January 1, 2016

Lines in the sand

A few years ago, I got obsessed with weight loss reality shows. Not competition shows, like The Biggest Loser, but reality. The kind where they followed someone along on a weight-loss journey, and you got to see all the ups and downs, the victories and the defeats, the good, the bad, the ugly. I'm still obsessed with the shows, but in a different way: I used to watch them for motivation, but it is more like punishment. Look what you too could be doing, if you'd just try.

There was one that I liked, following a Southern woman. Aspects of the show were irritating (her odd slang mostly), but I felt such a kinship with her still. Her starting weight was much higher than mine, but there were still so many parallels on our journeys, so many common frustrations and successes. I remember one episode in particular, she went to a Pilates lesson and had a breakdown in the middle of it, feeling physically unable to continue, as she recollected a trauma she had suppressed for decades. The specifics did not come back to her, just a general feeling of unease, a breakthrough her therapist had been anticipating for a while.

I remember it confused me, and made me wonder. How could someone forget something so significant and formative? And ... had I forgotten anything?

A lot of my childhood is a blur. I think a lot of that is natural, certain details fading as we get older and need the brain space. Still, it's odd. I used to pride myself on my terrific memory - I knew everyone's name at school, I had a stockpile of random facts and useless information in the back of my mind. Now, entire years are vast expanses of emptiness in my mind.

When my husband left about seven and a half months ago, I looked over my finances, acknowledged that I could not afford therapy, and decided to go anyway. I put it on the credit card, and figured the money would work itself out - I needed the help now whether I could afford it or not. Over the four months or so that I saw the therapist, I cried more than I did the entire time I was married. She was not particularly warm, but I still felt safe and able to open up to her, to let my thoughts pour out and let myself work through my stresses for the week.

She kept urging me to make connections, which ties back in to my earlier point: I struggle a lot with remembering my childhood. She was not simply asking if I am a binge eater, but why. Why are you a binge eater? Why do you feel this need to eat yourself sick when you are feeling stressed or anxious? But I don't know what adult behaviors are result of childhood experiences because I have forgotten so many of the experiences, either because I didn't consider them important, or perhaps they are suppressed and I don't even know.

Until a few weeks ago. And it floored me.

I wasn't doing anything special, or at least I didn't find it to be out of the ordinary. It was such an insignificant moment, I wasn't paying much attention. But suddenly, a flashback was triggered. The details are very personal, and for the sake of the people involved, they're going to stay private for now. But it completely took the wind out of me, and all of a sudden, a lot of things made sense. What happened back then was one of the catalysts for my initial problems with binge eating. And I realized, the way I felt then is exactly how I'd felt since I got married - and I'd responded to both in the same way, down to exactly what I ate during my binges, then and now. The hurt felt the same, so I tried to soothe it in the same way, with the same foods.

I'd like to say that I had the revelation and was cured, but it's not that simple. It never has been.

After my husband came to visit in August, I met with a lawyer to see what could be done. The laws here state that we can't get divorced until we've been separated for a year, but there are things we can take care of now, like custody. We had few assets, nothing we're arguing over. So overall, it should be simple. But there's the issue of child support, and my lawyer said that everyone wants to be amicable until there are dollar signs out front. We got some paperwork together, and in the meantime, he told me to lock down my social media accounts. Anything, he said, that could be used against me.

I don't drink, I don't screw around. I don't do much of anything except work, spend time with my son, and sleep. But I struggle with disordered eating, and just in case that was something they'd use against me, I locked down the blog. No goodbye, just vanished. I was devastated. Of all the things my husband did, this was maybe the most painful. Writing here has been the most comfortable, consistent thing in my life from the past few years, and he took it away from me.

I fantasized about coming back and dazzling everyone with how hard I'd committed in my absence. But the reality is that it's just been more of the same. My Fall semester was an exercise in discovery: the first semester with it being just me and my son here, alone, and figuring out our routines, figuring out how to cope with both old and new stresses. It was one of my hardest semesters ever, between the workload (three very difficult sections of a new class we created, plus an extra section in addition to my contractual load), administrative stuff, teaching a class for another university via Skype, personal things unrelated to the divorce, and then the divorce/separation stuff on top of it ... I turned in my grades in December, then came home and cried. It was such a relief to be able to release the semester, to know that January brings new courses, new students, and a clean slate.

We're still not divorced yet - like I said, we need to be separated for a year, which means we've still got four and a half months to go. But I'm over the hill of it, and it's incredibly empowering to know that even with everything I've been dealt, I'm alive, I'm doing alright - and my son is doing amazingly well. There has been so much happening in his little world this year, so many really big changes. And he's so smart, so funny, so healthy, so loving. Holding his little hand and kissing his forehead when I tuck him in at night - it's cheesy as hell, but it really does keep me going. I'd rather have these moments with my little guy than nights at bars and movies and afternoons at baseball and football games.

I wasn't given the go-ahead to open up my social media pages. My personal ones are still locked down. But here ... I need this space. If writing here hurts my case in any way, so be it. This is me, authentically, and I can't keep it to myself anymore. This space saved me once, something my husband never understood (and never tried to understand). He came along after the struggle - or, I should say, after a major part of it. I met him close to my goal weight. He'd never seen me big, and he wasn't there as I cried and worked and pushed and fought like hell to find myself. I saw a little poem on Instagram that summed it up so perfectly:

Knowing all the dozens of reasons I knew I needed to end the relationship, if someone asked what one thing broke the camel's back, this would be it. But that's a conversation for another day, or maybe for never. I've done so much dwelling the past few months, so much stagnating. I'm ready to let go of my past - or at least let it not dictate my future - and start living presently again.

It's January 1, I know. It's cliché, I know. But I'm here, and I'm facing a hell of a year. In 2016, my divorce will be finalized, and in November, I turn 30. I'm not dreading it, actually - I'm so hopeful. I spent so much of my 20s hating myself, my body, my situations. I'm feeling driven to make 29 a year full of positive steps towards the way I want my life to be at 30 and beyond. That means healthy, it means patient, it means motivated, it means authentic. And this is where I do all that best.

I love you. All of you. Thank you for the dozens of messages I received when I disappeared. I'm broken, but not beyond repair. Right now, I'm just glad to be back. Glad to be home.