When I was a Linguistics and French major in college, I read a lot of Camus: L’Etranger (The Stranger), La Peste (The Plague), and of course, Le Mythe de Sisyphe (The Myth of Sisyphus).
Poor old Sisyphus. Doomed to push the same rock up a mountain every day, only to see it fall to the bottom every night. I mean, it was his own fault, right? He was a sneaky and selfish dude, so God punished him.
Camus himself was a pretty miserable guy, based on everything I’ve read. He was an Absurdist, after all, so he believed that life was purposeless and meaningless, despite humans continually trying to find meaning in it.
How lovely. I preferred reading Voltaire and still do.
But back to Sisyphus. I definitely know how it feels to be trying to move forward and up while carrying a considerable burden. That’s what happens when you’re recovering from trauma. I mean, 15 years of trauma in the sea org can undoubtedly build that burden up.
In my case, the burden has weighed heavily on me—quite literally.
When I escaped from scientology in August 2007, I was exhausted physically, emotionally, mentally, you name it. I was also about 180 pounds—definitely overweight, but not obese.
Over the past 12-1/2 years, I’ve rebuilt my life from the ground up. I’m incredibly proud of how far I’ve come.
One thing I’ve never been proud of, however, is my weight. In February of this year, I hit my all-time high of 247 pounds.
Sure, I dieted. Many times. Then I gained it all back and more. How could I have come so far and still not have handled my weight?
I had no idea, really. But three months ago, I started on a whole new health journey, and it’s been helping tremendously. I have a loving, caring coach and a supportive community.
Things seem different this time. Sure, it’s about the weight, but it’s also about taking good care of myself.
I’ve unburdened so much through writing this and other blogs, that the idea of becoming healthy doesn’t freak me out anymore.
Here’s the thing, though: Why was it freaking me out in the first place?
The Issues are in the Tissues
You know how sometimes you come to things in a roundabout way?
I was scrolling through Netflix on Sunday, trying to find anything I hadn’t already watched—not easy right now. A documentary came up called Cracked Up, about Darrell Hammond from SNL and his battle with mental illness.
I love watching documentaries, so I thought I’d check it out. I didn’t expect much.
That’s when epiphanies happen, right?
As I was watching the film, Darrell was talking about his mental illness and how he discovered childhood trauma at the root of it. They cut to an unassuming, bearded gentleman named Bessel van der Kolk, MD. I looked him up and discovered that he’s a Dutch psychiatrist, author, and educator who’s been studying post-traumatic stress since the 1970s.
He started speaking.
I had to rewind and restart the film a few times to get down everything he said:
“If you cannot tell the truth, you need to lock that reality away. And that reality starts festering inside of you. It becomes [as] Freud said, a splinter in your mind, a splinter in your brain, a splinter in your soul, that starts festering. So anything that cannot be spoken becomes an internal danger to yourself.”
BAM! Lightning bolt!
That made so much sense to me. I didn’t talk openly about scientology for YEARS after I left—not until nine months ago. I was FILLED with splinters.
Later in the film, Dr. Van der Kolk talked about what trauma does to the body:
“Parts of the body that deal with the immune system start to break down, so you get more prone to immune illnesses. Your body’s in a constant state of agitation, so you’re more likely to develop heart disease. You hate your body… so you’re more likely to become obese. You don’t care about yourself because nobody cares about you, so you don’t take care of yourself…”
Obesity. High cholesterol. Anxiety. Drinking every day. Check, check, check, check. Up until a few months ago, anyway.
Now, as I’ve been eating nutritious food, walking more, drinking a ton of water, and skipping the alcohol, I’ve felt some pretty remarkable changes. More than any time before.
I thought, “Great, I get it now. I’ve been handling the trauma so I’m taking better care of myself.”
But Ol’ Dr. Van der Kolk wasn’t done yet:
“We know how to treat trauma. That’s very important. It’s not like we have no alternatives—’Let me just take drugs.’ Doing things like yoga and mindfulness meditation can actually rewire the brain.
“Engaging your own body is an absolutely necessary part of healing. You cannot be passive and sit in a chair and not take care of your body and truly heal from trauma.”
You mean I actually have to heal my body before I can actually heal from the trauma?
I was determined to continue my healthy eating before, but I’m doubly committed now.
I’m also going to meditate more, and add in some yoga. Tom and I have talked about doing yoga for a few years—I guess this is the time.
Hasta la vista, Sisyphus. I’m done pushing that weight uphill.