A Tangle or Ten

December used to mean twinkly lights in a tangle or ten and a tall, tall tree. It used mean a box of replacement bulbs next to a tin of peppermint bark, on a mantel mostly done. It used to mean a wreath on the door and snow on the ground. Surprises in the garage. It used to mean hats and gloves when we went running, and a soundtrack of the same seven or eight songs.

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It used to mean at least one ski trip for old times’ sake and near-daily games of ding-dong ditch with deliverymen. It used to mean new pajamas and off-limits oranges (to be saved for stockings, as per Mrs. Claus). It used to mean a big long table and beautiful beef tenderloin. Roll-out sugar cookies on every available surface, and fires in the fireplace at night. It used mean the six of us, no matter how briefly.

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It’s misty here. Quiet. Tiny droplets cling to the backs of leaves and to the fringes of my longest lashes. It’s the kind of mist that’ll make a black fleece sparkle under a streetlight — the kind that’ll do its best to make a dreary morning feel a little more beautiful, a little less heavy.

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I glance out the window. Mt. Hood looks good in its white coat. A couple waiting to cross the street catches my eye, and I watch as the boy tilts the girl’s chin up for a kiss. But he doesn’t land on her lips. He rains kisses all over her face, ending on the tip of her nose. The gesture is so tender and so intimate it makes me ache with longing. How long has it been since I was loved that way?

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I swallow thickly and shove that particular memory aside. The one that held me in a heartlock for longer than I thought fair. I take care not to think too carefully about my last kiss, either — an obligatory, awkward peck in the middle of Grand Central Station. Well over two years ago now.

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I think about therapy this week. About how I came home after and scrubbed the bathroom clean, thinking that if a few tears splashed into the tub along with the running water, well, no one would be around to see.

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Sometimes therapy is just sort of ho-hum and sometimes it’s wildly, astoundingly helpful. Or maybe not helpful, exactly, since I rarely ever leaving feeling like I know exactly what I should do, but: informative, anyway.

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On Tuesday I informed myself of several things.

One, and it’s a big one: I’ve been restricting again. Not terribly, but at this point, any time I start veering back in that direction pisses me off. I have the urge to restrict when I am one of five things. Anticipating feeling sad or lonely. (Hello, Thanksgiving holiday. Hello, weekends.) Worrying about money. (Let’s just have less of everything!! That’ll be fun.) Agonizing over failing/having failed at something. Waiting to be accepted/rejected by someone I like. (Most likely rejected.) Stressing out about some upcoming change, big or small, in my routine. (Hello, trip-to-Arizona, which should be exciting and fun!)

I’ve also been noticing this, as odd it sounds. Sometimes I’ll catch myself restricting almost out of a lack of better things to do. Filling the empty spaces in my life with food preparation and lots of exercise was my habit for 10+ years. Because it worked, in a way. It worked in that manically obsessing over those two things ate up a lot of my time.

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Two: I know I’ve been restricting because the effect is alarmingly immediate. Even after just a couple of weeks, the signs are the same. My new pants are too loose to want to wear; my old pants fit a little better. Dinner creeps closer and closer to 5pm, and afterwards I’m tired enough to want to go straight to sleep. Only I don’t sleep; I toss and turn all night and wake up at the crack of dawn. I’m more anxious than I would be normally; I’m more likely to be vaguely OCD. And I’m harder on myself; I like myself less.

There is also this one: I am less present; I am more immune. Nothing feels quite as sharp. Half as bright or blunt-edged.

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Three: At this point, I don’t restrict with the primary goal of losing weight. I restrict out of fear that my needs won’t be met. I didn’t come to this conclusion on my own — it took a lot of prodding and nope, hang on, let’s-just-sit-with-this! for it to sink in the other night — but it’s true. It’s so perfectly true that when my therapist offered it up, it snaked its way across the room and lodged itself into the center of my chest. It made me cry. Those hot, horrible tears everyone hates.

My needs aren’t being met, and, as melodramatic as this may be, I’m afraid they won’t ever be met. How are we supposed to make do, without things like emotional connection and feelings of safety and affection and love? How are we supposed to make do, when we feel so unbelievably alone?

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Four: When I meet people here, I often leave feeling lonelier than I did before. I am genuinely puzzled by how I can be simultaneously so introverted (and fiercely protective of 75% of the time I spend alone) and yet so lonely. You would think it would be good to spend some time with someone, a-n-y-o-n-e, but that isn’t always the case. I feel the least alone when I am by myself, writing. This has held true in New York, Maine, and Oregon.

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Five: Getting stuck in little loops is another symptom of not eating enough. (I may have needed some help seeing this one, too.) I fixate on things. I can see it even in my posts. If I’m not circling back to food and body stuff, then it’s how much do I miss my old, intact family. How much do I miss being close to people who know me. It’s where should I go to try to make things better, and what job should I pursue in order to feel prouder of myself. It’s how will I ever meet anyone, and what if I never fall in love again.

Have I convinced you to go to therapy yet?

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Writing helps me when I’m up to my neck in the truth, but have no idea what to do with it. It helps me see things a little differently, and speak to myself more gently. Mostly: it helps me put things down for a while.

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Tomorrow I will linger in bed a little longer. Doodle on my frosted windows. Delete the Tinder app from my phone. I will ask my therapist if we can bump up our next appointment. I will call my mom, and at least one other person I know who loves me. I will tell them I love them and I miss them and I need them, and I won’t worry about whether it’s horribly inconvenient. I will make a wreath out of clothespins. (Or at least bookmark the tutorial, and think about doing it.) I will ship something sweet from this bakery to my dad. (The brownies? The cookies? Something.) I will take my friend Cindy up on her offer to check out her climbing gym. And I will go try on this sweater, because it looks swingy and soft and like a good substitute for the hug I so desperately need.

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“There are people clustered on the sidelines at every life event, both major and minor, in the shadows just beyond the spotlight, outwardly celebrating but inwardly wondering what they’ve done wrong, why they’ve ended up alone, while the rest of the world seems to have paired off, and if they’re always going to be this lonely.” -Sarah Pekkanen

“Although it is such a singular word, there are many variations of alone. There is the alone of an empty beach at twilight. There is the alone of an empty hotel room. There is the alone of being caught in a throng of people. There is the alone of missing a particular person. And there is the alone of being with a particular person and realizing you are still alone.” -David Levithan

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“Isn’t it funny how if one person speaks for real, then the other person can too? We just did that. We became friends. It’s just a matter of finding the right person and crossing that barrier together, almost like you’re holding hands, but really you’re holding the most tender place inside of you.” -Laura Pritchett

“I could almost reach a hand out and touch it, this nameless thing I wanted so badly.” -Marya Hornbacher

“Sometimes I think the difference between what we want and what we’re afraid of is about the width of an eyelash.” -Jay McInerney

“If you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. Well, what if we had the ability to do that with ourselves? To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it.” -David Foster Wallace

“If people fall over, pick them up. If people look sad…I don’t know…kiss them.” -Matty, at the Orpheum Theater in Madison

“The thing is that you don’t meet someone until you do…and the older we get, the harder it is. And maybe not all of us will meet someone.” -Jennifer Close

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“Perhaps the biggest tragedy of our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years trapped in the same old patterns…We may want to love other people without holding back, to feel authentic, to breathe in the beauty around us, to dance and sing…yet each day we listen to inner voices that keep our lives small.” -Tara Brach

“Instead of focusing on how far you still have to go, take some time today to remind yourself of how far you’ve already come. Yes, you’re still struggling. And yes, you still have some distance to cover, but those things don’t discount the progress you’ve already made. Healing takes time. It’s not a process that can be rushed. Beating yourself up for not being further along doesn’t improve your situation. It makes you feel awful and it keeps you stuck. Your journey may be slow, but it’s not without promise. Despite how difficult this process has been, despite how hopeless you’ve felt, despite all of the people who have told you that you would never make it, you’ve never once given up. You’ve never stopped fighting and pushing forward. So give yourself some credit for that. It wasn’t easy. But you did it, and you deserve to be proud of yourself. Let go of this idea that you should be further ahead, and trust that it’s okay to be where you are. Trust that you won’t be here forever. Trust that you will get to where you need to be. You’re doing the best you can each day, and that’s all you can ask of yourself. It’s enough.” -Daniell Koepke

{Snowy Franklin Falls trail via @jakemagrawphoto, blurry road via @mrvalography, Mt. Hood via @_jaclynmichelle, PDX fence via @idkpdx, NYC via @markweinbergnyc, Toketee Falls via @idkpdx, first light via @jakechams, soup prep via @localhaven, neighborhood aerial shot via @bdorts, sunrise via @idkpdx, Oregon coast via @nicholaspeterwilson, rainy road via @zackkcore, Latourell Falls via @nicholaspeterwilson, misty ledge via @jeremy_fisher_, little stream via @megamcguire — all on Instagram.}

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