August is Worldwide Parenting with PTSD Awareness Month
PTSD is a package deal. It usually comes with many self-destructive behaviors like shoplifting, drug and alcohol abuse, over and under eating (eating disorders), and physical and mental neglect, etc. My first exposure was the easiest to start at a very young age.
Food and body-image distortion
I always have overeaten. Under eating? Not if you’re Puerto Rican, IMHO (doesn’t mean it can’t happen). For as long as I can remember, I was begging for seconds and ate until my stomach hurt. My parents always kept Pepto-Bismol around for inevitable stomach aches.
Dad put me on my first diet at age 7 so I knew how he saw my body image. It lined up with what classmates said about me. I was a cow, a fat pig and all those ever-so-subtle cruelties kids hurl coldly at a scapegoat or two.
During this “family diet” I learned about calories and portion control. We had to stay under 1,000 calories a day. Four ounces of cold cereal for breakfast felt like punishment. Lunch was half a sandwich, no sweets, milk and a piece of fruit, and dinner was a low-cal, open-face hamburger. No seconds. I felt hungry all the time.
My father yelled and shamed me when he found Oreo cookies among my panties in the chest of drawers. What do you say when you’re busted and shamed for squirreling away cookies? Didn’t he notice how often my nose was in the refrigerator? I was a wreck.
Emergence of an eating disorder
I played NCAA softball for two years because I finally had allergy meds that made it possible to breathe, play ball and not fall asleep in the outfield. Once college sports eligibility ended, I began a more concerted effort to lose weight. I came up with an idea to eat as much as I wanted, i.e., until my stomach hurt, then vomiting it minutes later.
Within weeks my clothes were baggy, men noticed me for the first time in my life and I loved the attention. Soon thereafter were side effects like getting colds often and recurring, raging yeast infections. Numerous medical office visits started piling up. Finally, one doctor noticed and asked about my food intake. I proudly announced my new diet strategy that earned me a bulimia/anorexia group referral.
For months, I convinced myself I was nothing like any of those women. However, I couldn’t deny I was purging less. As I started to get better they recommended a dietitian, which was laughable. I knew how to cook since I was 12-years old. Why would I want a dietitian to tell me what I can eat?
A tale of two crises, solutions and one major epiphany
More interesting were two crises I walked through with the group.
One solution was to end a lopsided friendship. She was agoraphobic and I was her only support person. She sucked the life out of me. My mother was vehemently opposed to cutting ties with her while my group was 100 percent behind me.
The only other problem required I write a letter to my mother so I could express how I felt, which I read to the group first. They loved it while my mother scorned it.
These two incidents revealed my mother as part of the problem, not the solution. I never allowed that to enter into my mind before because she was my mom. What mom wishes ill will upon their own child especially when I was the love child?
When I moved out for the last time, I bought a mountain bike, took a community education class on mountain biking basics and started riding all over the valley. I rode 60 miles on weekends and at least 10 miles three weeknights. The natural high was intense and I loved how I felt and looked. I finally cracked the code for staying thin.
Then I got pregnant before I got married so I put my life on hold … again.
My kids and food
I micromanaged my children’s food intake by limiting choices but never put them on a diet. My my husband and I always were careful to tell my daughter how beautiful she was. My son, same except from the moment he could walk, he always stuck out his tummy as if he was pregnant and proud of it (absolutely adorable).
My daughter retained a thin figure while my son was of the “thick” variety, i.e., he had my body shape and she took after her long, lanky father. However, when she began taking psych meds she became plump and even more adorable. I continued to tell her how beautiful she was. No body shaming. No diets. I simply purchased healthy foods and kept the sweet stuff to a minimum.
My son, on the other hand, remained thick. He always was a chunky monkey. I was worried at first but felt he would thin out in high school. That never happened so without thinking I fat shamed him.
I remarked he ate too much. I asked him about my “grandchild” and when “the baby was due.” I implored him to manage his appetite but he only ate more. None of his friends teased him but I did. He had a t-shirt with the Pillsbury Dough Boy and the words, “Poke me,” which was the perfect excuse to point out the muffin top over his pants.
What stinks is my son and I share a bedroom. We constantly snack in bed at night. Mine are next to my bed while he stows under his bed. I have no moral authority to razz him about his intake, habits or body shape when I am just as chubby as he and doing the same unhealthy habit.
It took some serious tongue biting but eventually, I stopped talking about his weight. I let it go. I had to. I couldn’t really control him except to model healthy eating habits and only stock healthy foods.
Well, at least I stock healthy food.
Posts in 2017 series
Breaking the cycle of loneliness takes work
Go outside and play on PWPTSD Awareness Day
Women, Blacks, Latinos have higher rates of abuse
Managing compound-complex parenting
Drinkin’ and druggin’ make parenting even harder
Risky behavior, self neglect aren’t life sentences
When food becomes a weapon
Managing rage, ground rules around kids
Managing hostile relatives, false accusations, head games
Parenting: If it’s not hard, you’re not doing it right
Third Annual Worldwide Parenting with PTSD Awareness Day is here!