My World in Younger Years

I spent a great deal of time as a younger person wrapped up in the above three subjects. Pages of my journals are filled with wrestling with my instincts to plunge ahead in relationships I knew were bad for me; eat ice cream or cookies that not only hurt my stomach, but brought havoc to my digestive tract; and spend money on items I didn’t need at all while going into debt for ridiculous purchases.

In my late 40s, I went for a two-hour session with an older woman therapist who dealt specifically with addictive behavior. I had met her at a seminar about gestalting dreams, which was interesting. She was a powerful person. I could feel that immediately and although I couldn’t gestalt a dream that well, I admired the way she handled the problems arising in the group as people got in touch with feelings that moved them to tears.

My dream concerned a difficult relationship I was trying to end. The dream involved a yellow moving van that was covered with the sticky stuff from a spider web. The man I was trying to free myself from was in the dream as well and he wore yellow. Each part of the dream was dissected. Obviously, I was ready to move that yellow van leaving that sticky mess behind.

Because I admired her, I managed to find a moment alone and talk to her about setting up this session. She was a tough, straight forward woman and I knew she would pull no punches. We covered what I saw as my problems, namely, my bad choices in relationships, my spending habits, and my horrible eating problems. Two hours later, I walked from her office wiped out.

My problems were the result of my growing up with an alcoholic father and a passive aggressive mother, who hid behind me and cried while I got beat up. Mom chose to stay in a relationship that was horrendous and had left my sister and I scarred emotionally with problems that couldn’t be resolved easily or in a brief period of time.

She suggested for starters I joined Debtors Anonymous. I did what she said and I went to these meetings for four years working the steps the program has, which is set up like Alcoholic Anonymous. Being in debt was a natural thing for me and admitting every week that I had used credit cards which had a powerful hold on me was embarrassing. I dreaded those meetings for a long, long time. It took me time to get control of my life financially. I have slips now and again, but I am incredibly aware of it and I asked myself what is going on now to act out in this way?

Relationship issues went on for a while, but I had a good male therapist for two years. He helped me see I could learn to give myself comfort and be okay with being by myself. I think this was the hardest thing I had to learn. My anxiety attacks were more frequent during this period. He was a cognitive therapist and I used the techniques he taught me of writing down my level of anxiety when the panic attacks struck. At first, I saw this as ridiculous. I was having difficulty breathing when these attacks occurred, and I had to take out a piece of paper and fill out a form saying at what level of anxiety I was. I would check off a 10. Then five minutes later, how would I feel then and I would put an 8. He said writing breaks the pattern of the brain waves and the panic attack starts to diminish. I learned how to sit with it and write down my thoughts during this time. I also learned how to plan my weekends so whether I was alone or not, I would look at my written plan for the weekend and know I could be okay by myself.

Growing up in a home with no structure, no feeling of safety anywhere can cause panic attacks occurring when you least expect them. I used relationships to avoid having to deal with being alone.

The food issues were a different type of problem. Food is supposed to represent comfort. The foods I chose were sugar based. I grew up in a household where the kitchen was the scene of terrible arguments. Meal time was the worst of the worst. We didn’t have cookies, cakes, pies growing up. Nothing like that. My mother cooked the same foods on the same days so Monday might always be hamburger; Tuesday hotdogs, etc. I never liked meat all that much so I could eat a comforting food for me — Cheerios. I ate that about five nights a week. Dad cooked when Mom had to work and it was grease filled and I avoided that as well. When I ate that cereal, I threw in about five tablespoons of sugar!

I used to say as soon as I move out of here, I am buying the foods I want and for me it was cookies, cakes and pies, but especially ice cream. Fortunately, I am also by nature restless and move a great deal. I grew up without a car and I never learned to drive until I was 27 when my ex-husband insisted I learn to drive. He taught me to drive in two weeks using Rock Creek Park in DC to learn to park and driving in the streets of the city. My first drivers license was from DC. I had three small accidents within a six-week period. It never occurred to me that I would be able to drive. I saw driving as something other people did, not me. Now I love driving more than almost everything else.

So now I could drive, but I always hiked five miles every day pushing a baby carriage when I had only one small child. Being married, I had to learn to cook since in those days, women cooked the meals in the household. I did this because I was expected to cook, but I never enjoyed it. Food to me was basically uninteresting if it were not loaded with sugar. On the other hand, I loved reading cookbooks and would cut out all these recipes to try in the future.

My eating habits now are dull. I eat fruit for breakfast; salad for lunch, and turkey and cheese for dinner. I also must have pretzels and six gingersnaps at night as my treat. I purposely prefer dull foods because I know I will have my sugar in some form or another later in the day.

My problems aren’t solved, but they don’t have the hold on me that they used to have. It took hard work both in therapy, and in pushing myself to do social things that terrified me years ago. Now they call this social anxiety. People that know me now would never believe how scared I was as a young person to just go out to dinner. I felt I didn’t know the rules of life. All I had was this desire to learn more about everything. Although I still feel like I march to my own drummer, I do not care as much about it. My drummer has helped me on my road to expanding my universe.

At almost 76, I still feel I want to grow as a person. I don’t even know what I don’t know. It makes life quite interesting. Learning all the things I need inside of me will keep me going a long, long time.

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