Circles and Lines

Inner voices.

They’re incessant. And they’re also indecisive. They’ll have you doing circles forever.

While a circle is a beautiful shape, I won’t argue that, following one will never take me outside of itself. It’s like a trap. And the longer I follow the circle, the deeper the groove. If I follow the circular path long enough the groove becomes so deep that it’s nearly impossible to steer myself onto another track. And while I can change direction on that circle, the destination will always be the same. Actually, there is no destination – the circle is an infinite cycle of repetition.

For many years, and in so many areas of my life, I would make a decision to do something. I would charge ahead but then something would scare me and I’d tell myself that it was stupid; I was stupid for wanting to do this or that.

Some of the things I would tell myself that would stop me dead in my tracks and make me do an about-face:

  • You’re being ridiculous.
  • You should just be grateful for what you have.
  • Why are you trying to complicate things?
  • How on earth are you ever going to afford that?
  • Don’t be so selfish.
  • Think about your husband – he doesn’t want you to do that. He thinks it’s unrealistic, so it must be.
  • You’re a fool.
  • You’ve tried before and it didn’t work, so what makes you think you can do this now?
  • Just be happy with what you have.
  • Stop wanting so much – it’s very self-centered to want to do this.
  • What about your family?
  • If this was meant to be it wouldn’t be so much of a fight.
  • Just let it go.
  • Stop trying to complicate things.
  • Why can’t you just be content?
  • Stop being so stupid.
  • You’re being irrational.
  • It’s impossible.
  • It’s not meant to be.

I am no longer listening to these voices. These voices make me question my inner sense of need. My heart is so powerful – I have this innate ability for feeling and sense and knowing. I’d just been so out of tune with it for so long.

I’ve now set my radio frequency to the sound of my heart. It knows, in a more profound and powerful way, what it is that I need.

And, here I am now.

I’m one year symptom-free from a 20-year-long eating disorder. I knew I needed to get well and get help doing it. I fought like hell. I stopped at nothing and forged through those cruel inner voices and the criticism and doubt of others.

I’m also sitting in a hotel room, living in solitude and silence, having separated from a 20 year relationship. I’m not sure where it will go from here but I’m letting my heart guide me.

I feel the most alive than I ever have. The scenery is different. I’ve left the circle. I’m forging a new path, a straight path. I will have to forge new sections of my path each day in order to keep going forward. That’s the beauty of it though. It’s a trail of discovery every step of the way. And there is no destination. There can be a pause, a momentary stop to take a break, but when the heart leads me I can pick up and carry on.

That’s the beauty of the infinite line.

The sheet on my mirror…

One of my most powerful experiences during the eating disorder recovery process came when we began to work on body image.

We addressed and explored the behaviour of checking. Checking refers to an obsessive thought and behaviour about appearance. Checking is often done hundreds of times per day – without ever even being aware of it.

What checking behaviours was I engaging in?

There was really only one; I was a mirror-checker. Every reflective surface became my guide – my guide to hell. My mind had formed an ideal of what I was supposed to look like down to every last itty bitty detail. I never measured up.

I looked in the mirror first thing in the morning before I got in the shower. You ugly piece of shit – how can anyone be attracted to you? Women are to wake up in the morning with beautiful flowing hair and dewy, well-slept skin. You’re a fucking horror show!

I looked in the mirror when I got out of the shower. OH MY GOD! Look at your stomach! Fuck, that’s gross! You haven’t even had kids – your stomach shouldn’t look like that. You’ve really let yourself go!

I looked in the mirror as I was putting on my makeup and drying my hair. Fuck your skin is gross. It’s freckled and wrinkled. Do your best, I guess…make sure you eat well today though. You are what you eat! Your skin looks so bad because you eat like shit. You really need to try harder.

I looked in the mirror when I was getting dressed. You disgusting mess of a woman. Look at your thighs and your cratered ass. You are an embarrassment to women. Try to put on something that will cover those thighs, ass, and stomach, would you? Oh my gosh, you are disgraceful. I can’t believe you’re going to go out and make the world look at you today. Tsk, tsk, tsk!

I looked in the mirror between all these tasks too, checking. Checking to see if things had changed, checking to see if things got better, checking to see if I could just get through with this today, checking to make sure it didn’t get worse, checking to make sure everything was staying in place. Check, check, check. And this was in a matter of two hours before I left the house for work.

I looked in the mirror one last time before I headed out the door for work. All I could do was shake my head, exasperated.

At work, I looked in the mirror every time I went to the washroom – about once per hour. I checked the front, I checked the back, I checked the side, I checked far away, I checked close up. Fuck – you are FAT. Your teeth are yellow. You skin is sallow. Your hair is a fucking mess. Oh, fuck, it’s embarrassing. Good luck to you, loser!

By the time I got home I was so wounded and depleted. I would put on my sweats to try to cover my identity. I’d put my hair up. I wanted to stay inside forever. I was exhausted.

I continued to look in the mirror in the evening. Before dinner, after dinner, during commercials, after commercials, during shows, while on the phone, between work at the computer. How is it that one person can be so horribly defective?

Solitude finally comes to me. No one is around. Everyone is sleeping. Now I can escape. I pull out the cereal, the table cream, the toast, the leftovers, the hidden stash of chocolate and cookies, the ice cream finale to make it all come back up smoothly. I have peace for about 45 minutes – the mind is gone, and so is the pain.

Reality eventually surfaces when the food is gone and my stomach is so full and distended that I cannot even stand up fully erect. I hurt so badly. And I’m disgusted once again. I make my way to the washroom, praying that the deed will be quick. At the end, I stand in front of the mirror again with bloodshot, watery eyes and a trail of vomit sliding down my chin and my right hand. Why has God forsaken me?

I climb into bed and pray for a miracle. It begins again the next day.

And that is what the mirror did to me. The mirror was a reinforcement of my horribly negative and completely inaccurate thoughts.

I was asked in Body Image to try to curb the checking behaviours. But how was I going to do that? Mirrors are EVERYWHERE! Well, I gave it some thought and I came up with a plan. First, I would avoid mirrors and force myself to not look in them when I stood before them. Secondly, the one mirror that gave me the most trouble, the full length mirror in my bedroom, I would put a sheet over it. That would prevent the temptation to look.

I draped a sheet over the full length beast and a sort of miraculous thing happened. As I got dressed the next day, there was no voice. There was silence in the room. The voice couldn’t see what was there so it had nothing to say. Instead, I was transported inside myself where a feeling was planted. It was like being blind and feeling my way instead of seeing my way. I felt like I was okay. My clothes matched. My clothes fit okay. I guess that will do…the judgement was gone. You cannot judge what you cannot see. There was something to this, something in this sheet that prevented me from looking to something outside of me for validation.

Over time, a long time, and not without struggle, I began to feel just being. There was no vision or ideal  – because I couldn’t see one. All I could do was feel.

Today, I look not long in a mirror. I am a more authentic self when I immerse myself in being and feeling. I cannot be any other physical form than what I am, and why would I want to be?

I am not you. I am only me.

Shot through the heart…

We had the post-week talk tonight.

He was calm and matter of fact through the whole thing. He told me he hadn’t had a drink in a week and that he was making changes.

I insist it’s not that easy. He insists it is.

I lay my cards out on the table and say that someone who has been an alcoholic for as long as he has doesn’t just stop being an alcoholic in one week.

He says this is a huge step for him and that he’s doing really well.

I know where this leads. I say that, sure, he’s fine now, and ask him what happens in two weeks, three weeks, four weeks when he’s still not had a drink. I know what happens – the deep issues re-surface, life goes back to the way it was, and eventually he will begin drinking again.

He insists he won’t. It’s different – this time.

He doesn’t need any sort of external therapy. He scoffs at it.

He’s done, no more drinking. Quitting drinking is easy.

Ouch! My jaw drops and I look at him with heartache and disgust. I call bullshit on that one.

You fuck!

I’ve been very verbal over the years about how I feel about his drinking. If it’s so easy to quit then you’ve just admitted that I wasn’t worth a fuck to you. You’ve blatantly ignored me and continued to do whatever it is you want.

He says I’m twisting his words. He’s not that bad of a person.

I’m done.

He agreed to meet with a therapist with me one time to at least see if we can find some mutual ground, a place to start. But I’m not so sure there is.

If I go back now, nothing will change.

He says his alcoholism is a demon. True, but moreover it’s a symptom. He doesn’t want to deal with the things that make it a demon.

I’m not going back anytime soon. This is going to take a while.

I book three more nights in room 225. Then, I’ve arranged to move in to a very small, short-term-lease apartment for a month. It’s in a beautiful, cozy home in the downtown core close to the lake shore. It’s small enough for just me. Me and my yoga mat. I don’t need anything else.

It’s pricey but I have some savings. I need to surround myself with beauty and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

In all my 40 years, I’ve never lived on my own.

Tonight shot me through the heart but I continue to shoot for the stars.

Why? Part 2

Why?

The end of the first week of separation is fast approaching and I’m not ready to go back. I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready.

We’ll have to talk at the end of the week. We agreed to.

Why, why, why? I’m searching for the reason, the right words that will accurately explain why I’m doing this. I can’t find them.

I can blame the alcoholism but that’s not pinpointing what the real issues are.

It’s me – I think I’m the real issue. It’s me stepping up to the forefront of my life and feeling exactly what it is that I want rather than agreeing to someone else’s expectations and feeling like a victim to what everyone else is feeling and thinking and saying.

I’m an open, carefree, caring spirit. I’ve always felt that. I love beautiful conversation, intimate encounters, new ideas, connection with like-minded souls.

In recent weeks I have been allowing myself to open and heal and connect to the world and I feel it coursing through my veins. I feel alive, truly alive and filled with lightness and breath. I’m ignited by conversation. I yearn to hear more from these lovely beings. Humanity is breathtaking. And I’m excited. I am bursting forth with energy.

I cannot explain this to someone who doesn’t feel this, who doesn’t understand this. The way I want to live and share myself with others is so counter to what he wants and how he is. I feel like my precious flame had been so neglected and suffocated that I was close to burning out. No more life. No more fire.

Yet here I am, more alive in many ways than I have ever been. And sadly, in light of the expectations of the world, it feels wrong.

I’m afraid I have to walk the limb alone on this one. No one will understand – not my husband, not my family, not his family, not my friends, not our friends.

Sure, I can say it’s because he is an alcoholic – that will explain everything. It’s funny how that works. All I have to do is explain that one bit of information and all of a sudden everyone nods understandingly.

And it’s not a completely false explanation. But it’s not the alcohol – it’s the ‘ism’ that’s the problem. And it’s the ‘ism’ that is the most difficult to explain. But I’m going to try. I need to try so that I can understand what it is I’m doing and why I’m making these choices. If I can’t explain it, it feels like an arbitrary decision to leave my husband. But it’s anything but.

I married an alcoholic. He was an alcoholic when we first started dating, I just didn’t see it at the time. We were both in our very early 20’s and the bar/drinking/partying weekends were still very much alive for us. And, at the time, I loved the drinking just as much as he did. As a shy introvert, alcohol was a wonder drug. Any inhibitions or social anxiety I had went right out the window.

A couple of years after we started dating, we moved in together and, over time, his drinking got in the way. There were countless times that weekend plans were made but got cancelled because he was sick and couldn’t make it. Sick means hungover. I’d be disappointed with either having to cancel plans or go by myself. But he insisted – he was sick, he wasn’t feeling well.

I didn’t see it happening but, over time, it spread through and into everything. This insidious, sneaky, sinister thing began to shadow out the light.

With the drinking, over time, my husband has become more negative and hostile and expresses more anger and irritability. He has become unable to participate in everyday activities and certainly not for very long if the attempt to surfaces. His patience is nearly non-existence. His ability to handle emotions or difficult situations is failing miserably. His memory, or lack thereof, is frightening, yet he has no conceivable notion that there’s anything wrong with his memory. He’d fight me tooth and nail to say that it’s fine. But, have you ever heard of Wernicke–Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS)? It’s a serious brain disorder that is caused by alcoholism. I wonder sometimes if it’s heading in that direction.

Let me share part of a description of WKS that I found (here):

Approximately 80 to 90 percent of alcoholics with Wernicke’s encephalopathy also develop Korsakoff’s psychosis, a chronic and debilitating syndrome characterized by persistent learning and memory problems. Patients with Korsakoff’s psychosis are forgetful and quickly frustrated and have difficulty with walking and coordination (17). Although these patients have problems remembering old information (i.e., retrograde amnesia), it is their difficulty in “laying down” new information (i.e., anterograde amnesia) that is the most striking. For example, these patients can discuss in detail an event in their lives, but an hour later might not remember ever having the conversation.

See the parts in bold? I can’t tell you how much this sounds like my husband.

I’d be told I was crazy if I mentioned anything like this. And therein lies another problem – with every thought or suggestion I make, I’m told I’m crazy. Hear that enough times and, well, you know what happens…you start to believe it.

Excuses, lies, escapism, neglect. It’s all there. I know it to be true – yet I still hear the criticisms of overreaction in the back of my mind.

I know when I explain this all it won’t be understood. I will be the one to blame for not putting the effort in to save a marriage.

Fuck you.

It’s serious. I try to justify what I’m doing by telling myself that this is like an intervention and that this will really be the best thing for him.

If nothing else though, it’s the best thing for me.

I don’t want him to depend on me for his happiness. It’s an impossible endeavour. He thinks I make him happy, but I only soothe his loneliness. Twenty years in and he’s still unhappy as ever, more so even.

So, that is why I do this. That is why I must stay away. This has to change both for his future and well-being, and for mine.

I am deserving of happiness. I am.

Room 225

We agreed.

We agreed we would start with a week of separation and then talk again after that.

He said he would go; he wanted me to stay in the house and be comfortable.

I resisted, but he insisted.

Was it my comfort he was after, or his own? Was that decision a way for him to control the situation? It didn’t even cross my mind at the time but when he returned three days later and told me that he wanted to be in his own home and that three days was a lot of time, I began to wonder.

I was annoyed to see him home – I told him so. He asked me what was going to happen. I cannot answer what I do not yet know. I’d only had three days to think. I stood my ground.

Okay, I’ll leave.

“Don’t go. Please don’t go.” he asked of me repeatedly.

He told me that he’d go back to his mother’s house if I could assure him that at the end of the week he could come back. I couldn’t assure him of anything.

I asked for at least a week, dammit. What do you want from me in three days? I’ve had to deal with being ignored by an alcoholic husband for 20 years. I’ve waited this out, I’ve put my time in. Why on earth am I expected to make my decision in three days?

Will he be willing to wait for me for 10 years, 20 years, the way I’ve waited for him? I suspect not.

I was firm. You had your time. I’m taking mine.

I’m still in absolute shock and awe. What am I doing to this 20 year relationship? How can I be so cold?

But I remind myself – that’s logic talking. Logic doesn’t fill my heart with joy. My heart is speaking so loudly to me right now. The guilt lasts but moments and I leave.

I do not go to family. I would only be surrounded by the noise of others expectations.

No, I need to be alone.

I’m staying in hotel room number 225. I haven’t turned the TV on once. I love the silence. I love the open window, feeling the breeze on my solitary skin, and listening to the traffic hum by on the street below.

I am all alone. Yet somehow I’m less alone than I have ever been.

What’s your scale?

I want to weigh myself.

I know I’ve lost a little bit of weight over the last couple of weeks. I’ve been preoccupied with personal issues and I’ve not had much of an appetite.

I don’t weigh myself.

I force myself to stay away from the scale. I don’t want to fall into its trap. It wants to be a measure of my self-worth. I won’t let it.

I envision my toes touching the scale and slowly landing my full body weight on it’s platform. Its numbers register and I receive my validation. And I know where that will lead. It will lead me to effort, to control, to trying – forcing myself into a place that may or may not be where I’m intended to go. It will steer me towards a motionless future. It wants me to make time stand still, as though to say that this is the perfect state of being. And it’s within my control to maintain it.

I try to think of a number that would make me happy to see on the scale. There isn’t one. I cannot be validated by a number.

There is very little effort required in being myself, in being true to myself.

My scale, my measure of myself, is my heart and my capacity to love. I am validated by my feelings not my figure.