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.
I can relate to not knowing what to do with compliments about weight when weight loss is a sign of things falling apart. I try to be so careful about commenting on people’s bodies, and I also try to be honest about why I lost so much weight, when it’s appropriate. Beautiful post. You deserve a snack 🙂
In Other's Words says
I read your post this morning, Margaret- and I really related to it as well. Lovely.
Kate B. says
This just took my breath away. Thank you for putting this out there. Thank you.
Daily Presents/Cadigan Creative says
Laura – this is hauntingly beautiful. I admire your bravery to share so much of yourself and your experience, and I am so grateful that you are coming out the other side of the fun house a lot “muchier.” You are amazing.
Ruth Welsh says
Your muchness blesses me every day. Thank you for being you, even when it hurts.
So good, and brave, and true, Laura. And really amazing how well Carroll’s words fit. I had a similar experience in my twenties of starving myself for six months. I can relate to the weird sense of control and power that it gives you, when everything else seems to be falling apart. For me it staved off a deep depression that had been setting in, got me the guy I wanted, and got me tons of compliments and affirmation. But ultimately it ruined my metabolism, couldn’t save the relationship (because obviously me not being thin enough was not the problem in the first place), and only postponed the depression that was my mind and spirit’s way of telling me there were some things I had to deal with.
Thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve been, pun intended, eating up your posts, and can’t wait for more.
Such an incredibly crafted piece, Laura. As well crafted a piece of writing that I’ve seen online. Many kudos to you!
As for the subject: I remember those days, and your withering away, and the discussions about how to sneak food into you. 🙂 I’ve seen it happen to other women as well, unfortunately, and wish we could come up with a magic wand to swipe it away.
Beautifully written on a most painful issue. If you keep this up you will help other women on various issues they have but are ashamed to admit. You are very brave and will change the world for some. <3
Hugs to you my lovely friend. What a way you have. ?
Laura this piece is beautiful and brave like you. I remember during that awful time telling you that it was going to be alright, but secretly not really believing it. I remember watching you getting smaller and smaller and feeling completely helpless. I remember praying about it hard and hearing God whisper “just be there for her.” So I kept showing up and I hoped you would too. And now my beautiful friend stands tall and strong writing her truth for all to see. It is such a gift to see her, all of her, shining in the world. OX
In Other's Words says
I fully believe, down to my very bones, that you are a big part of the reason I am still here, my sweet, good friend. I love you so much.
And I love you.
One more thing…. you got up everyday and decided to be here during that time so that belongs to you. I was just there to tell you that you were right. OX
Donna O says
Laura – my Mom has battled anorexia most of my life. She is an amazingly strong woman that has had A LOT of loss and heartache in her life…. What has always astonished me is how many people – sadly mostly women – have complimented her – worse envied her -for being so thin! I don’t believe my Mom should be ashamed of her battle – but I’m astounded at how sick our society is that we cannot tell the difference between a healthy body and a sick one!
In Other's Words says
I wonder if people can’t tell the difference, or if the desire to be that impossible ideal is SO ingrained that we secretly don’t care. For some reason, when I was reading some of the comments yesterday a line from The Devil Wears Prada came to mind. Emily Blunt’s character says- and it’s a funny line- “I’m just one stomach virus away from my goal weight.” You know why it’s funny? Because people relate to it- that’s why ANY comedy works.
Jordan Baker from The Great Gatsby: ” …to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves–there lies the great, the singular power of self-respect. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.”
The question of true identity is HUGE, with or without a marriage collapse. However, it is often then and only then, when alone, that the truth on oneself comes out. This post is raw honesty. Bravo for admitting that, in the end, you wanted to become a different version of yourself, or even a new self, and not the one you had in your marriage.
i just found your blog when glennon linked to it. i’m reading it slowly because the similarities between your life and mine are so huge, it’s hard to take in. i’m a fiction writer, and practically all of my work in the last two years has focused on the experience of grief in the body. my marriage ended in two acts, over the course of a year: act one was when my husband blindsided me with the announcement that not only was he not happy, he was leaving. death by a thousand cuts followed: a relentless procession of revelations, each a little more devastating than the last. i lost fifteen pounds in less than three months and stayed there for the rest of act one. in act two, he delivered the coup de grace: the betrayal from which there was no coming back. i lost ten more pounds in the next six weeks. everyone praised me. everyone raved about how great i looked. i was skeletal. one morning i pressed my hand to my chest and thought i’d found a tumor; it was my sternum, excavating itself. a little more than a year later, i am back at that midpoint between acts one and two and you know what? i’m terrified. terrified of going back. being thin and pretty and noticed by men feels like the one thing i cannot live without.
but you know what else? i am not the woman i used to be. not even close. and so much happier. so much muchier. so much more myself. i will deal with this fear, because i have dealt with every. single. thing. so far.
In Others' Words says
YES. YOU. HAVE. I know, it’s so scary. And it takes some time to ‘normalize.’ I’m not going to tell you that you’ll be okay. You’ll be AMAZING friend. Just be patient and gentle with yourself.
Oh… how funny, more parallels. Well, not in a crashing marriage — but my summer of crashing, I lost 45 lbs in 3 months. I’ve NEVER done that before (or since).
It was a struggle to force 200 calories a day into my body. It is so strange when you are in that place, how little you care about eating. How much an effort and a chore it is. I was at the bottom of a deep, deep hole and no one could reach me there.
Now — considering my starting size, I got down to a size 10, not a size 2! Wouldn’t mind being there again, actually.
Love your opening quote. EXACTLY.
In Others' Words says
I remember that feeling, viewing sustenance as WORK. I remember that deep dark hole. I am so grateful that we’re not there anymore. xo
Me too. I had one advantage you did not — a caring, kind husband who was a little overwhelmed about what to do, but has been supportive since of me spending family and personal resources on therapy. Hah, and what I thought would be 3-6 months maybe — well, is over four years now! But it definitely pulled me out of that place, and I have a good therapist who knows how to pace me so that if I flirt with a cliff from time to time, she never lets me go over it.
In Others' Words says
thank God for good therapists.