Black and Blue

I’ve decided it’s easy to write about a change in retrospect.

  • I’d been doing X/Y/Z for more years than I care to count. (Let’s say 5 years.)
  • I realized it wasn’t working. (50 times over if we’re being kind; 500 if we’re being forthcoming.)
  • I decided to do some things differently. (Because deciding = easier than doing.)
  • I took a baby step. (Some bigger steps.)
  • I did my best consistently over time. (Made a couple of giant leaps.)
  • I’m in SUCH a better place now. (I can talk about it with some distance.)

It is not, however, easy to write about the middle. (Or what I sure as hell hope is the middle.) It doesn’t feel good to press against a bruise still blooming black and blue. And it’s not a lot of fun to navigate the part of the timeline that says TENDER, still very very tender.

Although it’s a good sign to be writing again, I don’t feel like I’m on the up and up. Not truly; not yet. It’s more like I’m on the up and down and down and up and down and up.

(Mari Andrew, you just get it. All the time, on everything.)

Recovery is not unlike a game of whack-a-mole. I’ll kick one bad habit, and then it’ll pop back up (maybe disguised as something else) a couple of days or weeks or months later. I’ll think I’ve successfully stamped out another kind of self-sabotage (whack), and then I’ll turn around only to find it rearing its ugly head again. WHACK! It’s exhausting. But not half as exhausting as the alternative.

Heather Havrilesky wrote something that really resonated the other day, and helped me understand why I’ve been in and out of this space. “I think we all go through stages where we just don’t want to be honest. Because writing requires honesty. That doesn’t mean that we’re putting every single detail of every single experience down on the page. We still get to choose which stories we want to tell, or whether or not we want to tell them through fiction or essays or coy little haikus. But we do have to be honest with ourselves about what’s crawling under our skin. And that’s hard. If I can’t admit that I’m feeling mad or sad or petty about something, I have trouble writing. Because not wanting to tell the truth about my feelings means not wanting to tell the truth about anything. I can’t write if I feel self-protective and private. If I don’t want to share myself. If what I really want to do is hide.”

I take a sea-urchin-without-its-shell approach on here; I always have. Or maybe not always (it’s been harder to do as I’ve gotten older), but the carefully censored posts I’ve sprinkled in here and there over the last 12 months are useless. I’m a terrible writer when I get self-conscious about who’s reading. So, for all intents and purposes, I’ve stopped writing.

You know what I’ve been doing instead: listening to podcasts. (This one obsessively, on repeat.) Cooking, crying, cooking some more. Writing in a journal nobody sees but me. Walking. Investigating different hobbies, preferably ones that have less to do with food or exercise. And trying, again, to form close relationships.

I still wish for a group of girl friends here, in addition to a giant teddy bear of a person who would be undaunted by this stuff and able to appreciate the kind of capital H human I’m in the midst of becoming. I still wish this person would have a big family that would welcome me with open arms, and I still long for someone to spend the weekend with. Sometimes I seriously think that if I just had someone to hike with on Saturday and share the occasional meal with on Sunday, that would be enough.

I know people have differing opinions about vulnerability and boundaries and what constitutes an over share, but right now, returning to being open and honest like this is a good thing for me. A healthy thing. If I want to learn how to be imperfect and messy and how to invite intimacy into my real life, this is not a bad place to start. (Again. It seems like I am always starting again.)

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about one of my favorite quotes by Anne Lamott — the one that suggests we throw the stuff out of the plane that keeps us flying too low. (For me: diet culture, skinny jeans, the fear of what other people think.)

Even as I write that, I can hear my brothers: nobody cares! Everybody just wants you to be healthy/happy!

I’m 26 now. The thought of letting someone in, all the way in, scares the living hell out of me. I keep trying to practice, but how do people do it? How do they let themselves be that exposed, that invested, that attached? And on the flip side: how do they NOT do it? How does one go through life without feeling fully seen, and loved anyway?

I’ve been in serious relationships before, but I’m realizing now that I’ve always been very careful to be the one who loves less. The one who leaves first. This suddenly strikes me as sad.

Question of the day: Do I want to be living this life (and feeling this way) at 27? At 28? At 29? At 30? (God help me.) I’ve already wasted so much time.

That awareness and understanding keeps me going. When I notice my stomach sticking out softening. When I look down and see my thighs touching. When I catch a glimpse of my reflection somewhere and have to whisper to myself it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter. It DOESN’T matter. I don’t know why I feel so ashamed. Because my normal, not-starving body happens to be pear-shaped, not stick-slender? Because I’m ready to accept the fact that I’m not still 17? Because I’ve decided there’s more to life than hours logged at LA Fitness? Because I like all foods, not just a select few? Because a life with some forgiveness around normal and natural fluctuations sounds appealing? Because I want to have a regular period again? Because it’s nice to sleep through the night? Because being curious > being critical?

This helps, too: the rational knowledge that there is nothing more isolating than an eating disorder. I am not going to feel lonelier than ever by the time all is said and done. It’s just the very hardest to believe right now, when I’ve given up dieting and haven’t quite figured out how to fill the void with something else. Obsessing over food and exercise left me with no real room for hobbies, and certainly took care of any space available for someone else. Eating intuitively again also means nixing my primary way of avoiding feeling all the feelings, so there are times now when I feel lonelier than I did when I was really sick (simply by virtue of being more in my body).

I’ve written about this before, but part of me feels like I couldn’t have done a better job of stacking the odds against myself. I cut ties with someone who actually DID love me unconditionally, blew up my career (as it was), did *not* deal with my parents’ divorce, moved to the opposite side of the country, developed full-blown anorexia, threw myself into my new work, watched it rain 140 days in a row, and tried to get better with essentially only two people around: a therapist and a nutritionist. Both of those things are great, but a person also needs love and affection and distraction and support that doesn’t cost $125 an hour.

I’m still not sure about Oregon. I’m really only sure about three things: I am very lucky to have my job, I worked extremely hard to get it, and I have some doubts about being able to replicate the best parts of it elsewhere.

But I also have real doubts — A LOT of doubts — about my ability to ask for and accept help in Oregon. To recover (all the way, not just partway before panicking), without finding several ways to access the sense of belonging and safety and stability and acceptance I think all of us need.

I feel those things so strongly when I’m with my family, even though my parents and siblings aren’t in one central location anymore. When I go to Arizona to see my mom, I practically bask in it. The warm glow that comes with being filled up the way I need always fades into a distant memory by the time I’ve finished tugging my suitcase back to my studio in Portland. It becomes very hard to get out of my own head again, and almost impossible to break out of my routine, which feels both *IMPERATIVE TO SURVIVAL* and also like something that’s slowly smothering me to death. (Orders the salmon, for the 70th time.)

So. I have no answers. None at all. But I like this: You don’t know what happens next. As scary as that is, it’s also beautiful and electrifying and exactly how it should be. And also this: The definition of success changes. How can you nurture and nudge yourself in the direction of your [new] goals? Think very small. What can you do in the next two weeks that will give you some new information?

This last piece is hardly new news, but it was to me, so I’ll just leave it here (so I can come back and read it when I need it): “The best form of self-help is self-compassion.” (Danielle LaPorte, I think? In any case, I believe it.)


“I’m going to guess that you are merciless with yourself. You don’t ask for what you need. You would never, ever, sleep until noon even if you were low on sleep. You would never, ever, expect to have a job with totally flexible hours. You would never let someone take care of you, ever ever ever. You know what, though? Some part of you wants to be taken care of. Some part of you wants a break. Some part of you wants to be vulnerable and admit that you’re tired and a little lonely. You want someone to clean your apartment and make you dinner. You want someone to listen when you talk. You want to have these things without feeling guilty about them. What do you need to feel good? What do you need to feel taken care of? What are you refusing to give yourself, something that you know you care about and miss and love? What feels way too indulgent to consider? Think about what you’re longing for. Think about what you love passionately but can’t have right now. Even if this thing you want seems embarrassing or shameful, consider it. Don’t shame yourself out of something that’s important to you. To all of us.” -Heather Havrilesky

“The opposite of loneliness, it’s not togetherness. It is intimacy.” -Richard Bach

“A therapist has no stake, no prejudices (theoretically!), no past issues with you. He or she is there to listen closely, and then occasionally point out the 3,000-pound gorilla in the room. You don’t need a supergenius to do this (although it does help to find a therapist who seems smart). What you need is someone who listens deeply, empathizes, points out running themes, makes gentle suggestions, and maybe occasionally nudges you to try to shift your experience of what’s happening around you. Maybe you talk for an hour and it feels like you might as well be talking to Siri. Maybe you weep for an hour straight and drive home in a bleary haze, wondering what the point of all that crying was. It’s tough to explain or even justify the time or expense of any one given therapy session. But over time, there’s every possibility the whole of them will be the best investment you ever make.” -Heather Havrilesky

“We don’t dig or not dig people based on a comparison chart of body measurements and intellectual achievements and personality quirks. We dig them because we do.” -Cheryl Strayed

“Fear holds on. Love lets go.” -Lisa Unger

“When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, and everything left untouched while you struggled to survive. I hope to one day see a sea of people all wearing silver ribbons as a sign that they understand the secret battle, and as a celebration of the victories made each day as we individually pull ourselves up out of our foxholes to see our scars heal, and to remember what the sun looks like.” -Jenny Lawson

“INFJs are capable of making friends with almost anyone, but they seldom feel a close connection to someone. If an INFJ has chosen you, then you can count on them to invest and nurture the relationship you have with them. You are probably already aware of how sensitive and complex your INFJ is, but that complexity is connected to the emotional depth they want to share with you. INFJs are typically reserved about showing affection, but once they warm up to you, they can be incredibly cuddly. A great way to show them you love them is by reaching out — literally. INFJs tend to retreat into the worlds inside their heads, so physical touch brings them back to the present moment and reminds them to be with the people who love them.” -Amelia Brown

“There’s nothing wrong with loving something so much that it feels like it could pull your heart out of your chest and toss it on the floor. We build ourselves up to not do that, and then we build up the armor so thickly that we have trouble finding what’s underneath. It’s hard sometimes to remember that the world isn’t a place to glide through, so nothing can touch you. It’s a place to be experienced.” -Todd VanDerWerff

“When I teach writing I tell my students that the invisible, unwritten last line of every essay should be and nothing was ever the same again. By which I mean the reader should feel the ground shift, if only a little bit, when he or she comes to the end of the essay. Also, there should be something at stake in the writing of it. Or, better yet, everything.” -Cheryl Strayed

{Rainbow via @heykelseyj, Mt. Hood from Columbia Hills via @outofthewoods, Abiqua Falls via @johnbreza, crescent moon via @nicholaspeterwilson, Mt. Hood with cherry blossoms via @jakeegbert, Mt. Rainier National Park sunrise via @peterlundquist, Oregon coast from above via @thomasguy, Mt. St. Helens via @russelltrupiano, sunrise and lupines via @jeffware_, Mt. Hood and orange sky via @thegreat_pnw, Palouse Falls State Park via @tonesofalice, Mt. Hood close-up via @jaredtheridge — all on Instagram. Illustrations via @bymariandrew.}


6 thoughts on “Black and Blue

  1. Thanks for your real and honest post about not having life figured out yet. Keep up the good and hard work on yourself. It is worth it, both for yourself, and for others around you who are watching, whether you know it or not.

    • Thanks Bethany! I’m obsessed with The Joy Squad and am flattered you made your way here. 🙂 I take all of the photos that aren’t credited at the bottom of each post. (V amateur photographer over here, with a deep appreciation for those with a better eye.)

  2. Just this – I found your blog through the Joy Squad, and wow. Your writing is so powerful, and you are not alone. I, too, just relocated for a job. I have a husband – but he works and lives 3 hours away (this is an improvement!). I have a terrible time finding people and making friends. I desperately want a small “tribe” of women with whom I can connect – online, or in person. And yet the idea of reaching out, of connecting, is beyond daunting.
    Please keep writing. I know that I will be reading whatever you choose to share.
    And please, please know that you are not alone.

    • Hi Anne! The Joy Squad (and Georgie’s podcast, and sweet comments like yours) go a long way in making me feel less alone. Thanks so much for commenting, and oh man, this resonates so much: “I desperately want a small ‘tribe’ of women with whom I can connect – online, or in person.” Any chance you’re near Portland, OR? I would so grab coffee with you. Adjusting to your new hometown, trying to find ways to connect with people, and juggling your husband’s schedule can’t be easy…hang in there.

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