Sometimes you are ready for level two and sometimes level two just happens to you. I believe that life is about a level system, but different then the level system that happens when someone is in treatment. When you are in treatment, the levels are about finishing one and graduating to the next and making sure you are fully ready to move on and up-the entire process is full of so much rigidity and fear. But I think we all know that this is not reality and this is very much not how life works. Sometimes we are given things in life that push us on up in a level before we are ready to graduate and go up on our own. This idea that I express very much feels like a true depiction of my experience with this process and journey through the story of UnMasqued.
I joined Recovery Through Performance feeling as though I had my recovery very much in the bag. In fact, on day one I came in and admitted to the group that I felt as if I could not relate to their stories and I expressed that I felt like I was unsure about being in the show because I did not “have” an Eating Disorder anymore. It is crazy to me that these words came out of my mouth just three short months ago. I sit here about to enter performance week and I feel so full. Yes, I usually feel full of food, but this time the fullness is so much more than just from a bagel and cream cheese. It is the type of fullness that you never want to let go of. This fullness alludes to the amazement, and inspiration, and strength, and gratitude and so much more that I feel from this process and the rad humans that I have been blessed to get to know. This process has given me so much more than just hope for my recovery, but it has given me a direction and a path that I hope to follow one day.
I am currently in school for Social Work here in NYC, and I have always known that I wanted to be a clinical psychodynamic therapist. I guess you can say that I kind of came out of the womb helping others, literally. My seemingly random initiation of an early birth alerted doctors to the fact that my twin brother was struggling to survive. Had I not inadvertently spurred an early delivery, he would have died. Ever since then, I’ve always been drawn to the idea of connection through supporting others. For many years I felt like Social Work was my destination and the goal of my life’s work. But as I went through this process, and as I watched what was in front of me, and as I get ready for this incredible weekend of performances, it has become clear to me that my dream and life’s work will not end with a Masters in Social Work. I don’t know how, or when, or even why, but I do know that I feel so beyond compelled to explore this direction of Lieba as a drama therapist. I love the bridge of drama therapy. The bridge between classic “clinical talk therapy” which I am being trained in daily and the work of incorporating your body in to that process of talk therapy. If there is one thing that I have learned through this process, it is that my body wants to be present. It wants to sit big and laugh with a full heart and speak about more than just “feeling fat”. It wants to run on stage and open doors and go all in. I loved interacting with drama therapy and learning a new modality to go about my work with my clients. If nothing else, I am thankful to this project and the leaders for showing me the beauty in something I have always wanted, but never knew that I was capable of going after.
I feel like I surrendered to this process and literally “got to work”. It was not easy, and time and time again I crafted the email to send to Laura Wood that says, “I quit. I can’t do this. I am not strong enough. I am not good enough. I don’t know how to act. I don’t know how to be in a show about my life’s biggest vulnerable.” But the crazy part is at the end of the day I decided to push through all that self-doubt and walk away from the send button. I pushed past pain and vulnerability and guilt and shame and self-hate and doubt and so much more. I pushed past everything in me that was telling me no, no, no, and then I responded by saying, Lieba go, go, go. This process was about letting myself do something that was unclear at the beginning; we had no idea how and if this play would work out. I did not know how I would get over the next hurdle that was in front of me through this process. I did not know how it would work with living over an hour away from rehearsal, or having flights booked to be in Portland, Oregon the weekend of performances, or having to navigate around religious observance, or the dialectic of two groups with opposing philosophies— but the crazy part is that after all that and everything in me telling me to walk away from it all… it ended up working out and surpassing any expectation I walked in with. I was able to make it work and find my humanness and grow and grow and grow to be the best Lieba I can be.
The show is not about this coming weekend and the end result that the audience sees as they walk through the door. This weekend is about taking off the masques physically and emotionally that I have been suffocating under for almost a decade. This weekend is about wearing a hot pair of pants and fucking owning my body in it. This weekend is about being so proud of the women that I stand on stage with and are no longer just my cast, but some of my best friends. This show is about doing everything that I have been told not to do for my entire life and doing it anyway. I was told don’t yell, so I yell. I was told don’t swear, so I swear. I was told don’t point, so I point. I was told don’t wear pants, so I wear pants. I was told don’t be vulnerable, so I am vulnerable. Doing what I want and using my voice in all the power that it has is healing. It is healing to not listen to the expectations of what society, or religion, or this Eating Disorder wants from me is beyond words. I am so beyond excited to walk on that stage on Thursday and take back the power and so much more that I have let everyone else in my life dictate for way too long at this point.
I sit here in my bed writing and thinking and exploring and I as I do those things I listen to Simon and Garfunkel in the background. S and G have been a source of inspiration and a running theme through this process. I listen to the words of Bridge Over Troubled Water and I am beyond moved because I am not sure how Simon and Garfunkel had any idea how to express my experience in Recovery Through Performance, but as I listen and smile and think I am overwhelmed by the accuracy of lyrics. The song articulates more authentically what this experience has been for me than sometimes I am able to articulate myself. The songs open up with a very clear image in my mind… It says when you’re weary, and feeling small it…. and this to me is what my personal demon of the Eating Disorder wants for me. It wants me to conform and not feel big and not take up space and not light up a room with a character full of life. But the process of UnMasqued has shut that down and not let the Eating Disorder get what it wants from me. The song continues with, when tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all… and I think a reality that is important to express is that this has not been a “dry” process for me in any way. The amount of tears I have cried and wine I have drunk through this process is larger than life, but the amazing thing is that the support around me and my fellow cast mates in this project has never made me feel alone with those tears in my eyes. Tears are healthy and good and growth comes from that moment of a good cry. Sometimes even a wailing “child cry” was necessary, but from that only came more growth and more self-discovery. The last line I want to reflect on from Bridge Over Troubled Water is, I’m on your side… and to me that’s the point of this play. That is this process. That is the dynamic with the cast and the directors and the support staff. We are on your side. We are on “your” side. I am not sure if Simon and Garfunkel fully knew what they would be eluding to in Bridge Over Troubled Water, but I can honestly say that UnMasqued and Recovery Through Performance at large has been my bridge over troubled water.
When I got on board for this journey I had no idea if I was ready. I had no idea if I could make it. I had no idea what this level of recovery and vulnerability would look like. But as I sit here knowing that everything will be over in less than a week and all I will be left with is my memories and bunch of old copies of the script… I smile. I smile because I did it. I did not walk away. I did not give in to the voices that said no, no, no. I moved up and on before knowing if I was ready to handle this level. I let myself really struggle up that ladder, but the best part was learning to ask for help when I needed a push to the next step. The help I received in this process was nothing like I have seen before. It consisted of women who just wanted to keep pushing and supporting and growing, no matter what. They would stretch and stretch to support me so that I never had to fall.
The beautiful thing is that as we all go in different directions at the end of the weekend as the performances come to an end, I know that even when they stop stretching to hold me up-I can do this. And it’s not because I am a boss or anything special or above average, but it is all because I am a normal girl and I am doing the best I can to just be human.
And I guess after all that, I did it and I am doing it, and I will keep doing it.