I don't know if I'm ever going to murder the voice in my head that staunchly believes that I am worthless. I know that for long periods of time, she is quiet. I say "quiet" and not "absent" deliberately, because even when her sphincter-pucker of a mouth is shut, I can feel her lurking, tugging on my brain stem and reminding me that the respite from her barrage of trash talk is just that: a temporary break from the onslaught.
"How is your eating?" My therapist asks me this in the same way she asks me everything else: with gentleness and equanimity. But, of course, when food is one of your things, when you've always been at least 20 if not 40 pounds overweight, there is not enough gentleness in the world when it comes to the subject.
"Fine," I lie. I sit with that for a minute before I realize it isn't true. Whenever a lie comes out of my mouth that isn't deliberate, but is the by-product of a life lived for other people, without taking a beat to see what I actually think and feel about something for myself, I think about the guy I was shortly and intensely involved with last year.
He left me because I am a liar. This is what he says. That I was dishonest. To me, this never rang true. But there's the catch — you can't fight someone about being a liar because if they think you are one, then they don't trust you and they never will. I felt trapped and cornered by the accusation. I still do.
See, like you all, he had complete access, of a sort, to my past, to my emotional landscape as such I have deemed fit to share here. I'm an honest writer, which means I've admitted in the past to also being a childhood liar. I'm an honest writer, which means I should now say to everyone reading this that honesty in writing doesn't mean you know me as well as you might think. He didn't know me as well as he thought. I lied to him three times. Once, when I told him I'd spent less money on candy for him than I had, to make it seem like not a big deal that I'd bought him a candy bar; once when I said I came and I hadn't; and once when I told him that I didn't love him.
I am sure he thinks otherwise. I am sure that if this were the me of two years ago writing that I'd still be struggling to try and prove to him that I am good.
But that's not who I am now. I can't prove to him that I'm good any more than I can prove that to the asshole in my brain who doesn't believe it either. He got drunk and asked me what real problems I'd ever had other than being a fat girl. And I stayed in the room. He explained that when he drinks, he is a mean flirt. And I stayed. He called me a drama queen, a theater girl. And I stayed. He never met my friends, and he was in a relationship when we began, and I stayed and I believed everything he ever said to me because his voice was so familiar to me. It was my own voice.
I still think he's right: I am a bad person. But I don't have to listen to him, or even to myself. I have to carry on, and that's what I try to do. I can believe I'm a bad person and not behave like one. I can exist, a bad person, paroled for behavior bordering on decent. Eventually, I'd like to unpack the self-loathing and look it in the face and call malarkey on it. That's the ultimate goal. But right now, I'll settle for parole.
"No," I say to my therapist after the micro-pain of these thoughts flashes through my mind in half a choked swallow, like a pill gone down the throat the wrong way, "I am not doing well with food." I've gained back 10 of the pounds I lost this summer. I feel awash with tears, but it's different than it has been in the past. I'm not crying because I'm fat, I'm not crying because I'm bad; I'm crying because it is only now, with the gift of a span of days and the changing seasons, that I can see how badly I was punishing myself. I'm not a dieter, but I work very hard to eat mindfully, and it was something I'd only just sort of figured out before I was gut-punched last spring. I am tearful not because of the weight, because who the fuck cares; I am tearful because I feel bad for the part of me that seeks out numbness and comfort, or some strange combination of the two, because she feels too fragile to sit with a feeling, any feeling at all, let alone one that is bad.
Saying all of this to my therapist, saying it out loud, saying, "No, my food shit has been bad, and I'm just now getting back on track because the events of last year fucked my head more than I realized" is a singular feeling. Once, as a kid, I went to this camp with a lake with my Girl Scout troop. Out in the middle of the water, there was a small, square floating dock, and we would take turns jumping off the thing, doing all manner of strange and hilarious arabesques and tumbles. In a fit of glee, I ran and did a forward roll, hitting the water at a strange angle, and not going beneath the surface in a way I recognized. I felt frantic and disoriented. I opened my eyes and it was dark and dirty, and something touched my foot. I gasped and choked on water, and for an instant panicked before relaxing and letting my body float slowly to the surface and to the light. That gulp of air, that gust of cool wind on my skin, the flutter in my throat and the receding panic I felt then — that is what it's like to admit the truth to my therapist and to myself.
"It all hit me hard," I say, "but I’m surfacing."