DAY TWO


pleaser

Well, I made it through Day One. And that seemed like a Herculean task. I was grateful when it was time to go to bed so I could stop thinking about what I could not eat.

What I consumed:

  • Cleanse Shake with frozen pineapple and mango
  • 2 clementines
  • 1 banana
  • 1 sweet potato with olive oil and sea salt
  • 1 head of steamed cauliflower with sea salt and pepper
  • 30 baby carrots
  • 30 gigantic supplement capsules
  • 24 oz water

How I felt:

I experienced minor headaches throughout the day as a result of the lack of caffeine. Even though I am not a big coffee drinker, I enjoy a Starbucks latte fairly regularly and I do drink tea daily. I also enjoy the occasional diet coke. My body likes its caffeine and is a bit cranky without it.

I felt a little grumpy and disoriented mostly because I was completely disconnected from the world. I think my detachment from Facebook was the hardest part of the day for me because, sadly, Facebook is my most common connection point to life outside my house. I didn’t crave any foods and wasn’t even really all that hungry throughout the day. I did catch myself a few times going for a snack and started becoming aware of how frequently I do that – mindlessly.

Physical Activity:

None.

I was in front of my computer from 9am until about 9pm with a project on deadline for work. And that made me mad. And leads me to today’s blog post.

Throughout the day yesterday, I felt anger simmering inside me. I was trying really hard to not filter myself and embrace and acknowledge my feelings. The whole point of this exercise is to see how what I put into my body affects how I feel. And, it is important for me to pay attention to how I feel when I don’t have the freedom to numb myself with food. That level of detox occurred immediately. I was looking for comfort throughout the day because I wanted to squash how I was feeling.

Last week, I attended my younger son’s very last Parent/Teacher conference at his elementary school. It was a bittersweet experience and I surprised myself when I got a little emotional at the end of the meeting with the teachers. I was not ready for the time to end and just wanted to hang on a little bit longer. I think they sensed that and were kind  enough to chat with me a little bit since there was a lull in the traffic of parents. Both of the teachers made a comment about my son that I have heard before but, for the first time, gave me a little sick feeling. “He’s such a great kid.  We love having him in the class. He is such a pleaser.” I hate that last part. I know this is an accurate statement and I know how it comes across in the classroom environment. My son will work hard so the teachers and we, as parents, will be proud of him. He wants to please us and, ultimately, feels satisfied when he does. I also know that my sweet boy won the genetic lottery and caught that character trait from me. I’ve been a pleaser my whole life and, after all this time, it is one of the aspects of myself I least enjoy.

Being a pleaser evokes an image for me of a doormat. And, while I know that neither my son nor myself are a doormat, it sometimes feels like we are. People on the receiving end of pleasers often can’t resist the temptation to let us do things to make them happy. It is hard to blame them for taking. For me, the pleasing began when I was a young girl because I was trying to keep the peace in my home and I believed that if I accommodated everyone else’s needs that I could make everyone feel better and, in turn, I would feel better.  Well, of course, that is not the case at all.  A pleaser never feels good. The foundation of why we please is generally rooted in a deep level of insecurity about ourselves. For my son, he feels like he does not perform well enough in school so he goes out of his way to ingratiate himself with his teachers and wants nothing more than to come home with good grades. He shared with me last year that he gets stressed when he takes tests because he is concerned that we will be angry with him if he comes home with a bad score. Neither of us have ever demonstrated that to him but it is hard-wired into him to feel that type of concern. Perhaps he feels overshadowed by his older brother. Maybe we pushed him too hard early in his academic years because he was struggling. Who knows exactly the root cause but it is in there. And now he gets pleasure from pleasing and doesn’t understand that this won’t serve him well in life.

Yesterday, I was feeling the pain that pleasers tend to feel when they have hit their saturation point. And I wanted to lash out. Another Sunday was sucked up by work and I was resentful that I am the one who always say yes in order to take the burden off of everyone else. As a result, my life has been swallowed up. I have lost myself in trying to lighten everyone else’s load and can no longer figure out how to lighten my load. When I think back at how I have been living for the past few years, it is so obvious to me that I have allowed my inner pleaser out and, rather than keep it on the short leash I normally do, it has run free and rampant through my life. And I have become increasingly more angry.  Rather than direct this energy where I should by, perhaps, pulling back the reins a bit and shutting the pleaser down, I have turned the rage inward and beaten myself up. And I have stifled myself by shoving food in my mouth rather than saying the simple word “no.”

The word in my head all day today was boundaries. I need to cordon off my area and keep it safe. My belief is not that the people around me are inherently trying to take advantage but, instead, that I enable them to. I want to blame the others and victimize myself but I know, in fact, that I am mostly responsible for this and I need to revise the rules of engagement. If nothing else, I will come out of this cleanse with an inherent understanding of what is broken and causing me to ease my discomfort with food. The absence of the drug and the laser focus on my moods and emotions are certainly revealing some hard truths.

I’m still kind of angry today and feeling extremely unsettled about it all but I know, with time, it will ease up. Like the little headaches that dully nag at me throughout the day, this uncomfortableness with make way for some new understanding and, hopefully, some meaningful development in my life. And, while I definitely felt the pangs for a comfort in the form of food today, I know I will wake up tomorrow morning truly thankful that I am sober and aware.

THE BASEMENT


basement windowI’m standing in the basement.  It is cold and the only light is that which is streaming in through the cellar window above my mother’s exercise bike.  I love to sit on that bike and pretend to talk on the phone.  My mother transplanted her old blue princess phone that used to sit next to her bed and was the transmission of late night calls from neighbors or sometimes the police that my father was drunk again and had gotten into some type of trouble. It was cast away in the basement so she didn’t have the daily reminder of those calls each time she lay her head down on her bed. Now, it is now part of my own private clubhouse in the basement.

The basement is not finished nor is it heated.  The walls are cinder block and concrete and are lined with cans of food in my mother’s makeshift storage pantry.  Every time she goes to the grocery store, she adds more and more to her growing collection.  She rarely uses most of the food she buys so I suppose she is preparing herself for the apocalypse.  We can go down into our basement bunker and likely last for years off the string beans, peas, carrots, fruit and tomato soup.

There are a number of doors in the basement, one leads to the cement steps up to our cement yard.  Sometimes my mother forces me to go out there because she thinks I shouldn’t be inside.  When I was 8 and my father took me and my brother to the toy store to buy us Christmas presents on a cold December day, I came home with a Barbie Townhouse. I was over the moon to have this coveted property, complete with an elevator up to the three stories. I only had a few Barbies at the time and I managed to guilt my absentee father into also buying a Ken doll so Barbie would have someone to keep her company in that large house. When we returned from the store, my mother exiled me to the concrete yard to put together my dream house on the redwood picnic table, carefully snapping together the parts with mittened fingers and bundled up in my shabby winter coat.We always enter the house through that door because the driveway is in the back by the yard and it is easier to walk down the cellar backyard steps and through the basement

We always enter the house through that back basement door because the driveway is in the back by the yard and it is easier to walk down the cellar backyard steps and through the basement up the steps to the main floor of the house than to walk all the way around the front of the house and use that door.  My mother never uses the front door.  She does not like us to bring dirt into the house.  Instead, we can come in through the basement and leave our shoes at the bottom of the stairs, never getting anywhere close to the purity of the wall-to-wall carpet or the plastic runner in the hallway.  We also have a driveway in the front of our house which leads to the garage.  My mother never uses the garage to park the car.  It’s not as if the garage is cluttered with stuff aside from a bike or two, some gardening tools and assorted other junk that I never really bothered to figure out why was there.  Sometimes we sit in the garage during

We always enter the house through the basement door because there is a driveway in the back of the house that my mother prefers over the inclined driveway in the front that leads to the garage.  My mother never uses the front door.  She does not like us to bring dirt into the house so she insists we come in through the basement and leave our shoes at the bottom of the stairs, never allowing them within striking distance of the purity of the wall-to-wall carpet or the plastic runner in the hallway upstairs.  The other door in my basement leads to the garage but my mother never parks her car in there. Even though it’s not cluttered and merely contains a bike or two, some gardening tools and a few shelves to store paper towels and toilet paper (also probably sundries in preparation for the apocalypse), my mother opts to keep her car outside.  Sometimes we sit in the garage during thunderstorms and watch with the large door open, safe from the lightning and pouring rain.  I am sometimes afraid of thunder and shudder as my small body curls up in a metal lawn chair protecting myself.  When I get older, I will watch storms with my own children, trying to make them feel safe.

My basement has defined regions that I have labeled based on their functions. The back wall, where the cans are stored is the Sundry Shop. When you enter the basement from the back door, you immediately step into the Laundromat. There is a washer with an old basin and a rickety plastic chair (presumably to sit and read a magazine or a book while your wash is going but nobody ever really sits there.  It serves mostly as a place to drop your stuff when you enter the house.  My mother insists that I leave my knapsack there after school and I will sometimes, rather than follow the rules and hang my coat up, just drop it on the chair in defiance.  Sometimes I sit in the chair to read a book while I wait for my mother to come downstairs so we can head out to wherever we are going. Usually, however, it is piled with junk and that is ok because it is in the basement and my mother doesn’t have to look at it all the time.

There is a cubbyhole space under the stairs where my mother stores her drying rack.  We never had a dryer and, whether it be a form or rationalization or her genuine choice, my mother claims to prefer the drying rack.  I suspect she pines for a fancy dryer but hardly anyone has one so it might seem a bit indulgent.  She has her Cadillac, after all.  That was a big treat from my father.  A dryer might be pushing it a bit.  My mother also hangs clothes along the pipes in the space in between the Sundry Shop and the Laundromat. It serves as a section divider and, in my mind, it separates my space (inside the Sundry Shop) from the Laundromat.  When I’m bored, I like to brush my hands along the hanging clothes and watch them flutter.  I also like to walk through the low-hanging clothes, letting my head push them aside as if I am entering through some dramatic draped entryway.

As you leave the Laundromat en route to the steps leading to the main floor of the house, there is an old dresser that once upon a time resided in my brother’s bedroom. This was before they bought him the new furniture – identical to the set my parent’s best friends bought for the identical bedroom in their matching house down the block.  I often walk through their house trying to find any differences between theirs and ours.  Aside from the color of appliances, the furnishings and some of the fixtures in the bathroom, they are twins. We have two of the dozen or so single-family row houses on the block that are built exactly the same.  My mother always says ours is best because we have the corner lot with more property.  We have two driveways and you can access our yard from the street instead of having to go through the house.  If I want to enter any of the neighbor’s yards, I have to be granted access by ringing the doorbell but, once inside, I know exactly how to find my way down the stairs and through the back door. Our next door neighbors put a gate in the chain link fence that separates our yards when we were all little so we could use their swing set. When things got ugly with my parents, I noticed that the gate was gone and was replaced with a new patch of chain link.

I spend a lot of time in my parents’ best friends’ house.  Their granddaughter is my best friend.  Well, she is probably my only friend.  I have known her since she was born and kind of adopted her as my little sister.  I love taking care of her – even if she is only three years younger than me.  I am the youngest in my family and always wanted a younger sibling to care for and have around as a surefire friend but my mother was already 39 when she had me and, being her third, there were no more babies coming our way.

The dresser that was transplanted to the basement is In the Storage Facility section of the basement.  I often rifle through the drawers when I am bored and discover partnerless mittens along with random other outerwear like my brother’s knit Jets ski cap or dilapidated scarves that were bought at Korvette’s on sale.  It is the home for unwanted items that my mother is afraid to throw away – random batteries, old tablecloths, scraps of paper. It is a perfect place to hide my own stuff or candy wrappers that I am afraid to throw in the garbage because no one ever looks for anything there.  Sometimes, I drag a lawn chair in front of the dresser and pretend it is my drawing desk because I do not have a desk in my room like my brother does.  His new suite of furniture is all dark brown wood with modular components.  My parents splurged and bought almost as many pieces as their friends.  There are book shelves on top of the dressers making up a whole wall full of furniture.  There is a nearly full set of encyclopedias on the shelves. I suspect the last installments were set to come after my father left and my mother was too afraid to spend the money to complete the set. I have to sneak into my brother’s room when he is not there to use the encyclopedias. It seems ironic to me that the books would be stored in his room when he hardly ever attends school and will drop out in 11th grade while I am a straight A student who reads all the time. All the way at the end of the wall of furniture is the desk which sits below a small window. Occasionally I will climb up on the desk to peer out and see what is going on out on the street.  I can see all the 2-family houses across the street – all of which are also identical to each other.  Almost to the end of the block is my parents’ best friends’ granddaughter’s house and I can look out this window or the one in my mother’s bedroom and see if she is outside playing.  Sometimes I see the other neighbor kids playing stickball in the street but I am hesitant to go out and play with them because they tease me a lot.  They call me fat and all kinds of mean names which makes me want to go back inside and hide.

Right next to the dresser in the basement, at the very bottom of the stairs from the main floor is a closet, the centerpiece of the Storage Facility.  The closet is more like a crawl space as the ceiling is very low – probably no more than 4 feet or so.  My mother uses this to store miscellaneous items like lawn chairs, old board games and other items that are not critically important to her.  My brother and I like to set up the chairs in there sometimes and pretend we are in a supercharged elevator or space ship.  He convinced me when I was about 5 that the closet could take us up past the roof of the house but I was not allowed to open the doors because it would kill the engines and we would fall to our death.  I believed him about this and everything else he told me.  He is 5 years older than me and assumed he must be so much smarter than me. One day when we were walking to elementary school, he pointed out some odd footprints in the concrete.  He convinced me that they were dinosaur prints that had been there since the Jurassic period.  I shared this important information with all the other kids on the walk to school who laughed at my foolishness of believing that paw prints from a dog were actually the work of a dinosaur. They teased me relentlessly until we finished up at that school in sixth grade.

I roam the 200 or so square feet of the cold, unfinished basement constantly, looking for ways to fill my time when I am exiled down there by my mother.  She rarely lets me play upstairs because she is afraid I will make a mess and suggests that the basement is a more appropriate spot.  I guess she thinks it is ok for me to sit on the cold floor or to cuddle up in a lawn chair to read a book.  I guess, according to her, it is perfectly fine for me to have to wear a coat inside my house in order to stay warm in the cold winter months in that basement.  I try to create my own little sanctuary and find ways to make myself feel safe but sometimes it is difficult.  I get scared down in the basement.  I get lonely.

Behind the exercise bike and next to my mother’s stacks of canned goods in the Sundry Shop is the side-by-side refrigerator/freezer.  Every time my mother gets a new refrigerator in the kitchen, the old one makes it way down to the basement.  Everything seems to be exiled down here when it is not needed anymore.  My mother stocks that refrigerator with more of her disaster supplies.  I never notice how the perishable items make it into the rotation upstairs but there are tubs of margarine, cartons of eggs, containers of milk that sit alongside prepared food that my mother sometimes stores in anticipation of upcoming meals or parties.  In the freezer, my mother hides all the good stuff.  In there, she squirrels away her baked goods.  She loves to bake and has a penchant for sour cream cake made in a bundt pan.  She never makes anything homemade and we don’t own anything more sophisticated than a hand mixer so, if it does not come out of a box and require minimal effort, it is not going to be made in our house.  My mother is convinced that the sour cream cake is healthier than some other options like chocolate frosted cake or brownies.  She always looks for low-calorie options in order to try to keep her weight under control and to manage mine as well.  I usually am not permitted to eat any of the cakes she makes but I have figured out how to pull back the tin foil on the ones she stores in the freezer and pick off little pieces to satisfy my sweet tooth.  I then stick my finger into the frozen cool whip and lick its sticky goodness.  I hate myself for sneaking this food but I cannot help myself.  I am sad and it makes me feel better.  I know my mother is going to find out and be so mad at me but I can’t control it. I guess I will just wait and see how she will punish me for my misdeeds. But, in the moment, the food makes me feel safe.

MISFIT


being an outsiderDespite all the pain I have endured in my life, dealing with my dysfunctional family, trying to piece together a life that is built on something more than a foundation of quicksand, the aspect of my life that has caused me the most sadness, the most conflict and the most torture is my weight.

I rarely talk about my weight unless it is focused on my doing something positive around it.  Last year I lost 50 lbs and I talked bravely and boldly about my efforts to get there.  I chronicled my efforts with kickboxing and karate and how it helped me to reshape myself.  I developed a new level of confidence and became empowered as I saw my body transforming to something I had never seen before.  With all that, however, I never tackled the underlying issues that I have faced for almost my entire life pertaining to weight, body image, food and self-loathing.  I ended up going to kickboxing because it was yet another attempt to shed pounds and prevent myself from falling off a cliff into obesity.  My weight had spiraled out of control.  I was heavier than I had ever been in my life.  I was miserable, hated myself and simply did not know what to do.  By the grace of God, I was turned on to kickboxing and it helped me to jumpstart my efforts to begin to shed the weight that I had carried around for far too long.  But that was only the tip of the iceberg.  I went down several clothing sizes and liked what I saw in the mirror so much more than what was there before.  I developed a new sense of confidence but the fat girl still lives inside me.  The girl who has been fat since forever still looks back at me in the mirror every morning.  Of course she does.  I still have a long way to go.  I am, by no means, even close to where I want or need to be and, in truth, I fear that the little girl who was tortured for most of her childhood about how ugly and fat she was, will never be able to break free from this prison.

I recently had a little bit of an epiphany.  I realized that every single day I wake up and my first thought is about what I ate the day before.  Like an alcoholic or drug addict, I take an inventory to see if I fell off the wagon.  It is an involuntary reflex that I simply cannot get a handle on.  The tone of my day is often set by the choices I made the previous day.  I either applaud and celebrate a “good” day or I ridicule and punish myself with guilt and misery for those days that I went off the rails.  And, unfortunately, my train often has a hard time staying on the track.

I am embarrassed and ashamed by my weight.  While I don’t think of myself, today, as someone who is less deserving of anything because of what I look like, that was not always my truth.  For most of my life, I believed I was a lesser person because I was not pretty and thin.  I felt ugly and undeserving.  I was bullied and tortured for the better part of my young life – and not just from kids at school.  My own family tormented me and humiliated me in order to try to convince me to change my habits and lose weight.  I was the butt of jokes in my house because of my extremely healthy appetite.  I loved to eat as a kid but no one seemed to understand that most of it was rooted in unhappiness and boredom.  Food made me happy.  Oreos were a treat that soothed my pain.  Ice cream or cake numbed me like a healthy hit of heroin.  I was a junkie at a very young age but my own family only saw me as defective on the outside rather than seeing that I was broken on the inside.

My life was a constant circuit of feeling bad about how I looked and being subjected to abuse by those around me to the self-medication of food.  I would sneak whatever I could find in order to get my fix.  My mother used to make bundt cakes, wrap them in tin foil and put them in the freezer in the basement to save for a special occasion.  Because I was forced to play down in our unfinished cellar and was so sad and resentful for the exile, I would use that opportunity to pick at the frozen cake and slowly and steadily consume it over days and weeks, all the while knowing that my mother would ridicule me when she saw the food was gone.  My most vivid memories of my childhood involved my attempts to locate cookies and candy that were strategically hidden throughout the house to prevent me from getting to it.  I was a latchkey kid who spent long periods at home alone after school and I had missions to seek out the treasure.  I found cookies hidden in the oven, candy tucked away behind cans pushed to the back of kitchen cabinets.  I snuck food up to my room only to have my mother find mashed up wrappers under my bed.  And the circle continued.  As did the abuse.

I internalized all the nasty words and the bullying.  I would not accept that I was such a pariah and tried to mask it all by being funny and trying to be likable.  I excelled in school in hopes that my teachers would love me and find me worthwhile.  Nothing in my life made me feel worthy except for my academic accomplishments.  I walked around with a giant, gaping hole inside me where my self-worth and confidence should have resided.  I felt small and insignificant and, at the same time, big and fat and taking up too much space.

I recently started looking at photos of myself as a young girl and felt angry because I simply was not the monstrosity that my memories suggest.  I was chubby but not the obese child that my family chastised me about.  I remember clothes always being an issue because I was taller and bigger than most of the kids my age and my mother continually reminded me that I had to shop the bigger sizes.  I hated it.  I dreaded going clothes shopping because I knew it would include a torturous commentary about how i was so different than the other kids and how difficult I was.

I was difficult.

I was the problem.

I was wrong.

I was not worthy.

I was not lovable.

I came to understand, much later in my life, that my mother was projecting her own insecurities on to me.  She felt ashamed by me and my size disrupted her world in ways that she simply could not deal with.  Nonetheless, as a child, I believed I was to blame.  I believed that I was not worthy of love because I was fat and ugly.  That was my absolute truth and I struggled with it every single day.  In fact, I believed all of that until well into adulthood.  When I met my husband, I tried to introduce him to some of my pretty friends because I could not believe that I would be attractive enough for him to want to date me.  I did not think I was deserving of him.  I did not believe he could see past all the ugliness that I saw and find me desirable or worth loving.  I look back at the photos of myself then and realize how adorable and beautiful and wonderful I was.  I simply could not see it.  I had no way of loving myself because all I had been told was how ugly and unworthy I was.  They just used nicer words to say it.

When I was in my early 20s (around the time I met my husband), I was staying at my sister’s house and I had slept the night in my niece’s bedroom.  My niece must have been around 8 or 9 at the time.  I was just beginning to wake up but still had my eyes closed and was savoring the last moments of sleep before it was time to get out of bed.  My niece, much like me, struggled with her weight from a very young age.  My sister, who also struggled with her weight but managed to keep herself happy at a size 8, was very troubled by her daughter’s size and used similar tactics on her as my mother and my sister used on me.  As I lay in the bed and my sister believed me to still be asleep, I heard her fumbling around in the closet trying to find clothes for her daughter for school.  I listened as she whispered to her “You don’t want to be fat like Aunt Tammy…”  I can still feel the sting of those words.  The heartless and cruel exploitation of me married with the degradation of my niece.  She managed to kill the proverbial two birds with one stone.  I immediately internalized the comment and turned it onto myself.  She was right.  I was bad.  There was something wrong with me.  I was not worthy.  I was not worthy.

I spent most of my childhood alone and with my thoughts.  It was there that I began to write to create alternate realities for myself.  I created characters that lived the lives I so wished for myself.  The girls were all beautiful and loved.  They had friends and families and their lives were magical.  Not so for me but I could create any world for them and so I did.  I suppose I should be grateful for that as I would never have had the need or the motivation to learn how to express all of my innermost desires and articulate them in that way.  But, no.  I still have a hard time finding the silver lining.  Being subjected to bullying for the majority of my academic life and never learning how to assimilate with other kids was a horrible existence.  When I finally learned how to cover my pain and put on a show to let people believe that I was more confident and self-possessed, I began to develop friendships and actually was part of a more popular crowd in high school.  Sadly, I could not sustain many of those relationships because I never felt like I really fit in.  While my friends were going through the traditional adolescent experiences, I was desperately praying that I could just get through high school so I could move away from home and try to start a new life someplace else.  I prayed that I would crack the code and figure out how to lose the weight and become normal like the other kids.  What, of course, I did not realize was that the weight was becoming less and less of an issue and the damage to my soul and my fractured psyche were now what was holding me back.

There is no happy ending to this story.  It is just the beginning of the road for me with this.  I am just now starting to unpack decades of boxes filled with unbearable pain.  And, in order for me to truly become the authentic person that I am desperately trying to be, I cannot hide this aspect of myself away.  It is such a huge part of my story – not just a chapter or two.  This defines me and yet it is a secret I bury so deep inside me because I don’t want to be looked at differently.  I want to blend into the crowd. I want people to think I am just regular.  I suppose it is why I gravitate to those who are different.  It is why I still don’t fit in with the popular kids.  I am a misfit.  Except, today, I am proud to be a misfit.

And so my story begins….