As you know from an earlier post, it was reading about the long-term effects on your brain as a child in the Adverse Child Experiences (ACE) report which sparked off this current run of posts. I felt that the kidney infection I suddenly experienced was a physical way of shifting the shit I’d felt since childhood. I also felt – and still feel – that emotions are not as easy to release as some think.
It’s my view that adverse emotional responses get buried in the body’s emotional memories which the body then draws upon as a defence mechanism and is very reluctant to ditch. Of course, I can’t prove this but if you look at the number of people who have weight problems and who also have dysfunctional childhoods in one way or another, there’s something that goes on in the body which is so far unrecognised.
After all, if weight loss were simply a matter of less calories, more exercise, being overweight would be easy to achieve. But weight has many positive features for people – protection, comfort, solace, and so on. Food has many properties beyond simply filling your belly. It has emotional overtones, comfort qualities, helps squash down grief, anger, feelings of powerlessness and so on. And in a society where spirit and soul are drowned out by consumption, fast lives, constant social media addiction, stress and so on, it’s not surprising so many people are weighty
It’s why I’ve spent time researching my family background to understand where my own weight and alcohol problems come from. Apart from my father’s own alcoholism, I can remember him mentioning that his father had been a drunk, until the time he staggered home along the tram lines and realised, when he was sober, that he was lucky not to have been mown down by a tram. He took “the Pledge” which was a formal promise to stop drinking. Indeed he never took another drop of alcohol.
As for me, apart from the ancestral inheritance of alcoholism, the first time I saw an astrologer, she coughed gently, went a bit pink, and then said: “I hope you’re not offended by my asking this, but do you have drug problems?” I was quite startled, how did she know I had alcohol problems? I know now that the position of Neptune, in the first house and – in my case – is a classic sign for addiction problems of any kind.
Australia was a problem drinker’s delight when I first arrived here. Alcohol was freely available and cheap. Grog was pretty much evident at all social events. And my drinking took off like a rocket. It ricocheted around for quite a few decades until I broke my leg and ankle in Queensland in 1996 and gave it up. I remember talking to an alcohol and drug counsellor when Dad was in hospital who said that she knew I’d give up, but she could see Dad wouldn’t. And sure as eggs, he’d been out of hospital for about five weeks when he went back on the grog.
One of the puzzles in my life was solved when I saw a psychologist about my alcohol problems. He listened and then said something which really surprised me: “I think you lack self-confidence and have very low self-esteem”. Well, I had hidden all that under a veneer of confidence but his words hit home. It was another piece in my life puzzle, realising that my father had continually chipped away at my self-confidence which had led to bouts of depression, alcohol abuse and weight problems.
I decided when I began writing about my life that I would be absolutely honest and not present an airbrushed version of myself. So I haven’t stayed off the grog, but it comes and goes, so to speak, and I’m very careful and judicious if I feel like a drink .It simply doesn’t fill my life the way it used to. I have a highly productive, creative life and I won’t allow alcohol to spoil that in any way. I’ve come to understand my demons, I’ve been through the dark night of the soul when we were living in Queensland, I’ve overcome depression, lack of self-confidence and lost my abiding need for approval, something I never got from my father.
Writing out all my demons this week has helped me dig into depths I hadn’t realised existed and which I can now release since they’re out in the light of day.
I’m a digital artist – holding my art exhibition recently, Heart’n’Art, which was a retrospective of all my art from 1996-2014 (acrylic, mandala, vision board, digital art, shamanic art) gave me a huge lift as I saw all my creativity on the walls in front of me. I’m an abundant writer. I’ve learned to stop criticising myself. I have a wonderful, loving, kind husband. I have marvellous friends. And I have a daughter as my husband’s eldest daughter, Dee, has adopted me as her mum. So I’m also a grandmother and great-grandmother.
I think I’ve done okay!
Added to the heritage of domestic violence was the fact that, most of my life, Dad was a dry drunk who never dealt with his anger and resentment. There was a photo of my dad when I was a kid and he was stuffing around on the beach laughing. I often wondered what turned this laughing young man into the taciturn, grumpy, miserable man he became as he got older.
I never realised when I was young that Dad had an alcohol problem because we only had alcohol in the house at Christmas and everyone drank in moderation. Mum told me, when she was out on holiday in early 1975, that after getting sacked from his own company, Dad started drinking a bottle of whiskey a day, to the point where she was close to leaving him. I suppose things cleared up as they were still together when they came on holiday and remained together until Mum died in 1987.
But when we were living in Queensland Dad told me once that, when he was in the Navy, he heard some Wrens talking about a Petty Office who was a real drunk and realised they were talking about him. He told me it shook him so much he he’d never been drunk since, which was quite ironic as he’d already knocked back a few glasses of whiskey/brandy/rum or whatever he was drinking at the time, and his voice was already slurred in the late morning.
Once my mum died, Dad’s slide into rampant alcoholism accelerated. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I never went to see him in the afternoon as he’d be drunk as a skunk. If I phoned, his voice would be slurred and I couldn’t make sense of what he was saying. In Queensland, his life became chaotic. His house was filthy, he’d sit in his chair and smoke, but flicked the ash to the ground so a thick layer of ash lay around on the carpet. How he never set fire to his place is beyond me. His kitchen floor was covered in ingrained grease and dirt. And he became more and more erratic.
Finally he blacked out early one morning, phoned us to tell us he’d called an ambulance and my husband, Bryan, drove to his house to give a helping hand.It turned out Dad had broken a couple of ribs and fractured a couple of vertebrae in his fall. When Dad entered the local hospital I told them Dad was an alcoholic, so they gave him small doses of alcohol each day to minimise withdrawal effects. Unfortunately, he got a chest infection, had to take antibiotics and so couldn’t have alcohol. He got the D.T.’s, kept falling out of bed, told me seriously about the possums that were climbing over a fellow patient’s bed, got violent and eventually was heavily medicated.
I won’t go into any more gory details, but one thing I do want to say. Alcoholics are charmers, don’t believe a word they say, concentrate on your own survival, don’t get dragged down into their dysfunctional lives. My father charmed everyone he met. He was full of promises about what he was going to do when he got out of hospital – fishing, gardening, etc., – and suckered everyone, including his social worker. If Bryan hadn’t been with me, knew the truth of how my father treated me and how he behaved, and supported me through all the chaos, I would have thought I was either going mad or already insane.
No-one believed me when I told him what life was like with my father and at one stage, when I was trying to sort out power of attorney, I was virtually accused of being after his money. He would sober up in hospital, a psychiatrist would see him and pronounce him fit, and out he’d come into mainstream life again to continue his boozing and aggro. Eventually he had several strokes which left him with virtually unintelligible speech and confined to a wheelchair. Luckily for him he was offered a place in a first-class nursing home with his own en-suite. He was able to have a small amount of alcohol each day but eventually got to weak to handle the grog.
We moved to the UK in 2002 for my sanity and my health and because Bryan wanted to be closer to his kids, stayed on the west coast when we returned to Australia in 2004 in order not to become embroiled in Dad’s affairs again, and finally moved to northern New South Wales when he entered a nursing home. When we got to the nursing home for the first time, the nurses told me he was eager to see me. And true to form, Dad was only eager because he wanted me to take him out of the nursing home and take care of him. By that stage, I had got the determination to say no, and to care for myself, something that had, in earlier years, been sadly lacking in me.
I got a phone call at 5am one morning to say that my father was likely dying as he’d had a turn for the worse. We lived about three hours from his nursing home and got there in time to say good-bye. I sat and gave Reiki to dad, finally kissing him on the cheek as I left. In my grief, I left my walking stick behind and Bryan went to get it. He said Dad opened his eyes as he walked in, Bryan said: “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of her”. And with that Dad closed his eyes and passed away a couple of hours later.
On the way north to Brisbane, we drove through great clouds of butterflies which an Aboriginal friend told me later was a sign of an easy passing. Dad had been terrified of dying but his eventual death was calm, peaceful and full of ease. I was glad for him that he was finally at peace and out of this mortal coil where he’d been so unhappy.
I remember the daughter of a friend shaking off her father when he went to hug her, and it was so hard to stand back and not say to her: “You are so lucky. Your dad loves you, he’s affectionate, he hugs you. Don’t whistle it down the wind”. I have met many, many people with wise, wonderful, kind, loving fathers and I simply want to let them know too how lucky they are. Treasure your father. Sort out any differences, if that’s possible, and remember that life is a lottery – you don’t know when someone is going to die, so make the best of ever loving moment you have with them. Count your blessings.
To those who are in dysfunctional family relationships, I simply say that you are worth more. Love and care for yourself because you have something unique to offer the world. Don’t let the miserable, the selfish, the violent, the jealous, the drug- or alcohol-addicted drag you down. Let them go. These days there is more openness and awareness of family problems. As I mentioned earlier, the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study has raised awareness of how challenges in childhood can have long-term effects. Surround yourself with loving, supportive people, whether friends or advisors or health/mental professionals, and build yourself a new family if you need to with friends of your own choosing.
Remember – shine your light. You are not the Pied Piper of the Universe. Let others work out how to shine their light and don’t let them dim yours.
To all intents and purposes my childhood wasn’t that bad. I was born with pigeon toes (Mum said she knew something was wrong when everyone went quiet after I was born) and spent the first 18 months of my life in braces to force my bones to grow more straight. Now I tend to have duck feet with my toes pointing out!
I do know Mum said her milk didn’t come through properly, I screamed with hunger the first two days of my life, the nurses refused to believe my mother when she said I was starving, until finally they decided she was right, I was fed formula milk and stopped screaming. To this day I have an intense fear of starvation – my cupboards and fridge are always full which drives my husband stark, staring mad.
Even at a pretty young age, I was always aware that I had to be well-behaved. I can remember being in a department store once with mum talking to another woman and telling her I never played up because I knew I’d get a slap on the leg. I know even at that age – about 3, I think – I felt deeply resentful at being talked about as if I were invisible.
At this point I need to add that I’ve found out about myself since I studied astrology. I don’t want to go into huge detail because this isn’t an astrology blog, but what I did find out is that I have the planet Neptune in the first house which relates to me as an individual. It is incredibly close to my Ascendant, Libra, which is the constellation popping up over the horizon as I was born and which influences how I express myself with a Libran Sun.
In my e-book, Astro-Crystal-Mandala Healing (which I’ll shortly be re-publishing), I characterise Neptune thus:
General: Transcendence; illusion; inspiration; vision; dreaming; glitz; glamour; smoke and mirrors; enlightenment; submission; humility, ego, addictions – drugs, shopping, etc; mystical experience; subconsciousness; visions; ungroundedness; delusion; faith; trust; hope; hunches; supernatural; occult; creative artistry; idealism; philanthropy; selfishness; hoarding; bondage; freedom.
Body: Addictions; out of body; movement; dance; yoga; purposeful action; shapeshifting; directionless; lack of boundaries; healthy boundaries.
Mind: Inspiration; vision; artistic inspiration; procrastination; hypochondria, schizophrenia; insanity; delusion; wishful thinking; spiritual purpose & focus; emptiness as in Zen meditation; occult.
Emotion: Bliss; depression; euphoria; black mood; disillusionment; happiness; deception; fog.
Heart: Love; openness; embrace of all; fear; surrender to the Divine; sensitivity; resistance; separation; healing; release; sacrifice; identification with humanity as a whole; release of ego.
Spirit: Love; mystery; trust; faith; hope; surrender; submergence.
What it means in practice is that I am quite often off in la-la land, I daydream a lot, and am incredibly sensitive (although I’ve successfully hidden that over the years with brashness, cockiness and a forced self-confidence) and can sense what people are feeling under the surface. I used to go to meetings in Melbourne and come home feeling disoriented, sick and dog-tired because I never realised I was picking up on all the emotions swirling around – anger, fear, aggression, game-playing, and so on. If I do Tarot readings, I can also sense people’s emotions and I pretty much always go with my first impressions of people. If I over-ride uncomfortable feelings, I generally find I was right in the first place.
And what it meant within the family situation was that, sub-consciously, I was picking up on the hidden language and actions of my parents. I was aware of having to behave, to be under pressure to perform at school (at 9 I came fifth in my class instead of first and all hell broke loose, with lectures from parents and nuns at my convent, extra homework and added pressure to come first in the next lot of exams).
I felt like a spare part in the family, that mum and dad were there for each other, and I was not part of that inner relationship. I used to feel loved at birthdays and Christmases when I got presents and, yes, my parents went to a lot of trouble to get me some fantastic presents. It reassured me in December and September each year that all was okay and I had parental approval. Whether I had love, I wasn’t sure. My mum used to complain bitterly about how awful giving birth was and later, when I was a teenager, my father told me (as I mentioned in an earlier post) that he could have made something of himself if I hadn’t been around. But, as I pointed out to him, he and mum were responsible for my conception, not me, and I wasn’t going to take on board that thoroughly rotten comment.
Now I have to say that, for my family, I was very intelligent and fulfilling expectations of a working-class family to do well, particularly after World War 11 when many people had lost dreams and experienced difficult lives. I had the added pressure that my father had been very clever and had been denied the opportunity to go on to higher education due to his family’s poverty. On the other hand, it went without saying that, if Dad’s elder brother, John, the family favourite, had been as bright as my Dad, they would have found the money to fund his higher education.
Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire
At least, I think that’s the case. Because I was to realise in later life that my father was a liar, a first-class con man and he would rip off his closest friend if he could make money out of him or her.
The irony is that I went through my childhood with the label of “liar” hanging over me, and all over a storm in a teacup. When I was about four-and-a-half years old, I was talking to my friends at the window who asked me to come out to play. I told them I couldn’t but in talking to them through the window, I managed to pull down the lace curtain which used to cover the lower windows in those days.
Looking back, any normal child would have told their parents what had happened and the curtain would have been hung up again. But I was terrified because I’d done something wrong and tried to fix it myself. My father crept up on me, found what I was doing, gave me a hiding and I ran downstairs to our basement kitchen, bawling my eyes out and hiding under the kitchen table. My mother didn’t talk to me or console me in any way which was devastating.
I was so scared at my parents’ reaction that, when they asked who’d pulled the curtain down, I said it was my friend’s older sister, justifying in my child’s mind that the sister had been urging me to come outside and if she hadn’t, I would have not pulled the curtain down. My parents went storming down to my friend’s house to rant on about Jenny (and I expect my friend’s parents though my mum and dad had really over-reacted!), and it was only a week later I confessed that I’d been the culprit.
Now it’s likely that a more sturdy, outgoing child would have shrugged their shoulders over the kerfuffle and got on with their lives without worrying too much. But I was extremely sensitive, a lonely only child, and I bottled it up inside. Added to this, from that day on my father accused me of being a liar at the drop of a hat; threatened to put me over his knee and give me a hiding, again at the drop of a hat; and was extremely strict about where I went, when I went and what time I got home.
Finally, when I was about fourteen, as I mentioned in another post, when Dad threatened me with his usual words: “You’re not too old to put over my knee and give you a hiding” I stared back at him and told him that if he so much as touched me again I’d pack up, move out of the house and my parents would never see me again. He could see I meant it and, as bullies do when you stand up to them, never mentioned giving me a hiding again.
In my next post, I’ll be addressing the history of domestic violence in my mother’s family, and my father’s behaviour as a dry drunk.
A couple of weeks ago, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I ended up with blood in my urine and the sudden onset of a kidney infection.
Prior to this, I’d felt really lethargic, unmotivated, very tired and quite under the weather. Looking at this subsequently and how much better I feel now, I’m quite sure I was subconsciously processing some real crap about my relationship with my father and was getting ready to release it.
But when the kidney infection came out of the blue, at the time it seemed unconnected with my feelings of malaise and just one of those things – except that the day before I read something which seemed like a kick by a mule in my belly.
First I had to deal with the kidney infection which cleared up with antibiotics but then, as I was resting and recovering and still feeling very tired, I began to put two and two together.
I had started off reading a post on the blog Behind the White Coat which seemed interesting as it was about a woman who was trying to lose weight and failing lamentably. I was interested because, as soon as I say to myself I’m going to lose weight, I start gaining rather than losing. I have often felt like a human concertina – I’d lose weight then pile it on again BUT the one thing I did notice was that I was only slim or thin when I was living on my own. If I was living with my parents or in a relationship, the weight piled on again. The first time I really lost a lot of weight was when I was 20-21 and lived in Stuttgart, Germany, for six months as part of my university third year abroad. Everyone noticed when I went home at Christmas how much weight I’d lost and I had many complimentary comments when I returned to university in my final, fourth year.
In the post Behind the White Coat – Quagmire I read about ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and how people abused mentally, emotionally, physically or sexually are affected well into adulthood. The writer, a pretty decent physician (she must be good, I’ve had my fair share of lousy, judgmental practitioners and I don’t praise medicos lightly!) commented: “childhood trauma causes increased levels of stress hormones which in turn permanently change a child’s developing brain.”
Although I’ve written about childhood matters, this post was particularly disturbing for me because what I’ve done is brush lightly over how I was treated by my father throughout the whole of my life until rampant alcoholism and many strokes weakened him to the point where he was no longer able to terrorise me.
“Terrorise” sounds like a bit of an over-statement but I can remember, when I was about 55, my father suddenly shouted at me (he’d been on the booze) and I nearly wet myself. I was shocked by my reaction but after reading all the material on ACE and coming to understand that most of my life I was brainwashed into thinking my father was like the Pope, infallible, I’ve come to recognise that ripping down the myths of a life is hard, very emotional work. And most of the time in the past I’ve under-stated it or glossed over it because I’ve never liked exposing myself emotionally in public.
Another quote which resonated for me was this:
“Children with toxic stress live much of their lives in fight, flight or fright (freeze) mode. They respond to the world as a place of constant danger. With their brains overloaded with stress hormones and unable to function appropriately, they can’t focus on learning. They fall behind in school or fail to develop healthy relationships with peers or create problems with teachers and principals because they are unable to trust adults. Some kids do all three. With despair, guilt and frustration pecking away at their psyches, they often find solace in food, alcohol, tobacco, methamphetamines, inappropriate sex, high-risk sports, and/or work and over-achievement. They don’t regard these coping methods as problems. Consciously or unconsciously, they use them as solutions to escape from depression, anxiety, anger, fear and shame.”
I wasn’t abused physically or sexually, but emotionally and mentally. I did okay at school, very well in fact, because I had the subconscious belief that, if I wasn’t successful at school, I’d be tossed out into the street. I lived my childhood on tenterhooks, feeling that I was always kept in the family structure on constant trial, anxious that if I didn’t do my very best I wasn’t acceptable and would be homeless. I was the classic over-achiever, still am (but interestingly since the kidney infection and recovery, I’m far more relaxed and willing to be more laid-back), and I can tell you – if anyone speaks sharply to me, I freeze, my mind goes blank and I stutter – STILL!
I suffered repeated bouts of depression. And I chose food, alcohol, tobacco (for a short time) and inappropriate sex as a result of the toxic stress of my childhood, and while I packed in smoking, and inappropriate sex when I met my husband 37 years ago, food and booze have been ongoing escape hatches to varying degrees.
In my next couple of posts I’m going to do my best to heave out all the crap and get it out of my system because I really don’t need to lug this around with me any more.
And I’m also doing so in the hope that if people read this who have been in my situation and find it helps them, then some good has come out of my writing and my experiences.
I did a short swing into Thailand in my previous post and decided I’d like to keep writing for a while about places I’ve visited, so instead of ranting and raving about diets, food, size and so on, I decided I’d just publish the names of books I’ve found interesting.
The reality is we all have to work out what sort of food and eating habits suit each of us. I’ve avoided the dreaded word “diet” because it implies losing weight and eating naff food and all the horrors associated with a food regime which will likely leave us hungry, unhappy and piling on the weight when we return to normal food.
Like I’ve said, I know emotional influences surround my relationship with food and weight, and I wonder if the fact that so many people are overweight these days (as in seriously overweight, not overweight by the BMI shonky weight formula) is because of the pressures people are under today with long hours, poverty wages, unemployment, fast-paced society and so on.
After all, if you’re feeling stressed, what better way to make yourself feel good than to splurge on food you love in excess quantities. The trick is to eat the food you love in reasonable quantities and make good choices. But aaahhh! if food choices were that easy, we’d all know exactly what our bodies would like, we’d stop eating when we feel less than full, and we’d choose food we like, not food we feel morally bound to eat and avoid food we feel morally bound NOT to eat!
Every man, woman and their dog has an idea of what the best way to eat is and what food is good and what isn’t. Be your own detective: tune into how you feel about particular foods, when do you feel good after eating, when do you feel slow and tired, and so on. Sort out what food suits you!
Be that as it may, these books have been very helpful to me, they dismantle myths about obesity and the great “eat your carbohydrates” brain-washing which has permeated our society to the point of being mythologised and worshipped, and interestingly, the writers aren’t part of the diet/nutritional/pharmaceutical/medico in-crowd (with apologies to some doctors who I know are pretty decent people!).
The Obesity Myth – Paul Campos
The Big Fat Surprise – Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet – Nina Teicholz
Why Diets Fail (because You’re Addicted to Sugar) – Nicole E. Avena
Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants – How the Food Giants Hooked Us – Michael Moss
Why We Get Fat – Gary Taubes
Health at Every Size – Linda Bacon
The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and other Incendiary Acts – Hanne Blank
Intuitive Eating – Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch
However, I have to say that I am not a fan of the size acceptance which says if you are really, really fat, that’s okay. I respect people whatever their size and I really loathe the fact that if you’re fat you’re automatically considered fat/lazy/stupid/lack control/greedy and so on. People are worthy of respect and consideration whatever their size.
But I have seen some very, very fat people in Australia, the UK and particularly the US, and the truth is that our bodies are not meant to carry super-weight. I differentiate this from what is called “overweight” these days and which I call “normal” because I Iived in earlier times when there was a far more realistic approach to what our size should be.
As you get older, your body will find it hard to carry severe, excess weight. Simple fact. Sort out what is healthy for you and get your own agenda, but if your body feels uncomfortable at the weight you’re carrying, then it’s a nudge to you to work out how to get fit and healthy. But don’t be dissatisfied with your body if it doesn’t fit the “thin” stereotype you see these days. Along the way you may lose weight, but don’t focus on weight – focus on the fit and healthy part because that’s by far the healthiest way to look after yourself. Like I said, ditch the “thin is good” stereotype, take a good look at your body, and decide what is right for you.
COCKROACH IN SCALES
The other morning
There was a cockroach,
A big black shiny one,
trapped in the face of
As it waved its feelers back
at my looming face
trying to see if I was
(but never just right),
I thought it made a lot
For I’m a lousy housewife:
dusting, sweeping, what a waste of
And I’m a hopeless dieter,
fat and thin by turns.
So the cockroach in my scales
reflected both failures
What a way to start the day!
Over the years my weight has fluctuated wildly from slim to fat, so much so that I’ve felt like a human accordion at times, going in and out at the speed of light. I can’t say I’ve been conscious of whether I’ve been slim or fat because, regardless of my size, I was never aware of gaining or losing weight (apart from buying different dress sizes!).
I know many of my weight issues have been emotional, but also I’ve done a lot of reading about diets, weight, BMI, etc., because when I was young the hysteria around obesity and low-fat diets just didn’t exist. I do know that my weight has exercised the minds of far more people than it has mine. I’ve lost track of the times I’ve heard people say: “But you don’t eat a lot” and realised they’ve been scrutinising what I eat which gets right up my nose. It’s no-one’s business but mine what I eat, keep your nose out of my plate! As I said in my previous post, I’m also aware that when I walk into a doctor’s surgery their eyes light up as they order tests for diabetes, blood pressure and cholesterol and then look somewhat taken aback by results well in the healthy range.
I was also, decades ago, stupid enough to agree to go to a fat farm to lose weight when it was suggested by the organisation I worked for,and I really regret it. I lost 14 lbs in one week, with a mainly fruit juice diet, but of course, when I got back to the real world, the weight boomeranged back and then some. And it started me on a bit of a habit of fasting, then eating, and so on, which really has stuffed my body’s metabolism. I should have had the guts to tell them to poke their fat farm where the sun don’t shine, and that’s precisely what I would do today.
The day after I started working on this post – about weight and my mother’s death – I woke with excruciating sciatic pain in my hip and leg. It took until the next evening to realise that this was my physical response to approaching these subjects – matters of life and death which obviously have a great emotional and physical impact on me.
As soon as I twigged why the pain had exploded in my hip, it abated considerably. But I have been doing all sorts of odd jobs since then to avoid getting on with this post. So I have finally glued myself to my seat and here goes!
I weighed myself the night before I had the cast removed when I broke my leg and ankle in 1996 and then when I got home – 6lbs disappeared overnight, yeay! In the six weeks I’d been immobile, unbelievably I’d lost 14lbs, much to my surprise. It was as if the shock of the fall galvanised my body into detoxing all of its own accord.
From these comments and the intro you’ll probably guess that I have had some challenges with weight. And I’d probably be a weird woman if I hadn’t, given the obsession with thinness and fatness in today’s Western society.
In my childhood I was what you then called “chubby” but no-one banged on about weight and obesity as they do nowadays. In those days it was accepted that kids could be chubby but they’d lose this puppy fat once they hit puberty and started growing into adulthood.
The first time I became aware of perhaps being a bit weighty was when I stayed with my German penfriend in 1965. She was absolutely gorgeous and had a terrific, slim figure. Beside her I felt large and clumsy and I remember we each weighed ourselves but, as it was in kilograms, I had no idea what it meant. I do know that she and her mother exclaimed at my weight. When my cousin and his male friend visited us while they were in holiday in Germany, they only had eyes for my pen-friend and I felt fat, awkward and lonely. For the first time I became self-conscious about my figure.
I do know now that I ate because it was comfort food in a family where I felt on the outer. I closely associated food with being loved by my parents, particularly if my mum and I shared special food which Dad didn’t like, and we’d have this when he was doing overtime – mushrooms on toast (mushrooms were a luxury when I was a kid) and soft cod’s roe on toast (another luxury). I can also look back now and see that carrying extra weight was protective for me. My father was a bully, a control freak and he used to browbeat me if I voiced my own opinions. We’d go at it hammer and tongs until my mother would intervene to try to calm things down as she hated the discord.
At University I guess I remained somewhat podgy in my first year. I was in student accommodation and I used to drink a very hot cup of black coffee prior to meals in the refectory. The idea was to dampen my appetite but it wasn’t particularly successful, particularly if they dished up Queen of Puddings for dessert. It was my favourite and I’d eat my own portion as well as the portions of anyone who didn’t want their serving! I guess I really wasn’t overly bothered about my weight, just felt a sense of dissatisfaction which I never really pinned down.
The first time I really lost weight and became very slim was when I was working abroad during my third year at University. I was living in Stuttgart and started work at 7.30. We had a break around 8.30 and I’d get a roll with cold meat for breakfast. At lunchtime, we had a subsidised meal in the staff canteen but as very little of the food appealed to me, I had very small lunches. And in the evening, when I cooked for myself, I also didn’t eat much as it’s not much fun eating on your own.
I was, however, very happy at work as I made friends with a lovely Hungarian lady, Frau Kiss, a Hungarian refugee who’d settled in Stuttgart. She helped me in lots of little ways which made life more pleasant. Eventually I also met some really nice girls in the women’s hostel where I was living. When I first arrived in Stuttgart I lived in my own unit on the ground floor and it was quite lonely. Then I was moved to the basement area where I shared a room with a Finnish lass. She was a real raver and was always out in the evenings so I started leaving the light on in the small sink area in our room. She was quite taken aback at this as apparently the previous German girl had left the room pitch black and then complained when Marjia-Liisa made a noise trying to get ready for bed in the dark. But my little act of helpfulness broke the ice between us and from then on we got on like a house on fire.
Then a couple of English girls arrived from universities in the UK, they got stuck in the basement area like me, so we all got together. We were finally joined by Barbara, a German girl, who had a great sense of humour and adventure. And we certainly got up to all sorts of adventures between us, quite innocent now when I look back. But we were always laughing and having a good time together.
We went to the Christkindlmarkt in Stuttgart which was wonderful although bitterly cold. We visited the cinema at the American base nearby where we parked Barbara’s car and found it dwarfed by the huge American yank-tanks lined up in front of the cinema. We drove to Ulm to climb the steeple of the Ulm Minster, the tallest church in the world with 768 steps. It’s often called Ulm Cathedral but is actually a Minster as it has never been the seat of a bishop. We climbed up to the top where we found beautiful views over Ulm and the surrounding countryside, climbed down okay but when we got outside, our legs were like jelly and we ended up flopping on the floor laughing our heads off. I stayed at Barbara’s parent’s house one weekend, her folks were incredibly hospitable, and we also visited Rothenburg-ob-der-Taube which is a wonderful, medieval town.
We girls had boozy sessions in our rooms, confident we’d hidden all signs of the mayhem until we’d get home and realise our rooms smelled like pub bars, an empty wine glass or two stood on the mantelpiece and the sour-faced women running the hostel would greet us with icy faces!
One night Barbara introduced us to Schnapps, I think it might have been Goldwasser, which we English girls imbibed with gusto. She told us to skol it down it which we did and all promptly got drunk as skunks as none of us drank much at all. We were staggering everywhere, and I remember waking up with an appalling hangover. Barbara thought it was hilarious as we British girls sat there, head in hands, moaning, until she frogmarched us one by one to the restroom and stuck us in a cold shower!
I didn’t realise that, in this new lifestyle in Germany, I’d lost so much weight until I returned home for the Christmas holidays. My parents both commented on how much slimmer I was, and so did my boyfriend, but I didn’t see it in myself at all. I do know that when I returned to university in the fourth year, after my third year abroad, many people commented on the remarkable change in my appearance although, once again, I hadn’t realised how much weight I’d lost, it just sort of happened.
Much the same sort of weight loss happened when I worked on a kibbutz in Israel in March 1972, prior to travelling to Australia. I did physical work on my feet all the time, and the weight dropped off. I do know that unless I’m really active, it’s hard for me to lose weight, even more so now I have mobility challenges.
I realised much later down the track that my time overseas in my third year at university was really the first time I was away from anyone’s influence. I was pretty much on my own, and I lost weight because I didn’t need it to protect myself from my father’s bullying ways and the fact that I extended that to being subconsciously fearful of any relationships I had with the opposite sex. I loved being independent both at university and in Germany and France where I also spent six months.
Because I have so many air signs, nine in astrology, I have always been in my head and thinking, thinking, thinking. My conversations start: “I think…..” or “I’ve been thinking…..” (and generally my husband looks nervous because he says this usually means hammers and nails somewhere in the house), or I say, if people do rash things: “Why don’t people THINK”. Occasionally I look down and remember I’ve got a body attached to my head and say in surprise: “Oh, hello, body, still hanging around are you, thanks very much, I appreciate it.”
I started getting some idea of why I used food as a substitute for love and weight as protection when I saw a psychologist after Mum died. The thinner my mother got as the cancer spread, the fatter I got as if in some way I could protect myself, I think, on two fronts: from the fear of death myself if I got fat and from the grief I was experiencing as Mum came closer and closer to death. Seeing the psychologist after mum died, to get help from the loneliness and grief I felt, also opened a can of worms – mum no longer stood between me and my father as the peace-maker, we had to face each other, and our relationship got rocky to say the least!
When David Cameron announced his cabinet reshuffle a short while ago and more women were appointed to Cabinet, the headlines talked about “girlpower” and, of course what the “girls” were wearing. No talk of “womanpower” because so often we women are described as “girls” as we are not supposed to become fully-grown, mature, strong WOMEN. (I might add I am wholly cynical about the promotion of women as I see it as a cynical attempt to garner women’s votes rather than a genuine dedication to women’s equality.)
If you have a look at the photos on the right, the top row is of girls, the bottom is of women. The images in the top row are a vision of us as girls, never growing into a womanly shape, shaving our pubic hair so we look like constant teenagers, torturing ourselves with ripping out that hair (and I can tell you, I had my pubic hair shaved once, when I had my tubes tied at 27, and the constant itching of it growing back made me swear NEVER to shave that hair again!) and keeping us confined in the straitjacket of thin as desirable and right.
In the bottom row, the images are of mature women but now, in the same vein of keeping us as eternal girls, it is not considered appropriate to talk about women as “luscious”, “juicy”, “reubenesque”, “curvy”, “succulent” – because they all imply – shock, horror” – women who aren’t thin and possibly look like (whisper) mature, adult, powerful women.
I decided to follow up my posts on women’s liberation with one about weight issues because, looking back from the time I got involved in women’s liberation in the early 1970s until now, I got to thinking that the focus on diets and thinness is an act of sabotage – it has been a misogynist weapon to dis-empower women and keep them focused on weight issues instead of on living up to their full potential. A woman focused only on her weight and shape if far less powerful than one who is at home and comfortable with herself and makes her way in society as a formidable, strong individual.
The cult of “thin is good” didn’t always exist. Because I grew up in the ’50s and 60s, I have a perspective which isn’t possible for younger people, and that is, I can remember when women were weightier than accepted cultural norms now. It was accepted that as you had children and headed to your senior years, that weight gain was a normal process of life on earth. So it seems to me that the focus on thinness (mainly for women but now affecting men too) started getting stronger around the time women’s liberation erupted and started questioning women’s status in society. But thin is “in”, so to speak, at least on the part of women’s magazines, the diet industry, the medical establishment, the fashion industry and so-called fashion mavens who we’re supposed to follow like headless chooks.
While we’re busy focused on diets, size, weight, fatness or thinness, we are diverted from standing strong in our own right – as juicy, strong, powerful women, at ease with ourselves regardless of our weight, getting to know our own bodies intimately so we know what weight is right for us, and leading full, adventurous lives . As this quote from Naomi Wolf puts it so succinctly:
Marilyn Monroe would now be considered obese – which sounds ridiculous given the sex goddess she was. Yet we are repeatedly lectured that what I see as normal women are obese/morbidly obese/likely to peg it overnight because if they’re overweight they must be harbouring god knows how many life-threatening health challenges, and so on and so on.
This of course is a godsend to the enrichment of the diet industry, Big Pharma and medicos who see what is considered a fat woman now (but wasn’t when I was young) and like Pavlov’s dogs immediately start talking about diets, losing weight, yada, yada, yada. I know when I’ve walked into so many doctor’s room, their eyes light up as they order tests for diabetes and cholesterol levels and heave out the good ol’ blood pressure apparatus. Sadly for them, and they look quite taken aback, all my health signs are, well, healthy!
And as we’re on the subject of medicos, I have to say that I personally find the term “obese” quite offensive. It’s as if doctors conjure up a word which is designed to make normal/not so fat/ and fat people seem as sub-human as possible and to cow us into submissive slaves of thin worship. I sometimes wonder if the medical industry creates such words as “obese” or “geriatric” to elevate the power of medicos and reduce us patients to obedient, malleable, cowed, uncertain, unquestioning clients. I also despise doctors who lazily judge the health of overweight women by their size rather than their uniqueness and medical history.
I can remember having a meal out with some other women, all good-looking, fairly slim, about my age when I was in my late ‘thirties and the whole damned dinner talk was about weight, thinness and diets. I mean – what a ruddy great waste of women’s lives to spend it worrying about weight and what diet you’re on and whether you’ve gained or lost a couple of pounds from one week to the next. Being frightened of food, obsessing about calories, fat levels, carbs and all the other catchphrases of the thin mafia is absolutely ridiculous.
All the research which gets pumped out about what makes you live longer,what causes cancer, how to avoid heart attacks, etc., simply doesn’t take into account that people are individual, have their own genetic heritage and shape, and need to consider what their heart and soul tells them about what is good for them, not scientists and health gurus who change their minds a few years down the track or even from year to year and, dare I say it, month to month, week to week.
And having gone through some literature on this subject, I have found out – and this will no doubt amaze you – that if you carry more weight than that which is supposed to be healthy these days and you are fit, you are far more likely to live longer than a socially acceptable thin, unfit woman. Also, wasting your life on a yo-yo of dieting, losing weight, then gaining weight again and often extra weight than before you dieted, is putting your health far more at risk than a woman who looks at herself, smiles, smacks her booty gleefully and tells herself she’s a yummy individual with far more to do with her life than waste it on worrying about what is a current societal obsession about thinness.
Plus we need to get a perspective on the health hysteria which prevails at the moment – new food fads, super-foods, how to live longer, anti-ageing tucker – and so on. You can be the healthiest, fittest person around and then drop dead of a heart attack or get a life-threatening illness for no apparent reason. And everyone says it’s unfair because someone who doesn’t exercise or is fat doesn’t die at an early age. But it’s LIFE, outrageous, unpredictable, unfair, fair, dropping surprise health bombs into our lives – our time of death is unpredictable so get the most out of each day and you’ll have a wonderful life – exciting, adventurous, questing, humorous, fun, loving, fully adult, powerful and, above all, SATISFYING.
I can pretty much guarantee that when the truth comes out about – as it will – that the current BMI holy bible is a heap of old cobblers with no scientific foundation, and thinness is recognised as a trumped-up cultural creation to control and disempower women – the pendulum will swing towards an acceptance of women as they are meant to be – short, tall, medium, thin, fat, stocky, lean, weighty, or whatever is their natural, womanly shape. And if they’re pink with purple spots, or orange with red stripes, or green with turquoise hair – so be it!