Monday, November 15, 2010

Geneen Roth. Telling it like it is.

I love Geneen Roth's When Food is Love.  I've read and re-read this sumptous little diddy when I was feeling hopeless, alone, and just downright lost.  I barely got thru the intro as I marked up even more parts with my bright pink differentiate the blue pen lines from the last foray thru her literary balm.  

I thought I'd share some nuggets with my own reactions today:

....I spent the largest part of every day thinking about what I wanted to eat that I shouldn't and what I should eat that I didn't want.  As I began spinning a world in which there were only two players, food and me, my capacity to be affected by other people diminished greatly. (pg 1)

Geneen has never been married or had kids, so her plunge into self absorbtion and complusive eating lays right there on the surface.  I wouldn't say I exactly thought about food ALL the time, but let's put it this way:  

*My daily journal from a 4th grade camping trip outlined in exquisite detail every morsel of food they served us.  And I read that thing over and over in my room....

*I remember secret late-night visits to the McDonald's drive thru across the parking lot from my high school after show choir rehearsals.  There's *nothing* like the first bite of a quarter pounder with cheese done on the sly.....

I was IN LOVE with food and how it made me feel.  I became giddy (sometimes I still do) at the thought of a secret, or heck, even public rendezvous with food.  I especially loved carbohydrates and sweets.  Dessert was the climax.  I felt shimmery with delight during and after consuming it.  

As I have revisited my limited memory of my childhood, some things stand out.  On the positive side there was Christmas and butter cookies and Johnny Mathis.  Family vacations to the beach drinking ice cold Sunkist soda.  Long drives with Mom to the mall in the evenings. Ginny dolls and Snoopy.  Barbara Streisand records and Dad painting, wallpapering, mowing, and stomping on the mole hills in the back yard.  Pretending to be married to Spock.  Dreaming that my second grade love interest (on my part only) Ricky would be standing outside my window.  Watching Grease.  My friend Karen and the lovely freedom to raid the fridge and cookie drawer I felt at her house after school most days.  

On the negative side:  Being forced into sexual touching and intercourse at age 6 by a family friend's son  (who was in 3rd grade).  Knowing I was doing something bad that I didn't want to do, but dismissing the thought of telling my mom because she's just say 'that's ridiculous'.  Being 'goosed' in the lake at the same camp mentioned above and feeling the excruciating pain of my broken hymen and the humiliation of knowing I couldn't get out of the water for fear of blood. Pretty sure I was broken for life. Not telling anyone.  Sitting on the ground so as not to have a bowel movement---for six weeks when I was seven.  Sitting on the toilet for several hours trying to go for my mother.....nurses holding my legs over my head on the crinkly paper while my rectum was cauterized from the tears.  Screaming for pain and humiliation.  Getting my ears pierced for being such a good, compliant girl.  Doctors saying children with anal retention are dealing with mom saying there was nothing stressful in my life.
The panic of desparately trying to dig a boy's hand out of my jeans behind the fence in 7th grade.  The panic of a junior trying to kiss me while he sped down the road to take me home from school and finally finding solace in the gay boys in my choir who were like non-catty girl friends.  

I didn't let many people in, and for good reason.  My comfort was first and foremost food.  My escape was my insatiable imagination.  Things I could control.  On of the several counselors I've had over the years mentioned it was only natural I was the ONLY thing I had control of in my life.  Some become anorexic (God how I prayed to have that!), some use drugs, some sex, some overeat.....compulsions are simply our shout out that we're feeling out of control and goshdarnit we WILL control something.  We WILL exersice free choice in SOME area of our lives.  So....when thin folks look down their noses at the obese guy gorging at the Chinese buffet and comment how 'out of control' he is.....they better think again....that dude is in TOTAL control of what he's doing.  It just so happens he's prolly out of control of some other really painful stuff in his life. 

Again, some tidbits from Geneen: 
I thought I wanted to be thin; I discovered that what I wanted was to be invulnerable. (pg 1)
Yeah, that.

I didn't know how to engage myself deeply with a person, only with food. (pg 2)
That too.
he wonderful thing about food is that it doesn't leave, talk back, or have a mind of its own.  The difficult thing about people is that they do.  Food was my lover for seventeen years and demanded nothing from me.  Which was exactly the way I wanted it. (pg 2)
Convenient, no?

Eating is a metaphor for the way we live; it is also a metaphor for the way we love.  Excessive fantasizing, creating drama, the need to be incontrol, and wanting what is forbidden are behavoirs that block us from finding joy in food or relationships. (pg 3)

She continues:
...learning to stay in the present, beginning to value ourselves now, giving the hungry child within us a voice, trusting our physical and emotional hungers, and teaching ourselves to receive pleasure enable us to be intimate with another person. (pg 3)

And here's the kicker:
Diets don't work because food and weight are the symtoms, not the problems.  The focus on weight provides a conventient and culturally reinforced distraction from the reasons why so many people use food when they are not hungry.  These reasons are more complex than--and will never be solved with--willpower, counting calories, and exercise.  They have to do with neglect, lack of trust, lack of love, sexual abuse, physical abuse, unexpressed reage, grief, being the object of discrimination, protection from getting hurt again.  [People] become self-loathing, unhappy adults not because they've experienced trama but because they've repressed it. (pg 4) (emphasis mine)

So there you have it.  And that was all just in the intro.  I told you this would get gritty.   
As I begin to take steps to become healthy and balanced....more self-aware, I will need Geneen's book to provide a constant reminder of why I do what I do, don't do what I want to do, what eating healthy and caring for myself really means, and what it might shape up to look like in my life.  

So here's some affirmations:
I'm grateful for a sensitive spirit and a willingness to be open enough to revisit some really not-so-pleasant parts of myself.  
I think I'm brave in the face of fear.  Hurray!
I'm motivated by seeing the unhealthy patterns in my own kids of coping with tramas, (deep breath) and wanting to be a healthy enough person to be a safe harbour for them to express their pain and disappointments.  
peace for today.

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