I am, and have always been hungry. When I was a child, I was audaciously, passionately hungry for life, and theatre was my nourishment. I had one goal: Broadway or bust. As a performer, I was hungry to make a difference in the world. What attracted me to the stage initially was the ability to give to the audience, to offer something of myself, to make an impact on people. I was hungry to matter, to make my mark.
My days were spent making hammy home movies, begging my parents for an agent as soon as I found out what one was, and dragging them to the city for countless auditions. I was hungry for my future – I strived for the best possible grades I could, applied to too many colleges, and really believed in the endless possibilities that my life could hold for me. I was raised believing that if I set clear goals for myself, with a bit of hard work and strategy, they were achievable. – I could experience life to the fullest and reap what it had to offer me with a bit of perseverance.
I experienced 18 years of this ravenous, insatiable hunger. But weeks before graduation, I was confronted with a new, unfamiliar, frightening type of hunger. Having woken from my coma, I have a fuzzy memory of a doctor standing above me, telling me I had no stomach anymore, I could not eat or drink now, and he had no clue if or when I’d ever be able to again. And suddenly my hunger ran deep – a helplessness in a world of uncertainty where childhood dreams and goals were replaced with the drive to simply survive. I was hungry for control of my life again, hungry for answers.
There was no “road map” to recovery for me, just the monotony and angst of passing each day wondering when I’d ever be able to eat or even swallow a single ice cube. Because I had no control or crystal ball, this was merely a wish rather than a goal. Life became scary, surreal – I could pick up food, smell it, feel it warm in my hands,
but was forbidden to put it in my mouth, knowing that this old, familiar friend was now poison to my now-alien body, covered in bags, tubes, and adhesives. I felt stuck in a routine that was out of my control, a pawn in a dangerous game. My new goal: getting through.
I then made a promise to myself – as long as I was going to be hungry, I wanted to keep my old hunger alive too by setting tiny goals for myself – like trying to laugh once a day. These various mini-goals I set under a larger umbrella of the bigger goal I’d manifest each day, more like a desire that with enough dedication and faith would eventually come true: To thrive rather than just survive. I refused to feel like a sick hospital patient tied up with tubes, plugged in like a lamp, bags and drains leaking everywhere. Even though this was my physical reality, I fought against the feeling that I was weak or was less than person who could walk, live, and eat freely. Not being able to sing, or leap across a stage made me feel like I wasn’t myself anymore. So I did anything I could to reclaim my identity. Hungry for myself and for life, which once held endless wonders for me, I set a goal for myself to make a daily gratitude list, even in the bleakest of circumstances.
With an intense desire to let the world know that I was still eager to make that imprint on the world, I couldn’t allow myself to listen to doctors who thought I was too weak to do anything but lie in bed. A month after being discharged from the ICU, I landed the lead role in the musical OLIVER! – tubes, bags, starving, and parched. I was so hungry for my strength back that I put myself through my own physical therapy every day, and ended up leaping across the stage in CATS. I still wanted to make an impact on my community by teaching nursery school, learning karate, and working on a cabaret act.
With a new goal of fearlessness, I didn’t let my new restrictions extinguish my passions. Rather than avoid food, I became obsessed with it and learned how to cook, starting a food blog and making Thanksgiving dinner for 30 guests, still not able to eat a morsel. I played with my hunger by creating a chocolate company, entertaining myself for hours making edible creations for the business I had set up out of sheer starvation.
Eventually, I picked up a paintbrush…and my world changed. I found a way to express things that were too complicated, painful and overwhelming to put into words. The next year, I put hundreds of mixed media and acrylic creations in an art show, displaying work that expressed everything I’ve been through throughout these seven years.
I didn’t expect a turnout, but was surprised by hundreds of guests who came to see what I had done all of these years, to know that I hadn’t just got lost in the woodwork. I was still alive, still vital.
I was unexpectedly betrayed by my own body, tested, dehumanized, and put back together, but differently, like a mosaic. Throughout the struggles, I have always kept that spark of hope in the back of my throat, that I’d be able to share my story, that I have survived this trauma for a reason: to reach out to the world, like I once did as a performer for something more than entertainment. After this detour, I still just want to give to the world, and now I can in a deeper sense.
Now I know that my role in life is still to be that same passionate performer I once aspired to as a child, but now with the even greater gift of a story to tell.
At 27, I still hunger to my mark on the world, perform, finish college, and not let nine years of medical complications and frustrations separate me from my dream of education, connection, and spiritual fulfillment. I will still get there, perhaps by different means, and even a different end. Now with satisfaction in my body, real nourishment flowing through me, and true appreciation of little daily blessings, anything is possible.
Hunger has taught me so much and will always be my intimate companion as I continue to crave inspiration, my mark on the world, and everything life can offer me. Life has taught me that goals aren’t always accomplished…which can be a blessing in disguise. Thank you hunger, thank you life, for giving the opportunity to discover new goals I didn’t realize I could achieve or even had wanted in the first place. You have given my life unexpected meaning by breaking the bonds of expectation.
Photo by arianne leishman