If I could sum up my existence growing up, I would continuously come back to the word “hungry.”
When my Dad was at his worst, yelling every day at my brother or my mother for shielding my brother from his wrath, a need for value, acceptance, and a drive to be “full” was all that carried me from day to day. I remember from age 8 up, I became a very excessively needy child. I needed to be hugged all the time. I needed to be held. I needed to be touched and felt and loved. I remember it in vivid color, going from parent to parent, in my search of hugs and embraces. When the screaming would start up, I’d find a way to slink off to the serenity of my room, humming church hymns inside my head, loud and then louder, trying to tune out the shrill yelling. Once there’d be a quiet submission, they’d give in to his demands or apologize profusely, I’d quietly find my way back to the rubble floor. My brother would be gone from the house, attempting at every angle to make his own rules as a teenager, never once backing down. I admired him. My mother would go far out of her way to apologize for his “mistakes” to my father and smooth over the ripped creases. My job was to be witness of the after-act, making small talk with each parent, finding out the back story and making it all seem like a minor blip in time. It was killing me inside, but I had to play my role in this dysfunctional family.
Family dinner was a significant occasion in my mind, where my critical father would whip and tear at the quality of my mother’s meals. Overcooked, bland, needs more ______, too cold. As if he were speaking, indirectly, about her. About their marriage. About he wanted out but loved the chaos of control and superiority much more. Losing his position would be worse than bearing through another “sub-par” meal. It didn’t matter if my mom spent the 3 hours before his arrival from work, planning, preparing, then cooking an elaborate meal: it wasn’t enough. Much of the noise I remember from those meals came from everyone but me. I was great at being the sponge, sucking all of it inside, but rarely giving my contribution. If anything, I quickly made comments on how good the dinner was, instead, and took another 2 or 3 portions.
As time wore on, years passed, the yelling and temper tantrums my father threw seemed part of our usual happenings. It seemed out of norm if he was calm for a day. Something was amiss.
I remember clothes shopping during this time. Carrying an extra 30-40 pounds on my frame, my mother apologetically and sympathetically summed it up to my being “big boned.” Having things to squish and squeeze and poke, I knew better. I’d sit inside the fitting rooms to the stores, crying and pinching the excess as if losing it would make everything okay. My mom would stand by, rubbing my back, tears welling up in her own eyes, unable to say the most painful of things. We had this shared common ground between us, a bond much stronger than that of mother and daughter.
When the hugs were becoming overbearing for my father and my mom didn’t have any extra time for the embrace, I turned, instead, to the comfort of food. Summer days spent, raiding our food storage collection in the basement, so carefully pulled together by my religious mother. I had my favorites: shrimp flavored Top Ramen noodles, those family-sized packets of Quick Rice (chicken flavor), and I had it made with the Kraft corporation and their Mac and Cheese. Dad would be off to work, Mom consoling her newly reopened emotional wounds, my brother off to summer camp/with friends/mastering escapism. I’d have the television turned onto Disney, I’d relapse into a state of fantasy where I couldn’t be hurt, and put spoon to mouth. Looking back now, I’m still amazed at the sheer volume of food I could put away. It was never enough: food or love. I was starving.
I had the tables turn when realizing that my marriage wasn’t working, only this time I found a need to fix: myself. I didn’t know the person I was married to and he wasn’t willing to spend the time on me to find out. If I couldn’t be deserving of emotional nurturing, surely I wasn’t deserving of food, either. So I cut calories here and there, wherever I possibly could. I relished the knowledge of knowing how many calories were in every food in our kitchen, knew their serving size by heart, and knew how many calories to burn off for the next pound to vanish. I knew all of this… but I wasn’t aware that my husband actually loved or cared about me. I took his criticism to heart and instead of fixing the “problems” to which he referred, I continued to fix myself. I was inching away into oblivion. I made it clear that if he didn’t really consider me visible, I’d make it so… I tried to vanish away. I was vehemently, but secretly, so very mad at him. But more so than that, I was mad at myself. Mad because I allowed myself to be sealed to someone who didn’t value me. What I was afraid to believe about myself.. finally seemed true: I didn’t matter. He was just another person to show it to me.
I’m trying my best these days, to get back to basics, to uncover the most tattered parts of myself. I’ve spent so much time avoiding the hurt and licking my wounds that I have forgotten the things that make me who I am. Somedays, I struggle to find what life would be without this looming desire to keep the chaos of the eating disorder going- in either way. I want a life without overindulging and restricting (love).