When these women are helped with weight, their underlying issues are exposed and their lives can get very difficult.
Their size is a defence that keeps them from feeling vulnerable and sexualized, allowing them to feel safe and protected in a world where that safety was dramatically and horribly violated in in the past.
The problem that plagues them is not their weight. Rather, their weight is a solution to a deeper underlying problem, one that is much more intense and more difficult to address. It is not that they don’t know the health challenges of obesity, it is just that in choosing between two challenges, the challenges of being fat are much more managable than the challenges they feel in being vulnerable.
Is the value of my life defined by how well and precisely I have built my coping mechanisms? Is it my brilliance in growing elegant scar tissue that leaves me a wounded healer, someone who others want to help them with their own healing needs.
My mother felt abandoned and unsafe as a child. She didn’t feel attunement with her mother, did not feel seen and understood, instead sensing pressure and demands that seemed to erase and batter her.
When you enter the communities around autism today, the loudest voices will be frustrated parents who feel disconnected and betrayed by having broken kids. Their children are not what they wanted, are beyond their capabilities to understand and engage. Many times these parents look to blame for this, suggesting that vaccines or other issues are the root of their disappointment and struggle.
In the 1930s, how could my grandmother understand a child who had the kind of brain that Dr. Asperger had not yet even described? This unruly and wilful child seemed to resist even the simplest social expectations, not picking up emotional cues and basic graces. There was no context to help her, no support groups or people to blame. I understand why my grandmother got frustrated, choosing to sometimes strike out and ride street cars all day, leaving my mother to feel abandoned.
I had to do the eulogy at my grandmother’s funeral. After, my mother told me it was very nice — I had worked hard to acknowledge her flaws — but she was still furious with her mother. Seventy five years old and she had not come to peace.
My mother made us all pay for the abandonment she felt. Her demands to have us make her feel secure and happy were completely unreasonable, but that didn’t stop her from acting out, from spewing her own self pity and failure all over her family.
During the last decade of their lives I was clear that I wasn’t taking care of my mother, rather I was helping my father taking care of my mother, protecting him from being crushed by her demands as he got older and less resilient.
This was just a continuation of what I had been doing from a very young age. I wanted my parents to get help, wanted my father not to get banged up from his codependent relationship with my mother, wanted to protect my sister and give her the strength to stand up for myself.
By taking the brunt, being the target patient, I even gave my creepy brother space to get out and save himself, where he could end up with a wife who demanded he attack his birth family for not being nice enough to her.
I’m glad that my parents were taken care of, that my sister felt safe and protected, that I did the work.
It leaves me, though, to be defined by my scar tissue, by the way I compensated and defended in the world.
My solutions are my problems. The way I protected myself and those I loved are the processes that hurt me, leaving me distant from my own body, from deep intimacy and from bold strokes of creation. My hermetic solutions both produce powerful & valuable understandings and limited & crippling structures. I grew compassion & context, but never grew empowerment & confidence.
More on this tomorrow.