The ghosts are angry tonight. They are angry with me because I told them I would not feed them anymore. The ghosts are dark and they lurk in that place, the vast uncharted territory of my heart. If I were to map it, I’ve always imagined the map would be a wasteland with the label: “Here Be Dragons”. Dragons, ghosts, ghosts of dragons, monsters of the dark...whatever I want to call them, they are my own.
They say that the best way to get rid of an unwanted animal is to stop feeding it. So, I have determined that the ghosts will not get fed. They clamor, creating a fear inside of me...shaking the cage and screaming at me that if I do not feed them, I will be hungry forever. They scream at me, that I don’t deserve to be hungry, and that I should feed them because by feeding them, I am feeding myself.
But they lie to me. The hungry ghosts have been lying to me since I was about thirteen years old. Looking back, I can see things so much more clearly than I did back then. There’s a name for what was going on with me when I was thirteen. I look at my pictures and I can hardly believe that the girl in the photos was me. I thought I was Jabba the Hut, when in reality I was shaped a lot more like Marylin Monroe. Now, most thirteen-year-olds don’t want to be shaped like Marilyn, so no wonder I felt odd....but the ghosts were born, and they lied to me. I had body dysmorphia. What I saw in the mirror did not match reality. And the ghosts were born.
The ghosts were born the day I was taken to the gyno for an exam, and it was so very very painful that I screamed and gagged at the same time. All the grownups in the room were yelling at me to relax. They said I must remain a virgin forever unless I got cut because I was “too tight”. “Nothing wrong with her periods that losing twenty pounds won’t fix,” the doctor glibly chided as he left the room. I went home and went on my first diet. Shame raged, and the ghosts were born.
I ran. I ran and ran and ran, and still I could not manage to be shaped like the stars on TV. I looked at all the small women, and wondered why I was different. And I ran and binged and ran and binged. Exercise bulimia...that’s what they call it nowadays. Back then it was tear-filled Friday nights crying to my ever-patient mother who waited up for the storm after my babysitting job that always resulted in me eating too many sweets, followed by nausea-inducing runs on Saturday mornings to "make up for it". The ghosts were having a hay day.
“You don’t get to eat. You are fat, You are ugly. You are a loser. You don’t have a boyfriend because you are FAT. FAT FAT FAT FAT FAT.” The hungry ghosts yelled at my constantly, and I would lie in bed falling asleep hungry. I would go to school and be hungry...starve all day and binge in the afternoon when I got home from school. All I fed were the ghosts. I watched my thin friends eating sandwiches, fruit, cheese sticks...good things. All I ever packed in my lunch was two rice cakes with a thin smear of peanut butter, and an apple. I tried to live on crumbs. But the ghosts wouldn't let me.
I did not know how to care for myself. I thought taking care of myself meant drinking diet coke instead of the regular stuff.
And as soon as the running came to an end (I got injured), the weight started to creep. After four babies and a bum thyroid it stopped creeping and just piled. And through the years, the ghosts were with me. Always yammering. Always judging. Always screaming inside my head, full of shame and loathing.
Of course from time to time, I would pull myself up by my own bootstraps and start a diet. I would determine that I’d be good to myself, that this time would be different. But the hungry ghosts who filled me with loathing and shame...they wanted to be fed. Because as long as I fed them, they could keep existing and the cycle of loathing could continue. I could be secure in that comfortable, familiar place where I’d lived for so many years. I never understood why I would sabotage myself. But now I know about the hungry, angry ghosts. The fear I feel when I’m faced with hunger, those are ghost noises, ghost feelings. The anger over all this...when I eat about it, I am feeding the ghosts. Those feelings of helplessness, the desire to throw in the towel...it’s all about the ghosts. I MUST stop feeding the ghosts.
And so my new rule: Don’t feed the ghosts. They will starve, they will shrivel, and they will go away. It will take work. I will have to unlearn a thing or two...but I think I can learn to recognize a ghost when I see one, feel one, hear one, think one.
And through all this, I cling to the advice my priest gave me a year and a half ago: Peter, sinking into the water saying “Jesus, save me!” That is SO me. I am Peter. I am drowning in hungry ghosts. And I cry out “Jesus, save me!”
Don’t feed the hungry ghosts.