In four days, I’m once again off to Greece: a do-over, do-over, do-over. The past two trips were mini-disasters as I was either sneaking off to purge in toilets, behind tamarisk trees, even in a frantically scooped out hole in the sand. Or eating as little as possible, throwing my food to starving cats or secreting it away in crumpled napkins. Or crouching in front of the mini-fridge to take furtive gulps of Ouzo. Or deliberately cutting my arms, ankles, or hands in a way to look as if I’d tripped on the rocks or brushed against a thorny rose bush. And then there were the times Christopher had to restrain me from impulsively ending my life—trying to jump out of the car, in the dark, over a cliff edge; running down a busy Athens street with the aim of throwing myself under a truck, dreaming of swimming out into the Aegean and not returning. I was not an ideal traveler.This time will be different. I haven’t purged in nine months, have gained twelve pounds, have been sober for almost sixteen months, haven’t cut myself or experienced a white-out crisis in ten months. I seem to be back on a more stable course and Christopher won’t have to play babysitter/orderly/policeman/repair man, which certainly must be a relief for him: he doesn’t have to worry about what might happen next and next and next. Maybe I can be present for the trip as well. I can sit on the beach without endlessly obsessing over how much I ate at lunch (maybe even enjoying grilled octopus, tomato fritters, and baked feta slathered on crusty bread), watch the kids snorkel around the bay in search of dinner’s octopus, bask in the sunshine (slathered, of course, in SPF 50) and swim lazy laps in the cold water, feeling mermaid-strong-supple-sleek. In the moment and content.
I’m realistic, though. Dr. B. warned me about seeing my two weeks on the tiny island of Thassos, in our rental house overlooking olive trees and the clear waters of Alykes Bay as a magical elixir. Believe me, I know better than that. AA’s Big Book cautions against looking for the “geographical cure” as we pack all of our addictions and psychiatric problems in our carry-on. Previously, I’ve relied on my time in Greece to keep my volatility and mood swings at bay. Who could be depressed with feet in Aegean waters or the scent of thyme and oregano all around? Who could want to give up on life, on self under the Aegean sun’s blessing and the moon’s bright beacon? Who? Me, time and again. I am no longer naïve.
Though I am twelve pounds heavier—everyone says “healthier”—I can barely look at myself in the mirror because all I see is someone fat and out of control. In a bathing suit in front of many friends and strangers and my husband? I’ve done a test run this past week—taking the kids to our town pool—and every time I shift in the lounge chair or walk on the pool deck to get into the pool, I’m been hyper-conscious and ashamed that my stomach is no longer concave but rounded--more “womanly” than anorexic though I just see myself as the reincarnation of the Venus of Willendorf. I feel like my stomach is spilling over my bathing suit bottoms, am no longer whippet-thin and this is terrifying as a bathing suit is de rigueur on the beach. My rational self says, “You are okay, better than okay, more like you and less like a skeleton.” My irrational self, stuffed with delusions and distortions says, “Don’t believe the hype. Nothing is okay. You look less like you and more like a sausage splitting its casings.”
Though I am more stable, less inclined to hurl myself off a cliff, I haven’t yet hooked myself up to a paraglider. Just yesterday, I was walking to my Dual Diagnosis meeting (for people suffering from a substance addiction as well as a psychiatric illness) in the soft sun of the evening, looking at all the blooming flowers in yards—pink peonies, apricot roses, tiger lilies, some unknown purple clusters—when a thought just interrupted everything: “You can’t commit suicide now because you’re home with the kids and Christopher is away, so they would have no one. Besides, they’re giddy about Greece. You couldn’t do that to them.” I really have no idea what prompted this—except IT must be on the defensive because I’m moving forward into health and stability and a future. At the meeting, as I was retelling this suicidal-ideation blip, I said, “This is so fucked up! Who the hell thinks like this?” Apparently I do.Last night, I had another relapse nightmare: I was out at a bar/party, the place crowded, and I was drinking. Not sipping my wine, but downing it as fast as possible, one glass after another. But I was being watched by my best friend’s father who had been sober for all the years I’d known him, and he looked me in the eyes and said sadly, with kindness, “Please don’t do this to yourself. Don’t throw it all away.” Did I listen? I just proceeded to get drunker, blacking out, and waking in bed at home with Christopher, who was furious—even though I believed I’d managed to fool him. Message? Relapse is always possible. No slacking off in recovery.
A double-message evening, because an AA friend called to tell me a friend from our Women’s Meeting died the night before. She’d started using heroin again and that was that. Just three weeks ago, she was telling us that she wanted to stay sober, she wanted to kick this addiction’s ass because she wanted to try to reconcile with her teenage daughters who refused to speak with her. I could hear her certainty and conviction in THIS TIME being able to stay the course. So I don’t assume anything about my own recovery. Just for today, just for now.Which takes me back to Thassos and my rental house. My husband has been emailing me pictures of the house—a lemon tree in the yard; mint, thyme, rosemary, and oregano growing everywhere; a balcony overlooking the bay; a five minute walk to the beach. Just for now, I believe this time will be better because I am mermaid strong.