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Author Topic: The Ugly Dumpling (A Landmark)
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I had always been big for my age, my sister two years older than me was shorter, though for a time we had worn the same size clothes, but around 7th grade I started to be bigger. I guess I do recall a time when I was 12 that I had really severe tonsilitis and hadn't been able to eat for a week, that I got some jeans out of the laundry pile, and after I fastened them, I saw my jeans still on the pile, and realized I fit into my sister's pants. This made me happy, even though I was deathly ill and facing hospitalization.

I was almost 15 when I started believing I was fat. There was a girl in gym class who had paid extra for the uniform sweats rather than just wearing her green shorts and yellow shirt like the rest of us. I am not sure how it dawned on me or if someone mentioned it, but I realized I was shaped more like her than like the "normal" girls. And from that point on through adolescence, my body was a problem that needed to be fixed.

When I was in college and trying to date, I always had to wonder if boys found my weight off-putting. My mother's weight had always been a point of contention between my parents, and while I felt men who did care about thinness were jerks, I also had to wonder if I wouldn't be just as happy thin as fat. Fortunately, I married a man who had observed his own mother's struggle with weight and self-esteem, and he never wanted me to feel bad on his account. If only that had been enough.

When I had postpartum psychosis and was being checked into the mental ward a week after my son died, I was pleased to note that I tipped the scale 26 pounds below my pre-delivery weight. The enemy spies posing as papparazzi would be less likely to recognize me, I supposed.

The sad truth of the matter was that I didn't accept myself. I reasoned around in circles, I didn't hate other fat people, but when it came to me, my body was to my self like a baby bird that had been touched by human hands. It was rejected on some instinctive level immune to logic.

Every New Year and at my birthday in the summer, I resolved to eat less and exercise more. It is probably fortunate for me that I was less successful at this than most people. I never really hammered my metabolism, but I carried a psychological burden of frustration and shame.

After my second child was weaned, I was at a motivational presentation and for reasons that are no longer clear to me, I decided it would be a good idea to go off sugar, except for one day a week. Whatever caused that resolve, I steeled myself with the thought that I had lived for 7 years without my first child, so living without sugar should be comparatively easy. This lasted until my third pregnancy, when the strain of constant progesterone made me feel like I had PMS for three straight months. I'll never be certain what weight I got down to, because our scale broke and being self-employed, we couldn't easily afford a new one.

Not much happened over the next couple of years. Well, it did, but not with respect to my weight. My third child was 10 lbs. 3 oz. at birth, and I always worried that he was going to be fat. Around the time he began to walk, I was at a friend's house who was on Weight Watchers and had just bought a new scale. I wasn't especially trepidatious about being weighed, since I was nursing and knew I was bound to be a bit overweight, but that day was the first time I registered over 200 other than when I was having a baby. I had been borderline obese since high school, depending on how much I exagerated my height, but now I was really, truly fat.

This is the strangest part of looking back over the history of my weight. Ever since I had begun to weight myself, I thought I should weigh less. When I was 16 and weighed 145, I thought I should lose 25 pounds and I'd be perfect (based on a MetLife chart I'd seen the year before). When I broke my toe senior year and became semi-immobile, I gained 20 pounds I never lost and thought "if only I'd realized how great it was to weight 145." I'm less certain how the jump into the 190's happened, probably when I got married and wasn't walking all over campus anymore. In any case, I was now 20% heavier than the numbers said I should be. I was carrying 1/5th more than what I needed. In a similar vein, some reading this may roll their eyes and think "you are 45 lbs. overweight, and you're writing a landmark about it?" But that is the whole point - I no longer feel fat, even though I likely weigh about the same as I did then (and not through some alchemy of muscle mass).

The same week I became aware that I was over 200 lbs., I also realized that my appetite and my hunger had become divorced at some point in the past. It was Mother's Day and I had eaten until I was full, and then eaten "to the pain", and then dessert was served, which I choked down. As I stood to accomodate the painful stretching of my gut, I had the horrifying realization that I was not satisfied.

I had always thought in the war between my body and my spirit that it was my flesh that was weak. But it became clear in that moment that my body was full, and knew it was full, but there was a mental compulsion for me to eat that would never be satisfied. It was like that moment of despair in the Sorcerer's Apprentice when the murdered broomstick spawns a new broom servant from every splinter. I had hit rock bottom, I thought.

I gave Overeater's Anonymous a try, but I had too many religious prejudices to really trust the 12 steps. The jargon of "god of my understanding", "trusted servants" and "there is no recovery without fellowship" made it seem like a cult to me. But I was really down with seeing my abstinence from overeating as a religious matter. All the exterior stuff was working great, but the spiritual side of recovery completely evaded me.

One of the things you learn from having kids is how appearance-focused human learning is. Whether it's washing hands, tying shoes, or brushing teeth, children have a hilarious way of imitating what they think they see you doing without any grasp of the function of your motions. The tying of shoes, to a child, must seem a magic spell where deft waving of the fingers generates a secure knot. Their early efforts at washing hands show lots of splashing and rubbing, and no awareness of distribution of soap and subsequent rinsing. That's how my early efforts at OA seem to me now.

Eventually I just went for straight up diet and exercise programs without the spiritual mumbo jumbo, until a binge in my 5th month of Body for Life threw me for a loop. I guess it is another aspect of human nature, that pride goes before the fall. I had weighed in at 173 the morning before that fateful dinner with my Aunt, and gained 3 pounds by the next day. Now there's a bunch of stuff I "know" about weight gain, that I didn't literally store 10,500 calories in that 24 hours. But I had put my trust in the scale and I just couldn't do it anymore. It was also around that time that we decided to have another baby, so I gave up and went back to the 190 mark, where I've been whenever not pregnant or nursing since age 20.

The doctor was concerned that I wasn't gaining any weight, but I told him this was normal for me, and I would start to gain around the 6th month. All my other vitals were good. My trouble was that since my prior pregnancies, I had become what I thought of as very health conscious and had combined what I had learned into a super optimal Frankendiet. At this point in my life I was avoiding pork, peanuts, homogenized milk, ground beef, corn, white flour, white chicken, beans, anything containing MSG and, of course, cold water fish. It had gotten to a point where I didn't eat much more than yogurt and oatmeal, as I had grown weary of cottage cheese and scrambled eggs and I never liked rice to begin with. All things considered, it's kind of surprising that I didn't lose more than 6 lbs. between my fifth and sixth month appointments. The Dr. was on call that day, but the Nurse said I needed to come back in a week showing significant improvement or they would put me on bed rest.

This was a very upsetting time for me, and I actually wound up going into therapy at the time, though it seems pretty far away now. I think there were some other complicating circumstances, and my struggle over food and weight was my voodoo poppet into which I channelled my security and control issues. In meeting with the therapist it became clear that I had been suppressing depression for a few years. For the first 5 years after my son's death, I was depressed and knew it, but after that I had felt like I should be over it, so I acted as if I were not depressed. I had OCD, and perhaps that is how I compelled myself to seem happy when I was not.

It was a fine pickle to be in, to be depressed, albeit honestly. All of the self-help techniques I had learned over the prior decade were of no use. We were invading Iraq, Elizabeth Smart had just been found and I had reason to think I had met her kidnapper in my past. I had attended self-help sessions with his lawyer. I stopped consuming news, including listening to talk radio. I withdrew from my diet Yahoo groups and sugar free lifestyle forum. I was adrift. Even the messages I heard at weekly church meetings could not be trusted. Every buttress of my identity was open to question.

This is where I was when I started posting on Hatrack in the Spring of 2003. The detachment between my mind and my body had infiltrated everything. I continued to drift in that condition for the better part of a year.

I did have some success with cognitive-behavioral processing in my OCD. Where previously, I would try to resist compulsive thoughts (such as fear that my children would die or that an intruder was concealed in my house and other, darker, thoughts) I can to think of compulsive thoughts as symptoms of fatigue, indicating that I needed to take better care of myself. But I still had this problem of being disconnected from everything that I had previously identified with.

As I pondered the impossibility of my condition, I was drawn back to 12 step work, but it couldn't be a focus on food. I found a fellowship of LDS church members (who at one time had considered the name "Mormons Anonymous" but felt it gave rather the wrong idea.) I don't really want this to be a testimonial for the efficacy of 12 step work.
I'm not a very good 12 stepper. It took me 4 years to really do a fourth step, and I think I'm still stuck on the 9th step, coming up on 7 years since I first began. What I really gained from that association was guidance toward a personal relationship with God wherein the dregs and scraps of my self-confidence were multiplied like so many loaves and fishes.

So how did I accept my body? How did I lose my depression? How did I finally start smiling when I looked in the mirror, rather than being dismayed by flaws? When I was reading in Isaiah 52 recently, he said it is the Lord hiding his face, and the servant of God (Jesus, by my interpretation) will be marred and we hide our faces from him, though he bears all our iniquity. We don't want him to see how unholy and imperfect we are, and so we shrink away from him.

The myth of Cupid and Psyche encompasses this idea, that the carnal (Cupid) courts the spiritual (Psyche) but cannot reveal himself to her and their communion is obscured by darkness. Psyche is tempted by her jealous sisters to spy on her husband, whom they suspect must be a fearsome monster. So one night Psyche conceals a lantern by the bed and when Cupid falls asleep, she chances a glimpse. So startling is his beauty that she loses her grip on the lamp and a drop of the hot oil falls on his flesh. He flees from her distrust and betrayal.

12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
Of course, I recently learned from wikipedia that C.S. Lewis wrote a treatment of "Cupid and Psyche" called "Till we have Faces."

How can they (i.e. the gods) meet us face to face till we have faces? The idea was that a human being must become real before it can expect to receive any message from the superhuman; that is, it must be speaking with its own voice (not one of its borrowed voices), expressing its actual desires (not what it imagines that it desires), being for good or ill itself, not any mask, veil, or persona. -- C.S. Lewis

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(((pooka))) (I don't know if I can use your common name here)

You are so very beautiful. I will need to read and reread this. It is something I need for myself, too.

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Thanks for the landmark, pooka. It's a struggle I'm really only beginning to understand now (age 40 seemed like the age my metabolism began slowing down at an alarming rate, plus I know I just plain eat more now and it's a hard habit to break).

I just taught that "hid our faces from him" verse in seminary this morning, and I interpreted it in a similar way.

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Member # 5003

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Oh, you know, at one point I was going to start this "Hi, I'm Tricia, and I'm a compulsive eater." But it was too 12 step, you know?

I'd register my real name and use it, but Porteiro would never stop calling me pooka anyway.

I used to didn't like the name Tricia, but it was one of the gifts I got back last summer. [Smile] Feel free to call me Tricia.

That's great, Uprooted. I didn't realize you taught seminary. I didn't necessarily realize you were with "the Church".

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Thanks for posting that. [Smile] I know it's hard to post stuff like that, so thanks for opening up to us.

Till We Have Faces is very good, I bet you'll like it.

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maui babe
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Thanks Pooka. I've struggled with many of the same issues all of my life. It really helps to hear of others being able to overcome challenges.
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I read Till We Have Faces about ten years ago, and I didn't get it. I've been meaning to read it again, though.

I'd register my real name and use it, but Porteiro would never stop calling me pooka anyway.
It's true. I still can't stop thinking of Celia as Celia.
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Tante Shvester
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My goodness, Tricia, that was a powerful landmark. More strength to you. Coming to accept and like myself has been something that I had to come to, also. I certainly remember (When? Maybe before first grade.) thinking that I was good and smart and strong and pretty and a worthwhile person. And then, piece by piece, I lost my confidence. I always thought I was too fat, but when I look back at pictures of me, say, in high school, when I was so self-conscious about my weight, I see someone who had a knockout figure. That I always tried to disguise.

Somewhere, maybe a dozen years ago, I started gaining confidence in myself. I came to believe that I was someone really smart, instead of someone "passing" as smart. I came to believe that I could be attractive even though I am too heavy. And I came to believe that I am a good person, even though I'm not a perfect person.

I'm glad you are on this journey to regain yourself. Good luck with it. More power to you.

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I certainly remember (When? Maybe before first grade.) thinking that I was good and smart and strong and pretty and a worthwhile person.
Wow. That sounds like a wonderful memory.

I don't remember ever thinking all that about myself, and I remember clearly back to before I was 3.

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porcelain girl
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Thanks. I am grateful you shared this here. And that I read it. I will need to read it again, too.

(Till We Have Faces is one of My Favorite Books Ever.)

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pooka, I am impressed and awed by your self-awareness.

Thank you for sharing. [Smile]

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Liz B
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Wow, pooka. I'm impressed not just by what you wrote but by how you wrote it. That's really powerful. Thank you.
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Thanks so much for sharing that. I am so impressed by your strength and determination! I have had a similar struggle with self-loathing and weight since my early teens. I have gotten much better over the years (especially since deciding not to own a scale). My motivation to accept and love myself and be healthy and happy is now driven by my need to not pass these issues to my new little daughter (though she certainly never intended it, many of my issues I learned from my mother).
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Thank you for sharing that part of yourself with us. There was a lot in your landmark that I needed to hear put that way. Having recently given birth, I see a lot of myself in some of what you said regarding your self-image.
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That was amazing pooka, I always appreciate how insightful you are.
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Ya'll are so welcome, and thank you for your kind remarks.

You have no idea how close I came to scrapping this idea and doing something different.

P.S. I thought I was the cat's pajamas when I was very little as well, but that pretty much ended when I was 7 and found out I wasn't white. [Smile] I had some earlier childhood stories, but decided I needed to stick with the matters over which I can change. My mother, for instance, is not something I can change.

At the same time, I don't really hope I can spare my daughters these problems. Every frog has to be a tadpole for a while.

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Yes, thank you.
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Pooka, that was an amazing landmark. I'm definitely someone who struggles with weight and self confidence, so reading your post was very powerful for me. I know exactly what you mean about the separation between appetite and hunger. I'm glad that you finally were able to look at yourself and like yourself. That's a very important skill to be able to have.
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Thanks for your thoughts, pooka. I can really relate to your comments on appetite, particularly that it isn't the flesh that is weak, it is the spirit!

But it became clear in that moment that my body was full, and knew it was full, but there was a mental compulsion for me to eat that would never be satisfied.
I've been there, and continue to struggle against it. Not just with food, with anything. I know that I have an obsessive personality. I often ask myself, what is the source of the hunger? Not the bodily hunger, the spiritual hunger? What would truly satiate it so I no longer lived from one obsession to the next?

If you ever find the secret, be sure to let me know. [Smile]

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Thanks for posting this, and good luck with your pursuit of a better you.
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Thank you, pooka-Tricia [Smile] , for sharing. You said many things well worth pondering (and I am). Inner peace can be quite the treasure hunt, no?
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