Emotional Development

This morning, instead of having time to blog, I am finishing up two agendas because I might be up on group to read them today.  Here they are:

  1. How Am I Responding To My Feelings The Way They Were Responded To?
  2. What beliefs do I have that prevent my feelings from being expressed?

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1.

I respond to emotions with:

  • Restricting (both emotional expression and food)
  • Historically, emotional eating
  • Invalidating my feelings
  • Distraction
  • Ignoring source of feelings
  • Completely deny having feelings
  • Isolating when I am crying

The main way I re-enact how my feelings were responded to as a child, is by ignoring their existence.  My parents didn’t acknowledge my feelings.  It was like I was in an emotional vacuum.  The times that my mother did respond to my feelings, it was totally mis-attuned and she would tell me that I was either tired or hungry.  And so she would tell me to eat something.

This food-response to feelings certainly was part of what created my emotional eating habits.  If I was upset, then food would make it better.  I was basically trained on that.  Right now, I do not emotionally eat.  Just the same way I emotionally restrict, I also restrict-food.  Only, restricting food is better because not only do I get to shut down emotions, but I get to lose weight too.  It is a win-win situation.

My mother’s response to feelings also served to completely invalidate what I was feeling and never actually look at why I was having intense feelings.  This left me at a loss to manage those feelings on my own.  Eventually, I learned that my feelings are not valid and that it didn’t matter what I felt or how badly I was hurting, feelings were not important.  The source of my pain was inconsequential.  It didn’t matter why I was hurting, it just mattered that my feelings needed to be stopped.

I continue this pattern even now.  I will avoid and distract from feelings and refuse to look at what is causing them.  It just seems easier than dealing with the pain.  And if I don’t want the feelings then why bother to figure out why I am feeling them.  If I am really pushed and really upset, I will regress to, “I don’t have feelings.”  I just shut down completely.  I don’t do it too often anymore, but it is a fall-back response when I am emotionally flooded and/or in too much emotional pain (I mean severe, intense emotional pain.)

I also deal with emotions by withdrawing physically (especially to cry).  When I was young, my parents would lock me in my bedroom when I was having intense emotions.  I used to rage and rage while in my room and then just melt into a crying mess of defeat and worthlessness.  As an adult, I repeat the pattern of the physical isolation when I need to cry.  As a matter of fact, I retreat to my bedroom, close the door and shut down.  As an adult, I don’t rage.  But I certainly crash into feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness.

2.

I also have come to have the belief that my emotions are too much for people, too big for people to deal with.  If my parents weren’t able to support me emotionally and had to lock me in my room when I was emotional, then my emotions were so big that they needed to be contained.  I could barely make sense of what I was feeling and how to manage the feelings (I was only a preschooler and didn’t have good modeling from my parents) so the fact that I had to be shut away when I felt emotions taught me that emotions must be shut away.

When I did approach my parents with intense emotions, my dad was unresponsive.  He was always emotionally unresponsive and unavailable and when he did demonstrate emotions, it was to rage.  He would rage against us kids, he would rage against nothing in particular.  He never would rage at my mother.  With my mother, my father just expressed a cold seething, but with me and my sister it was a terrifying rage and being hit with his belt.

My mother was too self-absorbed to pay attention to my emotions.  Anything else was more important than me and what I was feeling, be it her job, the soap operas she was addicted to or my sister.  If she did notice my feelings she always invalidated and dismissed them.  I never remember her letting me crawl on her lap to cry or to talk about what I was feeling. And if I ever did try to talk to her, there was correction and shaming on her part that was I was feeling wasn’t right.  But really, I was left to my own devices and as a self-sufficient kind of child, there was no real “need” for my parents to be involved in my emotional affairs.

Really, the messages I got were that emotions are bad, especially Sad and Angry.  Emotions would get me punished.  Emotions were too much for anyone, including myself, to handle and that what I was feeling wasn’t really what I was feeling.  As a young child, there was no way to make sense of any of this and thus began the development of some of my core beliefs.

As an adult, I still am emotionally withdrawn.  I feel very vulnerable and expect rejection when I try to share emotions with people, so I don’t.  And if people ask how to support me with my feelings, I often have no idea what to say.  I am afraid to feel sad and I am afraid to feel angry and I am sure if I express those emotions at/with people, it will push them away and I will be all alone again to try to manage what I am feeling with no idea of how to do it.

The Letter (Which is not meant to be sent)

Yesterday was so bad, that I am not sure that talking about it would have a point.  I cried pretty much all day.  I was in so much emotional pain that I could barely tolerate it and I had really high self-harm urges. At this point, I manage those urges much better than I did a few months ago, so I did not self-harm…But that meant I had to feel much more of the pain that I wanted to.  And so I cried.  A lot.

Aside from the hollowness of the depression, I have been dealing with some other stressors in treatment.  One is the recent departure (step-down) of a person I spent a lot of time with.  I was talking about this during my psychiatry appointment yesterday and how I have mixed feelings about this person leaving. And I told him I was confused about it…And he asked me questions about what/who this person reminded me of.  Then he encouraged me to write a letter to her…Not to actually send to her, but to work out my feelings.  I decided this is the perfect place to do it.

Dear Friend,

You and I have spent a lot of time together since you came to the residential program and then when we transitioned to PHP (on the same day).  At first, I wasn’t sure about you, as you have an overwhelming personality that just spills over with your self-loathing and negativity.  And yet, there was something about you that I kind of liked.  Plus, you took it upon yourself to spend time with me.  I know that initially, this was somewhat conditional.  It is because of your size and I have noticed that because I am bigger than our peers, that other bigger people gravitate towards me.  (Yet again, reinforcing that all anyone sees is my size.) And true to this pattern, you tried to engage me in your hatred of your bigger body by making comments to me that you thought I would participate in with my insider’s perspective.  I do enough body shaming of my own…I didn’t need to engage in yours.

But over time, we developed a rapport.  I always felt it to be a bit rocky as sometimes you are very mean.  When you are stressed, you lash out and as someone who was closer to you, I was often the recipient of the lashes.  After such episodes you would apologize, which I appreciated, but felt guarded about because the way you did it always made me feel a little bit dirty, like you were an abuser apologizing to an abusee.

And yet still we maintained a friendship that become a closeness.  People actually identified us as a dyad, knowing that if one of us was around, the other would not be far.  And I do appreciate the time and compassion (because under your vitriol, you do have a lot of compassion) that we shared.

In that respect, I feel really sad that you left.  I feel lost and alone and I have no-one to sit with for breakfast or to vent to or to just hangout with.  There are no more “walks to the car” with you.  I have an empty space in my world.  And it hurts that you are gone, I feel abandoned and left behind.  So many treatment peers have left and I feel the loss over and over again.  It is really wearing me down…So, you leaving too has been hard.  I have experienced the pain of people leaving me my whole life….I have never moved away from my hometown, but over the years, most everyone I care about has moved away.  Your leaving triggered that sadness and emptiness of being left behind.

But I don’t actually want you back here.  I am also completely relieved that you are gone.  Relieved that your negative aura is not spilling all over me and over our peers and over the whole place.  Yes, you have that much negativity and it took a lot of energy to deflect it.  I am glad that I won’t have to hear your bitching and listen to you set yourself up for complete failure in your step-down transition.  I am glad that I won’t be the recipient of your anger and mean-ness.

Did you know that your negativity reminds me of my dad?  I didn’t realize this until talking with Dr. Psychiatrist.  My dad had that same aura of negativity and that same mean-ness and would lash out when he was upset.  I realize writing this, that I think he has the same kind of self-hate you do, only he has deeply internalized it, except for his negativity and outbursts.  He is a hugely large man and you are very large too…so both size-wise and negativity-wise, you both have huge presences.  When I think about it that way, I realize that perhaps you were more toxic in my world than I realized.  You also remind me some of my mom…Not as dramatically as you remind me of my dad, but also bearing some of the negative traits she had.

I suppose, it was no wonder I was drawn to you as  friend, you were the perfect blend of my parent’s dysfunctions and since (according to Hilltop’s treatment philosophy) we tend to re-enact our experiences, you would be the perfect person with which to do so.

Only, you are not my parents and I am not a child.  So, I was able to understand that lots of your issues were things you own, not me.  But still, there was a lot of confusion on my part as I couldn’t quite make sense of our relationship.

Either way, it kind of doesn’t matter now.  Now you are gone and I doubt you will be there when I step-down (as you have basically set yourself up to fail).  And honestly, while I will miss you…I am totally relieved.  You have been a treatment friend, but not a real friend. I don’t plan on keeping in touch with you.  I don’t plan on letting your negativity be part of my life.  And I only feel a little bit guilty about setting this boundary.

I hope that you can heal in the ways you need to.  And I hope you give yourself a chance and don’t sabotage yourself into failure.   And I hope you find the family-of-choice that you need so that you can be loved and supported.

And I hope that you don’t start purging again.

But I also have hope for me.  And you don’t really have a part in holding that hope with me, so I am going to thank you for what time we shared and the friendship we had.  And now, I say good-bye.

–Heidi

My Family Of Origin And Food

My Family of Origin and Food

I have been a bit reluctant to blog about this because I am aware that it will highlight some of the dysfunction in my family of origin…But I am guessing that I am sort of a walking symptom of that dysfunction and it isn’t really any surprise that my upbringing was sort of fucked up.  And since I tend to lay it all here on the blog…Why not add more?

I am not sure how old I was when I became aware of food as an issue in my family.  You know, you grow up a certain way and you think that it’s normal…You don’t even question it.  So…I don’t know when my awareness slid from “this is normal” to “this isn’t normal.”

My dad was a clearly dysfunctional eater.  He was/is extremely obese and had very odd eating behaviors.  He ate excessively and drank sugared soda like it was water.  That was kind of normal.  Odd things were like mixing brown sugar and water into a sort of slurry and drinking it.  Or drinking salad dressing.  Weird.  Not normal.  I easily understood that!  I don’t know what drove him to his eating habits…he wasn’t heavy when my parents married.  Clearly something changed dramatically for him.

My mom was also obese when I was growing up.  She wasn’t heavy either when they got married…Her eating habits and soda drinking  were excessive, but did not appear to be dysfunctional in the same way as my dad’s.  Except of course her dieting.  She tried all sorts of diets.  She lost weight here and there, but never kept it off.  Not until the early 2000’s when she had a gastric bypass.  She lost lots of weight then…And while the amount she ate changed, what she ate never actually changed.  She kept eating the same old crap.  Subsequently, she has very slowly, but steadily gained weight.  And so she talks about dieting again.

Ever since I remember, my mom has tried to micromanage my dad’s eating habits and weight. She still does it now. It is kind of ironic as she both micromanages him and enables him…She buys crap for food, which they both eat…But then she tries to keep my dad from eating too much of it.  We will have dinner at their house and she will scold him about what he is eating or about him having a second or third helping…She will even slap his hand away as he will pick at the food on the table non-stop.  As soon as her back is turned, my dad will wolf down food…Which my mom will then notice and chide him for.  It is awkward to watch.  It also does no good…She has only driven him to be worse and it has become a sort of game/power struggle to them.

I remember when I was young that my mom even wanted to chain and padlock the fridge shut to keep my dad from eating.  I can’t remember if she actually ever did it, but I feel like when I saw my dad drinking the brown sugar it was because he didn’t have access to other food.  But my memory is hazy on some details.

Now…that was the tone and dynamic in my home.  But there were other really bizarre things too.  There were “special foods” that children were not allowed to eat, basically, only my mom was allowed to eat them.  This ranged from junk food like Pepperidge Farms cookies to actual healthy foods like fresh fruit.

One of the “special foods” injustices that I clearly remember was foods my mom would eat in the car.  My mom would stop at farm stands and get fresh peas, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries….Yummy, delicious, drool-worthy items.  My sister and I would sit in the back seat and beg and beg for some…If she bought a pint of raspberries, we might get 2 or 3 berries each (to shut us up) and my dad would get a handful and my mom would eat the rest. It was never fair.  And my sister and I knew it.  Talk about feeling like a second-class citizen.  We weren’t worthy of having good food.  And how hard would it have been to buy two pints of berries, one for the front seat, one for the back seat? But I don’t think my mom did a good job of looking past her own wants.  (Clearly!)

And as a slight topic shift….The day I went strawberry picking with SS (The event that earned her the Social Strawberries pseudonym) she had Pixie with her.  When we went to the farm stand to pay and SS and Pixie spotted some raspberries and bought them.  And then SS did the most “normal” thing.  Of course, Pixie wanted some raspberries and wanted them right away, so SS found a little container, poured some raspberries in it and gave them to Pixie to eat.  I admit, I felt a little pang when I watched it.  That interaction highlighted how normal people would do it.  I felt a little…I don’t know…That pang was sort of a wistfulness for what I didn’t have.  If I recall correctly, SS even offered me some raspberries…Normal behavior again and even courteous!

K…back to my family dysfunction….So my mom’s dieting…Mostly, I ignored it.  But when I was about 14, I got sucked into it.  My parents decided to go to Nutrisystem.  It’s a diet place that supplies food for you to eat and weekly “support” meetings.  I got dragged along.  I don’t remember if I wanted to go or not…Or if I had a choice or not…But I feel like maybe it wasn’t really my choice.

The program actually had teen meetings for the “support” meetings…But my parents were never big on accommodating/putting effort into meeting my needs (my sister was not part of this diet…I don’t remember why not).  So…I had to go to the adult meeting with my parents.  Not only was it totally awkward and I was totally out of place and not age-appropriately supported, but….I had to be at the same meeting as my parents. (Not a good set-up for being honest and processing eating issues.) I basically remember about three things from that diet. 1. The food was crap (and it frightens me now to think of what kind of fake sugar and processed crap were in those little foil pouches of “food”), 2. I was ashamed, ashamed, ashamed at being part of the “support” meetings and with all those grown-ups, and 3. I knew my dad was going to fail at the diet because he may have changed what he ate, but he didn’t change his eating habits…So, instead of eating a whole bag of chips, he ate a whole bag of baby carrots…Meaning that when the diet fizzled out, he went right back to eating his whole bag of chips.

Did I lose weight? Probably, but it wasn’t enough of an impact that I actually remember it. Did I learn anything? Just more body shame/self-loathing.  Oh yes…and I learned that I was a failure at self-control and dieting. And…by not being accommodated for the teen meetings, it also reinforced that I wasn’t important.

As a kid who had developed emotional eating as a survival skill, basically I spent most of my middle school and high school years feeling guilty and ashamed for what I ate.  Heck…I didn’t even need to produce the shame myself as my parents did a good job of shaming me for it.   Food/eating and being fat was yet another example of how I was not good enough, didn’t do anything right and….Failed at “Pretty is as Pretty does.”

Do you think I could have ever been good enough for my mom? That I could ever be the child she wanted me to be?  The bar was so high.  And every time I tried to reach it…I just got kicked down. I was never ever good enough. Never.

Is it a wonder that I think that my parents hate me?

It’s good thing I was plucky kind of girl…because when I write all these history posts and actually see the stuff I grew up with…I just have no idea how I made it out of my family of origin as an actual functional human being.  But I can clearly see how I ended up with my self-esteem issues and perfectionism and self-loathing and eating dysfunctions, etc.

And then I always think…All of this was on top of the sexual abuse that I experienced when I was little girl.  How did I even survive at all?

Knitting

Since it was so cold yesterday (today is balmy in comparison at -10) and since I am processing the history blog posts, I spent a lot of time knitting.  I got a couple rows done on the striped square.  But…I got tons done on the kimono sweater. I have to finish the second sleeve and then knit the second front panel and the knitting will be done!

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Cold and About The Knitting

Cold

I would be remiss if I did not mention the cold weather we are having this weekend.  A few weeks ago, on a chilly therapy morning, the AT commented that it was “explicative cold outside.” I think it was in the single digits that morning…maybe 9ish? (Fahrenheit scale here )  BTW, he did not actually use an explicative.  I cautioned him that if we started using explicatives to describe the cold at that temp, what would we do if it was really, really cold?

Well folks, it is fucking cold this morning.  -23.  Nasty, painful, dangerous cold.  Last night it was snot-freeze-in-your-nose cold…this morning it is it-hurts-to-inhale cold.  Gotta love life in the snowy and ultra-cold hinterlands.

The furnace is running like crazy, the woodstove in the basement is fired up, the dogs are in pajamas and I have multiple layers on…We will stay warm today. I cannot imagine what nights and days like this are like for the homeless people in the City.  <brrrr>

And I just googled it….-23F is -30.5C.  Again, I say….fucking cold!

About The Knitting

I recently told the Art Therapist that I think my parents hated me.  He commented, “You have said that before.”  I let his comment slide…I didn’t want to go there and I had another thing I was talking about…Knitting.

I realize that all my history stories have featured my mother interacting with me.  There is a reason for this.  My father was pretty much totally emotionally absent from my world.  It’s not to say he didn’t participate at all…I don’t want to be unfair…And he did do things that were kind.  But I always felt like I was a burden to him.  Anyway, he had a volatile temper and scared the crap out of me, so I usually tried to stay out of his way.  And he wasn’t warm and fuzzy and he would say mean things that would just stick to my heart and eat away at me.  Basically, I learned his anger cues pretty quickly (and even now as an adult when I see him start to get mad, I get a feeling of dread in my stomach) so that I would avoid the wrath.  I was always on edge around him and carry some of that edginess still today…My dad used to hit us with his belt and to this day, when dh takes of his belt, the sound of it slipping through the loops sends me right into terror/freeze mode.

But I digress…This post is about my mom and knitting.

My mom is a prolific knitter. She loves to knit, has always loved to knit and she knits quickly and nicely.  When I was a kid and teen, I always wanted her to teach me to knit.  But she wouldn’t.  She always seemed put out by the idea.  It was yet another disappointment for me, though you would think at some point I would have learned to expect that.

When ds was a baby, we cloth diapered.

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We were so poor, we couldn’t afford disposables…When you have to choose disposable diapers vs. groceries….Well….you find another way to diaper your baby.  Back then, prefold diapers, pins and pants, were still the traditional method of diapering.  The new-fangled covers and all-in-one diapers were pretty much brand-new on the market and sooo, sooo expensive.  Wool soakers (an older, more traditional diaper cover) were all hand knit and super expensive too…Way beyond my budget. And of course, I didn’t know how to knit.

I had a book with a super simple knitted soaker pattern. It was straight knitting, nothing fancy, to produce a simple piece of knitting which would then be folded and seamed into little pants.  Ultra-basic. Heck…I could have even done the sewing part.  I asked my mom to make me some for ds.  And she wouldn’t.  She said she didn’t know how (Look, mom…I have a pattern!) which was BS because she could knit all sorts of complicated things.  She just didn’t want to.  I was never able to convince her to make me wool soakers.  But we would go visit and I could watch her knit sweaters and vests for herself.

My only conclusion at the time was that my mother didn’t care enough about me or ds to knit some soakers.  Kind of like my conclusion about her not teaching me to knit was that she hated me.  I suppose the second one is sort of a dire conclusion, but I was a kid and pretty sensitive and pretty black and white with my thinking.  And the knitting was just one thing on a continuum of reasons that I figured she didn’t like me.

So, about ten years ago, I bought a skein of yarn, some “candy cane” knitting needles and a little booklet on how to knit…And I sat and I taught myself to knit.  I stuck with it, I am stubborn like that, until I could make things.  Here is one of my first projects, a gift for a friend.

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As I kept knitting, I kept upping the challenge and learning new and different techniques.  I loved it.  I also taught ds to knit.  (Sometime, I will blog about how I did not repeat the parenting patterns that I grew up with.)  Ds is not really a knitter…At some point, I also taught him crochet and he prefers crocheting to knitting. I don’t care, I am just glad he has something he enjoys.

Since learning to knit, I have knit a zillion baby sweaters and booties and hats.  I used to donate them to a woman who gave them to immigrants just coming to the City from Africa…not prepared for the cold that we have here. (I can only image the climate shock for these immigrants!)  I have also knit blankets and soakers and mittens and ornaments and scarves and slippers and, and, and….You get the idea.

I stopped knitting when I stopped doing anything that I cared about, when my depression was so bad that I had no initiative and other than going to work and coming home, was not able to be very productive.  Ugh…that was such a dark and painful time for me.  I am sooo glad to have moved past that part of my depression.  (Though I worry it could happen again.)

As you know,  now I am knitting again.  And it I like it.  And I have decided that even if my initiative wavers, I will still knit, even if it is just a little bit.  Because I think knitting is good for me.

And though they are not my preferred needles, I still have my “candy cane” knitting needles…I will keep them forever as they symbolize an important beginning in my life….A moment when I chose to empower myself, to say “fuck you” to my mom and her self-absorption (at least in terms of the knitting) and teach myself what she would not teach me.

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And here’s my progress on the first knit-along (KAL) blanket square. It is about halfway to being a square now.

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And…here’s the ultra-simple soaker pattern. I just needed her to knit that Z shape for me. I don’t know why she couldn’t be bothered to just knit me up a few. (And I don’t know why it still hurts my feelings.)

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BTW, the pattern is from an awesome book called, The Children’s Year by S. Cooper, C. Fynes-Clinton and M, Rowling.  It is full of simple crafts and old-timey toys and games and knitting and sewing patterns…I love the book!