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?
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!