When I turned 30, I was angry and unhappy, but didn’t really know it. I figured that niggling feeling, the one I couldn’t really identify, the one that wouldn’t go away, was the natural result of having two little kids, too much time with nothing to think about on my hands, and, thanks to living in Iran, a really foreign country, a serious case of culture shock.
I believed that the unexamined life was absolutely worth living. Probing too deeply into my psyche, to my way of thinking, wasn’t going to lead me anywhere good. I prided myself on being a survivor. Someone who didn’t waste her time dwelling on things that couldn’t be changed. Someone that, when in the heart of something awful, eventually adjusted, and then forgot what normal ever looked like to begin with.
Plus, it was a whole bunch easier on my marriage if I didn’t dig around in all that inner mud.
If I didn’t put a voice to what it was that I really wanted. Or felt.
Somewhere early on, all by myself, I had decided that my feelings were never as credible or important as those of my husband. So attuned to small shifts in his mood, in his body language, in his tone, I could sense what he wanted, what he felt, long before he came out with it himself. Long before I could figure out what was going on inside my heart.
And when things did boil over–as they will, even when you decide to ignore your secret rage–I was quick to blame myself.
Being angry with my husband quickly evolved into being angry with myself.
I assumed that discord sprang from my lack: A predictable byproduct of my thousand and one rather unforgivable flaws.
Instead of hashing issues out with my husband, defining what was bugging me, demanding or negotiating a solution like a healthy adult, I said and thought the most horrible things about myself.
I flirted off and on with eating disorders. Starving myself when I was a little too close to coming unglued. Binging and purging when the anxiety level spiked a bit too high from baseline.
I abandoned my self in order to remain in a relationship free of conflict. I feared losing the relationship far more than losing my self.
For some reason I no longer remember, I started to imagine what my mom would see if she stood in the middle of the 10×10 dorm room my family and I were living in. Mom: A woman who had once asked me in a fit of frustration, “Do you have any idea how Muslim men treat their women?” The very same woman I had accused, in turn, of being a cheerleader. Waving her pom-poms around in an attempt to rally enthusiasm for her marriage. To a volatile alcoholic–the one person in our family whose troubles were considered legitimate emergencies.
I could picture her pursing her thin lips at the talk-to-the-hand attitude my husband would adopt whenever I worked up the nerve to complain. About the lack of privacy, what with his mother moving in with us and sleeping at the foot of our bed. Or the lack of money, sharing our resources as he did with 2,521 aunts, uncles, and cousins.
I could hear Mom clear her throat when she got a load of just how quickly I backed down from an argument, deathly afraid of losing the life I’d once believed I’d wanted. Had fought tooth and nail for. But now suspected I really didn’t want anymore.
Long before I wore a bra, I had become detached from my feelings. I had been taught in an alcoholic household to dismiss my intuitions. To accept, without argument, that black was white, and night was day. Here I was, an adult, perpetually dazed and confused.
I had no wood.
Too little wood and you bend too quickly to listen to other people’s ideas, unable to stand on your own.
I wasn’t easy going, like I claimed to be, I was dangerously malleable.
And I wasn’t just lost in a foreign country, barely able to read the street signs.
I was lost as a person. I no longer knew, or remembered, who I was.