Yesterday was a breakthrough session at therapy for me. Which means, of course, today's post is a novella. So, bear with me here.
I started by telling Julie about vacation. I thought about my dad a lot while we were in Florida. On the Star Tours ride at Hollywood Studios in Disney, because Star Wars was the first movie I saw in the theater at 7 years old, and Dad was a big sci-fi fan. At the ocean...not sure why, maybe just the vastness of it and it reminded me of heaven. At Seaworld during the dolphin show, where I got choked up and started crying at one point during the intense climax of the show--there were dolphins, acrobats, people swimming with the dolphins, and a dozen or so brightly-colored parrots that flew through the stadium over our heads, which all coalesced in the finale. It was amazing and beautiful.
I thought about Dad during that show because I felt that my response was inappropriate. I was swept up in the intensity of it all, and the tears started flowing and I had to check myself and get it under control before I embarrassed myself or my family. No one else was crying, afterall.
My Dad was fairly reclusive, but when he was among people, he often over reacted to things--big emotions, big displays of opinion. I remember feeling embarrassed more than once in my childhood years by how he behaved.
He went totally overboard on some things, like turning his Ham radio habit into storm chasing. We were little kids and when a tornado would threaten our area, mom and us girls would go to my grandparents' basement down the hill (we lived in a trailer) and dad would sit under the trailer or drive his car around, looking for the tornado.
He also focused particularly on the attacks on 9/11/01, and on the war. He and his 2nd wife bought this New York skyline (with towers in tact) that was made of mirrored glass and took up an entire wall of the dining room. It's tacky and overstated; it epitomizes what I'm trying to get to here. Inappropriate passion for something that is not personally significant (not that 9/11 isn't significant for every person in this country, but we didn't have family that died and we live in Indiana).
After I told Julie all this, she picked out the word "inappropriate." She said that happiness and sadness are close together in our emotions. That tears can come with both. That I was happy to be with my family on vacation, and I had been thinking of my dad but had to push those emotions down during the trip, and when I let myself open up to the emotional dolphin show, it was a natural reaction to shed some tears. Nothing she heard in my description sounded inappropriate.
I told her no one else was crying. She said, why do you need approval from the crowd that you can cry?
She asked what trauma I had experienced that I felt I coudn't trust my emtions and why I feel the need to not be seen? I didn't have a ready answer. I looked at the ceiling and thought. She told me to look down at my lap, look below my shoulders. I gave her a funny look and said why? I said, if I look down I'm going to cry (I was already emotional; I'd started crying in the parking lot when I left work to go to my appointment; it was a hormonal kind of day). The emotions aren't up there, they are down here, she said.
And sure enough, I looked down, started cry, let my mind run through my past, and kept coming to my childhood. I said there wasn't any one thing, no one trauma. But from puberty on, I felt like I needed to be invisible.
My dad was moody. He spent a lot of time in his recliner in our family room, where he watched TV with big stereo speakers and lots of sound (I am very sensitive to loud sounds, especially TV or music), or would listen to loud Lawrence Welk-style music. He drank sometimes. I learned to stay out of his way, or I'd get yelled at or made to feel bad about myself. I spent a lot of time in my room, by myself.
I hated his bad moods. I asked him one time if he was in a good mood or not--I was going to go with Mom somewhere if he wasn't--he said, you just asking me what kind of mood I'm in has put me in a bad mood. How's a pre-teen supposed to respond to that?
By becoming invisible. Invisible meant I didn't suffer his attention.
As I continued to look down and think, more emerged through my tears. The 18 year old boyfriend, when I was 12, used to put hickies on my neck--3 or 4 at a time. I was in 6th grade and humiliated at having an older, under-educated (read: stupid) boyfriend who marked me regularly. I was (subconsciously) devasted that I had no adults that had intervened in the abuse I was receiving from this adult boy. I wanted to hide, I was ashamed of everything about him, ashamed of my family (we lived in a trailer from 2nd grade until I entered high school), ashamed I was being abused but didn't have the power to do anything about it, ashamed I didn't have anyone who could rescue me.
I needed to be invisible to survive the four years I spent being abused in a relationship my family approved of because it was "just like my mom and dad." Mom was 12 when she met my 18 year old dad. He left for the war and was gone for 4 years, and when he returned she was 16 and he was 22, they dated for a year, got married a year later, and had me a year later. My relationship was nothing like theirs, other than the coincidence of the age differences; but this is why it was okay by my family standards.
My family's standards were seriously messed up.
Being invisible was my friend. Being invisible kept me safe from Dad's bad moods. Feeling invisible helped me survive the humiliation and shame of abuse.
Fat helps me be invisible still. When I lost weight and was thin, I was the complete opposite of invisible. I got a lot of attention--not sexual, but attention nonetheless. I've written before about how the same people would comment every week at church about how great I looked, I was keeping the weight off, how was I doing it, was I still running in races.... blah, blah, blah. It was nice at first, then it got uncomfortable. It was probably always uncomfortable but the first blush of weight loss is thrilling, and the thrill obviously masked the loss of invisibility I'd been holding on to since I was 12 years old.
Gaining weight brought the protection of invisibility back.
Julie told me--I am looking at a beautiful woman, right now. You have arrived. You don't need to be invisible anymore. You don't need the protection from being invisible to feel safe.
I haven't written or talked about this to anyone but my husband. I didn't think to talk about with Julie yesterday. But I think this is key and it just revealed itself, on why the fat came back last year.
When my dad got sick and he kicked out his wife, my uncle (Dad's brother) got very involved in Dad's care. He became a surrogate father to me and my sister. He is a Christian man who wears his faith on his sleeve. His daughter died from brain cancer at age 16; he also has two sons, one older than his daughter, one younger. He had a crush on my mom as a boy, especially I think when Dad was away in the army. I look a lot like my mom. I was still thin when Dad got sick and I spent a lot of time with my uncle, especially from January 2010 on, when Dad needed 24 hours a day care and my uncle started spending all his nights at my dad's house.
My uncle talked many, many times about how gorgeous my mom was as a girl, and how sexy she was, and how I look like my mom did back then. He never made overt passes at me, never touched me inappropriately; he mostly acted like he wanted a surrogate daughter when I needed a surrogate father. But.... I felt uncomfortable a lot around him. He complimented me all the time on how I looked. When I started gaining weight, he even said how I put the pounds on in just the right places, just like my mom when she gains weight.
It creeped me out. At the time, we needed my uncle's help too much for me to examine what was going on with these interactions. I talked to Mark about them; he said my uncle is weird but harmless. Again, there was never anything overt.
But it must have been enough for me to feel like I needed the protection of feeling invisible again. Sure, I gained weight because of the stress of my dad's illness, and the on-going drama that surrounded his estranged wife. Yet I know there is more to it, now that I realize what I needed as a child to protect myself. I needed the same protection at 40 years old, because I didn't know any other way of dealing with it.
It wasn't just my uncle's attention. I think it was any man's attention, or heck even women. I want to be liked by everyone. Skinny women are often not liked by non-skinny women; I felt that vibe sometimes even in my circle of friends.
So the layers of fat are protection and invisibility--which is not new in the realm of weight issues, but it's new for me from a connection standpoint.
After we talked about how I'd arrived and I didn't have to be invisible anymore, Julie asked me how I got out of the abusive relationship. Dad gave me a 1972 Chevelle Malibu when I turned 16. My boyfriend thought I was stuck up all of the sudden (his family was very poor and barely had a car that ran between all of them). We had also moved into a house the year before (same location--removed the trailer & moved in the modular, pre-fab home). It basically just fell apart, without my active participation.
Just like the way it started. I was with a girlfriend one summer, we went into "town" and hung out with our friend Jamey, who had a motorcycle (he was her boyfriend, I think). The first time I met him, I rode on the back of the motorcycle with Azel (yes, even his name was weird--long A sound, but it still sounds like "ass hole") on the circular dirt track where the boys rode their bikes. He took my hand in his, and put it on his thigh, then when we weren't facing the others, he put it on his crotch. He moved my hand back and forth, from his thigh to his crotch, depending on whether people could see us or not. I remember being very uncomfortable but I was stuck on this bike with an 18 year old and didn't know what to do.
The next week at school, there were kids asking about it. Asking if he was my boyfriend now. I said no. But Azel gave me his class ring through the school bus window, and I took it, having no idea what it meant. Before I knew it, I was his girlfriend. I had no experience--I was 12. I didn't know how to say no. It just happened.
Julie said, I had no control. I was swept away, dragged by the hair--caveman style--gave no consent, was marked as "his" and had no one to protect me or save me or be my voice or rescue me. She said when I got my car, he knew he'd lost control over me, that I would find my freedom and would be done with him, so he cut me off first. I gave no consent at the start, and no consent at the end.
When Julie used the word control, it hit me hard that that is why I have such control issues. I'm a control freak. I have claustrophia because of the lack of control I feel when I'm in a closed in space. We talked about control issues at my very first therapy session. But now we knew where that came from.
When I was thin, I not only lost invisibility, I lost control, too. I couldn't control people's reactions to me. Couldn't control their attention or questions or reactions to my new body. I also couldn't control my own emotional response to my potential power as a thin woman. At first it was heady, but I didn't know what to do with it. The initial rush was novel and fun, but it became uncomfortable in a way I didn't even realize at the time.
I journaled a lot of this yesterday afternoon while Luke was at gymnastics, so I didn't forget it. I also asked myself these questions:
--Can I control reactions of others by being fat? Yes, in my head at least. No reactions means no attention.
--I feel ashamed of being fat. Do I need to feel bad and ashamed, because of the abuse? Do I (still) feel as if I don't deserve any better?
I have done no research into abuse victims' behavior and mentality. I never thought of myself as being abused (because, understand, I never thought of that time in my life. Period. It has been locked deep inside me in a dark black box for decades). It seems to me that all the information on how to diet or exercise or lose weight is worthless, until I understand these newly revealed issues.
Last night I kept repeating to myself that I don't have to be invisible. I don't have to eat when I'm not hungry so I can be invisible. I can trust myself with my own emotional responses (I told Julie my family was so full of disfunction, I have no idea what's appropriate and what's not, and it's always been better to just keep myself in control than to err on the side of embarrasement). I can give consent when I choose; no one is going to make me do anything that I don't give consent for. I can give over control, when I say it's okay.
I am under no illusions that my deeply held damaged beliefs are going to be healed after one hour of therapy and a blog post that runs from here to China. But it's a start. A start that has been a long time coming. And I can taste a tiny bit of freedom in all this pain.