Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Comfort eating

I think I've always had a food addiction, but as with so many things in life, a tragedy tipped it over the edge into something else entirely. Among my three sisters, I was the only one who took an interest in my mother's efforts to teach us all of the "needful arts" of homemaking that were taught good little girls in the early '60s (before they became wild little hippie girls, but that's another tale). Embroidery? I was on it. Sewing, cooking, even darning socks, if you can imagine. I loved them all or, perhaps, I just loved the time with her. We cooked and baked and she, being a perfect 1950s housewife, met us every day after school with cookies and milk and an eagerness to hear her babies tell about their days at the parochial school we attended.

When she disappeared in 1969, my grief and sadness were boundless. It didn't seem I'd ever even be able to breathe again. It was the loss of a mother and the loss of a world I'd thought inviolate and forever safe. I have long suspected that, had we not had this singular tragedy to deal with, my family would have continued as usual, producing good citizens, good works, good times. We are not folks who talk about how we feel. Strong German Lutherans, we are (actually, they are) reserved, stoic, bearing all things in silence and with dignity. An oft-quoted adage of my grandfather is "you've got to eat a peck of dirt before you die," and that dirt eating is simply accepted as the way life is and should be foreverafter amen.

In my mother's absence, I began making cookies at night after everyone was asleep. I'd make enormous batches of chocolate chip cookies, my mother's recipe and exquisite treats the likes of which I've never yet equalled and mine are superb. I would then sit down and just eat them all, seeking a sort of numbness, a relief from the pain in my heart and the emptiness inside. The food filled it up, filled me to the brim and provided relief, comfort, a taste of my mother and a sense of her presence with me still, late into the night. The grief and the drug of sugar combined to produce a sort of fog that lasted until August of 1970, eight months after she vanished.

I shook off the fog to find myself having gained 80 pounds. Eighty pounds!! At 12 I weighed 193 and it was devastating. The solution was to go to a doctor and get the first of many prescriptions for diet pills. Of course they worked, being real amphetamines and providing that amphetamine magic I love so well. The weight peeled off and so it goes. I developed other loves, other addictions out of that which worked to keep the food addiction at bay and filled up that gaping hole in my heart.

It was not until I was 27, wholly eating disordered and two years sober, that I actually experienced and let wash through me the grief I had over the loss of my mother. By that time I had pursued comfort eating to the point of insanity. Any mood, feeling, discomfort, anything at all resulted in self medicating with foods that would take away the unpleasantness and provide, at least for a moment or two, freedom from feeling.

As it turned out, it was freedom from feeling anything at all: I can't selectively stuff my feelings. It doesn't work that way. If I stuff anger, depression and sadness, I also stuff love, happiness and joy. Stuff all or stuff none, that's really the way it works and the other trick was, of course, that once stuffed they did not simply disappear. Pushed down inside, balled up and held tight in my gut, they were ever-present, providing a tension and anxiety that affected every waking moment and even my dreams.

When I first quit eating, through OA's old grey sheet food plan, I was stunned by the eruption of violent emotions regarding every aspect of my past life and affecting, in the most absurd ways, my daily interactions with others. I once pursued a man 10 miles ~ 10 miles! ~ down Riverside Drive, finally boxing him in at a stoplight, only to leap from my car and pound on his window, shrieking like a banshee that he was a bastard for drinking and driving. He was drinking and driving, admittedly not a good combination, but I was a raving lunatic, free of excess carbs and sugar and stark raving mad. I once told a daytime meeting room full of gray-haired women at an OA meeting that I felt like a scream with skin on. With my always black dress, the spiked purple hair, angry affect and intense manner of speaking, I thought at first I'd frightened them to the point they'd boot me out. Evidencing that gentle kindness and love of 12 step people everywhere, these sweet ladies patted my hand and whispered "keep coming back."

The good news was that the eruption eventually subsided into a steady drip and, ultimately, just the occasional little spray of mist. I learned that my feelings will not kill me; that the only way out is through. I can't go over, around or under my emotions ~ they're part of life, good and bad. The past relieved, I could get down to the business of connecting my feelings with events in my daily life, with only the occasional nod to history. I let go of the loss of my mother and moved beyond it. I can now look at that with gratitude because I'm not certain I'd have ever been able to develop the relationship I have with my father had she been present. And so it goes, lose one thing, gain another. I will always have "abandonment issues" to a degree, but so what? We've all got issues, it's part of being human.

I am still a big proponent of submitting to the discipline of a food plan in order to see what's behind the driving urge to overeat or binge. I don't know what's there until I quit medicating it away. Food has been my drug of choice all of my life. I'd not have used it if it had not worked so well.

So, all of this to say that I have an urge to eat in the evenings and I am not sure what's behind it. Not hunger, for certain. I'm not exceeding my calorie allotment, but I don't like it. It smacks of hiding out from my life. It's just a kind of mindless eating that I never want to do again. So here's my plan: I will stick to supper and a snack and that's it for the evening. Not a big deal, but a commitment nonetheless. I'll do this for a week and reevaluate; see what pops up, if anything. I never again want to eat at feelings and though I can't figure out what's behind this, if anything, a week of not doing it should be enough to reveal either an empty stage or more players from my past needing to be put to rest.

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Blogger FatMom said...

BAB...that was a beautiful, poignant post. It made me cry. Can I ask a personal question? What happened to your mom? Did she literally vanish? You were so young...I'm sad for you. Last night I was up for almost an hour bawling because I suddenly realized I missed my mom (she died 12 years ago, 10 months after my dad died). I realized she wasn't perfect, and I forgave her. BUT, I also realized I needed so much more than she was able to give me. Anyhow...I'm so sorry for your loss and...well, I'm just sorry.

August 22, 2006 12:09 PM  
Blogger BigAssBelle said...

hi sweetie ~ she just vanished. oldest missing persons case in oklahoma. it was shocking. hard to comprehend, really.

i miss her too, like you do your mom. what a horrible thing to lost one right after the other. i am graced with a fantastic stepmother and she is wonderful. i am envious, at times, when i am with other women my age and they're talking about their moms, going to lunch with them, just hanging out. missed that.

i think one of the tasks of adulthood is to recognize that our parents were human too, with all that entails, and to let them off the hook. i think we're all pretty much doing the best we can on any given day and, you're right, sometimes it's not enough.

my refusal to get through that loss kept me tied to the past. resolving those old resentments and angers and hurts set me free to live in today. that's a blessing for certain.

thanks for writing. hugs, lynette

August 22, 2006 12:33 PM  
Blogger Cookie said...

Wow, Lynette, I am so sorry for your loss. I am thankful though that you found the strength and the help you needed to work through that loss and move on with your life.

It's funny that you mentioned that we all reach a point where we have to realize our parents are actually human. I was just talking to one of my closest friends the other day who is struggling with her youngest daughter finding out certain things about her past and I said almost the exact same thing to her that you wrote.

August 22, 2006 2:04 PM  
Blogger The unconventional mother said...

Wow...I lost my Mom at 19 after a long bout with cancer and this post really spoke to me. Comfort food=Mom since Mom was the first to feed us.

August 22, 2006 7:41 PM  
Blogger One fabulous bitch said...

Oh Lynette, the more I get to know you through this blog the more I wish I could pull up a chair at your kitchen table, make a pot of tea, and hear all you have to say. You should publish. Not just here where a few lucky ones have found you, publish where everyone can find you. Thank you, as always, for sharing your thoughts in such a beautiful, insightful manner.

August 22, 2006 8:25 PM  
Blogger Kimberly said...

Oh, so sad. I'm so sorry. I can't even imagine such a thing. You were dealt an amazingly difficult hand in this situation and I think you are an incredibly wise and strong person for having gone through all this. Admittedly, I'm kind of a wuss (the type who cries at credit card commercials), but this had me crying (my son, being used to me crying at everything, especially at the pc where I read news, just walked up and started talking to me and wiped a tear away while casually chatting).

I lost my father when I was 20, and although my unhealthy way to deal with it was to drink and act out sexually, I understand that need, that longing for something to numb the pain. I'm glad to hear you have worked through it and probably continue to do so.

August 22, 2006 10:29 PM  
Blogger angelfish24 said...

I feel for you. I can't imagine what you have gone through in losing your mother like that. You are very brave and am so happy for you that you can face your own inner demons and try to understand them. It's a hard thing I know but one that you can do and that I can do to live a healthy life and be kind to ourselves. Thanks for sharing your story.

August 22, 2006 10:55 PM  
Anonymous Lynn said...

You are awesome. A scream with skin on. Do you know how badly I want to steal that--or wish I made it up, really. You are a trooper and I knew it from the start.


August 23, 2006 8:07 AM  
Blogger FatMom said...

BAB...thanks for writing back to me. Gosh, I'm SO sorry that you've not had "physical" closure, what with her simply missing for so long. But you seem to be working through it well. Better late than never, huh? You're an amazing person, BAB, and I'm so glad to have "met" you.

August 23, 2006 12:04 PM  
Blogger WifeMomChocoholic said...

Oh yeah..when my mom was dying of cancer I was three years old. I distinctly remember sneaking into the kitchen when the housekeeper was upstairs with my mom and taking out lumps of brown sugar to eat. That was only the start of stuffing my emotions with food.

August 26, 2006 3:36 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

I appreciate the courage it took for you to recognize and understand how the past has affected your eating habits, and am sorry that you had lost your mother sooooo early in life. I cannot imagine how horriffic this was. I applaud your courage to move from a sad place in life to one where you are more whole. It isn't easy.

September 13, 2006 10:00 PM  

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