I have lost some weight recently. A goodly amount, I think it’s fair to say. Only ten more pounds to go. I weighed 150 pounds nine years ago when my trauma began and by 2013 I was 224 pounds. I ate for a lot of reasons. I’ll tell you about it some time.
Today I am thinking about a picture of me grilling. Well, pretending to grill. It was 2007 and I had left my first husband and was just starting medical school. I was young. So damned young. 28 to be precise. I just knew my soul mate awaited me out there. And I would of course find him on the internet. A single mom going to med school doesn’t have time to go out, so she would of course take advantage of online dating. But, I needed a profile picture. This was before the advent of selfies and not too many of us had a gaggle of carefully angled, flattering pictures of ourselves lying around in our smart phones. I didn’t even have a smart phone. So I asked my mother to take a picture of me.
I wanted to look natural so I said, take a picture of me in the kitchen cooking spaghetti. (Because everyone has a picture of them in full make up smiling as they cook spaghetti. So natural. And maybe I could use it if I ever decided to sell my own brand of jarred spaghetti sauce. Kill two birds with one stone. Bam) Unfortunately, the lighting in the kitchen was bad so we went out on the back patio of my little ranch house in Erie. Unsure of how to keep up the natural theme, I went for the grill. Here, I said, take a picture of me pretending to grill.
And so here I am today, looking at a picture of me with my hair perfectly done, pink lip gloss shining, smiling with my mouth and my eyes (so it wouldn’t look fake. Even though it was). Holding a large grilling spatula in my hand, the cold grill lid opened. No sign of my special needs toddlers to be seen. None of the dark circles I’d soon earn staying up late studying. The flat stare of depression that had occupied my face most of my life, the fear of the abuse I’d lived under, the wide eyes of my mania, absent. I’m beaming with hope in that picture. An endless stream of possibility before me. Faith that I will have a wonderful life. (I did work in the Jimmy Stewart Museum in high school, after all).
I do have a good life now. Nine years later. I have been blessed and I have fought for it. I certainly do not have the life I imagined then, when I was young. How many of us do? I have walked through my darkness these years and come out on the other side.
I am now almost to the weight I am in that picture. And as I have dropped each pound, run each mile, I have thought, this is a victory over my trauma. I have reclaimed my mental health and now I am reclaiming my physical. He can’t take this from me. I am leaving behind my trauma pound by pound. I am escaping a body that is not really mine. Getting back to being myself after so long.
But now I am close to the weight in the picture, to wearing the clothes I wore then, all of which I have saved in anticipation of this day. And I look in the mirror and I have not returned to looking like myself at all. I am not the girl at the grill.
My stomach has gone from that of a 28 year old whose had 2 kids to that of a 37 year old whose had 4 and gained and lost a lot of weight. My face has crow’s feet and laugh lines it didn’t then. And my eyes don’t smile the same. They’ve seen too much to smile so damned naïve. They smile not with happiness, but with the joy that comes from knowing sadness.
I’ll be honest with you, I wish my body looked like it did back then. I’d love to be a good feminist and not feel that way. I know I shouldn’t subconsciously convey such attitudes to my sweet daughter. But, life’s a process, okay? And I wish I was a little firmer, a little perkier. Less stretch marks. Less lines. But I don’t wish my eyes were perkier. I don’t wish these past nine years had been different. Don’t wish I could return to being naïve.
I’ve never believed in regret. It’s never made sense to my logical autistic brain. If you can’t do something over, why would you possibly sit around thinking about what might have been? It is what it is, I often say. Life is what it is.
I have no regrets about choosing the medical school I did. About pursuing the awful man I did. About turning him in as I did. Never have, never will. But I have been continuing to labor under the false idea we get after trauma. The idea that keeps us from moving on, that locks us into PTSD if we believe it enough. The idea that we can make this trauma not matter. That it can become a minor footnote in our life story. That we can go back to being who we were before. Before. Before *it*. You know, that event that doesn’t matter anymore. Even though it’s the yardstick we now measure every accomplishment by. Constantly claiming victory. Telling yourself, living well is the best revenge. Tallying up everything you have that your perpetrators never will. Telling yourself, I’m not like those whiny survivors who blame all their problems on their trauma. I’m different. I have overcome.
The truth is, your life was divided the day the trauma began. There was before the trauma and after. And it drives you mad. You just want that damned line erased. You want your life whole again. A beautiful continuous flowing story arc. With twists and turns and dips and peaks, but unbroken. But that fucking chasm, fault, break, schism, crack, gully, canyon, whatever you call it, it’s still there. Won’t budge. It’s not something you can remove. Because it’s not something. It’s the absence of something. You can try and try to fill it, but it’s still there. Go ahead, dump in food, pills, booze, drugs, sex, work, reckless driving, overspending, self injury, reality television, starvation, obsessive relationships, obsessive religion, hours of staring blankly at walls… It’s still there. Fill it til it overflows. It’s still there. It. Will. Always. Be. There.
The Garden of Eden will not be restored. The fallen world remains.
And that’s okay. Well, it’s not *really* okay. It’s trauma. And trauma’s hell. But… it is what it is. It doesn’t have to be okay. It just is. And you have to learn to accept that it is. Over. And over. And over. You build up a life on the other side of it. You peer down into it and thank God you haven’t fallen into it. That you’re here. Looking back at it as you run, mile by mile.
I swallowed a vitamin yesterday. A really big vitamin. I’ve always been good at swallowing pills. So are my kids. Family skill. (baggy esophagus maybe? we’re not the most coordinated family so it’s certainly not that we have an especially athletic swallowing mechanism). The thing is, Jeremy raped me a lot of ways but the scariest one was the oral rape. Because I thought I would die. He would suffocate me and count to ten slowly and I thought he might just hold me there long enough to kill me and I’d never see my babies again. I felt so utterly powerless. I was so utterly powerless. He would tell me he was training the gag mechanism out of me.
It didn’t work and ever since then, I have had trouble swallowing certain things like big pills. Vitamins in particular I guess since he had me on a vitamin regimen of sorts. It wasn’t something I ever wanted to deal with. I just took gummy vitamins. But yesterday my husband said, these are really good vitamins, maybe you could try and see. And so I did. I put this rather large vitamin and my probiotic capsule and my two medications in my mouth and took a big gulp of water and threw my head back. And they all went down. Down the hatch.
I felt so victorious. I thought, I wish I could tell someone. I was so happy that he’d now taken one less thing from me. I thought about telling people, though, and how I would need to explain that whole oral-rape-until-you-suffocate thing. And then I remembered the whole orally-raped-until-I-suffocated thing. And I felt so powerless. So utterly powerless. There in my living room, my babies’ toys strewn on the floor, the fireplace I love, the pictures of our wedding and our first communion at the Easter vigil and… I felt so terrified and so sad and… I thought to myself, a really awful thing happened to me. A freaky, awful thing. A thing no one deserves. That happened. It happened to me. And it can’t be undone.
The moment passed quickly. In a matter of seconds it was done and I was back to my life. To my beautiful fireplace and crazy bubalink babies and my devoted husband and I stumbling through Catholicism. And now I was doing all that with the benefit of a wonderful multivitamin.
You tell yourself, you need to stop running *from* the trauma and start running *towards* the good things. And the truth is, I do have runs where I think about the healthy habits I’m giving my kids and going on hikes with my husband, maybe learning tennis or kickboxing. How good it feels to be lighter on my feet, to get around easier, to know I’m probably going to dodge the bullet of diabetes type 2 and keep the arthritis at bay as long as I can. But sometimes I think of how far I’ve come. Sometimes I think of him, of her (the head of my medical school), of the sickness in their hearts that makes them do the things they do. Of the happiness they tried to deny me.
They did, in a way. They took from me the naïve happiness I had then. They put a fault in my life. Made it into a before and after. But I have made a home on the other side. I am not hanging off the edge. I am not in the darkness of it. My happiness has given way to joy and wisdom and a greater love than I could have known. The fault is there to stay. And that’s okay. Well, it’s not okay. But it is. It is what it is. And after all, it really is a wonderful life.