Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Story of Addiction

Once upon a time, there was a chubby little girl whose Daddy loved her very much. She was the cute little baby of the family, with an older brother and sister. Her Daddy called her his little Cookie, and she would wait excitedly for him to come home from work at the end of the day so they could ride together up the driveway. Daddy coddled little Cookie and brought her treats, and held her on his lap and sang to her. And when he left for work the next day, her mother would beat her with a hairbrush, "to make up for her father spoiling her."

When little Cookie was nine years old, her Mama got a surprise: a new baby was on the way. Cookie was excited! She couldn't wait to have a new baby to love and cuddle and play with. She would play with her dolls, dress them up, and "feed" them in anticipation of her much-wanted new baby sister. But when the baby was born, everything changed. Cookie wasn't the cute little baby girl anymore. She was the plain-jane, homely, fat middle child. Her new sister was the center of all attention: she was oh-so-cute, with her blue eyes and curly blond ringlets. She was petite... not fat. Her mother bought her all the cutest and newest dresses, hats, and lace, while little Cookie got old hand-me-downs and dowdy cheap pants and shirts. Oh, she still got her hairbrush beatings, but she expected that. What she didn't expect was that her Daddy would have a new pretty princess, and she would be forgotten. What she didn't know was that she would not be allowed to play with the new baby, but instead would be yelled at to get away from her and leave her alone. Is it any wonder that Cookie snuck and pushed her baby sister down the stairs in her walker when she was 9 months old?

When the New Beautiful Princess became a toddler, Cookie got a new job: babysitting her sister in the backseat of the car in a parking lot, while her parents got drunk in the local bar. Her childhood memories include many a night of being left with her sister in the car until 3am, with a bag of potato chips and a box of cookies. Is it any wonder Cookie learned to turn to food for comfort?

No, it was not me. It was my mother.

My mother grew up with an unhealthy relationship with food, but when she was a teenager, it turned into an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. After all, that's what was modeled in her family, and there was always booze around. By the time she was 20, she was a full-on drunk. Her lifestyle and behaviors led to unwanted pregnancies, heartache, and abuse. She got skinny, because she didn't eat. She just drank, and threw up. And that's how it was for years, including much of my early childhood.

My Dad tried to take care of her. He would come home from work and find her gone. My grandpa lived with us, and he would be left taking care of me while my father was out trying to track down my mother in the bars and bring her home. When I was 3, my Mom hit rock bottom. She decided to commit suicide. She put me in the car with her, parked in the closed garage, and left the car running. As she waited for eternal sleep to come to her, she looked over at me, asleep on the seat beside her. Suddenly she was struck with fear. What if the fumes killed her baby, and she survived? How would she live with herself? How could she take her own child's life? She turned off the car and got me to fresh air. Life went on.

She found hope, though AA and religion. Long story short, she got a grip with the alcohol. But she had a new coping mechanism, and it was food. Little Cookie became a very big Cookie by the time I was ten. She was morbidly obese for as long as I can remember. Always on a diet, always trying to lose weight. Always hoarding the food, packing in the chips and chocolate, and taking me to ice cream parlors for huge dishes piled high with ice cream and sundae toppings. When I was an adult, she turned back to alcohol, but stayed fat. She died fat, partly BECAUSE she was fat. She died young. Little Cookie's life of addiction was over suddenly. She died of cancer just 11 days after she was diagnosed with it. She died at home, in my arms.

Seeing my Mom fight her addictions made me very determined not to become like her. Although I started drinking heavily when I was 15, I stopped when I was almost 18. I knew I didn't want a life ruled by pain and self-medication. But it is harder to escape than you think.

Food became my medication instead. Food became my coping mechanism... my drug. I have been reading a book that was recommended by a reader of my blog: "The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety." I don't feel like I have a lot of anxiety. I don't suffer from panic or compulsions, but I do tend to worry and let stress get to me. In reading the first few chapters of this workbook, I discovered that lots of people deal with worry/stress/anxiety by drinking alcohol or using drugs. The book talks about this self-medicating behavior as a method people use to get away from their anxiety temporarily. *Bingo!* That is exactly what I have been doing with food. Stress and worry are my triggers. I use food like an alcoholic uses a drink. To escape. I never fully realized this before. Think about it. Is anxiety/worry YOUR trigger to binge? Is eating your coping mechanism?

Knowing this enables me to start making the necessary changes in my life to learn NOT to run from my worry, but to feel it, understand it, and deal with it without turning to food. I think this new insight is going to be critical for my journey.

I want to break the line of addiction that came from my mother's family. I desperately want to model healthy coping behaviors to my little girl. I want her to grow up knowing how to deal with stress without self-medicating. But first I have to learn to do it myself. And I will. I'm on my way.

24 comments:

Homestead in the City said...

(saying trough my tears) You are so much like me it is scary.

new*me said...

wow, Lyn...both your and your mother had so much to carry. Life is not fair. I am so happy that you are breaking the pattern and showing your children the healthy way to live life. Deep post.....sending hugs your way for the loss of your mom at such a young age.

Alexia@theonelastthing.com said...

Wow, intense on many levels. I quit drinking and found food, gaining over 100 pounds. It's a struggle. I finally did learn that anxiety is underneath it -- and it took a long time to be able to say that because I didn't self-identify as "one of those anxious people". Duh, that's because I am calm (drugged) from eating! Sigh. I have a few tools in my arsenal now that really help with that. And I know when I start upping the caffeine and getting anxious, I'm doomed food-wise.

Needed to read this today. Hugs.

deanna said...

Wow. The fact that you survived through that all is a testament that you will break the cycle and create better behaviors. The last few sentences, certainly apply to me as well, and I never realized until I read your words,thanks for sharing. Now, you are breaking cycles among your readers as well. Healing readers. Bravo!

Roxie said...

Yet another powerful post. Anxiety is/was my trigger to binge. For me, anxiety was the result of developing codependent behaviors based upon living in a highly dysfunctional family unit - I'm sort of like an adult child of an alcoholic, although my Mom didn't drink. Understanding that my tendencies/responses were a result of something that I didn't cause gave me permission to stop calling myself weak and worse.

I've now gotten to the point that when I get the urge to fill that "hole in my soul", I can tell myself this is just my anxiety calling and I don't have to use my childhood coping mechanisms any more.

Best of luck to you.

ryry the adventurous said...

I cannot believe the story I just read. I don't even have anything I can say about it yet except that you are such an awesome writer.

Will respond later.

Honi said...

incredible post.. i tell u Lyn u need to be a writer.. you are amazing.. and wether you want to believe this or not.. you are strong.. so much stronger than you even know...

SmushPants said...

Wow that was a pretty powerful story. I defintely use food as a drug and my means of coping. It is very hard to break, but I do it so that I can teach my daughters how to grow up healthy instead of having to fight these demons themselves in 30 years.

Chubby Chick said...

I am so sorry to hear of your mother's problems and the things that you have had to fight to overcome. But you ARE overcoming... and I know that you will continue to do so.

(((Lyn)))

redballoon said...

Beautiful, Lyn. You have already "broken the chain," far more than you may realize. And, you are forming new chains that reach far beyond your life and touch so many others.
Whenever you are feeling weak or down, as I know you do at times, please remember the star of hope that you are to so many others. Think on them and gather your strength to carry on with this incredible journey.
You have my deepest admiration.

Heather said...

great post, thanks for sharing. that is a powerful story, and Im glad that you are stopping that chain of addiction.

laine said...

Hey Lyn,
It was me that recommended that book. Isn't it so eye-opening? And frankly so different than all the other things that claim to help you get rid of anxious feelings or worries? I mean, to realize that you can just learn to accept your worries and anxieties and uncomfortable feelings, and treat them with kindness, and then choose to take action that adds value to your life rather than just tries to kill the pain (through food, alcohol, etc.)

I'm so sorry about your mom, and I'm glad to see the growth you are experiencing. And to have you share it with so many people, since I know a lot of us see ourselves in what you write.

Deb said...

There is so much tragedy in that story. And so much hope. You ARE breaking the cyle. Thank you for opening up so much to us.

Lyn said...

laine, thanks so much for the recommendation. It's a great book! I am reading it every chance I get.

Vonavie said...

The example I'm setting for my children is very important to me. Although mine or my mothers childhoods were not as tragic, she was an example for me of bad food habbits. I so hope I can break that cycle too!

Joy's Journey in Weightloss said...

Lyn,
You are such a strong, brave woman and you will do this! I tell you, I never thought I could be free of sugar and junk and I am completely free of it! Go sugar free!!

Scale Junkie said...

I struggle every single day with food addiction and as a morbidly obese 41 year old, reading this story drives home the fact that time is not on my side. Thank you for sharing this and while I know it must have been very painful to write, just know that you've helped a lot of people by sharing it.

Anonymous said...

WOW! WHAT A GREAT POST

Anonymous said...

you are strong

ryry the adventurous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ryry the adventurous said...

(whoops, I posted before I was done...lol)

I am still floored by this post. I still don't even have anything to say about it except; I watched my father medicate with alcohol, and my mother in turn medicate with food because of it (and other things, of course). Addiction is prevalent with my family. As a result, I don't smoke, don't drink, and try to eat as healthy as possible. I sorta feel like I owe it to my (someday) kids to have a mom who has a body as healthy as possible.

The story hits so many nails on their preverbial heads. Like, a million. I thought about it all day yesterday and ended up writing a big long post of my own about some things I've been thinking about. You have been my muse often lately! And you are so, so awesome. I cannot wait to buy the book you write about this someday.

Pandora said...

Lyn, what a brave and insightful post. How much pain your mother endured...and survived. Along with the addictiver personality she seems to have passed on her strength and commitment to survival, and love for her child, all of which you demonstrate.

I did optifast for a while. Someone told me "when you stop eating you will find out how much anger you are washing down with your milk and cookies." Well for me it wasn't particularly anger, but it was sadness and anxiety...food is absolutely a drug!

My other comment...there is more and more research that addiction runs in families not just because of "nurture" but also because of genetic predisposition. For that reason it is important that your children know that they are at higher risk than someone who does not have alcoholism in the family. My son's birth mother and grandmother were alcoholics, he verified our information and has elected not to drink at all as too dangerous for him.

Many hugs

Pandora

Mimosa Faith said...

Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh! This is exactly what I needed to hear! I needed to be reminded that this is life or death. I am praying so hard for you to keep pushing through this. My heart is broken for the suffering you have endured. I don't know if you are religious or not, but I want to tell you there is hope for complete freedom and it only comes from Jesus and I want you to know that I am routing for you!
Peace to your soul,
Mimosa Faith

Anonymous said...

thank you for the powerful post. my mom also had a horrific childhood, and my childhood was spent hearing about it everyday. She is 80 years old now, and every day, she still agonizes about what happened to her. My way to deal with what I knew about my moms past? You guessed it...food. My wish for you is that you are able to come to terms with what happened to your mom, and as a result, what happened to you. Telling the story in a public forum and your choice to live healthfully is an inspiration to us all.