During a recent yoga class, the instructor went over various ailments and the psychosomatic reasons your body would be reaching out to you. Like aching knees, a sore back or an upset stomach.
“If your stomach hurts, maybe you literally can’t stomach something in your life.”
I laughed to myself in warrior two or eagle or horse or whatever pose I was in. Because it was fucking true. Not anymore, but for a long time, it was fucking true. It went on for a long time because I never took the time to listen to what was going on with me. I jammed emotional shit deeper and deeper. Until my body had to speak up.
My stomach hurt. It hurt all the time. And it was bizarre the way it hurt. It didn’t feel like indigestion or the flu or food poisioning. It just fucking hurt. Sometimes it felt like hunger. Sometimes it felt like gnawing. But it usually felt a gaping empty endless hole to Hell that was burning everything inside of me. And nothing would fix it. I chewed antacids and Pepto tablets. I ate healthy and, subsequently, bland food. I drank lots of water. Sometimes I thought, “Maybe my belt is too tight?” I’d Google “ulcer symptoms’. Sometimes it felt better, but nothing ever really fixed it. It. Just. Fucking. Hurt.
It wasn’t only my stomach. I constantly felt run down. I alternated between insomnia and hypersomnia. My allergies became really really bad. I blamed that on the prevalence of nature in Seattle. I was sick for an entire month last winter and the doctor found nothing wrong. I sounded like a muppet for three weeks. I regularly got colds and sinus infections. And it wasn’t my lifestyle. I barely drank anymore. And by barely, I mean a couple glasses of wine a week. I worked out five days a week. But I was always sick or, at the very least, run down and exhausted.
If I had been paying attention, I would have noticed a correlation with how I felt to what was going on in my life. But I didn’t. I felt nothing. A lifetime of dealing with bullshit taught me it was easier to feel nothing than deal with the bullshit. Until one day you notice something. And then you keep noticing. Until, finally, one day, after days and weeks and months of noticing, but doing nothing, you say, “Fuck this!” and do something.
My stomach felt fine that morning. As I rode the Blue Line to O’Hare, the familiar tightness began. By the time I went through security, the tightness became gnawing. As I waited to board, I had trouble sitting up straight. I thought I was hungry. I ate a granola bar. As I boarded the plane headed back to Seattle, I couldn’t stand up straight. I had an arm wrapped around my waist. I knew it was going to be bad when I got home. But I had to go back.
Ten days earlier, I had sat on our deck with him and told him I had bought a red eye flight an hour earlier for that night to Chicago. I told him I put money down on an apartment the day before and then I rescinded the offer that morning. I told him that I needed to get away. I told him that I was a fucking mess. Which was true. Our relationship had ranged between open resentment to a silent cold war for the previous six weeks. I didn’t feel or look okay. My eyes were red and ragged from crying and lack of sleep. I was trembling. My nerves constantly hummed like power lines. My heart was always pounding.
He listened and said flatly, “I think it’s a good idea. Take as much time as you need.”
Later, he left for work without saying good-bye. I tried to be cheerful and texted him throughout the rest of the day and when I landed in Chicago the next morning. Then I saw my friends and I told them everything. I did something. And I felt somewhat okay. I went to sleep that first night back still feeling like shit because I knew my relationship was ending, but I knew I was going to be okay. Once he knew I had opened up to friends about his alcoholism and the affect it was having on me and our relationship, there was no going back.
On the second day, he sent me texts. I looked at them, felt the familiar pang in my stomach and ignored them or sent back a listless response.
On the third day, a friend texted him, offering help. Very soon after that, I recieve a text from him asking me to stop talking about him. I refused. I was sitting in a living room full of friends. I had just woken up from a nap. We had spent the last few hours eating and drinking wine. It was a good day, like the two days before that. I excused myself to the bathroom and threw up everything. It wasn’t the drinks or the food. It was the beginning of the end. Here we go, I thought. I remembered the last time I was sick.
A few weeks earlier, two days before my birthday, I woke up from a post-work nap and heard him come home. My stomach tightened and I became nauseous. “Maybe it was the wine I had after work,” I thought. I went into the bathroom and threw up.
It wasn’t. I had had three glasses of wine with food over a couple of hours. I had eaten again when I got home and it was only when I heard him did I get sick. At that point, we hadn’t spoken for almost a full week after an arugment about his drinking. I convinced myself I had eaten something weird or I had “hit it hard” with my glass of wine per hour, and went downstairs.
I went down into the kitchen. He was sitting on the couch. He ignored. Even though I would try to make eye contact, he wouldn’t even look at me. I heated up soup. I remember visibly trembling. It was May, and I was wearing a sweater, but I was freezing. This was day six of him snubbing me. After a minute, he walked by me to go outside to smoke. He stopped.
“Do you still want to go out for dinner for your birthday?” he asked, looking at the floor.
This was the first thing he had said to me days. I was taken off guard. “I guess so.” I said quietly and bewildered. I didn’t know how to respond.
He rolls his eyes. “Great,” he snarls and steps outside. The door closes.
The microwave beeps. I pull my soup out and put it on the counter. Then I go down to my knees. My stomach hurts. Everything hurts. I rest my head on the cabinets and shut my eyes. My fingertips hold onto the granite countertops. I don’t know what to do, I think. I’m in an increasingly hopeless situation. I’m alone. But I have to find a way out of it. After a few moments, before he can see me, I pull myself up. When he enters, I’m sitting at the dining room table, eating my soup with my head down.
He walks right by me without a word and goes to bed. “Where are you going?” I ask. “To bed. I have to work in the morning.” It’s 9 o’clock. I hear the bedroom door shut. I sleep on the couch, like I did most nights. I had been doing that for almost a year.
Now it’s weeks later and all our Chicago friends know what’s been going on for the last few months, or fuck, years. Now I’m throwing up for a completely different reason. I found the way out and it was telling people the truth. It’s the way out, it’s good and good things will come from it. Eventually. Until then, it won’t be easy. It’ll be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But there’s no going back. I mean, literally I have to go back. My stuff and cat are out there. But, figuratively, I wasn’t going back. I wasn’t going back to feeling like shit and dealing with shit. I was going to move forward. Without him.
Days later, I’m boarding the plane to Seattle, holding my stomach, holding everything together. I’m moving forward slowly down that jetway, and it’s super fucking painful, but I’m fucking moving. I haven’t talked to him in days.
On the fourth day I text him: ‘No one is against you – it’s the opposite. We’re all very much for you. I’m telling our friends what’s happening because I love you. Our friends are reaching out to you because they love you. You have a lot of people in this world who really love you. Accept the help everyone is offering. I have spent the last 5 years loving you. I don’t want this to end in bitterness and hatred.”
To which he responds:
‘STOP TALKING TO PEOPLE ABOUT ME. I DON’T GO TALKING ABOUT YOUR PROBLEMS AND YOUR FAMILY TO ANYONE. YES, YOU AVOID YOUR FAMILY BECAUSE YOU WON’T RESOLVE THE CONFLICT. YES, YOU RAN AWAY TO CHICAGO TO GET AWAY, CLEAR YOUR MIND, AND AVOID CONFLICT/CONVERSATION. THIS IS NOT ABOUT ME!! THIS IS ABOUT YOU!!!!!’
After that, nothing.
Until the sixth day, when I receive an email asking for my half of the June mortgage. Of the townhouse he kept in only his name, even though I paid half the monthly mortgage, even though I offered to help with the down payment when he bought it. He had refused my help with the down payment. He offered to put me on the mortgage months earlier, but then he backed out a day later. As much as he said it was “our house”, it wasn’t. It was his house. He wanted me to think it was my house, but it wasn’t. Legally, it was only his. He had control. He always wanted it this way. He’s been down this way with girlfriends before. That’s when I knew. That email, that bill, was when I knew.
“He’s going to kick me out,” I tell a friend, his friend, the day before I leave.
“No way,” he says. “He won’t do that.”
“Yes, he will. Watch.”
When that plane lands and I get home, that’s exactly what he does. He tells me to leave as soon as possible. Because I “talked about him”. I did the most unforgivable thing: I told the truth and I asked for help.
But my stomach doesn’t hurt anymore.
We rarely listen to how we feel. I missed him for a long time until I realized something. All the things I missed were easy. Making dinner, good night kisses, vacations. Anyone can do that. Anyone can make me dinner, kiss me good night and drink margaritas in Mexico with me. But it’s the difficult stuff I don’t miss. Because the hard stuff never existed. Because he could never do it.
He rarely visited when we were long distance. I always went to him. He didn’t meet my family until year four of us dating, but he sure as fuck demanded a presence of me in his family. Whenever we had an argument or disagreement, he went silent or shut me out. There was no resolvement. There wasn’t even talking. He would simply block me. He couldn’t admit he was wrong. And when it came to the really, really hard stuff, like seeking help for an addiction, he sure as fuck didn’t do it. I’ve realized, I don’t miss this guy at all.
There wasn’t substance or sincerity or honesty present. How was that ever a healthy relationship? It wasn’t. But I had never realized that because I didn’t know what a healthy relationship was. Growing up, our house was strife with dysfunction. Maybe I didn’t think I deserved a good guy. Or it would feel ‘weird’. If I had been listening to how I felt, I would have realized this much much sooner. And maybe this catastrophe of a break-up could have been avoided.
Holding my stomach down that jetway, filled with dread and anxiety, I got on that plane and now I’m the person I always wanted to be. Speaking to a friend the other night, she told me, “You were a mess when you moved back. You were beaten down. But you did all of this on your own. You got a job, you found a place, you furnished it. You didn’t have shit. And you got through all that. You packed up your shit and you came back and you did it.”
As shitty as that situation was, I wouldn’t change any decision I made those first frantic weeks. Even the missteps. Everything lead me to where I am and who I am and I’m happy. Why is that? Because I stopped shoving shit down and I acknowledge what I’m feeling.
I don’t what my next relationship will be like. But I know it will be healthy and there will be mutual respect and love. I know this because I’ve finally learned to listen to how I feel. I’ve had friends tell me to start dating immediately and I’ve had other friends tell me to wait awhile. I don’t know what an appropriate time is. No one does. Maybe it’s too soon, maybe it’s too late, maybe I timed it perfectly. There isn’t a rule book. I can only listen to how I feel. If it’s a toxic relationship, then yeah, it’s way too soon. Never will be too soon for bullshit. If it’s a relationship built on mutual respect, admiration and love, then I’m way the fuck overdue. I deserve that. Everyone deserves that.