The Night It Culminates — July 7, 2015

The Night It Culminates — July 7, 2015

1280 850 Nathaniel Lee Hansen

It began as a way to cope with a broken engagement in college 18 years ago.

*

My single dorm room stifles me, so I drive to the Super America, buy a bottle of Mountain Dew, bag of chips, Little Debbie Cosmic Brownies. I drive around this college town, drive out in the country, alternating between sad songs and songs by Christian music artists I like. I sing. I sob. I stuff my face.

*

This April evening, the kids in bed, I’m waiting for my wife to return from work. I am (for the thousandth time) searching online for different weight-loss tricks and tips. By some fluke (or maybe not) I am scanning the 20 possible symptoms of food addiction. Check. Check. Check. All but three apply. You’re advised to talk to your doctor if you’ve experienced even one.

Even one? I think. What if you’ve experienced almost all of them?

*

The first 8 weeks of my summer break I tabulate my food intake, most days managing between 1,800-2,000 calories. I exercise at least four days a week. On Saturday afternoons I pull on all my dress pants, and they still fit exactly the same.

*

Whenever I glance in my mirror, my shirt off, I am repulsed. Cellulose gathers above the waistband. I grab the flesh, wish I could rip it off with my hands. I wonder if I could somehow slice it off. Lately, these thoughts have become more common.

*

Whenever I’m eating, I’m thinking about food (the calories, the fat, the sugar). Whenever I’m not eating, I’m thinking about the food I will be (or should be, or won’t be) eating next (the calories, the fat, the sugar). Sleep is the sole stretch of time my thought patterns don’t cycle around food. Sleep is becoming my only escape.

*

Over the last months, I’ve been thinking about how much I’d like to see my ribs again, just as I did in junior high when I was so skinny. My nickname was beanpole. Oh, what I would give, what I would pay, what I would do for that to happen.

*

I am not supposed to have this problem. I’m 40 pounds lighter than at my food-binging worst. I’m a Christian, supposedly not consumed by the things of this world. I’m “educated.” I should know better.

*

This July evening, while my wife is working, I take my two kids to a local waterpark. Even though I know no one is studying me, I wince as I remove my T-shirt, thinking everyone is disgusted by how fat I am.

*

Now I am often thinking of my skinny friends: Adam, Austin, Tim. I am so jealous. I want skinny more than I want anything else. Even more than having a book published. I’m a writer.

*

In junior high and high school, I skip lunch most days, instead taking the dollar lunch money and buying snacks at mid-morning break, so I can play basketball in the gym during lunch time.

My stomach rumbles through afternoon classes, through basketball practice, through track practice. I get hunger pangs that hunch me over in my desk.

*

Maybe this problem precedes college.

*

My kids asleep after their joyful playing at the waterpark, I sit in the recliner. A friend’s post on Facebook reads, “There seems to be a lot of pain and loneliness in the air tonight. I love you.”

I want to cry. It is the nudge. I begin writing.

*

When my wife returns from work, I’m sitting in the darkened living room still writing. I have not bothered to switch on a light.

I throw this burden into the day’s last light that is a line running from the entry way window across the hardwood floor to me.

My face is a mess of tears and snot. I tell her I want to eat like a regular person, without thinking. Just enjoying. Not obsessing. Not spending my day thinking about what I just ate, what I’m eating next. Not adding up numbers. I’m so tired of numbers.

I tell her it feels so wrong to have this problem when so many people in the world lack sufficient food.

She hugs me. Yes, she says, you need help, but it’s going to be okay.

*

Yes, this problem has a history.


 

Nathaniel Lee Hansen

I’m a poet, fiction writer, and essayist. My chapbook, Four Seasons West of the 95th Meridian, was published by Spoon River Poetry Press (2014). My work has appeared in Christianity and Literature, Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland, Blast Furnace, Driftwood Press, Whitefish Review, The Cresset, Midwestern Gothic, and South Dakota Review, among others. I currently serve as an assistant professor of English & Creative Writing at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas. I also edit Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature and direct the annual Windhover Writers’ Festival. When not writing or teaching, I run, read, play piano, listen to music, and play disc golf. My greatest joys are my wife, my son, and my daughter. I was born in southern Minnesota, but while growing up, I had little interest in the Plains and opens spaces. A stint at a rural state liberal arts college in southwestern Minnesota, as well as grad-school stints in northwestern Minnesota and southeastern South Dakota, altered my interests. @plainswriter, plainswriter.com, & www.facebook.com/plainswriter

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10 Comments
  • Nathaniel,

    This is so brave, and I think amazingly common. Thank you for sharing from such a vulnerable place. Have you read Eat With Joy by Rachel Marie Stone? It’s a wonderful book and introduced the idea (to me) that we are all dealing with some sort of eating disorder. It’s a freeing, beautiful book.

    I’m a food writer, so I think about these things a lot and I just want to say: carry on, be brave, eat with people you love. And yes, I’m so glad you’re seeking help. May you find it.

  • Devon Miller-Duggan January 1, 2016 at 6:28 pm

    Yes. I find it helps to remember that the body, created as it is in the image and likeness of Creation Itself, is sacred. And there is nowhere in Scripture that says that image, or that likeness is skinny, fat, athletic, klutzy, conventionally beautiful. The things of this world (especially its noises and its demands) are what empty us, soul AND body. It’s terribly easy to say that Christians who are eating to fill the body-hungers are taking the wrong path, but that, I think, is a manifestation of the separation of the mind/soul and body that has bruised Christianity for 2,000 years.

    Anyway, this is a gutsy, generous, smart piece.

    • Nathaniel Lee Hansen January 2, 2016 at 3:14 pm

      Thanks, Devon, for reading and taking the time to offer your comments. I look forward to seeing you at the festival in February!

      ~Nate

  • Nathaniel Lee Hansen January 1, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    Thanks, Cara, for your thoughtful response. I have not read that book, but I’ll definitely check it out.

    ~Nate

  • Nate,
    Identifying where you need work is the first step. Turning your weakness into your strength is an attainable goal. My father taught me that our bodies are our worst enemy and it is a continously fight for control and to change. You showed me you change and control the education of students, therefore, you have the strength to do the same for yourself.

  • Nathaniel, What a beautifully written post. I was captivated at your vulnerability. I am sure the Lord will use it to draw others closer to Him and receiving help. Blessings on you and your family.

  • Nathaniel Lee Hansen January 2, 2016 at 7:39 am

    Thanks, Beckie, for taking the time to read and to offer encouraging words.

    ~Nate

  • Angela Doll Carlson January 3, 2016 at 12:28 pm

    This is brave, stunning and beautiful. Thanks for your vulnerability, Nathaniel. I recognize myself here.

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