When I was 12, I made a deal with the Devil.
Even back then, for as long as I could remember, I had a lot of anxiety about my body. I remember worrying about the leotards I wore to gymnastics class when I was only 3. I remember hating the way my thighs spread across my school room chair if I wore shorts in 3rd grade. I remember being put in the row of tall girls on picture day, and assuming that it was because I was fat. There were a lot of factors, but by the time I was 12, I felt like my life was completely out of my control, and I wasn’t happy.
That’s when I met Ana.
There she was. I will never forget that radiant vision of beauty: a delicate, willowy apparition of perfection. Totally beautiful. Totally perfect. Everything I longed for. I absolutely worshipped her. She told me that if I followed her, I would have everything I wanted – beauty, perfection, happiness, security and control.
It was around that time that the Devil himself appeared, reached over and offered me a single, perfect apple. “If you do as I say, and obey me, I’ll give you everything you want. You’ll be perfect. You’ll be like a goddess. Ignore everyone else. I’ll show you the way.”
I had to have that. I knew that I would never truly be happy until I had that life. That body. That control. While there were many aspects of my life that made me feel powerless and ugly, here was a goal that I could fully immerse myself in – and no one could stop me! I gave over my heart and mind. I was strong enough to put off the temporary rewards of today because I had a much higher goal. And that goal became my life.
* * *
Chasing Ana was like chasing a mirage in the dessert. I would chase her to the horizon, only to find that she was still 10 more miles away. I’d look in the mirror, and remind myself how dissatisfied I was. I’d catch her clearly in my sights again. I’d chase her again. Beyond the edge of the horizon – across the sea – over the mountains, down into the valley and back again.
Almost ten years went by.
One day in college, I looked in the mirror and realized that the 12 year old inside of me was thoroughly angry. After all of those years of loyal service to Ana, and following her every command, I only hated myself more. Instead of the radiant image I should have seen by then, my skin just looked gray. My eyes looked dull, and my once thick, shining curls were a dry, straw-like mess falling out by the gobs. Bouts of starvation ate away my muscle, making me feel flabby and weak. When I did become exhausted by the merry-go-round routine and try to eat normally, my body rebelled and my confused belly would swell up horribly. “Tisk tisk. Follow me,” said Ana. Always back to the drawing board – back to Ana. I never felt the satisfaction. I never experienced that confidence – but there was Ana again, promising it just beyond the next hill, the next pound, the next landmark.
Not just my skin, but LIFE was thoroughly gray. I needed to feel something, so I cut. I needed to want something, so I starved. I needed to love someone, but there was too much deep, deep sorrow that needed comfort. It was the deepest, darkest sadness: the one I call despair – which means to be without hope.
No one in the universe can understand despair unless they have experienced it. It is in fact, the very worst kind of sorrow. It’s like the never-ending wail of a person in deep, deep mourning, but carried secretly in your own soul day by day. The person who has no hope feels no reason to exist. No value in being. No motivation to carry on. No reason to wake up in the morning or do something as simple as walk up the stairs. It’s just. too. heavy.
* * *
You see, devils rarely keep their promises.
Where I had been promised success, I only experienced deeper feelings of failure. Where I had been promised glamorous beauty, I had received a broken body. Where I had been promised control, I became more powerless… Where I had been promised love and admiration, I received a string of broken relationships… and then the despair.
Oh no, no escape! No comfort! I wailed in deepest agony, driving my clunky old Honda down a bleak midwinter country road. The sky way gray. Tears, snot and drool all gushed down my gray skin. So much sorrow. Trapped. I could not live any longer with Ana – I wanted to die. But I also felt I could never live without her. How would I face life without her? Could I ever face life without her? I did not believe I could. I thought there was no possible way I could ever be happy by giving up her invisible promise. I was afraid I would become everything I hated. She was so tightly engrained in my being. I felt no escape. No hope. Utter despair.
As someone who has taken your path to the ends of the earth and beyond,
My dear, dear sisters –
It’s just a mirage.
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