People who equate truth with fact are missing the point.

The Ugly Familiar 6: Love Is Not a Victory March

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 3.1 (except it’s less of a part and more of an interlude)
Part 4
Part 5
However, maybe you didn’t read those, and maybe you want to read one post and not 6. Fair enough. Here’s what you need to know: Robert was my first husband. We married in May of 1993 and our son Jacob was born in December of that same year. We were both very young and our relationship was always chaotic and difficult.

During Jacob’s first year, I controlled every bite of food that I put into my body. I subsisted on vegetable soup, oatmeal, and dry salted potatoes, a diet so low in fat that eventually I became deficient in fat-soluble vitamins, and by consequence was covered in bruises. Every time I scratched an itch, bumped a table, or Jacob bit my shoulder, I would get a black-and-blue mark all out of proportion the to the injury. My doctor sent me to have something like 20 vials of blood drawn so he could test it for God-knows-what-all, and we all breathed a sigh of relief when those tests proved I didn’t have leukemia. The doctor seemed unconcerned that I was so thin I wasn’t menstruating and had to sleep 12 hours out of every 24 in order to maintain my brutal workout schedule. He prescribed a multi-vitamin and sent me home.

During that year, I also kept our house in pristine order. Everything was perfect. I washed my cloth diapers and hung them out to dry and they were so perfectly even and white out there on the line, they looked like movie star teeth. I swept the floors daily and mopped them twice a week. My dishes were clean and there were no sticky jam spills in my refrigerator. My jeans were size 4 and my breasts had all but disappeared.

Everything was perfect.

Eventually, not long after Jacob’s first birthday, I lost the thread that connected me to whatever force enabled me to do all of those things that were so unnatural for me. I ate some cookies or I watched TV instead of cleaning the bathroom, and soon it all unraveled and I was me again, laundry half done, dinner unmade, my nose in a book, and candy bar wrappers hidden at the bottom of the trash can. Robert told me I was “marshmallowing out” again and asked how a person who couldn’t cook anything more complicated than Jell-O could possibly manage to get fat.

When I lost hold of the thread, my period came back, and in April 1995, the rabbit done died again.

When I was four months pregnant, Robert got a new job and he asked me not to come visit him there, in spite of the fact that he would be working less than a mile from our house.

“Why? Don’t you think Jacob wants to see where you’re working?”

“You can come when you look more pregnant. I don’t want people thinking I have a fat wife.”

I didn’t respond. I didn’t know how.

My weight had fluctuated widely since my late teens, but during my pregnancy with Abbie I became genuinely fat for the first time. Part of that was almost certainly due to the fact that I entered the pregnancy on the rebound from a year of near-starvation, but also, I was angry. With food to nourish my brain, I couldn’t ignore that anger, and since I couldn’t starve it away anymore, I ate it. I ate my anger with omelettes and toast, with roast beef and mashed potatoes, with ice cream and cookies. I ate and ate and ate until I had stretch marks in places I didn’t know people could get stretch marks and I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror.

I was so ashamed, I almost never left the house. All my emotional and mental energy was consumed with food and weight, planning how I would find that thread and get back to being the perfect, tidy, slender person I had been a year earlier. I spent hours lost in a daze as I planned the diet I would pursue beginning the instant I wasn’t pregnant anymore.

Awful as it was, it was better than feeling so violently, helplessly angry.

And then there was this:

Abbie ~4 months

Oh, the pink juicy wonder of my Abbie. She smelled so good, I thought I might accidentally suck her up my nose. She was round and rosy and sweet and always, unmistakably, her own person, sharp and opinionated and stubborn.

Two babies were a heavy load on a weak and shaky marriage. Soon after Abbie’s birth, the cracks in our relationship’s foundation began to grow. By the time she started to crawl, I could fit my hand in those cracks, and when she learned to walk I discovered that I could climb right into some of those cracks and take a nap.

Maybe there’s a God above
All I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah…

Part 7

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18 comments to The Ugly Familiar 6: Love Is Not a Victory March

  • […] The Transcendent Familiar 6: Love Is Not a Victory March    Follow That Rabbit […]

  • Oh, Adrienne, how I love you. I’m sorry it was so hard. I’m sorry you felt you had to starve yourself and felt so much pressure to be “perfect.” I, of course, think you are absolutely perfect just the way you are now. That line: “I don’t want people thinking I have a fat wife” made me want to visit Robert with a steak knife in hand. Just sayin’

    And I love that song so much, never heard Jeff Buckly’s version. Hearing Leonard Cohen sing it live in Feb. 2009 was one of the highlights of my life.

    • Thanks, Varda. Yeah, it’s almost unimaginable to me now that that it was ME who was tolerating all of that, but it was, and there are shades of that relationship even today. It makes me so sad for the young woman I was.

  • You write it so beautifully. It had to be so horrible.

    And I am (was) of the eating disordered type, in my teens and in the first half of my twenties. So uncontrollably so I hospitalised myself for a corrective term. A lover described his former drive to find heroin, and I found the story to be my familiar.

    So … in my own way … I understand.

    • Thanks, Karen. Yes, food (eating it or not eating it) is so convenient, isn’t it? It was such an easy escape from everything. It still is, and often, but not like that. Not with that level of self-loathing, thank God.

  • Bakingmomma

    I loved the part about Abbie smelling so good you thought you might accidentally suck her up your nose. You are a very powerful writer and I applaud you for digging so deep into such painful memories to share them with us. I can kind of understand where you ars coming from, but in a different way. Thank you.

    • Thank you! I am amazed by how much pain there still is in these memories, but it definitely helps to write them down and share them with the world. It takes the power out of it, somehow.

  • What a great post! Beautiful, rosy Abbie seems as though she was just what you needed. I also had cracks that became valleys.

    • Thanks, Barb. I often think I should have let that marriage go long before I did, but I’m so glad I didn’t because without Abbie the world would be missing someone very special.

  • Jeff Buckley’s version of that song is my absolute favorite, and you picked the perfect line for this post’s title.

    Abuse takes all forms. Maybe constantly denigrating a person isn’t as obvious as hitting or screaming at them, but it IS abuse.

    There are times that the only good memories I think I have of my marriage are the parts where my children arrived and gave me people who I could love and who would love me back.

    • Oh, man, that song just destroys me, and the way he sings it just cuts to the bone.

      Robert said to me often when we fought, “What the hell are you even complaining about? It’s not like I HIT you or anything!” I knew that was no good, that words and behavior have at least as much power to hurt as fists do, but I didn’t know how to answer it.

      I have good memories of Robert and me together now, but it took a long, long time (at least 2 years) before that happened, and there are plenty of things I could erase from my brain forever.

  • Thank you so much for sharing your pain and experience with the world. This is such a valuable resource for other women going through similar situations and knowing not only are they not alone, but that the clouds eventually clear and the sun will come out. I hope that when men read this they can take some wisdom away from it as well. Best of luck to you Adrienne!

  • I’m not even going to try to tell you how many ways I relate to this post, without ever having been married or pregnant. As if that makes any sense …

    You write beautifully and bravely. I wish only the best for you.

  • Molly

    Thank you for this. I know it can’t be an easy story to tell, but I know that your story is the story of many other women who have not yet found their voices.

    HUGS! Big giant ones.

  • SusieQ

    Just found your blog. I didn’t even realize I was “looking” for you until this post….”cracks turning into valleys”. I never knew how to explain my divorce after 25 years of marriange until you put it into words. I wasn’t hurt with words, I was hurt with no words…married to a man who relished his verbal solitude. I didn’t know how starved I had been for a partner’s words until I remarried and understood how husbands and wives could so easily talk with each other which made this messy world so much more pleasant. Thank you Adrienne. I look forward to reading your journey.

  • Oh, how I can identify with so much of this. The controlled eating. The not so controlled eating. A marriage. A divorce. And the beautiful faces of my babies that bring me back to what really matters the most. xo

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