October 24th, 2003

kitchen trauma

Response to food saga conversation moved to full entry for length reasons.

I'm really glad last night was good. Everyone does need the good days too.

Woo hoo! Two in a row. We even made progress on our wills that we need to do before taking a big trip to Thailand.

It seemed like the only way through (badly overlapping issues between spouses) was for everyone to work on their own issues while being as respectful as possible, so that someone could finally flex. Or some new third party solution be found.

This is something I struggle with finding any successful positive way to initiate. Tantrums work to get them both to self evaluate, but not a lot else that I've tried. I hoped counseling would help with it. It did for a while with Joel because she could push on things and get him to be more aware of such issues. Deb hasn't mostly seemed to want to go to the counselor lately, saying she has nothing to talk about that she doesn't already know the problem or solution to, or that any progress can be made on. So she hasn't been there for Debann to lean on most of the time about stuff I talk about and neither of them made another appointment after our last one.

This is sort of frustrating because it feels like it's my job to fix thing again, just in a different aspect of the overall picture, even though I don't think that is a conscious decision on their part so much as either avoiding their own issues or scheduling stuff or whatever, but it does sort of send the message "it's up to you to fix it all" even if that's not what they're trying for.

But I also hope for you that you find a way to come to terms with food, because it was the abuse that was so wrong and not the cooking for yourself; self care is so huge. But I am not implying to just get over it; it simply doesn't work that way, and your worth as a human being is not tied to whether you can ever enter a kitchen again or not.

It just sucked any joy out of it that I might have felt. Nothing could ever be complimented unconditionally at our house growing up. If I dared to be proud of something, she was almost guaranteed to hate it. I was on food detail with no option to bail, but that didn't mean that everything I did wasn't critiqued badly. When I moved out of my mother's house, I would not cook for myself. I ate out, usually fast food, or I ate stuff that came out of a box and went straight into the microwave.

I would not eat with most other people because my mother had watched us eat and criticized us, our portions, anything on the subject she could latch onto, while always taking the biggest portion or the most perfectly done item for herself. She went on screaming tirades about food and threatened all of us when something vanished that she had plans for, to the point that she was constantly telling us she was going to put a lock on the fridge and that we were all ungrateful pigs, etc, but there was no way to determine if food was in the kitchen because she planned something specific for it. She would dig through thee trash looking for things to berate us about having consumed to the point that we learned to ferret away trash secretively so that either she wouldn't find it, or by the time she did, there would be no way to trace who had done it because she generally couldn't convince herself toward physical abuse if she couldn't figure out the specific target, so she just tore all of us apart emotionally. If you woke her up to ask her if you could eat something, she would beat you for waking her up.

Food was constantly going bad at her house. She would lose chickens brought home from the grocery store on the kitchen floor and then not throw them away when she found them a day later. The fridge was full of mold. She couldn't throw anything away, so she was constantly insisting on using stale, freezer burnt nuts in stuff, as an example. They had a full sized basement freezer that would fail sometimes and she wouldn't throw the food out, she would just spend a lot of time sniffing things trying to guess if it might make everyone ill. She never cleaned the thing out. There was food in there that was well over 10 years old, but she would still try to use it. I got to the point that I couldn't put something in my mouth without analyzing it so closely in fear of something that would make me ill or gross me out, that I could barely eat anything without gagging myself in over-analysis.

When I had to cook for everyone I rarely got to decide what to make for dinner when she would be around to eat it too. Lunch, at least, I usually got to decide what to do. But for dinner, she would make me cook elaborate projects of things I couldn't stand in the first place, usually doing just enough or supervising while I did just enough to throw it in the pan and then leaving me with it while she went back to bed, so I couldn't even get away with throwing away things that frightened me.

She had absolutely zero sympathy for three children who wanted snacks between meals. As an example, I loved canned mandarin oranges. They were a pretty healthy snack all told, and damn cheap. But she absolutely refused to even consider the idea that she should buy some and designate them okay for snacking, choosing instead of buy them for some project she never felt emotionally up to, leaving them on the shelf, and then if I got fed up with nothing else available that wasn't frightening or moldy, I would eat a can of them. Suddenly, despite the can having sat on the shelf for six months, she was now absolutely furious that it had been consumed because it was supposed to have been part of dinner that very night.

Cooking in her kitchen was a terrifying nightmare. Every surface was at maximum slope. Adding anything to it caused everything to migrate toward the layer on the floor. When counter space was no longer available, she would pull out the kitchen drawers so that the shit on the counters could overflow to the drawers rather than sliding to the floor. Eventually this would cause the track on the drawers to break due to weight, and so then she would open the cabinet doors underneath the drawers, leaving them at a diagonal as a support for the shit piled high on the counters and drawers. The very fact that she could lose items regularly on the kitchen floor that she'd brought home from the store should give you some idea. The table was equally a disaster. The pantry doors no longer closed because there was so much stuff no one would eat oozing outward from them. There were moths in most of the dried goods so any cereal over a few days old was something most of us wouldn't eat. But she wouldn't throw it away for any reason or let us do so most of the time.

She decided at some point that she wanted a compost heap in the back yard, but she was too lazy to carry the stuff out the on her own, so she would accumulate rotting food in Fresh Start laundry soap buckets in the kitchen sink until they were moldy and liquefying with flies and fruit flies everywhere, and then at some point she would throw a screaming tantrum and make someone take it outside for her. The flies were such a problem, that rather than changing her behavior about dishes, scraps, composting food, etc, she just put a giant back yard bug zapper light in the other sink, plugged in, which meant that sink access was totally impossible to arrange without wanting to hurl or kill someone while trying to cook.

This eventuality had been a pyrric victory on my part. She used to force me to stay downstairs alone and wash all the dishes at night, too, saying that my sisters were too little and she was too tired from cooking (a myth she perpetuated to my father, that she was somehow the hard working wife who slaved over the stove, when in fact she was usually in bed and I was left with the task and emotionally shredded if I failed in any way). She didn't care that I was afraid of being alone in parts of the house because of weird lighting phenomenons and being a child. At some point I finally just decided that I had had all of the dishes I was ever going to do, even if she killed me over it. So I just stopped and let her scream and beat me for a while. Eventually it just devolved to her making someone else do them now and then, or her doing them when we were all late and headed out the door to something as an illustration to us that she could make us wait indefinitely for her, because she was the most important thing in the universe, and that we would be punished if we said ANYTHING at all on the subject that might even be misconstrued as criticism. And she did it to illustrate to us how totally overwhelmed and over worked she was and how utterly ungrateful all of us were that we made her have so very much to do that she could not even get out the door on time to anything, never mind the fact that she slept at least half the normal day every day when there wasn't anywhere we immediately had to be.

She was also terminally unhappy with her own weight and constantly forced whatever fad diet she was on, on the rest of us, telling us how fat we were, how important it was, critiquing everything that we put into our mouths in her site, gloating if she’d lost a pound more than we had, constantly hounding us to find out how much weight we’d lost, to compare waistlines, etc. If you didn’t seem to take the need to diet seriously, it would become her all encompassing single minded task to hound you until she wore you down and convinced you to at least pretend to be on her diet and to care, all of it done “for your own good” so that she need not have any qualms about her methods. To this day, every time we see each other in person and sometimes on the telephone as well, she tells me all about my weight, how sad it is, and whatever absurd thing she is trying this week to lose weight herself that she is sure would help me.

With all of this combination of nightmares, it was six months after I moved out before I could cook pasta and sauce from a jar without standing over it resenting it. It was at least another year before I tried to bake something or do a creative new project that I hadn’t tried before, which had been something I loved as a small child, to do with my mother, before she checked out on all of us. I still have trouble with eating things that are of indeterminate age without making myself sick. Leftovers that are in the fridge for more than two days are almost always going to be thrown out before I eat them. If I know it has been in the freezer longer than six months, I get really wary. Freezer burn is enough to make me lose my appetite for several hours. I still have trouble with people watching me while I eat, or feeling like someone is being made to cook for me when they aren’t interested in eating the results themselves.

The willingness to do some of those things has gotten more frequent over time and I’ve returned to some pleasure at big new projects in some culture I have never tried before. I’m proud of big holiday meals that I mostly end up selecting recipes for and doing a majority of the cooking and prep work for, again. I can sometimes talk myself into doing a big project with freezing some as the intent without despair at this point, but it’s been a long road that is no where near its end. I do not know if I will ever again be able to find joy in daily cooking. Only time will tell.

(no subject)

Deb and I talked last night about my entry in which I said that things had been dramatically better the night before. She had said that she appreciated me mentioning that she had pulled the evening together. She appended this, carefully, with the statement that saying "you did great! Now let's see if it lasts..." was totally something her father did instead of ever giving a simple compliment, thus undermining any compliment he might make before you could enjoy it. We talked some about the fact that there was a difference between saying something TO someone, and sharing your own fears in a public place where they have the opportunity to read about them, and that while it had, in a way, been a compliment it was not written as one to her rather than descriptive of my emotional state at the time. It was written as relief and my emotional expression of my current feelings. She understood that to be the case but was also hinting (if saying "I know I'm needing a ridiculous amount of aknowledgement on the subject, but..." can be called a "hint") that she would really like a compliment TO her instead of accidentally about her with other fears attached. So here it is:

Thank you, Deb, for busting your ass to change things. I am finding hope again and you deserve credit for making most of that possible. Conversation even seems like it was more balanced which probably means that you and Joel both deserve some kudos for woking on that piece, and I did notice and appreciate it immensely. I believe in you and I love you.

(no subject)

How do you establish if someone is abusive or dangerous to you? I know that seems like it ought to be a straight foward thing to answer. If you ask them to stop and they don't, for example. But what if the intimidation is more subtle and it is hard to establish an objective evaluation of whether it actually exists or only appears to exist out of residual fear?

I don't spend my life assuming that people wake up and decide to be evil or a bitch today. Generally they have their reasons for whatever ass backward thing they do, even if I don't agree with the reasoning or the result. But sometimes the reason doesn't matter so much as the affect their choices have on other people, especially if they are made aware and either don't change, or only pretend to have changed. But see, the other side of that coin is paranoia. Who is to say that they really haven't changed when you're looking for signs that they haven't, no real truce has been offered directly, and thus you're seeing things that might not even be there?

If person A decides that you are bad for someone they love (person B), and thus hostility and distance creep into a situation where there should at least be friendliness, to the point that it is necessary for person B to lay down the law and say it is not acceptable to treat the person they also care for in return (person C) in the hostile fashion they have adopted, it could be said that person A had not been called on their behavior before that point and thus there was a misunderstanding based on them wanting what is best for person B. But then, what if person A seems, to person C to be barely hiding their real feelings about person C from that point forward, offering very little real attempt to bridge the gap (even though person C has not trusted them enough going forward to work much for a bridge, either), and they seem to lie in wait for some opportunity where the tide might shift and their opinion will be allowed to triumph? Person A is not actively doing anything so much as not doing things that would seem appropriate to any given situation were there real friendship or forgiveness between persons A and C, in person C's perception. It could be that person A just doesn't know where to start to bridge the gap. But assuming this could also be dangerous to person C when there has not even ever been an apology offered for the previous negative behavior. It could be that person C is right and person A would relish the opportunity to trash person C openly and loudly with a triumphant "I told you so!" should the tide of person B's feelings ever change. But it could just be that both parties suck at bridges and the circumstances have lead to a strange and akward situation.

Generally in my history, I have decided that person A was not worth my time or emotions if I was person C, and I've done everything I could to avoid their very existance because I do not trust them, but in this instance, person B cares about both parties a great deal and wants to believe that person A has now changed and feels that person C is seeming sort of extreme for feeling like person A should be deliberately excluded from knowledge of vulnerable topics to person C out of self protection, when person B wants very much to talk to person A about those details. It is further compounded by person C having observed person A pushing very hard to destroy person D's relationships even after person A has been told to back off, and person A's methods have just gotten more subtle in their attempts to cause failure to person D's relationships, which has been admitted by person A to persons B and C behind person D's back. Thus person C knows person A is capable of that and doesn't like person B going to person A to talk about or ask for advice about anything relevant to person C.

Is person A abusive? This is impossible to answer objectively. Is it fair for person B to talk to person A about person C or person C to ask person B not to talk to person A?