The photo purge continues. It may, in fact, never end. It’s part trip down memory lane and part making up stories of the lives of relatives I have never met.
While the story making up is endlessly entertaining, at least to me, the personal history part is the most informative.
As I look at photos of myself over the past thirty-some years, I notice one thing: I have never really been thin. As an adult, beyond college, I have always carried more weight than was necessary. And more than I wanted.
Oddly, this is a revelation. I mean, I kind of knew I wasn’t my ideal weight, but what surprises me the most is this: Since somewhere in my twenties, until this very moment that my fingers are striking these letters to make these sentences, I have been trying to get back to ‘that weight’. What weight? I made it all up. Somewhere in my memory I have constructed the perfect sized adult me. She’s about a size 8, not too thin, but not heavy. She’s athletic-ish, maybe she dances or hikes a lot. Her clothes are awesome, pretty simple but well-fitting and not boxy and concealing. Her movements are smooth, her way easy. And she is a figment of my imagination.
I may as well be making up stories about the photos of me.
There is a girl, about 14, that is very thin with legs that appear long and lithe, but that was clearly a growth spurt and before she understood what was really happening at home. Before she started eating her feelings and building her protective coating of fat.
This is not to blame my parents, but I kinda blame my parents.
At 15 I decided I was obese, about 130 lbs. – actually probably my perfect weight, maybe even a little thin for my age and body structure now – and I wanted to go to Weight Watchers. My mother agreed immediately. At least that’s how I remember it.
When I was combing my memories a number of years ago I pinned this whole unhealthy obsession with food and diets on my father. He liked thin women, it was known. So I was going to do that, get thin. I’d get his attention and love that way. (He did not, not love me, he was just one of those dads that preferred alcohol to emotion. Or daughters). Then after processing that, and resenting him for a few years, a light bulb went off. Wait a minute, I thought… Why did my mother agree so quickly to Weight Watchers? (I was the youngest one there, by the way, and the only one who could not drive herself.) It occurred to me that she could have questioned my motives or told me I was perfect the way I was. Isn’t that what parents are supposed to do? But she just packed me into the car and sent me in with enough cash to cover the meeting fee each week.
There’s way too much neurosis on everyone’s part to tease that riddle apart here, but suffice it to say that some damaging seeds were planted that got watered with unrelenting rains a year later when our family unit began to dissolve in angry and quiet ways.
The blame crown was now hers to wear for a while. But it really wasn’t her fault either.
My father, just out of reach emotionally, treated my mother like a doormat. He was condescending and rude at best, verbally abusive at worst. He never hit her, instead he withheld, brooded and shot the house full of threat without saying a word. There was never any reason to fear him, yet we all understood we were to be worried.
In the years between Weight Watchers and going off to college my mother surreptitiously planned her escape. She had been hiding a few meaningful things at a neighbor’s house, squirreled away some money and not so elegantly taken up with a friend’s husband. All the adults seemed to know. I was confused but understood what was at work on some level.
Aside from the affair thing I had encouraged her to leave my father.
At this point my weight was normal. Not healthy necessarily. For a while there I subsisted on an apple and a pint of milk a day. Period. Until grandma came for Christmas and baked her way into my heart and back onto my thighs.
I had firmly researched and implemented all sorts of self-inflicting shaming practices. I was not as thin as my mother and if my parent’s relationship was falling apart, then why should I bother becoming that perfect specimen of thinness? Crazy, right? But somehow this must be the thinking that coalesced and dropped even more seeds into my already tattered psyche.
I left for school when I was 19, opting for community college for that first year so I could continue to spend time with my boyfriend who was a year behind me. Even so, we opted for different universities that would cause us to be apart. He went south to the tidewater area of Virginia, I went one state further to East Carolina University.
As my tires crossed from Virginia into North Carolina I somehow knew I would never go home again. Not to any home I had known.
I immediately pledged a sorority. It was a calculated move – instant friends and a plethora of parties. Distraction became my medication. Food, alcohol, a few other unsavory, but very fun at the time, substances and sex all kept me even somehow.
Then mom came to visit and announced she was marrying her friend’s husband.
After that I gradually lost interest in the school part of school and engaged fully in extracurricular fun. I did play a few intramural sports, miniature golf (I know) and soccer, but otherwise the fun was centered around dark hours.
There’s so much more between then and now, but it seems this period defined so much of what would follow.
The weight and the desire to control everything around me didn’t fully manifest until I moved home from school and had to ask permission to stay somewhere with my mother or father. It was at this time I concluded that I was the only one who could take care of me and so I did. I stayed with my mother for less than a month, felt like a stranger in someone else’s house – because it was someone else’s house – and moved in with a new friend.
The coping mechanisms I had employed during college were still readily available and close at hand. I am fortunate to not have an addictive personality (whatever that truly means) so I never held onto any of the panaceas for long. Except food. I struggled forever to control food. Always failing, it seemed. Sometimes winning, but not for a sustained period of time.
The food struggle continues, but it has been channeled in a healthier way, through education. But it’s still at the top of my brain almost always.
I am not unhappy in my current state. There is some tension between where I am and where I would like to be, but the chasm is small and there is very little stress in that tension. And now with this new information that there’s not really an ideal me to return to, I can relax and realize that as I am is just fine, maybe even perfect. This does not mean I will not continue to engage in healthy practices or even push a little harder, but that fantasy ideal?