Everyone goes through his or her day putting on some sort of character, usually more than one depending on the circumstances. My day job at a nonprofit includes manning the front desk, so when that phone chimes (or pierces my fragile ears with its blare—however you want to think of it), I muster up a smile and transform into “friendly, well-balanced receptionist.” I have to do it, because no one wants to donate money to a foundation represented by “sleep-deprived receptionist who wants to scream because she didn’t have time to stop and get coffee this morning.” I try to play this character even on the worst days: days when I haven’t had time to properly brush my hair and I have applied what I call “subway mascara." You know, it’s when you have to apply your mascara while balancing on the crowded [insert mode of public transportation here] with your phone camera pointed on selfie mode, so there’s tiny flecks of black makeup remnants under your eyes all day due to lack of a proper mirror and general stability. That’s not just me, right ladies?
Of course, there’s the “I’m too busy for this shit” New Yorker character that I play when I’d prefer not to acknowledge the people passing out makeup samples on Lexington Avenue at 9:00 in the morning. As long as the volume is high enough on my music, I can usually maintain this attitude for ten blocks or so until I trip over an uneven curb, or someone who is genuinely an “I’m too busy for this shit” New Yorker pushes me into an intersection because I don’t notice the illumination of the walk signal.
So, I’m not necessarily being disingenuous when I play these characters. In fact, I maintain my constant awkwardness and general state of disarray, but I simply shift my attitude and demeanor to fit the circumstances. These instances don’t concern me. What do trouble me deeply are the moments when I feel like a different person, committing actions and feeling emotions that are foreign. These moments occur in times of relapse or intense struggle.
It goes like this. Today, I feel like me. I ride out my emotions, try to be pretty friendly to the people around me, and work as hard as I can. Most days I feel like me. But in a way, that’s what makes the days that I don’t that much scarier. A few years ago, every day was pretty miserable. A misstep in behavior or a feeling of extreme sadness didn’t creep up on me because these things were constant. Relapse wasn’t in the picture, because recovery was completely unattainable. Part of me would have chosen death over recovery.
Now, I can go days, weeks, and sometimes months feeling happier and more confident that I’ve felt in a while. I’m no Leslie Knope circa seasons one and two (I’ll never stop referencing Parks and Rec, guys), but I’m hanging in there and I like my life. But there are times when I’ll suddenly be struck in the middle of a random night with a heavy bout of something—loneliness, fear, or something else that’s completely indescribable. All of a sudden, I feel like a different woman, a woman who will go to any lengths to distract herself from feeling whatever is in her head.
This need for distraction has come in different forms throughout the past few years. It has been distraction through starvation, through quite literally running until my body couldn’t process emotions anymore, through taking the opposite route and stuffing myself to the point of a coma, and through drinking to the point of fake happiness. Instead of being the friendly sister, friend, and daughter most people know, I’ve been the girl who’s too busy at the gym to call you back. I’ve been the girl who’s holed up in her room, surrounded by empty wrappers. I’ve been the girl who has to be taken home and barely knows who she should thank the next day. That isn’t me. That person can’t be me, right?
But, in reality, that person is me. I’ve come to accept that I don’t actually turn into someone else when these things happen. I do feel like a beast. I’m so embarrassed of these behaviors that I engage in, and I wish I could blame them on someone else. Some of them are no longer part of my life, and some remain, on very bad days. But they remain for a reason. The reason is that I am in recovery. I am not recovered. And if I tell myself that I am a different person when I use these behaviors, I will never get better. I will allow myself to shift blame and responsibility, falling victim to a force that I cannot control.
It’s always been me. It was me that starved myself every single day, and, more importantly, it was me that stopped doing that. I was sick, definitely sick, but I was still me. It’s confusing, but if I don’t look at it that way then I don’t know how to be both gentle with myself AND take responsibility for my own recovery. It’s important to be gentle with myself because my depression and my negative behaviors are often stemmed from self-criticism. However, it’s me that picks up the pieces of whatever mess my life has become.
It’s so frustrating sometimes (no, all the time) that everything isn’t better, because it’s been a while. But I also know that I’m very lucky. Through hard work and so much help from people who do indeed give a shit, I’ve crossed some sort of unquantifiable line in recovery. And I really don’t want to go back. I’ve worked too hard to succumb to some imaginary beastly character that I’ve created in my head.
I’ll fill my life with characters more pleasing to me, thank you very much. And if you’ll excuse me, I have some flecks of subway mascara to wipe off of my face now.
Peace and love,