I took the boys to visit their grandparents this weekend while JB was off on a hunting trip, and one of the first things my father-in-law said to me was, “Hey, are you getting skinnier?” I blushed and preened and practically simpered in response, because in fact I have been putting a lot of effort into diet and exercise lately, and for someone who doesn’t see me on a daily basis to actually notice the difference was amazing. The instant those words came out of his mouth I felt leaner and stronger and almost like my waistband loosened a tiny bit right then and there. I caught sight of myself in the mirror and saw the results of all the hard work I’ve put in lately: stronger arms, a less pillowy midsection, upper legs that aren’t quite as jiggly as they were a month ago. Go ME, I thought, strutting by.

Not 24 hours later, I was staring at photos on my phone, confronted with my own image. There I stand, posed with my mother-in-law and my boys. We’re all squinting into the sunlight with the blue waters of the bay in the background. I’m wearing slightly baggy shorts and a patterned top that seizes my chest in an unflattering grip and wearily blouses out below. I was completely dismayed by the dumpy woman I saw, all sag and shadow. To my eyes, I looked fleshy and overstuffed, possibly wearing a maternity shirt. I suddenly felt enormously discouraged: what’s the point? I should just eat twelve donut-topped pizzas right now because FUCK EVERYTHING.

Nothing about my body changed between self-confident Point A and I-am-a-beached-pilot-whale-please-moisten-my-hide Point B, of course. It’s all in the upstairs wiring, which apparently has more than one section that’s been chewed to sparks by angry rats.

It’s the same thing with alcoholism, I’ve found. I have these stretches where I feel so positive about the days of sobriety I’ve been building. Then suddenly out of nowhere some ugly thought pops into my brain, usually a shameful relapse-related memory, and I have to physically shake my head like a dog to try and get rid of it while all my confidence seeps away, replaced by doubt. Exhausted at the idea of having to remain vigilant and aware for the rest of my goddamned life. A full-bodied toddler-tantrum sensation of it not being FAIR. God, what’s the point?

It would be nice to not be so easily swayed, in either situation. But it is what it is and so what is there to do but acknowledge the incoming tidal wave of murky bullshit — oh hi, it’s you again — and let it go by. I try to picture it just like that, actually: it crashes over me, but eventually recedes. Meanwhile, I’m still standing there.

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