The Act of Eating: Healing, Writing, and Visualization

I’ve been working on a piece that I want to submit for publication, essentially it uses three authors’ work and explores the impact of of their writing on my life and my perception of experience, gender expectations, emotional honesty, and the fog of depression I’ve lived in far longer than I’d realized.  But something happened as I wrote.  It’s not an uncommon recursive experience, and I’m sure every writer of any genre or medium has their own experience with the give and take that goes on during the act of creation.

“I have a history of making decisions very quickly about men. I have always fallen in love fast and without measuring risks. I have a tendency not only to see the best in everyone, but to assume that everyone is emotionally capable of reaching his highest potential. I have fallen in love more times than I care to count with the highest potential of a man, rather than with the man himself, and I have hung on to the relationship for a long time (sometimes far too long) waiting for the man to ascend to his own greatness. Many times in romance I have been a victim of my own optimism.”

Elizabeth Gilbert

To Write is to Live a Second Life

Every essay I write represents an intellectual or emotional journey. Sometimes, it’s both. I drink a lot of coffee, smoke too many cigarettes, make food, walk the dog. All the while, I’m rummaging through my interior space, trying out imagery, running fingers over phrases and comparing them with concepts I’ve gathered over the years.

At times, this practice is like walking through a museum or a jewelry store showroom. Everything is neatly curated and labeled. There is no dust and ideas scintillate beneath carefully crafted lighting designs. Falling CowMore often it feels like I’m trying to clean out the attic of a recently deceased hoarder-kleptomaniac who I never met. I am constantly asking myself why something was kept, where it came from or how it wound up here–when I can figure out what it is to begin with, anyway.


“I am only an Egg.”

I started out with the image of a shoe box. It represented the isolation of a part of myself in the wake of personal grief. Because I often keep bits of important memorabilia in boxes like this, it was an easy representation for the way I’ve held onto bitterness, heartache, and shame. But it wasn’t quite right the purposes of my essay.  It was a thing apart from me.  I wasn’t in the box with the odd bits of damaged ego and feelings of betrayal.  Moreover, that image felt too other.  I have to acknowledge my part in creating this isolation, in maintaining the emotional connection to the damaging events I experienced.

Rather, I feel like a chick or a lizard that has been trapped within an egg with these things. They were impossibly close, and there was no other source of nourishment, given the closed nature of the egg. But I refused to consume them, having the idea that, to eat such bitterness voluntarily would destroy me. At the same time, I either would not or could not break the shell to free myself.  Hence, there was an impasse, a state of limbo in which I could not reconcile myself to these experiences and I couldn’t move forward with a healing process or, really, life.


Imagery Inherent

What do we know about actual eating? When we consume something, we access the stored energy in the food and put it to use making new bits of ourselves or carrying out daily life processes.  The ham sandwich you had for lunch is now a part of you.  No, your right pinky finger does not have actual recognizable particles of ham or rye bread or mustard.  Energy isn’t good or bad and its nature is uniform at this level.  It has been broken down to such an extent that the body doesn’t care very much what it used to be–glucose, the food of the brain, is the ultimate destination for everything, from complex carbohydrates to fats to animal and plant proteins.  Other nutrient bits get redirected before that point is reached.

While this is a drastic oversimplification of a complex chemical process, it will stand for the point I’m trying to make, here.  I tried to ignore the fact that I was, in some way, seriously injured.  In a desperate attempt to heal itself, some part of me created a hard, non-permeable barrier between me and the rest of the world on an emotional level.  But it bricked in the source of pain along with me.  I’ve spent almost four years trying to make myself as small as possible to avoid contact with what I can see, feel, and recognize as toxic emotion.  Hence, why would I want to eat this poison stuff?

Because eating darkness won’t necessarily make you die.  When you have no other choice, it’s the only way to get rid of it.  Plus, given my imagery above, it’s the only way to be strong enough to break out of the shell.  Egg teeth don’t grow on trees, you know.  How I arrived at this decision, which is either so totally silly or completely obvious, it’s difficult to explain.  Lately, there’s been a great deal of soul work happening–learning how to ask for what I want, kicking cultural guilt to the curb, giving myself permission to deviate from cultural expectations of gendered behaviors and features, allowing myself to look beyond here and now to what I need for my life.

This is why, I think many people tend to lump this type of experience under the heading of Spiritual, because then, you’re not expected to make any sense or attempt to explain anything.  I’m going to leave that where it is, because to discuss the unproblematic reliance upon a body of cultural myth is an entire entry in itself.  If you like that stuff, great.  You do you.


Evidence of the Senses

At the same time, I recognize the power of what we call transcendent experiences, which often do defy correlation to other features of our lived experience overall.  There is a powerful link between mind and body–between the imagination and the physical self–that lends apparent rationale to our search for the numinous.  We are a species attuned and outfitted to feel awe, wonder, revelation–call it what you want.  And we are junkies for it.

I sat on my front stoop yesterday, drinking coffee and staring into space.  I was working on the overall shape for my essay.  Without much preamble, I barked my shin on the realization that I should “eat” this stuff.  It wasn’t a pleasant thought, with attendant images of mother cows eating the afterbirth of their calves in order to ward off predators or the incomplete chick/reptile eating its own amniotic remnants to draw energy for breaking out of the shell.


Portal_Cake_by_PandaxninjaNot bothering to give what I was about to metaphorically choke down too many descriptors–sort of in the way you don’t look to closely at something you hate, but your doctor tells you to eat–I imagined eating it.  And I felt it.  I chewed this nothing-something and swallowed it.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  This morning, I woke, and felt something was different.  The nothing-something is no longer a separate thing to be avoided, but has been introduced to the process of intellectual digestion.

I cannot say how long this process will take, but I know better than to assume healing to be such an easy, one-step task.  But the stuff is being broken, rather than breaking me.  And I will use it to build new bits, to fuel my life.  Because this is what the act of eating has always been about–transmutation in both the most and least magical sense possible.





3 thoughts on “The Act of Eating: Healing, Writing, and Visualization

  1. This is a very powerful moment, Erin. It takes guts to really absorb those broken parts and to convert their old energy into something new. What will it be? Who knows, right? That’s the thrill and terror of a voyage of discovery.

    This reminded me of an old book (and if I’ve mentioned it before, forgive me; I’m getting forgetful). “Our Many Selves,” by Elizabeth O’Connor. It’s out of print, probably. But in it she talks about a similar concept to your’s, that of “shadow selves.” And the painful process of facing and reintegrating them.

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