Advice: Eating Disorders, Honesty, and Marriage

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I have always believed that couples are allowed to keep portions of themselves locked away from their partners. You know, the part where we keep our deep secrets, where we can turn thoughts over as we work to understand how these thoughts and memories and philosophies have helped shape us into the people we become. (I mean, does my husband need to know that when I was a kid I had a secret crush on Walter Matthau? But he was so funny..!) My husband similarly keeps things to himself; I didn’t know about when he nearly got expelled from high school, until we had been together for quite a while. Suffice it to say, we both have our skeletons, and I think they can, for the most part, stay deep in our respective closets.

I do struggle more with some issues than other, however. For more than a decade, I’ve hidden my binge eating from my husband. It kind of didn’t matter. I was handling it, you know? And it wasn’t like it was something I did every day. I reasoned that I would keep it from him because it was my problem, not his, and…OK, I admit it, I’m ashamed of it. And I’ve started to realize just how bad this is for me.

I need to fix this. It’s not going away, and I am not getting better. My kids are getting older, and I don’t want them to normalize any of my behavior. I feel so trite when I think about by binge eating, because it connects to a litany of problems. Oh, great, I’m Therapy Girl. But I need to be free of this, and I have to say…I have no idea what to say to my husband. What’s my opener? Hey, honey, funny story, but I thought you should know I compulsively cram food in my mouth until I’m ready to burst, and then tearfully throw out all the evidence?

Sincerely,

Sick And Tired Of All This

Dear Sick and Tired,

B: Indeed, you are absolutely right. A coupled relationship is made of two separate individuals, both of whom have the right to keep some things…

HOLY POCKETS! Hold the phone! Wait one second…did you just compare having an oddball man-crush (for the record, I crush on Oliver Platt, want to make something of it?) with having an eating disorder?

You do realize, these two things are not legitimate comparatives, right? That’s not a matter of pitting apples vs. oranges, that’s like trying to compare apples vs. nuclear submarines.

What I find interesting, and heartbreaking, is the way you diminish yourself and your issues under a jokey mask. You ha-ha, push away, then denigrate yourself for being some kind of pathetic “Therapy Girl”. Do you think you don’t deserve to spend time on yourself? Does asking for help give you heartburn?

I understand, it can be incredibly difficult to admit that you’re vulnerable. That you have a problem, that you need help. There is a culture in the US that glorifies the idea that you can A) pull yourself up by your bootstraps as you B) stoically suffer in silence. You know what that brings? Worn out boots and endless suffering. And, in your case, a face full of whatever’s in the fridge. I want you to repeat after me: THERE IS NO SHAME IN GETTING HELP WHEN I NEED IT. THERE IS NO SHAME IN GETTING HELP WHEN I NEED IT. Again. THERE IS NO SHAME IN GETTING HELP WHEN I NEED IT.

P: I’m really glad you wrote to us, because it means you’re scared enough to do something about it. Terri’s points are really well taken. There is no shame in getting help, in fact, there are only kudos for thinking you’re worth it.

I think you’re missing the point that this isn’t just a shameful habit, it’s a disease that is harmful to you. Eating disorders aren’t a problem just because you’re controlling your world through food (and of course binge eating is giving up all control), they do your body damage.

You’re owning up to living with this for at least a decade. Now is the time to get help. This isn’t about calling a therapist (this isn’t JUST about calling a therapist.) This is about calling your doctor immediately and getting enrolled in a program.

Many food disorders need to be dealt with in live-in programs. This could be a question of life or death. I think writing to us is a statement that you’re willing to choose life. Because nobody writes to the Bartender and the Priestess thinking we’re going to say, there, there, don’t bother.

I’ve known two people who died of eating disorders and many who have spent years in in-house programs. We don’t want this to be you. We want you to live and be happy and healthy.

We hope you want the same.

B: What Ann says. Binge-eating isn’t just a “thing”. You don’t have a weirdo quirk, like having to put your left shoe on before you put on your right. And it’s not like having an inexplicable crush on a potato-faced celebrity. You have a legitimate disorder and it is serious. Your binge eating could impact your health in the long run, as it has been shown to contribute to various diseases, like type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, and certain cancers, just to name a few.

P: Of course, ultimately, you’re right in that this is your problem. Addictions have family implications, but they’re an individual’s problem and disease. It’s the weird thing about addictions — They are diseases, to be sure; but they’re also a problem. It is up to you to decide you’re worth saving. This is your chance. Take it. Do something with it.

And, this is your partner, your mate, to whom you promised faithfulness. Lying about anything is cheating. Lying about addiction that is potentially harmful to you and to your family system is big time cheating. Marriages need honesty: first, with yourself; then, with each other. Hell, every relationship needs honesty. Who else are you lying to? And is being a liar how you want to think of yourself? No, it’s not. So you need to stop. However painful that is. But when you’re telling the truth, remember, you’ve said you’d handle this for years now. You haven’t — because it is both a problem and a disease.

So now you need to try something different, something that admits the imperfections, (everyone has them, know that, everyone), and starts working on honesty in self and in marriage. Imagine a life where you had no dirty, little secrets. It would be so freeing. It would be so healthy.

B: Why do you think your husband doesn’t need to know this? If he were, say, an alcoholic, do you think it would be his problem and his alone to manage? I would hope you’d say, of course not. I would hope you’d say, I married you, and we are a unit, and I will be there to support you as you struggle to regain control of your life. I would hope you wouldn’t say, “La la, your problem, bud, not mine. See you later!” And if you would say that to your life partner, then I would have to ask, why are you even married? We are supposed to find comfort and support in a relationship, not every-man-for-himself-ism.

P: You have children. Giving life means honoring it. It means honoring your own life and sticking around to raise the ones you brought to life. You need to model good health. You owe them the healthiest you you can possibly give them.

PS, your children probably know more about your disease than you think. You probably spend more vulnerable moments with them than with your husband. You’re used to hiding it from your husband; in even the closest marriages, you have a lot of time apart. The kids are with you and they’re always watching. And learning. Do you want to teach your kids to binge, or do you want to teach them that it’s really, really unhealthy.

And kids have a keen nose for lying. You not only want them to think their health is important, you want them not to lie. Lying’s a lousy way to go through life… you’re recognizing that now. That’s what you came to us wanting to change.

You also want them to know they can trust the people they love — family and friends to know the worst about you and love you still.

B: I’m glad that you’re motivated by not wanting this behavior to seen normal to your children, because they deserve better than to have to grow up under the burden of your issues. I just wish your primary motivation was because you loved yourself too much to keep hurting yourself. You talk about your concerns about your husband (does he really need to know…) and your concerns about your children, but where is your concern for you? When you finally say you know it’s bad for you, you immediately counter that by declaring yourself “trite”. Oh, dearest. How I wish you would make yourself a priority.

Going back to your initial question: yes, it is OK to keep skeletons in the closet. If you cheated on your high school boyfriend, learned life lessons from your un-stellar behavior, and don’t feel like that needs to be listed on your disclosure sheet, that’s fine. I don’t think anyone in a relationship needs to discuss former lovers, their “number”, or what your aspirations at age 12 were for your adult career. I don’t think you necessarily have to talk about your awkward period, what color bike you had, when you had your first beer, or any of that. UNLESS it is still impacting your life. You had your first beer at 15 and haven’t stopped drinking yet? Disclose. You cheated on your high school boyfriend and now he’s stalking you? Disclose. When you were 12 you really wanted to be a marine biologist but your parents would only send you to school for accounting, and you’re still resentful and angry about it? Disclose.

You have a potentially life-threatening eating disorder that you’ve struggled with for a decade?

Disclose.

There’s no way to soften the telling, there’s no jokey mask to hide behind. Send the kids away for an overnight with a babysitter, then sit your husband down and talk to him. Just say it. Write it down if you need to, so you have a script in front of you that you can simply read. Forbid him from speaking until you’re done, if you think you don’t have the wherewithal to get past interruptions. But for mercy’s sake, tell him. And then make yourself a priority, so you can let the healing begin.

P: Right. This is not an insignificant issue that might make him think less of you; this is your life, and your sense of self worth. Even if you think he’s going to bolt if you tell him, hiding this is not an option; not if you’re going to get better. I do think you have a couple options in the way you tell him. Which will feel better to you? Which will help him cope?

Do what the Beautiful Bartender suggests: Make the time and the space, tell him.

See your doctor; be clear with the doc and yourself that this is an emergency. Be ruthlessly honest. Find out what your options are — and then, sit down and do what the Beautiful Bartender suggests.

Bottom line: Care for yourself, as much as you care for your family.

Bottom line: Care for yourself, as much as you care for your family.

To find out more about The Bartender and The Priestess, go here!

If you have a question you’d like us to answer, please email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com. Human non-spambots, remove spaces and insert punctuation. 

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Advice: Non-Wedding Bell Blues

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I was supposed to be getting married in less than a month. Instead, my ex-fiance and I have called it off and completely broken up. Now, I feel like I’m left to my own devices. I am overwhelmed by my sense of loss and pain, and am already seeing a therapist to process everything. I am heart-sick, and can’t even put everything to the side because I have to de-plan everything we’d planned. I never knew I could feel this exhausted.

But still. I am left wondering…just what in the heck am I supposed to do on what would have been my wedding day? I was supposed to be a bride, it was supposed to be the start of my new life. I’ve been told I should try something I’ve never done before, but I don’t really know what I would want to do. I don’t have the energy to plan anything. I understand that I am grieving and eventually this will pass, but that doesn’t change the amount of pain I’m in right now, and I stare at my calendar and the approaching non-wedding day with dread. What can I do to get through this?

–Signed, Never A Bride

P: I’m so sorry. What a painful, horrible thing. Your poor heart. Of course you’re grieving. No matter the reasons for the break-up, this was someone you’d planned to spend your life with and you had dreams together. Those dreams are now shattered. It may be that grieving is exactly what you need to do. And if you don’t feel up to planning something fabulously memorable, wait until you’re healed.

B: I know roughly where you’re coming from. I remember hating the calendar after my ex- and I split, wondering what on Earth I was going to do when our now-pointless anniversary date rolled around. I spent twelve years celebrating that date. And…now what? I remember the weight settling in my chest, the short, panicked breathing when I thought about what to do. It’s not fun. Yes indeed, your poor heart.

P: If doing something is something you want, where are your bridesmaids? They’re the women you wanted to stand by you in your happiness, are they ready to stand with you in your grief? If you want something fun, will they help? If you want to go out and build houses for habitat for humanity, will they go? Will they go out on a canoe trip? Or a museum weekend? If you want people to mourn with you, will they dress in black and come to the funeral? (more about this later.)

And are they willing to help you unplan? Have you asked them? Because they surely don’t know what to do to help.

B: Help. Yes. Ask for it. I’m a big fan of calling in your tribe. Like Ann said, talk to your bridesmaids. Your family. Recruit them, because you shouldn’t have to do everything alone. Most of the time, friends want to be there but don’t know how. They don’t want to intrude, or seem like they know best. So tell them what will work for you. You asked a community of people to stand with you and support you at your wedding. You should, hopefully, be able to call on those same people to support you during these more difficult times. We form social units for a reason, so circle the wagons around you. There is hardly more reason to call for support than when one undergoes heartbreak like this.

P: Just as a starter thought, and I’m sure your therapist has already brought this up, but what ever you do, stay away from the alcohol. Your body is already processing this shock to your heart. Alcohol often lowers your inhibitions so now you’re a hot drunken mess (usually in public, eek). And you don’t want to wind up having a fling or a rebound relationship with someone that you entered via alcohol.

Lots of us have done this. And you don’t need anything else to extricate yourself from!

B: Believe me: these are the customers that bartenders dread. Don’t be the drunk weepy girl at the bar. You may come in to my place but once; those stories live on forever.

That better be a Shirley Temple in that glass, young lady.

That better be a Shirley Temple in that glass, young lady.

P: The ritualist in me has two thoughts here. One is something private that might help. I had a lover “ghost” me, just disappear from my life a long while back. It was dreadful. Someone taught me this ritual and it worked really well. It worked particularly well because I did it in another state… It’s a ritual of release. It takes a week, so you may want to start beforehand and release on the day of.

You need Paper, Pen, matches, salt.

Draw a line down the middle of a piece of paper ¾ of the way down. Then draw a line at the bottom of your line. Under that line write: I release this relationship and my sadness in the unrealized dreams. (or whatever mission for this ritual makes sense to you.)

Then to the left of the line, right all the things you’d hoped for, all the things you’d liked about your relationship and this partner.

On the right, jot down every big problem and every petty annoyance that you had in the relationship and with the partner. Hated her hair? Write it down. Chewed with his mouth open. On the list. Wasn’t trustworthy? Write that. Write until you’re done. Take a couple days.

Then make a small circle of salt on some land or in a parking lot, or, or, or… I left my boyfriend by a fishing pond in Colorado. He liked to fish, I hated it, and I was never going back there.

Read your mission statement aloud. Read the good qualities. Put that aside. Then read the bad qualities aloud, adding anything else that occurs to you. Then set the list on fire and place it inside the circle. When it’s burnt, add some more salt to the ashes. I had to go back to that circle a couple days to add a few more “and another things.”

Then every day for the rest of the week, read your mission and the good things list. Because there were good things. You didn’t just make bad choices. At the end of the week, read your mission; read your list.  Then say I am done with this relationship and I release it to the world. Burn it and the mission, not inside the circle, and scatter the ashes. Walk away.

I was greatly relieved by the time I was done. Honestly, I did pieces of it again, because I was heartbroken. And I always felt as if I were taking a step in the direction of my own well-being and self-esteem.

B: You’re such a priestess. But I think you’ve hit what’s most important for the letter writer right now, which is rebuilding her self-esteem. We tend to define ourselves and our well-being by our significant others, which creates such problems in the aftermath of an ended relationship. We have to understand who we are, anew, without this other person beside us. The important thing is that you do reconnect with yourself. Figure out who you are and what you stand for. Figure out what you really like. You’re in therapy, and I’m sure there’s a lot of discussion with your therapist regarding your former relationship and its demise. But you are still here, with or without the fiancé, and you need to merit your attention too.

I say you should do what you want to do, on your not-wedding day. I don’t mean that you need to do something new and wild—you don’t need to hang glide, or travel to Tahiti, or spend the day building a better mousetrap. But you should spend the day honoring who you are. IF (and only if) that means spending the day alone, in your pajamas, watching Steel Magnolias and eating ice cream, then do so.

P: Seriously. You don’t have to overlook the possibility of a stack of sad love stories or movies and a huge box of tissues. You’ll need popcorn and chocolate. Your jammies. Eat bad things. Go to bed and cry yourself to sleep. Get up and remember, you may have sad memories, but no date is ever going to be that bad again.

B: The catch, though, to a day in bed with movies and tissues: you need to be moving toward something. You’re not allowed to dig out the foundations of a new rut to wallow in. Be in the moment as you cry and pound your fists and honor your pain. And then release it. Emotional pain should not be your closest companion. Honor and acknowledge it, because if you don’t, pain has a sneaky way of hanging around. Oddly, I’ve found that once I’ve said, yes, I hurt, yes, this sucks, yes, I deserve the cry of my life, yes, I feel miserable and all I want to do is shake my fist at the sky, the pain becomes less antagonistic. People often try to get their loved ones to turn away from the pain, because they don’t want to see them hurting. I say, embrace it, because you are human and your pain is real. What you’re going through sucks. Unfortunately, to get to the other side of something, you need to be in it, you can’t get through it from the outside. How’s that quote go? When you’re going through hell…just keep going.

P: And if you’re really feeling awful and want closure…

B: I hate the word “closure”. I think it’s overrated. Can’t she commemorate and move on?

P: Yes, sure. Whatever. Gather your friends, ask them to dress in black, and have a funeral for your relationship. There are three things you’ll want to pay attention to: Talk honestly about why this relationship ended, what killed it. Talk about the things you loved about it and the things that weren’t so great. And then talk about what kind of life you will now have, incorporating the wisdom you’ve gained or will have gained at some point when your heart stops hearting. Don’t hesitate to burn a picture and scatter the ashes. Or cut the ex out of a picture and burn that half.

B: It’s funny how burning pictures can help. Just be careful, of course. No errant flames, no injuries.

P: And then go out to a lovely lunch with your besties spending some of the money you get back from all your deposits, etc. Charge the cost of that to whatever (if any) money you’re splitting with your ex. Should she/he complain, point out that you’re doing the settling up of accounts and that it’s the cost of doing business.

B: My answer to my anniversary quandary was to have an anti-versary party. I gathered my friends and family around me. Like I said, I’m a big fan of circling wagons. It was a great way to remind myself, even though my life had gone so not how I had planned, I was still loved. And I know that can be difficult to remember, right now, but it’s true. You might not have the romantic love you’d envisioned, right now. But you have people who love you, and want the best for you.

P: Again. I’m so sorry for your broken heart and your dreams.

To sum up: be good to yourself.

To sum up: be good to yourself.

Thanks to Deb Slade for her Phabulous Photos!

Thanks to the Lewisburg Hotel for location, location, location!

Want to know more about The Bartender and The Priestess? Go here!

If you would like to ask us a question, email us at bartender priestess (at) gmail (dot) com; human non-spambots, remove spaces, insert appropriate punctuation.

Thank you for reading!

 

Bad Fashion Idea: Halloween Edition

People, repeat after me:

Just because Macy’s sells it doesn’t make it a good idea.  Just because Macy’s sells it doesn’t make it a good idea.  Just because Macy’s sells it…what happens?

It’s not always a good idea.

Take, for example, these:

Applique kitty-and-collar T's: wrong on so, so many levels.

Quelle horreur! Applique pumpkin's candy brains are spilling out all over the place!

You may think, oh, she’s being so hard on the cutie-patooties, and they’re just fun shirts.  WRONG!  Your clothes are an outward expression of you, of your personality.  Your clothing speaks to the people around you and triggers mental associations regarding lifestyle and held values.  Don’t believe me?  When you see someone in tie-dye, do you think “hippie”, or “banker”?  Mmm hmmm.  Thought so.

I admittedly hold a pretty low regard for thematic applique and if applique is to be used, it should be used judiciously.  It’s a golden opportunity for the craptastic to take control, since people seem to misguidedly think just one more sequin–one more section of gold embroidery–one more sparkly lollipop will turbo-boost the beauty of the shirt from meh to dear baby Jesus if I can just touch it my life will be complete.  And these shirts, pictured above?  Are craptastic, though I worry that their availability in Macy’s elevates some sense of street-cred.  People, I am here to tell you, it does not.  Take, for example, the shirt with the kitties.  Aww, elegant kitties with diamond collars and nosies, what could be more precious?  You may think it’s a sweet shirt, you may think it’s Halloween-y without being creepy, but what that shirt actually tells people is that the wearer is a cat person who may have crossed the line to crazy cat lady.  Everyone who sees this will, instinctively, suspect that your home smells vaguely of salmon and pee.  Don’t do that to yourself.  And even if you ARE a cat person, do you want to tell the whole world that your house smells and your best friend is Mr. Snugglenut McPurrston?  Put the cat shirt down, and walk away.

As for the pumpkin shirt…harmless?  Not.  We seem to think that smaller appliques are more tasteful, and not as much a blight on society as the much-beleaguered Christmas sweater.

Judging by how excitedly proud she looks, my guess is she made this sweater herself.

While this is clearly a travesty, the pumpkin shirt is not far behind it as a carrier of social pox.  Yes, pumpkins are cute and yes, pumpkins are delicious, but I resist every urge–no matter how keen–to bedazzle them and wear them as clothing, with or without candy spilling out of them.  So why are they OK to wear when they’re 2-D and sparkly?

In his book Class: A Guide Through the American Status System, author and unapologetic crank Paul Fussell discusses “legible clothing” and the psychological impulse behind wearing them.  He calls legible clothing “totemistic” and says, “By donning legible clothing you fuse your private identity with external commercial success, redeeming your insignificance and becoming, for the moment, somebody.”  He also talks about items printed with images of Mozart or the logo of The New York Review of Books which say, “I am civilized” and “I read hard books”.  The pumpkin–probably about the size of a fist, sparkly and bright orange and front and center on the shirt, laughing as candy corn and lollipops spill out of its severed lid–wants to say “I am fun”.  Instead what it says is, “My identity is a gaping hole.  I am desperate to be seen as whimsical, yet refined.  Please notice me.”  It is only slightly less sad a plea for notice and identity than this, found on Etsy, blasted hellscape of poorly-imagined DIY clothing ideas:

Behold the monogram-in-the-candy-corn shirt!

Which of course does not say to the world, “Happy Halloween”.  Instead it says, “My initials are A-G-D, and I will tell you my entire name and everything else you want to know if only you’d ask, please ask, please?”  Monograms sort of freak me out in their attempt to solidify an identity–do you really need to make a distinction in the home as to which towel is yours?  Which tie clip?  Which pair of undershorts?

(Side note: but be sure to check out Regretsy, which highlights the worst of Etsy.  Hilariously.)

Maybe you are, indeed, a whimsical, elfin sort of person and so, for you, sparkling pumpkins on your shirt would be appropriate.  But the rest of us have to bear in mind that communication is something like 55% visual and 7% actual words coming out of your mouth (the remaining 38% is your vocal tone and inflection and volume and such), so if you choose to have legible clothing, make sure it sends the message you want it to send.  If I were to buy a shirt for Halloween this year, it would be this one:

Can you play "find the hidden messages" in this shirt?

Which says, “Smartass, aware of political culture, horror movie fan who doesn’t want you to get too close.  Notice me but stay away.”

All clothing is a statement about who we are and what we are about.  All legible clothing has an element of “notice me” built in as we become walking billboards for companies and our own insecurities, and I have shirts with phrases and shirts with images and bags with logos like any of us do.  We all understand things being appropriate (or not) for places; we know not to wear super-short skirts to work (or ever if you’re out of your twenties) and that a tux is out of place at a baseball game, unless you’re getting married at one.  We understand that people make value judgments about what you wear (“Those shoes are falling apart, why doesn’t s/he buy new ones?  Must be a miser, or super-lazy.”).  So we owe it to ourselves to think about what we project when we put on clothes.  Do you want to project self-confidence, or do you want to project that you’re an insecure attention hound?  Remember, Macy’s (and any store that sells such clothing) doesn’t love you and only wants to separate you from your money.  If it has to exploit your insecurities to do so, that’s fine with them.  Is it fine with you?

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