February 25, 2015

Defense mechanisms

One of my most vivid childhood memories is the first time I ran away. I took my littlest sister with me - though she had to have been only about 3 or 4 years old. As I recall, our reasoning had been that we didn't want to clean our room.

We spent the walk holding hands and planning our new life: we were going to live on the playground at Pierson, my elementary school (even as a runaway, learning was my top priority). I had about fifteen dollars of change in my pocket, quickly and quietly removed from my piggy bank, and figured we could live on pouches of yogurt-covered raisins, which I knew cost $1 at the deli across the street.

Dad had told us that if we were running away, we couldn't take our shoes with us (after all, he had paid for them, they weren't really ours). His logic was that, shoe-less, we weren't likely to make it past the driveway. But a mile and a quarter later, we were stopped in front of the school by our mother, who pulled her car into the entryway, rolled down the window, and yelled through her teeth: get in this car right now. I don't remember how the evening ended, but there was likely some yelling, no dinner, and an early bedtime.

In the years since, the story has become a family joke - what are you gonna do, run away to Pierson again? Leave your shoes... - and I have perfected the art of running away.

Psychologists call it fight-or-flight: your survival is perceived to at stake, do you stay and fight through a situation, or do you remove yourself entirely? For me, I've made a habit of disappearing.

I had my heart broken in Connecticut, and wanted to go to grad school as geographically far away as possible. So I moved nearly a thousand miles away, to Chicago. Moved is a polite word - what I was doing was fleeing.

My years in Chicago were transformative, to say the least, but the last few months there were marked by confusion and identity crisis - having always been the invisible fat girl, I was almost entirely innocent and naïve about so much of adult life, and especially about relationships. When the guy I had been dating spent the night, and I was woken up by his phone repeatedly going off with messages from other girls he was pursuing, I could barely sleep. I didn't want him touching me, not even accidentally brushing against me as we slept. It was early July, and the next morning, I applied for jobs in other states. I could've ended things with the guy and never seen him again - Chicago is a huge city, and we lived practically on opposite sides - but that wasn't enough distance.

A month and a half later, my father and I were loading up the pickup truck and heading to California.

I look at California with really interesting eyes now. At the time, I was deeply unhappy - mostly due to the after-effects of a whirlwind relationship that lasted my first four months there, and still stings far too much now, several years later. It was oddly similar to everything that had transpired in Chicago - a lot of love from me, a lot of other people for him - and by the end of my year there, I just wanted to leave. Again, I could've just moved - across town, even across the apartment complex. But single-digit, even double-digit miles, just wouldn't have been enough.

I returned to Chicago, and nothing was as it had been before, in all the worst ways. Blinded by my California depression, I reunited with the person who pushed me there - the guy back in Chicago. He'd been so sweet when we talked long-distance, and so cold as soon as I arrived. The first of many tragedies: my apartment in Chicago burned down three days before I was due to arrive. So I moved in with him - his roommate moved out, he had a spare room. It wasn't a relationship step, it was me, needing somewhere to sleep and an address to put on my job applications. I bought a bed and a bookshelf, just trying to stress to him - yes, I care for you, but this isn't us moving in together, so to speak - this is roommates at best.

Except, we weren't just roommates, and then - a positive pregnancy test. And immediately, I wondered how I could run away from that. Or if I should. And I decided, one September day, that I wouldn't run from this.

I was barely out of the first trimester when it started again - the messages, conversations with other girls, content that I can't bring myself to repeat. And despite my history, despite my love of escaping situations - I stayed. I can't really express what my state was at that time - hormonal, yes, but also, scared. And these - just the latest changes during a few tumultuous years - had me dizzy, and very confused.

Three months postpartum, I got a job offer out of state - with the hope that starting somewhere new and getting him out of his lousy job would fix things, we packed up and headed for South Carolina. More fresh air, less snow, and the promise of better things ahead.

But things haven't improved. Some areas are stagnant, and others are worse. Thinking first of our financial situation, we got married - volumes could be said about that decision-making process. It solved the issue of needing health insurance, but none of the other problems or concerns. And the cheating continues - after a nice dinner and walk on the beach for his birthday, at the table with family playing games after Christmas dinner - and yet, I stay.

It's hard to put into words why I stay - and this time, I don't have pregnancy hormones to blame. What I can say, though, is that in addition to running away, I've perfected another defense mechanism since childhood: my binge eating disorder.

I don't eat like normal people. Food isn't fuel for me, it's a weapon I use to self-harm. It's the material I use for my invisibility cloak: the more I eat, the larger my body grows, and the less people notice or think of me. A few years ago, when I lost a lot of weight, people never ran out of things to say - now, I can go weeks without interacting with friends. Success is glamorous. Struggles are not. And when you're consistently unremarkable, people get tired of waiting and move on to the next big thing.

The binge eating is a cushion in my marriage as well. Many days, it seems my only joy comes from food (eaten fast and secretly) - and even that joy is short-lived, because my body aches when I wake up in the morning, and I get out of bed and onto the scale with a voice in my head yelling look at what you've done now. The weight exhausts me, and I use it as an excuse as often as I possibly can. My husband tries to initiate sex, and I consistently refuse, on several grounds. First, because my body is repulsive, even to me, and I don't enjoy any physical acts of love. And second, because they aren't acts of love at all. I don't communicate this to him, and I know that's my mistake. But whenever he touches me, I can't help but think about all the others - all the conversations, all the things he has said. Every time I catch him in a lie about the content of his conversations, he swears it was just messages, that he didn't act on them. But I can't look past that. He lays his hands on me, and I think, I could be anyone. He doesn't want to be with me specifically, he just wants to be with someone, and I happen to be right here.

And I wonder, then, if I've allowed myself to grow back to this size as a means of protecting myself. As long as I am big, I can avoid sex under the guise of Excuse #1, while hiding the heartache that dominates as a result of Excuse #2.

I don't know how to proceed from here. Some days my gut tells me to run away, because I'm so good at it by now: find a different job, leave this place, and start somewhere new. Most days, though, my instinct is just to retreat further into myself with each bite of unhealthy food and each skipped workout.

I try to be brave. Even though I would consider almost every day a failed attempt, I still wake daily with good intentions. Yesterday was a mess, but today will be better. I try to focus on my son, and the person he needs me to be. But usually that just ends with me feeling even guiltier about the plain and simple honest truth: that here, in this situation, I'm not able to be the person he needs me to be.

I know things need to change, and not just in one area of my life. I started this blog almost five years ago, and even though the day-to-day conditions of my life are entirely different now, I still feel so much like the person I was when I started writing here: depressed, facing a huge amount of weight to lose, and without a voice. I keep quiet out of fear and anxiety; I don't know how to deal with the flood of we told you so, and with an audience that includes my husband and people who know him, it feels safer to keep our personal problems as personal ones, even if I logically know it is unfair that he gets to be protected and I get to feel defeated and destroyed. 

I don't know if this is a return to writing and a return to health, or just a long-overdue confession screamed into a void where there is no one left to listen. But this is where I have been, and this is where I stand now. I don't know what's next, but I am, as always, interested in finding out.


Unknown said...

I was so glad to see that you posted something. I still check your blog several times a week to see if you're okay.

I've been where you are. My husband cheated on me with one woman for over 3 years (even after he swore it was over) - we weren't married when it started, but he kept cheating even after we got married. It hurt, still hurts, and I don't know if our relationship will ever recover. I used to stalk her on facebook, but she marred someone else and moved away, and now I can finally accept that it's over, but I worry continually about there being another one.

I stayed because my son wanted me to stay. He was 8 when this started, and is 13 now. He says if it happens again, he would prefer that I leave, but I know that's not true. He loves his Dad. He knows what his Dad did (his Dad told him) and for how long, and it hurt him too, knowing that there were times that his Dad chose to be with her rather than come home and be with us.

I can't advise on what's right for you. The only thing that I can advise, is that you are still relatively young (I was in my mid-40's when this was going on, and I'm in my early 50's now) - you have time on your side. You can use that time to repair your relationship and to repair yourself. If you feel your relationship is beyond repair, then pull your socks up, and do what you need to do for your own mental health.

Your son will be fine no matter what you do. And you do have many people out here who care about you.

I never outed my husband's behavior to his family or friends either. I think outing him, also outed me as letting it go on, and that felt shameful.

Hugs Mary - I'll be sending positive thoughts your direction

LynnieG said...

Mary, I don't know you personally, only through your honest and eloquent writing, so I don't feel qualified to comment on the specific details of your life. I do want to say that I've thought about you in the past months and wondered and worried that things weren't going well. I'm so sorry to hear that my suspicions were true. Please don't let your weight dictate the action you decide to take. Your weight does not define you as a person, you do that by the life you lead. You are smart, independent and stronger than you think. Think deeply about what you know if best for both you and your son. Be positive and powerful - no need to run away - stand up for yourself and the life you know you deserve! Peace.
PS - I've turned to food my whole life, even knowing it's not the answer. The only problem food can fix is hunger. I struggle with it and I feel for your struggles.

FritoBandito said...

I dated "that guy" for 4 years...not your husband, per se...but the same guy that needed attention from so many others...and I was always, ALWAYS questioning how far it had gone...and just when he would leave me for one of them. Email me if you ever want to talk.

Your writing is amazing, by the way. :)

Debby said...

I posted this on Facebook as well, but I am very happy to see your writing again. Not only because I have become invested in your writing, in YOU, but because the writing itself is simply amazing. You have a wonderful way with words. That being said - your husband seems to be an ass. I have ALWAYS thought that you seemed to be too good for him. I'm not sure if you appreciate those words, or not but they are the truth. I don't think you should necessarily run away, but maybe you should walk away. You can continue to live in the same town so Noah can continue to have a relationship with his dad, but you don't need to. I don't think it's healthy for you, and while Noah is your priority, you and your happiness can be a priority too. I know it's not always as simple as that however. I hope that you don't just stay because you think you have to, or run because that's your "go to". I hope you find what you NEED.

If you ever need to talk, feel free to email me. I definitely like to give advice (comes with being a social worker), but I'm a pretty good listener too. Depression sucks -but know you aren't alone.

Running Meg said...

As many of the other posters have said, I too have worried about you and your lack of posting. I am sorry that your absence was because of this complete and utter ugliness caused by your husband. That is the thing, the thing I hope you know deep down inside...you are not to blame, this is not something YOU did.
No one can make you leave him or make you stay, other than you. I hope you are able to come to a decision that makes your heart and mind happy.

Unknown said...

Wow. What a heartbreakingly honest post. You are an amazing writer. You are a person with real feelings, and real struggles. My only advice to you is to stop focusing on specific things you think you need to change, and start focusing entirely on yourself. Best words of advice I ever heard was 'if you don't know what to do, don't do anything at all' because eventually you will know what to do. In the meantime, you do YOU. Do what makes you happy. Eat to nurture your body, not numb feelings. Don' feel like working out? Don't! Want to spend time with Noah? Go for a walk with him. I have been through (and am going through) an similar situation, and I finally realized that I can only control myself, and that I refuse to live life unhappily any longer. So I do what feels good, and what makes me happy. If I don't feel like making dinner, I don't! And you know what? I don't feel guilty about it (anymore)! If I don't feel like cleaning because I am tired, I don't! All of the things that I thought I was supposed to do as a good wife and mother have been thrown out the window, and I do what makes ME happy. Any ya know what? Turns out that although there may not always be a 3 course meal ready, or the floor isn't spotless, the people around me are happier, because I am. And if the people around you aren't happier, well, than they shouldn't be around you at all. Thank you for sharing your life with us. I am thinking of you, and I know that you will be ok. You just have to make the decision to be happy. When you do, you will be AMAZED at how quickly your life will change.

Kendra said...

I see that I am not alone in being happy to hear from you. I hope that, somehow we've managed to create a community that says that struggling is okay. Struggling is real life. Unfortunately life isn't lived on the peaks, but in the valleys below.

I don't have any advice for you in this situation, just an offer for a listening ear should you ever want one. (((hugs))) my friend.

Janine said...

I'm another person who wondered how you were doing. And oh hon, I wanted to hug you so tightly when I read your post. I've been there, my husband cheated on me at least twice that I know of, the first time getting the woman pregnant. The second one he ultimately left me for when our daughter was just 9 months old. I should never have forgiven him the first time. If they can get away with it once, they'll keep doing it. Your husband doesn't respect you at all if he treats you this way. I don't care what his excuses are or whether he's been physically unfaithful, he's certainly been emotionally and mentally unfaithful to you and you and Noah both deserve so much better than a man that's not really invested in your family. Don't run, you don't need to, but you do need to do some serious thinking about putting yourself first. It doesn't matter what size you are or how much exercise you're getting, what matters is how you feel and are treated. No-one deserves to be treated that way and he's a bad example to your son. As others have said in other comments, your weight does not define you, but letting him treat you this way will define you in the end if you let it continue.

As for hiding behind the food, I do that too. My ex hated my weight, so I just ate more. I've now been single for 13 years and anytime a guy even looks at me, it makes me want to eat again. In 2013 I lost 82lbs. Then once I was getting slimmer again and guys started noticing me, I immediately panicked and last year I regained it all. So I'm back onto the losing track again, with no idea how I will handle it next time.

Anyway, sorry for the long essay, I wish you luck and love.

Serena Michelle said...

I'm certain you were nervous about putting this all out there - especially knowing your husband (and his family/friends) will likely see this post. Perhaps this will be a wake-up call for him to either MAN UP and be a real, honest and committed husband or move on.

However, he's not really whom I'm concerned with. I'm concerned with you and your well being (which includes baby Noah). I believe some other comments have already said this, but you have to take care of yourself and put yourself first! We oftentimes hear that once we become parents our children come first - but honestly, as a mom of 3, I've learned the hard way that when a mother puts herself last - she's not really at her best as a mother.

Without sounding terrible - I would highly recommend you see a medical doctor (psychiatrist and/or therapist) who can help you work through the fairly obvious severe depression you're currently stuck in. If you're not comfortable going to the doctor - then find someone you can talk to who can offer you sound and reasonable advice.

My heart goes out to you mama! I'm rooting for you - and know, without a doubt, that you will get through all this!!!

Amy said...

All I can really offer you from this post is those virtual internet hugs that can offer a bit of support and insight that there are people out there that may not know you in "real" life, but care so much for you!

I honestly don't know if I've ever missed a post of yours since initially finding your blog. I've read through the thick and the thin of it all. I've watched you go through oh so many changes. And, I've admired you through it all. We all have our battles, and fight them on a daily basis, and lord know you've dealt with some big ones along the way.

I can say with complete honesty that I did grow concern about the state of your marriage after your move, and whether staying was "worth it" because in many ways it seemed like it was so toxic for you. It's so hard to say that because I am planning my own marriage, and I believe in the institution of marriage and that commitment so much... but what I believe in more is the importance of your happiness and wellbeing, especially while raising your child.

I know you have such strength inside of you and I do hope that you returning to your blog is a step in the right direction to regaining that happiness you deserve! You don't have to be in this alone.

Perhaps you just need to start a fresh blog and find a way of letting your faithful readers follow along, while keeping that sense of anonymity :)

B. Crew said...

You are not alone, and you are loved.

LBCrafts said...

I'm glad to see you writing! I've missed your posts :)

Anonymous said...

While I was glad to see you writing again, it was heartbreaking to hear what you've been struggling with. I wish I could offer some advice, some magic words to help you out, but everyone's personal life is so specific to their own needs and circumstances. What I can offer is my support to you, because you ARE awesome. You are capable of so many great things, and I know you can return to the active person you can be. Please don't be afraid to reach out through this blog - you have so many people who believe in you and just want to see you happy.

Karen said...

While I was glad to see you writing again, it was heartbreaking to hear what you've been struggling with. I wish I could offer some advice, some magic words to help you out, but everyone's personal life is so specific to their own needs and circumstances. What I can offer is my support to you, because you ARE awesome. You are capable of so many great things, and I know you can return to the active person you can be. Please don't be afraid to reach out through this blog - you have so many people who believe in you and just want to see you happy.

Frickin' Fabulous at 40 said...

When I read this I was shocked to see that you were actually talking about your husband. I thought I must have missed something over the years. I am so sad to hear you are going through this, but you HAVE to know that yours and Noah's emotional well-being HAS to come before all else. You need to show him that you as his mom deserve the best from your partner and that this behavior is unacceptable as a man or woman in a relationship. You are his most important teacher and influence in his life and staying unhappy and unfulfilled in your marriage will effect him too. I hope and pray you see how much value you have to your son and everyone who loves you and get the courage to move on.

Joan said...

We are all on your side, Mary. I was sad when I saw your blog was locked. But I couldn't bring myself to delete you from my favorites. It's a positive thing that you are writing again.

Unknown said...

I have been reading your blog for years. I'm not sure if I have ever commented before or not!

I want to say that you were not "naïve" when you got upset over a man receiving texts from other women while he was in bed with you. I've been dating since I was in high school and if that happened to me I would kick that man's ass out of my bed and out of my life. That is just unacceptable.

I'm hoping you will find the courage to make some big changes in your life. Not to run away from your troubles, but to stand up for yourself and demand the respect you so very much deserve.

I'll be thinking of you and wishing you strength and courage!

Christina said...

Like others before me have said, I was glad to see that you'd posted--but saddened to read the content.
I'm sorry for the situation you've been struggling through.
I wish you all the best moving forward. In the archives of your blog--and in this very post--I see a very strong, driven, and intelligent woman. You are worthy of the utmost respect and love, regardless of the number on the scale.

I find strength in this, thought I'd share it with you:


Denise said...

Thank you for writing this. I am rooting for you to find your voice

73551CA said...

I'm also very glad to see you writing again, and I'm sorry you're having such a difficult time. As others have said, take care of yourself first and the rest will fall into place.

Unknown said...

Mary, you know I've been a friend and supporter for years! Despite the silence on my own blog, I was thrilled to see yours come up on my reader. I think of you often and wish peace and happiness for you - Hang in there, lady. You've got lots of love and support - no matter what. <3

Cortney said...

Oh Mary. It was just random that I decided to check your blog yesterday in case of an update. I guess I also have been going through some stuff. I've noticed that even when you are having the worst of times, you write in a voice that comes across as strong, steady, capable - extremely self-aware. I don't know if that makes any sense. I do think that you have more strength than you realize and I am sending good vibes your way. Please keep writing.