Saturday, 5 April 2014

What's in a Piece of String?

This is my right wrist.

After having S, I lost my baby weight quite quickly: a combination of stress, breastfeeding, and doing a lot of walking. I still felt very much trapped by my previous situation with her father though. He had left; I had taken my health visitor's advice and stopped all contact... but mentally, I was still trapped. Without even really realising I was doing it, I was conforming to all the things I'd spent the last year conforming to.

While we were together, he controlled everything I did, from the way I washed (you have to start with your shoulders and work your way down; you have to scrub more at the rash on your sides; you have to use antibacterial Fairy Liquid instead of shower gel) to what I wore, who I spent time with and everything in between. A lot of this wasn't explicit control (though the washing was); it was done with looks and questions and suggestions. 
Why was I bothering with makeup and jewellery for work; who was I trying to impress?
Why didn't I just wear his t shirts if my clothes were in the wash? In fact, why not just wear them all the time?
Why did I insist on drying my hair before leaving the house; what did it matter?
How could I be so extravagant and selfish as to just go to the hairdresser and have a hair cut?
Why was I using aerosol deodorant? I should use the men's roll-on he used.
Looking back, my every  move was questioned and coerced - but it was done so quietly, in such small increments here and there; there were never any outright demands of "you must do this" that there was never anything to complain about. I could never pin anything on him. 

So by the Summer of 2012, I was single and caring for S alone, but still very much doing as I was told. Every time I took a shower and washed my feet first I felt like, yeah, I'm doing things my own way! (actually, I still feel like that to this day; some mornings, I deliberately wash my feet first, to prove to myself that I can do as I please)

One day I was wandering through town thinking gosh, these jeans keep falling down, I should probably buy some new ones.

But buying new clothes for myself wasn't allowed. For one thing, I didn't want anyone saying I was spending money on myself that could have gone on my child. I didn't want him having that ammunition against me. Also I felt incredibly guilty about spending money on myself, despite the fact I had a room filled with clothes, nappies, bedding and toiletries for S that would last until she was at least a year old (I still haven't bought any toiletries). More than that: the entire time I was with him, I recall buying clothes for myself just once. And when I came home from that shopping trip, a big deal was made about me and my fancy lifestyle, swanning off to Primark and spending money on myself without a care in the world (conveniently ignoring the gifts I had brought back for him and his children).

One should, apparently, get all their clothing from bags left on the doorstep by well meaning neighbours. Even underwear.

One day I had just been for a long walk with S, and stopped to pick up some groceries in the M&S food hall on the way home. I saw a pair of teal green jeans on the way through... teal is my favourite colour, but it's a bit... bright and noticeable for me. At this point in my life, my wardrobe was all about blending in, being invisible. Teal was so far from anything I would normally buy, and they were £20. A lot of money to just spend on myself on a whim. I left it.

For the next week, every time I was passing M&S I would walk through instead of passing, and look at those jeans. A voice in my head told me there was no way I could buy them. They were bright; they were probably too small; they were too expensive; they were wrong. They were naughty. It would be bad of me to buy them.

I realised that voice was not my own. That voice was my ex, still wielding his control over me without even lifting a finger. I bought the damn jeans.

I remember taking the bag from the cashier and stuffing it under the buggy, terrified that someone would see me buying clothes from M&S and judge me for spending money on myself. Terrified that I would be spotted buying something so selfish as a pair of brightly coloured jeans.

When I got home, I took the tags off and tried them on; they fit perfectly, and I loved them. 

Jeans these days come with all sorts of paraphernalia and tags attached, and one of the tags was attached by some brightly coloured thread. I saved it, and made it into a bracelet which I put around my wrist.

The bracelet was to remind me to ignore that voice, until it left of its own accord.
The bracelet was to remind me that I am my own person, and I can damn well wear teal coloured jeans if I want to.
The bracelet was to remind me that I am worth £20 for a pair of jeans.

Now, almost two years later, that bracelet is still there. People sometimes ask me why I have a piece of tatty thread tied around my wrist. Sometimes I think perhaps I should just get rid of it.

But there is no way in this world I will risk going back to what I was. I will keep that piece of thread to remind me every single day that I am worth £20 for a pair of jeans, and that I am entitled to them and much more besides.

And do you know, I still have those jeans. And when I look at them now... they're not so bright. They're very dark, in fact. 

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  1. Wow. This was a powerful read for me that brought back some memories. That bracelet Is lovely. How empowering it must have been to buy the jeans - you are worth it!

  2. I'm so glad you discovering the inner strength to bounce back from what sounds like a very bad situation!!

  3. When I read this I was so shocked, I am glad you managed to wipe out that inner voice and confront the fear that your other half hammered into you.Well done and I hope you keep this new found confidence .You should be proud of your self.

  4. Fantastic post. Congrats to you! Always know that you made the right decision.

  5. You are worth that pair of jeans and more! Don't you ever forget it. I know we have never met face to face, but I am so proud of you, reading about how far you have come, how you have managed to battle your inner and outer demons. Be proud of yourself

    x x x

  6. I'm so glad you got out that relationship and that you're stamping out the effects of the past with every decision you take for yourself. Here's to more fun times (and teal!) for you and your daughter in the future.


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