The summer I worked at a camp I was gripped with a fear that I would relapse in my eating disorder because I wouldn’t be able to get to meetings. I was new to recovery and didn’t think it would be good for my resume to get fired for purging in the camp latrines. I packed some inspirational tapes to listen to during my free time, hoping that their messages might carry me through.
When the kids were tucked in, I’d crawl into my bunk and put on my Walkman (it was 1993). Pressing play, I’d close my eyes and listen to speakers’ stories of coming back from the brink of dark situations I couldn’t imagine like sleeping on park benches after getting kicked out of the house or waking up in jail. Somehow each story ended with hope and reconciliation.
My favorite tape was one where this guy Ken from North Carolina described his first year of sobriety. His story, told through his gorgeous southern accent (his pronunciation of “bar” had roughly 3 syllables), put me to sleep night after night.
I loved Ken’s story because he spoke in great detail about his struggles in the early days of life without alcohol. He talked about his insomnia, impotence, and shame. And then he explained how he crawled out of those dark places one inch at a time.
When Ken was desperate for relief from the voices in his head that were forever whispering you’re no good and you don’t deserve a good life his sponsor told him to go buy some lipstick.
What? Ken resisted but his sponsor insisted.
Ken bought a tube of Cover Girl’s finest– he chose Iced Ruby because it was red and sounded like a drink on the rocks. His sponsor gave him the following instructions: Take this tube of lipstick and write on your mirror Ken, you are wrong.
Why? Ken asked.
His sponsor explained that Ken needed to be reminded that those voices in his head– which he spent the better part of the day believing– were wrong. “Kenny, you think they’re right but they’re wrong. When you believe what they’re saying, you’re wrong. So write it on your mirror. You. Are. Wrong.”
Ken scrawled the message on his mirror.
Every morning, those mean, lying voices woke up before Ken did and they greeted him as soon as he opened his eyes. By the time he got to the bathroom mirror to brush his teeth, they’d already given his serenity a beat down.
But then he’d see message in all its Iced Ruby glory, and he got a chance– a moment to read the words and stop himself in mid-lie and consider that the voices in his head were wrong. They were loud, tenacious and seductive sirens, but they were wrong.
These days, I’m dying to buy some lipstick and scrawl on my mirror Christie, you are wrong.
The only thing stopping me is that my two children will see it and then I’ll come home one day to lipsticked walls and floors and couches. I can’t take the risk, but I really want to.
So, I’ll just put my lipstick on my lips and remind myself all day long: Christie, you are wrong, and hope that I’m right about that.