Sunday, January 10, 2010

What's Eating Me: Opening the Box

Yesterday I felt rather melancholy. It's been cold and dreary out, I've been stuck in the house, and for some reason my brain was been stuck in the distant past for the last few days. I've been thinking about a beloved dog I had and lost when I was a teen, and yesterday morning I had this urge to find his pictures. I hadn't seen them in years and wanted to share them with someone online who asked about him. So I set off to find the box with his pictures in it.

My garage is cluttered. Boxes and tubs and bags everywhere, the result of 20 years of adulthood, five kids, three stepkids, five foster kids, a couple of husbands, and the desire to hang onto everything. So is my office, where I keep my 'special stuff.' As I peeked into box after box, looking for the right one, I came across a lot of things from my life decades ago: the drinking glasses I inherited after my grandpa died, the little plastic bank my father gave me when I was a girl, clothes from when I was 20, the wedding cake bride and groom from my first marriage. All kids of memories got stirred up. When I came across several tubs of kids clothing, I decided to purge them right then and there, sort them out and get them on Craigslist to make room in the house. So I did that. The little ties my boys used to wear to church reminded me of a time long past when they were so small and sweet and we united in worship; the team baseball caps took me back to every wonderful hour spent on the bleachers proudly watching my little men pitch and bat and field in Little League. There was the camping gear that's too small for them now, reminding me of happy Boy Scouting days. There were the XXXL shirts that I custom embroidered for my mother with a picture of her cat on one, and my children's names emblazoned in hearts under the word "grandma" on another, which I took from her closet the day after she died in my arms. I folded that last one, I put it back in the box. I don't know what to even do with that.

After sorting and listing the clothes on Craigslist, I went back to finding those pictures. But in between, I started to eat. I wanted pizza in a bad way: super supreme, from Pizza Hut, with all the grease and some Coke to wash it down. I knew I could easily eat 5000 calories worth and I didn't want to wreck my weight loss efforts, so instead, I got out my personal thin crust Hawaiian pizzas from the freezer. At 270 calories, they can be a great fix when I really want pizza. But I ate both of them. I just wanted to.

It was okay, I was still within my calories, and I drank water with them. But wanting pizza was not what was really eating me.

I went to the kitchen, I ate a few slices of cheese as I grabbed a snack for my daughter. A couple of crackers, too. I went through a couple more boxes trying to find the pictures, but I found medical papers from when we found out my son has a life threatening illness, school notes from when my other son was little and struggling with reading, student loan forms from when I went back to college. My mind was processing all the memories that were flashing up in my head with each piece of paper. Finally, I found the box: the one that contained the pictures and all of the other papers and things I placed it in when I wrote "dear to my heart" on the cardboard side, long ago, before I moved everything to plastic bins. I carried it upstairs, and I could feel the anticipation building inside me.

I knew what was in that box. Old letters, photos, mementos. I knew it would be a revisit to the past once I delved in. But that's what I wanted. That's what I was in the mood for. I set the box down and opened the lid.

It had been a lot of years since I last looked in there, and I was surprised when I lifted out a calendar with two teddy bears on it, marked 1989 and titled, "Our First Year of Marriage." I had forgotten all about that... a gift from my father on my wedding day, hung on the wall and used to chronicle all the happenings of that eventful year. I flipped it open to the first page. On the squares were written, "honeymoon," "thank you notes," and "Pizza Hut for lunch, 2:00." Oh yes. That's right. I remember it well. I was getting dressed that day in December, prettying up for a nice lunch out with my stepkids and new husband. The phone rang. I picked up, and the voice on the other end said, "I'm sorry, Lyn. Your father passed away." I dropped the phone, screaming. I don't remember much else... all a blur... falling to the bedroom floor screaming, NO NO NO. I'd just turned 20, I'd just gotten married, my father was FINE, he could not be dead. But he *was* dead. The next square on the calendar said, "Dad's obituary in paper."

I thumbed through the calendar, remembering so much from the simple words on each page. By the time I put it down, I felt quite old.

Throughout the afternoon I'd pick at the box, taking out some little trinket and remembering: my first set of car keys; Valentines from my stepchildren that said "I love you Mom"; the glass swans off my wedding cake. And in between picking at the box I was picking at the refrigerator. Pacing around, putting things in my mouth.

I ate:
2 bowls of cereal with milk
several ounces of cheese
some gummy candies
squares of dark chocolate
a whole wheat peanut butter and jelly sandwich
a Clementine
cups of tea and coffee with milk and sugar
a biscotti
buttered wheat toast

I barely tasted most of it. It was not a crazy, 'driven' binge. It was just... I need something. Fill me up. Picking, here and there, nothing I *really* wanted or cared about, just... give me *something.*

I kept picking at food and eating little things here and there all evening. After the kids went to bed I dug deeper into that box. I found the pictures of my dog... a dog I'd loved with all my heart but had died young. And I found letters. Many, many letters from people who I had loved.
Four letters my father had written me when I was away at college. "I was waiting to hear from you, honey. We love you and miss you. Call or write when you get the chance." I don't think I called or wrote much at all. And then he died.

Letters from the first man I loved, the one I almost married. Letters of devotion, full of plans for the future, our children, our lifetime together that never happened.

Letters from other men I dated, including the man I did marry, telling me how wonderful I was, how they felt so blessed to have me in their lives, how I made them a better person, how they were amazed that someone like me loved them.

It has been many years since anyone really gave me a hug and told me how wonderful I am. I mean, my kids hug me, they love me. And I get amazing support on this blog and from online friends. But there was a time in my life when I was surrounded by love and appreciation. It was tangible. It was face to face and I knew that people adored me and thought highly of me. I had so much confidence. I remember it. My self image was shored up by the love and praise and adoration of others. And I haven't had that, not personally, face to face, in my life, in a very long time. I used to feel like I was *the whole world* to someone, be it my Dad, my best friend, my boyfriend, my husband. Not anymore. I miss it. The whole experience with the box brought me to tears.

I ate a lot of stuff, not crazy and shoveling, but just eating here and there and I probably put away a good 2500 calories AFTER breakfast and lunch. And I look at that and I think, "I could have had a nice dinner out. I could have had that pizza I wanted. I could have gone to the deli and bought cheesecake. I could have eaten the whole box of Tim Tams that I resisted in the store, and then some." But instead I wasted thousands of calories on what? On stuff that I didn't really care about, on some lame old cheese and crackers. On stuff that wasn't even worth the calories at all.

I packed the box back up and put it away, but my mind is reawakened with memories. I want my Dad back, I want to be the ray of sunshine in someone's life. I want to have the emotional intimacy I used to have with people and no longer seem to have in my life. I want to revamp my entire life.

I am working on making things better for me, but I can't turn back the clock and I can't undo what's been done. I don't really want suggestions, because I know I should put myself out there socially more in order to form new relationships that will be fulfilling. I'm working on it. I guess all of this... the emotion, the sense of loss, the loss of self... is the basic underlying reason I ever got fat in the first place. It is easier to stuff a slice of cheese in my mouth than to find the kinds of things I am truly longing for.

I don't really know how to deal with this stuff, so I'll just pack it away again and hope that one day, when my circumstances change, I can heal and let the past go, and not let it hurt me anymore. I am keeping that box open in my mind, though. I need the remembrance and the hope and I need to gradually, carefully pick through those feelings when I lie in bed awake at night so that they can heal... without the band-aid of food.


Mia said...

I am sorry for what you are going through. I pray that you feel better and can heal from your hurts. I hope you know that Jesus Christ loves you for who you are, no matter what size or weight you are. God wants to heal your hurts and make you new again in Him. Take care.

Amy said...

I will be praying for you to heal that ache inside. Do you have a friend you can call when you feel yourself replacing the empty space with food?
Wish I were closer. I would be your partner.

Saje said...


Anonymous said...

No advice-just a reassurance that everything you need is within you, and that the emptiness you feel is what life really is about. Once we embrace that emptiness and realise no thing and no one can fill it, we make peace with what is eternal and once again can laugh. okay, so I can't resist one suggestion-meditate-that's the best habit any of us can acquire.
Love and Peace dear woman

Anonymous said...

Lyn...good post, as per.

I have thought lots about my own sentimentality over the years. I keep things which dredge up memories...most of them painful sadly, because they involve loss of some sort or another.

I conclude that much of life is about loss...I have lost lots over my half century of living..and the hurt is still there. Yes, when I hurt or feel hard done by, I eat. I eat without thinking about what I put into my mouth, because as most of us know, food is (ahem) 'comforting'.

Someone once said to me "Don't look back if you don't like what you see there..." That makes a lot of sense to me. I keep momentoes of the past - letters, photographs, trinkets, tickets etc.. but I am not sure if reliving memories of times gone by (happy times and sad times) or people now out of my life serves me any real purpose.

I am such a sentimental fool. My heart breaks easily I think, but knowing this has toughened me up slightly. Very few of us get through life without pain...and most good times fade, disappear. They are however replaced by lots of other good times...and I like to think I have many waiting for me in the future. There will be heart-aches too, but that's what living is all about.

We have to embrace our losses..and go on. There is one loss you are coping with SO well...your weight loss. There is a future for you and it will be a lighter future. I think we all cope better with what life throws at us when we are in a healthy state of mind and when our bodies are well.

I turn to the fridge for comfort. What I have started to do though is to put my boxes of souveneirs away. I am weakened by reliving my past. It's all's part of what I am, so it stays with me forever. When I hit fifty, I realised I probably had less life in front of me than I had already lived. I want my future to be bright and healthy..The past tends to pull me down. I want to create as many happy days as I can...and I want to remember them and not all the sad times in my life, or the times when dreams were dashed.
Much of my life has been lived as a fat person. That is something I can change.

Yes, I am sure I will still comfort eat from time to time, but awareness of what I am doing helps me to control the amount of rubbishy foods I eat. We can take our foot off the pedal every now and then. We are human and we are frail in many ways. Reliving past times isn't always comforting. It can set us back. It's a cliche, but the only time we have is NOW.

We have a duty to make our 'now' a good one...or the best it can be, despite our circumstances.

I am going to go and eat an orange. I fancied a coffee and a biscuit, but I'll have an orange instead I think.

Put those boxes away Lyn. x x


Anonymous said...

Hi Lyn-
This is something going around facebook and when I read your post I thought that you could use these comforting words in your life :)

Sometimes you just need to hear it...You are a Phenomenal woman, a beautiful mother,doing an extraordinary job, making things happen for those u love & although you might not always feel it, you are loved & appreciated!!

-Sarah Lownsbery

redballoon said...

Lyn, I feel similar to DBDee. I am the same, too sentimental and hurt by the memories and the losses as you are. I overeat to fill up the losses, try to make them go away, not hurt, feel better, stop bothering me.
Like you, I keep things too, everything and yet they do not make me feel good. I have the memories anyhow and of they don't make me feel good, why would I keep anything that only served to spark those bad feelings again.
I would put the boxes away. I would get rid of them if you can. If they are there you can never forget and if they were good memories you will not forget. You don't need the bad memories.

Kyle Gershman said...


Wonderful post...I have one practical suggestion. Is the embroidered shirt for your mother something that you could cut out the "art" and have it framed? That would make a nice memento.

Getting Better and Better

The Brown Recluse said...

This whole entry is interlaced with positiveness. The fact that you recognize what's going on means that your mind will over the next few weeks find ways to fix the issues.
Sometimes revisiting the past is a way to begin healing.
I think you're doing great. Things do have a way of working out, especially when we put them in God's hands....

Teale said...

It may not be much of a comfort right now, but I actually think you are lucky. Lucky to have had that kind of love from people around you. Some people go their whole lives without the love of a parent, spouse, child, etc. And while it's painful to no longer have that, at least you were priveledged enough to experience it, and that's something to be proud of. I'm thinking of you!

Anonymous said...

The only day we have is today. All this dwelling in the past is not doing you a bit of good, really, what is the point? I don't want to sound harsh, but that is all history now. Try not to worry too much about the future, just enjoy today. I don't think it would be a bad idea to have a good clear out in the garage either. A fresh start.


Theresa said...

My first thought was how awesome it is that you survived all of what you've been through! You have good memories and bad, but the important part now is that you are a survivor and gosh darn it you have actually blossomed in spite of so many trials. You're more wonderful than you give yourself credit for..... you have taken all that life has thrown at you and come out a great winner.
big hugs.

Dances with Corgis said...

Wow. What an emotional day and post!

I've been there.

At least you didn't turn it into a full-on, crazy binge. And, kudos for identifying the undercurrent of emotions making you want to overeat.

Keep plugging along!

Leslie said...

You not only can do it without the band aid of food, you ARE doing it. So you had a binge-ish day - it's over and you'll move on. You've been doing that for a long time now, Lyn, and you're getting the results to prove it. Hang in! Just be with the feelings and picture yourself pulling "little Lyn" onto your lap and loving and caressing her. That's literally what I do - like reparenting myself. Treating my sad self the way I'd treat my kids if they were sad or upset.

Tammy said...

Lyn, I think you and I are a lot alike when it comes to being sentimental in our thoughts and craving emotional stuff that just isn't there. However, we definitely differ in one way. I purposely don't keep a lot of "stuff", or mementos from the past...for the simple fact that I don't want to be able to look back on them and cry...again..and again..and again. I deal with the memories in my head and let the tangible stuff go for the most part. I have to in order to preserve my sanity and my emotional well-being as much as I can. :)

Rachel said...

I love how you write so openly and with such tangible emotion.
I think this is a very healthy part of the process of getting to know yourself, your needs and your true priorities better and better. And it takes a lot of courage to go down that road. Hugs to you for your bravery on this journey.

Rebekah said...

Just wanted to give you a hug.

Anonymous said...

You did good work today.
That kind of work isn't easy.
Be proud of your strength and wisdom!


cmoursler said...

I am not going to read the other comments because I want what I say to be the impression I got from you post and that's all...
Your lucky.
I know it doesn't seem that way now...but at one point in your life, you had people who loved you.
You had a dad.
A dad who loved you and who you loved.
You will always get to carry that in your heart.
You were wanted. You were loved.
Now as an adult, you can choose who to let in and who to kee p out.
You know what to do.
YOu aren't working with a void.
The unknown.
You know what love should look like.
That puts you ahead of the game.
All those things in that box.
Tangible proof of the love you have and had.
To have it again,all you have to do is reach out.
God bless.

Anonymous said...

What is so neat to me is that you recognized that you were eating and why during this painful process. That is an awareness that takes years to get to.

I hope you are feeling better.

bbubblyb said...

So often I find myself writing and writing here in your comments and then deleting what I write. I have read your blog for a long time. I read myself in your words often.

I experience that same loneliness, even in my house full of people sometimes. This journey really is about filling ourselves up emotionally so we won't fill ourselves with food.

For me, it's been about trying to love myself without the need of another person. It's about being whole all within myself. It's a tough road sorting myself out. Maybe I never will totally.

I do know I'm glad you're here and you talk about all this. I know it helps me think about my own journey. So thanks.

I wish I could give you a hug today. We do all need friends and people that love us.

Ria said...

Lyn, you are so perceptive and such a great writer. I've had those days too, going in and out of my kitchen and snacking on a lot of crap, none of which was what I really wanted . . . and once again, your words have helped me to understand my own experiences a little better.

I wish you success in finding the love and appreciation you so deserve, and the healing you need from some of those memories.

Anonymous said...

I have a box like that too. And I gained my weight from emotional eating. No question there.

No advice, but I will say in my experience, what you did here, just by writing about everything, really helps me. Sometimes I know I need to remember. And sometimes I prefer to forget.

clickmom said...

Lyn, I hear what you are saying! This weekend I have to attend the unveiling for my mother and father who died within 8 months of each other. Right now I'd gnaw on the couch arm if it wasn't so dry. If you were my neighbor, I'd hang out with you, not eat, but talk and laugh and make plans to live our ives to the fullest by taking care of ourselves and not burying our feelings with food.

Chibi Jeebs said...

I'm so sorry. :( I wish I had more comforting words. *hugs*

Run, Heat, Run said...

You brought me to tears with this. Sending along a "virtual hug." I haven't been reading for blog for very long, but I think you're much stronger than you know! :)

Steelers6 said...

So proud of you for listing those clothes on CL!!! Progress. I actually am in the same boat of needing to purge my home of some STUFF. [takes time to do!] I've been thinking about the stuff & some messy areas of my home as I think about my eating habits and learning to exercise and eat right..thinking about Jillian's words along the lines of "When u see how strong you are physically, it is going to transcend into every other facet of your life". I am getting stronger physically (thanks to Jillian & eating better), & I am ready to see it in other areas too. I guess I think of it as me disciplining my body w/food and exercise, and now I need to discipline myself in some other departments :) I think I will feel so good and refreshed when I can tackle some of my clutter.

I think it is worth noting that you can LIST what you ate. And your paragraph where you mention the calories you wasted and could have had _______, and what u did have wasn't worth the calories.. That is an important part of the process, and not really binging...I guess you were kind of 'grazing'. ha You were fully aware of what you were eating.

You are working on revamping & making things better for you. Me too..I'm sure some of us could have written something similar in some ways. I have experienced an enormous loss, but not to your extent or the young age you did.

Are all the things in the box still "dear to your heart"? I've always heard if you can't get rid of it yet, save 'it' til you can get rid of it..y'know, like the bb caps, or whatever it is. Sometimes when we go back later, we surprise ourselves by being able to toss something. But better that way than making a mistake. I have packed up a box for each of my kids with special items in it; maybe a place for their little hats.
I noticed a fair amount of ppl's comments encourage you to purge these items and think that your box was too melancholy to face again. I'm not so sure on that, since these ARE items that are special, "dear to your heart". The suggestion of how to display some of the items was a good idea, imo. [Mom's shirt] But of course don't overwhelm yourself, bc you probably don't have a lot of free time to be doing too many projects. Some of these projects I know I will get to 'sometime' and I expect to be getting more done all the time due to how strong I hope to become as I continue to work on it. I think you had a specific 'to do' list to reach some of your goals, so I know you get those pesky projects done.

Hugs from my coast to yours. =)
Thanks for blogging.

Megan said...

Emotional eating happens to everyone, so it makes sense that something tugging at your emotions would cause you to eat. I hope tomorrow is a better day for you and that you are able to break free from that melancholy feeling. Hugs!

Helen said...

Dear, dear Lyn,
this post made me so sad. I have no advice, but just a long distance hug.

I think that in many ways, even though you ate your way through the episode, that it was largely positive. You knew what was going on, and it wasn't just mindless. Food isn't love though, and we don't get the past back, so maybe the past just needs to stay the past. We only get THIS day, and THIS minute to deal with.

You know that your on-line friends love and care about you, but I do hope for you that someday in the not too distant future someone will put their arms around you and tell you that you are the light of their life.

Ruby Leigh said...

This post made we want some cheese sticks, and that means I feel for you. Take Care.

Julie said...

wonderfully insightful post once again lyn.

what's past is past. now you are working towards a wonderful future.

don't let the past's clutter drown you. you are swimming up towards the light and will break through into the sunshine.

FrogiNater said...

Every once in awhile I think of the past too.. sometimes there is no way to ignore it. A death of someone as important as your dad, you can't say the past is the past. But you can find comfort. Sometimes also, those boxes need to be cleaned out, or taken out to remember- depends on the circumstances. You can't always ignore it- but you can embrace it.

You *ARE* the light in someone's life- never doubt it.

Deniz said...

No suggestions, no advice - just a big Zen hug.

You are doing a great job, Lyn. I hope things will turn to happiness for you sooner than you think.

Anonymous said...

I know you said no suggestions, and yet the comments are full of them! So I am going to add one more:

Lyn, please, please, please PLEASE write a book. Compile your blog posts and find an agent. You write so beautifully, so authentically. You connect in such a vital, elemental way with so many people.

I am a harsh critic of books -- I hate 99% of the stuff being published these days. Your blog in book form would be a tremendous gift to the world.


Steelers6 said...

@ Melanie ~
I think Lyn will have a book published, I agree with you, and I have been mentioning it every so often.

It is still being written.

And I know what some of the ending will be. :)

Anonymous said...

you should adopt another dog to go walking with; no one will adore you and need you like a little rescue dog.

Kellie said...

I just wanted to give you some (((HUGS))). I haven't been following your blog that long but from what I can tell you are quite a courageous woman with such a bright light inside!