10 years into the future, what would I say to me now?
A harder assignment. No retrospective knowledge to work with, no failures or humiliations to rehash, no do-overs to imaginatively do-over. Retrospectively project knowledge I have yet to gain.IT’s voice is loud and clear on this one: Idiot, wasting everyone’s time on you. All the chances they kept giving you, and you just fucking up over and over. Not to mention a decade of your young, attractive, real-life-professional-life building "life" down the tubes. How could you have been so stupid? And see how you’ve damaged your kids? See how you’ve exhausted your husband? See all the fallout from all your various mental “ills”? You are a sham of a wife, mother—all the exuberant dreams, all your naïve ambitions have just turned you into a washed up, Social Security Disability reliant hag. Why you ever believed all those people who told you to hang on to hope? I’ll never know why.
Okay. Time to turn off IT. But that’s IT’s crystal ball voice.
Excise IT with a state-of-the-art krypton laser.
10 years from now: Here I am, 49 and Christopher has stuck it out with me because he loves me. Sophia is 19 and Alexander is 16 and they are thriving—I have not ruined their lives; they are not swirling in my black tar, but are normal maladjusted teenagers. We all look out for each other, have helped each other through the various stumbles and pitfalls and, likewise, have leapt over the fences together. No, not all hearts and flowers and holding hands at the dinner table, but our summers in Greece and evenings slinging pies together at our outdoor pizza oven help. Oh, and the fact that we don't lie to our kids and our kids generally feel like they can tell us the truth--even if it means they were smoking pot with friends down by the lake or that it's time to go on the Pill--that helps, too.What I would say, free and clear of ITs butting in? It’s worth the fight. Your 40th year can be a turning point (though don’t get too heavy-handed symbolic with that milestone—don’t put all the perfectionistic pressure of recovery on that equator year). You will learn to manage the storms; take shelter when needed, have the emergency kit at hand if needed, though you will not need it as often as you think. Sometimes, when the waves kick up, when the waves aren’t in the red zone, they will even be surfable. Yes, you will take up surfing because you might not be in Meadville for much longer. You might be living on some sun-drenched coast with your family, small cottage on a cliff, you and Christopher teaching in a graduate Creative Writing program. You thought you’d never teach again? Never say never. You’re teaching again because you finished that novel you started in your 40th year, and because you stuck to truth, because you stuck to that "Fuck It and Be Real" voice and put yourself out there, the novel meant something to a lot of people—people that matter in the literary world, but people that really matter, too--people out there, like you, people who are struggling with IT, people who are lonely, people who feel ashamed, people like you who believe that if they can find a glimmer of themselves in someone else's story, they might not feel so alone.
So don’t imagine that at 49, you are some washed up, on-the-verge-of-psychotic hag rummaging in dumpsters. You are loved.
But you are also loved at 39. Right now at 39, imperfect as you are and should be. Trying to be real. Trying to be real in getting to be real. Trying to become who you really are.
Trying to remember the five year old girl who thought she was Wonder Woman and vaulted from the top of the staircase (okay and broke her arm trying)—but who believed she had superpowers hidden inside of her.
Trying to remember the girl who believed she could ride horses before she ever rode a horse—who checked our horseback riding books by the armful from the library, memorized them—and every night, imagined riding horses to get to sleep, to quiet anxiety, to soothe loneliness—so when, at age 9, she rode her first horse, the instructor said, “You seem like you’ve been riding for years! You’re a natural!”
Trying to remember the girl talked to her best friend Erin for hours on the telephone about everything (What does a penis look like? Was my pimple that noticeable? I'll never get boobs! He dumped me in a fucking note.) and nothing (Should I wear the purple sweater or the blue one tomorrow? Did you finish your Chem homework? I love Eddie and the Cruisers!) after school every day for 6 years straight.
Trying to remember the now-almost woman who, despite being inside the hell of an abusive relationship, managed to write a senior honors thesis for college, a very long 80 page short story about a woman whose husband suffers from early onset Alzheimer’s, a story about her loneliness, about her love for him, yet I knew nothing about Alzheimer’s, but took risks with imagination and empathy and was told by my writing professor (mentor/surrogate father/writing idol), "Sit down, Kerry. I have some bad news: You're a writer."
Trying to remember the woman who moved clear across to Texas, who started her own life, who fell in love with a man who was kind and caring and loving and loved her back.
Trying to remember the woman who loved what happened as her body grew and grew in pregnancy, who felt those miraculous kicks and jabs of her children growing inside of her body--her body giving life, instead of a body turning its back on life.And now once again, taking risks. Trying to have integrity again. Trying to be honest.
If you stay on this path of recovery, you can stay on the path to recovery. Sounds simple, and it is ultimately simple. Your life can be much less complicated. Yield to those who can help, to those who have been there and have achieved some measure of recovery. Allow you stubborn-assed self to follow at least some of their path.
Your life can be fulfilling without being overfilled with achievements. Enough can be good enough: a marriage that lasts, children who you have seen through the tumultuous years of their adolescence. You have made it through your 40's, a decade which has looked nothing like your 30's, filled with hope and serenity because you have yielded to balance, because you have accepted the fact of your diagnosis which has placed some limitations on the "everything-all-at-once" that you thought you could do, because you understood that trying to be perfect at everything-all-at-once meant complete an utter collapse.
You have also yielded to and accepted a real body: one that isn't built upon rigidity, one that isn't controled by negation and starvation, one that isn't confined to bones and hollows, but is allowed to be--to feel hunger and feed its hungers; one that has wants and needs and can satiate its wants and needs; one that feels desire and isn't ashamed to feel desire and can satisfy those desires; one that can revel in pleasure; one that can enjoy the touch of her husband's hands, his body with hers, their bodies together--mutual desires satisfied. A body that can yield to natural appetites of all varieties: biological, emotional, sexual, spiritual.
You believe that your place is in this world, that you belong here, with family and friends, that you can accept and feel their love, that you are worthy of their love. Simultaneously, that your love doesn't damage anyone, that they need your love, too--that they rely on you staying alive, being here every day and night. Your life, your being alive from one day to the next is a given. At night, when you have difficulty sleeping, you no longer fantasize about suicide, but about family vacations to a wildlife preserve in South Africa, or walking along the beach with Christopher and Athena (who is now an old, calm dog, though still leaping for Frisbees in the surf), the serenity interrupted by phone calls (or texts) from the kids, or tallying up all the things that you are grateful for that day, that moment: recovery, sobriety, hope, authenticity, integrity, your life NOW.