Chapter 1: Bone vs. Bone
My daughter was sunny side up, but they didn’t know that until it came time to push. My epidural had worn off, so I got to experience this naturally. I would push, she would come down, then go right back up. If you’ve never given birth, try to think of this in terms of the worst shit you’ve ever had to take, add bone to it, and push with me. The resident apparently thought the process of childbirth was a hazmat/OSHA incident, because he came rolling in wearing full biohazard protection. I’m the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been in my life, and I’m surrounded by strangers, one of which looks like he’s hunting for aliens. I’m pushing, she’s not budging. It became what you see in movies, I was screaming. The doctor then said to me, “If you can’t push, I’m going to have to get the vacuum, because I have to deliver twins.”
When he said that, I thought of my ex-boyfriend’s nephew that was born via vacuum and he had a cone head. He was adorable, SO adorable, but he had a cone head from the vacuum. My thought was, “I’m not having a cone head kid.” He was going to get forceps, too, and I remembered that my brother’s collar bone had been broken by forceps. I got so angry. Who the fuck are you, doc? So sorry my childbirth is delaying your timeline here. In my anger, I dug my heels in, because that’s what I do. I pushed, and ten minutes later, she was born. My daughter had a massive bruise on her forehead, where her skull fought with my tailbone and lost. I didn’t have any whites in my eyes, because I had burst every blood vessel, and I looked like I had freckles from all the broken blood vessels in my face. The doctor, resident, and nurses said they have never seen anything like it. My ex was staring at me in awe. I was holding my daughter, and I chuckled and said (in my non-existent voice) “Dude, I didn’t want a cone head baby.”
That story has become my metaphor for my life. Whenever I am struggling, I think “bone versus bone”. If I could do that to avoid having a baby with a slight bulge in her head, which would be completely superficial, what do you think I wouldn’t do for my kids? I’ll break my face and practically destroy my vag to avoid a vacuum. I had hemorrhoids for months, and shitting was akin to birthing Satan from my asshole. There is no “win” with me when I dig my heels in. Ask my ex-husband. Ask my friends. Ask my therapists. When my marriage imploded, watching my kids suffer, my heels dug in against myself. What my ex did was overtly wrong – man punches woman, no dice. I always said, though, thank God he did. Our marriage was hell, and that punch was the punch was the push I needed to get out. That was two years ago.
You don’t have a failed marriage if you have no issues and are perfect. “It takes two to tango.” I knew I wasn’t perfect. I have been in therapy for years. I held the mirror to myself and I didn’t back down until I saw it all. I was sick and tired of being an asshole. When I looked in the mirror, I saw everything I had always said about myself: angry, selfish, manipulative, liar, mean, negative, masochistic. With my ex, I became sadistic. I would do and say things just to make him miserable, because it was his fault I was so miserable. I started getting diagnosed as a result of me finally talking – PTSD came first, and the rest changes doctor to doctor. I fired my old therapist when I realized she was making me worse, and my new therapist (a psychologist – my old one was a MSW, I didn’t realize there was a difference…) thinks, as a result of my last session, I more likely have Complex PTSD, and I am currently diagnosed bipolar, GAD, OCD, PMDD. It’s alphabet soup, to me.
Prior to actually talking about my issues to professionals, I started writing. As I realized things through my writing, I changed them. The first self-harm was eating disorders. I stopped eating my emotions, I stopped bingeing and purging, I stopped starving myself. My cycle was: over-eat, realize I was getting too fat, start purging, stop eating. This time last year, I was living on slices of ham lunchmeat, vitamins, and coffee. Oh, alcohol, too when my kids weren’t around. I would buy a bottle of liquor or a case of beer and kill it before the kids got back. In December, 2015, I was with some guy, and we killed a bottle of fireball after a $120 beer tab at a bar, and another $50 tab at a strip club. I drank all of that, and I think I ate a small plate of calamari, because I realized that I hadn’t eaten in front of this guy yet, and he’d probably get suspicious. Hangovers were a constant. There were times, I am ashamed to admit, that I got drunk around my kids. I remember I got shit faced at my nephew’s birthday party and argued with my ex because I wanted a Christmas tree. That was December, 2014. I was slurring, swaying, and in front of his family, screaming that I wanted a tree. If I was drinking, I did not stop until I got drunk, and I would get angry and I would say nasty shit. I would not drink every night, but when I drank, I would get annihilated. It didn’t stop until Jake started complaining about my drinking. It embarrassed me. This dude barely knows me and he says I drink too much? I realized that I was on a textbook path to alcoholism – those are the warning signs. I stopped, because I don’t want to be an alcoholic.
Before things came to a head and I went to the mental hospital for the first time, I was going to the gym for 45 minutes and vomiting everything I ate. When my ex started questioning me, I told him it was my anxiety, or I didn’t feel well, or whatever I ate made me sick. I blamed it on my new anti-depressant and work-stress. I had gone from 225lbs to 176lbs in 9 months, but I would fluctuate up and down depending on where I was at cycle-wise. From talking things out with my therapist, I realized everything started for me when my grandmother started getting sick. I really started hurting myself then, and I ended up in the mental hospital two months after she died (also in the midst of not eating/vomiting, working 60-80 hours a week, being a mom, and in a toxic marriage). I’m not skinny, so I don’t look like someone with an eating disorder, but I have them all. Ten years ago, I weighed almost 300 pounds, because I binged. I had stopped bingeing and purging/starving from high school/college, because I was in love and I was happy. I currently weigh about 195-205 usually – my clothes fit and that is good enough for me, I think I’m sexy. I won’t let myself buy a scale, because I will fixate on numbers, and I am scared that I will hurt myself. This time last year, I went back up to 225, and I was proudly proclaiming on Facebook 2 months later that I lost 25 pounds. When asked how I did it? “Oh I stopped eating Panini’s at Wawa!” Partially true, but the whole truth was that I was puking/starving again.
My eating disorders were unabated since my ex and I separated, because I didn’t have anyone watching me. It breaks my heart to admit, my kids still ask me at dinner time “Mommy, are you eating tonight?” because before, I’d always say “Ah, guys, I’m fine, I just ate a huge lunch!” I’d sit at the table with them, and if anything, I’d pick. If I couldn’t resist, I’d stuff myself and run upstairs and puke. I haven’t purged since July when I wrote about my eating disorders. I struggle, sometimes, with falling into bad habits and not eating, but I usually catch myself pretty quickly. The more I talk about it, the more I know I’m being watched and that actually makes me feel very safe. With both of my therapists, I have to describe my eating habits, and I don’t lie.
I started writing, because I knew that if I didn’t, I was going to die. I was back to living on occasional lunchmeat and vitamins, and my drinking was creeping up again. I started getting dizzy and shaking. I’ve never told anyone that I threw up a few times and I saw blood in my vomit and shit. I felt weak, and I was tired all the time. I knew why. After I had an awesome dinner with a friend at a bar, puked it all back up in the bathroom and saw blood, I knew I had to get help, but I stayed quiet and tried to deal with it. The day I realized I was going to die, I was at a hair salon, and the first thing I did was take my daughter to get lunch at Wawa. I told her “Mommy is hungry.” The relief I saw on her face breaks my heart. That night, with her face in my mind’s eye, I wrote about what I was doing to myself on my blog, because I knew my friends were reading what I was writing. I was shaking and terrified, but I pushed to do it.
I didn’t tell people about my shit, I’ll tell people anything else. Ask my old therapist. Ask my ex-husband. Ask my friends. No one knew. I do not think I know anyone who is a better liar than I am. I would stop talking to people if too many questions got asked; I used to fight with my parents when my father asked what I was doing. I lied to a lot of people. I’m tired of lying, and I’m tired of not talking. Talking and writing are the difference of insanity and sanity, and death or life, that’s how bad I had gotten. I’ve been hospitalized 5 times for suicidality, the last time, I almost died.
I gave birth naturally in a bone versus bone situation to avoid a vacuum. I am a stubborn jackass, and I have no problem with that. This time last year and every year prior, I was NOT a good person. I hated myself, and I did nothing but spread negativity, lies, and bullshit. I want my kids to have the coolest mom ever – that was my dream when I was younger. I always said to my friends, “I want to be the cool mom.” If I can destroy my vag and asshole to avoid a cone head, I can absolutely destroy the woman who did nothing but hurt herself and the people she loves most.
Last night, eating bacon cheeseburger pizza with my kids and watching them headbang to Shinedown, after I made them do some chores, I know I’m a really, really cool mom. Thinking about writing this, I know I am a writer. These were two of my four dreams. I used to talk about my dreams of being a writer, while writing passive aggressive, idiotic rants on Facebook. Dreams don’t come true by sitting on my ass killing myself. I’d rather run towards my dreams then run from my reality. Running to my dreams saved my life. I made myself a good person, and I made myself an awesome mom. Once I had figured out where my eating disorders stemmed from – being called fat when I was little by everyone and their mother – I realized it was textbook, and I hate being a statistic. I don’t want to be some typical poster child of trauma manifested into an adult body; I’d rather handle my shit and be a good person, so I did. I try not to be stubborn anymore, but when it comes to my health and happiness, and when it comes to my kids’ health and happiness, I don’t budge. Lately, my biggest self-harm is impacting my colon with my rampant cheese addiction. It’s fine, I’m an experienced pusher….
I do not care who you are, when it comes to my life, in the words of my first true love, Corey Taylor, “I am the push that makes you move.”
I wrote this a few months ago, and I have said that it is my chapter one, because from this moment forward, I am the only person holding the pen in my story, and I will proceed to write my life from this day forward. More to come…
Chapter 2: Becoming Water
When I was engaged to my ex, we almost drowned. We had gone out in the ocean and got sucked out from the rip tide. Ironically, I am a certified lifeguard. My adolescence was spent teaching kids how to swim. In my panic, everything blanked from existence. I began drowning as the waves were pounding on me. My ex is taller than me, and he managed to get footing and make his way back to the shore. I came up and screamed his name with everything I had, and he turned around and yelled “What?” and kept going. Then, I looked and saw his sister swimming towards me. I looked at her and thought, “Shit, I’m going to kill us both”, seeing as she has a broken arm. I started swimming away from her, desperate not to drown us. She caught up with me, and just then a massive wave came and pushed us both closer to the shore. We caught another wave, and then we were able to stand up and walk our way in.
It’s kind of funny, no matter how experienced you are, panic can eradicate the first, most obvious rule about swimming in the ocean – do not fight the current. If it weren’t for those waves, I would have drowned. This story has always felt like a metaphor for life. At first blush, I kind of think my ex is a dickhead, but what could he have done? I was fighting, panicking, and in reality, drowning myself. That is how life has always felt for me. When I can float or wait for the push, life can change. Fighting and drowning, though, were standard operating procedure. I’ve often wondered to myself, “How the hell am I still alive?” I’ve always wondered why I am even here.
I do not need to re-describe how I would hurt myself, but I will say that anxiety and depression are the very sensation of drowning on dry land. My panic attacks have made it felt like I am choking on my own oxygen, and depression has made me feel like I’m inhaling poison, while telling me to breathe more deeply. It is incredible how your mind can lie to you. Between intrusive thoughts and generally wanting to die, depression has told me so many times how life would be better without me in it.
Anyone who has almost drowned knows the power of water. Anyone who struggles with mental health knows the power of the mind. There are no actual obstacles to water. It comes and goes to the shore, or it flows in the stream. If there is a blockage, ultimately, water will erode it, or it will find a new path. This is how I began to change. I realized that every time I do not listen to my mind, or every time I allow myself to trust my instincts, my life changes. The waves pushed me to shore, not my kicking, not my fighting.
The most profound change in my life is understanding that everything I have is a choice. I do not stay in my past, and I do not identify with my triggers. I do not identify with my diagnoses. I go with the flow. What does that even mean? For me, it means to stop reacting to everything. It means to put my own power in myself. AA/NA/ACOA teaches you to believe in a Higher Power. The very concept is that what you give your power to is your god. If you give your power to your addiction, addiction is your god. This can be applied to emotions, people, triggers, and on and on. When I go with the flow, I refuse to allow situations or circumstances outside of me to control me – to cause me to react, change, or act. I choose.
The Buddha taught there are three choices “Accept, Change, Let go” if you’ve ever recited the Serenity Prayer, isn’t it the same concept? Taoism teaches to be like water. To live boundlessly and fearlessly. To me, fear was my old god. Addiction, escapism, depression, anxiety are all rooted in my own fears. My life was attempting to control all of these, but it was a delusion. The more I fought, the more I drowned. Most modern psychology is founded on purely Buddhist tenets – meditation and mindfulness primarily! The very purpose is to learn to control your thoughts and emotions. So many struggle, saying, “I can’t turn my damn brain off”, “I suck at meditating”, “I do not have time to turn my brain off” I understand, the brain wants you to think and the heart wants you to feel. How do you stop basic functionality? The first step in meditating is to breathe. Control your breath. Your most basic function, and your very life line. Without breath or water, you are dead, if you think about it.
Fight or flight is your root instinct. In Freud’s terms, Id – survival – the need to eat, breathe, shit, fuck, SURVIVE. The most incredible and inspiring stories you typically read are those who overcome adversity. In reality, they overcome their base instincts. They realize that they can choose their life. When you make a choice, you step outside the box or lines that you drew for yourself. I think the reason that these people are inspiring is that they are the ones who live with death beckoning them all of the time, and choose to live. Then, they realize that life is a gift. With a gift, comes gratitude. Gratitude flows like water, too. Love flows like water. When you choose to live your life, life flows like water. I look at my life, and I see that the currents of my past choices/mistakes/blessings/curses all bring me here. I can’t change the past or the future, so why fear it? Does water fear? Water goes where it goes. If the sun evaporates it, it will rain down again. Change comes when fear comes away. Water only takes shape if you put it in something – a glass, a reservoir, etc. When I think back to drowning in the ocean, I believe and know that I will only limit myself in my own mind – in fear.
Chapter 3: Becoming Love (On St. Patrick’s Day)
It never ceases to amaze me how perception, memory, and reality affect dates. This once was my favorite day of the year, but now it has taken on a different meaning altogether. 13 years ago, the man who would be my husband and father of my three kids stood in front of hundreds of people on a live broadcast and proposed to me. He is diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder. I don’t need letters to tell you the terror he experiences interacting with people. My ex would freeze from fear and anxiety. I knew the hell he went through to ask for my hand. Most of my friends and family got to hear it on the radio, and any time I tell the story of my engagement, “Holy shit, that is so cool!!” is the reaction. I agree, it was freaking cool. It’s funny, too, my ex (kind of?) boyfriend was at the venue and actually helped my future fiance by distracting me with alcohol so he could sneak off and get everything handled with the DJ’s. (Elle King’s Ex’s and Oh’s seems to be a personal anthem…) Every year, my ex and I celebrated St. Paddy’s day. One year, we went to a strip club and our friends bought us a hot seat and I gave him a welt on his ass. Ah, man. Good times. We’ve thrown massive parties, and on and on.
Last year, I had triumphantly posted about losing 25 pounds. This was a result of me going back to purging and anorexia for 2 months straight. I have a picture of me grinning and showing the room between my stomach and my pants. I was still drinking pretty heavily on empty stomachs. The year prior, I had just moved in to my apartment and was still struggling to wrap my head around the fact that my marriage had ended. Most of my time was spent sleeping and trying my damnedest to not cry every second of the day.
I’m not going to put air behind the words of what happened to my marriage again. I believe that if you stay in the bad shit of your past, you can’t get anywhere. To me, the past feels more like quicksand more than anything. Sometimes, you stumble in to it, and as long as you take what you need to know from it and get out, you’re cool. I picture Wesley from Princess Bridge grabbing on the tree trunk and pulling him and Buttercup out. Until this year, however, I’m usually the flaming rat running around screaming and biting people.
The question that has nagged me for too long is “How did we love each other so much, and how did it all go away?” I don’t have useful words to describe how much I love my ex. I remember a poem I wrote him, where one line was “If I died tomorrow, my only wish would be to reincarnate as a butterfly. I’d spend my life happily watching you from your windowsill” When people saw my ex and I together, complaints were typically, “They kiss each other way too much” or “They are the same person, it’s freaky.” I remember when I met him – I was at Ozzfest, and my friend and I had been partying pretty intensely. I had just seen a man get taken out in the pit by a shopping cart, met Dave Draiman from Disturbed, and Dave Williams from Drowning Pool (Dave W. died the next week, so I literally saw one of his last shows…) I stumbled in to my ex as a result of seeing my, then, boyfriend’s friend. As soon as I laid eyes on him, (ya know what, from here on out, I just go back to calling him Jack like I used to), I was entranced.
With my mad pick up skills, I offered him some soft pretzel, and gestured manically at my breasts, where Dave Draiman’s signature was. After Jack went to his seat, I gushed to my friend that he was the “Hottest Dude I have Ever Fucking SEEN IN MY LIFE!!1eleven” Flash forward approximately one year. In that span, Jack had confessed to friends what a crush he had to me, but he did nothing, because I was dating 1 dude, then I “hooked up” with his friend, and I had completely decided Jack did not like me. I am obtuse. I went away to school, and I was still dating the same guy (for sake of pronouns, just call him A, because I have a complicated love-line). I am in college, I am with A and every guy on campus, it seems like. I am madly “in love” with A, I get accidentally pregnant with A’s child, and I drop out of college (much to my college’s pleasure, seeing as I was flunking and getting disciplinary action resulting in community service…oh man) I saw Jack again when I was 8 months pregnant and smoothly attempted another pick up line, “hey…this air conditioner feels really good!” (after fighting off his friend from pulling me in the bathroom to make out with me….my life is SO FUCKING ODD) Jack did not take my bait and drunkenly passed out in his room. I decided there was no future for Jack and I, who would want to date a chick who was pregnant with someone else’s kid, anyway?
I’ve written previously, but for continuity, I gave me and A’s child up for adoption. As I’m immersed in a pain and personal hell that few people can relate to, I find myself sitting on my deck chain-smoking and staring at the sky, asking the clouds, birds, and so forth what the fuck to do. Instinctively, I wanted to give my daughter up for adoption because I knew that A was not a father for her, and I felt I was not the mother for her. I felt that I could not provide her the life she deserved. (Maybe I’ll write in more detail about this another time…) Anyway, 2 weeks after I gave birth, I randomly bumped in to Jack again through a friend. When I had sat staring at the sky, I projected one simple hope – “Help. Me. Smile.” We became a couple on September 2nd (ironically, our youngest’s birthday 9 years later!) On March 17th, 2004, he asked me to be his wife, and 2 years later, I became his wife. At our wedding, the pastor said, “Jack and Daina’s lives were brought together through music. Their story is one of love, healing, and music. They have always brought a perfect balance to each other.” Our vows said, “Today, I marry my best friend.”
When asked about how I got through the adoption, I have said, it’s simple. All the pain from A was necessary for me to meet Jack. When I brought our first child into the world, I sobbed uncontrollably when we left the hospital. Jack cradled me as I said, “It’s the baby I can take home, Jack! It’s the baby I can take home!” Together, we brought three of the most amazing people in this galaxy into the world, together we raised them, and together, we made each other more miserable than I could ever adequately describe. It takes a lot of pain to be able to look anyone in the eyes and say that in all seriousness, getting knocked on unconscious was the best thing that could ever happen to you. I do to this day. The past few years have brought me to lows I never thought possible.
If you want to ascribe it to my bipolar, feel free. I am hot or cold, there is no in between for me, or at least there wasn’t. I’d like to say, I try to see the world in rainbows instead of gray or my black and white nature, but that too is another day to write. In our marriage, I felt my soul rot and decay in my own self-imprisoned hell. In the ending of our marriage, I felt the pain of realizing that part of my soul was gone from me. I’ve realized that he is my perfect mirror. We bring out the absolute best and absolute worst in each other.
We both realized that the only people truly hurting were the kids. We got our shit together. I realize our path is not one everyone can walk, so please don’t take me as preaching. This past Christmas, we celebrated it as a family, because Jack and I have remained so committed to being a family, even if we live apart. We both stay away from blame, because what the hell would that serve? We both say we screwed up, and we both say with pride that we have worked very hard to become better people. It’s not easy to get where we are, and I’m proud of it. On this day, though, I feel that sadness. I close my eyes and see a woman who literally described her boyfriend/fiancé/husband as “The answer to my prayers” and I feel the tears cascading down as I type, “Our marriage ending was the answer to my prayers, too.”
I spent two years trying to escape that reality – alcohol, self-abuse, manipulating others, letting others manipulate me, and on and on. There it is, black and white. Yet, I type it with love. Do I still love Jack? Of course I do. I am not trying to be pretty when I describe him as a part of my soul. I have had to accept losses of my soul and heart – giving a child up for adoption, my marriage, exes who I loved madly and were either unrequited or abusive, and, of course, the fact that love to tell myself it’s my fault regardless. Today, I looked at the sky this morning and I gave another plea. “Help me smile today.”
I realized something very simple. Love is not currency. It’s not a transaction. Love isn’t mine to keep or give. Zen and Tao perspectives recommend against “I love you” because it makes it separate from you, as if it is a thing, something that can be passed around. Love is not something you can possess, because you are love. Those who have suffered abuse, mental illness, addiction, I think, know exactly what it feels like to not be in a state of love. I think all three hold hands and sing a sad song, because the very root of them all is, “I am not loved.” Maybe I’m wrong, maybe that’s just my story. I know, at least, in my corner of the world, I’m not alone singing that song. My mirror, my Jack, told me the same. His words gave me the last jarring shatter of my broken heart. “Daina, I am not strong enough to love you. I’ve failed you too many times to think otherwise.” Those words have echoed in my heart, as I’ve kept myself smiling and focusing on the beauty of nature instead of the pain of my heart. I finally understand what he is saying. He is my best friend, he was my husband, and he will always be there for me, but nobody can love someone when she won’t love herself.
I smile and write that as I feel the sun streaming in the window right now, I did not need to ask help to smile. How can I not smile? I’m here. I’m alive, and despite all of the awfulness of the last 2 months of my life, I see beauty and love. Not in a hippie way. In a very simple, inhale love, exhale love. I see now that I had to go through A, feel the pain of loving and losing Jack to understand that love is useless if it doesn’t come to yourself first. There is no greater lesson I could learn, because it is the very thing that has saved my life more times than I can count.
In case you are wondering, my small but mighty itchy ass is ½ irish, so I certainly should be cheeky today.
This is me and Jack’s song – I can rarely listen to it, but today I have to 🙂