I have been with my therapist for about four years now. In that time, through tears and laughter, we have managed to pinpoint the source of most of my angst in life – food, erections and alcohol.
My addiction to these three things is what keeps us together, and if it weren’t for the claims to my medical aid, I would call them the best relationships of my life. The sessions that aren’t about these demons that live inside me are fillers in the space. A bit about my work and business, but mostly she helps me try to untangle myself from these afflictions.
My mother died when I was 12. On a cold Sunday night, she gave in to the cancer that had ravaged her body. The last time I saw her, she was in a coffin in the bedroom that she had shared with my father.
I touched her face, it was ice-cold, as cold as life would be from then on. I pulled my hand back.
In the months and years following her death, the hand I pulled from her icy face buried itself in the warmth of food containers. That warmth would eventually fill my mouth, travel past my heart and settle in my stomach, leaving me full and close to any other feelings.
My therapist told me that a 12-year-old would not be able to tell when a person is breaking, especially if that person is them.
In the emptiness that enveloped us after Mama left, Papa fetched all the words he was unable to say and all the affection he was unable to show us from the grocery store aisles. Feeding us was his way of showing love and affirmation, and that was how I learnt how to taste home as opposed to feeling it.
I taught myself how to swallow love instead of hearing it. And that is how I grew into a 36-year-old woman who lives and navigates the world in a body that is fat, but who is finally able to demand dignity in spite of being fat.
In January, I went to see a well-known dietician in Polokwane. She’s hailed for being able to get even the most obese people to realise their weight-loss goals. My friend Nthabiseng came with me and, from the moment we arrived, I complained about the seats in the waiting room. She asked me to calm down. I put it down to my anxiety. I had not weighed myself in months.
I followed an aide into a room where all measurements are supposed to be taken. He kept on saying my surname wrong and I gave up trying to correct him.
Then he whipped out the smallest blood pressure cuff. I asked him how he expected to get an accurate reading with it, and he said: “We try three times and use the average.”
I was seething. Nthabiseng shot me a look, I kept quiet. Eventually, we went in to see the dietician. I took one look at her delicate little chairs and wanted to leave. But I didn’t. Instead, I asked her where she expected me to sit. That’s the first time in my whole life I ever demanded to be treated with dignity as far as my fatness is concerned.
I dismissed any feelings the next person may harbour about my body, forcing them to afford me my dignity.
In the conversation I had with the dietician after they found me an acceptable chair, I told her that I would write about that moment one day.
Then I told her how violent and opportunistic her practice was for claiming to have an interest in helping obese people while inviting them into a space that demanded they shrink.
I spoke in that moment for the many times I had let slide comments and unsolicited weight “advice” from friends, loved ones and strangers.
I gave her a tongue-lashing for every doctor who had ever looked disappointed with my normal sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol readings.
In that moment, I travelled back in time to finally hold with love my 16-year-old self, traumatised by the idea of never getting to witness an erect penis.
Men loved and slept with beautiful women, romance books said. No one had ever said anyone who looked like me was beautiful.
I was 16, overweight and had pimples. And although it would be years before my first encounter with an erect penis, my obsession with it began then. Even though it would be years before I started using alcohol as a blanket to hide under, my relationship with it began then.
In that dietician’s office at age 36, I stood tall, fat and dignified. She didn’t care, but it did not matter because it wasn’t her moment.