"If writers possess a common temperament, it's that they tend to be shy egomaniacs; publicity is the spotlight they suffer for the recognition they crave." Gail Caldwell, from her book "Let's Take The Long Way Around"

"To look life in the face, always to look life in the face and to know it for what it is. At last to know it, to love it for what it is, and then, to put it away. . .always the years. Always the love. Always the hours." From the movie "The Hours", based on the book of the same name by Michael Cunningham

"Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly." Baz Luhrman, "Everybody's Free (to wear sunscreen)"

"A writer can do nothing for men more necessary, satisfying, than just simply to reveal to them the infinite possibility of their own souls." Walt Whitman

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant or talented?’ Actually, who are you not to be?” Marianne Williamson

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Denial is a River that Runs in My Gene Pool

Weekends with  my dad at this point seem uneventful.  We would go the drive-in (movie theater, again for the younger audience), and he would let us eat candy, probably while he was getting stoned in the car with us.  His apartment complex was an adults-only complex, common in those days.  We were allowed to visit but not really allowed to be seen.  We could go to the pool if no one else was there.

He started seeing a woman from his work, Esta.  She was Filipino, petite with long black hair that she used to let me brush and play with.  She was nice, a little shy maybe, but we liked her enough.  Except sometimes she and my dad would argue, or they would go in the bedroom for a while.  I didn't like my dad's attention being taken from us when we were just there for the weekend.

About this time, my dad was trying other drugs, apparently.  Cocaine was new on the scene for him.  I remember a conversation he was having with Esta one time in front of us where he was complaining about this brother, my uncle, taking coke that he had in the fridge.  I wanted desperately to believe that he was talking about soda, but he kept referring to the coke in terms of grams.  I might have been 8 or 9 but I knew that coca cola was not sold in grams.  It bothered me a lot and I kept mulling it over in my head, but I turned on the denial.  I was already in denial about his pot smoking because my parents downplayed it so much.  I knew it was illegal though and not something I could discuss with my friends.

Shelley (24), Matt (21) and Julie (19)

Addiction runs in my family, the Smith side anyway.  My brother smoked pot for years, had his own little aero-garden in his bedroom closet when he was in his late teens, early 20's at my mom's house; he and my sister both tried all kinds of drugs when they were in high school, when I was out of the house: alchohol, LSD, meth, ecstasy, probably cocaine, who knows what; my uncle is in recovery for alcoholism; and later in life, Julie had her own battle with cocaine addiction and questionable alcohol dependency.  I have tried marijuana 3 times:  the first two, I didn't feel anything (probably too much secondary exposure when I was young :)), the last time I didn't like it, the fuzzy brain feeling of not being able to complete a thought.  I did my share of binge drinking in college, but not just in college, although I never started drinking until college - a rarity for most teens these days.

My biggest addiction I realize has been to food.  I learned from an early age that food could numb me out, give me immediate pleasure and take away the anxiety in my stomach.  I would eat in secret or in cahoots with Matthew and Julie, but wouldn't want my mom to know for some reason.  It was not uncommon to come home from high school and order a pizza from money we scrounged up and then have dinner when Mom got home.  We weren't underfed.  It just became an obsession with me.  Once I started thinking about what I could eat or make or bake, I couldn't stop thinking about it.  I would scour the cookbooks for things that I could make with the ingredients we had (which weren't many).  I think that's how I really learned how to cook anything.

My dad did it, too.  He lived by himself but he would buy cake mix - 2 boxes, one for baking, one for eating the batter.  Did he bake the cake and eat it all by himself? It wouldn't surprise me.  I can put away a whole cake within a few days myself.

I was never fat, meaning I was never obese.  I was chubby, a little soft, but I looked like most girls my age.  It wasn't until college that I lost a little weight and then later when I became very physically active and achieved a size 4.  Even then, being so active, I could eat anything I wanted and if I felt a little bloated or uncomfortable with my weight, all I had to do was just not eat as much for a couple of days and I'd be back to my size 4.  The thing is I never tried to be that small; it just happened.  After I stopped my exercise routine, around age 30, I started to gain weight and got up to a size 12, still not big by any means when it comes to the general population.  But I was still in denial until I started seeing pictures of myself and started feeling uncomfortable in my own body.  I always thought I was "big-boned".  I'm not, which is what I realized when I was small.  I'll probably never be a size 4 again, but a solid 8 would be nice.

I recently went through an actual diet program, which for the first time, even through all the therapy, even through knowing but not knowing, I recognized my tendency to make a head-dive into food whenever uncomfortable feelings came up.  It was really eye-opening and made me stop and consider what else I could do to calm the inner demon without giving into the cupcake or the pint of ice cream (I have to limit myself to buying a pint, otherwise I'd eat the whole 1/2 gallon).  I don't believe I have an eating disorder; I have generalized anxiety disorder.  My anti-anxiety meds help when I remember I can take one.  Yoga would probably help, too.  I'm just so used to living with the feeling that it's really hard to recognize it when it comes up.  I used to call it my "homesick" feeling, that feeling deep in your gut when suddenly you go way inside yourself and you just want to be anywhere but where you are.  A great book for helping you figure out your level of depression and anxiety is by Dr. David Burns, "The Feeling Good Handbook".  It helped me realize that I wasn't crazy, that I actually have/had issues to deal with and it wasn't all in my head.  That was always my biggest fear about going to therapy:  that the counselor would tell me there was nothing wrong with me and I was making a big deal out of nothing.  Most people I've talked to have said they fear the opposite.

Freshman Year in High School
 Anyway, there was one time in high school - freshman year, I believe - when I received a huge blow to my self-image.  I was having a sleepover with my best friend, Tami, and her visiting best friend from Maryland.  Imagine the anxiety and self-consciousness of that scenario.  No one can ever have 2 best friends (unless one is your spouse and the other is your best friend friend), especially no teenager.  Would Tami still like Charlene better than me?  Did she like us the same?  Is it possible I held a more important place in her heart?  I doubt it.

During the sleepover, my mom had been stitching some shorts for me and she had me try them on.  We went into the laundry room and as I was trying them on, she said, "Honey, you really need to lose some weight." I was stricken, feelings hurt and later couldn't believe she chose to tell me while my friends were over.  At least she didn't say it in front of them. 

I took her seriously.  I went to the library, checked out a book specifically geared toward young girls about dieting and weight loss.  There were recipes, tips, like using lemon juice and salt on your salad instead of dressing.  It mentioned skim milk a lot.  When I asked my mom to buy some, she said no.  In fact, after she put it out there about my weight, she never did one thing to help or encourage me.  Instead, she chastised me for eating a bowl of ice cream. 

Eventually, I let the whole diet thing pass.  Without the support of my family, it was pointless.  So I ignored it.  I'm 5'4 and I think I weighed 120-125 in my teen years.  What I wouldn't give to weigh that now!  Tami was always around 118 and I was envious.  She had the hourglass figure and didn't mind showing it off.  I had no boobs at all, an A cup all the way.  Lucky for me, I had a relatively pretty face but teenage boys want the body and the face.  Unless you're lucky, the face just doesn't cut it.  That's how it was for me anyway.

I'm digressing.  Addiction.  Food and occasionally the available painkiller my husband takes for his fibromyalgia.  I no longer binge drink, just occasionally enjoy a glass of wine or if I'm among friends in a social environment, a few drinks.  I don't mind others indulging in marijuana, but put me in a room where people are even discussing doing harder drugs and I'm out of there.  I don't want to see it, be around it, have it anywhere in my life.  The big joke between Deril and me is that for someone who's never done hardcore drugs, I know more about them than most people, and at least as much as addicts do.  I am fascinated by the show "Intervention" although my favorite part of the show is reading the end to see if the addict successfully became clean or not.  The most boring part is the actual intervention.  Maybe because it never seemed to work in my life.  I learned early on that a person will never change until he or she is ready to, in more ways than one, and in spite of how much you love or believe in that person.  YOU CAN'T DO IT FOR THEM AND YOU ARE NEVER ENOUGH TO MAKE THEM STOP THEIR SELF-DESTRUCTIVE BEHAVIORS.  Never enough.

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