.
Aaaaand three hours later he returns to homework.