I’ve got a stack of books I want to read. They vary from cookbooks to memoirs, New York Times’ ten best of whatever lists, and various recommendations. I don’t always choose the order; sometimes it is as simple as the next book on the everygrowing stack.
So, I found it slightly ironic that I found myself diving into Roxane Gay’s brilliant memoir Hunger the day after Thanksgiving. In this heartbreaking and uplifting (is that possible?) work, Gay explores her life through the lens of her body, and how—as a victim of gang rape at the age of twelve—her body became the repository of her pain. And how her hunger for food was really a hunger for so much more. As she tells her father at one point in the book, I know that hunger is in the mind and the body and the heart and the soul.
I have definitely struggled with hunger—of all kinds. Trying to fill a void, a very old void. Gay talks about a before and after in her book, before the rape and after the rape. Many of us can point to a particular event in our lives when it all changed, when our innocence was ripped away, but for many of us—like me—we can’t find that moment in time.
There has always been a lingering feeling inside of me. Of dread. A fear that something is terribly wrong. And for so many years, rather than facing the fear, or hunger for safety, I depended on others for strength. And answers.
Which, as we all know, is a recipe for living a boundary-less life! For living a life where we allow others to set our baseline.
And which, I’m guessing, is something many of us faced over the past week, as we probably had a lot of family time—which can be wonderful, but also challenging. A lot can come up! A lot of emotional hunger, as we are filling our plates with turkey and mashed potatoes.
So I found myself, as I neared the end of Hunger realizing that my own hunger for safety had allowed me to have very hazy boundaries and put my baseline in the hands of others. Wow.
But oh, if life was as simple as having a realization and then poof—all struggles disappear! Not so easy. But it is a first step. Realizing that you and only you can set your baseline. Only you can decide what is appropriate for you, how many hugs you want to give or what you feel comfortable eating, or how you spend your time. Only you can decide your boundaries and how much or little or how you interact with your friends and family.
These baselines and boundaries are sacred. They should be honored and we should never guilt one another into disrespecting them. And we should honor our hunger, our desire. What is it we truly want to say or eat or feel? We deserve to be heard. By ourselves. It starts there.