When I leave the apartment I find the sidewalks covered in sheets of ice. My cowboy boots offer no traction as I slide from one side to another. I walk slow, but still careen out of control. Keep your weight on your heels. Isn’t that what he told me? Or was it toes? I can’t think straight and my throat is tight. Tears stinging up from behind my eyes, the complex desire to punch through a plate glass window and sob into my shirt sleeves all at once. It has nothing to do with ice.
I try to slow my breathing. Try to calm down my racing brain. You can tell it’s January. Tell by the mountains of white bread and chocolate I hide myself under. A cocoon of empty calories and refined carbohydrates pump energy into my exhausted frame. You can tell it’s January because I turn off the alarm clock, but stay in bed. I submerge myself in quilts and comforters with the blinds shut tight. I don’t shower. I don’t dress. I just wait for spring.
In therapy Mark asks me if I believe in self-fulfilling prophecies. Asks me if I believe the things I think because I believe them or because I think them so often. Like I pounded my worthlessness into my head myself just by repeating it back. An echo chamber of negative self-talk seeping into my brain waves, cementing itself in my subconscious before I ever had time to remember none of it was true.
I made all this up, didn’t I? Made up the story about how I lack the strength, the grit, the determination to make it out of this. The story about how I don’t have what it takes to exist in the world. The belief that I am fundamentally broken in some way that no one is ever going to be able to name or repair. It’s all just made up. One story repeated over and over. Passed down through rewiring of the brain. Told so many times I forget that it isn’t real. Forget it is just a story.
Mark pulls his lips into his mouth, closes his eyes, and nods gently. Our mutual heartbreak hangs in the room between us like a deflating helium balloon. I want to spit and curse and throw the pillow through the window. Scream, “Who told me these stories about myself? Who told them to me?!” But I know it doesn’t matter where I picked them up from, just that I did. Walking across a riverbed with stones in my pockets will never prompt the question, “Where did these rocks originate from?” The fact that they’re still there, that’s what matters.
“Can I learn to tell myself different stories?” I ask him, feeling like a small child kneeling down in front of him.
“Yes. You just do it.” He laughs at his own dry sarcasm because he has to. Because he doesn’t have a different way to tell me that I just have to dig my hands in, pull out the lining, and float back to the surface.