Monday, May 17, 2010


Ok, so I tried it. After reading about Jeanne Calment the French chick who lived for 122 years I took her advice and covered myself in olive oil. This wasn’t my first choice. At first I considered moving to France. Maybe it was being French that did it, kept her alive until she was a thousand years old, but I googled it and learned that French people generally live to be the same age as everyone else, dying of the usual things. Then I googled the expense of airfare to France and compared it to the price of a bottle of olive oil, and decided to go the cheaper route.

So how was it? Oily. Even more so than I thought it would be because I started off by accidently pouring too much. Even though I’ve been cooking for years somehow I forgot that pouring oil, be it vegetable, olive or other, is a delicate business. You tip the bottle ever so slightly or it gushes out coating everything in its wake – the measuring spoon, the floor, you, the dog. Poor dog. Victim of my frequent kitchen oil spill disasters.

Anyway, I tipped the bottle over my forearm like it was a tube of sunscreen, like I could squirt a little bit on and spread it around my skin. But sunscreen is slightly more pasty than olive oil, and in my defense I do have a lot more experience rubbing on sunscreen than marinating myself in an ingredient that I have mostly used for sautéing spinach.

It went everywhere. Wrist to elbow was coated in the stuff. So, in keeping with the sunscreen mentality, I tried to spread it around a bit. You know when you accidentally squirt too much sunscreen on your leg or something and you use the excess to cover the rest of you? Dude, I am six feet long. And there wasn’t enough of me to use up everything I had spilled on my forearm. Not even my whole arm, JUST HALF OF IT. I stood in my bathroom, looking like a toddler who’d gotten into her mother’s pantry, arms held out to the side because I was so oily and icky and I said, “Jesus Christ, what was this chick like an oiled up wrestler or something? She did this EVERY DAY until she was 122? Fuck it, I’m having an embolism at 75 like a decent human being.”

It took the rest of the day before I finally stopped feeling like a slimy reptile. I guess it finally all soaked in, or rubbed off on my clothes. And, me being me, I began to feel depressed.

I haven’t been taking very good care of myself in the last few weeks. Until Friday night, I hadn’t gotten to any Al-Anon meetings, taken my medication, continued my step work, or anything like that. I go to Al-Anon because I’m the adult child of two alcoholics, so while it’s technically ok for me to drink while I’m in the program because technically I’m not the one with the addiction problem, I’ve noticed that in these last few weeks I’ve been drinking more than usual. And being the child of two alcoholics, it’s not really a good idea for me to drink at all. According to research of an institution that I have forgotten the name of, when you are the child of one alcoholic the likelihood of you suffering from the same addiction is 60%. What could that percentage be when both of my parents are alcoholics? Hmm. My math is rusty. I was a Liberal Arts major. AHH! I was a Liberal Arts major! My chances have gone up 123%!!! So for many reasons, it’s not a good idea for me to drink.

When I stopped to think about it the other day I noticed a pattern. Before I started Al-Anon, I numbed myself from reality with denial and self-torture. When I got into the program I numbed myself with cigarettes and food. I was finally facing truth and reality, but still dealing with problems by causing other ones. When I stopped smoking I started overeating. When I recently stopped overeating (and finally stopped having the occasional post-quitting cigarette) I started buying wine at the store. Just one glass a night.

“Just one glass a night,” was what my mom told my aunt, one night when she was over. I was seven years old and my parents had just separated. Mom was single with three little kids, working and going to school full time. “If I have one glass a night I’m ok.”

That’s how it started. My parents were separated for two years before they got back together, and getting back together didn't cure the other problem that had started. And now as a single mother with three kids, working full-time, I totally understand how it became a problem.

I want to numb myself and forget. I don’t want to lay down in bed and remember how a man’s arms once held me to sleep. While we didn’t have a healthy relationship, that was one of the sweet memories. I don’t want to tuck my kids in at night and have them ask me complicated questions that I can’t answer, or worry about what I’m going to do if I get into my car tomorrow morning and it doesn’t start when I can’t afford to buy a new one. I don’t want to tell the kids to take showers and brush their teeth and then have them argue that it’s not the way they do it at their dad’s house. I don’t want to be awake at all past 6:00 in the evening because that’s when the hard questions start, that’s when the memories come, that’s when all my insecurities sink in, and when I finally get in bed, if I’m awake enough, that’s when I start crying. I don’t even think anything when I cry, it just happens like a natural purging. Like a spill from an overflow.

I think it is natural for me and the kids to be this way in the evening because we’re grieving. All four of us. And when I look at myself with compassion, it’s natural for me to not want to deal with it. This is fucking painful. It’s not the kind of crying I used to do when I was feeling stuck, afraid, helpless, and hopeless, with no sense of who I was anymore. It’s the crying that results from growing pains. And when I numb it with booze or whatever the hell I’m using to put myself to sleep with, I’m not growing. I’m not moving out of this place, I’m just keeping myself there by starting another problem. I’ve watched my parents suffer from this disease all my life. This is not a problem that I want. My children will not wake up to empty bottles of booze in the kitchen, pools of vodka spilled on the counter from clumsy pouring.

My last drink was May 13th.

So how have I been dealing with the questions and the growing pains? I’ve been talking to my sponsor (who is an Adult Child of An Alcoholic AND a recovered alcoholic) every day, and taking very good, gentle care of myself. Physically and mentally. I’ve picked up my step work and started taking my medication again. I started exercising and eating healthy, AND making sure that I do eat. When I overeat, I feel guilty, starve myself, and then get so hungry I binge again. Sound sane? No, I don’t think so either. Also, today I’m going to a different kind of 12 step meeting to see how I feel about it.

Ironically, hours after I’d resolved to try out an AA meeting, one of my friends called and said, “Me and a few other of the girls are heading Madigan’s for 9:30! You need to come!” Madigan’s, for those of you who don’t know, is a bar.

I didn’t go to the bar. Instead last night I took a bath and looked at my legs and my stomach that I was once ok with punching, burning, and cutting. “I love my legs,” I said. Then I rested my hands on my stomach like there was a baby inside and said, “I love my stomach.” Then I listed all the parts of me that I loved, parts that me that I have been hating, poisoning, polluting, cutting, burning, and scratching without caring about what it did to me in the end or how ashamed it made me feel. “I love my hands,” I said, “I love my lungs, I love my heart, I love my brain, I love my throat, I love my nose, I love my teeth…” I was like Whitman, singing a song of myself.

And then I took the cap from my shaving cream, dipping it in the tub and poured a stream of it over my hands, just because it felt good. Have you ever stood in the shower letting the water run over you just because it felt good? That’s what I was doing, only I focused on this one small part of me with a capful of water instead of the gush of a showerhead. One thin river of water streaming down my index finger, over my knuckle and cooling my wrist. I was pouring water on myself like a kind lover, one that knew that I didn’t need sex. Just affection, drop by drop.

After I got out of the tub I went back into the kitchen and got the bottle of extra virgin olive oil out of the pantry. I poured a drop of it into the center of my hand and rubbed it into my shoulder. I repeated it, massaging the oil into my skin drop by drop and when I was done I didn’t feel sticky, just soft. What I needed wasn’t a thick coating, like I was a plucked chicken ready for the oven. Jeanne Calment must have known this, that to keep her body and mind healthy she needed moderation, a gentle pampering every day. Not a bucketful of oil. Just a thin layer, as I discovered.

Then I got into the car and went about my day feeling like a lady. Because I had treated myself that way. And then I popped in a Beach Boys CD and danced in my seat to "Surfin' USA." Surely Jeanne Calment did this too, to prevent taking herself too seriously. Though by the time The Beach Boys were hip she was probably dancing to "The Little Old Lady From Pasadena."


Heather said...

Lovely blog today. This could be a short story somewhere. I picture it somewhere young teen girls could read it and gain hope from you. To quote William Shakespear: "Self-love, my leige, is not so vile a sin as self-neglecting"

Genevieve said...

Thanks, Heather. That was a lovely comment!

Christy said...

So, dear Gen, this is the you that so many of us have seen for so long. I want you to remember this blog and read it often, because finally you are seeing the friend that I have loved for 15 years. You deserve to take care of yourself and love yourself. I think it's wonderful that you can write this. Treat yourself as well as you treat your kids and your friends. You are worth it.

Genevieve said...

Christy you're, like, awesome.

melissa bastian. said...

I love your hands too. And your voice. And your you. Take care of them.

Let us talk soon yes? You work now so I don't know when I can call, but I'm home from work this week. :)