May 28, 2014

Ready, Set? No, actually, not really: Payson Road 2.0

Reposted from www.sarahemason.com 

Something got in the way of beating my eating disorder. Oh right, me. It's taken many years to come to a place of balance with my addiction. Like alcoholics are always alcoholics, I'll always be a food addict. What's frustrating for so many of us is that we can't simply avoid eating. So it becomes all about re-negotiating our contract with food.

For many years I was an "active' member in the eating disorder community. My website, Payson Road was a pioneering site for the cause and was really one of the first blogs before the term was coined. Sadly now it's something of a dusty old museum. One that you may stumble upon if you're on an off the beaten path road trip through the internet. But it's legacy remains. We helped a lot of people find their voice and a path toward healing. And there's a lot of cool content on there in the form of poetry, editorial articles, healing exercises, resources etc. Which is why I don't have the heart to get rid of it. It's kinda my Grey Gardens, minus all the decay and smell.

Clearly the major difference between now and the early days of internet grouping and blogging and self helping is, social media. Instead of anonymously posting mean comments across random sites and social media outlets, folks with a rant, or in our case, a need for support, would take to Yahoo! Groups for refuge. That's where it all started. Posting onto the Payson Road Yahoo! Group where slowly but surely a loyal audience was cultivated. From there paysonroad.com was born. And it was incredible. It felt like we were doing something so positive and worthwhile, not just for ourselves but for life, for the planet, for people. We had a small counsel who contributed to content, and ideas and the overall cause. We had a Great Wall of Poetry for Christ Sakes! What what? With truly inspiring and beautiful poems. We traveled to Washington D.C. to lobby and promote the need for more awareness and resources for those struggling with eating disorders. And most crucially, we mentored each other.

Being a champion for eating disorder awareness and recovery was exhausting. I burnt out. It happens, you throw so much of yourself and your energy into something and burnout is almost inevitable. But the truth is, I wasn't being honest with where I was at with my own recovery. And it's something so easy to do as a Bulimic. We live a life of lies. We may let people in for awhile, and share our experiences but we never fully disclose everything, continuously. And the shame of not fully revealing drives us to hide it even deeper. This is, I believe, largely due to the fact that recovery is an ongoing process vs. a happening. It is never this "Ah HA!" moment where we wake up and say, "That ED shit is over!" Yet, culturally, people need to feel that we've recovered. If you've shared the problem with friends and family, they will be compassionate for awhile, mostly shocked, why didn't I know, etc etc, how can I help, you know you can tell me anything. But ultimately, they want it to be over. And I'm not saying this to be unkind it's just human nature. Nobody wants to deal with uncomfortable shit. So you adopt this story which is, Sarah had an eating disorder but now she's all better. You okay now everyone? There's something about eating disorders that make people more uncomfortable then anything, even drugs and alcohol. I think it's because we aren't, for the vast majority, taken out of society for our crimes. We function. And that ability to function, yet still have this problem, unnerves people.  So it's a troubling predicament and a vicious cycle for us. Our eating disorder is born out of an inability to take care of our own needs, and we continue that cycle by not reaching out for the support we need so we can take care of the people around us and their need for us to be recovered.

Yikes.

Somehow I know I'm not speaking for just myself with this little soliloquy. We know each other, oh too well. And there's many of us out there. Payson Road was a safe haven for all this confusion and lack of correct need appropriation but the Payson Road format doesn't lend itself to today's new order. It's a problem and I have yet to find the remedy. Amidst a screaming sea of social narcissism can anything truly be a place of comfort?

Perhaps it's my 40s that has me feeling more cynical about how we treat each other today, but I definitely have this overall icky feeling that we ain't very nice to each other no more. And that sucks. What frustrates me the most about the digital world today is the mean spirited nature that is so prevalent. Read any article posted anywhere, watch any Youtube video and you'll find at minimum one, generally several, mean anonymous posts. It's puzzling to me. Where did all these masked ranters come from? Is it a younger generation that wasn't around in the early days of the world wide web? Or are we all so insecure, frustrated and bored that we've simply been waiting for a forum to secretly voice these thoughts?

A few months back one of my step brothers was in a horrible boating accident. He barely escaped with his life. His two best friends, in the boat with him died. It was a nightmare for our family. A couple of the websites that had posted the video of his coast guard rescue were filled with dozens upon dozens of hater comments. See they were duck hunting when their boat started to take in water and somehow that became the only point that mattered to the anonymous ranters.  The water was so freezing that it was impossible to survive in that temperature. It was a miracle my brother made it out alive. But it was not without major damage and much impact on himself and everyone around him. Upon reading about this sad tragedy, several people took to posting hateful comments to the tune of, "They were duck hunters so they got what they deserved." What?? This was unbelievable to me. I'm not a fan of duck hunting but what does that have to do with anything, people died! Not knowing our family, or any of the people involved, they did what so many folks do online, post mean anonymous comments without any knowledge or regard for the facts, the people this effected or for the fact that lives were lost. This kind of mean, unsolicited hate is not the internet I grew up surfing. What's happened to us?

So why would I wanna take this wonderful creative, healing place I started and turn it lose on the anonymous haters? It's not that I'm afraid to put it Payson Road out there again, it's that I'm not sure it will or can be heard in the way that it once was. Or that we could re-create what we once had. I'd love to be wrong about this. Because there's so many people that need to connect to other people living and struggling with eating disorders. What Payson Road did so successfully was to provide a non judgmental forum for voicing and expressing ones fears, needs, struggles and everyone got the support they were seeking. I fear that in today's world, it's impossible to escape judgment and ridicule. The only way to really deal with it is to turn it around. Jimmy Kimmel does this so brilliantly with his Mean Tweets segment. He recruits celebrities then video tapes them doing a cold reading of a mean tweet about themselves. It's hilarious, and the perfect revenge. But the problem for eating disorder folks is, it's already so challenging to disclose that you even have an eating disorder as it is. So telling people that if they share with the world their inner sacred truths, some anonymous jerk may retweet their post with some horribly disparaging comments or post a ranting hate message. Not the best selling point. We already deal with a complete lack of understanding for our disease. It's not politically incorrect to make bulimic jokes. Every once and awhile I'll hear one in a [probably Sandler] movie and think, wow, they're still wheeling that one out? So if mainstream media is fine with it, the underground posters brigade will surely have no qualms about saying anything.


We did deal with this a bit on Payson Road. But we labeled it very clearly as "abuse". And people who violated our guidelines, got the boot. You can't do that anymore. It's a virtual wild wild west out there and there's a lotta big gunslingers. Now, I'm a big girl and I know that when you put something out into the universe, you are going to get the good with the bad. I'm a writer, I know this oh too well. But there's something particularly lacking in grace in today's online community that sets it apart from the normal, use or misuse of a forum.

So this is my dilemma, and I guess unofficial explanation to everyone in the Payson Road community who have been waiting for the reincarnation, Payson Road 2.0 for many years now. Maybe v1.0 was it. That does not mean I am not trying to sort out how, or what, 2.0 might be. After all, our mascot is a butterfly, and transformation is something we do well. So I will continue to seek out the right forumfor Payson Road. Meantime, the blog is still up @Payson Road Blog but it hasn't been regularly active. I would love to change that, with your help.

We've all gone about our lives and lost touch. I'm the chief offender of this. Sometimes I think we lose touch because that time in our lives that was so centered around Payson Road was so honest, and real. And maybe we don't always, or can't always be that revealing. I know I've felt that way. That in order to get from day to day, I can't go there. But I think now, I gotta go back there. Maybe not back, forward but it's time to be honest again. My first step in getting back to my truth is to get back to writing.

For several years, I've strayed from writing and it's taken a toll on my soul. Payson Road was so special to me, not just because of the community but because it gave me a forum to express myself through writing. Not sure fully why this happened but it is very definitely intertwined with my eating disorder. The last few years have been tough. I've had several accidents, more orthopedic surgeries and trauma. But instead of expressing how I felt through writing, I stuffed it and fell into that ol' familiar coping mechanism, the binge-purge-repeat. Oh and clean. Obsessively. It's amazing how ingrained that pattern is even after years of separation. It's still the one you run too, innately almost. Like an old annoying friend who you can't seem to break up with for history sake though you know how incredibly dysfunctional and toxic the relationship is. So here I was, hanging out with Ed again. And he would grab my hand and take me on fantastic rides with the top down, always assuring me it was safe and I'd be home before dawn. And like the many times I'd been there before, I lost sight of who I really was. This time was a bit different. My body is old for one thing, so as tough a broad as I am, I can't take what I used to take. Thank God for that. But still, I managed to inflict a bit more damage and pain onto my very orthopedically compromised body. I've spent several years recovering from the fruits of Ed's labor. I'll spare you the gory details but I will say this, I haven't lost my flair for spectacular drama. Though I've come to the conclusion that it's better served in the stories I write. Because I know who I am. I'm a writer. Have been since I was seven years old. It's my first true love and it defines me as a human.

Coming to this conclusion was my birthday present to myself this year. I refocused my business on writing projects and I wrote my first novel! It's not the story I said I was going to write about my eating disorder, it's something completely different. And I realize that only now, could I have written this story. I guess it was supposed to happen just as it did.

Finding my way back to writing has been a new healing process for me. Step two, finding a way to help us all find a way back to supporting each other. I'm starting with this blog. I hope you guys will join me. I encourage you to post and if you're inspired to write or share, do it! You can post in the comments or on the Share page -- send me anything you have and I will put it up.

Miss you guys.

xoS


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