cleaning in spring

restore the peace, remove the rest

I’ve been doing some purging. 

The easy stuff was first. The closet! The nightstand! The dresser! The cleaning buzz even took me through the wilds of the file boxes. And then the bathroom! The bottoms of purses and the pockets of backpacks! Then the car! The work bag! Nothing felt better than the hours of sorting and tossing and donating. What inspired the frenzy I’m not quite sure, but something in me wanted to be more portable. Unattached. Ready to move and flow without the bog of sticky old cough drops and forgotten bits of mail weighing me down. 

The most thorough part of the purge was the clothes. I’m usually pretty good at pulling out the older things, but this time around I went a step further. Not only did I get rid of the clothes that obviously didn’t fit, I got rid of the clothes I wished would fit. The tops and skirts that were ever-so-slightly too snug, that 5 or 10 pounds would fix, those pieces I begged to stretch just a bit so we could be happy together- all removed. Goodbye to them, goodbye to wishful thinking. Up next, the clothes I thought I liked but never actually wore. Time to stop lying to myself; I’m never going to wear that sweat-dress and I don’t actually like mini skirts. Farewell. 

Today I’m happy to report I’ve been able to get dressed quickly, both in clothes I like and items I don’t have to change because I’m being choked by collars or buttons. Magical. 

Next was the scale. I held it lovingly, looked into it’s cold, dead eyes, then promptly shoved it into the trash. Goodbye little black machine that kindly ruined so many of my days. We are no longer friends. I’ve had my physical and, yes, though I’m heavier than last year, the rest was A-okay. I’m not a diabetic, don’t have anemia, am free of vitamin deficiencies and my blood pressure was fine. The scale-free experiment of the last several months proved successful- my body knew what it needed without your direction. It asked for the right amount of exercise and the right amount of nutrients, I obliged and, shockingly, did not turn into an amorphous blob of cholesterol. I am now firmly convinced that weight can’t be the only marker for health and I’m pretty done letting it run the show. My mind was made to obsess over more important things than calorie counts. 

Happily curled up in pants (that fit) I finally came to the next great purge: The Application for Annulment. At the end of it all the thing turned out to be a thesis paper better off titled: Reasons Why I Should Have Known Better. A small book of lessons learned and shame packed into 70 pages of double-spaced type, neatly mailed away for examination by a crowd of church-goers I’ve never met. At worst, they’ll be scandalized, at best, they’ll be impressed by our profoundly poor decision making skills. I could be wrong- maybe they’ll all just be nice. Either way, I’m trying not to think about it and I’m mostly just glad it’s done. If anything, hopefully at least they’ll be pleased with my A+ work; all my years of training went into this project. The finished product was a binder complete with slip-covers, tabs, tables, headers, footers and 1-inch-wide margins. Now it is off in the universe waiting to be graded like my life’s most terrifying SATs. At least it’s out of my hands.

My name got chopped up next. Goodbye to the married, exotic, Sicilian experience I used to be a part of. Welcome back to the name I learned to spell in kindergarten and had printed on diplomas. Driver’s license, social security, credit cards, nursing board all changed, changed, changed. A long but satisfying list to check off, with every completion another snip at the dangling threads of my old life. I’m still working on my signature- it’s a confused mess of letters that don’t belong to each other, so don’t look too closely if you find my notes at work. In the meantime, I’ll try not to make you feel weird when you congratulate me on the change because you think I’ve gotten married. 

In other news, Lent is here now. A season practically devoted to purging. What else is left to trim? I am portable, satisfied, free. I am unmarried. Back to the name I was born with. 

After some thought, I found the next victim- now on the chopping block are those pesky apps threatening to upset the peace. Those harmless looking squares make me question my worth, my value, my beauty, and, worst, distract me from the present. So, once again, I bid adieu to you, Dating Apps. We had a nice little time together, but you were disturbing the state of the union. Maybe I’ll see you on Sundays, but the days between you’ll find me reading good books, practicing Italian, and remaining blissfully unavailable to the men who say they’ll call but then swipe, swipe, swipe their way through Nashville’s brightest. Adios. 

Or rather, arrivederci. 

eating your feelings

inside the mind of a binge

I have stretch marks now, and not the good kind. Not the kind you get from making or feeding children, but the kind you get from eating stale crackers from the back corner of your pantry because nothing else is left to binge. 

This is uncomfortable; today’s conversation has less to do with what happened to me, and more to do with what I did to myself- the part I played in treating myself more worse than I deserved. 

A little melodramatic, maybe, when you consider the subject matter to be pretzel thins or Chips Ahoy, but it goes deeper than that. It might’ve started out somewhere small- ah, the innocence of the pretzel- until things progressed uncontrollably, an unruly monster, towards old tortillas or heels of bread or the last of the chips you don’t even like, on and on until you start to wonder if chia seeds are okay on their own or if dry noodles are any good.

It starts out with a casual glance into the fridge. Or maybe it started before that, at dinner with friends, when you realized the fun would end and you’d be alone again but and you needed something comforting to come home to. Then you’re standing there at the end of the day, in your oversized t-shirt and bare feet, lights off but for the fridge, waiting for something to look good enough to eat. And then you start. When those first good things are gone, the second tier start to go. After that, the rest disappears, slow and steady, until you’re ill. Nausea and bloating take over, followed closely by shame, self-loathing, disgust. And then it’s time for bed. Diet starts tomorrow, right?

These habits didn’t just spring up out of nowhere. I’d learned to treat food and my body poorly since childhood- sneaking treats was a fun adventure, comfort food was the norm, snacks to unwind were the go-to. Fairly normal habits to get into and not always bad. Food is a part of our culture and certainly an important part of an abundant, joyful life. However, less normal when I felt I couldn’t stop- more goldfish, more cookies, more chips. Matched by more work-outs, more diets, more rules. I always felt a little out of control in either direction and quickly learned how to feel bad about myself based on the food diary or the weight or the jean size. Easily done through middle and high school, easily reinforced into adulthood. 

College started out alright. I felt thin and pretty and healthy. I ate what I wanted but wasn’t too crazy, had salads and pizza and did just fine. I certainly had a distorted relationship with food and body image, but I coasted along for a while until it started taking a turn in the wrong direction. 

Trying to pinpoint the moment of decline is tricky, but I know I started gaining the most weight studying abroad. I’m not sure if it was the stress of being away from home, my involvement in an emotionally tumultuous relationship, or simply a shift in metabolism. Probably a bit of all of it mixed with Nutella and beer. When I came home, though, I couldn’t lose that weight again no matter what I tried. 

That semester the relationship I had with food and my boyfriend started growing stranger at the same time. There was a lot of arguing about why we weren’t having sex, the hot-and-cold games were picking up steam, and the withholding of attention increased. My jeans were tighter and my boyfriend was colder, and that was all I knew about that. I discovered I had the capacity to eat chocolate til my stomach hurt, and sometimes that felt good.

It worsened more rapidly once we were married. I suddenly lived in a military town where I knew no one and was alone for weeks at a time. There’s nothing more comforting than comfort food when you have no friends! And when you know your husband had time to call you but didn’t, you learn that chocolate chips never ignored you. Pizza never pretended you didn’t exist. Cupcakes never left you lonely.

And when he started leaving the house more often than work required, ice cream bars were still there. Coconut milk ones, though, because you’re trying to be healthy. Until you eat all five.

When he didn’t feel like going on a date with you, there was always the movies. Full of darkness and giant popcorns and candy and soda and no one to see you eat all of it. No one could tell when you dropped popcorn down your shirt or left grease stains on your pants; no one to see you and reject you for the forgettable cow that you were.

When he didn’t want to have sex with you, there was wine. Wine made you feel softer and prettier and took the sting off.

Last summer was the worst of all. It was easier to consume whole bags of chips, whole bottles of wine, tubs of ice cream then face a broken heart. Food was always there. Food was a reliable friend. Food made me feel good when my husband couldn’t. Or when he didn’t want to. Or when he didn’t give a shit anymore at all. And when I decided to leave there were still M&Ms. Still peanut butter. The grocery store was always there, ready to let me take home whatever company I wanted to keep. It wanted me back when no one else did.

When it stopped making me feel good, it started making me miserable, but that became okay. I was disgusting enough to be ignored, I might as well feel the part. I really was worth rejecting, wasn’t I? Crumbs and stains and bloat, out of clothes that fit, out of reasons to look in the mirror. Why would he want to look at me? I’m forgettable. I’m disgusting. I’m alone. Act like it.

At a certain point, it just got easier to feel sick than sad. It was easier to eat a whole box of cereal til everything hurt but my heart. It was easier to upset myself over brownies than him.

Congrats to me, I never purged. I thought about it plenty. I wanted to, still do some days when it gets bad again. I imagine it’d feel like a reset button on the damage I’d done to myself, a reversal over the control I just lost. Never did, though, because “purging is a sin.” 

What a strange little world I’ve cooked up in my brain. 

In the end, as much as it might seem like self-care and post-divorce care are separate topics, for me, they’re very much the same. I was in a relationship where I was treated as less-than, both by a man I loved and by myself. 

I’m ready to thrive in my own skin. I’m ready to start chipping away at a culture that allows us to treat ourselves, and allows others to treat us, with less than we deserve. 

It’s a tangled mess, I know, but thanks for being here while I try. I hope you know you’re beautiful. We all are.