“You’re Not Allowed To Die”

“It was the first time I realized this wasn’t all about me. I didn’t care if I died, but my family did. That’s the thing about these kinds of disorders: They’re consuming; they make you egocentric; they’re all you can see.”  Zosia Mamet (Glamour, Health & Fitness, September, 2014)

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that, prior to September, 2014, I’d never heard of David Mamet, despite the fact that he is nearly a contemporary of mine and one of the most prolific and decorated American playwrights, essayists, screenwriters and film directors of the past 30 years. Mamet’s literary achievements include: winning a Pulitzer Prize and receiving several Tony award nominations for 1984 play Glengarry Glen Ross; writing the screenplays for The Verdict, Wag The Dog, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Untouchables, Hoffa and Ronin, several of which resulted in Oscar nominations and/or garnered recognition at prominent film festivals around the world; and authoring half a dozen books, including The Old Religion, Five Cities of Refuge: Weekly Reflections on Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, The Wicked Son and The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture – to name a few. Mamet also wrote and directed Redbelt, The Spanish Prisoner, House of Games, Heist, State and Main, The Winslow Boy, Oleanna, Homicide and Things Change. Simply put, I had every reason to know and admire David Mamet – I just didn’t.

In fact, had a friend not sent me a link to a segment of the Morning Joe show featuring Mamet’s then 26 year old daughter, Zosia – a columnist with Glamour Magazine and a co-star on the widely popular HBO show Girls – chances are I may never have been “introduced” to David, let alone learned how little (and how much) the two of us have in common. During the segment, Zosia shared what, until recently, had been a very private lifelong struggle with anorexia nervosa that began when she was 8 years old. “It was then,” she recalls, “that I was told I was ‘fat’ for the first time” – then that “a monster” surreptitiously stole past the guard her father likely had been keeping at the door to his daughter’s gentle, but impressionable young heart and found its way into her brain. Its voice, muted to the rest of the world, was loud, unrelenting and merciless. “I was only 17 years old,” Zosia recalled, “living in misery, wanting to die. And then, one night, my dad came home from a party, took me by the shoulders, looked me in the eyes and said, ‘You’re not allowed to die’.” As it turned out, those 5 words were the impetus for Zosia to seek the treatment she so desperately needed.

I’ve never pretended to know what it’s like to live with “the monster” Zosia described. I’ve never had to wake up to a voice on perpetual loop berating me 24/7 for the way that I look, the food I eat (or even think about eating!), how I compare to others, the way my clothes fit, etc., nor have I had to endure the constant companionship of an invisible, but no less real “bully” pummeling an already nutrition (and sometimes love) starved mind and spirit with the most hateful and disparaging self-talk imaginable, filling my psyche with lies and distortions, urging, if not insisting, that I isolate from family and friends and engage in acts of unspeakable self-harm – a beast hell-bent on breaking and, ultimately, destroying me. I’ve never known the suffering associated with silencing my body’s hunger cues, forcefully depriving it of the sustenance it needs to function, nor have I stood in front of a refrigerator door longing, but unwilling/unable to open it or over a toilet bowl torn between staying in my illness or taking another difficult step on the road to recovery.

I do, however, know (intimately) the well-spring from which David’s 5 words (and the tears that likely accompanied them) flowed. I know what it’s like to stare into “the monster’s” eyes or at least the sunken sockets of the almost lifeless ones his handiwork has wrought. I know the futility and frustration that comes with trying to reason with “him” and the fuel-starved mind he has monopolized. I know the second-guessing and regret that comes from looking back and wondering if there was something you did or didn’t do that could have made a difference. I know the anger of feeling abandoned by what I’d always been taught to believe is an all-loving, all-knowing and all-merciful God. I know the sense of helplessness and anguish that comes with seeing your loved one’s life incrementally slipping away before your eyes and how easily it can turn to hopelessness. I know the despair of hanging up the phone and wondering if it’s the last time you’ll ever hear your loved one’s voice. But, I also know a thing (or two) about sacrifice and hope – and the indomitable power of the human spirit!

You see, there are lots of things I don’t have in common with David Mamet (and never will): a Pulitzer Prize, Tony and Oscar Award nominations, “Best Film” recognition at the Venice Film Festival, critically-acclaimed movie and theatrical box office hits, a place in the American Theater Hall of Fame, etc.; but there are two very important things that we do: (1) daughters, born less than a month apart, who have been to hell and back and whose hearts are as courageous as they are creative, as resilient as they are sensitive, as battle-tested as they are beautiful; and (2) a father’s heart, which, on a moment’s notice, would unhesitatingly make whatever sacrifice is required for his daughter’s to continue to beat, to fight and to love content in the knowledge that she is loved unconditionally and that she is worthy of love!

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