Tuesday, February 16, 2016

10 Things No One Told You About Divorce



1. Sometimes you eat like a scavenging member of the Donner Party, dragging a carrot through a tub of expired hummus, eating bran cereal (or the kids' Lucky Charms) by the fistful straight from the box, spooning peanut butter, the main protein source, onto your tongue, and shaking chocolate chips from the bag for dessert. You do all of this standing by the sink in the dark because you don't believe it's worth the effort to cook sustaining, delicious food just for yourself. People begin tell you that since the divorce, you've gone feral.
2. You start walking around the house in shabby underwear (when you don't have the kids), and notice your white panties are gray. So you shuck them off, and your tired bra, too, and look down at the body that you agonized over for all those married years. You doubted that you were enough and his affair seemed to confirm this. But standing naked now, with just yourself to please, you suddenly realize: "I am effing beautiful."
3. If you change your married name back to your unmarried name, your younger name, your name before all of the collective joy and pain, you cry the first time that you sign a check or bill, having to invent a new signature on the spot. That signature might even resemble your childhood signature: a loopy, hesitant inscription of your name on the world. Resist dotting your "i" with a heart.
4. If you have children, they worry about you. They say, "You should try to find someone! Go online! We just want you to be happy like Dad is with X." You might want to say something disparaging about their father and the girlfriend. Don't. Your children love you and their father with their wide and forgiving hearts. Instead, pull them close, kiss each cheek, and say, "I have you. I don't need a man to make me happy." Which is true, but also a tiny lie.
5. If you venture into online dating, know that perfect strangers will ask you to describe your calves and teeth, as if you are up at the cattle auction; couples will ask you to couple with them; voyeurs will want to watch you with younger partners; and younger partners will woo you with their staying power, intuiting, too, your mid-life desperation (the ex is already engaged to the other woman). Delete these messages. Or not. Trudge around the house in your gray underwear or have an exhilarating fling.
6. You spend a lot of time inspecting the gray roots when you blow-dry your hair, wondering how you got to be this old and alone. When you towel off after showering, you'll notice the gray hair below that simultaneously sprouted with the divorce decree. Dye the top? Dye the top and bottom? Surely someone else will come along so grooming is essential. Your secret fear? No one is coming along again. Except for the crazy stalker guy from Match.com.
7. Because your ex was usually in the driver's seat, he generally set the radio station, the temperature, and the level of road rage. You are now Danica Patrick. Turn up Taylor Swift, blast the heat, and instead of shouting invectives at other drivers, encourage the kids to join you in a sing-a-long to "Bad Blood." They won't actually sing-a-long, and slump in their seats when you pump the brake, pretending to have bad-ass hydraulics. But they will see that you can be happy alone and with them.
8. You realize all the pee on the toilet was not, in fact, your ex's, but is due to your son's bad aim. You feel guilty over all the times you stepped on wet tiles and sat on the wet toilet seat, damning your ex to outhouse hell. You feel guilty for all the arguments, for going to bed angry, for holding your ground long after it mattered. However, guilt aside, in the next co-parenting email exchange, you need to tell your ex to work on your son's toilet etiquette.
9. You are not be prepared for the vast ocean of your king-sized bed. At night, even though you have an extra ten feet of space, space you coveted when you were married (you were pushed to the edge of the bed by your husband, the dog, and often, your son), you still sleep on a narrow sliver. In fact, you don't disturb his side but pile your dirty yoga pants in an approximation of his body, like filling in the empty space of a body's outline at a crime scene. When you wake up in the middle of the night, you pat the lumpy, reassuring pile as if he is there.
10. Sometimes, it feels like the end of your life. Your therapist nods ambiguously. "I hear you," he says. You're not sure he does. Later, when you are at your friends' house for dinner, the husband-friend tells you that he thinks you are amazing, and that you have come so far and with such grace, and that you are loved by so many. His eyes get wet as he says this. Divorce might feel like the wages of love's failure, but love still waits to catch you off guard.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Joy After Anorexia: The Marie Kondo Method



I came across an old pair of my really skinny jeans during my annual New Year’s closet cleanse, inspired by Marie Kondo’s advice that I only hold on to things that bring me joy.  I fondled my shirts, sweaters, skirts, dresses, and pants and waited for the fuzzy spark.  Brown, wide-legged corduroys circa 2002?  Black dress pants always covered in white fuzz?  Cheap Fair Isle sweater, my labor of love, requiring me to pluck hundreds of pills before wearing it anywhere other than bed?  I dropped them all in the “toss” pile. 

Then I found the jeans, bought in a sleek boutique in Bucharest, Romania in 2008 where my family and I lived for several months.  I didn’t speak Romanian or know my size so the salesclerk riffled through the impeccably folded stacks until she found the right pair, the smallest, most impossible size I’d ever been and only because I was anorexic, running miles and miles every day and measuring out my allowed calories.  But I felt smug, deluded joy holding the jeans at the cash register.  My hands burned with joy.  I no longer worried if clothes were too tight, no longer felt anxiety as I buttoned pants at my concave waist, no longer felt like a lumbering giant as my BMI indicated I could pass for a European runway model.  My body, which always felt unwieldy, was under my control: I was the unenlightened despot demanding to the death.



Recovery from my eating disorder has been long, agonizing, and often shameful.  Five inpatient treatment programs over three years.  While adult women over thirty comprise one-third of all eating disorder treatment admissions, there is still a bias in understanding this illness—it is assumed that it is a “young” woman’s illness, that older woman (i.e., women who no longer shop at Abercrombie) and men don’t equally stand in front of the mirror pinching what is “excess,” don’t equally starve themselves or purge their necessary meals, don’t equally die.
     
This is not a post about dying, but about joy because when I stood in the closet holding those really skinny jeans, I didn’t feel joy anymore or even longing’s shadow (i.e., please, God, let me wake up and be that weightless again).  Only relief: I could toss them because my joy was no longer about being weak (anorexia is exhausting, devours muscle, shrinks the brain, and damages the heart and all other organs), my joy comes from being strong.  Once upon a time, my daughter used to flinch when I hugged her because my bones hurt, and both of my kids sent drawings to hang on my hospital room walls as reminders to come home, and I was terrified of being bigger in body and heart.

What changed?  I started eating when I was hungry (the stomach churns and growls for a reason) and when I felt like it (yes, I’ll have that piece of chocolate).  I stopped counting calories, clothing sizes, laps, miles, and pounds.  I used to weigh myself ten times a day; now, I don’t own a scale.  I started CrossFit and stopped running to the ruminative mantra, “Less is more, less is more, less is more.”  CrossFit teaches me to love my tired, broken, but capable body, to see myself as a woman getting stronger, to eat more than I thought possible because that fuel allows my body to do what was once impossible.  At the weight that almost killed me, I could barely lift myself out of bed; now, I lift hundreds of pounds each week (though not all in one rep).  Working out with a group and running with friends keeps me honest and visible.  No more solitary Bataan Death Runs.  

   
        

If only all of my insecurities and secret moments of self-loathing could be tossed with the same sangfroid with which I finally disposed of the jeans.  But that is not exactly the whole truth.  I’ve been hiding those jeans at the bottom of my bigger-sized stack in the closet out of a dangerous nostalgia.  They were like an old movie reel spinning out a long-ago childhood scene: Look at how cute I was.  Look at how small I was.  Look at how happy I was.  I’ve been holding on to a similar reel: standing in that boutique with jeans that promised joy as long as I stayed at that size forever.  Consigning the jeans to the “toss” pile was a long-needed act of rebellion.  Never again.  Last night, I saw a picture of myself at CrossFit on a friend’s Facebook page: I am mid-deadlift and my growing muscles strain at the weight.  My expression is one of intensity and fear.  Will I die?  Not anymore.  I’m certain that after I set the bar on the ground, as always, my muscles trembled with the righteous fatigue of joy.