Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Alcohol/Food Connection

When I was a little girl, alcohol was a big part of my life. No, I wasn't the one drinking. My mother was. All of her family was. Every summer, my Mom and I would trek to visit her family, and every night my cousins and I would play as the adults drank, got drunk, and got loud. Usually there was lots of laughter. Everyone was drinking and smoking and visiting and it was a great time. Sometimes we kids would shoot pool and drink Shirley Temples in the bar where my uncle worked while the adults drank and Elvira played on the jukebox. My Dad used to come along on those visits, until one time my aunt's drunk boyfriend tried to fight my father for some reason. After that, Dad stayed home with the dog, and Mom and I went for the visits.

If you read that link above to an older post about my mother, you'll know that my mother was an alcoholic. She got sober when I was young, but still drank with the family on those visits. I remember my older cousins sneaking drinks in the kitchen sometimes while the adults were busy goofing off. I'd have a little drink once in awhile too, but nothing major. I didn't really start drinking until I was about 15.

When I was 15, I had my first real boyfriend. By "real," I mean we held hands and told each other we liked each other. Yeah, I was sheltered. But I thought I was in love with this boy. We went roller skating together, went to church together, and stood under the maple tree in my backyard, awkwardly trying to be close to each other while his little sister taunted, "You LIKE each other! You LIKE each other!" and danced around us with an impish grin. I spent a lot of time with his family. His little brother and sister liked me, his mother liked me. His father just LOVED me.

We would go places together and they treated me like I was their daughter. His dad was so kind to me, and always had kind words, sound advice, a friendly smile, and a tender hug for me... things I had always wanted from my own, less emotionally available, father. I felt at home with this family, and I felt like my boyfriend's dad was MY Dad.

He was only 43 when he died. Heart disease suddenly claimed his life, forever changing the lives of his wife and children. I was devastated. I got the news on a cool spring afternoon when I was outside in the backyard. My Dad got the phone call. He called me inside, and put his hands on my shoulders. "I'm sorry, but Allen has died." I stood there shell shocked. He tried to pull me to him to embrace me. I recoiled, shoving his hands from me. I screamed, "NO NO NO." He tried again to comfort me but I pushed him away and screamed, "You're no kind of father to me! Allen was!" I ran outside, to that big maple tree that held all of my childhood under its branches. I climbed up into its arms and wept. I stayed in that tree for hours. When night fell, I climbed down and went inside.

I think I stayed in shock for 6 months or more. After the funeral, when I saw my boyfriend at church, he would look away. His mother would, too. He gave me back my class ring that he used to wear on a chain around his neck. He never said why. He never said much of anything to me again. His mother told my mother, about me, "I just can't stand to be around her. Every time I look at her it reminds me of Allen. She is so like him."

I lost a whole family the day that Allen died.

I never turned to any substance... food or otherwise... for emotional reasons until Allen died. Food was just food before then, and feelings got dealt with by crying or laughing or talking or shouting. But this was different. This pain had nowhere else to go.

I remember taking a sudden interest in accompanying our dog out to take her to potty in the yard, because when my parents weren't looking, on the way out the door I would snatch a tall can of beer from my father's large stash in the fridge. I'd hide it under my sweatshirt and, once outside, suck it down in less than a minute flat while the dog did her business. Sometimes, I would go back in for another. On nights when my parents went out, I started going into their liquor cabinet and pouring myself drinks. I hated the taste of Vodka, but it was clear, so I could add water back into the bottle to make it less obvious that some was missing (no one ever noticed). I'd add the Vodka to orange juice so I could get it down. And then there was the rum. The rum... which is the first time I ever used FOOD as consolation. I remember finding a half gallon of chocolate ice cream in the freezer that was about 1/3 full of ice cream, pouring as much rum as I could stand over it, and taking it to my room. The desperation I felt sitting in my closet eating that slurry of fat, sugar and alcohol was something I will never forget.

I was trying to forget my boyfriend. Trying to forget Allen. Wanting the pain to go away. At one point I started abusing my mother's prescription allergy medications because, in high doses, they were sleep-inducing and took the edge off the pain. One time I took so many of them that I was knocked out cold on my bed for an entire day. I am lucky I didn't die. My mother looked in and saw me there, and just assumed I was tired, so she shut the door and left me alone. My parents never noticed anything was wrong. I guess my Dad was too busy smoking and drinking and dealing with his post-Vietnam-War trauma, and my mother was too busy stuffing her face with potato chips.

It was a very hard time in my life... very hard for a young 15-year-old to deal with alone. By the time I was 17, I was ready to quit. I didn't want to be like my mother or her family. I didn't want to repeat the same story. My parents bought me an 8-pack of wine coolers as a gift when I graduated high school at age 17. I drank one or two, then poured the rest down the drain. I never touched a drop of alcohol again for more than ten years, and now I only have the rare drink on special occasions... maybe 2 or 3 times a year.

And I quit the food abuse, too. I wasn't fat, never had a weight problem, and I got my head on straight by age 17. I don't think I ever used food as a drug again until I was in my late 20's. But I guess the seeds were there. The seeds of addiction.

I just wanted to share this story because it's part of what makes me who I am. I think the propensity to *use something* to deal with emotions was there all along, but for most of my life I was able to deal with my feelings in healthier ways. I know how to cope normally. I just have to re-learn it. No more food abuse. No more self-numbing behavior. I'm ready to feel life, pain and all.


carla said...

**hugs-- my amazingly talented writer friend**

thank you for sharing that.


Last Journey Down said...

Lyn - What a passionately honest post. By acknowledging the facts of your past is courageous, indeed, and I pray that you continue on with the momentum and plans that you write about. Thank you for this deeply insightful writing. Hugs...

Katschi said...

Wonderful & bittersweet.

CalliNae said...

It takes strength to be that kind of honest. Thank you for sharing your struggles, and trusting yourself enough to let others know they aren't alone.

Lady In A Net said...

The ability to make connections between our lives and our relationship with food is so important to conquering our battle with obesity.

A very interesting read. Thanks for sharing.

Lady In A Net

Chub said...

Thank you for sharing this story. it tugged on my heartstrings.
**big hugs**

Vickie said...

really good posting

What you were brave enough to share here - seems to be a theme that runs through many of our families.

my kids and I talk about the fact that alcoholism runs on both sides of their family 'tree'. My son is a freshman in college - and has chosen not to drink. He has decided that in our family it is like playing with fire and just better left alone.

Hanlie said...

Thank you for sharing your story. You are a very courageous woman to have given up on self-destructive behavior in your teens. And it means that you can do it again.

Interestingly enough, there is quite a lot of scientific evidence that children of alcoholics have problems with sugar and all the things that go with that. And a lot of children of alcoholics are overweight. But of course, we can beat anything if we put our minds to it...

You are doing so well!

Hide those cookies said...

I know I've said it before, but I really feel it's so important to acknowledge our past if we don't want it to become our future. Seeing the root of it all, "the seeds of addiction", is so important. I felt sort of foolish after sharing my own story; it's wonderful not to have to stand alone. As always, thanks for your openness!

Lela said...

Wow, thank you so much. I'm going to link this post from my blog. You've written such a raw and honest account of what so many people go through secretly and shamefully. Thank you.

Deniz said...

As ever, your post touched me and made me admire your honesty even more. A few words from an Aaron Neville song sum up so many things for me, and they may help you too:

"Once my life was wretched,
But why should I regret it,
Cos, it took me who I was, and where I’ve been
To make me who I am."

I've been thinking about your monthly calorie budget (and Diana's weekly zigzag eating at Scale Junkie too) and cannot credit someone thinking it is a 'stupid' approach. It makes so much sense to me - in fact I've just posted about it myself.

Just wanted to give a little support and say keep at it, you are doing great!

Anonymous said...

Your story is a powerful one, thanks for sharing it with the world. I have that kind of relationship with my father-in-law too. Everything I ever wanted in a dad. I'm happy you had the chance to meet someone who would be that special to you.

Scale Junkie said...

Thank you for sharing this part of your life. I'm working on overcoming food addiction...its my drug. I'm learning that Its hard to feel those feelings but when you face your fears and stare them down you realize they are just ghosts and they can't hurt you anymore and you don't need to hide from them anymore.

WannaBe Healthy said...

Thank you for sharing this story of your life. It's a very interesting read.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing. I appreciate your honesty. I think honesty is fundamental to change. Your family sounds familiar. I grew up with a large extended family that drank together all the time. I especially appreciate your story because it reminds me that there were times in my life when I didn't find solace in food. I did it before so I can do it again. By the way, you have become my favorite blog.

Amy Jo said...

Once again, I found myself riveted by the similarities between you and me as I read this post; while we may be in completely different stages in life, so many of your struggles parallel my own. I find myself rooting for you constantly, I think in part because I see myself in you. You are strong; and if there is one thing in my life I've learned, its that those hard times in our lives (alcoholism in the family, obesity, major marriage trials, confidence issues, you get the picture) have shaped us into stronger women. Thank you for another open hearted post.

Pamela said...

Lyn, I just wanted to send you a hug and thank you for sharing such an amazingly powerful story with us all. I think you are an incredibly strong and inspiring woman!