Friday, February 21, 2014

Fat Talk: Letting it All Hang Out

Oh,  the title of this post makes me cringe.  I am guilty, guilty as sin of Fat Talk.  This is a topic that is very near to my heart and yes, I will admit, I probably shouldn't publish this, as it is very personal. But something happened this week that brought all of this nonsense back up again.  

First, some dismal history of Karen and her weight issues.

Me: One year old
As many of you know, I've been working on improving my health and trying to lose weight since an eye-opening incident on the freight scale in our garage on New Year's Eve 2011 shocked me out of my complacency.   I remember staggering out of the garage in tears, and if you think I'm exaggerating here, I'm not.  It was a very cold night and I walked out to the edge of the Quarry and stood there, staring at the stars and gulping back sobs.  

How had it come to this?  I was a full forty pounds heavier than I had ever been before in my life.  



How did this happen?

All the guilt talk in my head kicked in immediately, "You know why you're fat, don't you?  You eat too much.  You don't move enough.  Remember when the Polar Bear Doctor accused you of eating your breakfast cereal from a bowl the size of horse trough?  Remember when she said you should cut your calories to 1200 a day and walk 15 to 20 miles?   Remember the disdain on her face when she spat the words at you?  Remember how you dissolved into tears of shame and anger in her office and how she then offered you an antidepressant?  I guess she was right after all.  You are a Loser."

As I write this, I hate to admit it, but I still have the same feelings of worthlessness.  No one could ever accuse me of being conceited.  I have extreme issues with my self-esteem. 


So there I was on December 31, 2011, on a night when people traditionally go out celebrating,  bawling in our garden.  After the first wave of self-pity subsided, I started to walk in aimless circles to combat my woes.  Finally I asked myself, "Ok, what am I going to do about it?"  No answer was forthcoming.  I was at a loss.

I went in the house and Carl, who felt badly about my despair, suggested we go to Green Bay and rent a movie.  Bless his heart, I know he was hoping to take my mind off that number ricocheting around in my brain, but it kept playing in my mind's eye along with all the negative self-talk-- Fat Talk-- screaming in my head.  That was the night I picked up a free copy of Leslie Sansone's Walk Away the Pounds, and started marching.  As you know, I haven't quit on Leslie and doubt I ever will.

But anyway, back to my self-loathing.

'No wonder you have to wear a CPAP, you're fat,' the Nasty Voice in my head hissed. 

Three years old.

'Fatty fatty two by four, can't fit through the kitchen door.'

 Oh, that song is embedded in my brain.

My sixth birthday.  L-R, My Spring Horse, my late brother, late father, me and Mom

  When I was a young girl my father used to chant that tune every time he had a few too many. "Fatty, Fatty Two by four, Can't fit through the Kitchen Door," he'd sing gleefully while I stood in shame, trying to hold back the tears.  To cry would only bring on more ridicule, "What's the matter, can't you handle the truth?  You're gonna end up just like the fat lady in the circus."

Looking back on it now, I wasn't really fat.  I certainly have never been thin, but the jeers were cruel and have stuck with me all of my life.   I started to suffer from depression by the time I was in the 4th grade, though I didn't know what it was.  I was always anxious and worried.  Sometimes the anxiety levels would lead to almost full-blown panic attacks, but back in the day, no one talked about things like that.  I remember not being able to eat or sleep days before school started up again in the fall.  I wanted to stay home.  The only place I felt comfortable was outdoors on the farm at night, alone. In the dark, no one could see me and there would be no one to judge me.  I guess that habit hasn't left me yet, has it? 
16 years old, 5'9", 140 pounds

Carl took the picture above when we were dating.  It was a very cold day and I was bundled up with my old barn coat, two pairs of long underwear and two pairs of jeans, putting bedding down for the cows in the barn.  I remember hating this photo, 'Oh, I look so fat!' But what I wouldn't give to hit that weight again.  Most girls my age weighed 110 or, at the highest, 120, not 140.  And I think that's why my father had such a problem with my weight.  He heard 140 and freaked. No young girl should weigh 140 pounds. 

I remember asking Mom if she thought I was fat.  I did have a belly on me.  I still do.   Her reply was always, " I wouldn't say 'fat'.  But I know when it bothers you enough, you'll do something about it." 

You know how when you ask your significant other 'Do these pants make me look fat?' and you're hoping the reply will be, 'FAT?!  Good heavens, no!  You look Amazingly Skinny in those jeans!" Well, I hate to admit it, but forty some years ago, that was the response I was hoping for from my dear mother.  Her actual response hurt a little, but I know she meant well.  After all, she is barely 5' tall and at her highest weight I think she was just over 135, so I don't blame her for freaking out about teenage me weighing 140. 

I wonder what my body fat percentage was then, how much was flab, how much was muscle?  Oh, well, no use wondering now.  But I know I was muscular, carrying forty pound pails of milk in each hand to the bulk tank (Farmer's Walk---it's an actual exercise now in one of my weight lifting rituals) and tossing 80 pound bales of hay around day in and day out from the time I was a little kid didn't make me weak. I was a force to be reckoned with.

The dress was size 14.
A 'redo' of the picture of me when I was 3.  This was Carl's idea.  I was 18 here.  Not thin, but not Circus Material.  I did not go to my high school prom.  Yes, I was dating Carl, but way back then I had self-esteem issues, how could a cow like me go to the prom?  The prom was for pretty, popular, skinny girls.  I bought this dress from Goodwill, I always wanted a formal gown and the price was right.  $2.  This is the only time I ever wore it because I felt self-conscious.   Carl commemorated the occasion with a photo. 

I remember reading an article in some silly magazine back in the 1970's.  The title was something or other to do with how to lose weight when you've let yourself go.  In this case, the lady in the article had 'let herself balloon all the way up to 138 pounds!' and was asking for help from an expert to slim down to her customary 110.  I read that article and remember blushing furiously.  Oh, my....she was a 'balloon' at 138?  And I was 140-something, and only 18 years old?  I do have a problem.

I know it is not nice to speak ill of the dead, but my father was a difficult man.  He had a horrendous childhood and survived unspeakable abuse, surviving by his wits and willpower.  As a result, he had an extremely tough exterior and, I believe, a mental disorder, but I'm no shrink.  He was an unhappy person, prone to verbal abuse and had an alcohol problem, though we never saw it as anything but a solution, since when he was inebriated, he was easier to live with.  

Of course, being loaded would bring out the 'singer' in him and the 'Fatty, Fatty' song would spontaneously erupt with gusto.  He knew where to hit.  And every time, I would die a little inside.  Looking back, I think he thought he was doing me a favor pointing out my obesity so I wouldn't get any bigger. 

 If you know anyone who shames a child in this, or any other way, please, tell them to stop. 

 It is abuse.  

Me and Sparky dog....I was 18.

 I remember the day this picture was taken as plain as yesterday.  I didn't want my picture taken and went into the cornfield to 'hide my fat' behind the cornstalks.  It was a hot Sunday afternoon and Carl and I had gone out for a walk in what is now our Back Eight.  Despite my protests, he took the picture anyway.  I wish I had let him take a whole lot more pictures then, if I could go back in time, I'd tell the girl hiding in the cornfield to let it all hang out.  It ain't that bad.  I should have appreciated it while I had it.

As to my eating habits, well, they weren't great.  I ate heartily, after all, we were farming.  Mom always had a fresh chocolate cake or cookies around and they tasted great as a dessert after a typical meat and potatoes meal.  I wasn't much for eating between meals, I still don' biggest problem has always been my portions and second helpings. And thirds, sometimes.  If one cupcake is good, two are even better.  Yeah, I ate. 

Many times I overate for reasons other than hunger.  I know my father loved me as best he could and I don't blame him for my weight problem.  I know my bad habits and health issues are to blame.  The buck does indeed stop here.  I have to own my dysfunction, and I do.  But there are reasons for my messed-up thinking...

My unhappy father had mood swings which often resulted in him going silent for up to two weeks at a time.  If you have ever been on the receiving end of the Silent Treatment, you will know what I mean when I say it is the most hateful, petty, childish thing an adult can do.  

I cannot describe the pain the Silent Treatment caused me.  To this day, whenever I talk to Mom about it, she doesn't understand why it bothered me so much; she felt it was a relief not to have to listen to him rant about things he didn't like.  But she was an adult, and his wife.  If it didn't bother her to have him clam up, then she was a stronger person than me.

From a child's perspective, the 'talk to the hand' approach is confusing, belittling and pure hell.  I felt abandoned over and over and over again.  I never knew what I had done wrong.   If groveling at his feet would make him love me again, I would have kissed his work boots.  Have you ever seen a dog crawl along the floor when he knows he's displeased his master?  Even animals know when they are being shut out.  I felt as if I didn't exist, as if I were invisible.   It was truly a surreal experience and perfect for turning me into a raging People Pleaser. 

 I remember sitting at the supper table with my folks and eating in dejected silence, chewing with my head down in my plate. The tension and the electric contempt in the room was so thick you could almost hear it crackle.  

Mom would act as if nothing was wrong, she could calmly handle the thinly veiled hostility with little outward emotion.  I was a nervous wreck.  Sometimes Mom would talk to me a little while my father sat in stony silence and ate his food with a stabbing fork.  My voice would sound whiny and annoying when I dutifully answered and I was glad when our attempt at conversation dwindled off.  I would grab another cupcake and stuff it in my mouth.  Chocolate soothed my jangled nerves.  Gee, I wonder where the 140 pounds came from?

Age 20

The silent treatment came on with no warning.  Things could be going well, or not, it didn't make any difference.  Suddenly he wasn't talking.  He left the room abruptly after he ate and there were times he wouldn't eat until we left the room and he would sort of sneak in later and eat alone from the dishes my mother left on the table for him.  

I loved the farm life and enjoyed helping my dad with anything I could.  He was 45 when I was born, so by the time he was 56 (my age now) I was 11 years old.  (It's almost unreal to think of having an eleven year old child around our house now.)    I would always run after him, opening gates so he wouldn't have to get off the tractor, hooking and unhooking wagons for him, anything I could do to be useful.  We worked together wonderfully-- when he was talking to me.  But when he wasn't, it was dreadful. 

 I still ran after him, but he didn't stop the tractor to let me on and if I didn't get out of the way, I believe he would have run me down.  When he wasn't in his silent mode, if say he stepped on my toe and I yelped, his reply would always be, "If your big foot wasn't there in the first place, I wouldn't have stepped on the stupid thing."  Ah, there's sympathy for you. "Quit your crying or I'll give you something to cry about," was also one of his favorite threats. 

I used to pray at night to God to please make Dad happy so he would talk again.  And my prayers would often be answered, because just as abruptly as the silence arrived, it disappeared.  There was never any explanation or discussion about what caused the episode, we were now back to talking.  Until we weren't.  

Sometimes Dad would only speak to me, and Mom was out in the cold, or vice versa.  I hated every blasted minute of this treatment, it was pure torture.  To this day when I haven't heard from a friend for some time, I start to worry.  Have I done something to offend them?  What did I do?  How can I make it up to them?  More often than not, it had nothing to do with me.  I guess the world doesn't revolve around me, after all.

Just once I tried the Silent Treatment as a punishment when our boys were little.  They had done something that displeased me, I don't remember what, and I was angry.   Instead of ranting and raving, I just shut up.  In less than five minutes, both boys were by my side.  

"Momma?  What's wrong.  We're sorry. Are you ok?"

I was doing the dishes and would not reply.  I acted as if I hadn't heard a thing.

"Momma, can you hear me?  Why won't you talk to us?"

I continued washing the plates and moved on to the silverware.  I went to get a clean towel from the drawer and deftly sidestepped my anxious young sons as if they weren't there.

"Momma!  Don't you love me anymore?!  Please talk to me!  I'm right here, can't you see me??!"

By now the tears were falling all the way around.  I dropped the dish rag and grabbed both of the boys in a bear hug, I was sobbing harder than they were.  

Oh, dear God, how could I even think of treating these precious little boys the same way I'd been treated?  And how had my father managed to drag this reprehensible behavior out for weeks at a time?

  This was a low point for me as a mother, but it was also a turning point.  I suddenly had compassion for myself as a small child and understood the pain I'd gone through for decades.  I used to think I'd been a 'baby' to let it bother me so much when I was a kid and here was proof positive my reaction was normal.  No child understands being completely ignored by a parent who is supposed to love them.  Growing up with a lifetime of this treatment had done a lot of damage. 

The Silent Treatment is Abusive Behavior. 

 Some people think it is noble, 'If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."   Yeah, well, if you give someone the cold shoulder for more than an hour, you are a Jerk.  Get some help.

This is getting far too long for one post.  Do I hit the Publish button?  Do I have the courage it takes? 

We'll see.  




Stephen Andrew said...

Something that always seems to ring true with gardeners is that it distracts us from some kind of pain. It's a productive way to channel sad or nervous energy into something beautiful. I think I understand why you garden on a colossal level; arranging imposing and unforgiving rocks all along.
This is such an incredibly poignant post. I started gardening when I was six years old. Which was also about the time I started to realize just how different I was. When the other kids started playing soccer and baseball I would deadhead my roses or prune my hardy hibiscus or divide hostas (which killed a few of them because I wanted to divide them weekly). I had a hard time and I had so much in family and a best friend two doors down with a family who is just like my own.
As for god I could go on and on. I've fought it my whole life. I will close this meandering comment with what a beautiful thing it is that you didn't project the patterns of your childhood onto your children. I'm pretty sure they got the opposite.

outlawgardener said...

Oh Karen, I just want to hug you! It took a lot of courage to hit that publish button but I'm so glad that you did as your story resonates with me and probably many others who would rather stay on the farm in the dark alone! You are a beautiful, talented, healthy lady who is loved.

Alison said...

Oh Karen, I want to reach through the computer and give you a big hug. I think I've mentioned before how much we have in common in the parenting department, and the weight struggles department as well. My dad was older when I was born, and he often gave us the silent treatment too. Did your dad ever sit in the living room for hours at a time at night with the lights off, brooding? To this day I get silent when I'm really angry, but it's out of fear. It's almost always in response to something nasty that's been said to me, and the silence is always out of fear of bringing down even more nastiness. I have a hard time expressing anger. One reason I love plants is that they don't talk nasty to you.

I hope you know this, but I'm going to tell you anyway. You were an adorable child. And you were a beautiful teenager. Beautiful. 140 pounds, with your height, is a very healthy weight, especially considering all the hard work you did and the muscles you had.

Imagine stepping on that freight scale, and finding an even higher weight, but being about 5 inches shorter. That was me two years ago.

Kudos to you for the weight you've lost, and for the way you've managed to not pass on the abuse you suffered.

Chris Lacey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karen said...

Stephen, thank you so much. Yes, you're right, the size of the garden is in direct proportion to my depressive tendencies, lol. Massive.

I'm glad you had supportive people around you as a child. People can be so cruel, and sadly, I don't know why.

Thank you again, Stephen.

Karen said...

Peter, thank you so much, too. I always wondered if I was alone with this line of thinking or experiences, but am finding that is not the case. Thank you for your words of encouragement. Some days it's hard to see beyond the number on the scale, even though I know it's silly. Sending a hug your way, too.

Karen said...

Alison, I am sending you a warm hug right back, my dear friend. We certainly did have a lot in common growing up. I know you 'get' the effects of the Silent Treatment.

I love gardening for the same reason as you do, it brings me peace of mind.

Thank you for the compliments, every time I look at the old pictures I just shake my head, nope not thin, but nope, not fat. It's just sad that I've felt ashamed of myself all of my life. My mindset has to change. I know you have become vibrantly healthy over the last few years and every time I think of you, I smile.

Lona said...

Good Lord your life runs so close to mine it is crazy. Right down to the silent father. Girl I know your pain personally.

Charade said...

Omigosh. I've come to post a little late in the day, but I'm so thankful I didn't miss it. I'm so taken by your courage - to put those feelings into words, then to put those words right out there for the whole world to see. You are one very brave woman. If only my own comments could be as eloquent as Stephen Andrew... I can only hope there is a follow-up post shortly.

Karen said...

Lona, my heart goes out to you. This isn't something either one of us should have had to go through. Hugs, my friend.

Charade, your comments were equally touching. I have no words to describe the feeling of vulnerability writing something like this has cost me, but I am humbled by the care and concern shown to me from dear blog friends. Thank you.