I am in the process of selling my home and buying a home. This is not the first time I’ve sold a home, nor the first time I’ve bought a home, but I’ve never done them at the same time.
It is, to put it mildly, stressful.
Thanks to my recovery, I have been able to find brief moments of serenity amid the chaos. I’m taking a moment to think before reacting to the situations around me, and asking for help when I need it. It’s not as if I’m not skilled in hiding my feelings. I can say, “I’m fine” under the most difficult circumstances, after years of practice hiding other feelings deep within myself.
But this time, it’s not so easy to hide my feelings, because they’re popping up…on my face.
My body is beginning to show the signs of unresolved stress. Nervous nibbling at a fingernail resulted in a painful infection that took two weeks to heal. Then, a bout with autumn allergies and a busy day at work left me with almost no voice, and exhaustion so profound I slept most of my recent holiday weekend away. Finally, with no warning, I developed my very first stye, on my lower eyelid. It’s huge, and it’s painful, and it looks like I was punched in the face.
I’ve named it Herbert. Sometimes, a little humor helps.
Now I can’t hide how I’m feeling from everyone else, because IT’S IN MY EYE. The stress is a large pink orb on my eyelid. It’s the swelling underneath my eye. It’s the scratchiness of my newly recovered voice, and the lack of sleep, and the extra weight gain around my middle. Even if I want to hide my feelings with silence and denial, they are finding their way out through my physical body, and everyone can see that ugliness.
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t believe that how I look on the outside represents not just how I feel on the inside, but who I am and my worth as a human being. My favorite book and film characters were the women and girls who looked good and garnered attention for having it all together. The image of Olivia Newton-John as Sandy in “Grease,” suddenly of value with her tousled blond curls and tight leather pants, stands out as an example of who I wanted to be: the one that everyone thought was beautiful, and therefore special.
Waiting for confirmation of my beauty and worth has been a lifelong process, and as such I am fiercely shy. My shyness has only grown since Herbert came on the scene; it’s as if I’m too hideous to leave the house. I don’t look people in the eye because I’m afraid they will be disgusted by me. Conversations are short and I keep my head down. I feel the need to apologize to people for this thing on my face. I feel the need to apologize for simply being.
I keep thinking that if I was just better at self-care (that elusive marker of a well-rounded, fully functional human being), then I wouldn’t be feeling this way. I would be moving through this process with grace, my feet only lightly touching the ground as I handle each challenge that comes my way. I would say a prayer and feel the weight on my shoulders simply lift away. I would still be getting plenty of sleep and drinking lots of water and I would not have a cough or a bandaged finger or Herbert. I would look good, so therefore I would feel good, and ultimately that would mean that I AM GOOD.
It’s just not true. Life doesn’t work that way. I’m not being punished for being bad.
So what is working for me right now?
I go to recovery meetings. As I recently heard from a fellow traveler, “there are two times you should go to meetings: when you think you need a meeting, and when you don’t think you need a meeting.”
I remind myself that this too shall pass. I won’t always have a stye. I won’t always be moving. I will always have to nurture the relationship I have with myself, and practice what author Amy Eden and others call “radical kindness” toward myself. My practice includes going to bed early when I’m tired, and hugging my kids more, and asking a loved one to hold me close and pat my head and tell me everything’s going to be okay. It includes talking about my feelings instead of holding them in. It’s a delicate balance, expressing my feelings without tipping over into rants and crying jags. When it’s working, I’m able to handle the things that matter to me and leave the rest.
And I pray. I pray for the ability to let go. I pray for wisdom instead of anger. I pray for clarity regarding the next step. I pray to remember that I am loved, that I am beautiful and special, that I am good. As is everyone else, whether they know it or not.