Sunday, October 10, 2010

Why I've been broken all these years

Some of what I learned at Geneen Roth's Women Food and God workshop this past weekend...

For as long as I can remember I've never understood my relationship with food. I'd read about other people struggling with food the same as me, but they always seemed to have a tragic story in their background. It made sense why they turned to food for comfort.

For me, it just didn't make any sense at all. I've had a fairly good life. My childhood was the life of a princess. I was loved and cared for, I was told I was the most beautiful and the smartest girl in the world. I was told I could do anything, be anything. I was spoiled and showered with not only love, but worldly possessions as well. I thought we were rich when I was a kid. I learned later in life that my parents were of modest means, but they sacrificed a lot so I could have whatever I wanted. I was blessed with a loving family and a good life.

Since I was about thirteen years old I've had an unnatural relationship with food. I've struggled with my weight my entire life. I've often said that I was "broken" when it came to food. I've felt like something was wrong inside of me. That food was too important to me. I wasn't normal when it came to how I thought about food. I didn't understand why. I kept searching for answers but always came up empty.

I even wondered if maybe I was sexually molested as a child and didn't remember it. I've read about how sexual molestation sometimes cause women to turn to food for comfort. I knew for me that was ridiculous. I lived a charmed life and nothing bad had ever happened to me. So what the hell was wrong with me?

Friday night Geneen had us do a visualization. It involved imagining our mother being there and what she would say to us at the weight we were now. My first thought was, "Oh God, she's going to blame our problems on our mothers! No way in hell my mother caused me to be fat and compulsively overeat."

I went along with the visualization, imagining my mother being there, telling me how beautiful I was and how healthy I looked. She'd tell me I was smart and I could succeed at anything I put my mind to. She always said those things to me, no matter how fat I was or how ugly and stupid I felt. I knew she would hug me, and love me just as I am today. It wouldn't matter if I was 125 pounds or 240 pounds.

As I was imagining my mother, picturing her there with me, something clicked inside my head. Something I've never thought about before. Something that explains the broken Diana.

When I was thirteen there was a terrible event that changed my life forever. My father died of a massive heart attack. He was 51 years old. My mother was 48. They had been married for thirty three years. Their marriage was the kind people dream about. They were best friends and lovers until the end. They held hands, they always greeted each other with a kiss and always said goodbye with a kiss. They never yelled at each other, and I don't even remember them ever having an arugment. They would sit at the kitchen table at night and talk for hours. They enjoyed each other's company. They did everything together. They were in love. I honestly can't even remember hearing a raised voice between them.

My father died at home, suddenly and very unexpectedly. My mother and I were home and we witnessed my father's heart attack and watched him dying in front of us. By the time the ambulance arrived he was already gone.

Life changed dramatically. My mother went into deep grieving for a year. I've never seen anyone weep so hard. It was like her heart was shattered into a million pieces. It was just my mother and myself. My brother and sister are much older and lived in other states with their families. All my aunts and uncles, cousins, and all our relatives lived outside of Alaska. It was just my mom and me, together to face the world alone.

After a year on the homestead we moved to Fairbanks so my mother could go to work. She had never worked outside the home. I was fourteen. I left all my friends I'd known since the first grade. In high school I was painfully shy. I made a few friends, but I wasn't popular. I didn't fit into the big city life. I was scared. Scared of everything. I didn't join any clubs or do any school activities. I never had a boyfriend or even dated in high school.

My mother and I became best friends. We did everything together. All through high school I'd rather hang out with my mom than anyone else. I remember many weekends where we would eat all weekend and watch TV. Friday night we'd go to the store and buy anything we wanted to eat. T-bone steaks, potatoes, sour cream, buttered vegetables or salads with thick full-fat salad dressings were all on the menu. Desserts were anything we wanted and as much as we wanted, cakes, pies, cookies, ice cream. Nothing was off limits.

My mom always had a weight problem and her weight climbed up to 260 pounds during those years. I was fighting my weight all the time, with intermittent crash diets but the fattest I ever got in high school was 145 pounds. Thankfully I had the metabolism of a teenager and even though I was abusing food I somehow managed to maintain my weight around 135 most of the time (I was 5' 6").

Still, we ate like pigs. It was fun. It was something we shared, that we loved to do together.

Now let me back up to something that Geneen talked about before the visualization on Friday night. She talked about pain, about eating compulsively to block out the pain. We don't want to face the pain because it hurts too much. So we stuff it down with food. Momentarily this blocks the pain. In the end though we still have the original pain as well as the pain from the overeating. The guilt. The weight gain. The self-hatred for overeating. We have now essentially doubled the pain. We need to feel the pain, let it wash over us, because it can't kill us. It's unpleasant, but not deadly. Even though we may think we're going to die from a broken heart, most likely, we will not die.

Geneen also spoke about how we often live with rules and ideas we learned twenty or thirty years ago. Even though they are based on false principles, we still follow them.

Back to 1968 through 1973. My mother and I never discussed my father's death. Even though we were both deeply wounded by it and missed him like crazy, we never talked about it. In those days (1968 is when he died) there wasn't any grief counseling. No one ever came to me and asked me how I felt, how I was dealing with my loss. The only thing I heard from anyone was that they were sorry. As a thirteen year old girl I had to deal with it on my own. I cried myself to sleep every night for about a year, and sometimes even to this day I cry about the unfairness of the entire situation, for both my mother and myself.

Friday night this all suddenly clicked in my head. I learned the way to deal with pain was food. I learned that lesson at thirteen years old and have been following it for the last 42 years.

When I came home Friday night I really gave this a lot of thought. I thought about how when my husband and I argue and I feel rejection that I turn to food. I never think about the pain of the rejection or the feelings of not being loved. That's too painful, it hurts to much. It's easier and safer to push it down with food. It's easier to not think about it.

It suddenly made sense to my why I've been broken so long. It was a true "aha!" moment for me. As Roxie put it, a moment of clarity that explains my life. My sick and obsessive relationship with food.

Last night after the second day of the workshop, I came home and did something I haven't done in years. First, I made myself go to the gym. Now that's not unusual, but this time I made a promise to myself and kept it. I was exhausted, mentally and physically. I told myself thirty minutes of cardio, no more. I went to the gym and did thirty minutes of cardio, no more, and came home. Even though I was feeling better and could have done more cardio and some weights, I told myself a promise is a promise. Even one to myself shouldn't be broken.

When I came home from the gym my husband had made dinner. It was on the stove. Grilled steaks. Frozen mixed vegetables that had been microwaved and half of a sweet potato. It was 7pm, and I was starved. Normally I wouldn't have touched this meal with a ten-foot pole. The steak was well-done because that's how he likes his meat and he knew I wouldn't eat it anyway. I never touch beef and can't even remember the last time I had a steak. The vegetables had corn and carrots, mixed with green beans and Lima beans. Too many starchy vegetables for me. They looked like they had some Smart Balance on them. He always adds it to his vegetables. Still, it looked tasty. I was hungry.

I wanted to feed my body what it needed. It needed fuel. I hadn't eaten much all day. Grace and I had packed our healthy lunches for the conference, and I'd had a light breakfast. I looked at the meal my husband had made and thought okay, maybe 500-600 calories. No idea how much that steak weighs. Kind of small, but no idea.

I put the food on a plate, sat down at the table by myself, no book, no magazine, no music, no TV, no laptop, no distractions. Just me and my food. It was a strange experience. I ate each bite slowly. It tasted exquisite. The steak, although a little overdone, was perfectly seasoned. The mixed frozen vegetables were yummy (and yes, I could taste the light Smart Balance that tasted like butter), and the sweet potato was soft and flavorful. It was a delightful meal.

What was difficult was being alone with my thoughts. Rehashing everything I'd learned about myself in the workshop.

I feel like I've only uncovered the tip of the iceberg, but at least I know it's there. I have a lot of work to do on myself. Not only how I look at food, but how I deal with pain, discomfort, and rejection. I have a long road ahead of me but it's one I'm willing to travel.

I went to bed last night at 10pm. No wine and no sleeping pill. My husband was already asleep. I didn't toss and turn like normal, but I was asleep within minutes. I slept through the night until 6am. I woke up feeling like life is good and that I'm not broken anymore. I felt refreshed, alive. That is the first time in years that I didn't wake up at 3am and toss and turn until it was time to get up. It's also the first time in weeks, maybe months, that I didn't get up and stuff my face with food in the middle of the night as my husband slept.

My life has definitely taken a turn for the better. Getting to know me isn't quite as bad as I had imagined. It's painful, reliving things from my past and how they affect my present. It hurts to face the pain instead of eating it away with food. It feels good to know I'm not broken beyond repair and can finally come to a place of peace with food.


Please note, I do not in any way, shape or form blame my mother for anything that is wrong with me. She was an angel and loved me more than life itself. It's just something that happened to both of us, but it's something I can repair in myself.


Splurgie said...

What a traumatic experience for you and your mom. It must have been brutal. You're right. There were no support groups available in those days and especially not for children. I lost my mom at age 9 and developed migraines 6 months later. No one figured out the connection. They, mercifully, went away forever. The saving grace was that your mother grieved openly and didn't turn into rock. She sounds warm and loving. You have lots to think about but you're off to a fine start. Well said post as usual.

Carrieheff said...

I'm so glad you went to the seminar and got so much out of it. Reading it now, it makes perfect sense why you eat the way you do. And, I never once thought you were blaming your mom. As Oprah always quotes "When you know better you do better" and if your mom would have known what she was doing in her grief, she probably wouldn't have turned to food either.
I really hope you use this insight to really make changes and find happiness. YOU deserve it!!

gayle said...

My mom died in 1968...I was 15 so I know some of what you went through. With me and my dad we blocked it out so I really didn't morn her until I had a daughter of my own! I too think I turn to food for comfort.........but how do you stop that??

You have written a wonderful post!!

100togo said...

Wow, this is so deep and so moving ... thank you so much for sharing your experience and your breakthrough. Bravo!

kristi said...

My past is kind of tragic too. Sometimes I wonder if this is why I didn't care about me for so long!

kristi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bbubblyb said...

You know Diana, I don't ever remember reading this about you. Maybe you had mentioned it before but it must have been in passing. It really does make so much sense now. I'm so happy you went and you met Grace and had your aha moment. I loved reading the story about dinner too. Really that is what we want isn't it, just peaceful eating where we actually taste the food and enjoy just being. Good to hear you woke up feeling good too. I do think a lot of it is making and keeping promises to ourselves. We sure wouldn't let anyone else down if we could help so we definitely need to be the same way with ourselves. *hugs my friend*

SeattleRunnerGirl said...

Diana, this is an AMAZING realization for you. And don't worry - we know you love your mom and don't blame her for this. After all, it wasn't her fault your dad died! You were both coping the best you knew how.

It took me a LONG time in therapy to understand the difference between *seeing* where my dysfunction came from in my childhood, and knowing that seeing it didn't mean I was "blaming" my parents.

Roxie said...

Very moving entry, Diana.

Vee said...

Great posting. You've really done a lot for yourself. I'm not quite there yet. Don't remember anything specific. Happy for you. Vee at

Ron said...

Hope this is a new beginning for you!

Anonymous said...

What a great opportunity for you to dig deep and learn more about yourself. Jo

Grace said...

What an amazing post. Sad and wonderful at the same time, for having gained such insight. And how lucky you are to have had such a loving mother.

I'm sending you big hugs. I'm so glad we met.

Sandra said...

Thank you for sharing something so personal Diana. Your life and mine have had similar tragedies. I am so glad you were able to get to that workshop and get some of these emotions out. It is a new beginning!