Whistling For Mama

I was at my therapist appointment the other day. I call her “M’lady” when referring to her, because the words “therapy” and “therapist” annoy the crap out of me. I was chatting to “M’lady” about the moment I heard a ‘POP’ sound in my head, and I became an eating disorder victim in the span of a second.

Of course there were many thousands of moments and experiences which had let up to this ‘POP,’ but I remember this one day so vividly. I was standing in the middle of a road in Ireland, where I was an exchange student, and I was in the middle of eating a Mars bar. Half way through my bar, I thought, “This is a very very bad thing for me to have. And yet I want a thousand more.” From that day on, not an hour has gone by without a wheel of thought spinning in my mind, “Should I? Shouldn’t I? Should I? Shouldn’t I? Should I?”

After musing and digging around in my childhood with many different “M’lady’s,” I had come to the conclusion that because I was left to rot in the mountain desert with my nasty grandparents, I was looking to “stuff” myself into safety. Food doesn’t really have bags to pack in the middle of the night.

But then: I was recently reading some dumb “Strawberry Shortcake Sleepover” book to my daughter, and Blueberry Fritter tells her friends that she is afraid to join them because she might become so lonely for home that she can’t stand it. And worst of all… what if she wakes up in the middle of the night?

I remember my first night in Ireland. I was 15 years old and had just taken a godawful plane trip which included 3 changes, one hotel stay, and one eight hour stint between 2 smokers. You could smoke on planes and the U2 members were 20-something years old. I finally arrived at the host family’s house and was struck by terror; a homesickness so fierce that I thought I would implode with pain. This was before email, or Smart phones, and a call home would cost money.  Moreover, it is my suspicion that they were hosting me for money, because they certainly did not seem pleased to have me there. It was one of the most painful feelings I have experienced, and I only just remembered it the other day with M’lady. It makes all the other abandonments seem like my mother had just taken a trip to the store without me.

I don’t know if this knowledge will help me heal, or if the reason I am addicted to food is just because I am addicted to food, but it seems significant.


M’lady then told me about her own father, who was left in a London orphanage when he was 5 years old with his younger brother. His mother had died and his father had gone to America.  A year and a half later the child’s father returned to bring him to his new home, with his new mother – a crippled, angry woman – whose role was to be a caretaker to the children.  The boy was forbidden to speak about his real mother and yearned every day for her.

When he grew up, he became a merchant sailor, and travelled to London and back to America, to America and back to London, over and over again searching for his mother’s grave. His father had refused to tell him what her maiden name was. The boy found the grave when he was 63 years old.

Abandonment is not to be minimized.


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  • http://twitter.com/Liakela RΔΞ

    I couldn’t agree with you more re: abandonment.

    My mother divorced my father when I was one or two years old, and I have no actual memory of him. Growing up, I had pictures that I could reference, and they were something I could hold in my hand as proof that he existed, that at one time in my life, he cared and cherished me.

    When I was 8 or 9, my mother remarried. He was a brutally violent, and later sexually violent new addition to my life, and I would dream of my father. These dreams would take one of two avenues: He would swoop in a rescue me, after apologizing for not being a part of my life, hugging me and kissing my cheeks, my forehead, my eye-lids. He would promise that nothing bad would ever happen to me again, and we would leave that life for something prettier, cleaner, and less traumatizing. The other avenue I would walk down was the one where I would finally find him and tell him all that had happened to me, and he would look at me with a blank stare, I could say ‘bordering on dismissive’, but in all honesty it lived smack in the heart of Dismissiveville, population: Him and me. He would be standing at his door, and his pretty wife, with their pretty, healthy, and undamaged children would come to see who had dared darken their doorstep, and there I would be, begging for acknowledgement, understanding, and love.

    I lived with that fantasy throughout the years of sexual and physical abuse from my step-father, my mother so tied up in the abuse she was receiving that she couldn’t contemplate mine. Eventually, she gathered up the courage to leave him, and then I gathered up the courage to send him to jail. I used up all that courage, so there was none left to seek out my father, to ask him “why?”.

    I put my step-father in jail when I was 17. I forgave him when I was 18, and moved on with my life. I’ve never been with another physically abusive man — I suppose I no longer reek of victim, or easy mark. I don’t know. At any rate, I met, married, had children with, and then divorced my (now) ex-husband, and had moved in with my children to my mother’s house. I was 27, and the internet was really a thing by now (this was 1999, and we’d moved on from Prodigy to AOL. Oooooh) and hey — I could maybe look into this whole ‘tracking down my father’ thing. So I did. Here’s the conversation I had, once I found a phone number for my father’s sister:

    “Hi, this is [me], and I’m looking for [my dad’s name].”

    “I’m sorry.. who are you looking for?”

    “Umm… [My dad’s name again.]”

    “Oh — do you mean, [my dad’s middle name]?”

    “Yes! Yes, I think so — this is his daughter–and I’m just looking for some information, maybe a way I could talk to him?”

    “Oh honey… Honey, he killed himself back in.. 1974. Yes, it was New Years, 1974.”

    — I was about to turn 3 years old, and my father decided to take a pass on the rest of his life. All those dreams of rescue were for nothing. All those dreams of being let down and shunned, turned away at his door… for nothing. My father’s sister said a few other things.. how they had always wondered what happened to me, and that they’d say prayers for me during the holidays.. she may have said other things, but I was in full broken mode. I remember hanging up the phone, and then crying for what seemed like.. ever. For every one little feeling of relief, (he didn’t abandon me on purpose! He couldn’t have ever saved me!) there were ten feelings right behind it that soaked through me like gasoline on tilled earth, and they all screamed, “He left me in the most complete and final way someone can be left. I can’t find him and yell at him, I can’t ask for his forgiveness, nor give it and be heard and healed. There’s no closure for me, ever.” And from that moment to this one, I’ve basically allowed myself permission to let my food addiction rule every aspect of my life, because “I’m broken.” I’m only just now starting on the path.. I mean, I don’t even think I have a whole foot on it yet.. but I wanted to share this with you because you share, and I feel it.

    • Catherine

      Dammit, I just left you a message, and this disqus thing foiled me again.
      Your story is horrifying. I cannot say anything to make it better. I hate it when people say, “Well, look at it this way…,” or ” You could have had (fill in the blank) happen.” Or other nonsense, when they can’t sit with their own discomfort over your pain.
      I will simply tell you that I have heard you and I have received and am holding your story for you.
      I can also tell you that while the agony over these events still persists, that we can find a solution to the eating thing. At least we can do that. I will join you in that journey if you like.
      Many good thoughts to you.

      • http://twitter.com/Liakela RΔΞ

        Thank you so much for your kind words, Catherine. Every meal is a struggle. Well, let me restate that. Every moment, post-meal is a struggle. It’s like I’m completely divorced from common sense when I make food decisions, and it’s only when I’m in pain, and considering throwing up to feel better (I don’t.. and I don’t actually know that I could make myself do it, either. I usually go through life doing whatever it takes not to ever throw up, heh), that I look back and the previous 30-45 minutes of binging and think, “Ok.. I did it again. Next time.. next time I will engage first, eat second.”

        Thank you for listening, and thank you for sharing your journey.

        • Catherine

          Yes indeedy, food is a tricky mo fo. I was talking to a fellow alcoholic tonight who was saying that she has no emotional attachment to food at all, and I jokingly yelled at her, “what kind of addict ARE you???”

          I hope it gets easier. For both of us. I just got this workbook for the 12 steps of OA. If nothing else, it gives fabulous prompts for self-examination. It’s a little triggery though, so I find it best to mess with it in broad daylight surrounded by people at a coffee house or something.

          What do you mean by “engage first?” Do you mean to take a moment to check in with yourself? That is a hard thing to do, I know. I have been trying to use tools for binge prevention, like calling people, “thinking through to the end of the binge,” going to meetings, BEFORE I get the urge. Because trying to stop in the middle of a binge is like, pardon the graphic analogy, trying to stop yourself when you have diarrhea. That is how strong it feels sometimes, at least for me.
          Good luck and feel free to chat anytime!