Retrospective

So. The last 18 months have been eventful to say the least. Everything that has happened has been stewing on the back boiler of my brain. Now it’s time for a thought dump. Pure, unadulterated verbal vomit.

The shift started slowly. It had been brewing for a while. A thought here, another there. Something telling me there was something I should do. I wasn’t myself. I didn’t feel like the person I knew I could be. I had completely lost my way and myself in the process. I kept telling myself and the people around me this was what I wanted, this was what I was happy with. Turns out I can be quite convincing to others as well as myself even when I feel so hollow inside I could just curl up and cry. While others may not have been privy to what I was feeling, there was really only so long I could continue to deceive myself before it started to have a detrimental effect on my head space.

Some bizarre thought process in my messed up brain kicked in and suddenly I decided I would be happier if I was slimmer. I have always struggled with my body image, even when I was at a normal weight. I remembered how confident and happy I felt in college, when I weighed a lot less than I had before or have since. Craving for that feeling, I decided this was the way to go. Lose weight, gain happiness. Without going into too much detail, I started an exercise and diet plan. I would pull on my runners and track suit bottoms every day after work and set off on a quiet path through the woods with music blaring in my ears. I was at first walking, then jogging and finally running towards my happiness.

My weight practically fell off me. The track suit bottoms I wore for my first walk were soon too big. I spent an inordinate amount of time studying my transforming body. The feeling of euphoria after exercise kept me high for days, and I made sure I got my fix every day. I changed my relationship with food completely. Food wasn’t something to comfort me any longer; it was fuel. Fuel to keep my newly slimmed down legs carrying me faster and longer on my evening circuits. Food was something I had always enjoyed and this was something I continued to do. Only difference now was the fact that I knew I needed it rather than wanted it.

There was another difference, too. The comments about “rabbit food” and the complaints about there being “no treats in the house” which were very thinly veiled as light hearted jokes. I felt the sting and wondered if I was being unreasonable and selfish. So I continued to fill the press with the things he liked and I enjoyed but didn’t feel I needed to eat in order to fuel my body. One moment stands out in my head, even today. Following the 5:2 diet I was at the tail end of one of my 500kcal days, eating a tuna salad. He was on the sofa beside me, watching TV, eating a bag of crisps. Crisps that I bloody loved and on a normal day would’ve reached over for a handful without feeling quilty because I had been for a run and was allowed more than 500kcal. I can still smell them. I remember thinking “is this the level of support I can expect?”. I was so angry. He had made a comment earlier that day about there being no dinner because I was having one of my “hungry days” (his phrase, not mine). I had let it slide. It was in that moment, I realised I was on my own. Truly on my own. I haven’t eaten Hunky Dory Buffalo flavour crisps since.

There had been times I had considered leaving. Even before the time I actually did it. I cannot pin point the times or even events leading up to those instances but I do remember them being there. The thought of just giving up and starting over on my own. What startled me the most was how happy that thought made me however brief the feeling might have been. I remember thinking, in the depths of despair “is this it?”. I tried to imagine my life, our life 10 years down the road and the thought would plunge me into darkness. Lights were on but nobody was home and I was functioning on autopilot for weeks on end. Those periods were nothing but darkness and I lived for the days I could just stay in bed and shut out the world from around me.

I did fight those thoughts. There would be a burst of light, something to focus on that would be enough to keep me going until the darkness crept up again and would leave me weeping on the inside while telling the world around me everything was as it should be. I have no idea what gave me the first boot up the arse to seek solace in running, but I am so so happy it happened. What started out as an effort to lose weight and gain confidence and happiness turned into something so much more.

It was about five months into my new regime when he started to comment on how much weight I had lost. “You’ve lost a lot of weight”. That was more or less it. No pats on the back or any remark that might indicate he was as proud of my achievement as I was. Just a cold statement of a fact that anyone with a pair of eyes and/or functioning weighing scales would be able to point out. Again I was left wondering was this really it. The lack of support was appalling. I got more encouragement from people I barely knew, people I worked with and even some I only knew online, who had never seen me in real life but who were proud of my achievement nonetheless.

Other things from the past started to resurface more frequently. Things that had remained unsaid in the darker corners of my memories were beginning to crawl out and make their presence known. Things I had explained away to myself and to others. The family occasions I had attended alone because he was too busy at work. The times I had waited for him to come home from work only to give up after midnight, putting his requested dinner in the fridge and went to bed. Waking up the following morning to the sound of the front door closing on his way out, that same dinner still untouched in the fridge. The promises of time spent together that never happened or were cut short because he was too busy at work.

I say “too busy at work”. That was the tagline I used to convince myself it was a valid reason. It wasn’t. It was an excuse. It was a choice. I see that now and I feel like kicking my past self swiftly in the ovaries for ever accepting that as a reason to put work first. I do understand now that this was the way I saw myself, too. As someone not quite important of significant enough to be put first. I took his view of me and made it my own, for years. Whenever I mentioned it, he was incredibly talented at making me feel like I was complaining about nothing. He worked hard, he said. I wouldn’t understand, he said. I didn’t have to do what he did every day, he said. In a few sentences he would have torn down whatever grievances I had and have me feeling like a lazy, spoilt, do-nothing brat who was complaining about nothing.

At the time, my confidence was so low, I believed him. When I look back on that version of me, I feel ill. How could that have ever been me? There are periods I remember very little about. All I remember is feeling so incredibly low and worthless that I hid myself away from the world and everyone in it. Still, to this day I am struggling to understand how I kept functioning as a normal human being. Maybe I didn’t. I honestly can’t even remember if I was still going to work back then. I suppose I was, but I was on autopilot. Going through the motions with an empty smile on my face to fool anyone who was too busy to look any deeper.

Back to the turning point. Running. When I had nothing but the road in front of me and the music in my ears, my mind was left to roam freely. It started to analyse things, play things over in my head, remember things. Good things as well as bad, but mainly I started to realise I was more myself now than I had been in years. So I kept running. I kept remembering and I kept learning. I learnt to love my new body that I was pushing further than I had in all my adult life. I learned to give myself credit for my accomplishments. I learned to pat myself on the back whenever the hell I felt like I had deserved it. And believe me, those days it was quite often. Another thing I learned was to talk.

There are still very few people who know the whole story, and that is not going to change any time soon. I have always been reserved with my offerings of intimacy, and that, I fear is the last bastion of self defence I will more than likely hold onto for as long as I live. I have changed the pattern, though. I do talk more about these things than I used to, I just choose my audience more carefully.

As I started to appreciate and yes, celebrate the new me, he grew resentful. He withdrew into a spiral of negativity which hung over everything we did. Each spoken word felt like laying down a land mine waiting to be tread on at any moment, triggered into action by a word interpreted as criticism. It was becoming harder and harder to actually say anything at all. I preferred silence, even if it meant sharing a space with someone who may as well have been in a different country. Truth is, the silence was refreshing.

The connections I had lost over the years were waiting for me to re-establish them. The ones who were there when things were better. When I was better. They had never left me, it was I who had walked away thinking I wasn’t wanted and that I had nothing to offer. There were no comments regarding my long absence. Not even one. Only welcoming words of encouragement, positivity and love. It surprised me in the best possible way. It reinforced my recently rediscovered sense of confidence. I was important. I was significant. I did matter.

Whenever I was at home, I was alone. I preferred it that way as the only thing he seemed to bring into the house was tensions and dirty laundry. I had stopped asking for him to make any effort to spend time with me. I planned my days off around my friends and me. On the very rare occasions he had no plans for a day off that may coincide with mine, I made plans for the two of us only for him to torpedo them at the last minute by informing me he had only half a day off, or that what I wanted to do had to wait because there was something he needed to do and that had to take preference. I soon stopped planning anything that may have involved him. I had given up. I was done being the only one making an effort. I remember the last time I cooked a meal for us to eat together. He turned up two hours late, ate in silence and afterwards sat in the living room watching TV while I cried in the bed he hadn’t slept in for months.

I was ready to move on. I was ready to end the life we had had together and start something that was just mine. I wanted to tell him, every day. I wanted to scream the words to his face as soon as I saw him. Somehow I couldn’t quite figure out how to do it. I never set out to hurt him even though I was fully aware he would be hurt. I was trying to find the right combination of words that would free me and pacify him. Looking back, I laugh at my naiveté. Did I really think it was going to be that easy? A few words, a few tears, then a wave goodbye and that would be it? As if.

Something else happened around that time. By pure chance, by some sort of serendipity, I connected with someone I had known for years. Someone I had known only superficially, through work was beginning to feature more and more in my daily life. It started out as an exchange on Facebook about coffee beans. Yes, really. This was someone I knew, but didn’t know much about. I enjoyed finding out more. I told him more about myself than I had ever intended. For whatever reason, I trusted him. I didn’t hold back in answering his questions, which I’m guessing now were a little more thought out than I initially assumed.

Something in me sprung open. Something let the light in. If this was your average romcom, that something would be him, but this is not a movie so the answer is a little bit more complex than that. He may have been the final push on a journey to find the original me. But I had worked damn hard to get this far on my own, so excuse me for not wanting to give him all the credit. However, this was the time to do it. This was the epiphany, the revelation I had waited to be reminded of for who knows how long. I saw myself through the eyes of someone else for the first time and I loved what I saw.

His company was easy and soothing. Like a cool shower after a long day in the sun, it felt nourishing. There was no judgement, just a gentle nudge towards something He knew I wanted before I knew it myself. Learning to trust was difficult, but He was there every step of the way forward. He never let me dwell, for there was nothing worthwhile left behind. All that was there, in this moment I would take forward with me

When I finally managed to find the words to end the longest relationship I had ever had, they tumbled out and felt familiar. I had spoken them before, I realised. Only I had lacked conviction and he had lacked the will to hear them. This time, he heard me. I felt nothing but relief. I didn’t feel sorry for speaking out. I didn’t feel bad for him. I didn’t feel like I had let him down. I felt nothing but relief. If there ever was a better indicator that you were doing the right thing, I’d like to see it.

Of course I felt sad and angry. I felt I had failed at something. I felt sad that I had waited too long to speak out and I felt angry at him for not hearing me sooner. I was sad having lost years out of my life to something that gave me nothing in return. I was angry at him for making me feel worthless. All of this manifested itself as a giant ball of hurt that I tried to cry and smoke out of my system.

When all that subsided, I felt relieved. I felt lighter than I had felt in years, and for the first time in far too long I was actually looking forward to seeing what would happen next. Not all of it was good, needless to say. My brother did warn me things would come to a head sooner rather than later, which they did. Now there was something straight out of a bad movie. All of my belongings, outside the house we still shared, the doors locked with a very angry man inside. I laugh about it now but at the time I was terrified. How I kept myself calm is something that deserves another pat on the back. It was early morning before I finally got to bed, having decided I needed to find a new home.

And so I did. New everything. What followed after that night was a descent of bizarre calm in which we decided who kept what out of the house that hadn’t felt like home for three years. When I left for the last time and gave him the keys, I felt happy. My new home was waiting for me, and with it everything was new. As a last insult, he decided to tell me something I had suspected a few years previously. At the time I had asked and he had answered and I had taken his answer as gospel truth. Turns out my gut instinct had been right all along. He had been unfaithful. He chose the day I moved out to tell me this. He said he didn’t want any secrets between us. He was doing this to unburden his own guilty conscience rather than wanting to be honest with me. It was such a selfish thing to do which only managed to make me feel like that little insignificant little spec on the outskirts of his life I used to be. He was welcome to her. I no longer cared, but it still hurt. Had he really cared, even a little bit, he would’ve let me leave in silence.

After that, everything was new. It was scary, and bizarre and exciting. I felt like stepping into the light after years of darkness and I was loving all of it. And He was there with me. My life was turned upside down, everything was beginning again and He was there. The one still marker in a constantly moving landscape that was my new first chapter. In the unfamiliar surroundings His presence reassured me. He held me against His body and filled me with hope, with love and desire. We danced. It was on that first night in my new home that I slept peacefully for the first time in months. He was beside me.

It was the way He moved. Always with purpose, not calculated but with the kind of fluidity that comes with ease to those who are confident. There were no wasted gestures; everything was done with natural precision. He bent down to light his cigarette off my cooker with a casual effortlessness and stood there, naked in my kitchen and I could not have been happier just watching Him be there.

So, as I said in the beginning, a lot has happened in the last 18 months. Right now, today, as I sit here typing, I am happy. I feel happy, and evidently I look happy, too. They said I had a glow. That I looked younger and happier. These were the people who, I now realised, had perhaps never seen me truly happy before. Or had only glimpsed a moment of two of sheer joy light me up until life became muted again. It was over a cup of coffee on a sunny evening when she asked me what it was about Him. The answer was already there, in my subconscious. Shaping it into words brought me to tears. He saw me when I was invisible, even to myself.

The frown was gone. As was the feeling of unidentifiable heaviness that seemed to follow her wherever she went. The ill fitting overcoat of sadness and negativity had finally found its rightful place and it was packed away with all those other things she had once thought she needed to protect herself. But the days were lighter and filled with laughter. There was no need to shield herself from the world. The frown was gone.

There was always something about Him. What exactly, I am not entirely sure, but there was always something about Him. Again, my gut instinct had been correct. He is wonderful. He has made room for me in His life. He has made me feel loved and cherished again. He has shown me what I can be, what we can be and I am thrilled. I’m sitting here, in the place we share, the place he invited me into, and I smile. Because she lives here. The happy woman with wet hair walking the rooms with a smile on her face. I see her in the mirror and smile back at her for she has a face that was made for a ready smile. It was always there, the smile. Just beneath the surface but somehow lost for far too long. When it finally broke through, it would not recede. Even when she was sad, it was there, ready and unrelenting. Refusing to be suppressed, it had been so for long enough.

I share my life with Him now. The more I know, the more I love Him. It’s the little things that slot in between the big things. It’s the fact that he wants to touch me when I’m near. When we walk down the street He takes my hand and wraps His arm around me. He holds out His hand when we sit across the table from each other, having dinner. He doesn’t turn away from me when He goes to sleep without reaching out and bringing my arm around His body. The way I move in closer makes Him laugh.

Food. I love it. I love making it, I love giving it, I love eating it. I had forgotten what it felt like to cook something and see that the person you cooked it for actually enjoys it. And appreciates it. Says “thank you” and means it. Knows the effort you put into it, knows you did it hoping they enjoy it and wants to show you it was a success. There’s a phrase in Finnish, “ruualla rakastajat” to describe people who show their love through food. Loosely translated it would probably be “lovers by food”. Doesn’t sound as accurate as it does in Finnish, but you get the point. “Feeders” doesn’t sit right with me, it just sounds too seedy. I’ve always been one. I come from a long family line of these people and we do know the satisfaction of sitting down with the people you love, watching them enjoy something you made with love.

There are so many things I am realising now. And so many things I am remembering. Not all of it good, not all of it bad. Just things. I do still spend a little too much time in my head analysing things, but I do need a certain amount of that in my life as well in order to recognise the inner workings of my slightly wonky head. Recognise the thought processes that trigger the negative spiral and open up the big, black hole where there is nothing but doubt, fear and anxiety. I know what to do now. I know how to remove myself from that, stay silent for a while and regroup. It doesn’t make me broken or wrong, it merely makes me able to take a step back, look at what I’m doing and stop the crazy.

There are things I don’t yet know about Him. There are things He doesn’t yet know about me. It feels like there is now all the time in the world to get to know Him. To know us. It feels right and natural. It feels like I always knew it should. When I’m here, even when He is not, I don’t want to leave. His presence is everywhere and I want to feel it. He has shown me love and respect. With Him, it’s different. He’s not afraid to speak his mind and when He does, I’m often overcome with emotion. His words speak to those parts of me I’ve tried to keep hidden from everyone. He speaks to the insecurities I know I still have and He is erasing them one at a time, whether He knows it or not.

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