Wednesday, 24 September 2008
"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.