Fat Lady on a Bike: My Journey to Peace and Fitness

Join me and my wonderful Electra Townie bike on my continuing journey to inner peace and both inner and outer fitness.

Friday, June 18, 2010

My Letter to My Mother

When I started this blog, I knew that one of the things I needed in order to heal was to bring my struggle with food and weight out into the light, to talk out loud (as it were) about the things about which I felt shame and guilt, the issues with which I struggled.  It is partly in that spirit that I am about to share the letter I wrote to my mother as part of my recent therapeutic activities.

But I also want to share it because getting back my mother's memory and a sense of her existence in the world is so important to my healing.  And putting her picture and my letter to her out into that world feels like an essential step.  She existed, people -- she lived and loved and made mistakes, and she died too soon.  And I miss her.  But now I have her back, and an empty place inside me feels filled again.

Dear Mommy,

I remember you.  Despite being so young when you died, and despite the hideous betrayal of the adults around me then, the conspiracy to blot you out of my life, I remember you.

I remember how you sang to me, about the Milky Way, and how you and Audrey and I would ride in the car with Auntie Rella, Stuart and Eileen and sing as we rode through the evening.  I remember your playing the ppiano, and how I figured out how to play "Danse Macabre" and Morton Gould's "Pavane" because your playing them so intrigued me, and how I used to love looking at the music in the piano bench.  Music has always been part of my life, a gift from you.

I remember how you loved to read.  Some of my most precious possessions are the few Frank G. Slaughter novels you shared with me.  I remember the "Screen Stories" magazines you read -- I read them, too.  And a love of reading and movies has been another gift from you.  do you remember taking me to see "the Birds"?  When we came home and you opened the screen door, a moth flew out at us and we yelped, and then laughed and laughed because we were so scared.

I remember your cooking and how you taught me how to do it.  i remember how good your fried chicken was, and have never had anything like it since.  Shortly after you died, I had a dream that I was standing at the stove making chicken as you did, and feeling overwhelmed because I really didn't know how.  But I still make -- and love -- beef stew the way you showed me.  And I remember loving the spaghetti you used to make with ketchup in the sauce -- so 1950s.  I love to cook -- another gift from you.

There are a few other, physical gifts I have, and have cherished, as well.  Your topaz pendant was something I wore for many years and treasured as a link to you -- I gave it to my stepdaughter on her wedding day.  Another pendant of yours with a lovely purple stone I gave to Audrey last year when we were finally reunited.  I still have my baby book, and over the years have sometimes reread what you wrote to me there about the day I was born, and I have carried your love for me deep in my heart, even when I was unaware of it.  I believe that's partly why I was able to become the good, loving woman that I am.

I remember how you used to embroider, and how you taught me running stitches and French knots, and made sure I knew that the reverse side should always be as neat as the front.  I've enjoyed embroidery through the years, feeling close to you when I did it.  I embroidered a unicorn on a deep blue fabric for Lou, my one and only boyfriend, and I embroidered a pattern of ohia lehua as part of a patchwork khupe [wedding canopy] for my dear friend Richie.  Even now, there is a nearly finished piece of a humuhumunukunukuapua'a sitting in my embroidery box.  Another gift you shared with me.

When you died and everyone told me to be strong and get on with my life, I didn't know how to do that and still keep you present.  And when Daddy married M---- and she set out to excise you from our lives completely, I went along because I so desperately wanted her to love me and be my mother.  I didn't know any better, and none of the grown-ups apparently knew how to help me mourn you and honor your memory in a healthy way.  But you were, and are, my mother, my first and deepest love, and my most fundamental core couldn't abandon and betray you, even as the rest of me seemed to.  In some strange way -- subversive, Carol called it -- I kept you with me by taking on your pain and your way of handling it.  I ate and grew heavy, and my body grew more and more to resemble yours.  I stuffed down my sorrow and frustrations even as you did, and in that way kept you close even when I was not permitted to say, or even think, your name.

I understand now that that was the only way open to me, given the craziness, the fear and inadequacy of the people closest to me.  I understand now that I did what I needed to do to survive, as children do, even without understanding what that was.  And I did survive, and even thrived in a lot of ways.  You would be proud of me, proud of my accomplishments, proud of my kindness and compassion, proud of my integrity.

through all these years, I thought that I had forgotten you and that the only part of you I carried was the weight.  But now I know that's not true.  I carry your musical talent and your love of reading.  I carry your skill at cooking and embroidering, your joy in singing and laughing.  I carry your smile, so obvious in the picture I printed out of you and placed around my house last night.  And I carry your love for me, your joy at giving birth to me, your firstborn daughter.

Please, Mommy -- let me go now.  Let me let you go.  I carry you inside me, in every aspect of who I am.  I can't carry you physically any more.

I love you and I am grateful for all your gifts to me.  I hope I do honor to them and to you in the way that I live my life.  Now I've put your picture up, to have a constant physical reminder of you everywhere I live.

Help me, Mommy.  Help me let you go so I can keep you in your rightful place.  Your life was cut short -- help me get healthy, so that I can be around for my grandchildren, your great grandchildren.

I carry your heart -- I carry it in my heart.

Your loving daughter,


Thursday, June 17, 2010

My Life as a Hitchcock Hero

These last few weeks have taken me on quite the wild ride; to change metaphors, I've been feeling a bit like Gregory Peck in Spellbound, an amazing Hitchcock psychological thriller where the revelations about the truth of the hero's experience come faster and more furiously as the movie progresses. 

As those of you who followed "The Story of Princess S" will have learned, I had a difficult childhood.  My mother died when I was 13, my father remarried almost immediately, and my stepmother basically to wipe my mother's memory off the face of the planet.  I was never allowed to mourn her.  Later on, I was disowned, twice, and except for my paternal grandparents, also disowned by my father, their son, had no contact at all with my family of origin for most of my adult life.  In my early 30's, my first round of therapy (precipitated by my inability to lose weight) allowed me to start mourning my mother and recovering my ability to express my feelings rather than stuffing them down.  My second round of therapy, in my 40's, enabled me to break through the thick wall of denial about how much losing my whole family had hurt me.  Two years ago, my work at Green Mountain enabled me to know and express my anger at my father for his abominable betrayal of me.

And yet, I still wasn't able to lose weight.

When I reconnected with my sister last year, she told me about a book that had helped her deal with some of the same issues, Toxic Parents by Susan Forward (thanks, Princess A!).  I read it at the time, and was interested to discover that while all of it felt relevant, the part of the book that resonated most strongly was the section on incest.  While I didn't have that particular nightmare to deal with, I think that in some ways the utter betrayal of the parent-child bond of being discarded finally and forever is in some ways closest to the betrayal that sexual abuse represents.  In any event, Dr. Forward's primary therapeutic technique for those who have experienced incest is a series of letters, to the offending parent, the non-offending parent and one's little self, followed by telling one's story as a fairy tale (hence my previous three posts).  I knew when I read that that I had to write a letter to young Sherry, and I knew that it had to be about reassuring myself that none of what happened was my fault, but I couldn't do it.  I knew the words but couldn't access the feelings.

Fast forward to four weeks ago, and the beginning of the cinematic period of my recovery.

It began the morning I got the results of a glucose tolerance test suggesting that I am seriously pre-diabetic.  Though this wasn't exactly news, I started to freak out, which is not something I generally do.  The next day, I told my wonderful, healing therapist about this, and when she said some reassuring things, I said, "I know all that.  My adult self knows it, but I feel like there's a little girl inside me lying on the floor kicking and screaming, terrified."  She responded by asking me what I would say to that little girl, and I was, for once in my life, totally dumbstruck.  This was odd, because, as she reminded me, if it were any other child in the universe, I would have been right there hugging and comforting her.  I knew then that I had to write that letter.

Unfortunately, I still didn't know what to say.  I knew even more clearly than a year before that none of what had happened was really my fault and that I had only done what I needed to do in order to survive, but I was feeling so much to blame, I was totally paralyzed.  Then I realized that I had to start by writing a letter to my sister.  When I had visited her just before this episode began, she had told me about her recent struggles to deal with her own anger and pain, and I think that hearing all of that, most of which I had not known about as it was happening,   Somehow, I felt I needed to apologize to her for not protecting her, not knowing what she was going through -- essentially, for not being her parent.  I know this was irrational, but I needed to say it, so I wrote the letter.

And that precipitated a week of getting in touch with my anger at our stepmother, to whom I wrote my second letter.  I also screamed out loud and pounded the wall of the shower with my fist, neither of was something I had ever done before.  In some ways, that was the most terrifying experience of all; I had no idea that I was so scared of getting angry.

At that point, I started to write the fairy tale, which I think was a very wise choice, as it enabled me to understand, viscerally, the extent of what had been done to me and how I had had so few options available to survive.  Another therapy session precipitated the climactic revelation; my wise healer asked me to consider what the food was doing for me beyond allowing me to stuff down feelings.  And in that instant I knew that it was keeping my mother alive within me, and that I needed to let her go in order to be healthy.  That was truly a Hitchcock moment.

Of course, in the movies, they never show you what the hapless hero has to do to recover from the moment of revelation.  Fortunately, in addition to my healer I also have my wife, who is a very wise woman who knows me very well.  She suggested two things:  that I write about my memories of my mother, and that I put up her picture.  The picture I posted on Facebook, which turned out to be a wonderful gift to myself (and will be the subject of an upcoming post).  The letter proved to be the catalyst for a profound catharsis; in writing it, I was again 13 years old and just learning that my mother had died.  It enabled me to mourn her from the depths of my soul and, I think, finally to begin to heal from that loss.

I would like to share that letter here as my next post.

A hui hou.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Story of Princess S -- Part III

Fortunately for Princess S, she had fallen in love (as princesses do) with the Queen of a neighboring realm.  Queen C was loving and wise, and helped Princess S through the sad, dark days that followed her banishment.  They would often visit the dowager queen and the old King in the kingdom of the south, and they tried to comfort each other for the calamity that had befallen them.

Then one afternoon, the knight who had married Princess A sent a message to Princess S from her ancestral kingdom to inform her that the King had died.  Though Princess S was sore afraid of confronting Lady M and Princess A, she knew that she had to mourn for the King in the way that was proper, as she had never been allowed to mourn for her mother, the Queen.  With Queen C at her side she traveled to her ancestral home to attend her father's funeral.  Lady M was courteous, even in her grief, but Princess A ran to her sister and embraced her.  Princess S returned the embrace and yearned for her sister, but knew that as long as Princess A remained in the kingdom of their birth, Lady M would punish her for communicating with Princess S.  So she and Queen C traveled back to their home to observe the mourning customs of their faith.

Twenty years passed as life went on.  Prince H died, an angry, bitter man, and the old King and Queen grew ever more bitter, mourning the loss of both their children and all their other grandchildren, even though Princess S and Queen C visited them often. Eventually they died as well.  Queen C's children grew up, married and had children of their own, wonderful grandchildren for her and Princess S, who loved them with an unbounding love.  Princess S accomplished many good works and was beloved by Queen C, their children and grandchildren, and the people in her adopted land.  Her life was good and worthy and she was grateful every day for all the gifts that life had given her.

And yet, all was not well in the kingdom of her heart.  Food continued to be her comfort, solace for griefs she did not even recognize.  As her body grew older, she could no longer fend off the ill effects of carrying so much extra weight, and she sought desperately for a remedy.  Hearing of a magical kingdom to the north whose inhabitants possessed much wisdom, she traveled there to see what she could learn.  She met many healers who taught her their secrets, and she took them to be her own, following the path they recommended even when it was difficult to navigate and took her through frightening, dark places.

Slowly, Princess S began to heal.  Slowly, she began to realize the enormity of the evil that had befallen her at Lady M's hands.  Slowly, she began to understand that she had taken care of herself the only way she knew how. 

One day, as she traveled through the kingdom of Facebook, she recognized a friend from the days of her childhood.  "Have you news of Princess A?" she asked.  "Do you think she might want to hear from me?"  "Yes, she would," her friend replied.  "She asked me that same question about you."  So Princess S sent a message to Princess A, whose heart was gladdened, and they were reunited.  Princess A had experienced great hardships during the lost years, but had found healers who helped her with their wisdom, and she had come to see Lady M for what she was.  And so the sisters were united, and there was much joy in both their lands.

And yet, Princess S's heart was still heavy, as was her body.  She kept following the path shown to her by the healers from the North until at last she came to a deep, dark forest.  Though she longed for the light, Princess S knew that it was in the deep, dark forest that the secret to healing lay, so she sat beneath the trees and waited to see what would come to her.  She sat for a long time, and storms of rage and grief blew through her, and those storms were so strong and terrible that she did not think she would ever see the light again.

When she had been sitting for what felt like eons, Princess S at last came to realize that she had been holding her mother, the Queen, inside her for all those years, and that the food she had used to fill the emptiness inside her was also a way to feel close the the mother she had lost.  As she had that realization, a shaft of light, warm and bright, penetrated the gloom of the forest and caressed her face through her tears.  She got up and returned to her castle, where she told Queen C what had been revealed.  Queen C, ever loving and wise, said "You kept your mother close in the only way you were allowed," and then she said, "We must put a picture of the Queen in our home for you to see whenever you wish, so that you may let go of what you have held inside so painfully for all these years."

And they lived happily ever after, surrounded by their loving friends and family.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Story of Princess S -- Part II

Despite those scattered weeks of deprivation and dread, Princess S thrived at college.  She questioned and learned and took delight in all the world around her.  Eventually she fell in love, as princesses do, not with a prince or knight, as was the norm in her day, but with another princess.  And she felt the need to keep quiet about her love until she understood what this would mean for her kingdom. 

When college was over, she planned a long journey across the sea to England.  No one knew that she was leaving behind her lady love, and she was very sad.  But off she went, and was very excited to be in the home of the literature she loved.  She made new friends and had adventures.  But one day, she received a scroll from the King, telling her that he had found out about her lady love, and soon came a message from Lady M, telling her that she was unworthy to return to the kingdom.  Even Princess A sent a scroll accusing Princess S of causing hurt and havoc in the kingdom.  She was banished from her homeland.

Princess S was sick at heart.  The only members of the royal family who communicated with her were the dowager Queen and the old King, her father's parents.  For this she was grateful.  Though she knew that she was a good and worthy princess, her heart was heavy, and she alternated between eating to fill the new empty place inside her and depriving herself, so that she might someday be allowed to return home.

The years passed, and when her sojourn in England was over, Princess S traveled over the vast ocean to Boston, where she made her new home.  She made friends and found work, and tried to free herself from the terrible bondage that eating to fill the empty spaces had become.  When she continued to be unsuccessful, her wise counselor suggested that she see a healer to find whether it was heartsickness that stood in her way.

The healer helped Princess S explore the empty sad place inside her that had grown there when she was not allowed to grieve for her mother, the Queen.  Princess S cried and grieved, moaned and mourned, until the healer agreed that she was ready to try again to go forth in health. 

Then Princess S received another scroll from the King, informing her that he and Lady M were selling the ancestral castle and asking what to do with her belongings that were stored there.  Princess S replied, and then there were other scrolls exchanged between her and her estranged family.  Soon, she was invited to visit the new castle, and something resembling normalcy returned to their relations.  She was even asked to attend Princess A's wedding, though when she did, Lady M made sure that she was not permitted to take full part in the festivities, much to the dismay of the old King and Queen.  But Princess S was grateful to be part of the family once again.  Her exile appeared to be over.

Then trouble came again to the kingdom.  The King renounced his father and mother and renounced his brother, Prince H, who had joined him in business.  Harsh words were spoken and a judgment against the King was issued in the court of the land.  But the King, instigated by Lady M, evaded paying the judgment and banished his parents and his brother to exile in the south.

Princess S was sick at heart.  The old king and queen had always loved her and cared for her, even through her long exile.  When Lady M would try to tell her of their perfidy, Princess S refused to listen.  And that was the act that led to her second and final banishment from the kingdom of her birth.

To be continued....

The Story of Princess S -- Part I

It's been over two weeks since I last posted, for which I apologize; I have been in the midst of a major emotional breakthrough and felt that it was more important to feel my feelings than think or write about them.

Let me tell you all a story.

Once upon a time, in a kingdom in the midwest, there lived a king and queen and their three daughters.  The oldest daugher, Princess S, was a bright and happy child, beloved by her parents, full of curiosity, energy and imagination.  She loved her sister, the middle daughter, Princess A, and frequently led them into interesting adventures.

As Princess S grew older, she realized that her mother was getting sadder and sadder, and would stay up late into the night reading novels and movie magazines and eating junk food.  Sometimes Princess S would share her books and magazines, and sometimes she would share her mother's food as well.  In the mornings, she and Princess A would get themselves off to school because the Queen would still be in bed, and sometimes the two older princesses would huddle together in fear as they listened to the King and Queen quarrel.  But most of the time, life was good and interesting, and Princess S felt that she could grow up and do anything she could imagine.

Then one day, when Princess S was 13 years old, she arrived home from school to discover the Queen dead on the bathroom floor.  She ran to find a neighboring queen and stayed at her castle with the littlest princess and the neighbor prince, and later Princess A, watching the flashing lights from the ambulance and fire trucks and police cars in front of her castle, until her father came to get her.  "What will become of us?" she cried, as she flung herself into the King's arms.  "How do we go on?"

Everyone told Princess S that as the oldest, she had to be strong and take care of her sisters and set a good example.  Everyone told Princess S that everything would be all right.  Everyone told Princess S not to cry.

And so she didn't.  She remembered her mother, the Queen, growing sadder and sadder and eating junk food.  And Princess S began to eat, too; she began stuff food into her empty place, trying to keep the sadness and grief and fear from bubbling up and overwhelming her.

The months passed, and life went on.  And the King began to court Lady M, who soon became the new queen.  Everyone thought that the kingdom would prosper with Lady M as the new queen.  The little princesses loved her, and the King loved her and she seemed to love them all with a large and welcoming heart.

But inside, that heart was black as the foulest night, and Lady M nurtured her desire to rule not just the kingdom but the entire empire with a heavy hand and iron fist.  "I AM YOUR MOTHER," she cried, "AND YOU HAD NO OTHER BEFORE ME."  Like Abraham destroying the idols, she lay waste to all memories and traces of the Queen.  Using her wiles and insidious charm, she manipulated Princess S into banishing the late Queen's mother and sister, convincing her that they did not have the best interests of the princesses at heart, since they suspected Lady M's evil core.  She rules the kingdom with fear and withholding love, forcing the princesses to curry favor or run the risk of banishment to the coldest reaches of the castle.  Princess S and Princess A often huddled together, trying to figure out when the axe of Lady M's wrath would next fall, and on whom.  These were dark days in the kingdom.

And yet, to themselves as to all the rest of the world, it seemed a happy family.  There was laughter and there were family gatherings, school concerts and vacations and trips to the movies.  Lady M, who had been overweight much of her life, saw that Princess S was growing heavy and put her on a diet, not letting her eat the foods she loved, the foods that reminded her of her mother the Queen, and making her feel shame about her body.  But Princess S longed for Lady M's love and approval, so she followed diets, and quaked every time she had to step on a scale, since the wrong number could bring down upon her the wrath of Lady M.  When she went off to college, she was free at last to eat what she wanted, but would starve herself in the weeks before Parents' Weekend or winter break, dreading the moment of inspection when she came again into Lady M's presence.

To be continued....