Coming back and catching up

I haven’t journaled since November–most any time I had something to say, I felt like it was shallow to talk about anything other than the state of our country. Problem is that others are much more eloquent than me–I really don’t have anything to say about it that someone else can’t, and hasn’t, said better.

But I think that writing is good for me, so I’m writing today as a structure, CBT-style therapeutic exercise in (1) acknowledging things that I’ve accomplished or done since I last wrote that are an improvement from old behaviors  and (2) naming some of the things that I’d like to change or do differently.  I went to the beach today with a pad of paper and pen, and I sketched this out. I’m dividing the “realms” of my life into categories: work, family, social life (friendships/dating), and health (physical/mental/spiritual). Okay, here goes:

WORK

Things I have accomplished or improved upon:

  • I definitely accomplished my 2016-2017 goals of having better relationships with parents through higher-quality communication. I’m a little phone-phobic, and I’m not good on the spot, so I mainly communicate via email. I did a decent job of giving myself time if needed before responding to unhappy parents, I tried to breathe through any feelings of defensiveness or taking it personally, and I made sure to overtly express empathy and positive regard for the student.
  • This wasn’t a goal, but as the year went on, I kept a closer watch on how students were doing throughout the quarter. I reminded students much more than I usually do what they needed to do in order to get a good grade (“Suzy, you have 1 lesson to make up. Here’s a pass for Self Help tomorrow–that’ll catch you up”), and I tried to look at the big picture and even negotiate with students (if they missed a lesson when we were doing a lot of work to prepare for a particular test, and they got 100 on the test, then I’d just exempt them from making it up). It sounds like a big “duh,” but in past years I’ve just had way too many students to keep on top of that so individually.
  • My other goal for this year was to just kind of stay under the radar, not sass, and minimize being called into the principal’s office. I think I did a pretty good job of this.

Things I want to improve upon/goals for next year:

  • While my communication was better in terms of quality (and somewhat better in terms of quantity),  I can definitely be more proactive. My principal is still very much in the “make a phone call” camp, and I know that he would prefer that I communicate that way once it’s clear that a parent is upset, and this is a fairly concrete challenge, so…that’s a goal for 2017-2018.
  • I can also update my damn website, put more info up there, and annoy parents with Remind messages. Compared to the above, that’s no big deal
  • I want to get students more involved in reflection and assessment. I haven’t really had internal leaders for a long time, and there has to be something I can do to foster that. I see less and less evidence that students view themselves as stakeholders, and I’d like to find ways (un-artificial as possible) to encourage them to evaluate themselves and the group. I’d gotten complacent about this because I didn’t feel that students were invested in the group, and that didn’t work, so let’s attempt to get them more invested. I’m not nuts about exit tickets, but maybe once in a while. Or maybe a rubric to assess where we are on pieces (that’s the most artificial, but I handle things well in writing and always genuinely enjoy reading through any kind of student feedback). I’ll definitely bring back the old “okay, altos, tell me your strongest and weakest 8 measures of the piece,” or have the sopranos evaluate the altos, etc., etc.

 

FAMILY

Things I have accomplished or improved upon:

  • I’m just going to skip over my daughter altogether in this post. I’m skittish about writing about her–combination of “not wanting to put stuff about my daughter out on the internet” and “I have moments of really thinking I’m fucking up, and I’m afraid of being judged negatively.” I do want to write about her, though, without a name or picture, and everything about her and my relationship with her is overwhelming positively, so it’s solidly in the “good” column.
  • My coparenting relationship with my daughter’s dad continues to be exemplary and I truly feel that he is a friend. He’s trusted me with some of his inner world/vulnerabilities, and I think I’ve communicated my support. Our daughter is very well adjusted to living in two houses, and she sees us chatting and getting along great.
  • I’ve had some nice moments with my ex’s family, and that feels very nice.
  • While I wouldn’t say I have a friendship with my daughter’s stepmom, I have to say that she was a huge help and support for my daughter’s birthday, and I worked up the courage to tell her that.

Things I need to improve upon:

  • I need to talk to my own family of origin more. It’s not complicated at all. Call mom every Sunday. Text or email my brother to see how his job hunt is going. Text or email my sister to ask how she and the kids are. Instead of feeling bad because I only responded mentally to communication, actually respond.
  • I’m still very uptight with my parents. I have this weird defensiveness, and a kneejerk reaction to invalidate what they say (sometimes with a grumpy tone)-especially my mom. I need to listen more and be less of a know-it-all. That’s not measurable or concrete, but I challenge myself to ask more questions or simply say “Oh, I really don’t know about this for sure” instead of just assuming they’re wrong. If I managed to breathe through my defensiveness with parents of students, I can do it with my own parents, right? Right?

 

SOCIAL

Things I have accomplished or improved upon:

  • I kind of got over my obsessive need to make sure I’m wanted somewhere (that probably makes me less wanted) and accepted some “pity invites” (aka, things I was invited to because I was in the room when it was discussed).
  • I actually organized and ran a party in the form of  My Little Pony-themed “girls night” (girls-only just because there were too many kids in my daughter’s class to fit in my house).
  • I made some strides in becoming friends with moms of my daughter’s classmates, even went over to one of their houses for a NYE party. There’s another one who I really want to be friends with (she stayed for the MLP party, and she’s AWESOME), but I’m shy, and our kids aren’t particularly close. She’s having a kids’ party at the end of the month, so I look forward to talking more with her.
  • There have been times in the last school year that I have caught myself mentally complimenting someone, and I challenged myself to work up the courage to actually say it, so I’m chuffed about that. I don’t think I can change my “neutral” facial expression (which is anywhere from “something’s wrong” to “I’m miserable), but I can let people know what I appreciate about them.
  • I’ve been seeing M for two years now. All the positives and things I liked about him are constant. Nothing about that has changed.

Things I need to improve upon:

  • I don’t do a good job of letting friends know I’m thinking of them. I think of them, worry about them, but don’t communicate it either because I’m complacent, or …this is embarrassing, but it’s the truth: because I texted last and don’t want to be a pain.
  • I still don’t go out much
  • I’ve been seeing M for two years now.Nothing about that has changed.

 

HEALTH

Things I have accomplished or improved upon:

  • Physically, I have very little to complain about. I have been back to the gym since late February. I’ve had a couple weeks of very low energy (and maybe only 2 workouts), but I’m in the habit, I’m back.
  • My voice made it through the school year with no major issues! That is wonderful! I don’t know that I own credit to that, but I’ll give it anyway.
  • Mentally, I had a bit of a breakthrough this week that is hard to explain, but the gist is that I talked myself through what was almost a panic attack. It started at the gym, the first workout after my trip out west. I wasn’t out of breath necessarily, but as I breathed, I felt like I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. So when I started to panic, I reminded myself that a panic attack is often the brain interpreting a different bodily sensation as “threatening,” and I got through it. I was feeling very anxious, restless, and hopeless for a few days, and I talked myself through it. I told myself that it’s the transition from “working” to “summer,” and a little bit of cabin fever from being with a kid who gets emotional and agoraphobic during this transition. It turns out it was also a bad case of PMS–I usually get PMS with no actual period, but my body REALLY wanted to have a period this month.

Things I need to improve upon:

  • Physically: I need to work much harder at the gym. I need to be more engaged (I’ve caught my knees doing this sort of “wobble” thing during squats, and I’m sure I need to correct that) and add more weight, period.
  • Mentally: I haven’t seen my therapist in a while…maybe 6 weeks? I should get the fuck back to therapy. I can bring this for goal-setting.
  • Spiritually: I need to find SOMETHING. Anything. I’m not saying join a church, but I need to believe in something, even if it’s simply my love of the moon. (Seriously, I find comfort in the moon. I can track the cycles of the moon, meditate on goals in the first half of the cycle and letting go in the second half). Chakras, I dunno, whatever. Just: I need to cultivate a belief that there is something bigger than humans.

There, I did it.  I did my own mid-year evaluation. My teacher evaluation may say “highly effective” (or just “effective”–won’t find that out until September), but my life rating is “developing,” and this is a plan for (some) improvement.

Burial at sea

I found out this week that my divorce was finalized. I forwarded the email and information from ecourts to my ex with the message “You and __ can get married now  ❤ ”

His response included the sentence, “I know you wanted this over with too so I’m glad.”

When I was in group therapy for an eating disorder, if I or anyone else wandered too deeply into intellectualizing, we were encouraged to share how we felt even if it didn’t make sense. Acknowledging that feelings didn’t always make sense, that they could even be contradictory to the objective facts of a situation, was an important step in learning to tolerate our feelings.

The “rational” me knows that all he meant by “this” was “this last phase of the process.” He’s been having a rough time lately, so a response from me would be petty at best and a manipulation at worst. The rational me says “so what if he thinks I’m doing just fine, getting what I want, and my life is hunky-dory?.” I act on what rational me says; I don’t bother to correct him.

I keep thinking about this, though.  I don’t understand how what I wanted figured into this whole situation. I mean, yes, my daughter sleeps at my house five nights a week, and I got the cats. But most everything is what I “want” only in the sense that once I found out that he was cheating, I operated in reality and accepted that my best option was to actively pursue something resembling “a very close second.”

Rational me knows that the end justifies the means, because I have a good life and we are kickass coparents. Rational me can’t even picture how today would look if he’d never left or if we had reconciled, maybe because I stopped fantasizing about the latter once I found the missing piece (his fiancee). Rational me knows that I shouldn’t be any less sad that, for example, the summer of 2012 (maybe the happiest period of my life) is over than I would be if we were still together, because divorcing doesn’t change the past.

Irrational me screams HOW THE FUCK HAVE YOU MANAGED TO CONVINCE YOURSELF THAT YOU’RE GLAD FOR ANY OTHER REASONS THAN (1) YOU’RE GETTING WHAT YOU WANTED–TO MARRY THE WOMAN WITH WHOM YOU CHEATED ON ME AND (2) THIS MEANS YOU HAVE LESS THINGS THAT YOU HAVE TO DO IN ORDER TO DEAL WITH THE REALITY YOU CREATED BY RUNNING TO SONEONE ELSE INSTEAD OF WORKING ON YOUR MARRIAGE?

I just have to tolerate/integrate this and keep moving forward, whatever that means.

I can’t even remember what it was that I said to my daughter this week referencing having been married to her daddy in the past, but she had such a non-reaction to it that it made me pause. I had this moment of realization: not only does she not remember us being married, the fact that we were married is absolutely meaningless to her.

I kept my engagement ring, because it’s pretty, it has diamonds, and I want her to have it when she’s older. I’ve gone back and forth about my wedding dress–keep in case she wants to play in it, or donate it to somewhere like Angel Gowns?

I still have my engagement ring, our wedding album, and all of our letters. I’m not ashamed to admit that that’s for me–my daughter will probably never ask to see the pictures. But that’s okay, it doesn’t mean I’m not “over” him. It’s just better for me to acknowledge that it was a huge part of my life than it is for me to avoid seeing the evidence. It’s in a container in my attic–I can look or not look. I do want to donate my dress (although what would really be helpful would be if I were a skilled seamstress to make a gown, because that’s a lot harder to find).

I wanted some sort of “mourning” ritual, though, and I’m enough of a witch to need to do it when the moon is waning. Last night, I went into the attic and threw out some things from our past that I don’t need to keep because I’ll never use them again. Then, I put on my wedding band one last time and drove to the beach.

Driving on the narrow bridges that lead to the barrier island reminded me of a funeral procession, but I was the only one on the road. I listened to “The Bride” by Bat for Lashes and cried. It took a while to figure out how to get close to the beach…all of the fields were barricaded off. Eventually, I found a broken barricade and made my way to the beach. It was so dark that I couldn’t see where the ground went from concrete to sand, but the lights that were on in the building that housed bathrooms were this horrible, lurid yellow.

When I saw the video for “In God’s House,”  the lights inside the car reminded me of something from a morgue, but I never matched it with an exact scene.

Screen Shot 2016-11-20 at 11.23.36 AM.png

Maybe time is flexible, because the lights in the bath house matched exactly with the scene from the video.

The walk was so silent that it was frightening.

I tried to take a picture of the water, or at least the stars in above me where the clouds had opened up, but the only useful picture I got was behind me.

20161119_201131

I stopped futzing around, walked a little bit into the water, and tossed my wedding ring. I didn’t feel it leave my fingertips.

I turned around and walked away.

As I was making my way back onto the road, I saw a stag, and I stopped. I’d never been so close to a deer before. He was right next to my car, eating.  After a few seconds, he got shy and backed up, and I moved on.

I know that deer live down there, but I had never seen one, so the egocentric part of me that wants to believe in something magical or spiritual thinks there is a meaning to it.  I saw three last night (the other two were on the side of the highway). Do you know how some people interpret seeing the number 11 as a sign from above? My number is three. Three is a number of completion, but that’s too tidy for me. If throwing my wedding ring into the ocean meant I’d stop feeling sad because of my lonely heart and failed marriage, I’d have tossed it years ago.

Then again, thinking that there is meaning in seeing a deer up close to pretty tidy, but I find comfort in magic until I’m positive it doesn’t exist.

 

 

Weigh in

In my little bubble, this election boils down to two things:

(1) the fear that the people I love who will not have insurance if the Affordable Care Act is repealed as promised by Trump, and

(2) Trump’s whole campaign is based on a complete lack of compassion and the promise of increased systemic discrimination for anyone who is not white, not a natural-born American, not christian, not straight, and not male. I’m still reading up on his social welfare policies, ACA aside, but I’ve never met a republican who regarded the poor with anything but suspicion and contempt.

(I haven’t even been able to process the whole “denial of climate child” issue yet, to be honest).

So far, the only affect a Trump presidency will have on me directly is that I’ll pay more in taxes, because he wants to eliminate “head of household” status for single parents. But I don’t vote based on how things will affect me personally; I vote based on what I feel is right. “What is right” is guided by what will create the most level playing field possible.

“Nice” people who voted for Trump falsely believe that we’re done and everyone has the same shot at a good life.

Okay, fine. Let’s say you honestly believe that, that you’re just naive.

There is so much that I oppose about Trump, but I’m going to make my case the way I would for someone who is much more conservative than me. I’m going to hone in on race and religious discrimination because there is at least a social pressure to not be viewed as racist. Although I think that institutional racism (a ban on muslims entering the country, for example) is the root problem, your average person is going to be most appalled by instances of individual racism. A very “nice,” but super-conservative christian may oppose abortion and gay marriage, but the chances are that they would denounce the use of the n-word.

So here are some articles and collections of Trump quotes on race:

Trump on Latinos

Trump on Syrian refugees

Trump on muslims

An assortment of Trump quotes re: race

And then, of course, we have his newly-appointed chief strategist, who is openly anti-Semitic:

Trump’s anti-Semitic chief strategist

This is not even like his “pussy-grabbing” talk, which 53% of women dismissed as normal locker room talk. It’s not just vile talk. These are the beliefs on which he is building policy changes.

In a nutshell:

20161115_083058

 

Reaction to “6 Ways My Parents Unintentionally Taught Me Disordered Eating”

My roomie from residential eating disorder treatment, who’s now recovered and an awesome mom of two, posted this essay on Facebook last yesterday.  Last night, my ex texted me pics of a box of my books that he had found mixed up with his own books, asking what he wanted me to do with them.

It was mostly books about anorexia: memoirs of recovery, self-help books, treatment books aimed a clinicians, peeks from a distance for artists and the like who want to appear intelligent on Twitter with references to the ecstasy of fasting nuns…

I told my ex to put a stake in my Twilight books, but I asked for a little time to think about it. I hate to just trash books, but “I’m wondering if I should get rid of all the eating disorder stuff. I think I’ll always be in recovery vs recovered.  Not sure I should devote mental or physical space to it voluntarily.”

I’m neither above it nor afraid of being “triggered.” I just don’t know that I ever need to read any of those books again.

And yet…I keep thinking about that article. I’ve read it a few times, mentally comparing my own childhood and my approach to food as a parent to the author’s experiences. Okay, so I’ll just contradict what I said and give my thoughts (in italiacs) because a lot of this is about my parenting, and I’m allowed to ruminate on that as much as I want:

First, it sounds to me that this girls’ father INTENTIONALLY taught her disordered eating because, until someone gets so skinny that their face is starting to fall apart, restriction is absolutely viewed as discipline. Overeating is viewed as being the opposite. I don’t want to argue which one is more “out of control,” because I myself have never really been a binger. As someone who leans toward restriction and punishment, any eating that is beyond what I had planned has an “out of control” feeling to it. (Sometimes, now that I’m recovered, I savor treating myself, but I’m still in the “practice” stage of having a wider range of things that are normal, intuitive eating).

I will say this: I strongly feel that eating disorders should be viewed through the lens of addiction. Restriction, binging, and purging are all “drugs.” (I think that, to a lesser degree, so is self-injury…but I see that closer to “bad habit” on the continuum of addiction).

I think this father taught his daughter disordered eating, not because he was an evil mastermind who reveled in fucking up a human being, but because most anorexic views and behaviors are socially acceptable as long as they don’t go so far that you look ugly. What he did had good intentions, but I’d say the only difference good intentions makes is that, after the years of therapy and distance, the kid will have slightly less grappling with “Why?” 

 

Six Ways My Parents Unintentionally Taught Me Disordered Eating

There’s only one time in my life I ever remember seeing my dad cry. It wasn’t at his mother’s funeral or his father’s, though I knew he was sad then. It was on a couch in a therapist’s office at an eating disorder treatment facility.

He was crying because, after trying everything else for two years to treat my anorexia, this was our last resort – and he didn’t know what we’d do if it didn’t work. He was crying because I’d graduated high school with the highest GPA in my class and four awards, and I may not even be able to go to college.

And he was crying because he knew that if it weren’t for his own actions, we might not even be there. Because he was the one who put me on my first diet at age thirteen.

I don’t mean to imply that eating disorders are about food. People with eating disorders use food to deal with larger problems.

My eating disorder was a coping mechanism to deal with the disempowerment I felt in my household, the constant criticism I received from my parents, the anxiety and depression I was innately prone to, and the sexualization my body received before I was even a fully sexual being, to name a few things.

But it was also about the toxic messages I’d received around food and weight. These messages came from the media, my peers, and, perhaps most influentially, my parents. They were many and varied, but they all stemmed from and encouraged fatphobia – the idea that fat is bad and fat people are below thin people.

There must have been a time when I didn’t do any calculations before I ate. When I ate what I wanted. When I could tell what I wanted.

But I don’t remember it.

I do remember being five and playing princesses with my best friend and rejecting her offer for a snack because “princesses don’t eat.”

I remember being six and sucking in my stomach because it looked “too big” after I ate – whatever that mean to a skinny kid who grew up to be a thin adult.

I remember being eight and calling my rival (for the title of most popular girl in the class) fat and passing around drawings of her with a huge, bulbous stomach.

I remember being eleven and turning down my brother’s invitation to join him in front of the TV because I was scared his bowl of popcorn would tempt me.

I don’t remember where I learned the beliefs that led to these choices, but I sure as hell know I wasn’t born with them. And at least one source of them was my parents.

Here are some of the ways my parents unintentionally taught me to practice disordered eating. They reflect the beliefs many kids receive from their parents and from society, because my parents weren’t born with them either. They had to learn them, too.

1. Using ‘Fat’ as an Insult

Ever since I can remember and up to this day, my dad can’t seem to describe a fat person he disapproves of without mentioning their weight. And it’s always connected to qualities associated with stereotypes of fat people, like a lack of work ethic and discipline.

“She’s unemployed, she’s got a weight problem, and she just can’t seem to get her life together” is a typical description.

Occasionally, my mom joins in and they feed off each other.

“One of the people on the tour with us was very large.”

“Oh God.”

They didn’t create the stereotypes of fat people that society teaches to us, but they certainly reinforced it.

Maybe that’s why I saw my own normal weight gain as a teenager as a sign of poor self-control.

Maybe that’s why, when I lost unhealthy amounts of weight, I felt like I was proving myself.

Maybe that’s why, when I passed on the brownies everyone else was eating, I felt superior.

Maybe that’s why, when my nutritionist taught me that restricting food intake doesn’t work in the long-term because your body fights to stay at your healthy weight, I secretly thought, “That’s just what you think because you’re not as strong as me.”

The message from my parents has always been clear: Thin is good and fat is bad, and the way to prove you are good is to be thin.

The only time I remember my parents using fat as an insult was when I was very young and my mom said something about getting something into my “big, fat head,” which is like the 5-year old version of “you’re a poopyhead.” My ex’s parents did it, though (none of them ended up with eating disorders, but it always made me uncomfortable, especially since both of his parents were themselves overweight).

Fat as an insult is absolutely ingrained in our culture. To use my own middle school students as a convenience sample: I’ve seen so much progress in using “gay” or “trannie” as insult in my years teaching, but “fat” as a generic insult is pervasive.

This is very important to me with my own kid, because it absolutely teaches kids that they can be inherently “better” or “worse” based on the amount of flesh that makes them up. I try to not avoid using words related to weight, but I treat them as neutrally as possible…as mere descriptors and options for body types.

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2. Telling Me What to Eat and When

When I was twelve, I made up a rule to try to get my diet “under control.” I could only eat food that was offered to me. School lunches were okay, I decided, because the offer was implied. But no going to the snack machines after school. No raiding the fridge after gymnastics. And nolate-night snacks.

Perhaps I believed I couldn’t trust myself because the decision of whether or not to eat was always made for me. In the morning, my parents made me breakfast. At night, we all had to have dinner at the same time, and we had to eat it if we wanted dessert. In the afternoon, my mom gave us a snack. I was never asked if or when I wanted to eat.

If I did want to eat at an inconvenient time, I was told to just wait it out so that I could eat with the family. (The implication: I wasn’t allowed to eat twice within a few hours.)

It wasn’t until I was fourteen and on a diet that I first consciously felt hunger. Before that, I just wasn’t aware of the sensation. I had always learned that you decide to eat based on whether or not it’s mealtime or snack time and whether or not someone offers you food.

As I got older, the rules got more strict. You can have as many vegetables as you want, my dad explained, but go easy on the carbs. Avocado is a good fat; butter is a bad fat. But don’t have a lot of avocado! Then it becomes bad. Dark chocolate is okay sometimes, but preferably in the morning because then you’ll burn it off.

How could I possibly know what my body was telling me when I was busy trying to follow all this advice?

When I started to understand what hunger felt like, there were times my parents outright gaslighted me about it.

Once, I told my dad I was constantly starving after the “lunch” we ate while hiking, which consisted of a banana and an energy bar, and he informed me that in fact, the food was “calorically enough.”

And when told him I was starving after school (likely because I was, per his advice, eating salads for lunch) and needed something substantial, he’d tell me to “just eat a piece of fruit so you can have dinner.”

Even today, I have a lot of trouble figuring out if I’m hungry or not. I often can’t tell until I’m starving. I don’t trust those little inklings of hunger I have before the starving stage, since anything outside of mealtime is supposed to be quelled by a goddamn piece of fruit.

Over time, my parents taught me that I should decide what to eat with my brain, not my stomach. So eventually, my stomach just gave up.

Obviously, it’s ridiculous and shitty to tell a kid who is hungry that they’ve had enough. 

The scheduling of eating is a tough one. As a parent, I can see mealtimes as an important “family” time. Also, if there are six people in a family, the kids are just going to have to fall in line for dinner time. My family is two, so I have much more leeway.

I’m the parent of a kid who was one of the very small percentage of kids who didn’t take in enough nutrition to support proper growth (she went from 50th percentile for length and 10-15th percentile for weight as an infant to 1st percentile for weight after I introduced solids at six months adjusted age), and one of the pillars of feeding therapy is set meal/snack times every few hours. In Boo’s case, I was training her to associate eating with play and to eat every few hours. One could view that as teaching her to override her body’s signals to eat and stop eating, but you really can’t fuck around and let a two-year old follow their body’s signals when it’s in danger of failing to thrive.

I admit that my main concern in terms of her “getting enough” is protein. My kid is pretty good about fruits and carbs–I tell myself that it’s okay that she eats pretty much zero vegetables because she’s down with fruit. Fruit has more calories anyway. But I do worry about protein, and I’m likely to try to rush getting dinner ready if I know she’s hungry, because the protein is in dinner, and most snacks are carbs.

Lately, however, my kid has been snacking on cotton candy yogurt pouches which has been a huge win.

I never engaged in coercing my daughter to eat–I have to very, very carefully chose my power struggles with her, and the two things you cannot force a kid to do are eat and sleep. I just focused on making mealtimes enjoyable and modeling a good relationship to food (which sometimes meant eating things that weren’t “safe” foods for me). 

I never did much bargain/bribery either. It’s not good practice…but, really I’d have done it if it would have put weight onto her. It’s just that it wasn’t until maybe three and a half that she gave a fuck enough about treat foods for me to be able to use them as leverage. I remember her “potty training” deadline looming and thinking “what the fuck am I going to do? She doesn’t love candy enough for me to offer M&Ms.”

(We did a sticker chart that led to her getting a Tinkerbell doll she wanted once it was filled).

All of this stuff is much easier now because of school. She’s not hungry when she wakes up (I wake up starving…I will never understand breakfast-skippers!), although she’ll sometimes offer milk. The before- and after-care center offers breakfast (I don’t know how much she eats), she eats a packed lunch and snack, and then day care offers snack again. We’re both ravenous when we get home, so we have been enjoying eating an early dinner together. I’m done eating for the day after that, and she gets a snack later on in the evening. It’s great.

I always felt like a shitty mom for not eating dinner with my daughter at the table. I eat when I’m hungry and usually on the couch. Maybe I’ll try telling myself that it’s okay because it’s modeling following internal cues.  

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3. Warning Me About Weight Gain

When I was around twelve, my dad started warning me that soon, I might gain weight more easily – as if that would be a bad thing rather than a very normal thing – when I reached for seconds or desserts.

Through these warnings, I learned that when you’re a kid, you can eat what you want, but when you’re an adolescent, you have to consider how attractive you’ll look as a result. Dieting, I figured, was part of the transition into womanhood.

And womanhood in particular. He never said this to my brother, at least to my knowledge, even though he ate far, far more than me and wasn’t significantly thinner or more active.

He, it was assumed, needed food if he was hungry. His hunger was helpful: a way to stay active and accomplish things.

But my hunger was the enemy – something to restrain, control, and master, lest, God forbid, I become less aesthetically pleasing.

By teaching me it was necessary to eat in a way that would yield a thin body, I think my dad implicitly taught me it was my duty to be conventionally attractive.

No wonder I wanted out of womanhood. That was another way I used my eating disorder: to keep myself in a prepubescent state, where maybe I wouldn’t be objectified like this.

I never experienced this with my parents, thank God. I picked it up somewhere, though. I remember seeing a picture of myself at my lowest weight around the age of 11–when I was “just afraid to eat because I was afraid I was going to throw up,” I’m not trying to lose weight–and being very, very pleased with how long and thin I looked.  

I also remember going through a period in the 8th grade when I would eat a whole can of beef stew when I got home from school and then eat dinner a couple hours later. I got up to 110 (I was 5’5″ or so at the time), and one of my mom’s friends said at a Christmas party that I had filled out, and I looked healthier. I thanked her, but I was unhappy about it. It was a completely innocuous comment, a compliment, but I didn’t want to fill out. I didn’t want to look healthy. I didn’t want to have had noticeable weight gain.

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4. Complaining About ‘Excessive’ Food

My dad always gave me the impression that food was very, very scary. If something he liked was on the table, he’d move it so that “we” wouldn’t fill our bowls ad infinitum (he rarely spoke for himself).

It was as if the food were coming after us, and we were powerless to stop it.

He conveyed this same sense after eating, when he’d complain about how much he “overate.” He often appeared to be in severe distress, letting out exasperated sighs and talking about how he couldn’t believe it and how he planned to start a diet immediately.

This affected me in two ways. One: It taught me to also eat more than I was hungry for, because apparently, that was how you celebrated the holidays or enjoyed a dinner out. Two: If I ate what he ate, I came to assume that it was also “too much,” even if I didn’t feel overfull, and felt ashamed.

Eating took on the same significance that being fat did: It was a symbol that you were totally out of control. And an eating disorder was a way to reclaim control.

This is probably the worst habit my parents modeled, and this was very familiar to me. My mom can be pretty histrionic–she sighs and groans loudly for no known reason. She also beats herself up out loud after indulging or overeating.

I do it on the inside, so I can’t claim much more of a high ground, but I do not say a word of this bullshit to my daughter. I talk about the food itself, what I liked about it. At worst, I’ll say “I am STUFFED. That was delicious!” 

I do admit that I’m obviously psyched when my kid takes down a whole thing of kid’s mac and cheese at Panera, and I will comment on in (something like “Yeah girl! You brought it tonight! Yum!” or say that I’m glad she ate a good dinner, because being out at school today/having gym/growing works up an appetite), but maybe I shouldn’t even do that.  I don’t her to ever feel self-conscious about it, but I don’t want to tiptoe around it .  I’ll never get it just right, but I’m trying to make food and eating not a big deal for her.

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5. Talking About Their Diets

Both of my parents were constantly on diets throughout my childhood, from Atkins to Weight Watchers, so I learned that this was something all grownups did. Dieting, it seemed, was like getting your wisdom teeth out: Our bodies were naturally wrong and needed fixing.

My mom would often talk with an air of superiority about not dieting and just “making healthy choices,” but it was all the same: a way to restrict food intake for weight loss. This taught me that even post-eating-disorder-recovery, as I rejected dieting, I should still do what was essentially dieting.

Unfortunately, she never learned her lesson.

During my senior year of college, she visited campus and took two of my friends and I out to dinner, and she had a burger and fries. Afterward, she started telling me about her preparations for my brother’s wedding.

“I’m on a weight-loss kick!” she said excitedly, explaining how she was planning to fit into a smaller dress size for the photos, as if she expected me to join in the excitement with her. “Though I won’t make much progress the way we ate tonight!”

Keep in mind, this was three years after I’d gotten out of an eating disorder treatment program.

“You’re seriously going to say this to me?” I asked.

“I thought you were good now!” she said.

After all the therapy she’d gone through, all she’d learned was that the dieting mindset and negative body talk were problematic if you’re around someone in the midst of an eating disorder. But if you’re daughter’s not anorexic, go for it! It’s A-okay to advocate dieting and shame certain food choices.

When parents speak positively about dieting, they teach their kids that they, too, should diet. And when they talk about certain foods as “bad” because their diets go against eating them, they teach their kids that they, too, should avoid those foods.

My mom was always dieting, but she wasn’t openly obsessed with it.

However, she was also (so I heard later on) a binge-eater. I never saw her binge, but she did ask me to hide “junk food” (like chips) from her so she’d be accountable if she wanted to eat them.

I wouldn’t do this, but that’s because I’m a little bit in denial of my restrictive behavior unless I lose weight, and I’m very conscious of what I’m modeling for Boo because I’m in recovery. I don’t think it was a big deal or damaging.

I’ve been told by my ex that all my family talks about when we get together are (1) bathroom humor and (2) food. *shrug* I don’t think that’s inherently bad. However, my mom feels very free to talk about her diet to me now, and I don’t get that.  I don’t like it–especially when she gets so in detail as to tell me how many calories she’s trying to keep under in a day, and it’s 200 above my daily total at the time I went into the hospital. I know she means well, and honestly I think she’s bouncing it off of me because…. um, the one thing I’m good at is losing weight. It’s not “triggering” in the sense that it makes me want to join in. It just makes me very uncomfortable and sad for her. She’s come such a long way from the days she was sickest with borderline personality disorder and had no idea that she could be so much happier. She created a nice life with my dad out west, and then she’ll start talking about things like this, and it shows me that she is still stuck and unhappy.

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6. Acting Concerned About Health

Even today, knowing that I’m a body positive writer, my mom loves to “educate” me about how scary the “obesity epidemic” is and how you can reject disordered eating while still worrying about “health.”

And it’s triggering as hell.

Because as anyone who has been through eating disorder recovery knows, you can’t be in it halfway.

You can’t be like, “I’m going to embrace my body and love myself no matter what it looks like, but I’m going to make sure I don’t weigh too much!”

You can’t be like, “I’m going to tune into what my body needs and make choices about what to eat based on its physical signals – without going overboard and filling up on carbs!”

And, for the same reason, you can’t be like, “I accept people of all different sizes without judgement, but the obesity epidemic is very concerning!”

These two mentalities can’t coexist. Either you advocate a radical alternative that uproots every aspect of the status quo, or you’re part of the problem.

My parents don’t get that. And because of that, being free from disordered eating – especially around them – is still a struggle.

When I want cookies and ice cream for dessert because one of the two won’t fill me up, I flashback to when I did that at age fourteen and my dad said, “Wow, you’re really pigging out.”

When I recently told him about a new recipe I made involving cream sauce, I made sure to tell him I used light cream, because he always warned me about cream sauce.

When I want to eat a burger and fries, I still remember my mom saying that’s no good to eat before you’ll be photographed.

I have not applied the radical attitude that I’ve adopted toward fat acceptance at large to my own choices. Even after 26 years on this Earth and eight in eating disorder recovery, it’s hard not to sometimes be stuck in your parents’ disordered mentality.

***

So, I’m not speaking to you from an enlightened place. I have not transcended dieting culture and come downward to talk to you. I’m speaking from within the thick of it.

What I can say I know at this point, though, is that my parents’ disordered ideas are not mine. They don’t belong to me, and they’re not my burden to bear.

But many of us still bear the burden of the beliefs held by our parents, even ones we disagree with.

For now, I try to surround myself with different ideas. I follow body-positive, fat-positive blogs and social media accounts. I talk to fellow eating disorder survivors who know recovery isn’t a halfway deal.

And when someone complains about the obesity epidemic at family gatherings, I change the subject.

Thank God my parents don’t do this. They’ve never criticized my eating or choice of foods. I can honestly say that any disordered thinking at this point is 100% from me. 

I was giving some thought to diathesis-stress model for psychopathology the other day. It was the prevailing, default explanation that allowed for nature and nurture to have roles in the development of mental illness when I was in social work school, but that was ten years ago. (In fact, I saw that they now think this model doesn’t apply to simple phobias, which seem to be rooted more in biological than life events or learning. That’s a big shift!). 

I think diathesis-stress is the right explanation for how some people get eating disorders and others don’t–for now. Some people are more prone to addiction than others, but I do think that anyone could develop an addiction of some sort. The author here was apt to go to restriction as a coping mechanism once it was triggered because it was rewarded in her household. I was modeled more overt and dramatic means of coping; the fear of being exposed or drawing attention to myself could have inspired me not to stop using punishment as a way to cope with overwhelming feelings..I didn’t do that, though. Instead, I just looked for “quieter” ways to hurt myself, and I found it in counting and restricting calories.

In both of our cases, the trigger appears to have been transition times involving individuation and separation from parents. It looks like hers was going from high school to college. Mine was unusually late, but the news that my parents with whom I finally had a not completely fucked-up relationship would be moving thousands of miles away literally a week after my wedding was very hard. (I didn’t even know they had been looking to move until they’d already purchased the  house. They figured that I was getting married and getting my own family here, so I didn’t need them anymore).  Another person, raised in the same environment, would not have necessarily reacted that way to this news. 

There’s my expert-by-experience reaction to this essay. This girl’s dad loved her very much, but he fucked up bad. He didn’t know he was fucking up. I’m trying so hard not to fuck up my kid, but who knows what ways I’m fucking her up with my attention focused on not doing the things that my parents did to hurt me. I’m modeling food being enjoyable and no big deal (if you believe that kids are a little bit dumb…I still weigh what I weigh), and I’m showing that all emotions are acceptable to feel and express, but who knows what I’m missing? My intentions are good. So were my mom’s. So were this woman’s dad’s. 

I think I’ll skip the summary of this.

Why can’t it be beautiful

candles

 

Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance day. Tonight, I lit three white candles:

Carlin (small champion), due 3.24.09

Luca (bringer of light), due 10.15.09

Nadia (hope), due 12.31.10

My daughter knows that I lost three pregnancies before her, and this year she asked to see the candles. I told her for whom I had lit each candle.

I’ve told my story over and over, and I want to do something a little differently this year. The fourth candle is in honor of the baby of someone who I deeply respect. She was stillborn in the last month. I cannot imagine the horror. I would take a hundred of my losses over theirs.

This person is a private person, and honestly I’m not even that close to them, but I care very much about the family and the trauma that they’re going through. Their story isn’t mine to share, so instead I will share a few charities that do excellent work for families who have lost an infant before or after birth:

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep provides professional photography, at the hospital or home, for families of babies that have died or are close to death. The loss of a pregnancy or infant is the loss of one’s whole future, and the only memories people have in these cases are ultrasound pictures. The photographers are specially trained, and their work is beautiful.

The next two charities can be support through Amazon Smile:

Star Legacy Foundation funds stillbirth research and education, and they provide grief counseling by phone and via support groups for families experiencing this horror. They also provide gowns and hats for stillborn babies and care packages for their parents.

First Candle focuses on prevention of stillbirth, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome through education, as well as grief support for bereaved families.

I bought a blank card to send to the family I know who lost their baby. I’m going to keep it simple.

I lit a candle in honor of your baby girl

You are very much in my thoughts

It’s not fair