NOTE: This post deals with fat, food, eating, and body image. This is about me and it’s personal. This is not a political page. Be advised that any political proselytising will be immediately deleted.
I’m struggling with body image, food, weight… All of it. I’m worried about every bite. I feel like i’m eating too much. My body looks fat to me. I don’t feel comfortable in my skin. I’m back outside walking regularly, but the weather has turned chilly and i’m already in a chronic pain flareup. So, yeah… Suckville. I’m doing all the things that have worked before, but i’m not seeing any weight loss. In fact, i think i’ve gained.
My clothes say i haven’t. My doctor says i’m on track. My loved ones say i look as if i’m continuing to lose.
That means i have fat eyes again.
Fat eyes is the name i give the tricks my mind plays on me when i’m in a tough spot mentally/emotionally. The stuff i’m dealing with in therapy has me as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Seriously. Everything is triggering memories. This guy looks like… This song was playing when… This smell brings me back to… I’m constantly on edge and it’s exhausting. Every little noise startles me. I wake up shaking. Random, banal things scare me.
And maybe because i’m dealing with the sexual abuse more directly than i have before, my body feels disgusting. I look at myself and think i’m dirty and gross. I’m even less inclined to have sex than i was before — and that’s saying something. The closest i can get to sex is wanting to want it. Between my dead marriage and working on accessing the split off parts of me that were raped as a child, i’m having trouble envisioning a future where i’m having sex.
Where does food end and sex begin? In my story, it’s hard to unravel. Food probably came first because my mom starved me off and on as long as i can remember. Maybe she fed me well when i was a baby/toddler, but i doubt it. Rewards and punishments were mostly food-centric. And let’s not even get into what school, bullies, peers, tv/movies, and fashion did to my self-image.
Suffice to say i’m drowning in self-loathing at the moment. I can suss it all out intellectually, but it isn’t helping me as far as what i see when i look in the mirror.
I know what to do:
– maintain soft calorie deficit eating;
– keep walking to no more than 15,000 steps or 10km;
– listen to body pain and adjust eating/exercise when necessary;
There’s nothin’ to it but to do it.
Y’all hang in there, and remember, sometimes, the brain lies.
If my brain wore pants they’d be on fire right now.
IMAGE: Pexels, uncredited
I’d like to use this post to demonstrate some of my problem solving. It’s something that i can use as good evidence that i’ve learned and changed as a result of all the personal, inner work i’ve done. It shows that what i’m doing is working.
Alcohol is high calorie, and they’re empty ones at that (“empty,” meaning having little or no nutritional value). When i’m on a bender, the calories i consume come primarily from that source. Outside of that, because i’m often incapable of cooking, i eat junk and fast food. My family still has to eat, so my husband will grab some takeaway after work. I used to refuse most of it, but recently, as i’ve been listening to my body and allowing myself to feel physical sensations, i’m hungry more often, and more intensely. That includes when i’m switched and/or binge-drinking. Add in my history, which includes a lifetime of serious food/eating/body image issues, and you’ve got weight gain. These last 2 go-rounds have cost me.
When i sobered up and detoxed this last time, i finally noticed that the pounds had been creeping back on. I’m not sure how many, because i don’t weigh myself, but experience plus the way my clothes fit gives me a decent idea. I go with general ball-parking to avoid obsession, which is always a possibility when i’m dealing with food. It was my anaesthesia of choice before weight loss surgery and mania turned my attention to alcohol.
I knew the first thing to do was ask myself, Why am i eating compulsively again?
I have a notion that it has to do with this work of reestablishing my brain-body connection. I would be given food as a reward and have it withheld as a punishment. I would be starved simply out of neglect. I would be abused by being forced to eat burned, frozen, or spoiled food. My mother modeled sick eating behaviours, and eventually ate her way up to what i’d estimate to be around 650-700lbs. I’ve written about all of this at length and in great detail before, so i’ll leave it at that. I reiterate to make this point: my system is full of hungry children, and my body hosts memories of starving.
There are things that my system particularly craves, like meat, junk food, and fast food. These were things that my mother never went without, but were regularly denied me. She’d eat them in front of me, but more often, she’d wait until i was in bed. I had a nose and i wasn’t stupid, so i knew what was happening. Probably my system’s favourite thing is a sandwich. I think it’s because i almost never had a lunch for school. She wouldn’t make me one, and there was regularly nothing to make a proper lunch with, so i went without. And i had to watch all the other children with their neat little, nutritionally sound lunches packed by their moms, or see them with enough money in their pockets to go buy something to eat. Some days, it was nothing short of torture.
Now, after a hard switch, especially if it’s more than a few hours, they eat, and they hide and hoard food, too. Once i’m back in the face, i might open a drawer or pull back my bed pillow, and find some food stashed there. They hide food because they’re afraid of starving, and they particularly want to hoard the foods that i was denied as a child. This has happened my whole life, and was a source of fear and shame. Before my MPD/DID diagnosis, i couldn’t understand what was going on; i would find the food, throw it out, and dissociate from what happened immediately. Once i had the information that i was multiple and was losing time and could filter my memories through that, it became obvious what was going on. Over the last 6+mos or so, the behaviour has reemerged and escalated, and i’ve been finding food everywhere. My family also informs me (because i want to know) that my parts will cook a big batch of meat and consume it, from steak to SPAM. My system and my body both, remember my history with food.
It can take awhile for me to mark a weight loss or gain. I see myself a certain way and it’s like my mind locks on that version. I think it’s so i don’t have to connect to what i’m seeing in the mirror, i.e. it affords me some distance and facilitates dissociation. It’s like having the same profile pic for 6mos and then i realise i don’t look like that anymore, say, i’ve changed my hair colour or gotten new glasses. These last months i’ve been working on being kinder to my body –the things i say in my brain about my body can be vicious– trying to be more appreciative of how well it has served me over my lifetime, despite all it’s been through. I chase every acid statement with a realistic one, e.g. You’re in your 50s and were morbidly obese for many years – cut yourself a break. What i’m trying to get around to is, i’m more aware of my body than ever before, and this time around it only took around 10lbs for me to notice i was gaining, instead of my usual 30, 40, 50. (I use “usual” lightly though, as i’ve never been much of a yo-yoer when it comes to weight gain. I’d go slowly and steadily up. The only time i lost weight quickly was after weight loss surgery. I got down to a healthy size only twice before that: once in junior high, and the other time when i was 27. I had a bit to lose yet both of those times, but i’d get scared and eat my way back up.)
But here i am, noticing, and more quickly. That’s because of therapy and a firm commitment to mindfulness and being more present and conscious of my surroundings and situation in the moment. And now that i have noticed and i’m in problem-solving mode, an awesome thing happens.
Without much effort or angst – i get to solving the problem.
I’ve tried most diets and programs and methods. I know how my body responds to food and i know how my brain reacts to particular foods and consuming behaviours, like overeating and secret eating and over consumption of foods i was denied and/or manipulated with as a child… I’m saying i’ve got this, and i know it. I’ve amassed a rather large hill’s worth of good information on nutrition and physiology. I won’t be sharing specifics – i’m of the (very likely) heavily biased opinion that these issues are complicated AF and full of nuance and can trigger obsession and self-hatred in many. This blog is never gonna be a how-to, it’s only here to offer hope that you might suss out and survive your own path, as i have mine.
So yeah, after all this time, energy, and effort spent on figuring out this aspect of my life – i knew exactly what to do. So i’ve just gotten at it.
I’m 2wks out from my last fall. I don’t know when, or even if there’ll be another.
The day i got back at it, and for days after, i wrestled with all the thoughts and feels that come along with weight gain, and not being where i want to be with my physical body. I can look at myself with what i call “fat eyes”. My vision is not accurate, my eyes send the information it gathers to my brain, and my brain (a brilliant wonder of an organ that is my blessing and my curse, and my sometimes unwilling but always hardworking partner in healing what can be, and duct-taping, gluing, or stapling the rest) paints it with a fresh coat of old issues from a sticky old can, the label thick with layers of dried spills. The colour echoes its subtleties, like breath on a steamed up mirror, and i hear their faded and fading admonishments.
But i’m not convicted of any crime anymore. The charges don’t stick and the mirror clears up and i see myself clearly.
I don’t buy the hopelessness anymore. The fear that i’ve carried all my life is falling away, and as it does, so my need for protection, both figurative and literal, melts off my body – as long as i keep moving forward and allowing it to happen. I will acknowledge the fear of being smaller and more societally attractive as it happens, in real time, and see it for what it is, which is NOT ABOUT ME, nor is it the place at which i handle my lifelong battle with self hatred. One foot in front of the other, on the road with my dogs, on the treadmill with a podcast in my ears, in the kitchen preparing a meal, in front of the mirror, deciding what to wear and what colours to paint on my face. See what’s in front of me, acknowledge what i’m dealing with, and make healthy choices based in the now.
I’m not that adolescent girl anymore, the one who cried herself to sleep at night, while begging god to let her wake up the next morning slim and shapely. I’m no longer completely disgusted by my body, and i don’t view it as my enemy. I don’t feel trapped and claustraphobic inside my own skin. I’ve let go of unrealistic and unhealthy expectations regarding what i can achieve with a healthy weight and fitness level.
I know why i put on weight. It’s understandable and i know what to do. I’m no longer interested in diets and programs, and i give every new guru that comes along a wide berth. I’m invested in long term, sustainable change. I’ve stumbled many times, and i keep getting back up, and faster than last time too, thank me very much. This is my path, this is the process. I notice that i’ve tripped on something, i figure out what it is, and i handle it. I know myself so well at this point that i can usually avoid the complete devastation that used to come with each new bit of knowledge or insight. Ten pounds is progress, man. Ten pounds ain’t nothin’.
I’m settling back into healthy routines that i’ve slowly and carefully established over years of therapy and self-exploration, through an accumulation of experience and education. Two weeks in and, while i’m a bit impatient to see results, i can hang on without white-knuckling, because i know results are forthcoming. I’ve been 2wks in the face, with a minimum of sliding around and no switching at all. I’m babystepping my way back to a higher level of functionality. My mood is still low, but as with my weight gain, i know what it’s about and i know what to do. Stay the course. Keep on truckin’. Hang in there.
I hope you’re able to do the same.
Peace and Love,
IMAGE: Alexander Kaunas
Some’re gonna be ranty, and some of ’em mushy, maybe. I’m just gonna start typing, and see where my fingers take me.
Off i go, then.
So much selfishness and stupidity around me. I’ve made some hard decisions about who and what i’ll tolerate, and it ain’t many or much anymore. As my partner’s and my life might be riding on the choices and decisions i make, i’m finding the capacity for cold calculation and the ability to act swiftly, and even brutally. As all my children are grown, my priority is simple – me and my man. I have a small circle around me that is my next priority, as in, my children, grandchildren, and a few dear friends. I’m also a secular humanist, so i’m fully invested in being the best human i can be, and want the best for the earth and all its inhabitants.
I don’t have any leftover energy to have conversations with those with a history of doubling down or fondness for conspiracy theories. Even if i love you, you’re over there, far away from me, at least until there’s a vaccine, and i’ll probably wait until certain organisations declare the pandemic over.
I’m learning how to be the parent of grown children. I’ve never been meddlesome in their adult lives, but when 2 of them are still at home it can be hard to suss what’s my business and what’s not. Where do i still have authority and what’s simply not my call? I think i’m doing remarkably well. There are times when i’ve got to let them go, even when it might mean they fall, and land, HARD. They get to decide how much involvement they want from me, if any. I’ve made terrible mistakes with my boys, and they get to think what they think about it. They get to have their feelings and they get to react to it how they will. They can shut me out, they can shut down over it all, they can call me out. I’m here for their processes –far away and not talking about it if that’s what they want– but i’ll always be on the periphery. I’m as prepared as i can be for whatever they’d care to throw at me, to accept the responsibility where it’s appropriate, to shut up and listen when required. For now i wait, my amends currently come in the form of working towards being as functional and mentally/emotionally stable as i can get. To show them that no matter what crap your parents visited upon you, there is hope of getting out from under it and having the life you want.
After over 20yrs, i can feel myself finally, finally, finally settling into my marriage. I’ve tested it, i’ve tested him, and i’ve run away. I’ve pulled him close and then pushed him away, over and over. I’ve wrestled with physical and emotional intimacy. We’ve had some dicey years, but they feel over, at least for now. I don’t feel the need to protect myself so much anymore. There’s a deep and abiding trust that’s grown into a level of comfort i haven’t experienced before. I still have a wall, but i’ve built a door into it, and he has a key. When something bad happens, when my emotions or my brain start spiraling, i go to him for connection. He’s my soft place to fall, my water when my well has run dry. I think i’m moving from want/wish/hope to actually believing he won’t purposely cause me harm or leave me. That’s kinda big, for me.
I’m also becoming more and more accepting of how my brain works. Instead of trying to force myself into some form of person that i think i should be, i’m doing the work to figure out who i am underneath all the fear and anger and pain that i’ve carried throughout my life. I live with serious, multiple mental illness diagnoses on top of any nature and nurture regarding my personality and personhood. A lot of the common wisdom doesn’t fit me and doesn’t sit well with me. As i reach inward with love, as i experience forgiveness and acceptance from me to me, i let go of the urge to be who i think others want and/or expect me to be. This is me and this is how my brain works and this is how i feel about stuff and this is my life and no one else’s.
I’m creating the life i want around me because at last i’m able to name what it is and what it’s not. I’m not trying to force myself into another person’s vision of a good life. As i forge a relationship with myself i’m able to connect to my own unique and specific desires, hopes, and yes, dreams. Mending the broken connections between my brain and my body has given me insight and strength. For many years i’ve moved at a snail’s pace. I’ve stopped, gone backwards, tried to rush forward and fallen flat on my face. I’ve tripped and fallen down countless rabbit holes. I’ve been in the weeds and in the shit. And all of that still happens, but i get on to the next thing so much more quickly. My step is getting lighter, but firmer and faster, too. As one who has suffered some long and intense manias, i’ll likely always have to monitor and occasionally rein in the rate at which i progress, but relatively speaking, i see a day when i’m crushing it on the regular.
Defining myself is enabling me to ask for more of what i want from appropriate sources. I’m also growing my ability to say No to whomever i wish and whatever i choose. This doesn’t make me unreasonable nor has it turned me into a diva. This makes my life more productive and brings depth and authenticity to my relationships. My words are fewer but carry more weight. My actions are intentional and add value. I don’t hide my flaws and foibles, but neither do i wallow in them or present them as an excuse or a get-out-of-jail-free card. I acknowledge, make amends where necessary, pick my ass up and get back to business.
I don’t hate my body anymore.
I’m gonna type that again, because it is a MASSIVE, AMAZING accomplishment.
I don’t hate my body anymore.
I’ve always known my face is pretty, but i’ve always been at loggerheads with my body. I saw it as a traitor. I gained weight when i was around 7 or 8, and i’ve never lost it, completely. As i’ve shared many times before, i became morbidly obese after my marriage, and eventually had weight loss surgery. I got to within 15 or 20lbs of my goal, but unfortunately between my marriage and the male gaze i was triggered and experiencing my first intense and extreme mania. That caused a significant amount of weight gain – about a third of what i’d lost. That was in 2007 and i’ve been struggling to get it back off ever since. Turns out therapy was the missing piece of my lifestyle puzzle where my relationship with food and body image were concerned. Over the last couple of years particularly, i’ve hit my stride. I let go of time and goal-setting. I changed one small thing about the way that i ate, and did that thing until it became a part of my life, and then i changed another. The progress was slow, but it didn’t bother me, because my focus was on a lifestyle change and my physical health – my lifelong experience taught me that the other would come along with it, naturally.
And it has.
That’s incredible already, but the truly tremendous, fantastically freeing thing is i don’t despise my body anymore. I’ve lost and gained, and i’m in my 50s, so frankly, there’s some damage, some wear and tear, you know? But i know why i look the way i do, and i’ve apportioned the responsibility for it. It sits squarely on the ashes of my dead mother, and rests on the heads of every stinking asshole in my childhood who ever laid their hands on me. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to manage, to fix, to hide, to figure it out. It just took time, some healing in my emotions and thoughts, and the right information. I can look at myself naked, and not even think a mean thing. I can wear clothes and not constantly pick at them and smooth things out and pull them down. I wear what i want. I look how i like me to look.
I like fashion, but only as an art form. I’ve discarded the hate machine that surrounds it. I’m slowly developing my own sense of style. It becomes more defined and recognisable as i recognise and define myself.
And i no longer seek or accept sexual attention from all and any sources.
As i heal what was broken sexually inside me i know where to go and where not to.
I can ask for what i want.
I can say No.
I don’t flirt with anything that’s breathing.
I’m no longer inappropriately sexual or bawdy – i know the proper times and places and people. I don’t place myself in dangerous situations with dangerous people, all for validation and approval.
I see what i bring to the table. I know where and when and to whom i’ll serve it.
That’s some freaking alchemy, lemme tell ya.
So there it is, today’s blog offering. A strange kind of positivity, and not as mushy as i thought i might get. I see myself in this, standing with my feet set firmly and wide apart. My fists are planted on my hips and i’m laughing, deep in my belly, toothily, like the star of a lumberjack musical.
A smart, sexy one.
No, no one in my dressing room after the show, thanks.
Love and Peace to All,
When i was crying in therapy yesterday, my therapist asked if i wanted the weighted blanket. Instant Nope! because i hate that thing. Then she asked if she could come closer and help me feel better. To maybe put her hands on my bouncing knees. No thank you, because touch is too much. Then she helps me find something i can do to honour and respect how my body is reacting. It doesn’t matter how small, she says. All i can muster is 1 foot, up on its heel – a sign. My body is saying Stay away.
I know i’m not saying stay away to her. I know i’m saying it to people who’re long gone from my life. She stands in their stead for me, knowing how much i need to say No, and I don’t want that, and You can’t do that, and Don’t touch me.
My foot, saying Do not come closer. Stay back.
My knees, bouncing. Let’s get the fuck outta here.
My eyes, always glancing between the window and the door. Avoiding her gaze. But it’s not her read i’m trying to hide from. It’s other prying eyes. Eyes that looked into mine and read me to use me better. My mother, reading every book, attending all the conferences, learning how to get more of what she wanted from people through subtle manipulations. People wanted to open up to her. They wanted to give her what she wanted.
I always opened up to her and gave her what she wanted.
Even my brain was hers to poke around in.
She purposely made some of the parts that live here with me.
So i look away from my therapist and calm myself by looking at the door i can rush out of, or if worse comes to worst, there’s always the window.
She doesn’t take this personally. She lets me set fear-based boundaries because it’s symbolic. It’s healing and empowering for me to say No! and set limits, even unreasonable ones.
Don’t touch me.
Don’t talk to me.
Don’t look at me.
This is the beginning of learning to soothe and comfort and care for myself. And this may be the hardest thing i ever do. (Yeah i know i keep saying that, but JFC, if you could “Strange Days” my current experience you’d understand – this shit keeps amping up!)
I was born to be a receptacle for pain, frustration, rage, sickness, filth.
I was taught it was my job.
I was also taught that i deserved it.
My therapist looks at me with care, her eyes are watery.
She says, “I could wind up and smack you across the face as hard as i could, and you would probably be able to handle that more easily than my offer of kindness and care.”
She asks me questions about how i’m feeling, and all i can come up with is a head shake and an I don’t know. But that’s not quite right. I have thoughts and feelings all jumbled up inside me, and words want to come out, but there’s so many i can’t isolate any one thing in order to make sense. It would just be a big, soupy spew.
So i demure, frustrated, and full of vitriolic froth.
This is my life right now. It’s therapy. It’s my absolute #1 priority. I mete out my spoons, Scrooge-like, becoming more miserly with each passing week.
I cannot care about this right now; i need my spoons for therapy.
I cannot share space with this person right now; i need my spoons for therapy.
I cannot deal with this situation right now; i need my spoons for therapy.
This is gonna have to wait.
YOU are gonna have to wait.
I NEED MY SPOONS FOR THERAPY.
I’m curating my life like i learned to curate my social media exposure.
I won’t be making any new friends or any big decisions (hell, even small decisions).
If there’s something not working in my relationships or my daily routines, it’s all getting stuffed in a junk drawer for now because i’m constantly exhausted and stressed dealing with this stuff and there is no room for anyone else’s feelings or issues or problems.*
There’s a baby in my brain. She’s in a frilly bassinet and i have someone that watches over her. Other parts are allowed to go and visit her, but only if they’re in a good place – or at least good enough not to cause trouble. I’m sorry to say she’s not alive, but she is beautiful, and perfectly preserved. Behind her is a vault, where i keep the toxic waste. I thought that was the best place to keep it, locked to all but me. I’ve been gathering it over the years – slurping it up into tanks in my hazmat suit. Hiding it behind metres of steel and locks only i can open. It’s the stuff that killed me as a baby, and poisoned the rest of us. I thought it would stay there, safe and untouched, forever.
But now i know it’s got to go. And i know how to do it, too.
I made a door at the back of the vault. It opens like a big metal one in a scifi show. There’s an episode of Star Trek: TNG, where the ship accidentally travels beyond space and time, “Where No One Has Gone Before”. Beyond my back door lies this place. It will swallow the tanks and they’ll no longer be capable of bringing harm to anyone. They’ll be timeless, formless – existing and yet, not.
I’m preparing to dump them overboard.
*There are exceptions, for instance my kids, or if someone isn’t asking for too much from me and i want to give them some. “Want to” being the important part. Drama is the onion on my pizza right now – and i pick that shit off, man.
I was getting groceries yesterday, and a lovely woman i know commented on my appearance, and asked me how i’ve accomplished my weight loss. I told her, “I changed one thing about the way i eat, and i did that one thing until it became a part of me. And then i changed one more small thing and did it again.”
And that is exactly how i’ve been chipping away at the 100lbs i’ve been struggling with since around 2009.
Yes, 10yrs. Yo-yo-ing the same 30lbs or so, over and over, with diets and food plans and shakes and pills.
But that entire time, i was learning things. About myself, about food, and about how i used food and how i relate to food, and how all of that is affected and shaped by who i am as a person and the trauma i endured growing up.
So while it may have looked like i was stagnating in my 100lbs-overweightness, i was absolutely not. I was tearing myself down to my foundations and building myself back up: Better. Stronger. Faster. (Like Steve Austin, except i’m Jamie Sommers.)
Yes, it’s taken years. That’s okay with me, because i know that i’ll never be obese, morbidly obese, or knocking on the door of super morbidly obese, ever again. My weight might still fluctuate on occasion, but i have infrangible confidence in my ability to handle it, should a problem arise.
As i’ve moved through therapy and learned about who i am and how i work, i’ve been able to tweak what i eat and how i eat. I no longer become despondent when something doesn’t work. I just try something else. I know that i’m in this for the long haul and i can trust myself to stick with it, and everything… Well, everything is gonna be okay – or at least some version of okay that i can live with while working towards a better okay. Or –what the hell– why not try for better than okay?
Then it hit me. I’ve done the exact same thing with my mental health.
It’s been 15yrs of looking my diagnoses full in the face and working on living with my abusive childhood, all to achieve a better quality of life. I’ve lost treasured relationships and i’ve abandoned even more.
I’ve been judged, whether unfairly or justly, to be too fucked up to associate with by many. I started out being devastated by this, but eventually i learned it was their right, and kind of not my business.
Then i thought i could avoid this by starting each new friendship with a serious, candid warning about how i can be a lot, so honest, open communication is helpful…
Sometimes that’s worked and sometimes it hasn’t.
I must’ve seemed like a freakshow that derailed a train.
Well, i know i did, as some people were kind enough to tell me so. /s
I wasn’t any of that, though.
I was tearing myself down to my foundation so that i could build myself back up with better materials, in a style that suited me. Me. Not them. ME.
I was a bit of a fixer-upper, yes. And the renos have taken a loooooooong time, yes.
But i’m no money pit.
And no, i’m not on the market. I do the odd showing, but most people will just have to admire me from a distance. I’m private property.
I’ve been tweaking myself like i’ve been tweaking my diet and my lifestyle and my relationships. I’m just finally starting to reflect on the outside, all the work i’ve been doing on the inside.
And also, How about that, eh?
Love and Peace,
There is a part 3 for I’m Not A Bitch, but today i’m posting a little blurp-up on how i’m doing right now.
Last year i had a schedule, with routines, regimens, and rituals aplenty, and i was hummin’ along like a vintage car that’s still with and well cared for by its original owner. I was as functional as i’d ever been in. my. life. and i was proud of what i’d accomplished and excited for more and better in my very near future.
That was when my body started poking my brain and saying, Ahem? Ah, excuse me?
I need some help.
It’s a little on the airy-fairy side for a firm atheist like me, but i have come to believe that it’s possible that it’s not just my brain that houses my memories, but my body, as well. Like, when i feel threatened, i can feel it immediately in my feet, my calves, my knees – the urge to run, to get away. The memories of being trapped by my abusers and unable to leave might be there, i think. Nestled in there with my muscles and tendons, lying dormant until a situation triggers old thoughts and feelings about the past and my fast-twitchers spark awake, GOGOGONOW!
I recognise that this may not be measurable in a scientific sense as of yet, but that’s okay. I’ve been working on getting down into my feelings,
and the deeper into them i get, the more i experience how connected my thoughts and emotions are to my physical body, when i feel safe enough to allow it.
As a highly dissociative human, i put distance between emotion and sensation and thought, because they have historically been too much for me to cope with all at once. I also never had a person safe enough and knowledgeable enough to teach me how to process these things; the why-am-i-like-this and the how-do-i-fix-it. Now that i do, when she (my therapist) suggests that my memories are not just in my brain, but in parts of me that exist in real time below the neck, well…
I experience, observe, and exist consciously in those moments when i sit down in the armchair by the window in her office, and my girl parts are buzzing like they’re covered in a thousand bumblebees, and she asks how i’m doing today, and my vagina starts to burn, like the bees are stinging me, so she has me take a big pillow and hide myself behind it, and wrap my arms around that pillow and pull it in tight, hugging my genital area, protecting it with a soft, warm barrier and my loving arms, and she asks me,
“How does that feel?”
And i roll my teary eyes and say, “I don’t know. Weird. Better… I guess. Good.”
Or how i pull my legs up onto that armchair, fanning them out alongside me because if i put them on the floor, they’ll start bouncing like corn popping, wanting to run. I feel safe with her in her office, and i come ready to be conscious of my body and be in it in real time. But other people that live in my brain, especially those that exist in a painful moment from the past, come wide awake and all they feel is trauma, and they want it to stop, so badly; they want to get away, nownownow. So my therapist has me put my feet back on the floor and bounce my knees and flex my feet and sometimes i’ve even placed the bottoms of my feet on the bottoms of hers and pumped my legs, HARD, like i’m riding a bicycle away – away from pain, away from danger, away from evil.
And i’ll be damned if it doesn’t help. I think my body is purging the memories of all the terrible things that were done to me when i was little. When i was with my mother and dependent on her for everything – helpless and unable to get away from the things that she did and allowed to be done to me.
It’s like i’m shedding “psychic” pounds.
I know, another metaphysical word coming from me, but i use it as a poetic description of what i’m experiencing, rather than an actual, tangible thing that exists.
What i mean is, i feel lighter in my feelings and my mood and my outlook on life, when i do these things –when i directly address the sensations in my body, and act out the movements it seems to be itching to do– i feel better.
So this is what i’ve been doing. Learning to tune in to my body, rather than distance myself from it. Letting my fists ball up, kicking my legs, covering my breasts, my belly, my nethers, with blankets, pillows, honouring the need for a barrier. Pulling my big dog into my lap and wrapping my arms around her, burying my face in her neck and feeling her warmth, her weight, her protection.
And walking again. Not taking off. Not getting away.
Recognising and honouring the need of my feet, my calves, my knees, my thighs, to move. The memories of wanting and needing so badly to get away from what was happening to me all those years ago and being unable to, all trapped there in my flesh and fascia. Pumping it out of me with each determined step, the pain and the fear pouring down into my toes and out, like i’ve lanced an infection and i’m draining the pus, leaving a trail on the dirt road behind me.
Lighter. Healthier. Cleaner. Freer.
It’s constant work but i don’t mind. I can see and feel the benefits. Unlike the brain work, where i slogged and slogged through the muck, such slow-going. Putting in so much time with little to no change, but hoping. And then seeing that which had been unravelled, ever so slowly knit back together.
The body work yields refreshingly immediate results. They don’t always last, but i can do it again, and the good stuff lasts a bit longer each time. One day, it might just settle right into my bones and that will be that.
So here i am today.
I’m sober. I’m not doing anything to numb myself, neither brain nor body. I’m living my life as simply as i can so that i might teach myself to be present and feel it all. To make conscious, thoughtful decisions on how to handle and cope with the day-to-days, and those times when life just happens. I mean, i wish it wouldn’t do that, but even to have the presence and awareness inside this skin sack in real time to think, Geez, Universe, now why’dja have to go and do that?! is a priceless gift.
I’ve lost the booze bloat and the grey cast to my skin. I’m back to managing my food choices and eating at a calorie deficit, nutritionally sound and designed for slow and steady weight loss, my goal of a single digit clothing size before summer hits is doable.
I often wear my clothes a bit on the tight side because:
1) I like having my business held in, hugged, and smoothed out;
2) It boosts my self-esteem and motivation to be wearing smaller sizes; and
3) It keeps me consciously in my body, that tight squeeze, that occasional escape of flesh over the top of my jeans.
Understand, this is not a shaming technique. I’m proud as heck of what i’ve accomplished, and any shame i carry about my body is due to childhood stuff, which i’m working through, tyvm. I’m also not suggesting anyone else do what i do for my weight, my body, my brain, my relationships – none of it, period. What i’m doing is sharing my process, in every way and on every level (save sexual and spiritual, although that may come some day), not so that you can do what i do, but so you can see that it can be done.
I’m 52yrs old, and there’s no shame in that, either.
I am not who i was born to be.
It’s taken a lot of hard, intense, terrifying work to get where i am today.
Nobody could do it for me and a lot of it i did alone because i couldn’t find the right person to do it with me. But i persevered, taking little nuggets of wisdom from this place and that person, knocking on door after door, taking class after class, asking “professional” after professional? for help.
(That word though, what a loaded word in this particular field, heh.)
I got disheartened, led down wrong paths, misunderstood, misdiagnosed, ignored, unfairly judged, and many times, told i was Just fine! and/or Highly functional! because i was so willing to open up and do the work, and already had so much self-knowledge and personal insight and i’m clearly intelligent and have a large vocabulary and i’ve never been arrested or lived on the street, so… What’s your problem?
With such narrow definitions, it’s a wonder anyone gets any, let alone enough help, but some of us do.
If you have stuff inside you that needs work, i want you to see that i’m doing it, and so maybe you can, too.
If you need help with that work (and who doesn’t?), i want you to see that i found some (FINALLY!), and so maybe you can take heart and keep trying until you find that good fit: that person, that place, that program, that system -whatever it is- that clicks with you and helps you get your feet underneath you and walking forward. Or running, swimming, flying – however it works for you to figure your shit out and get through it. Whatever gets you moving towards something that you’ve always wanted for yourself.
I did it and i’m still doing it.
I should be either dead, or locked up, or completely non-functional, or just a shitty, awful human. I am none of those things.
Every time i blog it’s for me first, because it’s been very effective.
But it’s for you, second – because i want you to hang in there. I want you to find help, answers, love, success, happiness. All of it.
I wish i could do more, but i’m a lot of work, and this is what i can manage.
So far, anyway.
I’m pluggin’ away. It’s what works for me. I go through some tough, scary shit, but i just keep plodding along, learning about myself and how i work and doing the work that’s in front of me.
Then there are moments, beautiful, transformative, life-affirming moments, where i can see, not only how far i’ve come, but the depth and the breadth and the weight of what i’ve been able to achieve. It may not look like much to the rest of the world, but that no longer matters to me. What i’ve been able to do with my brain, my body, my life, is incredible and amazing. TO ME.
I hope that i can inspire others to just hang in there and keep trying. Stop and rest and feel how hard it is when you need to, you deserve that, but as soon as you can muster, try some more.
Love and Peace and So Much Thanks,
Image: Reclining Nude (c1887), George Hendrik Breitner
Content/Trigger Warning: This deals with food and weight issues, and references childhood abuse and neglect with regards to food, as well as indirect referral to childhood sexual abuse as it relates to such. Take good care.
It is fatal to look hungry. It makes people want to kick you.
~ George Orwell
I’ve struggled with food my entire life, and with my weight since i was around 8yrs old. I’ve tried every diet, but gradually starved and binged my way to around 230lbs in high school, where i stayed until i Grey-sheeted (Overeaters Anonymous’ suggested eating plan) myself to 180lbs when i was 27. For a 6′ tall female, that wasn’t half bad. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long because i went and fell in love for the first time in my life, got married, got triggered massively by the whole thing, and ate my way up to an all-time high of 465lbs.
In the early aughts, weight loss surgery became a thing again. There had been a craze of “stomach stapling”, but that hadn’t been easy to come by for many years. People would overeat, pop their staples, and some even died. Doctors weren’t too keen on it, and the idea that weight loss is simply a matter of the right diet and some willpower was still the overwhelming attitude of many, if not most.
Then along came Carnie Wilson, daughter of Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys, and member of the 90s pop group Wilson Phillips, and she not only got herself a new, better, safer-than-stapling weight loss surgery called a Roux-en-Y (RNY), it was filmed and released for public consumption. I saw my doctor immediately, got a referral, lost enough weight that he okayed me for surgery, and went from 367 to around 150lbs.
Cue my first major Bipolar mania. And just for fun, cue my multiplicity run amok. What followed was more chaos than i’d ever endured as an adult. It had me searching, once again, for a therapist that i could work with, someone who would help me gain control of my runaway brain that was making an absolute train wreck out of my marriage, my mothering, my life. I did some decent inner work on my own, but without help to understand how my brain worked, my system derailed me, over and over again. My doctor diagnosed the bipolar and i went to a psychiatrist, got medicated, and regained around 100lbs. I’ve struggled with it ever since.
When i started working with the therapist that changed everything, the one who helped me save my life, the one i’m working with again today, i finally had a painfully clear and complete picture of why i had such issues around food.
Her abuse of me started soon after i was born, and based on others’ recollections of me as a baby, feeding and food was likely an immediate issue. My earliest, clearest memories that i can confirm start when i was around 4yrs old. I remember her showing me how to prepare a roast with a package of onion soup mix, and how to turn on the oven. She also showed me how to peel the potatoes and carrots to go in with it, the dexterity of which was tough for me to learn, and she’d smack me across the head regularly for not doing it right.
I remember her locked in the bathroom, threatening to kill herself, screaming about getting fat and being alone. I remember wailing and banging on the other side of the door, begging her not to do it.
I remember staring at my face in the mirror a short time later, holding a bottle of some pinkish-orange liquid (Mercurochrome?) with a skull and crossbones on it, thinking i could kill myself too, if things got too bad. It’s the first time i remember a soft switch.
I also remember her leaving me alone, sometimes for days, and there would be nothing to eat in the house. I became quite resourceful. I’d put ketchup and mustard on saltines and pretend they were fancy appetizers. I ate food out of the garbage. I ate frozen food, spoiled food, anything i could find.
Sometimes when she came back she’d bring treats for me.
Sometimes she’d beat me for eating things i wasn’t supposed to, and feed me frozen food or garbage as further punishment.
When times were particularly lean, she’d taught me to shoplift food – to stuff my coat with meat, cheese, chocolate. She taught me to panhandle, as well. Sometimes she’d buy me a treat if i made enough money to satisfy her, but mostly not.
As her relationship with the man i think was my father (not a story for today) began to deteriorate, she ate more and more, and there often wasn’t enough money or food for both of us to eat. I was always the one to go hungry.
All my life she would buy salty and sweet snacks for herself, and only take them out after i’d gone to bed. I could hear the bags crinkling and her masticating and watching television. Sometimes she’d even cook, and i’d be laying in bed, hungry and tortured by the delicious smells wafting under my door.
She also used food as punishment and reward with regards to the sexual abuse, as did the people with whom she associated for such. When she was happy with me, her face would be lit up and she’d make us an incredible meal, or even take us out to dinner at a sit-down restaurant. I remember her regularly being complimented for my behaviour and etiquette out in public – she’d incline her head to the side slightly and nod as if it were her due. If i got too much attention, she’d beat me when we got home, and forbid me to eat for a couple of meals.
This abuse and willful neglect shaped me into my school years. I learned to sneak food from anywhere i could: school, friends, friend’s homes, any place where my mother would farm me out.
I rarely brought lunch to school, and at best i’d have a peanut butter sandwich and a carrot or an apple, all of which i’d have scrounged together myself. She never made me a lunch, even though she quit working when i was 10 and laid around the house watching tv all day after that. So when children threw their lunches into the trashcan at the front of the classroom, i’d wait until everyone was gone and root through, smuggling whatever i found into the bathroom, where i’d sit on the toilet in a stall and pack it all into me in a frenzy, barely chewing it enough to swallow without choking.
When i began babysitting outside the home, i’d make up for the $1/hr we were paid in my day by eating the couple out of house and home.
And when my mother married and started popping out other children, i began brazenly stealing food from her; my fear of starving was so great it even overcame my fear of being beaten, as i inevitably was, every single time i was caught. I think i saw my new siblings as competition for what little food was in the house.
I think that’s exactly what she intended.
One might ask, how could i be starved as regularly as i say and still be the fat kid?
The years of regularly starving and being withheld food had made their mark on me. Not just emotionally either, as i was to learn much later in life; my body would hold onto calories as fat in anticipation of the next period of starvation that would come. Once my mother was married and had morphed herself into a (somewhat) different person, my fears were set, and my behaviours ingrained.
Eat whatever i could when it was available.
Food was comfort. Food was reward. Food was a stimulant, and made me feel euphoric. Food was like an opioid too, numbing the pain and fear. And food tamped down my anger, which i was never, ever allowed to display, let alone express. Food and my system worked together so well i didn’t even know i was angry.
And once there were other people in the house living with us, her behaviour changed.
She no longer earned money, gifts, and favours using me.
Her mask had begun to slip, she was gaining weight at an alarming rate, and she slowly became a shut-in, rarely going out and almost never socialising.
She continued to put food above everyone else around her. She used her much younger, new husband to procure food for her, which she consumed whilst her children with him were skeletally thin.
I was young and didn’t see the way things had progressed, naturally. I think my subconscious mind processed things like, the bigger i got, the less i was being molested. And i’d found that food was the closest to love i could get. I thought that if i was eating, i must be okay. So food became my metric. For everything. For love, for happiness, for safety.
Food was my currency.
I probably don’t need to tell you what that cost me.
How the fat kid is guaranteed to be bullied.
How people assume the fat kid is indulged rather than neglected/abused because clearly i was getting enough to eat.
How the fat girl gets preyed upon by sexual opportunists who think we should be grateful that anyone would want to screw us.
Any potential as an adult that i had was always at least partially marred by my fatness. The unspoken assumption that i was lazy, slovenly, even pampered. That i had no self-control. No determination, no gumption, no tenacity.
When i’d finally done enough inner work that i could look back and see all these things (all these things that i’ve shared about food and yet i assure you there is still so much more) i was set free.
I now understand why i love grocery shopping so much, and why no one else gets to unpack and put them away. I now totally get why i become antsy as soon as my fridge or my pantry doesn’t look full, when i get low on things. I know why i’m curious what foods other people have in their kitchens when i visit. I know why i have such trouble throwing out spoiled food, or food that just doesn’t taste good, or food that i’ve burned or overcooked or over-spiced…
I know why when i’m doing well and feeling good i want cake, and when i’m doing poorly and feeling bad i want cake.
And i know why i don’t want sex when i’ve overeaten and when i have great sex i’m not scared to eat when i’m hungry.
I know why i gained almost 200lbs when i fell in love and got married.
And i know why i went completely batshit when i lost all the fat and was a healthy, normal weight.
I tried a dozen different times to write about how my mother’s sexual abuse factored in to my issues with food, but i don’t think it’s necessary for this piece – neither for me, nor for anyone else. Perhaps another time, but i’ve agonised enough over this. It was hard to write and even harder to come to a decision about whether or not to post. I prefer glossing over the abuse and focusing on how it affected me and how i’ve coped.
But being fat since i was 8yrs old really, deeply hurt me. It’s held me back from so much living, so much that i might have achieved, because all i could see was my weight. It seemed like it was all anyone could see, honestly.
You could have this if only…
You could be this if only…
You could do this if only…
Relationships. Sex. Body image. Food.
I’ve spent my adult life trying to take these things back, and it’s taken everything i have, and it will continue to do so. I have to examine all of it, and it’s deeply personal and drenched in secrecy and shame.
I’m so fucking tired of it.
This is not my shame to carry – not my embarrassment to bear.
It’s ugly because SHE made it ugly. Because she was so terribly ugly.
I’ve learned over the years that eating and food and weight issues are rarely a matter of willpower coupled with the right diet. I’ve found it to be intricate and complicated. Skeins of moments and messages woven together in a tapestry of pain and fear, unmet needs, loneliness, dashed hopes, and hunger beyond the belly.
This is painful and intensely personal for me, and i’ve cried through a lot of it – but i see how i got to 465lbs and i see how i got here, sharing this piece today. I don’t weigh myself anymore, but i have enough experience with my body to be able to tell you that i’m likely less than 50lbs from where i’d ideally like to be. I took a hard look at my past, a harder look at who i am and how my brain works, and then puzzled over how those 2 things are related with respect to how i see food and eating.
I now know myself so well and have amassed enough knowledge about diet and nutrition (h/t to Registered Dietitians – where i go to get the most accurate information), that i’ve been able to tailor-make my own way to eat to lose weight and keep it off, finally, for good.
I make small, sustainable tweaks to how and what i eat.
I comfort and feed the parts inside me that hunger for much more than food.
My body physically manifested the wrongs that were done to me as a child. I wore it in pounds of fat.
My body is becoming evidence of the good and kind and right things i’ve been doing for myself.
Starving for love, starving for food. These things are so intertwined for me.
These knots inside me are being untied, these constraints inside me are being unbound.
I’m trying to help anyone reading this to find hope in however your own childhood struggles may have expressed themselves in how you do or don’t eat, and how much or how little you weigh.
This piece is disjointed and choppy AF. I did my best. I think it’s been super hard to foment into something consumable because it’s not just mental, this stuff is inextricable from the physical. It’s visceral.
I hope this was helpful.
Please take care of yourself and talk to someone if you’re stirred up inside.
I Wish You All Love and Peace,