With an absolute force of will, I remove a slice of pizza from the wrapped parcel, and place it on the cutting board. This will be the first meal I’ve had in about thirty six hours. For the last several hours the thought I should eat, was met with a rising nausea as well as awareness of my aching body: my entire abdomen a turgid, throbbing knot of pain.
My mind is being pulled into two different worlds, and the pain of this is excruciating. It hurts my head; it hurts my body.
In one world, I am a success. My life is a success. My partner and I have raised two wonderful children to teenagehood; they are both doing extraordinarily well despite trials and a few extraordinary circumstances. In this world I am creative, and kind. In this world I am learning to be kinder, and (slowly) trying to be stronger. In this world, I am strong enough to rise to a challenge. I am fierce. I would do anything possible to protect my children and protect my marriage – I would rise to any calamity. I have been a faithful and loving wife, giving every ounce of my passion and loyalty to a man who is the best I’ve met. I have withstood enormous pressures: the trail of abuse and dysfunction as a child, of more abuse in my early adulthood. The devastation of addiction. Sexual abuse. For years: denial. Then fear, anger, sadness. Some forgiveness, this tiny teacup-full. In this world, I have committed to a high standard of behavior for myself. I commit to this standard, fail, and try again and I move on. In this world, I am taking care of my lovely home. I am developing my career, while caring for my family and friends.
In this world, I stand in the kitchen and prepare a breakfast for my child before I take them to campus. They are graduating college at 16; I have helped them just the right amount. In this world, I parcel my focus to all these things – my husband, each child. My home, my career. My husband’s career. My recovery. My friends, my faith tradition. I put together the list of things I hope to do, to take care of the people I need to. In this world, on a daily basis, I do not neglect my responsibilities.
In this world I am a strong and loving person, but really: just a human being. I am a beautiful, loved, human being who helps make the world a better place.
This is a wonderful world and I have spent many days there.
But there is another world, too.
In this other world, I have failed utterly. My career is a joke; it can and will take too much of my focus to be a serious thing to commit to. In this world, my husband is deeply dissatisfied with me, and it is only a matter of time before he leaves. Every plan I’ve made and every thing I’ve cared for, is utter trash – not because the goals and the lovely things I care about are not wonderful – they are the most wonderful things on earth! – but because I could not possibly have been expected to succeed. In this world, my shitty childhood, the sexual abuse I endured, the terrorizing I endured, and my drinking: those things won after all. In the end, I was not strong enough to do any good; tread water though I tried.
In this world, no matter the kind words and tender acts of care I give my husband and children, it is too little and too late. There have been too many misbehaviors on my part. There have been too many times I was torn in two and could not focus. I could not check in. There have been too many hours – hours that have swelled into weeks or months or years in the aggregate – where I was attempting to escape. And even though it is understandable a person would do this, and we nod with empathy and say, “Oh that is so sad, but don’t you see why you did it?” in the end after all, I will not be permitted to fail without punishment. We understand why you did this, but it cannot be forgiven. It was not enough that I was there in body and that I was there in deed. In my mind I was trying to escape. And so: I failed. No points. I did my best but I will soon be summarily dismissed, and it was very foolish of me to put so much faith in my actions.
I am being pulled between these worlds.
Today I realized neither world is true, as powerful an illusion as they may be.
Today, I live in today’s world.
So: I begin to eat, and my body reminds itself this is a good thing. I relax; I will be able to finish this meal.
I can now do the next thing.
Today I can do the things I am supposed to do. I can communicate with kindness and directness. I can meet my responsibilities to family, to self-care, to my larger community. I can do the laundry and wash the dishes and drive my mother where she needs to go and meet with a friend who could use my help. I can pray; I can meditate. I can talk to my sponsor. If I have time I can pick up and sew this dress, that rests behind me on the studio table. I can talk to my husband about his day. I can hold him. I can make him a cup of coffee. I can bring my body to nurture: making food, hugging and kissing my husband and my children.
On the drive home from the college the black sky opens up and a torrential rain hits the streets. We who live here know it is the season: many months of darkness and rain. The earth here absolutely loves it; drinks in enough nourishment to stay green all through the year, while wildfires rage and the country burns. Here we hurry from our cars inside the café for a hot cup of coffee; we connect by eye contact with friend and stranger alike. The rain hammers the windows while I slice an apple for my son, who will soon be up and, as is his 13-year old wont, hungry.