I Am That Girl Now

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Fun times, eh?

Hugs to all you guys. You rule.

First, a piece of good news that indicates that I may be getting less obsessive-compulsive where food is concerned: I ate oatmeal at my desk this morning, and got started on reading e-mail and other things. About five minutes ago I got up to go get some water, and glanced at my oatmeal bowl; son of a bitch, there's a big chunk of oatmeal still in there. I have absolutely no memory of the point at which I stopped eating; I just did it and didn't think about it. Huh. Hell of a thing.

And now, for the inevitable therapy fun... I talked to my therapist about the power/control discovery yesterday, and she thinks it's an important step. It leads to more questions, though, and more homework.

I'm trying to figure out a way to articulate the things that came up, because they all do tie together but I'm not quite clear on exactly how. I know they're related, though.

There's this thing about baby steps. I have, in the past, made mouth noises about the importance of baby steps, and to a certain extent I even believed it. The thing is, though, that I only believed in the worth of baby steps in as much as they were a means to an end, not important in and of themselves. They were important because they led to the next step; if I got stuck on a baby step, though, or found my limit there, I translated that as TERRIBLE HORRIBLE FAILURE THE WHOLE THING IS FALLING DOWN AAAAAAAHHHH.

My therapist described baby steps as more of a testing process, trying a small step and seeing how it feels-- whereas I had been seeing baby steps as a conquering process, where I conquered one step in order to move on to the next. The difference there is threefold: the goal-setting, where a baby step is a goal in and of itself versus my concept of a goal being something out there and a baby step as insignificant except regarding how far it moves me toward that goal; listening to my body and emotions, which is currently a damn near foreign concept to me; and in time, where I would push the baby step as fast as I could instead of letting it settle in and evolve naturally.

I keep looking for a new structure. My therapist caught me at it, noticed that I kept asking "What do I do now?" and trying to get her to tell me how to do things. I seem to require a structure created by other people to give me a sense of up and down, right and wrong, good and bad. Kinda flailing at the moment. I'm guessing that this is my therapist's way of gently forcing me to feel my way and re-learn how to handle life in smaller increments, figure out what my priorities actually are, instead of what I feel they ought to be, and figure out how I feel about things.

Seriously, the strongest emotions I've had for a long time are fear and shame; everything else has been sort of dull. I honestly don't know where my priorities are because I can't tell based on positive emotions about them. I'm feeling pretty vulnerable now, and panicky, because now there's no telling where the hell I'm going to end up. Like I'm drifting, like there's a hole in my life. I can see where people look for a quick fix from this, because I'm used to having a distinct purpose in life and just living is very odd. I sat on the train this morning thinking that perhaps having a baby would help, at which point it occurred to me that a) that would be a very sucky reason to bring new life into the world, b) we're still just not ready for it, and c) my history of avoiding my problems by embracing new roles as What I Am Going To Do With My Life indicates that I'd turn into SuperMom and fall right back into my desperate search for perfection, only in this case harming a kid while doing it instead of just myself. Oy. What a supremely bad idea.

I have a friend who does this, by the way, which is why I recognized the pattern. She responded to a divorce and going onto Prozac by throwing herself head-on into another marriage, this time with a child that came along with the husband, and by adopting a myriad of pets. She always thinks she needs another pet, and keeps talking about having another baby, when it's clear that the pressures of the life she already has are just crushing her.

I'm just putting this all together. I guess in a way it's like escaping an abusive relationship (with myself! ha!) or a lousy work situation or a strict religion; it's a relief, don't get me wrong, but the lack of clear-cut direction is very disconcerting. Trust myself? When I was told for years that I had the wrong priorities, when I sometimes really want Doritos, when I've spent so long fighting myself that I don't even know what I really want?

Gah. So weird.

The up side is that I think it might be possible to get through this and come out as a functioning, relaxed version of myself. Gotta tell ya, that will be odd. Possibly as odd as looking in the mirror and not recognizing myself by the end of my months of weight loss. I mean, I don't remember a time when I wasn't stressed out and when disapproval didn't crush me like a bug. I don't remember trusting myself or being confident without having a corresponding achievement so that I could feel "permission" to be confident and to like myself.

There's this guy, though, who came out the other side of anorexia, who told his story on the PBS site, and who describes so much of what I've been like, and gives me hope for relaxing my head:

"One of the most significant insights I've gained in my recovery has been that I have spent my whole life trying to be somebody I'm not. Just like so many of my patients, I had the feeling that I was never good enough. In my own estimation, I was a failure. Any compliments or recognition of achievement did not fit. On the contrary, I always expected to be "found out" -- that others would discover that I was stupid, and it would be all over. Always starting with the premise that who I am is not good enough, I have gone to such extremes to improve what I assumed needed improvement. My eating disorder was one of those extremes. It blunted my anxieties and gave me a false sense of security through the control over food, body shape, and weight. My recovery has allowed me to experience these same anxieties and insecurities without the necessity of escape through control over food.

"Now these old fears are only some of the emotions that I have, and they have a different meaning attached to them. The feelings of inadequacy and the fear of failure are still there, but I understand that they are old and more reflective of environmental influences as I was growing up than an accurate measure of my abilities. This understanding has lifted an enormous pressure off of me. I no longer have to change who I am. In the past it would not have been acceptable to be content with who I am; only the best would be good enough. Now, there is room for error. Nothing needs to be perfect. I have a feeling of ease with people, and that is new to me. I am more confident that I can truly help people professionally. There is a comfort socially, and an experience of friendships that was not possible when I thought that others could only see the "bad" in me.

"I have not had to change in the ways that I initially feared. I have let myself respect the interests and feelings that I have always had. I can experience my fears without needing to escape."


I have started yelling at my past-- well, not out loud, but in my head. "Dad, that time when I was eleven or twelve and your cousins from another state stopped on their vacation to have dinner with us, and referred to me as "the chunky one"? If you remember, I didn't know anything about it until you told me, in a voice dripping with anger and shame. That was wrong. What the hell possessed you to do that? Why didn't you turn it back on them instead of turning it on me? All I learned from that was that I embarrassed you and that when people said mean things about me, you wouldn't protect me. VERY WRONG."

And: "Dad, remember the time that you wanted Mom to lose weight and you forced her to get on the scale when she didn't want to? I walked in and she was crying and you were angry. Again, a lovely memory to scar a pre-teen girl. The way you treated Mom was wrong. The way you took it out on me was wrong. The times you told me, "You don't want to turn out like your mother, do you? You're already heavier than she was at your age"-- that was seriously wrong, both cutting me down and my own mother at the same time. What in the world could have possibly made you think that this was a good thing to do?"

And: "You made exercise seem like punishment. It was something I had to do in order to make you happy. I used to jog around the park, except that the only part of it that was actually "jogging" was the part where someone watching from our house could see me; the rest of the time I'd just walk. You clamped down on television except for the time spent on the treadmill. It's like you were designing a program to make me hate being active just as you were making me feel that I needed to be active in order to get your approval. Thanks a fucking lot."

I had the sudden, stark memory today of the time when my sister came home to visit after I'd lost a lot of weight after college, and I actually said, "If I'd known before that all I had to do to make Dad approve of me was to get skinny, I would've done this a long time ago." That was when I was eating less than a thousand calories a day and exercising more and more. I consider myself lucky, after reading all the stories online and seeing that Nova program, that I didn't walk away from that with anorexia. I came really close. Binge eating disorder is bad enough, but at least it didn't kill me. Jesus, I was a textbook case: approval only coming when I got skinny, associating that with instant approval from my otherwise disapproving father (the holy grail of familial response). I'm really damn lucky I didn't get anorexia.

It's not "daddy issues", my therapist says, so much as "self issues"; I need to own them and let go of the blame part because I'm a grown-up now and responsible for my own future. I'm just so angry at him; for what he did in the past, for being so oblivious to what he did, for approving loudly of my current weight and eating habits and exercise, for continuing to grumble about my mother's weight to me and ask what he can do to change her. I know he has self-esteem issues of his own, and that he turned out the way he did because of the pressures of being the only "good" kid in the family, and I know he loves me, but I still have my doubts about whether or not he'll ever approve of me unconditionally. My therapist says that in order to preserve my sanity I'll just have to let go of that, accept that he'll never change, accept that I won't get what I want from him, mourn it, and then face the "now what?" Yeah, I know. I'm not sure whether it's harder now, when he's in approval mode, or whether it would be harder to let go if I was still heavy.

I just want this to be over. I'm so tired of being obsessive about food and exercise; hell, I've been tired of it for more than a year now and had to keep finding new reasons to work at it. I want to spend the day not thinking so hard about this. I want food to be something casual to me, not obsessed over or feared or clamored for. I just want to RELAX.

Some more bits of stuff from here and there that I felt clobbered by-- mostly for my own reference, sorry for the clutter.

From a description of Karen Carpenter: "She had the common signs of anorexia. She was sweet, but kept her emotions inside. She was the kind of person who would take care of other people, but not herself."

On anorexia: "Scientists are saying that anorexia can develop when parents set excessively high standards of achievement or exert too much control over their children. Children of authoritative parents don't rebel. Instead, they find areas in their lives where they do have control. One of them being their eating habits.

"Eventually, girls begin to develop a distorted view of themselves. Psychological disturbances cause them to stop seeing themselves realistically, which in turn causes them to have a low self-image. Often, other peoples' references to chubbiness, pudginess, or baby fat sends the signal that weight must be lost. Bright and successful people see themselves as disgustingly fat. They feel that they have to measure up, but that they can't unless they change their body weight. Anorexia is about control. For some, dealing with pressure means taking control of food."

From a website on counceling issues regarding EDs: "The typical image of the eating disordered is the "model child" or "perfect little Princess"; behind this image lies a poor sense of self, intense need for approval; and compulsive high-achievement. Because flaws are seen as failures which can invite rejection, a pervasive anxiety dominates their lives. To cope socially, bulimics tend to be gregarious impression-managers, while anorexics may simply withdraw."


  • You know, I think its time for you to change your counter on the top of your screen. I know it says you've been living healthy for 98 weeks and some odd days, but I think now you're living emotionally healthy in addition to physically. Its so amazing to watch it all unfold, it really is. I'm glad you aren't making excuses for how you feel. It must be so hard to realize so many different things about yourself in such a short period of time - I wish you patience to let yourself change as it happens. Baby steps are hard but they're the best way to go. And I'm sorry about how your Dad made you feel growing up, it makes me sad to know that happened, but it also means if there is anyone in this world who can turn the cycle around for their future children, it's you.

    By Anonymous E, at 3:15 PM  

  • All I can really says is Wow. Thanks for the amazing insights.

    By Blogger ms ralph, at 3:52 AM  

  • I would be very interested to hear how you channel or let go of the anger toward your dad. I am going through something very similar - dealing with the anger I have at my dad for warping my self-esteem.

    A very thought provoking and powerful post. Thank you for sharing your journey.

    By Blogger neca, at 7:09 AM  

  • Thank you for being so open. Reading this made me hurt for you, and made my stomach hurt for me. Different comments were said to me growing up, but the hurt is the same.


    By Blogger Angel, at 2:30 PM  

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