I have been drowning in anxiety this last week. The situation with my toxic mother-in-law, which I poured into this blog about a week ago , has just gotten worse. To sum it up briefly: she is obsessed with body image. As such, she can’t see that my wife is improving, because she sees her daughter’s physicality as the main expression of her condition. I disagree, as do her doctors, therapists, friends, and other support network. In other words, everyone sees my wife improving, except my in-laws. And now, frustrated by her continued physicality, they are starting to project blame on me. This is where it has gotten tough. I’ve been taking a bruising from my in-laws in extremely unfair ways–making comments to my wife, like “are you sure that you’re happy in your marriage?” (to which my wife says “my marriage is the center of my life that has saved my life,” and telling my mom (the nerve!) that my wife “needs a break from her husband.” It’s all pretty fucked up, hurtful, and I’ve called them out on it. I’m speaking with them on the phone tomorrow night to basically tell them to leave me alone, if you can’t be nice, don’t say anything at all, of all people you two should be the most grateful rather than the most accusatory. I’m steeling my nerves for it.
This is also coinciding with an avalanche of work for my job. I’ve been distracted, and it has caught up to me and I have about 6,000,000,000 tasks to do, which trickle outside of the work day and mean that when I’m not stressing about fighting with my in-laws, I’m working.
I’m anxious about quitting my job in 6 weeks and starting to travel. I’m anxious about my wife’s recovery.
As I said, I feel like I’m drowning. So I am throwing myself a life saver. I need to re-connect with who I am: an optimist who loves his wife and believes that she is doing better, and that he is doing the best he can to support her.
So I dig into the archives for today’s post. Every winter, my family gets together and celebrates a tradition that I instituted a few years ago in which we all write an essay about a similar theme, and share our answers. It’s a way to have deep, philosophical conversations within a week of vacation, and it’s been fantastic. This past winter, our theme was “This I Believe,” based on the NPR series that was on its way into extinction. I wrote a piece back then that I’m very proud of, and I’m posting it here so that I can re-read it and remember that above all else, I believe in recovery and the power of love. Anxiety be damned.
“This I Believe.” Written December 22, 2009
[Note: in the original essay, I call my wife by name. In this reproduction, I am calling her Sonya to continue to protect her identity.]
I believe in recovery. I was cornered into my belief in recovery, but how I came about it doesn’t make it any less real. When Sonya was in the throes of her delusions at the hospital, there were basically three options: she could get better, she could get worse, or she could stay the same. The latter two options—getting worse and staying the same—were incongruous with my stubborn insistence to remain optimistic, and so I believed that Sonya would get better.
It is much easier to say that you believe in recovery than it is to actually believe in recovery. I have said that I believe in recovery many, many times, and to pretty much everyone I know. “We take things one day at a time, and while each day is difficult, things are getting better.” I fed that line to concerned friend after concerned friend, and yet most of the time it was insincere. I was saying it because I liked how it sounds, but it didn’t feel true. What felt true was that each day was the same, full of ugly questions, sad silence, and the big, foggy unknown.
When you are stuck in the unknown, it feels infinite. You don’t remember the beginning and you can’t envision the end. However, when you are stuck in the unknown with someone who has been to hell and back, you have to pretend like hell that everything is getting better. My suffering and uncertainty couldn’t hold a candle to Sonya’s experience, so I had to be the great pretender. Every day I would look into Sonya’s uncertain eyes and tell us both in a desperate attempt to convince us both that things would get better, for her, and us both.
However, the strange thing about saying that you believe things will get better is that when you say it a lot, you actually start believing is as well. You say it, then you hope for it, then you see it, and then you believe it. While on a microscopic level each day seemed to be filled with the same challenges, when days add up to weeks and weeks add up to months, well then you actually start to see recovery. We were actually taking things one day at a time, each day was actually difficult, but things were actually getting better. The difference between November 16 and November 17 was non-existent, but the difference between September 16 and November 16 was cause for celebration.
The burden that Sonya is bearing is a tremendous load. When I close my eyes and picture it, I see Sonya carrying a huge bag on her shoulders, filled with all of the weight of her suffering. It weighs a ton, and the suffering is a dark powder, like ground coffee but much more tragic and dense. Her posture is bent, her steps are slow and heavy. Each step forward takes tremendous effort. It is a scene that breaks my heart. However, when Sonya steps forward, an unknowable hand guided by an unknowable force reaches a teaspoon into the bag and takes one spoonful of the suffering out and casts it on the ground behind her. This is repeated for every step. Step. Spoonful. Step. Spoonful. Step. Spoonful. A spoonful out of a ton is nothing by itself, but a hundred paces, and a thousand spoonfuls, add up. The suffering diminishes. The burden becomes more bearable. Recovery is happening.
It took a tremendous amount of patience and acceptance to see this recovery happening. I struggled with it for months, but now I am there. However, as I said before, my struggles are much different than Sonya’s. She is yet to believe. She wants to, but can’t be sure. I first believed in recovery because I didn’t want any other choice, but now I believe in recovery because I don’t think there is any other way. The final step in this belief that I cherish the most, the part that is the most uplifting, is that my wife will eventually, with much uncertainty and unwillingness, with doubts lingering and questions unanswered, with wounds unhealed and scars yet to form, with headaches and lethargy and disinterest all still a part of her daily routine…..that despite all of this, Sonya will find her belief in recovery.