For two years I disappeared. Well, I gave it my best effort, anyway. Shortly after my fortieth birthday, I discovered that my marriage was a lie. That sort of realization causes a palpable shift to take place. I lost my center of gravity. Literally. I felt unsteady on my feet. I walked around in a daze, dispassionately observing myself from the outside. I lived in a beautiful house, in a beautiful neighborhood, with two beautiful children and a beautiful dog. And this thing, this ugly, cancerous truth had been introduced into our lives. Everything was topsy turvy. I was Alice in Wonderland, and I just wanted to get home- to exit the rabbit hole and go back to NOT KNOWING.
The night I found out, I skipped dinner, took a bottle of wine out of the fancy wine refrigerator, and went upstairs to my room. The thought of eating was ridiculous. The thought of feeling, even more so. I was aiming for numb. I hit the mark.
The next morning, I made breakfast for the kids. My husband tried to hug me on his way out the door, and I stood frozen in my lovely kitchen. I sent the kids off to school, and went about my day. I skipped breakfast. Lunch made no sense to me. At dinner, I pushed food around my plate hoping that the kids would think I was eating. I felt empty, and that felt appropriate. I was empty.
Every day, I went through the motions. I packed lunches. I got dressed. I put on make-up. I smiled. I volunteered. I laughed with my friends- but it felt like a fun-house version of my life. You know how, when you are watching a horror movie and the scene is idyllic, it usually means something terrifying is about to happen? That’s what it felt like- as though the soundtrack to my life was that super creepy music that all ice cream trucks are apparently mandated to play. A distant, tinny, haunting version of what it used to be.
I began to lose weight. That felt right, too. I felt untethered, as though at any moment I could fly off the face of the earth. The things that had grounded me in my life were gone. Or broken. Either way, weightlessness felt right.
`What a curious feeling!’ said Alice; `I must be shutting up like a telescope.’
Eventually, people began to notice. I stepped out of the shower one morning, and my husband said, You look great. I felt a wave of rage wash over me. Perhaps he meant it genuinely, but it felt as though he was admiring his handiwork. That was beginning of it. That was when my not eating became intentional. When I began ACTIVELY not eating. I think on some level I wanted to look outwardly the way I felt, inwardly. Wrecked.
`Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice
After the first ten pounds, friends and acquaintances began to say things. When I’d lost twenty, it became a daily occurrence. Every day, I would hear how great I looked. You look amazing! And, What are you doing? I would always say, Atkins. I actually feel quite a bit of shame about that, when I look back. For anyone who was trying to lose weight in a healthy way, it must have been discouraging to see the weight falling off of me, seemingly without a struggle. But it was a struggle. Just not the right kind.
All told, I lost forty pounds in seven months. And I have never gotten so much positive feedback in my life. And mostly from other women. And I knew it wasn’t true. I didn’t look great. I was disappearing, bit by bit, every single day. The only two consistent exceptions were my friends, Angela and Juleen. Juleen said on several occasions, You look beautiful, but are you eating? I would reassure her that I was, but I think we both knew I was lying. Angela, my best friend, lived next door to me. Our houses were connected by a pretty little path through the woods. I remember going over to her house one night and turning back halfway, because my size 2 jeans were falling down- and I knew it would worry her. She was already worried sick about me. I am so sorry to have done that to her.
I was living two existences. At home, when the kids were at school, I was, quite literally, on the floor. Undone. Wasting away, every day. And then there was the shiny, happy version. I had cute clothes, and I smiled, and I was in the PTA. And I was the ‘right’ size. Because we’ve decided there’s a right size. WE have decided that. That’s what’s so painful. It’s a self-inflicted wound.
“But it’s no use now,’ thought poor Alice, `to pretend to be two people! Why, there’s hardly enough of me left to make one respectable person!”
I had a really lovely email from a woman in my old neighborhood- not a close friend, but someone I knew casually and liked. She expressed her sorrow at my divorce, and said something along the lines of seeing me- living in that beautiful yellow house- walking hand in hand with my daughter to school every day, and thinking she knew what my life was. That email meant the world to me. It’s so true. We decide about one another, based on jean size, and wardrobe, and granite countertops. We decide about each other from the outside. In other words, based on exactly nothing. It’s so much more comfortable not to look behind the curtain.
As women, we get rewarded for being the smallest possible versions of ourselves, in every way. Be nice, be quiet, be THIN. I had become the absolute tiniest version of me. There is a Shawn Colvin song, Polaroids- one of my all-time favorites- that has the lyric, “thinner than oxygen.” That was me. And even though I felt awful, there was a sort of power in it, too. I got more attention for my appearance then than at any other point in my life. And I was dying. I really was.
“You used to be much more…”muchier.” You’ve lost your muchness.”
And so, what to do with this? Well, for starters, I’m trying to be better at extending grace to everyone- including me. Working on that. Every day. Because I know first-hand that you never know when you are walking in on the worst day of someone’s life. I am in a relationship now with someone who wants me to be the biggest, best version of myself I can be. He delights in me. That helps. But in the end, it’s up to me. Balls. I am the weakest link, as it turns out.
When I finally started telling people that my marriage was falling apart, my mantra was that I wanted to come out the other side the same person. Mission NOT accomplished. I am older, wiser, battle weary and decidedly changed. And much ‘muchier.’ Thank God.