I seem to have a number of posts here on the starting-over or renewal theme. Here’s another.
Why so many? Maybe because I’m struggling to find my footing, and struggle by its nature includes a lot of stops and starts, a lot of tactical retreats and attacks. As long as I don’t give up, I can make some kind of progress. But toward what?
I had a rough go of it the past few months. Making the decision to drop out of the marathon was absolutely the right one for my body — and as it turned out, Sandy meant I couldn’t have even gotten to NYC in time for the race (or had a place to stay once I got there, since the friend who was hosting me lost power and was couch surfing uptown), let alone run it.
But without my training goal, and because of my injury, I wound up inactive for a few months, which did not do good things for my emotional state. I found myself dissatisfied with my therapist, who crossed a minor line that led to me realizing I neither trusted her enough to continue working with her nor believed she could help me with what I really needed help with, my emotional eating. By December, I was binging and purging daily, yet I wasn’t telling her about it. I wasn’t telling her because I knew she didn’t have the expertise to do anything about it. So I found a therapist who specializes in eating disorders.
Funny thing, that: just taking that action was beneficial. I had my first appointment with my new therapist in late December. I told her about the binging and purging, she told me how dangerous and not-normal that is, and with the exception of a little regurgitation when the burrito I ate decided to grow about five times its size when it hit my stomach, I haven’t purged at all. I have binged, but not really much, and not with the kind of food volume I’d previously done. I’m working on my relationship to food, my relationship to my emotions. I usually wind up in tears at my sessions because I’m dredging up some painful stuff from the past. It’s uncomfortable, because things I haven’t thought about for 30 years keep bubbling up at inconvenient times when my mind isn’t actively engaged — when I’m doing something repetitive at work, or when I’m driving.
But for the first time, I feel like I might actually succeed at getting to the bottom of my emotional eating. Succeed at being “normal.”
One of the things that makes therapy and the healing process tough is the fact that I keep having to confront the missing stairs in my life:
Have you ever been in a house that had something just egregiously wrong with it? Something massively unsafe and uncomfortable and against code, but everyone in the house had been there a long time and was used to it? “Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you, there’s a missing step on the unlit staircase with no railings. But it’s okay because we all just remember to jump over it.”
Some people are like that missing stair.
When I posted about a rapist in a community I belonged to, although I gave almost no details about the guy except “he’s a rapist,” I immediately got several emails from other members of that community saying “oh, you must mean X.” Everyone knew who he was! …
People had gotten so used to working around this guy, to accommodating his “special requirements,” that they didn’t feel like there was an urgent problem in their community. They did eventually expel him, but it was after months of it being widely shared knowledge that he was a rapist and had done other unethical sexual things as well.
I think there were some people in the community who were intentionally protecting him, but there were more who were de facto protecting him by treating him like a missing stair. Like something you’re so used to working around, you never stop to ask “what if we actually fixed this?” Eventually you take it for granted that working around this guy is just a fact of life, and if he hurts someone, that’s the fault of whoever didn’t apply the workarounds correctly.
There was an obvious missing stair in my childhood: my father. But the staircase had many more holes in it, holes no one in the house acknowledged were holes. I got so habituated to those holes that when I moved out, I moved into a house with similar holes — and then didn’t let anyone in who could point out the missing stairs.
Now I’ve asked an inspector in, who has begun the process of pointing out the missing stairs and helping me fix them. It’s a daunting task, not made any easier by the sense of dislocation and dismay that having something that should have been obvious to you brought to your attention as not normal brings with it. I mean, I can know, intellectually, that it’s not normal to have your mother’s reaction to a suicide attempt be, “What do you think you’re going to get out of this?” followed by a determined sweeping under the rug, but there’s something a little embarrassing about the fact that that can actually surprise your therapist in its awfulness. But as uncomfortable as that is, it’s more information for my therapist to use in helping me fix my issues. And it’s another moment where I finally look at that staircase and start seeing how rotten it really is and just how many workarounds I’d put into place to avoid noticing it or doing anything about it.