If you do one thing over the next couple of months, please, please don’t congratulate me on my new, shiny, sought-after house. Don’t get me wrong – it’s gorgeous. It has about 7 bedrooms. It’s on a pond and has a gigantic porch with the perfect bench on it. But something feels wrong about being congratulated for the fun stuff.
Here is a list, in no particular order, of things you are more than welcome to congratulate me for, however:
1. That time I sat outside of my job at a residential eating disorder center, crying, because I knew I was just as sick as the women inside. I had so much shame about being a sick helper, and I called Walden anyway. I quit my job, and chose health. I went to treatment.
2. I fully accept Hallmark cards for the time I kicked the ball right into Steve Panish’s face in 10th grade gym class. This came after months of taunting about my shitty athletic ability, and strange fake flirting that was meant to imply I was gross. I’d had it.
3. That time I woke up in my beautiful Somerville apartment with the worst hangover I’d ever had. I picked myself up off the couch and walked straight to Watertown to find my car that I’d left at a friend’s in a drunken blackout. As I walked down Mount Auburn street, I came to grips with the sickening realization that I could never drink – ever – again. If I wanted to have some sort of life.
4. How about the time I drove over the Tobin Bridge aimlessly at five months sober and felt feelings for the first time in years? That it literally felt like my choices were be miserable, or die? That I wanted to leap but didn’t? That I held on and made one of the best friends of my life through it?
5. Or the time that infant Fiona screamed for hours on end and everyone told me “that’s what babies do”? That after the 12th hour of screaming, and the 40th day of sleep deprivation, I put her down in her carseat, walked out of the room, and suppressed a scream? That I didn’t do something worse, something we could never admit to thinking of because we all have to be perfect mothers and not talk about it?
6. There’s also the countless times I’ve chosen to be respectful towards a man who pushed himself into me, drunk, because I can see the shame in his eyes when he looks at me sober?
7. Or how about the time I chose to stay with a man who loved me, instead of choosing addiction? That I came to terms with the fact that I am an addict, one in particular who seeks emotional attachments outside of her relationship, because she is so afraid that he won’t love her ugly parts? That I was willing to sit in couples therapy for hours on end to fix the trauma I created and still choose to not hurt myself and to feel ugly feelings and to be the bad guy and to yell at each other and do the hard work? How about congratulating those beautiful people who were hurt by my actions?
8. How about the time I reached into my mother’s freezer, wordlessly cracking ice cubes out of the ice tray, shoving them into a ziploc bag, knowing they would be placed around my father’s head in a few hours when he died? That I made ice cube tray after ice cube tray because I knew donating his brain to science was so important to him? That I placed the ice around his head after he passed and apologized to his dead body about moving him? How about that?
9. Or the time I lost my baby, and had to tell Fiona that the baby got sick and couldn’t come? That I watched as a tear rolled down her smooth cheek, and heard her say, “I think my heart is broken?”
You see, I’ve been on the other side of that shiny new house, a million times. I’ve been that girl who truly believed she was just not entitled to a happy life with a husband and a beautiful home. That I was just meant to be unhappy. I still believe that, sometimes, and that’s when I make stupid choices that hurt people, because why not be one big self-fulfilling prophecy? I have more respect for the girl who sat through numerous urges to do something, anything self-destructive, than the girl who made a lot of money so she could buy a house. I have more respect for the girl who spoke out at a self-help meeting, for probably the third time in six years since she’d joined that program, than the girl who lost weight and bought a beautiful designer dress and made a beautiful bride. That shit, was cake.
We get it all wrong – we are there for each other when things are good. But when things hurt? We don’t know what to say. We shrink away. We don’t know what to do because we are uncomfortable ourselves. But if you know someone who is hurting right now, commend them. Raise them up. Because they are doing important, hard, gritty work right now. Work that will be the basis of their character later on.
So please feel free to send me a Hallmark card for the next time I actually call you instead of isolating per usual or when I embarrassingly cry in front of others or when I choose to just breathe. one. more. time.
But please, please, don’t congratulate me on my new house.
(Disclaimer: The author knows friends should both rejoice in each other’s accomplishments and support each other when facing adversity. The author is also grateful for all the support in her community for things both good and bad. The author is really just trying to make a point.)