Once upon a time, I might have thought I was fragile, like a delicate, antique porcelain vase with cracks running through its sides, balanced precariously on the edge of a side table. Throw in a couple of crazy eight year old boys whooping it up, running circles around the vase, threating to send it crashing to the ground. How about someone filling the vase with water and jamming it full of flowers, the water and stems pushing against the cracks, pressure building and building from that pretty innocuous bouquet.That was me, ready to crash and implode at the slightest bump, the smallest bit of pressure. And I did, often. My Bipolar Disorder and Anorexia and drinking were so out of control that everything seemed overwhelming, and I was in and out of the psych hospital, a person unrecognizable to myself, more than twenty times in five years. Possessed by the furies, if you want to be mythic about it. In fact, things were so horrifically, desperately, unfathomably out of control, and I was so inexplicably beyond reach of conventional help, that a friend who was an ex-priest elicited the help of a priest and they actually performed an exorcism on me while I was in the psych ward, bible, holy water, rosary beads and all!
That’s how bad it was: I mean, who has an exorcism? What tongues was I speaking in? How fast was my head spinning? Certainly I don’t believe I was actually possessed by The Devil. But I do believe I wasn’t myself for those long, insane years. I was possessed by this crazy other self that now feels so foreign to me—a self that was so intent on self-destruction in any and every way possible. Now, much of that seems like an incomprehensible, distant, fuzzy dream—which may be the result of all the prescription drugs I’ve take over the course of all these years, or the Electric Shock Treatments I was given which erased much of my memory of those years.But it is difficult for me to see myself as the woman who was strapped down in an isolation room with her arms all cut up; or the woman in the hospital medicated to the point of drooling in an attempt to quell her mania; or the woman who had her bathroom locked in the hospital because no one would trust her not to throw up her food. That seems like another woman, not me. A woman I can feel compassion for, but a woman who scares me because that can’t have been me—really?
But of course that was me. I don’t need to remind myself of that—I have scars crosshatched on my arms to prove it. And here’s the thing: while my past scares the shit out of me it also serves as a warning to me about what could happen again if I become complacent in my recovery. But my past, too, is a testament to my strength. I am not fragile.I am learning to override fragility and its attendant fears and reach for strength and its courage when I watch my son ride his bike. For the past two years my husband and I have been trying to teach my son to ride his bike—but my son refused, terrified of falling, of speed, of imagining whatever biking demons he dreamed. Finally, in a firm, concerted effort and force of will, we taught Alexander over the course of a few days last month, and Alexander fell in immediate love with biking, and now insists on biking whenever possible on a nearby trail. Of course, his skills are still shaky but his courage is insane! He loves to go fast and bike while standing up. My instinct is to yell at him to “Slow down!” and “Watch out!” and “Be Careful!” to be the harpy, the killjoy. And yet, he’s wearing his helmet (something I never had as a kid), and he’s on a paved trail (no cars), so he’s moderately safe—and he’s not fragile! He’s a kid seizing happiness and feeling courageous and strong. And I have to let him go.
Watching Alexander, I know having come through my years of possession intact, and in fact, stronger for it, having survived myself, I know that I can survive anything that this life might throw at me. I don’t shatter. Not in any way that can’t be put back together again.