Insidious Whispers and Deafening Screams

I mentioned in my last post the the dictator has been whispering in my ear lately, trying to convince me that a relapse into old behaviours wouldn’t be at all a bad thing. I mean, it wouldn’t be a *real* relapse, I’d just restrict and run and life would still run perfectly and I’d have no consequences for my behaviours, I’d just be thin. (Which is totally ridiculous and has never happened to date and, in fact, each relapse is worse than the last, so I’d probably be dead.)

So that has been floating around in my head the past week. Undoubtedly it is related to the stress of the new semester starting, my feelings of utter incompetence when it comes to my chosen field, my highly regimented/probably overbooked schedule, and somewhat overwhelming extracurricular obligations/responsibilities. It has absolutely nothing to do with the food, my body, my weight. Just the stress. (Or so Counselor-Jessica is telling Deranged-Jessica.)

Anyway, that is background for my tale, in which this whisper becomes a wailing siren call on Tuesday. It was the first day of class, so I was already a bit nervous, but our prof for this class is really, really great and very down-to-earth. (She brought brownies! And coffee! And tea! And stress balls!) Early on, she said that she went into counseling because it saved her life. So, ya know, same reason as me.

We were asked to go around and introduce ourselves and tell what drew us to counseling. So I was prepared to just say, “Hey, I’m Jess, I’m a second year CMHC with expressive arts focus and I’m going into this field because counseling definitely saved my life more than once.” For the most part, my cohort (the 15 students I entered the program with last fall) knows about my ED and treatment history and I’m fairly open about it. That said, I don’t generally introduce myself by saying, “Hey, I’m Jess and I’m recovering from an eating disorder.

I was, by virtue of the room layout, the last person to do an introduction. When it came my turn, here is what I said:

“I’m Jess. I’m in the CMHC program with an expressive arts emphasis and I am really going into counseling because it absolutely saved my life on more than one occasion. And I’ve been in and out of a few eating disorder treatment centers and had some really great counselors and some really awful counselors and hope to be one of the good ones.”

So why the mention of the eating disorder treatment?

Competition.

About halfway through the classroom introductions, a young woman explained that she was drawn counseling after her “five year stint with anorexia” (this is actually how she worded it). Alarms started going off in my head. The dictator started screaming.

I needed to defend my ground.

I needed to make sure that everyone knew that I, too, had an eating disorder.

I needed to make sure that everyone knew that it had been so bad I’d had to go to treatment.

I needed to make sure that everyone knew that I’d relapsed and had to go back again and again.

I needed to make sure that everyone knew that I was really sick. (Read: I was thin.)

Because that is just the way the eating disordered brain works. It’s sick and twisted, but my eating disorder still needs to be validated. It still needs that gasp of breath that people do when they hear how much weight I lost in less than a year, that look of pity when I talk about the tube, the almost-jealousy when they hear all the “bad” foods I got to eat freely in treatment to put on weight.

It pisses me off that I feel I so badly “need” this, even after all my time and work in recovery. It pisses me off that some part of me still glamourizes the eating disorder, some part of me still wants it.

I don’t need it and it isn’t glamorous.

It’s hell.

And I need to keep reminding myself of that, but damn if the Dictator isn’t loud these days.

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It’s My Party…

and I’ll tell you to shut the fuck up if I want to, okay Dictator? Good. Glad we’re clear.

My eating disorder is being insanely loud today. Which is particularly obnoxious for two reasons: 1) I haven’t had to deal much with ED thoughts and urges lately and 2) It’s my birthday. And so far as birthdays go, this one isn’t terribly exciting (I worked, then came home and read for fun – a book on the Rwandan genocide). But I’m NOT IN TREATMENT.

Let’s be clear. Treatment saved my life. More than once. I’m glad I went. And I’m glad I’m enjoying my birthday in freedom this year.

But I do wish The Dictator would stop trying to leave his mark on this birthday, too.

Five years ago: The Dictator lies in wait while I go out with my best friends for drinks and a night on the town. It will be the last time we are all together. From here on out, I am not-so-mysteriously absent. The Dictator pokes at me when my friends share pictures: Nice triple chin there, Jess.

Four years ago: I have therapy, one of my last sessions before A goes on maternity leave. I go to Trader Joe’s to get dinner on my way to see a friend. They don’t have the one wrap I’ll eat, so I drive and I cry – upset that they don’t have that wrap and upset that I’m letting my eating disorder get in the way of my birthday.

Three years ago: I have been in treatment for six months, am still in treatment. A friend texts me on my birthday to tell me she can’t be friends with me. I go to an appointment with my outpatient dietitian and fight back tears over the weight that is necessary. I go out to dinner with my church group, trying to salvage what is left of the day and celebrate.

Two years ago: Center for Change, take one. The girls on the unit make me a huge birthday card, which is still in my box of memories today. We have art and I have to begin my emotional self-portrait. I look at the body tracing and burst into tears, telling the therapist how “deformed” I am. I cry for most of the remaining day, but do my best to put myself back together before evening snack. My friends from home have sent a “birthday in a box!” complete with leis, fake mustaches, and a ridiculous plastic goblet for my water.

Last year: Center for Change, take two. The girls on the unit have made a huge banner that says, “Happy Birthday, Jess!” I want to cry when I see it I am so overcome with emotion. My mom has flown into town for the weekend and we go out to dinner, but I make sure I am back in time for our Friday Night Snack and movie. I am so glad to spend my birthday with these girls. I can almost forget the fact that I just hit my goal weight.

Today: I have eaten probably half a chocolate cake over the past five days. The family I have nannied for all year made my favourite meal (baked macaroni and cheese) for dinner on Tuesday and presented me with gifts: a painting from Jbug (complete with tiny easel!) and a Zentangle mandala book. They know me well. By the end of the night, they know me even better as I share my story with them. My actual birthday (today) is a bit lackluster, as I work, then walk, then sit at home alone. It’s lonely and I wish my friends could be here (or that I could be there) to properly celebrate. We will – next weekend.

The point is: Tonight, I am not in treatment.

Tonight, I am eating a cupcake and chatting with friends online and free to do, basically, anything I want.

Twenty-eight has been one hell of a year. In the best of ways.

Bring it on, twenty-nine. You’ve got a lot to live up to.

Unrelated

Last Friday was National Doughnut Day. Yes, you read that correctly. There is a National Doughnut Day!!! Naturally, I celebrated with a doughnut.

donut

requisite selfie with pastry

Later that night, I went for a run. A year ago, this means I would have gone to the gym, set myself up on a treadmill, and watched the numbers until I had burned off every calorie in that doughnut. And then some.

But last week, those two things were completely unrelated. At no point during my run did I think, “I ate a doughnut.” Not even in passing. I went for a run because I wanted to be outside. I wanted to feel my body move. I wanted to explore the Greenway. So I ran (and walked). I pushed myself just far enough to know that my lungs were getting a workout, but I wasn’t out to prove anything. I was just having fun.

On an entirely related note, my therapist and I discussed termination today. Even having had three weeks between sessions, I had absolutely nothing to talk about. She said that after our last session, she felt really tired and bored. Like, she struggled to stay awake. And as I tried not to be offended, she explained what she meant.

I’m not bringing anything in to sessions. And that’s not a bad thing. I’m in a really stable place. I’m asking for what I need when I need it. (For example, the reason I had nothing to discuss at the last session was because I had talked with her on the phone the week before when I was freaking out about some flashbacks. Go me.) Sure, there are more things to work on, but A said that she’s not sure now is the right time. Furthermore, she said, when it is time to dig into that stuff, I may need a different type of therapy altogether than what she can offer.

When she asked what I thought, I told her that this conversation was not entirely out of left field. Just last week, I believe I said something to Alie along the lines of, “I don’t really think I need to be in therapy any more.” Of course, the prospect of not having therapy is just as terrifying. I told A that I am afraid as soon as we stop therapy, shit is going to hit the fan and I’m going to completely melt down. Her response? “If that happens, you know where to find me. I’m not moving anywhere.”

So we put together a schedule: I’ll see her in two weeks. Twice in July. Once in August. Once in September. And a goodbye session.

This is all assuming something major doesn’t happen and I lose my mind. Or, more likely, that I don’t do some sort of ass-backwards bullshit like throw myself into a relapse. But honestly, I don’t think that’s going to happen. While I really enjoy my therapist as a person, there are other ways to engage with her. Like getting my degree and license and knowing someone I can turn to for a consult.

To end on an entirely unrelated note, I have a birthday soon. My wishlist consists of: a vacuum cleaner, dustbuster, and mop.

Is this what being an adult is like?

 

 

Hold the Line

I struggle sometimes to decide whether or not to leave a post up if I am embarrassed by what I’ve said or no longer feel that way because the situation has changed. Ultimately, I choose to leave them because they were – at that moment in time – my reality.

On one hand, some things I mentioned in my last post were cleared up within an hour of writing it. I had not realized that the friend I mentioned in the first half of the post actually subscribes to my blog and thus, she was greeted with an e-mail of my blog which understandably seemed very passive aggressive. The lack of invitation to the baby shower was, of course, an oversight and I took it entirely too personally and, as I am wont to do, jumped to the worst possible conclusion. (My apologies again to this friend – who has never been anything but loving and gracious. Also – and this is for everyone – if I ever do that sort of passive-agressive bitchy move you are allowed to chew me out and/or slap me.)

On the other hand, even though things were sorted with that particular friend, it did not change the hurt and grief I felt over the other friendships. The immediate situation with the first friend triggered all sorts of feelings that I am not entirely equipped to handle. My coping skills have grown leaps and bounds even in the past two months (no self-harm, what what!!), but sometimes I am still at a loss for what to do with my emotions. My emotions seem to have two options: on full-blast or off.

Spring break in Florida was positively delightful, but I didn’t really deal with any sort of feelings aside from “Yay Disney! Yay friends! Yay camping and hiking!” I very intentionally left my homework/reading for therapy buried in my bag because I just did not want to open that can of worms. I noticed in therapy last Monday that this was a way for me to close myself off to any emotion. So when I prayed for openness to emotion….well, the damn broke. I was a weepy mess for most of Monday night.

Y’all, I just feel raw. The slightest touch hurts. I had to walk out of my Tuesday night class because the activity hit (oh so tangentially) an area I’ve been working on in therapy and I could not handle it. I stuck it out as long as it could, but the class and situation just continued to feel more and more unsafe. I bolted after class. A classmate told me when I saw her later in the week that she had been praying for me and that my professor was really concerned. So now I have that awkward situation to walk into this Tuesday night.

I texted my therapist when I got home. I had taken a detour to EarthFare, hoping that picking up a couple of things would be enough to reset my brain. It wasn’t, so I asked my therapist how I was supposed to shut off these stupid emotions so I could get my schoolwork done. “Because beer is currently looking like my best option,” I said.

“Hold the line,” she said. “Your healing is way way way more important than homework. It will stop. You will catch up. Keep going until…it is finished.  Jesus did.”  A brief exchange occurred, wherein I realized just how human I am and my therapist stated that she was extremely glad that I was in touch with that humanness.

I know that this is what I am supposed to be doing, how I am supposed to be feeling. I know that the nights when I am so sure I’m just flat-out going to die from THE FEELZ are progress. I am feeling. I am allowing myself to be broken. I am trusting my family and friends to hold me while my Saviour binds the wounds.

But first – I have to take off the crude bandages I spent so long putting together and feel the pain that was always there.

But which is silver and which is gold?

Make new friends, but keep the old — One is silver and the other gold.

Sometimes, I feel like I don’t matter at all to friends. A good friend of mine is having a baby in June and had a baby shower yesterday. I only knew because I saw a picture someone posted and asked another friend what I had missed. And I logged in to facebook tonight to see that some friends of mine are going to a shower for her next weekend. I was invited to neither.

I was tagged in a photoset over the weekend as well – a Sex and the City post:

satcphotoset

The friend who tagged me said in the caption how this reminded her of college and all of our “couch therapy sessions”! I definitely laughed when I saw it, but it also hurt my heart.

I haven’t talked to the friend who posted it in over two years.

I sent her a card last year, a letter of amends for all the wrong I had done over the course of my eating disorder. She responded briefly saying she would respond further, but never did. But she has tagged me in a few photos of “the good times” recently and it has left me wondering why. When she posted this, I sent her a message telling her I missed her and this photo made me laugh and mourn simultaneously. Facebook has told me that she read the message over 24 hours ago. But she hasn’t responded.

I am in tears because I feel like I don’t matter to anybody. I’m not invited to your baby shower, for pete’s sake? That time when you invite people over to fawn over you and play games and give you free stuff? I’m not even important enough that you would ask me for free stuff?!

I realize that this is taking it to an extreme in thought distortion world, but it really does seem that pronounced at times. I feel like I can’t look anywhere without seeing the wreckage my eating disorder has wrought on my relationships over the past five years.

But then I remember that I have new friends. Friends who are willing to listen to me whine and cry about these old friendships. Friends who are willing to house me for a few days while I visit – the first time I’ve ever done so in an emotionally healthy place. Friends who gift me with inspirational collages they’ve made because they think of me when they see it on their wall and want me to have it. Friends who surprise me by sending me a ginormous tin of the most awesome silly putty ever.

I am so incredibly thankful for these friends. I would not have survived the past year without these friends. They have saved my life, time and again.

But so did those other friends. At what point do I become “too much” for these new friends, too?

Is life just one long series of relationships coming and going? It seems that it is. Some relationships stay, but plenty others fade in and out – including those you thought for sure would last to the end of time.

Life is this uncomfortable mingling of tears of joy followed by tears of grief.

If I Knew Then What I Know Now…

Four years ago today, I started writing on this little corner of the interwebz. That first post was a sort of tentative “well, I guess I’ll give recovery a shot.” A lot has happened in four years. And sometimes I wonder if I would go through it all over again. 

Four years ago, I had no idea that things would get worse and worse and worse and I would go to treatment three times. I had no idea that I would find myself in the ER more than once waiting for an admission to the psychiatric unit. I had no idea that I would lose friendships. I had no idea that recovery would hurt so damn badly that I’d rather have sutures than sit with the pain.

But I also didn’t know that it was possible to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and then go along with the rest of my day. I didn’t know it was possible to just walk into the store and buy cheese. Just buy it – not spend ten minutes trying to figure out which was “best” only to walk away without buying any. I never would have thought that I would be stable enough to try to go back to school. (Shit, I never would have thought I could get off the treadmill long enough to fill out an application.) And I didn’t know that my friendships that survived would be deeper and more authentic or that I would pick up new friends along the way.

There is still that small voice in the back of my head that tells me everything would have been fine – would have been better – if I had never attempted recovery and just stayed in my eating disorder. Sometimes, I think that voice is very, very right. But on the whole?

Things are far better than they were four years ago.

And maybe, if I can remember that, I can hang on through the next four years. 

I Said “Breathe,” Not “Hyperventilate”

So, yeah. All that adorable optimism and chutzpah in my last post pretty much went out the window by Wednesday. I honestly don’t know that I even have the energy to hash the whole thing out, but suffice it to say, my recovery had a VERY close call this week.

Between Wednesday at about noon until I woke up on Friday morning, I was a hot.mess. I’m not entirely sure how I survived Thursday, honestly, as I was extremely dehydrated and undernourished and in a post-SH induced haze. Add a cup or two of shame and a dose of fear and you’ll understand why I was utterly shocked to hear my professor suggest that I go on to a doctoral program.

Me, the girl who had just met with her dietitian because she couldn’t fathom the idea of a meal. Me, the girl that went to health services for an SH wound and was not allowed to leave in the hour that passed between my arrival and the first available appointment. Me, the girl who had gone to bed at seven the night before because she could not deal with life any more. Me, the girl who had seriously considered ending her life for the first time in almost a year.

It started with a therapy session on Wednesday, though to understand the whole story, you need to know that these things were playing in the background:

  • I was at the state counseling conference and listened to a presentation about the new DSM-V eating disorder diagnostic criteria and discovered that they now rate the severity of EDs as from “mild” to “severe”
  • At the same conference, I made the mistake of sitting in on a session about working with traumatized women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where “trauma” = “sexual violence” and I spent an hour outside trying not to jump out of my skin

And I totally thought I had done a good job recognizing and processing it and told my counselor about it first thing during our [phone] session. What I did not anticipate was her pushing and pushing on the physical reaction I had during the trauma session.

Why was I so hypervigilant? I needed to keep an eye on everything. Why? So I don’t get hurt. Where did I learn that? …in college. When? …at the bar. When? …I can’t go there today. That’s as close as we’re going to get today, April. 

Everything in me was screaming under the weight of shame.

In a lot of ways, I have made a LOT of progress since I have come back from treatment. Unfortunately, after God-only-knows how many hours and thousands of dollars on therapy, I still believe that I came out of the womb a priori fucked up. My life has been idyllic, nobody has done anything to me, and there is basically no reason that I should struggle because my life has been PERFECT. It’s ME that’s fucked up.

On Wednesday, when I said for the millionth time that I’m just fucked up, my therapist refused to play along. She said that we are at the point in counseling where I need to either dig deep and challenge that (by acknowledging how people hurt me, failed me, missed me) or there’s nowhere to go. And if we don’t go there, what are we going to do in therapy? Keep me from going crazy; maintain the status quo, I said.

She won’t. Either we dive into my story or we need to consider terminating the counseling relationship. If I want a therapist who will help me to maintain my behaviours where they are, I need to find a new one. And while her motives are so pure (she wants true freedom and healing for me, but that means I’ve got to push ahead), I was (and am) upset nonetheless.

April has been my counselor for YEARS. She calls me on my shit. She knows more of my story than anyone else. She has cursed at me, challenged me, eaten with me, laughed with me, comforted me. The idea of losing her as a counselor is terrifying.

Equally terrifying is the prospect of acknowledging how and when people have hurt me and coming face-to-face with the brokenness in me. I insisted time and again in Wednesday’s session that I’m just not ready for that kind of work, and she repeatedly told me that she thinks I am. I cried as our session wound down and she told me that I needed to seriously think about if I’m going to continue therapy.

Above all, she said – it’s an issue of trust. Do I trust my friends, family, and community to hold me up when I’m so weak I can barely stand? Do I trust April to be a wise guide and to walk me through this? Most of all, do I believe that my God and my Saviour is waiting to bind up the broken places in me and heal them?

Yes. And no.

The fear is positively crippling. I feel like I am just barely keeping my head above water this semester. And if I messed up so much and so badly over the course of 36 hours just talking about the possibility of doing this sort of storywork…

How much worse is it going to be when I actually do it?

 

 

Stuck

I feel a bit like Flick in “A Christmas Story” – tongue frozen to the pole, squealing because I can’t get unstuck. Unfortunately, squealing doesn’t do much to remove my tongue from the pole.

And it’s not as if I’m stuck in a bad way. Like I said in my last post, I am in a good (and boring) place. This is very different than being stuck in an anorexic mind rut and unable to get out. I feel stuck in a creative sense.

I can’t write, can’t draw, can’t paint. There are things I want and need to say, to get out on paper in one way or another, but they are behind a wall.

One of the things I have always feared about seeking mental health is losing my creativity. The link between creativity and “madness” is well researched. And so I’ve wondered if by lessening the effects of my abnormal brain chemistry, I’ve also lessened the effects of my creativity.

When I was truly sick, I could not stop writing. I drew everything. I was a creative force to be reckoned with.

And now? I’ve been out of treatment almost six months and I feel decidedly uncreative. I want to SCREAM I feel so uncreative. I want that creativity back. The ability to put a picture to an emotion, the ability to turn a phrase. I want to sit down and write and write and write and know that at the end of it I’ve done more than just describe what I did today. (Which, most days, involves amazon instant video and meals and snacks.)

I want it back. I want it so desperately that I am almost willing to entertain the idea of being “sick” again. Because “sick” = “creative”.

I know, logically, that it doesn’t. I know that I have more potential for creativity when I’m well, when all the neurons are firing, when my brain isn’t constantly under siege from malnutrition or moods.

I know that my eating disorder wasn’t the most exciting thing about me. I know.

I just feel so damned boring being well.

Christmas in the Borderlands

This has been the best Christmas I’ve had since I was a child, the best Christmas in more than 15 years. I’ve been able to enjoy making a gingerbread house with my sisters, enjoy time with family and movies and Christmas traditions. This Christmas hasn’t been marked by a fake smile plastered on my face until I run upstairs at the end of the night and relieve myself by way of one addiction or another. It has not been marked by lies about where I have been or what I have been doing when I arrive home after many hours. 

This Christmas, I was authentic and stepped away when I was getting overwhelmed. I could actually shut off the voices in my head for a while and truly be in the moment with my family and friends. I took time to ponder and wonder at the idea of God coming to His creation, the very being of God in human form. I valued time with my loved ones more than time spent at the gym.

But the dictator hasn’t gone away. The dictator is alive and well, harassing me at every meal and snack, every time I choose to rest or spend time with my younger sister instead of working out. I am constantly telling that voice to shut up, to just leave me alone because I refuse to comply. 

This is what Marya Hornbacher refers to as the “boring part of eating disorders.” Going back is not an option, so I eat and I hate it. I sit around reading and I hate it. I do what my treatment team says and I hate it. I am envious of friends who are struggling and I hate it. 

This is where rubber meets the road. Things have, for the most part, settled. All the things that you reclaim in early recovery (memory, relationships, stamina, personality, hope, etc.) are there and their presence is not a new, exciting thing. The presence of these things is normal and every day and that is fantastic, but without that excitement, everything is just sort of blase’

Image

Beautiful, but I have memorized the details.

It feels like I am in a perpetual holding pattern. There is no rest here, because I still have to work to make this recovery thing happen – it is not yet ingrained in my mind such that I can lay off the vigilance for a moment or two. So I am working hard to stay in the air, to avoid losing altitude, but I’m going around in circles and seeing the same thing over and over and over again. And even though the scenery is beautiful, it gets old after a while and you would welcome a drop in altitude just to get a different view.

But you know that you cannot let off the controls for even a moment, because the smallest drop in altitude could turn into a free fall. Free fall is almost certainly fatal and the risk is too great to chance it.

So even though I know that flying in these circles is better than the turbulence and excitement I experienced before, I long for something new, something exciting.

I want new scenery, but the only place to go is up and I’m not ready yet.

It is boring here.

Internet Elegy

Some statistics for you:

  • Only 10% of people with eating disorders ever get treatment.
  • Of those, only 1/3 will get treatment at a facility that specializes in eating disorders.
  • 1 in 5 of people diagnosed with AN will die prematurely due to complications of the disease (including suicide).

 

So when you consider that I’ve been to residential treatment THREE times in as many years, at all places that specialized in eating disorder treatment, I’m pretty damn lucky. Blessed is a better word, honestly. And when you consider that over those years I have met at least 15 people that I consider friends, it’s rather amazing that today was the first time I got news of one of their passing. And while the sparse obituaries never say it, I have only to guess that her anorexia was a contributing factor.

Isabel was my roommate at my first treatment center. We were in a room together directly across from the nurse’s station where the door was left open at night and the blinds on the creepy window that took up half our interior wall were left open. We were never out of the nurses’ sight. She was at high-risk for medical complications (as all my roommates would be – hence their being situated there), but man, did she shine. She had a great sense of humour, which was helpful, because I was a suicidal wreck. Most of the nights, the door was left open because I was the one on 24-hour-watch. Obnoxious, to say the least, but she was so great about it.

We loved doing crossword puzzles together. She was better than anyone I’ve ever met at crossword puzzles, save perhaps my father. Under her careful tutelage, I tried to learn how to knit. (Until the knitting needles were deemed dangerous for me, anyway.) It didn’t matter how terribly I had screwed up a line, she could fix it within minutes. I was completely jealous of her t-shirt collection. Any time I asked, she said she had gotten the t-shirt at a thrift shop. As she got better and her hair fell out before growing again, I would do her hair. I’ll never forget the morning I accidentally burnt her ear with the curling iron. For that matter, she never let me forget.

We lost touch within a few months of treatment. I didn’t have her address and one or both of our phone numbers changed. As I looked this afternoon at my journal from those months of treatment I found a letter I had written to her on a crossword puzzle notecard about six months after I discharged. I didn’t have an address to send it so it continued to lie in wait. Even if I had sent it, the address she would have had to respond to me would have been useless. Within weeks I would be on leave from work to go back into treatment.

My heart has been rubbed raw lately and this news only took off another layer.

I am angry. Angry that I spend time virtually every day worrying about friends I haven’t heard from. Angry that this diseases kills so many brilliant, creative, passionate men and women.

And angry that it still has a pull on me. I am doing better than I have in more than four years and yet it was only yesterday (literally) that I was looking at photos on my computer and wishing for the body that I had before I checked into treatment in April. Only this morning that I tried to silence the hunger and sleep instead.

Fuck you, dictator. Fuck you and your stupid rules and your broken promises and your army of skeletons.

Fuck you.