DEAR CAROLYN: When I married my husband, I knew we both had pieces of ourselves under lock and key. I used to be a staunch defender that we are all allowed a private room in our minds, so to speak, where we store memories, thoughts and feelings that, while formative of our current personalities, didn’t really need to be shared with the other person. (Does H. really need to know I have a secret crush on Tommy Lee Jones?) I know my husband has a similar lockbox – he never told me about running away for quite a while as a teenager. We are both damaged goods in many ways.
Some of the things locked away are shameful things, though. I’ve struggled for over a decade with binge eating. It didn’t matter; you know, something I was working on; and it’d stop and restart. I figured it’s not his issue (and, yeah that shame thing), until one day I realized living as closed off as I have is starting to hurt me.
And I want to be better now. I have children old enough to pick up on this. I want to go to in-depth counseling for a week. It’s been a decade; it’s not getting better; and it’s tied to a whole host of issues. How cliche can I be? I want these monkeys off my back and locked in a zoo in Siberia. But I have to start with my husband. And I don’t even know how to start this conversation. I’ve told him bad things about myself before; he’s never batted an eye.
Living With a Closed Heart
DEAR CLOSED HEART: No, you have to start with you.
I see “damaged goods” and “shameful things” and erasing yourself with “How cliche can I be?” and I just want to take your hands and say, stop. We’ve all done shameful things. We all have stuff that formed us and haunts us and sits in a locked room in our minds because it didn’t make the list of the Top 20 things even the most forgiving people need to know about us.
So please allow yourself to think you’re as good as, and bad as, anyone else. So’s your husband. Anyone who isn’t “damaged” somehow isn’t paying attention.
And, please stop hiding in/behind that lockbox. I believe in the concept myself; there will always be a bit of ourselves that’s just ours. But lockboxes are for things we’ve learned from and resolved. Your binge eating is active and unresolved, and exposes your lockbox as a place you put things that still have power over you.
You’re right that closing yourself off hurts you and risks discovery, but you omitted the primary concern: that your secret self-harm endangers your family’s emotional health.
These two messages might seem contradictory (You’re not bad! But you are!), but in fact they dovetail nicely. You’re not worse than anyone else for your past or present struggles, you just need to recognize that you’re important to others and therefore need to care for yourself as if you are important.
And that means acting immediately on your eating disorder and whatever lies beneath it. Hotlines have a low barrier to entry, so please call the National Eating Disorders Association: 800-931-2237.
Trusting that kind husband starts with trusting yourself.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.