Tomorrow is Valentines Day, which for some is a favorite holiday with excuses for presents, flowers, and chocolates. For others, it’s an unwelcome reminder that they are alone in the world. Valentines Day is somewhat of a mystery as to it’s origins (read about it HERE), but for me, like many, it holds a mixed history full of both happy memories and ugly truths.
As a girl growing up in the 80’s, Valentines Day was somewhat of an enigma to me, and in some ways remains so today. To understand why, you have to understand me…me at a very young age.
I can remember being three and being aware of my body. Not in some gross sexual manner necessarily, but in that it mattered to me the perceptions and opinions of others about how I appeared. As a young child we lived in an outskirt of Indianapolis, in a small house with a soft green paint and the initial of our last name in the scroll of Old-English on our garage door. No laughing, it was really cool for the time. Anyway, my aunt was (and is still) a dance teacher and she had this group of girls a few years older than me that did a dance to this song about itsy, bitsy teeny weenie yellow polka dot bikini’s. After seeing that I begged and begged my mom for a bikini with polka dots. Today my memory is somewhat faded, but I know she got me a polka dot bikini, and standing in my little bedroom with its canopy bed and lilac flowered wallpaper (again this was really cool for the time), I put on that bikini and looked at myself in the mirror. Three years old! I was t.h.r.e.e. years old the first time I remember looking in the mirror and thinking to myself that I couldn’t go out in front of other people in that bathing suit. In my brain ED had already gained a voice, and it said that my stomach stuck out too much and I wasn’t pretty because of it. My relationship with ED (“Eating Disorder”) started so terribly young, and as a mother of a soon to be 12 year old daughter now, that breaks my heart. Why? What was broken inside of me that barely out of infancy I saw something in the mirror that wasn’t?
Fast forward several years to my third grade year. My favorite band was New Kids on The Block (loved me some Joey!). My favorite outfit was this pale denim skirt that had a couple layers of ruffles made from white eyelet lace, and a really cool matching jacket. I would have my mom roll my hair in these long, cylindrical foamy rollers and twist them all up on my head so that when I woke the next morning my nearly waist-length hair was slightly spiraled and beautiful. My little brown paper bag was on my desk, all decorated and ready for the party for Valentines Day! At this point I had begun this weird mix of chasing boys around at recess threatening to kiss them or playing soccer with them instead. I really was never great at connecting with the girls because they were so dramatic all the time, and I just wanted to live life. I struggle with having girlfriends rather than guy-friends to this day! Anyway, it’s mid-morning, we’re all patiently waiting for the party after lunch, and a knock sounds on the door of my favorite teacher of all time, Mrs. Davis. When the door opened it was someone from the office with a vase filled with a dozen red roses and babies breath. It was breath-taking! Mrs. Davis took it from the person and brought that bouquet directly to my desk! I can still feel that sense of awe wash over me to know someone loved me so much to deliver me something so exquisite. The little card inside I can’t remember, funny how the brain works, but they were from my dad. He was my hero, and he had sent me the most beautiful flowers on Valentines Day just for me. One perfect Valentines, no ED.
It’s 2003, Valentines Day. It’s this horrid mix of sleet and rain and snow, and the church has about 1/4 of the people who were invited. This is a day that I remember vividly. ED walked me down that aisle, he held my hand all night as my dress, which barely zipped earlier in the day, dug into my body at every curve. ED told me I couldn’t eat that night no matter how hungry I was, so I picked at the plate of food from the caterer. ED told me all I had to do was just talk to people and I wouldn’t notice the dizziness or feeling of overwhelming sadness and guilt that is ED’s frequent companions. ED high-jacked what should have been a perfect day. Well, ED and the really shitty weather. Sadly, as my first marriage continued to fall apart over the next decade (that’s a very long entirely different story), ED was there. Every single day, ED would tell me to go ahead and have the whole birthday cake to make my sadness better, go ahead and stop at the drive-through and eat like it was my last meal. None of it mattered, according to ED because minutes later I could guzzle down a big glass of water and then pull over somewhere and purge it from my body. And yes, I really did eat an entire birthday cake on my own once…not my best moment.
Are you seeing the pattern here? At every step I took, ED was ensuring I heard him first. It didn’t matter the occasion or if I was a size 2 or a size 14, ED was insistent that I followed his orders. Over the last several months of therapy, ED’s voice has grown very quiet if not silent most of the time. This will be the first Valentines Day since 3rd grade when ED will not be poking me in the side, reminding me of the fat rolls. It will be the first Valentines Day since I was a child when his voice will be overshadowed by happiness and life. At my worst ED’s voice would ring in my ears hours upon hours a day, and like a good puppet I would hang onto every word, believing it as truth rather than the ugly lies they were.
Tomorrow is Valentines Day, and no matter what your journey was to get to this one specific day, whether a perfectly rose petal-lined path or a dark, craggy rock-strewn path, you can choose what the day will hold. If you’re one of my readers who has struggled with that voice that I call ED (no matter the weapons he uses), fight back. If there is one thing ED has taught me over the 36 years I’ve been hanging around on this planet, is that the only truth to ED is that he is full of shit. Your journey isn’t defined by the people who hold your hand along the way, whether someone gives you flowers, chocolates, or tells you they love you. Your journey is defined by you as a person, and if ED’s voice is shouting your marching orders, then your voice is losing a chance to put something in the world that Valentines Day has come to represent in our world…LOVE.
In an era filled with hate, bigotry, racism, and inequality, be louder than ED. Be louder than politics, louder than wars. Be LOVE.
Happy Valentines Day,