a professional hermit rambles

Skinny woman, fat woman

I stopped drinking when I was 32 and weighed about 91 lbs (41 kg); a dangerously low weight. I began to put on weight but my body looked odd to me. I couldn’t see my bones quite as well and my ribs were beginning to be covered up. This was distressing as all my life I defined myself by my weight and though I was beginning to find another self I was also losing myself.

I went to go to AA and I met Andrew. We began to date and at his instigation we split up several times before he decided that we could make a go of things. I took this as a compliment but I found out later that it was typical behaviour of someone who was emotionally abusive. I was made to feel lucky that I had been chosen.

Having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder I was taking lithium and weight gain is one of the side effects of it. Again, I felt as those my sense of self was disappearing and there was a person that I didn’t recognise taking her place.

Andrew decided that even though I was a size 12 by then I was dangerously thin and became a feeder. A feeder is someone who encourages someone to eat much more than is good for them and unhealthy things to boot. I would often find myself eating three bars of chocolate and being applauded by him because he though I should be a big woman not the slim person I wanted to be. He told me that he loved big women but stopped having sex with me because my size made me unattractive.

In the photo above is the woman that I became. Note the possessive way he is holding on to me and my clenched fist. I’m leaning into him because he had made me dependent upon him. I was also tired of and angry with him because I felt as though I couldn’t get away.

I rang him on New Years Eve 2007 and told him that I need some time alone to recharge my batteries. Six weeks later I wrote him to tell him he would never see me again.

I have lost weight now I am slightly overweight but not drastically so. I yearn to be a size 10 but I have accepted that it is not a healthy and that as long as I keep fit being a little overweight isn’t a bad thing.

The first thing that I did when I escaped him (and thankfully we had never lived together) was buy a camera as that was many of the things he let me know I was useless at. Six weeks after buying the camera I sold a photo to a travel magazine and the University of York used one of my photos to illustrate a book about stained glass. I am a good photographer and I am a free, if slightly fat, person.

A walk with sacred music…

The sacred music that I listened to as I walked didn’t deafen me to the sounds that were around me but it seemed to act as a shield.

* *

A group of people were doing a circular ‘harbour walk’ that starts and ends at the SS Great Britain. I wonder why they are talking so loudly instead of taking in their surroundings. Surely that’s the point of a group walk?

They move on. An elderly looking dog wanders by seemingly ownerless. There is no-one in sight with a lead so maybe he or she belongs to a loud walkers.

An overpriced and over-spiced pasty that seemed like a good idea is making me glad I bought a piece of rocky road. I need the sweetness to counteract the overdose of black pepper. Still the loud people, the quiet people, the runners, the people on their phones and the people looking glum pass by.

The rears of the houses on Cumberland Road have an arrangement of windows that seem to be faces displaying shock at the extent of gentrification around the docks. If they were human they’d be telling you that they could tell you some stories.

I am walking again in the vague direction of coffee. The music I’m listening to refuses to let me walk faster than a slow stroll. I pity the people who have no option but to move fast.

The place I am going to is closed. Because it’s closed it makes me feel safe. A kind of friend of another persuasion than me used to walk her dog when I walked mine sometimes and occasionally she to wanted to sit outside there for a cold drink. Her body language would tell people that I was her property. Control over another person by whatever means is abusive behaviour and so, no matter how beautiful her dog is, I have abandoned her as a walking companion.

I don’t know why but I expected to feel deep emotions and not to notice the world around me as I listened to the sacred music. I imagined that I would experience and internal monologue or a stream of consciousness or, to coin an outdated phrase that shows my age, find myself.

Instead of the smiles that I usually attract from strangers there hasn’t been one today. Has the music made me invisible, is my face unusually straight or is it because I’m wearing sunglass? Whatever the reason it makes me feel different and it feels as though I’ve become a less approachable person. I’ve grown used to being the person with the open face and I don’t want to stop being her.

On meeting Nina

When I met Nina it was obvious that she was living a life that few could understand. The people who were trying to help her were out of their depth and she was afraid to leave her tiny comfort zone.

We are all indoctrinated to a point. It’s how races, religions, societies and loyalties are formed and we tell ourselves that indoctrination of this kind serves as both a solace and a shield. In reality it is different sized bombs waiting to explode.

Nina is different. She is damaged deeply and resorts to childlike ways of coping. She rocks herself backwards and forwards to comfort herself and self harms when things become unbearable. She denies her own existence because that was how she was taught to live by the Maoist cult she was trapped in.

Underneath there is a gentle soul who is neither of this world or within it. Having listened to her sad and harrowing story I want her to meet the good people that she needs and that her future is less bleak than her past.

My time with Nina was short and as we neared the end of it I couldn’t help but cry and yet I was comforted by her. You cannot meet this remarkable young woman without learning something about yourself.

Nina X

If you’d like to meet Nina then listen to her story as told to Ewan Morrison. You will not regret it.

Cheers me dears…

I have a memory of being 23 and standing outside of a pub in Middlesbrough talking to a family friend. As we talked a mutual acquaintance who was once a talented and much praised footballer staggered out of the door. He flung his arms round us, kissed our cheeks and staggered off down the road. As he walked we talked of the tragedy that a man with so much talent could become that way. In my head I was telling myself that I would stop drinking before I got that bad. I didn’t realise until I was much older that thinking like that was acknowledging that my drinking was as bad as his.

By the time I was 26 I couldn’t stop. I’d get so drunk I’d hit my head on the stone window sill beside my front door as I was letting myself in. I’ve staggered in front of traffic, woken up in a pool of my own vomit and the mattress on my bed had more piss stains than it had clean patches.

When I was 32 the alcoholic I was married to was admitted taken hospital to die as a result of his drinking. My GP rang me to ask me to go and see him as he wanted to see how I was coping. I swilled down half a shandy to cover the smell of the whisky I’d drank that morning and, at about 11.15 on 23 April 1991, I put the empty glass on the bar and went to see him.

At around 11.30 he sat me down and told me if I didn’t do something to change my lifestyle then in two years I’d be then one in hospital dying. I’d seen my husband deteriorate in the eight years I’d been married to him and I knew he’d been dying all that time; a slow death, a painful death, a death I didn’t want. I’d walked into the surgery a practising alcoholic and came out a recovering alcoholic.

I was managing a pub and that was the day I handed my notice in. I spent my first three weeks of sobriety listening to the spirits behind the bar whispering at me to have just one drink. I’ve never been sure if that was the Delirium Tremens or a false memory but it’s one of things that keeps me moving forward.

The details from the past 28 years don’t matter because what counts is how I was then and how I am now. If I cannot remember the person I was then I can no longer be the person I am today.

The person I was then was nasty. I would stamp on people’s feelings if I wanted to get my own way. Like every alcoholic I’ve ever met I drank to change the way I felt about myself. I was insecure and as I got older then I began to bully the people who reminded me of how I saw myself.

Active alcoholism for me is both self harm and a long slow suicide. Like other alcoholics my drinking cost me more than money. Alcohol doesn’t just remove stains on clothes and carpets it removes family, friends, health and dignity.

Sobriety isn’t easy. There are days that I won’t walk down the booze aisle in Asda even if I want something out of the freezers that face it. It’s difficult at times to deal with feelings but dealing with them is a lot easier than drinking on them. I try every day not to drink again because I can’t guarantee that I’ll be able to stop again. I’m neither willing to waste what is almost half a lifetime of sobriety nor propel myself forward to a premature death just for the sake of a few drinks.

I took my dog for a walk…

…on the way home I  slipped on some cobbles, doglet pulled away, and I hit the road with the side of my face. My knee and shoulder didn’t want to be left out so joined in the smashing party.

Imagine lots of blood, a knee that was in a position it shouldn’t have been and a face that ballooned so much I couldn’t get my smashed glasses on. A quick look in the mirror in A&E showed massive amounts of bruising and explained why I was in pain. I sat in the waiting room and cried.

In the week following I went through various stages of pain and discomfort. The lowest point was not being able to get in or out of bed easily because of intense pain when I moved. 

I begged for help from the NHS and it  came as a delivery of codeine which I would have pounced on had I been more mobile. 

My immune system crashed leaving me with the worst cold I’ve ever had and I developed an allergy to dogs. My dog is now living with a friend for an indefinite period of time. I see him regularly but I can’t walk him. I do get to cuddle up to him though and he gets to give me a rash.

I never thought that I’d have to consider myself physically disabled yet I am now dis-abled. I will have a more mobile patella than previously and my shoulder may always have limited range of movement and strength.

I’m regaining confidence while I’m out walking but the thought of falling again has turned into a fear.

I have limitations physically so there’ll be no climbing walls to get to places I shouldn’t when I want that photo. There’ll be no more lying down on my belly and inching towards cormorants as they spread their wings on the pontoon in the dock so I can get closer to take photos of their beautiful plumage. There’ll be no more running for buses but who wants to run for buses?

I’ve learned how to rest and have been surprised at how productive rest can be. Pottering around home gets chores done, it produces art work and there’s more time for reading.

Limitations or not, I live.

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