Thursday, August 22, 2013

Vietnam, My Father, A Lot of Vodka & Regret

I started digging into my past four days ago. Those days have forced old ghosts on me, hard memories, and tears that seem to come out of nowhere, stinging my face and making it hard to breathe. Tonight I sit here with a bottle of vodka, determined to keep digging, even if it finally breaks me. I have completely lost any ego I might have had left.

I was an infant without much physical contact, due to the body cast cocoon I lived in for the first years of my life from a severe disability. There were several dark incidents that came later that I don't care to mention here, making me even more distant towards people and society. And so, I made my way into my teens as an emotionally unavailable, distrusting and stubborn kid. I clashed with my father, a man drafted into Vietnam as a kid himself, and sent back home in 1968 a very different person. We had strife in common, but it wasn't a bonding attribute. He died two weeks before Christmas, five years ago.

I've spent this week trying to find my old surgical records. That probably doesn't sound like it had anything to do with my father, but it eventually did. That's another, more personal matter, though. Now apparently, some hospitals destroy records that have been untouched well before 1980. These records would prove I've been disabled since birth. You see, I'm on record for being disabled since 1996- after I'd already started to run my weak body into the ground by leaving home a lot earlier than I should have and taking physical labor jobs. I had no idea I wasn't supposed to.. my condition was never thoroughly explained to me by doctors. So I worked until I collapsed at age 24, and only then did I find out I could have been receiving disability help my whole life. But things happen, and time moves us on..

As I was searching for medical records, I came across a situation that required me to look into my father's military history. And as I dug through more and more material, I began to realize what shaped this man.. for the first time. I learned he drove a truck that picked up the bodies of dead soldiers, and that he had to take the M60 away from the gunman in his passenger seat once and use it to shoot back at incoming sniper fire while speeding to catch up with his convoy.. his gunman froze in fear that day. I also know he came back home in the summer of 1968 and married my mother one year later.

I know he was a gorgeous man. Women loved him, and he loved taking that opportunity every time it presented itself. He was usually busy with either that, or making money. Eventually, he married a gold digger who got everything he ever worked for. I don't think he thought about it much. He was distant. These things, plus some more pretty questionable experiences I won't mention here are all I know about him. And the more I dig, the more I regret. It feels like a million graveyard insects rapidly eating away at me. The atmosphere starts to pull me into what feels like a dream as I read about the late 1960s and listen to what he was listening to on the radio. The whole room seems to get smaller and the air feels heavy and just sits there, bearing down on me like someone's here. And then there are the strange memories of my childhood and elaborate, experimental surgeries I went through. It has brought up a very strange memory I had when I had apparently been drugged and was about "to go under" right before a surgery. I smell a sterile, cold room and I'm lying on a metal table. I can't feel my legs. I see my mother on the other side of the door with a diamond shaped window, looking like she's crying and trying to get back in. There's a doctor pushing her away.

There's an old photo of the hospital in 1974 when I first went in.. it's completely reconstructed now and has become a "trauma center". I have been informed they may not be able to find my records at this point. It seems like these very real things have just been swept away like dust and turned into an illusion that only lives inside my own mind now.

But they are real. I can feel them every time I bend or move, and I can feel a lump in my throat every time I think of my father's young face and the adrenaline that must have been shooting through him while speeding down the dirt road that day, trying to stay alive. Guns can be fucking scary. I've had one in my face before. Your bones freeze and your blood runs hot at the same time. You think you can't handle it, but you're still there.. breathing.. eyes wide open and all sorts of crazy shit running through your brain like you're on some kind of speed. You either let yourself shut down or you start thinking more efficiently than you ever have in your life. And after it's over, thinking about it almost makes you excited.. because you realize you've just won a game against Death.

I didn't go to war. I had my own battles on the East coast of home. But I feel like if he'd just stuck around a little longer, we'd have learned we have a lot in common. I'm sitting here with his death certificate. I had to use it to request his military records today. I can't put it away. I keep looking at the details.. time of death.. who signed the paper.. place of injury.. "home".. "coded in ER"..

Vodka kills pain. It warms you up while you read through things that are tough to read. I've been drinking and watching real footage of Vietnam soldiers in 1967 with no audio. I've been doing it for hours.. and I'm starting to feel a strange kind of calm. It's not nice or happy. It's just calm.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

An Alarming Community

When I have time to get bored, I always end up somewhere my head shouldn't be. I ended up mentally listless recently, and surfing my way into the darker waters of the internet. I found a disturbing sect of the population made up primarily of 12 to 24 year old girls, so obsessed with getting skinny that they saw anorexia as an artistic, beautiful goal they wanted to reach with stars in their eyes. Of course I knew about anorexia, but I had no idea it was practically a subculture now and something that these young girls strive for every day until they end up dead.

It's easy to find. Just type in "thinspiration". And it has levels. "Extreme thinspo".. the heavy metal version of getting thin. Apparently this has gone on for a long time, but is easier to find now that girls know how to upload photos and edit them with "inspirational words". Then you've got your "pro ana" and "pro mia" websites, which are short for pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia. These terms refer to the conditions as a lifestyle, and not as something unhealthy. There are also gobs of tips for making it easier to become bulimic or anorexic, such as what foods are easier to toss up later and how to hide your anorexia from your parents.

The "inspirational" words these girls plaster on pictures of emaciated, dying carcases spin the state of being anorexic into illusions that come across as bizarrely attractive. "Light as a feather", "be fragile", "starvation is fulfilling; sight becomes more colorful", "eating isn't very Chanel".. and the list goes on and gets worse as it does. There are blogs, tumblr accounts, twitters, and thousands of videos on youtube dedicated to it. Girls are building each other up constantly with reminders not to eat and extra ways to burn calories, like standing on your tip toes while you brush your teeth. I managed to come across message boards glamorizing hip and collar bones and how some teenager had one month to "make her bones appear".

There is no easy way to open their eyes to how dangerous and sick this is either, because they believe in "staying strong" and rebelling against what people are trying to tell them to do. The more you push, the further they run.

It's a delicate situation, and their minds are made up. They have an entire community dedicated to bonding together and supporting this abnormal cause. I have no answers, and doctors are failing in their efforts to heal these young girls. And I'm devastated at the notion that it has become an art form. It is now the deadliest trend in body modification.

This has gotten so bad that modeling agencies and fashion designers have come under scrutiny for hiring models with a body mass index of anywhere under 18.5. Numerous models have died from it, including a woman who suffered a heart attack on the runway in Uruguay several years ago. Her sister died shortly after from "malnutrition". Isabelle Caro, a french model, had the onset of it at an early age when her mother wouldn't let her outside for the fear of "the air making children grow up". Isabelle eventually tried to start a campaign against anorexia in the last years of her life, and had begun to train herself to eat. She died on the road, as her body was already wasted beyond the point of being able to heal.

There are so many more factors triggering anorexia nervosa and different types of cases, but most statistics explain that the average person suffering from this disorder is female, from 12-24 years old, usually comes from a middle to upper class family, and is emotionally immature and depressed.
"Experts" are making guesses as to why this is occurring in this particular group of women. Their best guess is an obsession with perfection and trying to live up to overblown, unrealistic society standards. The more I searched through what they call a "life choice", the more I began to realize this was way more complicated than I originally believed. After several days of obsessive curiosity and hours spent scouring over these pages, I began to slowly understand it. And that was the scariest revelation of all. Media is incredibly powerful. And unfortunately, a lot of people don't realize what kind of power they hold when they start a visual, public campaign.

Just another daily revelation on the internet. Although I've known this has gone on forever, my reaction to people with eating disorders has always been a black and white sort of "they're weak and dumb". I was very wrong. It takes some effort to starve yourself to the point of death while fighting every person around you who is trying to get you to stop. Humans instinctively want to eat. There's pain. There's the deterioration of mental faculties as you stop getting nutrients to a young, growing brain. There's the fact that after a while, starvation starts to become easier.

I have only highlighted the trendy, more popularized reason hitting a general target audience. I have brought up pro ana websites that are everywhere, reminding, supporting, and understanding these girls when everyone else may not. Websites full of children reminding their peers that they don't really have to eat, and that the physical pain is "strength building". Kids telling kids not to worry when the brittle hair starts breaking and the skin starts turning yellow and bruising all over.. that they're all experiencing it and pretty soon they're going to be "so thin boys can pick you up without struggling". Girls spending days coming up with "the thin commandments" and numerous tricks to live off 100 calories per day. This is an addiction. It's just as serious, if not more so, than drug addiction. It's a psychological obsession, and it's based around fighting the pain of deterioration and struggling to "stay strong". These girls aren't taking something to make them feel good. They're teaching themselves to accept pain. It's just something to think about.