Thursday, 2 April 2009


If recovery were a hill, and I had climbed to its pinnacle by the end of last year, I've managed, in the past month, to tumble halfway back down it again. This is annoying.

I'm not all the way back to the bottom, but I've still got to climb back up to the summit.

It's like this: my mother visited. Unfortunately, that's really about all it's like. I've had work-related depression and anxiety since early in the year, but that didn't trigger my eating problems at all. No, I was doing just fine till my mother got here, and then suddenly, food ceased to be fuel or pleasure and restarted being a great smothering need which both comforted me and suffocated all the annoyance and frustration I so often feel with my mother.

My mother is actually a very lovely woman – which is part of the problem. She is a very nice, very helpful person whose feelings are very easily bruised, and in my family there is a strong "do not hurt Mum's feelings" culture, which I had partly forgotten about because I've been living on the other side of the world for eight and a half years. And because I've learned in that time to be a bit more of a hardnosed bitch, and also to forget what my mother is actually like, I wasn't as sensitive to her vulnerabilities as she expected me to be. And then, of course, there was a certain amount of drama. And I, of course, apologised because that's the game we play.

The problem is, while I was no doubt a little short with her, there's just no space in this scenario for her to believe herself wrong, or even difficult, in her behaviour. I tried to express some of my frustrations and got a list of reasons why I was completely wrong about them, how she wasn't doing anything I said she was, and how I should be kinder. She might even have been right about that.

Regardless, though, of whether she's right or I'm right or both of us are wrong, I couldn't yell at her, I couldn't tell her that she was annoying me, and, in order to keep the peace for all four people present (my husband and sister were there too), I just had to shut up.

Whereupon I started to eat up, more than I have for months, more than I needed, in secret. I didn't go on an actual binge as such – it wasn't possible, because I was around people constantly for a couple of weeks – but I certainly found the time and the food to stuff down all that resentment and irritation. And the habits have re-emerged: buying too much at lunch time because I just really want to eat a lot, sneaking extra biscuits into my drawer, stocking up on secret chocolate, eating all afternoon, all the things I was so proud of myself for avoiding so neatly during my work-related depression and anxiety.

So clearly this isn't completely resolved yet. But I'm damned if I know how to deal with it. I can certainly start doing again all the things I did last year, and that would probably get me back on top of the eating for now, while my mother is thousands of miles away.

But that isn't really enough. My mother, bless her, isn't going to vanish from my life any time soon. She's also not going to change her whole personality at the age of sixty just because I relapse when she's around, even if she knew about that, and even if she could accept it had anything to do with her, which she probably wouldn't. Somehow I've got to find a way to circumvent this entirely so I can see her, not get annoyed with her, not say anything that upsets her, not get annoyed because she's so easily upset, not get resentful because she uses her hurt feelings like a bludgeon to get her own way, not eat because I'm resentful. (You can see how well I'm circumventing it at present.)

I do love my mother very much, underneath the current annoyance. She's a good person and a loving mother, and I've got to find a way to be around her without triggering the hideous lumbering beast that is my compulsive eating. I'm just not quite sure how to do that - how to find a way to deal with the feelings that there isn't room to express without just eating them.

Mind you, this probably goes back to the same old thing I've been drumming on about for months, in various ways - there always has to be space inside ME to deal with them, regardless of whether it can be expressed outside myself or not, because if there isn't, it'll come back to bite me on the ass. Or to make me bite something else on the ass. It seems so often to be the permission to allow things to be that makes them bearable.


Elizabeth Twist said...

Oh my my, do I ever sympathize with your situation! I've got similar issues with my mom. I love her - of course I do, she's my mom (and, uh, do I have a choice? really?). And that relationship is unlike any other and special and in some ways very important and dear to me. But she can really, really dig into my sore spots. And punch my buttons like no one else. Partly because she's the one who installed those buttons.

I wish I had pearls of wisdom to share, but I think you've basically said everything I would say in your final paragraph. It's about space, right? I guess what I'm working on in my situation is just reminding myself (over and over) that even though I can't make Mom realize that she's behaving in ways that are unfair or unpleasant or button pushing, I can keep my cool and continue to behave according to my rules and my preferences. That means sometimes not reacting to her in the ways she conditioned me to. (Not playing into the negative dynamics, whatever that means at the time.)

It's so, so tricky, though. All best to you in this. Seriously, I'm pulling for you.

Anonymous said...

This makes me feel bad just to read this. I think my mom is a good person, I think she cares and loves me. I think she was a crappy mom. I don't have the stomach to go into anything about her this morning, but I am absolutely not able to hold my temper around her. It almost seems as if I deliberately hurt her feelings, which bothers me, but the way I see it, she f*&ked me up, and has not improved any. My dad no longer allows her to crawl up my a#@ about everything I eat, but she still tries.

Anyway, she no longer inspires neurotic eating behavior in me, unless it's directly in front of her, to annoy her and dare her to start with me. I don't know if I'm allowed to mention this here, but I'm now almost thinner than her, which takes away her ammo. OK, not such a healthy relationship here.

All parents screw up their kids to some degree. All we can hope and work towards is to try and do better with our own, if we have them.

SharonC said...

In a way, I see this as a positive thing - you've learnt more about what triggers particular food behaviours.

Maddie said...

Elizabeth Twist - yes indeed. My mother was the primary installer of all my fat-hate buttons, and apparently even when the conflict isn't over my body, she's still able to trigger it again. But the good news is that things have stabilised again, and now that I'm not in her face any more, I'm feeling better in myself again. It's obviously going to remain a learning curve, at least until I'm around her more again and actually have the chance to become accustomed to her again (this is both an advantage and disadvantage of living so far away).

justjuliebean - I'm so sorry that your mother is so crappy. My mother was never that bad - she's a good, kind, loving woman - but there are just fundamental things about us which are incompatible, and unfortunately that's very much tied up with my eating problems. But at some point, we have to deal with the fact that other people aren't going to change, and that the only changes we can make are in ourselves. In the end, my mother will go on being annoyingly oversensitive and expecting that her family will always defer to her feelings till the day she dies. The only thing I can do is find a neutral zone for myself so that there isn't conflict between us (which pisses me off), and detach from the feelings she inspires in me.

SharonC - I think you're right, actually, now that I've had some time and space to get over it. Everything settled down again fairly quickly, and at least now I'm aware that power struggles with my mother are the one thing that can trigger me still (given that depression, anxiety, intense work stress, ill health and existential angst have failed to do so in the last six months). Just means I've got to be prepared and defended when I talk to her.