I’m sitting in this weird hotel room in Lynnwood, WA. The suburbs north of Seattle. Where I started the phase of my life that changed everything. Where I fled when the life I knew for nearly twenty years almost killed me. My dad drove me up to the treatment center and associated house for wayward women to reside. And then he was gone.
And I weathered those storms. Somehow, some way. I lived in six places up here over three years and three months. Two of those were group homes. One was an apartment shared with friends. One was a room I rented in a house that probably still haunts me a bit. One was the first safe space I’d had…ever? And in that probably illegal basement studio apartment without even an address, I really, really almost killed myself. But I was over suicide at that point.
And the last place I lived? A house. With someone I loved. That we turned into a home. And brought our precious daughter home to.
There’s a lot up here. There’s misery and suffering and loneliness. There’s hope and solace and redemption. There are pieces of who I was scattered all over. I guess I’m here to bring those all back together. To sit in who I was and who I am and how they relate and how I can move forward and maybe what I need to learn from then to apply to now.
I’m here. I’m ready.
This stop is probably the easiest one. The house we brought Ali home to. Also, the place I learned to eat again. The place Tony taught me to accept love. Only recently have we been able to touch again the fear and vulnerability of our early relationship, hidden so deeply among the ebb and flow of daily life and the passage of time. It is who we are, individually and together. It is who our family has become. Two people, this house. Looking for better and finding each other.
Edmonds Community College. I left U of O spring term of my freshman year in a desperate attempt to “get better” so I could enjoy and embrace the college experience I pretended to have (but really was outside watching through the lens of bulimia). That decision ultimately brought me up to Edmonds, WA (and surrounding areas) where I stayed for over three years. I was ashamed to be here, at community college at 21. And yet the terms I spent schooling here, through bulimia and drug addiction and pregnancy and even online with a newborn, speak to the thread of education through my story. It also speaks to pre-Obamacare times; when a pre-existing condition meant you were uninsurable. When kids (kids!) had to be in school full-time to stay on their parents insurance. When there wasn’t much out there aside from that option.
So I worked at Subway and tried to go to school full-time and manage my raging eating disorder. And meth became my number one frenemy. For all the reasons. Mostly I tried to hide here. But sometimes I was seen. Even then, maybe even ESPECIALLY then — at my lowest — I would and could stand up when the time was right. I had some mad vulnerability hangovers in those days. Before I knew to acknowledge and be kind with myself through them.
This place. A room I rented for six months in a fancy townhouse development across from the community college. Though I never went there while I lived here, ironically. Two Chinese brothers owned the house and I had a sad room in the garage that I aspired never to leave; going upstairs to use the restroom or shower was pure torture for me. I hated living here. I slept on an air mattress and broke both my (desktop) computer and the iPod I maxed a credit card out to buy thinking I could “stop” my addictive behaviors if I bribed myself. So it was me and my Discman and Extraordinary Machine and my eating disorder. And the parts that I still can’t really even say.
And then I turned twenty-one, while I lived here. So there was solace I could control (i.e. I didn’t need anyone else) readily available at the liquor store. This was probably my loneliest place, that room in this townhouse, trying to hide what I couldn’t anymore. Living in constant fear.
I supported myself for the first (only?) time in my life working here for 18 months. The people here were the glue that kept me together sometimes, even though I couldn’t tell them that. Before I had a car (I lived up here almost two years without a car, a year of that on my own and totally reliant on the bus system. In rainy Seattle) I’d bus here for my opening shift at 6am. I loved the quiet and solitude of opening this store — and the control of knowing everything was going to be done “right” that day.
I hated working at Subway when everyone else my age was making their way through college, jobs, extracurriculars, studying abroad. I generally stayed high to make it through the mundane and kept vodka in my water bottle to ensure a smile for the lunch rush. And I starved here. And I puked here.
And then I met my husband here. And I saw that I can’t judge too harshly my current place in life (though that’s a lesson to learn and re-learn) because I don’t know what’s around the next bend. I don’t know what my reason for being here might be.
This was the place I learned the pain of paychecks that don’t stretch, of hard work not properly compensated, of being treated less-than (so different from my experience working at Subway through high school when people treated me like it was a side gig, or a stepping stone). This was the place I blossomed a little — as I’ve been known to do under the microscope of responsibility. And as I turned from a seedling into the tiniest little (fucked up) flower — someone saw me. And he was brave and vulnerable and put himself out there and persevered through rejection. And then he got more than he knew what to do with. Nine years ago this summer.
My biggest trauma response (as measured by full body shakes, clenched jaw, bit lip, grinding teeth, clenched fists, raised heart rate, shallow breathing and extreme urge to run) so far: the grocery store.
Up here it’s the QFC/Bartell common combo (if not adjacent than nearby) which I’m not exposed to at home. Where do you think a bulimic gets all that food to flush?
It’s the damn grocery store and the shame of the full cart and the stress of the ever-emptying bank account, and the weight of the bags as you leave. And so often in my case, that walk/bus ride of shame back to wherever you’re retreating. With a backpack stuffed and as many bags as I could carry. Being bulimic with a car and an apartment (with my own kitchen plus bathroom for the first time ever!) helped so much. Maybe even helped me climb out of that pit of so so shameful despair. So many grocery stores here with so much shame and self-loathing.
How many times did we sit here and smoke weed and talk about our therapists or our fellow treatment friends or just listen to music that sang the words we were killing ourselves to be able speak? More times than I can count.
And one time that ferry took me away. They put me on that ferry and a cab picked me up and drove me an hour to my first in-patient rehab.
And with the bulimia it was excruciating. But pretty much everything was. If you’ve never had an issue with food, you likely don’t notice how omnipresent it is. When food gets scary, life gets scary. And when life is scary, food is a pretty reliable comfort.
I can’t hate Edmonds because it made me who I am. It brought me to my husband and my children and the safest place I’ve ever been. But I want to hate it. I want to hate it for me then. And I want to hate it for all the people who never did get through their shit. For all the people still carrying that sense of self-blame and feeling a failure and…shame.
Do I have any words left? Should I not be saying it right now? Should I just be sitting, thinking, feeling? I think I’d feel alone if I wasn’t sharing. Like, really, really alone. Like I fall through the cracks, always.
By sharing I feel like people are in it with me. And that’s all I’ve ever wanted. I can handle so many things, but I’m not good at doing it alone.
Is this a substitute for me being bad at asking? I just don’t want it to be a “weakness” or a weird thing I do or a disturbing desperation. Those must be my shame gremlins. That I think I’m being brave and real and honest and helpful. And it comes off as brave (sure) but also needy, disturbed, unprofessional, desperate, reckless, inappropriate. Each of those is so loaded. They hit either right in the gut or the heart.