Continuing on from: Part 1
I was mind-numbingly ashamed and yet too proud to cry in front of all these people. I wished I’d never put anything on the stupid round plate that the waiter never took with the empty ones. I kept pulling my dress over what I’d suddenly realised were very fatty thighs, hoping for magic to be real so it could make me invisible and disappear forever.
When the other kids got up for dessert I followed them and copied what they got which was jelly, ice-cream with sprinkles and chocolate mousse. I walked past my Dad, hoping he’d realise that this time my plate was exactly the same as the other kids but the blokes he was with just brought up my potatoes again. They wanted to know why I wasn’t having ‘more’. I looked at my dad for help but I all I could see was how embarrassed of me he still was and went to the kids table where I played with my dessert because I only liked apple crumble with custard.
This experience is the seed that grew into a twenty year long fear and abstinence from potatoes in all forms. During this time I never touched apple crumble either. I just couldn’t let myself eat it because I didn’t feel like I was good enough to have it. As I got older and learned about dieting I found out that potatoes, in all the ways I had enjoyed them as a kid, made you fat. At least that’s what the nineteen-year-old Birdy who came to live next door to us said.
She chain-smoked, started drinking at 2:00pm, put her kid to sleep by knocking him out with Panadol by 6:00pm and ate “like a bird” once a day, between 8:00 and 9:00pm. She was so tiny we all called her Birdy as if it was her real name. My mum said she had thick legs in comparison to the rest of her body the afternoon we went to the beach but they looked thin enough to break to me.
I liked hanging out with Birdy and would go over to her place whenever I didn’t have to be at home or school. She was flicking through a Girlfriend magazine when she explained to me that hot chips, potato cakes, hash browns and crisps were the worst which sucked because they were her favorite. I never said they’d once been my favorite too.
My mother cared a lot about the way her and others’ kids looked. She cared about how she and other women looked too. She was still very young, into fashion and loved dressing up to go out. My dad too was very young, stressed, angry and unaware of how much what he said and did to others hurt.
My mum has always tried to explain to me that he just doesn’t have a way with words; what he means and what he says are never the same thing and it always gets him into trouble. People always misunderstand him and it’s not fair. She said I was too sensitive and serious but this didn’t take away any of the power of any of the words that my father has ever uttered in my presence.
He was the parent whose love and acceptance I craved the most but never felt. Not because he didn’t love me but because I never felt or understood myself to be loved by him. He was my first god, heartbreak and experience with rejection, anger, fear and not being good enough. For a long time he had control over my life, safety and survival. He had power so when he spoke, his words cut into my core so deep I never stopped hearing them.
When he insisted that men weren’t interested in fat chicks, nor would anyone want to employ them I believed him. I didn’t necessarily care about guys not been interested in me but the thought of not being good enough to get a job couldn’t have scared me more since my plan was to earn enough money to leave home.
My dad eventually got sick of fighting with my mum about the hours he worked as a chef and gave it up to become a tree removalist by starting his own business. The guys he employed became his mates. They often had a criminal record, were into beer and commenting on the local females they always checked out when they weren’t flicking through a porn magazine stashed behind the backseat of my dad’s ute.
When Birdy taught me that pasta, bread and noodles were just as bad as potatoes, I stopped eating them too. I kept making nachos and chocolate chip muffins for my little sister and brother when I babysat them but knew I had to give up eating them too so I did.
I hated the thought of the result of my eating them being all this wobbly flesh that had blokes speaking of my body and its disgusting cellulite in the manner I’d heard my dad’s mates speak in regards to the other women’s saggy parts. I didn’t want to be put down, made fun of or have crude comments passed about me.
So in my mind I straight-out refused to continue eating anything that would leave me carrying any excess flesh for them to criticize. I refused to be laughed at for eating too much. I didn’t care what I had to do, there would be no big boobs or butt for them to talk about squeezing. I’d smoke and drink like Birdy if that’s what it took, eating the smallest amount once a day.
When I started hospitality my boss confirmed what my father had raised me believing by explaining that how I looked mattered and should never be underestimated. I was in the middle of clearing a table of empty plates. They were heavy and on the top one were untouched roast potatoes drenched in the cheap oil the chefs kept recycling. They had a temper like my father and talked to the waitresses like they were the one’s who kept cooking the returned meals wrong.
As is demonstrated in this brief passage spread over this post and the previous one, tracing back the disordered eating practices to their seed brings up all sorts of memories in a messy and haphazard order. Mind mapping to begin with can be helpful to keep track of everything.
Through this free association exercise with a loaded food item, body part or eating venue/kitchen table it becomes possible to identify the metaphorical meaning and significance at play between the disordered eater’s relationship with food, fat and the body.
As you can see my writing about potatoes lead me all over the place, discussing many directly and indirectly associated factors informing the foundation from which my eating disorder grew. Over the next few posts these details or threads will be returned to and elaborated on so it becomes clear how layered and nuanced the story behind this disorder actually is.
For example: the site of an all you can eat buffet will be returned to because it is the setting for one of the most disturbing experiences of my formative years and what I regard to be the beginning of my struggle with bulimia.
As I wrote what is featured in these first two posts looking at the story of my history with disordered eating it became very clear to me that the story of my eating disorder is in many ways the story of the relationship with my father, and to a lesser degree my mother. Again this will prove even more obvious through the next few posts where another key figure will be introduced.
I’d like to acknowledge that I don’t write these things to criticize my father or mother, rather I give myself permission to communicate my truth that simply had to come out in order for me to stop carrying it and the consequences of it with me. I share this as an example with hope that, should you be carrying around the crippling weight of your story that you might give yourself the permission to unburden yourself by writing too.
To help allow yourself to write about people that you love but caused you great pain you might find telling yourself what I told myself helpful. My father has his own story, memories and point of view that are his truth and like he is allowed to have his, I too can have mine. The same goes for my mother. Each of us has always done the best we could with what we knew, understood and had the capacity for at the time. Who we were twenty odd years ago is not who we are today, partly due to the experiences, especially the mistakes we have had and learned from. I am not writing this out of anger to hurt them but so I can make sense of me, help me break the negative relationship I have with myself and let go of what is not serving me.
Those who participate in this writing exercise will find themselves writing experiences that have had a lasting impact. And after the initial mapping out, to keep score of the all that one remembers at once, I encourage returning to this and taking the time to write on each loaded detail (event, food item, figure, smell, words, feeling, ritual) jotted down. Elaborate on it as much as you please and watch it connect with other aspects of the story as you to proceed to unpack one instance at a time.
If you are like me, after writing, you may feel lighter, teary, at times angry and find much relief in outlets like bikram yoga, bike riding or getting out for a walk but to do this kind of physical exercise you simply must be taking in essential nutrients, sufficient calories and adequate hydration. If you’re not able to do this then please be safe and opt for sitting outside, getting a massage, meditation, catching up for coffee or a movie with a friend or anyone you feel comfortable and safe with, burning your favorite fragrant, taking a bath…
Continued: Part 3
As demonstrated above, with the example of potatoes, I will proceed in future posts to include concrete examples to show what I’m talking about in relation to coming to know one’s story with disordered eating.
I share the story of how my eating disorder evolved further from eleven and outline a detailed account as to my understanding of why. I wish to be clear that from this point on I will discuss how my disordered relationship to food and my body, since the onset of puberty, is significantly bound up with, and informed by, experiences of complex childhood trauma.
Should this be triggering for you please do not read further however if what I’m sharing is of any assistance to you it would be greatly appreciated if you could let me know. Also feel welcome to share it with those it would interest and benefit.
Dr Angelina Mirabito
PhD on the therapeutic value of reading and writing trauma fiction and its potential value in the post-traumatic growth process.
To book a complimentary ‘Meet and Greet’ session over Skype to discuss the possibility of working together using story please feel welcome to contact me via https://writingthroughtrauma.org/contact/