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Defined by Disease

on November 13, 2013

I am in a really lousy place emotionally tonight. I’m upset, angry, sad, grieving, embarrassed. Oh hell, pick an emotion that isn’t happy and I’m sure I’ve experienced it. About a half an hour ago, I was on the verge of a meltdown in Tai Chi class while I was leading the set. I think somehow the emotional distress locked onto the shoulder pain I’ve been experiencing, or something, but as we neared the end of the 90 minute class, my arm hurt with every move. I could no longer focus on the set and what came next — not good when other people are following you — and I had to stop. I left the class for a few minutes and went outside but knew if I just left and went home, I’d leave concerned people, so I went back inside and sat down until the set was over. I then gathered my things, mumbled something about hurting and needing to get home and split.

I started crying in the car, so badly did I just want to be here. So, what caused this? I think it’s a combination or a culmination or somenation of things. Bear with me while I try to sort it out.

Fifteen years ago today, my mother died. I knew the anniversary of her death was approaching and it honestly wasn’t something that I dreaded. Do I still miss her? Oh, you better believe it. But the missing her didn’t trigger the upset. An hour or so before class, I’d shared this message on FB: “Fifteen years ago, we said goodbye to a very special woman. She was my hero, role model, teacher and so often the wind beneath my wings. Then, now, always, I love you, Mom.” My mother was all those things and more. She was also an alcoholic. Sometimes she was in recovery, sometimes not, but the fact that she had a disease did not negate all of her wonderful qualities.

Still, the thought hit my consciousness like someone had whomped me with a baseball bat, that she was labeled. I catch myself doing it sometimes when I talk about her and say she was a recovering alcoholic. It’s like there’s a silent “but” in every description. “She was a wonderful woman, but also an alcoholic.” Even in reverse, it still sucks. “She was a recovering alcoholic, but a wonderful woman.”

This realization made me think of all the ways, all of the times, that we get defined by our disease. She was an alcoholic. I am a compulsive overeater, a binge eater. Even in the rooms of 12 Step programs, there is that identification/definition when we introduce ourselves. It isn’t just the way that others define us. I’ve done it to myself. “Hi, I’m Mary and I’m a compulsive overeater.”

It’s like this process of definition diminishes us, makes us “less” than we really are. That silent “but” negates the good — if we let it.

I had all of this going on in my head when I went to class. I thought I’d be okay and that I could settle my mind with the breathing and flow of movement. As class progressed, my emotions didn’t settle in the least. I got more pissed off over the idea of being defined by disease — for myself and for my mom. Then it bothered me that I’d joined in the defining. The tension stressed out my body, which made my muscles more tired and led to more shoulder pain and, finally, I was one big mess.

At the moment, I can’t even figure out why this became such a big deal and caused me so much upset today. I only know that it did and I need to reframe the situation. From now on, I’m going to do my best to delete the label. Instead of defining myself as a compulsive overeater, I will think and say that I have a compulsive overeating disorder. On the surface, it might appear a minor shift, but if it helps me to not feel “less than”, if it improves my mind set, it will strengthen my recovery.

I’m glad to report that the near melt-down did not trigger a binge. I came home, brewed a cup of tea and ate the snack of half a banana with a teaspoon of peanut butter. Emotional upheaval is exhausting, so I’m going to run a bath with some lavender scented salts, relax and go to bed early. Thanks for listening.

Before I go . . .
Mom, you were the most special woman I’ve ever known. You were my hero, and everything I would like to be. Thank you for all of your love, support, kindness, and encouragement. Thank you for showing me by your example how to be a good person and to treat others well. Then, now, and always, I love you.

9 responses to “Defined by Disease

  1. Skye says:

    What Susanne said.

    One of the things my therapist in Houston discussed with me was how she didn’t want me to define myself by my emotional problems. So we decided to refer to them as the depression, the anxiety. It distances the issues from my self-identity. I think your using have is equally useful, and easier to say in some ways.

    I think you are very smart and very gifted and very strong. I am so inspired by the changes you’ve made and continue to make. I am so sorry you lost your mother, who sounds like a wonderful woman, someone you obviously loved very much. It makes sense that the emotional pain would translate into physical pain, especially if you didn’t have the time to “ride the wave” of the pain until it crested then slid to its end on the shore (my therapist’s imagery, which I find useful).

    Give yourself time to experience your grief again and to comfort yourself. Take good care of yourself. Big hugs!!!

  2. Susanne says:

    I’m on internet detox, but I think there was a reason why I thought I’d check in here while I’m eating my breakfast.

    Mary, sometimes in our busy world, we just don’t take the time we need to process things, like taking the time to acknowledge how important certain dates/times are for us. Karen phrases it exactly right — we’re ambushed by a memory. Why can’t we take the time just to think? Sit and have a cup of tea while we stare out the window? Why must we be busy ever flipping second of the day? This rant is not directed at you. It’s directed at our society.

    When we define ourselves by labels, such as a procrastinator, an overeater, a drinker … whatever … when WE call ourselves that, we do ourselves such a diservice and WE give permission for others to use those labels. The language we use is critical — and as writers, we know that better than anyone. Are we forever marked by something we’ve done? When do we get a chance to say, here I am. Take me today for what I am. When does self-forgiveness kick in? Yes, I overate. Yes, I drank. Yes I … whatever. But right now? Hey, I’m pretty damn good. And I’m doing something to change what I don’t like about myself — because it’s important to ME. Frankly, I’m in awe of the changes you’ve made over the time I’ve been reading your posts. But this rant isn’t about me and my perceptions.

    Everyone has obstacles to overcome. Some just hide them better.

    Most parents try to do the best they can with what they have. They’re not perfect, lord knows we’re not perfect. What is it about humanity that we often think about the negative first? Why are so we damn lazy that we need a label to hook on someone, AND don’t ever change that label?

    We can’t solve this, but we sure have control over how we think about ourselves. And that defines how others think of us. And even if you’d had a binge, you’d have picked yourself up, dusted off the crumbs, and continued forward.

    And one last thing before I get off my soapbox…your mother sounds like a good person, and it’s no wonder you miss her.

    I hope that shoulder gets better. Sounds like a lot of pain was channeled to that spot.

    Big hug.

  3. Holly says:

    Hi Mary,
    Perhaps it would help you to know how you are defined by others. We tend to be so hard on ourselves. The Grassia Family defines you as an incredibly smart, talented, caring, confident person (yes, that’s what you emit to those in your company) with a wonderful sense of humor.
    Your Mom was obviously an exceptional woman to have a daughter like you.
    Much love to you, my friend.

  4. Yes, I’ve been absent but I’m back. A disease (think about that word for a minute: dis – ease; not at ease, not what it should be) is not what defines us. Or at least, its not the only thing that defines us. It is only one of many things, big and small. We are a conglomeration, an accumulation of traits and tendencies and abilities and disabilities and none of them can define us entirely. So your reframing to “I have” from “I am” is entirely appropriate and healthy.

    And grief can ambush us years later in unexpected ways. Let yourself grieve as necessary, both for the good stuff and the bad when it comes.


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