I feel that in life, we often deal with some things over and over again. I used to think this was wrong and beat myself up for things that resurface, but over time, I realized, this is just how life rolls. We always have the same set of issues, but if we work on it, we get to take a deeper cut. The deeper we go and the more we work on it, the more we expand our foundation, the more is possible for us and, as the consequence, we feel more joy.
My father’s passing almost 2 months ago now, disturbed the calm waters of my life. I was used to my father not being around, in fact, it is only after 20+ years that we restored our relationship to intimate connection and love that father-daugther relationships are usually made of. That said, in May of last year, as I travelled to Paris for the first time, and my father happened to drive in to pick up his youngest son and drive him home to Croatia at the same time. I have fallen back into the pattern of expecting things of him like I did when I was a little girl all the way until I got married. I forgot that the only way to have my father do something for me was to make sure he was aware of how much that mattered to me. That worked 3 years ago when he drove down to Montenegro and met my younger son. This time around, I didn’t want to do work to convince him to see me. I wanted him to want it and do work for it. And, he didn’t.
I reached out to him a few times over the summer and then I stopped trying. On New Year’s Day, I received a message from him with greetings for the upcoming year. I wished him the same with the picture of my family. He wrote: “it is beautiful to see you all.” A little more than a week later, on my 40th birthday, at 6pm New York time, I learned my father had a stroke. He never woke up from it.
I am not going to lie to say that I didn’t think I’d be prepared for this. Our relationship was way less than I think I ever deserved and I worked very hard throughout my life to feel deeply deserving of love, attention and commitment of another man because I never had that from my dad. It was almost 8 years ago that I wrote an email t my dad in complete desperation to hear words of encouragement. His response was that he wasn’t a good person to ask and the rest of the email was filled with his joyful sharing of the attention he was giving to his 2 boys from his second marriage. In that moment, I realized, I would never have a father that I wanted. I stopped expecting things. And, even though I trained myself to not want more from him, I was always happy when he was in touch and he had power to provide me with so much joy with every bit of attention he gave me.
My dad dying shook me. It was final. I didn’t even get a chance to tell him I became an American citizen (his life long dream was to come here), because I had my Oath Ceremony just days after his brain was dead. His heart was beating few days longer as if to buy me some time to get my passport and fly to attend his funeral.
Coming to Zagreb after 30 years was traumatic. I went straight to the house where I used to visit him and his wife and sons were out visiting friends. They knew I was coming but I guess it didn’t matter. Thank God for an amazing friend I have who now lives in Zagreb who hosted me, fed me and offered a shoulder to cry on. I spent more money on going to my father’s funeral than I remember him ever spending on me (this, of course, triggers the memory of unworthiness because he fought hard, and indirectly, not to pay for child support).
The past few weeks of my life felt like a cosmic joke. My husband and I were interviewed couple dozen times because we hoping to put our older child in a private school in September. Of course, we were not stupid, we applied to more than 1o private schools, that many public and numerous charter schools throughout the city. Applying for financial aid in order to get into private school had me think about money a lot, realizing, I want to be earning way more than I do right now. I made peace with slowing down with my business to roll with raising my two boys, but when I realized I was done birthing, I was itching to get out there, to impact more people and expand my reach.
I would gain some momentum then kids would get sick or something would happen to have me go back to square one. At some point I did so many facebook lives but the criticism of it had me back down. I couldn’t help but be self-conscious. I understand that what I do is not everyone’s cup of tea but when a few people have a negative response, it’s tough for me to go on. This isn’t new, my shaky relationship with my own self-esteem has obviously had something to do with it.
I was looking for perfection in everything I did. I went too far experimenting with my own weight. Since I became a teenager, I was either on diet or skipping meals until I did a stupid Atkins diet in year 2000 that had me restrict carbs. I will never forget that on the 13th day of restricting carbs, I lost it. I was interning for the sound post production company and the kitchen there was filled with all kinds of cookies and junk for the people who spent hours working. I couldn’t stop eating, which led to me being so full that I had to purge to prevent myself rom bursting. Before I knew it, this became a pattern.
I was ashamed to ask for help so I struggled for years to come. I was skinny and miserable. My eating disorder was a way I punished my body for not obeying, for being too curvy and not allowing me to eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted it. I worked so hard that this practice allowed me to have a sense of control in the places where us, women, usually don’t have it. I got a handle on it in 2005 when I did transformational work, Reiki and began to listen to my own inner voice about who I was and what I wanted. I relapsed for years after that but I was strong enough to always get back on the horse when I fell down from it. I remember telling my dad about my struggle and him telling me to just stop doing it. Somehow, I also thought that this was my fault, that I this time of my life was wasted, that I was wasteful and stupid for being sick.
Almost a decade later, and after spending over $30K on fixing my teeth, I feel like I am still blaming that little 20 year old Marija for being so stupid to numb her feelings with food, for spending so much time being sick and not asking for proper support and guidance. In fact, as I decided to fix the aesthetics of my front teeth so that every time I smile I don’t think how thin my front teeth are and feel shame of it all over again, all of this came to the surface. Restricting food (with all the dental work, I am pretty much on the soup and soft food diet) is likewise triggering in me the desire to give in, to give up, to relapse, to loose myself again in the binge so that I can numb the overwhelming emotions that are resurfacing.
What saddens me the most right now as I am writing this is how uncomfortable I am with appearing weak, with vulnerably sharing my struggle and needing support. I think this is a problem with our society, people move on, they forget to ask, we are all expected that old troubles don’t bother us anymore. Slowly, everyone is forgetting to ask if I am still grieving my dad. Surely, many people that knew about my eating disorder probably just assume that I don’t think about it anymore just because I don’t purge or go on binges. But, this is all not people’s fault. It is us, me, who don’t ask for help when we need it. Being criticized is one of my biggest triggers which is why, in the past, I always opted to restrict the information I give. I worry about what other people think and say, so in the process, I mold myself to fit in. It’s an old pattern that every now and then I fall back into. This is why I am writing this. I am not complaining, I am not even sharing it to get points, I am sharing the process. Working with people in the past decade had me see that nobody is immune to this. We all have things come up and then those of us who are committed to having great lives clear it and those that are not, ignore it. Either way, things come up and every time they do, they come up faster and stronger at us, which makes sense, because we are stronger too.
In a face of everything new I want to create, my insecurity will come up to bite me in the ass. I will then remember that my father did the best he knew to do and will allow to feel his energy all around me supporting whatever it is I am up to. And regardless of how much I feel that my dental work is punishment for my eating disorder, I will find compassion for doing the best I could at the time to numb the overwhelming emotions that took me years to be able to feel, claim, allow and make right. I will remember my mom’s words: “teeth can be fixed,” and I will go on to fixing what I can for as long as I live. Expansion is only possible when are moving through it, when we are playing games that are big enough that we can see everything that isn’t a match for who we need to be to win them. Love only. Compassion. Gratitude.