My mother and I were partners, co-conspirators if you will, in my emotional eating. I always had a difficult relationship with her, mostly because she was an alcoholic-paranoid psychophrenic and I could never be quite sure which mom I was going to encounter when I came home from school. The classic ‘walking on eggshells’ pattern was established at an early age for me.
I think, looking back, she had a lot of guilt about her alcoholism. I know she tried to hide it, but sadly it was in plain sight. I remember her going to the local Stop-n-Go and coming home with a paper sack filled with jug wine, beer, whiskey…and chocolate bars. She would give me the bars to ‘be a good girl’ and not ‘tell’ on her. Little did she know that I would never have said anything to my father about her anyway. I had enough challenges with that relationship already!
As a result, chocolate had long been my solace, my secret lover. Chocolate was the go-to friend I turned to when I get emotional. Not just when I’m angry or sad. Chocolate is there for me and I must have it in the house at all times, or else I get extremely anxious or angry.
My mother grew up in Europe during World War II, so she experienced first-hand the deprivations and anxiety about where the next meal would come from. She would talk about trading her dress coupons for food coupons. It was during the war that she learned to eat mayonnaise sandwiches. When there is no meat, you eat whatever is available.
So, when there was stress in our house, she would turn to what she knew. Mayonnaise sandwiches. Always on Jewish Rye bread for some reason; never white bread, sourdough, or wheat. That was what she would feed me when I was upset. I can remember being a small girl, crying and going to my mother. Instead of taking me into her arms and consoling me, she would go to the refrigerator and make me a sandwich. So for me, mayonnaise sandwiches became an intrinsic link to my mother. It was what I knew of as ‘love’ because that was how she responded to me.
Quite frankly, I don’t really like the taste of them — but when I have been upset or feeling shame or humiliation in my past, the first thing I would turn to is a mayonnaise sandwich on—you guessed it— Jewish Rye bread. And I didn’t have just one sandwich, oh no. Let’s talk two or three. I would stuff those things down my throat so fast, trying so hard to fill the hole in my soul. And I would eat them quickly so my husband wouldn’t ‘catch’ me. There was a lot of shame and guilt pre-wired into those sandwiches.
When I first started looking at the emotional causes of my eating, mayonnaise sandwiches and chocolate were at the forefront. I had to look back on old experiences and realize that as a child I made decisions about food that weren’t based on reality. They were based on a child’s need for love, and a mother’s actions. I had to step back and look at the relationship I had created around food, and decide if, as an adult, these relationships still served me.
It is really no different than when you are in any kind of negative or abusive relationship. You have to look at the actions of your partner and decide if you are willing to keep this relationship going; or if you are willing to acknowledge that there might be a better way. It’s not easy—I’ll be the first to admit this. I didn’t give up mayonnaise or chocolate easily or quickly. There’s no quick fix to this. There were definitely lapses and slides. It’s no different than the relationship where you break up, make up, break up, make up….until you are tired of it and are ready to change your thinking and grow into a different person; one who won’t accept negativity in her relationships or life.
One thing that really helped me was a “(Benjamin) Franklin T”. You put a line vertically down a sheet of paper. On the left side you list all the positive things this relationship to food is giving you. On the right side you put all the reasons it is NOT serving you. Whichever side has the larger list is, for you, the “correct’ side. Once you start listing all the negative things food addiction does to you, it becomes easier for you to refocus and get clarity about what you really want.
What I wanted was out of these relationships. Over time, with counseling, I have overcome them. Now I look at a mayo sandwich and go “Huh?” I can’t say chocolate and I have completely parted ways…but the love affair is now out in the open, and we don’t hang out nearly as much, but I enjoy it much more than I did when it wasn’t my choice, but only a reaction and a habit.
Written by Susanne Romo at http://www.healingjourneyblog.com/
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