I am fat.
Actually, I am more than fat; I am obese.
Okay, if you want to get technical about it, I am SUPER MORBIDLY OBESE.
Those are words. Just words. Descriptors. However, these words, and others like them, demonstrate the ridiculousness and downright stupidity of the old playground cliché: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!” (admit it, if you’re over 30, you can hardly read it without hearing that nasally, sing-songy tone we all learned as we stuck our tongues out and walked away.) I call bullshit! Okay, I know I’m not the first to point that out – it still feels good to say it.
Most everyone knows now that teasing is an extremely destructive form of interaction with children and young people. Most even know that labels, even with good intentions, can be harmful.
That wasn’t the case in 1975. Or 1980. Or 1987. Or in my family at all. Ever.
If you grew up in my family, you had “to learn to laugh at yourself.” It SOUNDS innocuous enough but, oh! the damage it has done.
In my family, when I got teased at school as a result of my weight, my mom’s response was, “Well, it’s true. You need to lose weight.” Those are probably the nicest words she ever had to say about my weight. I have written before and I’m sure I’ll write again about the humiliation to which my mother subjected me throughout most of my life.
My mother isn’t the only source of abuse; she is the worst – for a variety of reasons. She often used the most vile, debasing words and threats – which continue to grow more harsh as I grow older. Her barrage, although not constant, was consistent. In conjunction with the ongoing, demeaning vocal diatribe, she was a quiet saboteur. In one breath, she would verbally beat me down about my weight and relay to me that there were Little Debbie’s in the cupboard if I wanted them. All these reasons aside, hers was (is) the cruelest abuse because she is my mother.
I am 42. I have read all the books; I have very good therapists. I understand as much of HER past as any child can of her parents’ lives. I know that her words come from a place of weakness and intimidation. They come from a life lived in fear – in her own level of hell, with her own demons.
I am from a family riddled with addiction. As far as I can tell, it goes way back. On my mother’s side.
I can’t talk about my mother without talking about my father. My father’s abuse and humiliation of me come in the form of, well, nothing. In the traditional sense, he has done nothing horrible to me; he has perpetrated no abuse. He has, in fact, done nothing. After my parents’ divorce and his remarriage, his actions made it clear that I was not a priority. I was not worth his attention. I’m not now.
I am 42. I have read all the books; I have very good therapists. I understand less about HIS life than most children do of their parents’ lives. I know that his lack of ability to demonstrate love comes from a place of weakness and intimidation. It comes from a life lived in fear which I can only imagine – in his own level of hell, with his own demons.
I am from a family saddled with pragmatism. As far as I can tell, it goes, well, I don’t know. On my father’s side of our family, I’m flying blind.
I know. It’s cliché. But for years, I blamed my mother. Only my mother. I
am was angry. In my anger, I placed blame. I wasn’t picky. You name it, it was her fault. My inability to maintain a relationship, my descent into promiscuity. Mostly, though, it was my burgeoning weight and low self-esteem. I covered my hurt with bravado; It’s often difficult to tell the difference.
It’s easier to hate my mother. It’s easier to blame her. It has been difficult to understand that my father was equally culpable. He didn’t pay attention. He didn’t stand up for me. He checked out. There is blame to be leveled there as well. The reality remains that it is easier to lash out at the people who tried and hurt you anyhow than those who didn’t think you were worth their time and ended up hurting you anyhow. Yet, commission or omission, a lie is a lie.
What I’ve learned recently is that they are to blame. I have every right to be angry and to hate them and the choices they made. I assure you, I have spent some time doing just that. Not very long ago, I spent some time reading and ruminating on these feelings. What I found seemed to suggest that I do have to spend some time with those feelings. The feelings that have their roots in childhood when I couldn’t understand, couldn’t express or wasn’t allowed to feel them. The manner in which I was raised would not allow me to feel them as I aged, either. I’m feeling them now. All of them. It is only in being allowed to feel the powerful emotions that they can then be allowed to move into something else…hate to anger to acceptance…perhaps to joy?
What I have also discovered concerns coping mechanisms. When a child is not allowed to feel strong emotions, she can adapt in many ways. My protective mechanisms became humor and bravado. I derived some sense of control from eating. The food I put in my mouth was the only control I could exercise.
Okay, so my parents are to blame. So what? I grew up and my choices became my own. The most useful piece of information I have ever garnered from a self-help book is (and I’m paraphrasing) It’s not your fault you have a weight problem but it IS your responsibility. The book was aimed at weight/food issues; however, I submit that one statement could be applied more broadly. It really is an empowering statement, in my opinion.
I still have to go back and confront my past. The spiritual abuse and humiliation. But I can’t let that need continue to keep me entrenched in misery; I must move forward. It’s tricky to move forward from two separate places in time but I’m a smart woman – I have confidence in my ability to complete the work I’ve started.
I have broken the cycle. I have been able to see the pain, humiliation and addiction for what they are and I have chosen to heal myself and refuse to perpetuate the cycle. My son will be the better for it. His children will be better still because I made a choice. There is no better legacy.
So where do I go from here?
The theme of my blog posts this week, of course. I go to second chances.
Who would I give a second chance? Honestly, I’ve tried for years to give my mother a second chance. I feel as if I’ve given her hundreds. She’s my mother and she’ll get as many as she needs. I’ve developed methods for coping with her humiliation, manipulation and guilt which have been marginally effective and I will continue to grow and develop strategies. I understand more now – and I pity her more than I am angry with her.
As I’ve only recently come to grips with my anger at my father, I’m sitting with it for a “minute” and then, as the anger moves out of the way, I’ll be able to see acceptance on the other side – I think the forgiveness will come at that time. And probably many more times in the years to come. As many second chances as it takes. He’s my father, he’ll get as many as he needs. I’ve developed methods for coping with his distance – his aloofness which have been marginally effective at avoiding arguments, if not always beneficial in relationship building. I understand more now – and I pity him more than I resent him.
I get angry with myself. For all the years I didn’t “see” it. Angry because in all the years since I recognized it, I have not been able to affect my weight yet – which truly does threaten my life. I wake up every morning with a second chance to break the bonds of compulsion and addiction. One day, I won’t fail. The day after that, I will succeed. There will be a day on which those words, those descriptors won’t apply. I don’t think that will mean that the hurt will stop.
Because I trust in God (now), I have faith that there is a reason for what I have suffered, the exploration I’ve undertaken and the lessons I have learned.
I read something awhile ago which has often given me pause to think about the situations in which I find myself. “There is something God wants to teach you which you can only learn by being in THIS place at THIS time.” That one thought has made me stop and reexamine my environment on more than one occasion and I generally take more away than I would have otherwise.
I believe, in my case, that He has blessed my life with just what I need to shepherd the incredible son He sent to save my life and others He puts in my path as we travel through this life.
Second chances – I’m working on giving them and extending the reach of God’s RADICAL GRACE. I’m working on receiving them and the Radical Grace which accompanies all of my chances.