so, it’s like this: you eliminate the last final method of punishing yourself & your body from your life, & you are left with a heap of feelings you don’t know how to process or manage. they pile up, strands of slippery kelp clouding into a puddle, & you wonder how you’ll get through this–not whether you can, but the ways you will learn: to allow yourself to exist exactly as you do, as a system of organs unified, not a brain compartmentalized from wild emotion separated from muscle & skin; to feel disappointed & mad with your job without throwing your hands into the air & walking out; to get comfortable in silence, in listening to your thoughts, without needing to sleep with the noise of the TV.
this is the way: you begin to learn the language of gratitude. yes, you have always been grateful, a girl moved to tears by gifts & others’ kind words, weeping rooted in feelings of unworthiness & deception. dirty, damaged, different–if only they knew. & so part of this new gratitude becomes undressing your body of its shame, its desire to stay hidden or become very small. a wall drops, one you didn’t know you’d built, & you are left out in the open, a pomegranate split & spilling ruby seeds, defenseless against plum-headed parakeets & long-eared jerboas in a desert that is very hot. the camera pans out, finds a new angle, & suddenly you see yourself as you haven’t before–not better, not worse, just different–& you begin to leak & warble, unsure how to pinpoint what is moving you this way & how.
if it’s true that somewhere, deep inside the wreckage we carry with us, there is an inner child—–you begin this sentence, again & again, patient in learning, in this new language, the words to complete the thought. you scoop that child into your arms, little song bird, bluebird of your heart.
december 2, 2012, i quit smoking. for two weeks, i was tempted to quit my job before & after every shift. at the same time, my brain was reeling with the effects of high levels of estrogen–a headache that couldn’t be cured, not even by half a bottle of acetaminophen, a moodiness that left me boiling with an anger that felt uncontainable. with the thought i can’t go on this way any longer, i peeled the birth control patch from my backside & flung it into the trash, & i smoked the last cigarette in my pack of L&M bold menthol 100s.
that first day i busied myself painting, christmas shopping, & playing piano. then it was three pounds of twizzlers and an eight-by-eight pan of lemon bars gutted in two days. again, the thought came: i can’t go on this way any longer.
next i began chewing six sticks of gum & drinking sixty-four ounces of water each day. with those last changes, changes that felt healthy & slightly liberating, i also committed to tweaking my attitude. after those two weeks of crisis, after i spent most of my days feeling apathetic, angry, & surreal, i decided: when something doesn’t feel OK, i can stop.
over the past three weeks, i can’t go on this way any longer has been playing on a loop in my life.
this, i think, is what gina was hoping i’d get to when she said, do something kind of yourself–beyond the bowls of chocolate mint ice cream & afternoons in my pajamas, beyond beezus & ramona & tiny animal toys. it’s a scary place to be, because it means declaring myself as a worthwhile investment–not just to myself, but to all of the people in my life, too. after a lifetime of working to make myself as small & invisible as possible, it is scary to be seen. suddenly i am a high school freshman primping for my first homecoming dance, tucking & tugging creamsicle folds of an evening gown around my body & looking bashfully into the bathroom mirror, my stomach tied in knots with the question, will they see me the way that i do? then, even more suddenly, i am a child in a flowery dress about to take my first steps into my elementary school & its kindergarten classroom, my black dress shoes shiny & new, my guts twisted with the thought, will they like me?
to go on, the answers have to be they will. & it might be true, if my undergraduate public speaking professor was right when he told my class, “everyone in the audience wants you to see you succeed” & suggested that our nature as humans is to encourage & support. if it happens that the answer to both of my questions is no, then i will learn whether these exercises in self-care have taken root inside me, if i will be able to face silence & strange looks & heads shaking no & tell myself–in lieu of i can’t believe you did that or well, that was really dumb or what did you expect, idiot?–that i tried my best, & that next time, i will do better.
so here i am, the pomegranate split & spilling ruby seeds, the songbird settled outside your window, shaking my wings of mud & dust, & these are the things that, in my language of gratitude, are synonymous with grace & presence, longing & forgiveness, struggle & growth. i’m glad to have you here with me.