Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Part #11

"It is so important to give a child tools to cope in life, nurture them and value them. It is so hard, as an adult, to have to build a new set of coping skills to get you through just normal day to day stuff." I am plagiarising Linda here, but I feel sure she will forgive me!

I am trying hard to remember coping strategies which I was offered during my formative years: I wasn't taught an awful lot about love - I can't recall ever being told that I was 'loved'; I was taught that if somebody upset you, you didn't talk to them until they caved in; I was taught that forgiveness is difficult to obtain without utter prostration; I was taught that if you were slighted, you got revenge; I was taught that love is conditional and easily withheld. 

I don't recall being taught to love myself; that to err is human, to forgive is Divine; that love can be wholly unconditional and wonderful; that to work hard and achieve is worthy of praise and not a goal-smashing exercise.

I think, in many ways, this lack of positive reinforcements has made me a very 'needy' person. It's not a trait I like in myself and I have many mental arguments with myself, fighting my 'need' versus fighting what is rational and acceptable. More and more, I am being able to step back from the 'needy' Annie and stamp her down. I encourage my daughters to be as independent as possible from me; praise them incessantly; tell them that they should be so proud of every single achievement and that if they haven't done so well this time, well, there's always next time. I tell them that if they feel they are doing their best, that's all they can ever do - nobody can ever condemn someone for trying their best. We tell each other how much we love each other constantly. Nobody leaves the house or puts the phone down without an 'I love you'. They aren't said automatically - they are said with feeling and depth. Always.

I'm so glad and grateful that there is so much love in this house. I joke to Ian that if I ever turned into my mother he should have me 'put down'. 

Did I make a sub-conscious decision at some point to be the total opposite of my mother? She has criticised and condemned my parenting skills without fail over the years. She has left me very uncertain of my ability as a mother and has, at times, broken me and I have succumbed to her style, albeit for very, very short periods. One of my most shameful memories where I did listen to her and succumbed left my two girls and me in hysterical tears.

She was visiting us in Oman. She had been nagging at the girls (who were about 4 and 2 at the time) to eat. I'd made them a nice dinner, but I did have a tendency to give them too much food. Habit from over-filling myself, I guess. I would generally let them leave the table without clearing their plates but this was anathaema to my Mother's soul. She got me to one side and told me she had heard a radio debate on BBC Radio 2 where an eminent nutritionist was discussing picky-eater children. My Mother deemed the girls to be picky. This was because they didn't like her food and preferred mine. Considering neither of them had been raised on Heinz Baby Gloop and only on fresh puréed foods made by me, and that they would eat any fruit or veg on this planet, I thought they were pretty good girls!

This 'nutritionist' had the answer to 'picky-eaters' - you tied them up to the chair and refused to allow them to come down until every last morsel had been finished. Now, in retrospect, and actually seeing this written in black-and-white, I am starting to smell my Mother's 'psychology' behind this rather than some expert's. In fact, it reeks of it now...

I laughed at her, long and hard, but she didn't give up. She was staying with us for three weeks and night after night, she ground me down if the girls weren't finishing their food. Shamefully, I weakened, gave in, and did as she suggested, using two skipping ropes around the girls' waists. Within ten seconds, they were petrified, hysterical and I ripped the ropes off as fast as possible. It was cruelty itself. I gathered the girls up, took them up to my bed, and held them until they calmed down. When the ex returned, he saw us all, tearful and bleary-eyed. I told him what had happened and he was disgusted - both with me for relenting and with my Mother for such a cruel, wicked, Draconian method of forcing someone to eat. This is the type of behaviour which engenders eating disorders - of that I have no doubt and God forgive me for doing it.

Every day is a learning curve for me. Working out in my head how best not to lower the girls' self-esteem. Both of them have said they feel safest here. They feel very loved and contented which gives me the most inordinate amount of pleasure and relief. They struggle at school from time to time - don't many teenagers? And there are many tales of bitching and back-biting which I listen to. It's sad to hear, but I also know that it is a necessary evil. You can't go through life without a few set-backs from others, but as long as you feel, integrally, that You Are OK, you'll succeed. That's my opinion, anyway.

Constant criticism/denegration is soul-destroying. I once wrote a light-hearted piece on the other blog, HexMyEx, about it. I was making light, but at the time, those comments cut me to bits. I constantly felt a failure, even when I had achieved. 

Linda, again, made reference to a thought-provoking point. She stated: "Sadly, it seemed to validate me, as I thought being thin meant I was surely a better person."

Validation. This was a word Ian brought up to me yesterday. He asked if I felt my anorexia validated me. Without thinking too hard, I denied it. But I have thought further. It means to 'substantiate' and I suspect that, yes, I do feel as though it validates me. And that is a pretty pathetic admission. Does anorexia give substance to me (despite it actually depleting my 'substance'? Another oxymoron if ever there was one!)? 

I appear to be pretty good at it - and that is not 'pride'; it's irony. Therefore, am I known as Annie the anorexic because I am good at it, it 'validates' me and thus gives me 'substance'? These are most definitely meandering thoughts and I don't know how to answer them at all. 

Perhaps Lexy, in her thought-provoking comments is trying to get me to recognise one thing - can I 'subsist' without it? Can I give up anorexia? I dread the work I am going to go through in order to do so. I am going to have to face some very nasty issues about myself. And I am quite a peaceful person deep down, always avoiding confrontation as it upsets me so much.

This is a true journey for me - one of realisation, understanding, compromise and hard, hard work. I know this will take time and every day, with thought, my rationale gets just that little bit clearer. 


Charles Parsnip said...

I think it's important to remember that last line.

"This is a true journey for me - one of realisation, understanding, compromise and hard, hard work. I know this will take time and every day, with thought, my rationale gets just that little bit clearer."

This blog is a journey. Annie has said to me that writing all of this down is helping. No-one knows where this will all end up, but if it is making things better then that can only be good. One thing is for sure though. There is more to come.

Keep on going Annie.


Karen ^..^ said...

If there is one thing that should put a huge delighted grin on your face, it is your mother, sourly criticizing your parenting methods; they are so completely opposite her own, and that should fill you with satisfaction and pride, it shouldn't knock you down! Of course she is going to criticize. She feels inadequate, as well she should. She is desperately clinging to anything and everything that will validate her criminal methods. She is so transparent.

A personality like hers needs someone that they can gain power over, and manipulate, control and abuse. I am most surprised at the ex ass, knowing how you and the girls suffered at her visit, and to let them visit her today. I hope the girls know she is just a crazy old lady who is mean spirited and unhappy, and that they don't take anything she ever says or does to heart.

I know how much it hurts to be constantly criticized, denegrated, and just unloved. It fills you with a need to be validated, if in the smallest possible way. If in the most self destructive way. That is what people don't understand about this. There are soooo many layers. It isn't just about eating and keeping the food down, or in. It is so deep, almost bottomless, and you have to get to the bottom in order to crawl back up. This is unfathomable to someone who did not suffer the same torment. They may have suffered, but not in the same way.

I think you will make enormous progress doing this. I am proud of you, and I think you are a wonderful human being. Sad thing is, most of the time that is next to meaningless, when the people who should have said things like that fell short in thier duties as parents, as role models and as human beings, and just fucked up the task miserably. THEY are the ones we always needed to hear it from. So yes, there will always be that yearning.

I'm needy too, in my own way. Oh, yeah. I put on a false bravado, puffing up and saying, "fuck em" I don't need this BS, etc. But yeah. I have that same need. I identify with you so much. No, I don't have an ED. But I came from the same sort of breeding ground that spawns one. Just ask my sister.

Much love and peace to you and those you love, Annie. If only you could see the enormous strides you have already made. You have a lovely family, a great philosophy within your family, love in your heart that you aren't afraid to show, and hell, you are just an amazing girl.

Karen ^..^ said...

I misspelled Denigrated. Grrr. I despise typos, especially when I make them.

Mars said...

I read your hexmyex post and the ones about academics hit me to the core. i used to get 90s in my tests and all dad could say was: "what happened to the remaining marks?" or if my rank wasn't first, something like "i don't care how difficult the paper was, cos apparently someone managed to get better grades".
i remember wanting to commit suicide or running away in 5th grade because i was no longer in the top 3 in my class - i came 5th.

i suppose that influenced my 'do or die scenario' whenever i study.

and i hope the dining experience taught you never to listen to your mother again. that was ghastly. not say you are, but the idea itself. how did ur mum become a mother?

Linda and her Twaddle said...

It is always hard to admit some home truths, but by doing that it does make it easy to accept who you are. Needy is a word that implies a dependent personality, but I bet you are a person who strives to be very independent. The neediness is part of the whole self esteem issue - the need to be reassured that you are okay is constant. Eventually you may realise that urge will never go away, but you will learn not to react to it so much. I still say "am I looking fat today" or "does this make me look fat" etc. But not that often because what is in my head is fixed on that day no matter what anyone else says.

I guess you have to work at teaching your daughters how to cope with anxiety, sadness, anger and self esteem issues. Facing and accepting all emotions is more important than anything learnt at school.

Your mum, well, I suppose you can only try to see that she has some deeply rooted emotional problems. Perhaps she wanted her awful parenting tecniques taking on my you as some sort of validation for herself. Personally, I would stay well away from her until you know she won't be a trigger for you. Don't get into any dialogue with her. You are a grown up woman now, you owe it to yourself be number one - then the rest falls into place.

Lexy said...

I think that's a good point, that you can't give up your ED without first replacing it with another coping mechanism, or many. Preferably healthy ones! :)

So where do you start? You're clearly aware of where your issues began (something I never learned myself), but that awareness could border on wallowing unless you do something with that insight. You don't need a shrink to tell you that your thinking is disordered, and this is the point I was trying to make with that challenge I gave you originally.

When I was in my ED it consumed me. It was in my every thought, what I was eating, what I wasn't eating, what my weight was, how I felt about myself, it's OBSESSIVE. I could never be in the moment with my family, I couldn't take care of myself, let alone the people around me.

I don't think most people understand that, that eating disorders aren't easy. It's not that you just wake up one day and decide never to eat again, it's a constant battle, a constant struggle, and it's always ALWAYS there. It makes you miserable.

Could you imagine all the things you could accomplish if you spent that same amount of thought and energy on something productive? My god the things we could accomplish! And what if that energy was put towards your relationship, or your girls? What would your life be then?

Jesus I sound like my shrink...

So how do you change your thinking? How do you feel better about yourself? Or stop thinking about it altogether? Can you isolate any specific thoughts or mantras you think regularly throughout the day? Thoughts you could start changing to positive affirmations in that annoyingly juvenile way? Even if you can't start with "I look ok", could you remind yourself that Ian thinks you're beautiful just the way you are? He's obviously supporting you for a reason, use it!

Annie T - ex Agnes Mildew said...

Ian: It will improve.

Karen: Yes, that point has been made to me by Ian. It wasn't something I realised until he mentioned it. By doing the opposite of my mother, it grated her gears. But I have a far superior relationship with my daughters than she has with hers. When she called my doctor a couple of weeks ago (and I suspect to recommend he hospitalised me as she has done this before, and that is a story in itself..) she didn't even know my new married name. My doctor found this pretty disgusting.

Ah, a fellow 'needy' person! Relief! I did discover, during my single parenting days, that the neediness dissipated a lot. I became a hell of a lot tougher...but I seem to have lost my toughness just recently. I guess it will return once I get this rubbish sorted out, once and for all...

Mars: I have studied for three Bachelors degrees now. Each mark I got made me strive harder to improve. If I didn't, I would kick myself. My father's comments were always there rattling around in my head. It got to the stage where I would only reveal marks if I had improved. Anything less than 80% in written papers was anathaema and would actually anger me immensely.

A lot of pressure is put on students. Obviously, all parents want their children to study hard and do well - it's for their future. But making them feel inadequate is not within any parent's remit. It should not happen. Full Stop.

The dining experience. I still despise myself for listening to her garbage there. Evil woman.

Linda: Sometimes I think you and I are twins who were separated at birth! You seem to know my personality through and through! Yes. I hate being dependent on others and the fact that I am currently dependent on Ian craws at me. I hate asking him for money; I hate that I need him to help me around the house; I hate that I am so utterly exhausted and wiped that he has to help me parent the girls (which is ridiculous of me, as he is their Step-Dad). Twisted thinking.

Yes, there's a lot of hard work to be done with the girls - and I feel certain that any decent mother says that about their teenagers. The girls struggled a lot with our divorce. Particularly as the ex went into a very acrimonious battle over custody, prolonged things inordinately, and all we wanted to do was move on. I recall Rosemary on her hands and knees, begging her father to stop this battle and just let her live with her Mum. He 'walked' away, with her wrapped round his leg, dragging her across the floor as she pleaded with him. He has tried his damnedest to turn Beth into a lad. She hates this. Says it makes her feel ugly and masculine - and she is so lovely. So yes, we have to build up their self-esteem as much as possible. So we do it with love and lots of humour - which sometimes backfires!

Mother. Well, she's got her problems, but she won't admit them. What can anyone do there? I stay as far away as possible. She is blocked from our phones and I doubt she would face Ian again after the way she blatantly lied to him (which she has admitted). If I never see her again, it'll be too soon.

Lexy: You've posed me a lot of questions in your final paragraph, and I think it would be better for me to think about them and actually incorporate the answers into a blog post - otherwise these comments will get too long-winded. But I will.

I'd like to ask you some questions, too, if I may. How long did it take you to recover from your ED? How did you do it? Could you have done it without your therapist? Do you feel 'cured' from ED or do you feel you have 'come to an understanding around food' (that's a phrase which was used to me by a psychiatrist)? How do you cope with/manage your Borderline Personality Disorder, and do you think that is manageable or is that a whole new can of worms?

I am genuinely interested to hear your responses as I think you have obviously had some very, very tough times and come out the other side. I am always keen to hear how other people have progressed - like Linda.

Thank you all for your intelligent comments and responses. They make a big difference.

Lexy. said...

I think I better make that a blog post of my own. :)

I haven't posted in quite awhile, I'll try and do it tomorrow. :)