Hunkered Down


It has been years since I wrote here at all about my own eating-disordered history. But as I learn more these days about the incredible research that has gone on in the twenty-plus years since I was in the grip of anorexic and bulimic behaviors, as I witness the depth and incredibly hard work of girls in treatment, it has occurred to me that I underwent “recovery” more or less alone. I’ve been feeling tender lately towards myself at that age, and the parts of her I still carry.

In a meme making the rounds, you are assigned an age, then share where you lived and worked, to whom (or what) you were married, what you feared, etc. first then, and then today. I added “I discovered/am discovering” to mine.

Reading the responses as they rolled in through that viral cyber-network was fascinating. In a few words, I learned things about people, some of whom I already know a lot about, others I’ve only met virtually. What struck me were the commonalities. So many of us, different ages, different locations, afraid of missing our lives or our children’s, discovering self-love, courage, presence.

But I paused for a long while next to the “I fear” prompt, drawing a blank. Was it really possible that I feared nothing? This seemed unlikely. Being trapped in a burning building? Climate change? Gun-wielding ignorance? My kids watching too much TV? Right-wing homophobes? Not preparing enough home-cooked meals? Something horrible happening at my children’s school and not being able to get to them? Redundancy?

I settled on writing “fear-mongering” itself. Which is true; living and raising kids in a culture that thrives on fear and feeds off of its own pervasive anxiety scares me in a way. And I am really not afraid of much by way of things-that-could-happen, or rats or mice. Lice, maybe… But it also felt glib, and the whole little exercise got me thinking.

The more I thought about it and let it swirl around like the snow outside as it gathers force, the more I saw that my fears are in fact plentiful, and maybe I’m just loathe to admit it. I’m afraid I’m not providing my kids with the kind of life I wish for them, the imaginary one full of creativity and home-schooling and joy. Afraid I’m perpetually someone who imagines other lives. Afraid of my own bad habits or old patterns, and that I will never surmount them. Afraid of getting sick and not getting to see my girls grow up. Afraid of being too serious.

What’s the shame in voicing such fears? They are just that–that much I get–and I’m inclined towards the relief of being honest, just saying rather than pumping them with the performance-enhancing dope of denial. Too much, not enough. Guilt. Self-induced pressure to be better or different. Everything falls into these camps that form an old yarn I’ve heard and written about a thousand times, if not of late.

There was a time when my fears were very concrete-feeling, very real–I was terrified of losing my kids when I came out.

Tonight, my girls are at my sister’s house, hunkered down for the night. While we were hanging out over there this afternoon, we learned that non-emergency vehicles would be banned from driving after 4:00pm. My brother-in-law came home with “The Titanic,” and both girls said they wanted to stay for the night. A couple of hours after I returned home to let the dog out, Pearlie changed her mind. She cried on the phone, briefly distracted by an alphabet game I suggested we play. I know a girl named Ella who sells eggs in Edinborough.And two hours after that, she called again to say goodnight after a fierce game of Monopoly with her cousins.

Afraid of not being there for her, with her. Afraid of not being a good enough mama. Afraid of the storms of pre-adolescence, and of doing or saying things that make it harder instead of easier. Afraid, sometimes, that I missed some basic training that would have me feel more prepared for feeling like I know what to do or say,.

Of course, the training is ongoing, and it’s called being alive. Being human. Being here. Coming home to mantras of “just right” and “right on time” and “everything is as it should be” that have saved me before, learning how to co-exist with sadness, vulnerability, anger, or fear, that it isn’t my job to make anything better, and that we’re all more resilient than I sometimes remember.

On the one hand, we’re seeped in a culture of fear, and on the other, exposed to a barrage of ways to “love your life.” I have this nagging suspicion that the two are related, and one can activate the other. I want to opt out of both and just be.

There are circumstances bigger than me right now that are painful to live with–I want more than anything to be with Mani and for our girls to be together, to be making one home and sharing a life. As Linda Pastan wrote, in a poem I have returned to and referenced again and again over so many years, the dream “is there all day / as an animal is there / under the table, / as the stars are there / even in full sun.”

I believe this. This is my faith. My entire existence is a prayer to that dream, and a practice of seeing things as they are. How could anyone be anything but good enough–when “anything but” is little more than a mindfuck?

Maezen teaches, “This is something we do alone, but this is not something we do alone.” I may have recovered alone, but healing and growing up are no longer things I have to do alone. And so I write. I love. Listen to the howling wind, give thanks that my children are safe and warm and loved, hunker down and do my best.

When I went looking for the post where she first wrote those words, I landed on this one instead. And it was just right.

Sometimes, only rarely, I can see so plainly that the dharma–the true teaching–is not something that I have to find elsewhere. It is not something to study or acquire. It is not something to do. It is not a metaphor for something else. It is all there is! Yes, like all signs we encounter in our life, the peacock is auspicious. “Enter here,” she reminds me. “This means you.”

Roost here, old girl, roost here.

3 thoughts on “Hunkered Down

  1. Pamela says:

    Thank you Jena!! I had SUCH a challenging day with my oldest. I am worn out and exhausted and although my intentions were good all day and although I wanted to do the right thing I also made mistakes. Now I want to be “anything but.” Thank you for reminding me that this is the dharma, that lives of homeschooling and pure bliss are imaginary, that parenting – and living – are rife with mistakes and I am not alone. Sending love to you. May it swirl like the snow.



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