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.

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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

 

 

 

Out of left field: Ideas for owners of older, incontinent cats

And now, for something completely different.

My cat is 14 years old, her kidneys are starting to go,  and she’s leaky (she doesn’t fail to use the litter box–she’ll be snuggled up to me on the couch and just leak about a teaspoon of urine). My own search didn’t yield all that much help in terms of how to keep my house from reeking, so figuring out the most efficient way to keep things clean was a learning process. Most of the traffic to my blog comes from internet searches to posts that are about something specific, so I’ll share how I deal with it:

(1) Obviously, go to the doctor. I took her months ago because I was concerned about diabetes. Her kidneys are starting to go, so we’re just going to monitor her more closely.

(2) Another duh, but make sure your older cat is on a food for older cats. I hadn’t even thought about it, because my other cat was FeLV+, so he didn’t have a long life expectancy. I switched her from Wellness Core dry food to Nutro Indoor Senior dry food and from Wellness chicken canned food to Nutro senior canned food over a period of 2-4 weeks.

(3) One more “duh”: Add a litter box. They say have one for each cat plus one, but I got away with two boxes for two cats and then one box for one cat. I have her old litter–Yesterday’s News–upstairs, but she never liked standing in it. I thought maybe she was going outside the litter box because she was having trouble “perching” on the side of the litter box, so I added a box downstairs with unscented “sand” litter. (She likes it, and I like it because I can better monitor her output with this litter, but she still perches).

(4) You need Nature’s Miracle for urine on carpet.

(5) You need a big container of vinegar for laundry. Anything that has urine on it gets soaked in detergent and vinegar (I just pour some in…maybe half a cup? No idea).

(6) Anything your cat lounges on that can’t be just thrown in the wash needs to be covered with things that can be thrown in the wash: cat bed, couch, your bed, favorite spots in the sun.

At first, I covered the couch with a layer of towel and then a blanket, but then I went with something waterproof and thin:

(7) Buy incontinence (washable “chux”) pad, such as these: https://www.amazon.com/Sofnit-Washable-Underpad-34×36-Pack/dp/B000FED594/ref=sr_1_5_a_it?ie=UTF8&qid=1475511895&sr=8-5&keywords=incontinence+pads

I also got one of these: https://www.amazon.com/Premium-Quality-Waterproof-Reusable-Washable/dp/B00MWJEQZ2/ref=pd_bxgy_121_img_3?ie=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=0P0M5HFFJFGR1Q64Z6ZD

I have two of these on my sofa covered up with a blanket. Her cat bed has one of these with a thin blanket or towel over it. I end up washing these things every day, but the pads don’t take up much room.

I had one over my quilt in my bedroom, but she stopped sleeping with me, so now I just keep a thin, flannel blanket over my quilt.

(8) Go around every evening and “sniff test” everything to get your laundry gathered up all at once.

(9) Don’t forget to check your clothes. My pants often get smelly if she’s been snuggled up to me.

(10) Include kitty in your sniff test. I bought some kitty wipes, but she tolerates me wiping her down with a warm, damp washcloth with a little Dr. Bronner’s soap on it (just don’t use tea tree or a citrus scent–cats don’t like that), and it really works. I do it once a day unless she doesn’t have any smell at all on her.

(11) Unscented clumping litter STINKS. My downstairs bathroom smells awful, but I’m going to work on it. I wash everything with bleach once or twice a week, but it still reeks. I don’t want to use scented stuff and have her licking it off of her, so I’m experimenting with air freshener. I don’t like the chemically stuff or sprays (again, I don’t want my kid or cat getting residue on themselves), so I ordered a reed diffuser. I think incense or palo santo would help, too.

(12) If you have a friend who you’re comfortable asking, ask him or her to give you feedback on the smell of your house just as he or she is walking in the door with “fresh” nostrils.

(13) When you have to clean up or do an extra load of laundry, don’t think about it. Don’t even sigh. Just do it–think about something else while you’re doing it. You will get used to the routine, and the extra work will just become a normal part of your day.

(14) Give you cat lots of love and affection. Your kitty is still here, happy and healthy. It’s worth it.

I got this feeling that I’m going to lose my old girl by next summer, so I’m savoring every moment I have with her. If I’m right, I’m lucky that I had the foresight to be able to do this. If I’m wrong, then I get extra time with her.

 

 

here i am

I hadn’t had a lot to talk about, although I did mean to make a post wrapping up my very quiet summer.

I keep meaning to start a series of “random story” posts, too.  I used to be a person who’d share stories that were not relevant enough to the topic at hand to justify making someone I’m not close to listen to them.  It would be better to post them here, even without context, than to continue one of my behaviors that put people off of me.  I guess I’m starting to internalize that no one gives a shit–including me!–because, so far, I haven’t even bothered to record them here.

The exception to this, of course, is my relationship with my ex. Unfortunately, I’m still hurting from old things–from our whole relationship. I’m lucky if I can sort through them with a therapist every two weeks, and a lot has come up just over the last two days, so…

Here I am.

There are certain things that I won’t talk about on here because there are certain things that I hold sacred. I don’t tell peoples’ secrets. I talk about all kinds of cringe-worthy things about myself. When it comes to other people, I don’t talk about things that would be anything from “tacky” to a breech of confidentiality if I discussed them here. I consider it a betrayal even if the other person hasn’t treated my secrets with the same amount of respect.

I have to draw a line when it comes to my ex, because there are a lot of personal things that messed me up and need to be sorted out before I can put them aside. There are current things that I need to vent about, but some of them are off-limits. It’s hard to find that line, and in my worst moments I remember the things he told “the other woman” about me (some of which weren’t even true) and I’m tempted to just say what I need. I always make myself sit with it until I come back to a place of keeping true to my ethics.

I’ll try to make that boundary “it’s okay to talk about things that are or were common knowledge among our peers.” Beyond that, I’ll try to bypass the circumstances/details so I can get right to the feeling.


 This sat for a week due to a combination of little time to write, and being troubled by other things when I had the opportunity to write. It feels like old news, buried under bad recent events…but I’m going to finish this, because it’s meaningful to me.

My ex and I had a “thing” last weekend. Not a fight. It was just tense, and then painful, but the dialogue pushed me to articulate things that I hadn’t (to him, anyway) before and hear from him something that may help me heal.

It started with him asking me for something last-minute two days in a row, which was irritating to me.

I find being asked something last-minute to be stressful because 

(1) I’m wound a little extra tight lately (mostly worrying about avoiding meltdowns to get out the door at 7 am sharp so I’m not late to work, and how my kid would adjust to the huge change this school year…different school, group day care, and no longer seeing the beloved woman who’s been like a second mom for five years)

 (2) I feel very guilty when I have to say “no,” and 

(3) I’d rather say “yes,” and I pretty much always do if I have some advance notice. It’s frustrating when I could help, but I can’t, or if I do it but there’s no reason I couldn’t get more notice.

However, I misunderstood him when he asked and didn’t realize that it really wasn’t a big deal if I say no.

Honestly, saying no to something like “can you pick up Boo at my house instead of me driving her home?” makes me feel like I’m rejecting her..so it rarely feels like it’s not a big deal. I know that’s 100% my own stuff, though.

Earlier that day, I had had my first therapy appointment since June. It was mostly a catch-up and summary of what I worked on over the summer, but doc also picked up where we left on regarding my difficulty in accepting compliments or acknowledgement of something good about me–I either appear to ignore it, or I say something to mitigate it. 

She was complimenting how I’ve handled things and how I treat my ex and trying to make me acknowledge what she said and not just change the topic. I had recently told a girlfriend that I need to find a way to get over this experience and forgive myself without his acknowledgement that it wasn’t all my fault. My therapist said that in 40 years of practice, she’d never seen someone handle divorce/coparenting/ex’s relationships so well. You’d think that would lessen the need for a pat on the back from my ex, but it just made it worse on that day.

Back to the last minute request: Our texting exchange escalated to the point at which we were explaining our side by one-upping how challenging our schedules are. I’ll never know what it’s like to have his job or schedule, and he’ll never understand understand the same about me.  Once in a while, I see no commute and the flexibility to decide what time to start things as a little “easier,” and he sees my job as “easier” because it pays well without me having to hustle or hound companies to pay me.

I really think we were just trying to explain our sides of things rather than engaging in a pissing contest. I felt afraid of him judging me on the times I’ve said “no,” and I felt he was being hard on me.

I finally said it to him: I said that I wished he’d give me a little more credit about how understanding I am. I’m a cheerleader for him and his work, and I do what I can to help him out so that he feels that he’s got backup, especially when he’s not feeling well.  I said that my “understanding” is also what has allowed him to support the woman for whom he left me and her son. (She has published comics and sells drawings, but that’s obviously something you do for love rather than money).

When he brought our daughter home, he pulled me aside to talk. It was a reversal of roles–him initiating a mature conversation, and me wanting to run and hide. (I was impressed with him, though…I think it shows growth on his part, if the complete opposite for me). I ended up crying. I’m not comfortable crying in front of him. It was embarrassing.

I am uncomfortable crying in front of someone if I think it’ll trouble them or I fear that I’ll end up feeling worse for opening myself up to that person. I guess it was the latter with him, although he’d never be callous in that situation. 

I explained that it wasn’t that he asked, it was that he asked last minute. He said it really wasn’t a big deal for me to say no. I said that it is to me, because I’d have said yes if he had asked earlier in the day. I said that I feel guilty when I say no…and that I feel guilty all the time, that I guess it just comes with parenting.

He also made a HUGE point of telling me that nothing about this is his fiancee’s fault–all of the “supporting” stuff was on him, and that he’d have the same expenditures if she and her son weren’t living with him.

That was when I started to cry.

He said, “is that why you’re crying–because you feel guilty?”  I didn’t really answer. I just wanted to get the conversation done before our kid got curious and came into the kitchen. I also didn’t want to cry any harder or have to come up with an explanation to my kid.

I was crying because he had never been so on my side that he needed to defend me against a non-existent attack. I was sad that I never had that kind of devotion from him.

After he left, I emailed him. I guess I thought I had broken some kind of seal in terms of embarrassing myself, so I might as well go ahead and say anything I felt I needed to say in order to facilitate something resembling closure.

I said that I wasn’t okay with all of this. I’m okay overall in life, but I’m not “over” it, over being left so abruptly. Since it’s my own words, I’m quoting:

Specifically, I struggle with (1) the inability to think I’d ever be enough for a partner (because I never felt I was with you…by the time I got my place in the front of your mom, hookups, [name of a person from the past], it was the beginning of the end and you were building your case against me) and (2) trying to live with myself knowing that you think the failure of our marriage is all my fault. (It haunts me and infects just about every positive belief I start to have about myself or the world). 

It’s just the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to navigate…

[His fiancee] is a good stepmom–anything beyond that wouldn’t be any of my business anyway, but I don’t have any beef with her. You going out of your way to make sure I knew [she] was completely blameless (when I wasn’t even talking about her, let alone talking shit about her) brought up some old feelings. I noticed how it important it was for her to not have any perceived negativity directed toward her, and I felt sad because I remembered the embarrassing, personal, and not necessarily true stuff you told her about me. I wish anyone would ever consider me sacred like that. It was just another reminder of me being inadequate/not enough/not good enough.

That’s what has stuck with me since then–I wasn’t enough for him. I’m currently not enough for anyone else. This probably won’t change. I can’t not hear it.

I’m not using this as an excuse to give up, backslide, indulge in unhealthy coping mechanisms. I’m plugging along, just trying to be enough for myself, because that does count. I can live with myself now, and that was a lot harder a couple years ago.

Also plaguing me is my increasing anxiousness to actually be divorced. I’ve been obsessing over it. He signed the papers last October; I signed them at the beginning of November. I don’t know why the 11 months is my breaking point (maybe because someone I know who started the process LONG after me in my state just had his divorce finalized), but I’ve had it. I had to push to get the process started (even though he was the one who wanted it). The psychologist we consulted said he wasn’t in any shape to do this. I waited. I had to push again. We did it, we worked out how we wanted to do things with literally no disagreements or unpleasantness. Then we handed it to lawyers to draw up, and it just fucking sat there. Then we signed–it was supposed to be 6-8 months. I’ve had it. I’m sick of waiting.

I have to do any of the lawyer-bugging, because I get 40 hours free through my trust fund, and he has to pay his lawyer for a phone call or email. I emailed my lawyer’s paralegal Tuesday. Nothing. I called her Thursday–nothing. Now I’m getting angry, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I called the lawyer himself Friday. I told a coworker who had had the same lawyer (and had had no communication problems at all) that I was going to call daily starting next week. Finally, late Friday afternoon I got an email:

Unfortunately, the only information I have for you at the moment is that your file is with the Special Referee, which means it could be signed any day now.

“Any day now” doesn’t really mean anything to me. I’m not at all convinced that they didn’t screw something up. The first copy of the divorce agreement that they sent to my ex’s lawyer was missing pages and had pages of what was clearly someone else’s divorce agreement in there.

I’m not sure about his lawyer, either, though. I never understood why he decided to use his mom’s lawyer–her uncontested, “no fault,” mediated divorce took six years.

No court, uncontested, no fault, no resistance on my side, no disagreements at all about how to do things, and it’s been 3 years and 3 months. I’m done, and I’ve found myself saying things that everyone else says about lawyers.

I know it doesn’t change anything emotionally, but it’s something hanging over my head on a to-do list that shouldn’t be there, and I have done my part to get it off the list. How I feel about this borders on rage.

Anyway, I think the talk with him was good–if emotionally draining. He wrote back, and he finally gave me the one thing he can give me to help me, which is to tell me that it wasn’t all my fault. I said that I’m not looking to re-write history so that it’s all his fault–I was there, I remember.  I knew intellectually that it was both of us, but I couldn’t shake the feeling.

I’m so afraid of settling something in my mind as being something other than “I am a terrible person who is being rightfully punished,” because what if I’m wrong? Then I’m not taking responsibility for myself. I don’t know if I’d ever stop punishing myself as long as there was a chance that it was all me.

Maybe I’ll be able to quiet that particular tape in time now that he has told me it wasn’t all my fault.  Maybe it’s a step toward feeling like I’m doing a good enough job of being a person. (I think I’m a good enough mom right now). That’s what I’m working on–picking the righter, kinder option every time, and trying to be a decent friend.

That way, even when I’m lonely and don’t get held on days like this, I’ll just feel sad because I’d like to be held–as opposed to being sad because I’d like to be held, but I don’t deserve it anyway.

 

 

 

Oh I was a deer in the lights / I was lost in the waves

I think I got it all out Saturday, but I think I kind of fear having leftover feelings to discharge or memories hanging out or things that I’m still making sense of once it’s past the point at which others are comfortable with me having them.

I think I’m already past that point, though. I think people who haven’t been through it probably just view it as a normal part of life. It is, but it’s also the worst thing that’s happened to me.  If I could impose a deadline on hurting and making sense of it, I’d have made it much earlier. I’d love to be done.

Today would have been my 14th anniversary.

My daughter and I were invited to my ex’s grandmother’s house.  I’ve complained at length about how one of the things I’m still struggling with is the loss of my local “family,” so I was happy for the invite (even though it feels a little weird to spend what was my anniversary with his family). We went out to lunch, and then to the pool. I think it took me a while to “warm up,” so I probably had my usual “appears to be sulking” demeanor. I rallied, though, and I had a great time. When we said goodbye, I did my usual “thank you for inviting us,” but didn’t stop myself from adding “I’ve missed you.”

I had a rocky history with his family–well, with the women in his family (grandmother, mom, and sister). I’ve been hurt a lot by things they’ve said and done…but I also got really uptight and didn’t let things go. I wouldn’t have thought that I’d let my guard down enough to say something affectionate, even though it meant a lot that she thought to call me and invite us.

I know, it was mainly to see my daughter…but that’s good, too. I don’t have family here, but she does.

I realized that the first picture I have of my ex and I was taken at his grandmother’s house, at the pool. It was the first time I took the train to visit him, in August of 1994. I don’t usually do pictures–especially not of faces–but this was so long ago. Not much about us is recognizable anymore. I think it’s less weird and sad than posting a picture from our wedding.

I wasn’t sad today.

1994

One of these nights
One of these days
I will love again

 

What about things that you swore to be true?

I had planned to collect all of the despondent thoughts I’ve had in the last few weeks and funnel them into a post on Tuesday or Wednesday, but I feel driven to write now.

This Tuesday would be our 14th anniversary.

I left him a card on 8/16/13 (I went to Colorado, and he went to New England to…well, he said he was going to a comics museum, but he left out “with the woman to whom I ran”). I don’t remember what it said exactly, just that I figured it might be our last technical anniversary, I still had hope because he was telling me he loved me (and omitting the part about having another). Anyway, it felt weird not to even recognize it.

That’s why I didn’t throw out wedding pictures. It happened. My daughter might want to see someday. The existence of pictures doesn’t make it any more or less painful.

Being expected to pretend it didn’t happen has been a burden, though.

8/16/14 came, and I don’t really remember our anniversary…just thinking “huh. Well, this’ll probably be our last anniversary.”

8/16/15 came, and most of the crappiness I’d feel about the day (apart from “he’s engaged, my love life is a shit show, and it’s not fair) was diverted into heartache from another.

I had no idea I wouldn’t be divorced by now. I was told 6-8 months from when you sign. He signed in October; I signed at the beginning of November. Nothing.

I’ve gone from

“let’s just get this overwith so I can get on with my life and be taken more seriously as a relationship prospect”

to “we’re divorced. It’s just a paper. It doesn’t matter”

to what I can best describe as rage and absolute despair that can’t be put into a simple thought.

It does matter.  I’m mad at him because he dragged his feet for so long, and I had to do everything to accomplish this thing that I didn’t even want to accomplish. He has the love of his life, and she was willing to get into and take seriously a relationship with a married man, but I do think that me just being “separated” is a tiny piece of the shit show that is my love life.

There were retirements, my lawyer told me in April, after you filed, so things are backed up even more.  That’s no one’s fault, but I’m still going to stomp my foot about its unfairness.

My rage is actually just me crying and ruminating when I’m not with my daughter. Lately, I cry on the drive back every time I drop her off at her dad’s. I think of everything I’ve ever done wrong, every time I failed to prevent someone from wronging me..I guess it’s almost like confession.

A stupid thing I ruminate about is my ex’s whole “gothy” and “atheist” brands on twitter (yes, I know, but I’m having a tantrum so I’ll say what I want). He wears all black every day, talks about it often…but he lives with the one and his stepson (full time) and his daughter (part-time).  He goes out every Thursday, they go out most Fridays, and they have a movie night every Tuesday.

You can put that in any color, and it’s still beautiful.

Take my “free” nights, and put me in any color, and it’s still despair. I just don’t advertise it because my goal is to move past it, not fetishize it.

I had religious beliefs for most of our marriage, and we both mostly avoided the topic, but he felt very free to say in front of me that christians were idiots. If I asked him to respect my beliefs, I was stifling and censoring him. When I was upset that I wasn’t asked to stand up at my nephew’s christening, but he was paired up with someone else to be godparents (which, in my culture, meant they’d be the parents if the parents died), he was completely dismissive. And then he stood up and professed to the church that he abhorred that he’d help raised his nephew as a christian…but that was just tradition.

Now, he’s very “into” being atheist, and he enjoys doing and showing off things that feel naughtily heretical, like running tumblrs of churches burning and art that has a “satanic” feel. He proselytizes and judges more as an atheist than I ever did as a christian (I always believed that what you believe is somehow what is true, and I felt that spiritual beliefs were so deeply ingrained that you really couldn’t chip away at how you felt at the core even if you wanted to), and he doesn’t see it.

I have never been that sure of or happy about my religious beliefs. I’m glad it’s opened up something in him, but here’s the thing:

He has never been atheist. He has always worshipped HER. First, it was his mom. Then, it was me. Now, it’s her. He has always been unable to navigate without a woman as his north.  His mom has a very strong personality. I am submissive, but I developed a more overbearing personality with him to see if I really was enough for him and he really did love me (spoiler: I wasn’t. There was always someone else). I don’t think his fiancee is particularly dominant (although I’m certain that she is in bed–one of the biggest reasons he left is that I’m submissive), but it doesn’t matter. He’ll make his world revolve around her, expend every bit of energy showing his devotion and manipulating her world to avoid her being upset. Then what? I don’t know.  Based on past patterns, she’ll eventually leave him for someone else. I’m not sure of that at all, though. I think they may just work out. I hope so: he left his kid, his wife, his whole lifestyle behind for her, so the stakes are much higher in this marriage.

As much as I whine about it being unfair that he got his “ever after,” and all I got was a string of mostly-degrading relationships, the thought of them working out makes me feel better about us divorcing. It at least feels like it had a purpose, that it was going to something good.

I don’t have much faith that the same is true for me. Not now, anyway.

I’m not dating at all. I have nothing romantically. I mean, my feelings for M haven’t changed.

But what I told him a few weeks ago (that I can’t do this, that I can’t be a secret, that I feel like I’m doing something wrong) hasn’t changed even though I kind of relapsed with him one night.

I haven’t made a move to date. I’m technically free to do so, although I wouldn’t without telling M (probably a pitiful, last-ditch effort to find any part of him that wants to be with me). I don’t want to.

So, I’m going to just examine why I don’t want to date even though I very much want a meaningful relationship with a man who likes me back, and that’s generally the route to that goal.

Once I reach a certain level of liking someone, there’s really not room for anyone else. Okay. Fine. But if someone doesn’t reciprocate those feelings, I have to nurse that wound, make room, and move on. I have not done those things. Why?

I’m afraid.

I mean, there’s the concrete stuff. I have been very glib about this in the past, to try not to admit that it fucked me up (because I think it’s my fault, and I really don’t want to shoulder the blame for yet another traumatic event), but the fact is that I had a pretty date-rapey experience. I consented to sex, fine. I did not consent to anal sex, and I wouldn’t have.

I am afraid of that happening again.

He turned out to have a girlfriend. I was disposable, it was over quick, but I still can’t make sense of it every time he kept hitting me up.

I’m afraid of that happening again.

Once I reach a certain level of intimacy with someone, I cannot stand being lied to, but I keep accepting it and staying with it and being hurt. I’ve always been this way.

Last August, M and I had a big blowout and breakup after I lied to him about going out with another guy. He told me that he thought I was working out my divorce trauma issues at his expense, that it’s “textbook ‘cycle of abuse.'” He was right, but not in the way he thought.

My first love was long distance. I wanted to be exclusive. He wanted to be, but he couldn’t, because of the distance, and because his mother didn’t want him to be serious. I stayed in it for two and a half years. Then he broke up with me. Then he wanted to try again…and it became apparent that I was just an orifice for him to visit until the one he really loved came around and wanted to be with him. So I broke it off. I nursed my wounds, then we were friends again. The first time I saw him during that time, he tried to guilt me into hooking up with him. Cried and everything.

When we got back together, he told me he didn’t want to see anyone else, didn’t want an open relationship. This time, he just lied about what he did.

There are some similarities here (although everything is a much more minor version).  It’s long distance. There are very concrete reasons. It’s mostly lies of omission.

But once you get to a certain level of intimacy, kissing someone else at a party after too much cheap beer and generalizing stories about “a friend” so there are no names or pronoun are both going to have a similar effect on me: they’re going to make me go “how is this happening again?”

I know that I’m overly polite and self-conscious to the point of telling white lies. I sugar-coat what I say to my students and their parents all of the time in order to preserve their dignity and my job, respectively. I have lied early on in dating.  If one prospect asked me what I did over the weekend, and what I did was going out to dinner on a date with another prospect, then “I went out to dinner with a friend.” The thing is, in most cases, the guy (or me, if I was the one doing the asking) didn’t really want to know if it was a date, and I don’t think there was anyone that I talked to every day, so I didn’t really have to deploy that lie very often.

That didn’t fly with M because, even though I told him I date around unless we have a talk to declare otherwise, and even though he told me he told me that he couldn’t be my boyfriend at the time, we had been talking every day.

“A friend” just doesn’t fit into a relationship with any kind of feeling, intensity, closeness, whatever. Closeness requires people to move past vague politeness. I see that now.

But I don’t see him meeting me there with it.

So, even though the only direct link between my shitty divorce damage and my failed attempt with the first person I’ve met who has some feelings for me but isn’t actually abusive is my failure to foresee or prevent either situation…I feel like I’m just being pummeled with memories and realizations of how I failed to stop others from hurting me and the fear that I haven’t learned enough from it to do better going forward.

I had a very good, healing dream this week about my ex. I don’t remember any of the words, but we talked. We just–talked. He acknowledged that we were very much in love, he was happy with me for a long time, and it was all real. I felt lighter, acknowledged, seen.

He still lies to me. Little lies just to placate me. “Can our daughter stay 7 hours later tomorrow? Sorry we just got invited by my mom to do X” (and then I found out he was invited 5 days ago). Tiny versions of the same patterns that made up most of his share of the damage to our marriage.

They hurt, because they echo our marriage. I don’t say anything about it, ever.

Most of my adult life has been spent with an elephant in the room. It was avoided, or I was blamed for it, or I blamed on things that he did in the past…now, it’s just the burden of loving someone and not being allowed to express it (for fear of abandonment/rejection, or because I’m told it’s too much for him for whatever reason).

I don’t want that anymore. If there’s nothing to talk about or acknowledge, then I’m not in a romantic relationship. If there is something real, then let’s talk about it whether it’s “good” or “bad.”

The things that go unsaid, for whatever reason, are what have damaged me. More truth. I don’t know how to spot and avoid dishonesty to get our before I catch feelings, I don’t know how to get more truth, but I know that that’s what will heal.

Jamie is over and Jamie is gone

Jamie’s decided it’s time to move on

Jamie has new dreams he’s building upon

And I’m still hurting

Jamie arrived at the end of the line

Jamie’s convinced that the problems are mine

Jamie is probably feeling just fine

And I’m still hurting

 

What about lies, Jamie?

What about things

That you swore to be true

What about you, Jamie

What about you

 

Jamie is sure something wonderful died

Jamie decides it’s his right to decide

Jamie’s got secrets he doesn’t confide

And I’m still hurting

 

Go and hide and run away

Run away, run and find something better

Go and ride the sun away

Run away like it’s simple

Like it’s right…

 

Give me a day, Jamie

Bring back the lies

Hang them back on the wall

Maybe I’d see

How you could be

So certain that we

Had no chance at all

 

Jamie is over and where can I turn?

Covered with scars I did nothing to earn

Maybe there’s somewhere a lesson to learn

But that wouldn’t change the fact

That wouldn’t speed the time

Once the foundation’s cracked

And I’m still hurting