Well it took me long enough but I’m dropping pennies all over this city.
A small background on my sister; she was my rock during my six year depression, she saved my life three times during that period, she is in the third year of her degree, which she started at the age of 26 and is on track for a First, as a therapist.
Since she began her degree two years ago a lot of our conversations have turned into an impromptu therapy session, either for herself (as each student also undergoes therapy as part of their studies) or myself. Many have ended in happy or sad tears for one or both of us as epiphanies were had about our childhoods and such.
She also, of course, was there for me during my eating disorder as a sister first and foremost, but also as an ear listening to my battles.
Last night during a discussion where I again asked for her help with my eating habits we somehow dug deeper into my addictions, with food and cigarettes being our hot topic.
What began as a pleading for help that had me in tears asking “how do normal people eat?” turned into a question of my treatment.
Obviously when discussing an eating disorder with a person you trust you speak about the external factors of it first; I’m fat, feel ugly, I want to look good again etc. but we then got on to why I have never felt anything but unattractive.
When I was 13 years old my high school sweetheart, the basketball star of our school (this is England so that doesn’t mean too much, but it did to an America-loving Brit like me) told me “you’re not ugly, you’re just not very pretty” which was possibly the worst age to be told such a thing. Since then I have never felt comfortable with my looks. Until then it had never even occurred to me that my face was anything but just my face. Now it was ‘not ugly, but not pretty’. I started tweezing my eyebrows into oblivion to follow the other girls. Wore white eyeshadow (oh the early 00’s!) like everyone else. And had so much eyeliner to copy Christina Aguilera in the Dirrrty video I was bordering on the goth-line!
My sister and I talked about my last relationship – the one that ended with a trip across America planned and an eating disorder to boot. I mentioned that I had been looking at photos from when I was with him. I was a UK size 8, 115lbs and thought I was huge. When I saw photos of my 23rd birthday my upper arms were slimmer than my current forearms. And at the time I was being told off by him for not going to the gym and for eating too much. He was slightly overweight after gaining weight during our relationship, whereas I had lost weight in that period without noticing.
At the end of our relationship I was the same weight I had been at 15 (ten years on) which was 115lbs. I had been that weight for the last two years of our time together.
When we broke up, in that first week, I was too devastated and lost to eat. I needed a distraction so I went to the gym rather than being home alone. I went for late night runs to avoid sleeping without him next to me. I lost 9lbs in that week.
I say that it took me a week to get over him because in that week I begged for him back, I cried for everything I had lost, I decided to follow my dreams taking all the money I had saved on my own and travel across America alone, and I realised I didn’t need him and eventually that I didn’t want him. I no longer had to listen to him telling me off for whatever I had done wrong now. I no longer had to listen to his parents scream at me for not agreeing with them on whatever topic it was today. I no longer had to sleep with the guy I had become physically repulsed by.
When I realised all of this rather than focusing on the routine I had counted on for three years, I knew I was over him. I just needed a new routine. Enter, eating disorder.
I had no control in my relationship but I had full control of my eating disorder, so I thought.
I talked to my sister about him telling me I was fat and hardly ever that I was pretty. After expressing her sisterly side of wanting to punch him for this we moved on to a point I hadn’t noticed. That I always listen to the guys that tell me bad things about myself, and take it to heart.
My male friend T told me a few months ago not to let the “dickheads” have so much power over my self worth and I had told him it’s not that easy to dismiss. We had been discussing My American and how badly that had ended when he said this. He told me I don’t realise how beautiful I am which echoed what C had said to me two years ago when talking about our time together five years before that; “I don’t think you realised how beautiful you were, I still don’t think you do.”
My sister said to me:
“I wish you could see you how your friends and family see you….I get what you mean about taking in what people say about you as if it’s a mirror, but you seem to just do it with certain people – guys – when the real world thinks you’re beautiful and kind and charming.”
After hearing this the penny dropped.
My exes were pricks.
First my high school sweetheart said what he said. The next ex cheated on me, the next also cheated and tore me apart in the process, the last ex gave me such a complex I developed an eating disorder and even C (the first time around) treated me like a toy when we were together.
I had thought I only go for nice guys as my type, but looking back they all appeared nice on the surface and that’s what I clung to. They actually put me down, made me feel fat, ugly, worthless and cheap. Each relationship damaged me in some way that left a branding on my self esteem that I can’t shake off.
Last week, while waiting for lunch with a friend, I got talking to a good looking guy from Canada that was stood next to me in the line. Our opener happened when I hadn’t realised I was quietly singing the song I had in my head and he stood smiling at me, I burst out laughing when I noticed and we started chatting. Twenty minutes later we said bye. When my friend and I got back to the park to meet our group I told them about Canada (and that’s what I’ll call him here – potentially for just this one post) and they asked if I’d got his number. Nope. Why would he want my number?! He was good looking, funny and nice and I have a double chin and cellulite! My exact thoughts. Because apparently in my head my personality counts for nothing unless it’s just friends.
My sister ended our therapy session, through my tears, with this simple message: “change happens in awareness.” and then left me pondering the question of my smoking and eating addictions; “it would be good to look at what the addictions are doing for you, because they have some purpose.”
I spent today thinking of this each time I lit a cigarette. In the morning before my bath, on my walk to the tube, on my walk from the tube, during my lunch break, a quick smoke after a busy period at work, with my girls just after work, on the way home from the tube, and at my flat. Yep, I’m addicted.
I had thought it was a comfort thing, but then I realised it’s another self confidence thing. The ‘busy period’ at work when I desperately needed a cigarette before I started the next urgent task (they’re all urgent, it’s a law firm) had occurred just after I got embarrassed stood asking a Partner in a different department to sign something for my boss who had left the office but needed emailing over to her. She questioned why she was signing it and I told her there were no Partners in the office from my department but my boss (her friend) needed it urgently. She stared at me for way too long and I went bright red. This happened right in front of the guy in my office that I find cute. I sent the document to my boss and went straight down for a cigarette.
I hate the way I walk, oddly enough from being bullied about it by just one person at school, so I smoke when I walk to distract myself.
I feel self conscious when I eat so I smoke before and after to focus on that.
I hate being alone in the flat so I go outside for a cigarette and people-watch.
I smoke because I’m self conscious.
I know it’s killing me, I can’t run anymore, and I can barely taste food now but I don’t know how else to channel it yet. So I smoke.
Waiting for the next penny to drop.