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Old Friend Back Again

I’ve been reunited with an old friend I haven’t seen in 10 years.

Yeah, it’s an afghan. My grandmother made it for me when I was a preteen or early teens, so it’s nearly 50 years old, and through the last two decades, unfortunately, it’s mostly sat in a cedar chest in various storage units. I was in danger of losing it a few times because I fell behind on paying for the storage, but it’s with me now.

Gram put these name tags on the sweaters and afghans she made for us. She got them to sew into my dad’s clothes when he was a kid. I’ve no idea how old these tags are.

It was knitted from whatever leftover yarn she had, and it’s a blend of polyester yarns and wool yarns. I just had it dry-cleaned.

This afghan covered me while I was in grade school and high school. I slept under it at the University of Vermont. It has followed me from Vermont to Massachusetts to Florida to New Hampshire to California, and finally caught up to me in Florida again yesterday.

I hadn’t thought I’d be so emotional about getting this blanket back, but I am. I’m looking at it and remembering my grandmother and her knitting. Seriously, if you sat her down in front of her stories (CBS soap operas) with yarn and her knitting needles, she’d cast on at the opening of “As the World Turns,” and have a pretty good start at a sweater by the time “The Guiding Light” came on. You can see on the back where she shifted from one color to another. Knitters can analyze it.

She made one of these for each of us kids. I shared a bedroom with my sisters and I can remember my sister wrapping herself up in hers like a multi-colored cocoon as she got ready to sleep.

My cats liked nesting in it and there was plenty of blanket to share. None of them clawed or chewed it or had an accident on in. Just kneading and snuggling into it.

This afghan and I have seen a lot of days. June 1 marks my 60th trip around the sun and, cliched though it is, I am conscious of time and not having as much of it. Life is no longer ahead of me, it’s mostly behind. I have made and lost friends, lost blood family members and soul family members. I’ve missed out on typical experiences like finding a spouse (no takers) and raising a family. Curiously, no one ever begged me for grandchildren. Maybe they knew something I didn’t.

On the other hand, this afghan was with me as I wrote my first book, a short stand up routine that I performed in Boston and L.A., sketches for a successful stage show. I met my celebrity crush and didn’t sleep under this afghan the next night. It has seen me through physical sickness and days when I just didn’t want to get out of bed because life was something I had screwed up badly and didn’t want to face it.

It’s showing its age, but still holding together and still useful. We’re starting a new chapter together, different bed, different locale, pretty soon, two kittens to discover its friendly folds.

Tonight, after I finish my crossword puzzles and turn out the light, I will snuggle down under its soft warmth for the first time in years. And for the first time in years, something that I didn’t know I was missing will come back to me.

Ain’t She Sweet?

That depends largely on who you ask.

I am overweight, I carry the excess largely around my belly. Whereas most of my family members have issues with alcohol, mine is with food. (That’s me. I choose the one substance you cannot quit cold turkey) It has caught up to me, but we’ll get into that a little bit further on.

Yesterday, I went to a doctor for the first time since 2004/2005. All those tut-tutting over the gap can keep it to themselves. In that amount of time, I have lived an unsettled life that did not include health insurance for stretches at a time, or the means to pay out of pocket. And when you have a pre-existing condition, insurance is either unavailable or ridiculously expensive. The insurance companies are risk averse, wanting only young, healthy, and wealthy.

But I digress.

I got a diagnosis of diabetes. Not completely unexpected (see second paragraph), but I’m experiencing a bunch of strong, negative emotions and “Hell fuckity no” response.

Already, it’s reached an unacceptable level of disrupting my life with having to stop and periodically stick fingers, draw blood, and write down blood sugar levels. I’m supposed to take a class on care, but they’re 2 hours long, it’s a set of four, and they’re offered midday during the workweek. No. “But shouldn’t your health be a priority?” Fuck that if I lose my job and can’t pay for it. I feel like I’ve been caught, shackled to a chain with millions of others, and we’re expected to just obediently march forward in lockstep and jump through all the hoops presented without question.

Part of this is my view of the diabetic industrial complex. We see ads all the time for various drugs with a host of side effects like yeast infections, bladder infections, diarrhea, keeling over, voting for Ted Cruz, none of them desirable. And monitors, and services to save money on your supplies. And special foods and shakes and diets. There are billions of dollars to be made in treating diabetes. And it’s so widespread, it seems, that someone should be asking why. Is it high fructose corn syrup in everything? Is it from years of exposure to Round Up? Did American pancreases take a secret vote and decide to go on strike? Is it a side effect of other widely prescribed drugs that we haven’t been told about? There was no history of diabetes in my family until my parents. And one sibling, so I’m not down with “Oh, well it’s in your family history, so it’s not surprising you’d develop it.” No, uh uh. We’re talking one generation back, so I’m skeptical about “it’s genetic.” These things don’t spontaneously happen. Heart disease? Yes, and it’s been over a few generations. Cancer? Yes. Are we all sitting around on our asses and scarfing Doritos? Consistently overeating and just crap? Not moving (even before the lockdown)? A lot of people are, but still, something’s amiss.

I am having a severe emotional reaction, perhaps out of proportion to the situation. And it’s largely anger. (Not denial, bargaining, depression, acceptance) Like channeling it into trashing a room level of anger.

Since I was a child, like 10 years old, pressure has been applied to me regarding my weight. We are talking specially packed lunches with low calorie bread, skim milk for me (as opposed to what my siblings got). And I was not a fat kid. Solid, yes, but not obese. I never heard, “Well, the doctor says you need to lose weight.” No. I had a mother with a bad self-image and a superhuman ability to project. (She had weight issues herself. As did Dad) My older sister caught it, too, but not to the same degree. While my family prized humor and being able to zing with one-liners at the speed of light, there was a depth of cruelty behind it. Teasing a child to the point of tears for amusement. And the adult women in the family piled on, with ones in my generation graduating into offering unsolicited comment, “helpful tips,” and criticism. As a result, for my adult life (and some time before that), I have been drowning in a variety of self: consciousness, criticism, loathing.

Since thin has been in, the burden has largely been on women to comply with the 36” 24” 36” stereotypical standard of size. I’ve mentioned the diabetic industrial complex, but that was preceded for a couple of generations by the diet industrial complex, who now has a “daughter,” if you will, in all these people now dealing with blood sugar. Phrases like “net carbs” and “glycemic index” are part of the advertising, and it’s mostly aimed at women. Now we have diabetes drugs that say “And you might lose a little weight” as part of the pitch.  Despite fifty years (half a century) of the Women’s Movement and feminism, we are still urged to make ourselves attractive for others, usually men. And where the advertising, articles, and that shithead Dr. Oz leave off, there’s the off-camera pressure we apply to each other: “Does this make me look fat?” “You know, I wasn’t going to say anything, but…,” “Have you seen ___ lately? Have you seen her ass?” While I have never heard, “Well, you can’t catch a man if you’re overweight,” I have heard men who qualify as morbidly obese (nice guys, and I’m not saying that sarcastically) rejecting a potential date because “One of us in this relationship has to be thin.” (Maybe not so nice). Good old dead fat Rush Limbaugh claiming feminism was invented so unattractive would have opportunities. Rot in hell, Rush, but humans are biased toward favoring more attractive people for advancement, etc.

And I didn’t conform. I didn’t not eat. I didn’t obsess over what or how much I was eating. Up until I was 30, I was a size 10. And this really bothered various women I knew. They did spend a lot of time and thought on what they should, should not, or actually did eat. And they were (and are) truly unhappy people. There’s a deep vein of resentment because they are bending themselves to please others. And it is not pleasing them. They are not feeling secure in themselves, and thus, we get the Mean Girls: “I don’t feel good about myself or at ease in my body, so I’m going to make comments and passive aggressively chip away at your self-esteem until you’re as miserable as I pretend not to be.”

Back to the diabetes.

I walk around with a Greek chorus in my head of people, real people both living and dead, who have commentary on everything I do. These are all things that have been said to me over the years that hurt and made an impression. Not one of them is part of my day to day life anymore, but the wounds they inflicted with their words linger like an oil spot on a silk blouse. I hear the comments, I can see the scenes when they said the things, complete  with the eye rolls and sighs. They will sit across from me in a restaurant as I dine alone, they stick their faces in into meals I’m preparing, they stand at the foot of my bed as I sit on it. I know that they are not there, but the presence is palpable, constant, and negative. It’s like an artificial intelligence like Siri or Alexa programmed to respond to everything I do, mostly focused on my weight and eating habits. At least two of these phantom women wanted to control me and my life, not out of benign motivation. And the common theme was, “If you don’t lose weight, you’re going to get diabetes.” “If you don’t eat better, you’re going to get diabetes.” “If you don’t exercise, you’re going to get diabetes.”

This, Gang, is fat shaming couched in threatening medical terms.

Diabetes has been held over my head for YEARS as a punishment. It’s evidence of a moral failure – gluttony and sloth (which one of these assholes, code name Crapsack, hurled at me when I didn’t offer to share something with her. I was committing a sin. I kid you not), and if I didn’t change my ways, I would be struck down.

This is why I’m angry above all else at the diagnosis. These miserable, vicious, two-faced assholes can not be right. Even though none of them are part of my life anymore, I will not be able to stand “Told you so.” Once started, it will not stop. “You’re just as miserable as we are. Our work is done here.” “Well, you know, if you’d listened to me, this could have been avoided.”

So here I am, fat, angry, somewhat scared but mostly angry, and trying to cope with this new stage.

“Oh, you should write about it.” I don’t think so. The diabetic industrial complex has enough inspirational and helpful hint little chirpers out there already. I have zero interest in reading or writing the following: “I limited my lunch to a piece of chicken the size of a Bicycle deck of cards and I carefully measured out 2 cups of yummy zucchini with a squeeze of lemon juice. I was so full afterwards and felt so good about sticking to my meal plan.” First of all, fuck zucchini. “Yummy” is a dumb, childish word and the sensation it describes doesn’t come within ten miles of zucchini. Second of all, this is more of seeking validation from outside the self. “I want to inspire others.” Bitch, please. You want a pat on the head, praise for conforming,  a big following, and maybe a lucrative sponsorship for your blog from a diet shake maker (“Now with lower glycemic index!”). I’d rather write, and you’d rather read more entertaining and informative stuff. So, I’ll spare you.

I’m going to find my way through this. Find my way out of the rage. And find a way to shut out that Greek chorus.

 

Remembrance of Things Past

 

“Remembrance of Things Past” is the title of a Marcel Proust work (I have not read) in which the bite of a madeleine cookie (which are delicious) brings back a flood of memories. Many, many pages of them.

I’ve been emotionally off-balance all day, wanting to buy a bunch of random, mostly useless stuff online, or eat. These are both activities that I have used as coping mechanisms. Bad coping mechanisms, but it’s what I do instead of the family tradition of alcohol, or doing recreational drugs.

A friend sent me a picture of Niagara Falls from 1969, the year the American side was shut off so they could examine it and perhaps clean out some of the debris from centuries of erosion to preserve the flow.

 

She shared it saying, “You were there, right?” I looked at it, and commented back about my dad and his love of big engineering projects, like canals and lock systems. My folks took a cruise through the Panama Canal and he was disappointed because they went through in the middle of the night and didn’t get to see anything. I also mentioned that there had been some personal, lasting trauma from that trip.

I was 7 or 8. It was the summer of 1969. The falls were “shut off” from June to December, so I think we went in late summer (we were camping when Apollo 11 landed on the moon, and my younger sister had been born at the end of May, so August seems about right).  We had been to Niagara before in 1967. During that trip, we went through the Cave of the Winds (a boardwalk behind the American Falls). I made family history by complaining to my mother how much I hated it. She tried to get me to stop by saying something like “Stop that. Daddy paid a lot of money for this.” My six year old mouth replied, “I don’t care how much Daddy paid for it. I hate it.”

My mouth has made a lot of family history, come to think of it.

Anyway, on the 1969 trip, we were on the Canadian side in some kind of big building with kiosks. I got separated from my parents and siblings. Just looked up and didn’t see them. I don’t remember if I called for them. I remember being utterly terrified. Like borderline “pee your pants” terrified. I remember thinking I would never see them again. I was bawling. I don’t remember anyone trying to help me, either.

I went to one of the kiosks (a jewelry counter) and I remember telling the very nice ladies that I was lost. I gave them my name and they paged my father over the loudspeaker. My brother came to collect me.

We moved from Brattleboro, Vermont to Rutland, Vermont in November 1968. Before the actual move, I had a dream where I woke up in the old house all alone. Everyone had gone on without me. I woke up in tears. I was sharing my older sister’s room that night, and tried to tell her about me dream, but she said something like she thought it was stupid.

My family’s reaction, when I rejoined them in the Niagara Falls incident, was to make fun of me. In fact, this has been ongoing, my brother especially delighting in singing “Lost in Canada” to the old Canada Dry jingle.

Here’s the thing: my family loved dealing in humor. If you were funny, if you could come up with a fast zinger, you were a star, regardless of whether it hurt feelings. There was a deep vein of cruelty, and I confess to having done my share. Somewhere in my twenties, however, I stopped bringing up the old errors and misdeeds.

Here’s the thing: while there was no physical trauma, the incident has had a lasting effect. If I am out with a group, especially if it’s something where the members might split up and go separate ways, I am on edge the whole time, unless I’m holding the car keys. I do not trust that I will be missed.

Back in 2005 when I was training to work for a due diligence firm (not Bohan), the trainers and I (because none of the “hot” girls wanted to go with them) went to a bar on the Pacific Coast Highway. They weren’t happy about having only me join, and when I wen to the ladies room, they ditched me. I searched the bar with a clenched stomach and a bitter taste in my mouth because, I had been abandoned (by a couple of douchebags, but still…). I had enough money to get a cab back to the hotel. I’ve never seen or spoken to them since, and that’s fine, but I was having flashbacks to being 7 and feeling abandoned.

My friend’s innocent post about the falls (she had no way of knowing) triggered the flashbacks. I spent the rest of the day trying to focus on work when I was unwillingly remembering crying at the jewelry counter, all the mockery, the two guys ditching me at the bar, all of it.

I have unhealthy coping mechanisms I’ve been trying to get rid of, emotional eating and emotional shopping. I had to fight all day (and days later, I’m still fighting) the urge to stuff myself, to buy whatever caught my fancy on Amazon, to cry until I was dehydrated. I’ve said it before, I’m not a good crier. It’s loud, it’s ugly, it’s feral, and growing up, I was told that my tears were “crocodile tears” and not genuine. Thus the unhealthy coping.

Why am I posting this? Because I haven’t posted anything in a while, because maybe sharing will help me, or maybe it’ll help someone else to realize that the reason they don’t feel okay is a subconscious memory of pain making itself known.

 

As I was thinking back on this incident, a new angle occurred to me about getting lost that I hadn’t considered. At the various times this story was recounted over the dinner table, no one ever said anything about noticing I was missing. There was never “We looked around and you were gone.”  And never “Your mother and I were so glad to get you back.” Never once did anyone indicate that they cared. No “you must have been so scared.” Just my father with, “Mr. Thatcher, please come get your daughter at the jewelry counter” as he laughed and my brother with that stupid fucking “Lost in Canada.” Was it a cover-up of uncomfortable emotions? I don’t know, but given the behavior around the incident, I suspect not.

And that, I think, is the core fear: abandonment. Not just “I got separated, but I came back” but people walking away from me and not regretting it. Being left alone.

The irony being is that, while I’ve lived among people, I have never yoked my life to someone else’s. There is a defensive element to this isolation: if I do not get close to you, you cannot abandon me.

I’ve managed to get past the urge to eat/shop today, although I canceled an order from Amazon of a photo drone and Air Pods. Toys I didn’t need. In food terms, it’s like putting those 10 Oreos back in the bag I just tore open. It’s progress.

Will there be a time when this memory doesn’t hurt? I don’t know. It’s been 51 years already, and the pain has gone underground to drive me to cope without realizing what’s bothering me. But, now that I know about it, maybe its poisonous power is now gone.

 

 

My New Year’s Resolution

I know we’re almost done with February, so a New Year’s resolution isn’t timely. The ads for diets and gyms that plastered the airwaves have faded, the gyms aren’t overcrowded, and we don’t see Ray Liotta for Chantix quite as much.

Although there are some who used to tell me what they thought I should (or should not) do to improve my life, they have no hand in this resolution, except perhaps being the architects of its necessity.

This year, 2019, I’ve resolved to like myself.

Or at least work at it.

It’s a hard thing.

I had heard for years, from people whom I trusted, that I was lazy, fat, self-indulgent, my own worst, enemy, a thief, a liar, irresponsible, slimy, bad sister/bad daughter/bad granddaughter, burden,user. I exercised too little and read too much.

Every time something goes wrong, my first thought is that this is what I deserve. If you’re raised in the Christian (not Evangelical, but basic Christian) mode, you are raised to believe that good people are rewarded and bad people punished, even if there isn’t a direct correlation apparent at the time.

We are told that we must love ourselves as we are. A lot of times, this is followed by “then you can make the changes you need.” Until I set fingers to keyboard to type this, I had not considered the absurdity of that concept.

I am a student of the Law of Attraction/Manifestation movement and that has taught me (though I don’t remember the specific source) that the two most powerful words are “I am” for what follows is what you believe about yourself.

So, it’s time to change the internal dialogue (and I do talk to myself in my head. You do, too. Don’t deny). It’s not easy. We’re talking 50 + years of habituated thinking to overcome. It’s not going to so much be positive, ego stroking as not condemning myself constantly.

Part of the change of thought needs to be the self-acknowledgement that, although my past choices may be biting me in the ass right now, I can’t go back in time and change them. I can only deal with the current situation and (even if it hurts) make the right, best decisions now without beating myself up for how I got there.

There are so many situations and issues that require my attention and effort right now that I want to curl up into a ball and hibernate (I know things are bad and stressful when I can sleep at the drop of a hat). However, I have only me to depend on, so no matter how tempting to ignore things, I must take action. No matter how much I want to wail about the unfairness of life because there are people (women) out there who would get help, goods, services thrown at them for a hangnail, but I have to take on bullies by myself. The internal dialogue has convinced me that I have gone to the well too many times, my causes (whatever they may be at the time) are not just, and “you made your bed; lie in it.”

I’ve not been in a 12 Step program, but I am familiar with the broad strokes, especially the “making amends” steps (I owe a lot of my knowledge to “Mom” and Mom). When I take these steps (usually financial) to deal with the consequences of previous decisions, I do not permit myself a “pat on the back” for having done so. The habituated thinking is “Had you not _____ in the first place, you wouldn’t be in this position!” I allow myself to think in terms of “that’s done.”

Like I said, most of my transgressions have been financial. Growing up, my family, although we weren’t given lessons in running a checkbook or responsibly using finances and credit, had an undeclared fixation with money. It was used as a means of control, family members would figure out ways of getting it out of each other. You were “good” if you didn’t ask for it, if you saved it, if you didn’t object that it wasn’t repaid in kind. One memorable explosion by my father was when I withdrew $5.00 from my own savings account. “Susan, you CHEAT!” He never elaborated on why or who I was cheating. Like I said, money equaled control. A lack of it reflected a moral failing. (On a grander scale, this is how we seem to regard poverty and weight. Not being on the “right” end of it is a clear indication of bad character).

I am still cleaning up after years of financial folly. Part of the “tape” in my head is my mother calling me a “thief” for running up  credit card debt and not repaying it. These comments always came after some debt collector had contacted her looking for me. (By the way, I have learned a ton about debt collectors and what they can/cannot do. One of their favorite weapons to get a promise to pay is shame. They should have hired Mom). Anyway, I hear her voice every day telling me that my circumstances are my own doing, I need to deal with it, and if I’m only getting paid $11.50, I should be grateful because clearly that’s all I’m worth. I hear my older sister telling me what a fool I am because I’ve earned a bunch of licenses and degrees and I’m not using any of them. Sure. Had I tried a little harder, I could have gotten a job as a lawyer. Had I been smarter, I would have maintained my relationship with Fidelity Investments to keep my Series 7 valid. If I applied myself harder, I could be coding websites now. It’s all my fault for expecting things to just happen for me.

In addition to paying back the IRS (I have a payment plan), I now have the US Dept of Education garnishing my wages, and frankly, with the shitty pay I get, I can’t afford to keep myself going, let alone Betsy Fucking DeVos. I THOUGHT the loans had been discharged through a bankruptcy court error in 2004, and I have managed to hold off collection efforts until now by sending a copy of the discharge to the collectors. Apparently no, and BFdV wants over $125 grand from me. (Oh, and that BK, which was really intended as a negotiating tactic for some creditors to work out a payment plan? My mother called me “slimy” for it) So I have THAT shit to shovel now, too.

As you can see, I don’t do things the easy way.

You hear a lot about “self-care” these days, and it’s a term applied to a universe of actions and thoughts. I don’t care for it, seeing as it’s a fashionable term and the concept is wide open to abuse, I think, as a rationalization for narcissistic behavior. I don’t believe I’ll indulge.

The negative self-talk is reinforce the self-loathing, which is beginning to morph into, “you know, you’re over 50, alone, and struggling. You’re not getting a decent job anytime soon. Why not exit stage right? Yeah, you saw the video today of the guy who jumped from the Golden Gate and survived, but that’s not you. You’re a giant damned failure and not going to redeem yourself.”

You see why I need to stop it. At least, for now, I still have to will to stop.

So, I will “cancel cancel” on the negative thoughts and work to reprogram. I will keep on keeping on. Detest my current job, but still do my very best at it while looking for something else (Pro tip: Sutherland Global Services is a crappy place if you’re not going in as part of management, and good luck with that because Command and Control is overseas).

It’s a step. We’ll get to the more positive thoughts later.