Before I was admitted to Ascot House, when I was very ill, Jo was my main source of comfort. She was the only person I could eat with or spend time with. In the evenings, when I finally let myself eat properly, I curled up in a cosy nest of Jo and Masterchef and my permitted food.
But on my first evening in Ascot house, on the phone, Jo revealed to me how angry and distressed my illness had made her. She’d held everything together (and in) until she’d got me into the care of professionals, then she could collapse and express what she really felt.
Jo’s already hectic and stressful life became much more so as she became a single parent and had to fit in her monstrous workload and responsibility with parenting, chores, cooking, running the children to clubs and visiting me, all on her own. On Saturdays, she’d drop the children at their drama club then drive an hour to see me. She could only spend 45 minutes with me before she had to drive home to pick up the kids.
Visits were rushed and impatient, and then infrequent. The phone connection was terrible, too. It cut out every couple of minutes. Calls became increasingly frustrating. We couldn’t explore our thoughts and feelings, letting the conversation go where it needed to. Instead we had to compose what we wanted to say in advance, then try to get it all across before the line went dead. We were trying to keep a relationship alive in brief, truncated telegrams of reproach. Luckily, we didn’t need to inform each other of much – our lives were both too monotonous and too internally dissimilar – but we needed to nourish our relationship by spending time just talking, and this was exactly what we couldn’t do.
I began to feel increasingly isolated and cut off from home. I’d realised from that first furious phone call that, after relying so heavily (and so unfairly) on Jo for so long, I’d have to do this recovery business on my own, something that the therapy at Ascot House kept emphasising. The problem is that the post-anorexia self you construct is kind of solitary. Your whole mind-set is different, the structure of your identity – how you view yourself, what you want and need, what you find threatening, stressful and undesirable.
When I was discharged, Jo came to pick me up. She was very apprehensive about my return. On the way back, she unburdened herself. She cried; she explained that one morning she had decided not to care what happened to me. That was the only way she could carry out all the obligation placed on her in an incredibly demanding life. She’d had to dedicate herself to it, and abandon me to my fate.
It may surprise you to know that I had (and have) no problem with Jo’s decision: it’s what I deserved and it’s what she needed to do. When you’re ill, you let all things pass you by with a shrug, but even now I realise something had to give if Jo was to survive and continue to function as the sole parent and provider for our children. I’m an adult and can look after myself.
What horrified me, though, was being shown the impact of my behaviour on other people and realising quite how selfish I was when I was ill. I’d been hoping for a ticker-tape parade, celebrations, congratulations on my strength in overcoming a vicious disease for the sake of my family. I now saw how inappropriate those expectations were: Jo was bloody angry. Justly so.
But it shook my confidence and I’ve felt vulnerable to her fury, ever since. Well, I always have, a little, but now I don’t have a leg to stand on. Forgiveness is a poisoned chalice, especially when the stakes are as high as the survival of a relationship. Every time we argue, I get this vertiginous anxiety in my stomach, as if the ground is dropping away beneath my feet, and I ask myself, “where is this going to end?” Afterwards there’s a sort of anxious, listless calm while I wait to see how Jo will feel later. It’s similar, I believe, to the atmosphere that descends on courtrooms when the jury retire to begin their deliberations.
So, when Jo is storming at me, I’m waiting for a resolution and I think that if she threw me out, I could find a calm and solitary harbour to comfort myself, and I wonder, then, if I will ever experience peace or psychological ease, except in the rare moments when I can be alone, asleep, or in the kitchen in the early morning. And I can’t ever talk to Jo about this because she would see it (understandably, though wrongly) as a rejection, and she’d be furious.
I think you can have two contradictory drives simultaneously. The fox in the hen-house may be horrified by what he’s compelled to do. It’s natural to be conflicted. If I was alone in a bedsit. I’d be unfulfilled and miserable. I’d miss Jo and Meggie and Daniel terribly. I’d feel worthless and hopelessly guilty.
But, sometimes, I still hanker for a calm, solitary simplicity.
In any case, there is always the certainty of life’s pointless finitude. Soon enough, all – all betrayals, all defeats, all insults given or received – will be forgiven by an endless silence.