I stood in the kitchen glancing at the tiny 4x6. The Ex and his girlfriend. I expected to feel a knot in my stomach, and I did, but not for the reason the world would expect. As I glanced at her body, much larger than my own, I found myself struggling to fight the noise inside my head. His words. Years of them that berated me when I struggled with my weight. Moments later we stood out in the cold and the words fell from my mouth, “You know I find it funny 15 years of insults and you...” but I couldn’t finish what I needed to say. He glanced at me and made an excuse, “I only said those things because of the stuff you did”. All I could do was shake my head and tell him there’s no excuse to treat someone that way as I walked away.
What do 15 years of emotional and verbal abuse do to someone?
How do 15 years of comments about what’s on your plate, how long it’s taking you to “bounce back” from another full-term pregnancy, how your clothes fit, how your breast hang, and how your ass isn’t quite bootylicious impact a person? One, it makes writing this hard as hell because you have to stop every few minutes to cry, hyperventilate, and fight the urge to vomit. And two, it creates a voice in your head. The voice questions everything you do. It pushes you to do that extra 20 minutes of cardio after an evening run. It chastises you when you consume Halloween candy and encourages you to skip every meal but dinner to make up for it. And don’t you dare eat more than a half cup size portion and salad when you do get that one meal. It screams at you when you look in the mirror. Every lump, every squishy bit is a reminder of how you’re still not good enough no matter how much you tell yourself otherwise.
I can’t count the meals I’ve missed in 15 years. The number of times I’ve pushed my body to be smaller and tighter. And the number of times I've crumbled into myself are a fog. Years of lying curled up in the fetal position crying myself to sleep because the man next to me was disgusted with my body all come flooding to the top. One picture and I’m reminded of how broken I am.
Last year, I tattooed the words “Love Yourself” into my flesh. I’ve spent the last year and a half since then doing the best I could to stitch up the wounds the relationship with The Ex created. I figured I could live with the scars as long as I could close the wounds. I would be OK as long as they closed is what I kept telling myself. Then I could rejoice because I got through it. In reality, while the tattoo healed, some wounds can never be closed. Some cut so deep into the fabric of who we are that they stay there, open and oozing into every aspect of our lives. They make us question the intentions of everyone we meet and even ourselves. The open wounds keep us from being OK. Loving The Ex broke me, like the bookcase he smashed, I’m in pieces on the figurative floor. I’m doing the best I can to pick them up, to love each one and hoping that self-love is the glue needed to create a whole person that is willing and able to let others in.
Some days I feel like I’m almost there. Some days I believe all the shit I say about loving myself unconditionally lumps, bumps, fuck ups, and all. Some days there is a light at the end of the tunnel of self-hate and loneliness. And then the wounds ooze and I know I’ll spend the rest of my life fighting to fit the pieces of myself into a person that is brave enough to love and live every day without the voice beating her down. The Ex and I exchanged text messages an hour later, he was in search of forgiveness that I couldn't give.
Maybe one day, when I’ve figured out how to quiet the voice and put all my broken pieces together, forgiveness will come. For now, all I can do is dry my eyes, stare at the words etched in my flesh, and hope the wounds he left don’t burn as long this time.
“You have three kids?!” The question falls out of the mouth of an acquaintance and rings out across the table of a crowded bar. “How do you have time to hang out?!” It’s a question I’m not unfamiliar with. Even when I was “happily” married, people often inquired about how I managed to do anything with three kids. Since my divorce came with sole custody of my children, the question comes more frequently.
I respond now, as I did pre-divorce, with a simple shrug and a joke or two about never sleeping. The reality is that I don’t do it all. My life happens, just as it always had, because I prioritize what’s important to me versus what I or my family wants or needs. How do I have time to run? How do I have time to see friends? Teach my kids? Work? Brush my teeth? Sleep? Get laid? I prioritize what I can do, accept that which I can’t do, and buy stock in Energizer.
Truth be told, we can’t do it all. None of us. “Doing it all” is a lie sold to us to keep us too busy to enjoy this one little life we have. We’re inundated with planners, Pinterest organization ideas, and books about creating a 25th hour in our day. While some of it can be useful, and I utilize a number of tips and tricks to make the most of my time, at the end of my day I still only had 24 hours to use. Those 24 hours are precious. They are little lives inside our minuscule existence. So, what do I do with my 24 hours to give the illusion of “doing it all”?
I trade doing the dishes for a pizza and beer with friends. Sure, I could put having an immaculate house over my friends but, when I’m on my deathbed those dishes won’t mean shit to me. The relationships I have and maintain will, though. Why should I put dishes before connecting with friends in person?
I swap teaching time for meetings and arrange meetings around appointments. School can happen at any time of the day, it’s one of the perks of homeschooling, most businesses operate during traditional business hours. I acknowledge that and adjust our schedule accordingly when needed.
My grass hasn’t been cut in two weeks. It’s not a priority and eventually the autumn leaves will overtake my yard and after the boys and I have shared a fun day of rolling in the piles I’ll care because who the hell wants to bag all that shit up?
I plan weekly runs and refuse to do anything else during that time that isn’t crucial to the health and well-being of my family because my health and well-being are important too.
I delegate chores to my children. I can’t afford to have someone come in and clean my home, cut my grass, or run my errands. But I have three healthy kids who can pick up after themselves, make meals, scrub a toilet, and put the groceries away when I get home from the store. It builds character, plus my pee goes in the toilet bowl so why should I scrub that crude on the bottom?
I’m constantly negotiating with Me, Myself, and I. We’re always having discussions about what’s important and why. There are plenty of people who would, and do, tell me I don’t prioritize properly. In their opinion, the clothes should be folded, my car should be clean, and every single deadline I have should be met ahead of schedule before I plop my ass on the couch and binge watch Netflix while plowing through my kids’ Halloween candy. I wager there are plenty of people in your life who will have something to say about the way you prioritize your 24 hours.
To those people, I say Fuck You!
Yes, a big giant fuck you. Why? Because our 24 hours belong to us and we are free to make of them what we wish. Ask yourself, are my kids fed and cared for to the best of my ability? Are my bills paid? Do I still have a job? If the answer is yes, who the hell cares if you put the dishes off one more night? No, your house won’t be picture perfect, you won’t always get to say yes to that night out with friends, or that second bedtime story but, you’ll be sane and connected to yourself and those who matter most which is far more fucking important than a spotless kitchen.
As someone who has danced with the depression devil her whole life, I’m far more interested in doing what I need to feel human over “doing it all” to appear superhuman to people whose opinions don’t matter in the long run. “All” is an unrealistic goal that no one human can reach on their own. And who of us has the funds for the team of people needed to do it all and do it well? No damn body I know. So say fuck it, prioritize your life based on what you and your family need and in the immortal words of Elsa when it comes to everything else “Let it go”.
Let that shit go.
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