There are a multitude of foods that remind me of easier and less stressful days in my life. But there is a dark side to it all and it’s only really just become apparent what that is. My relationship with food is healthy, but for my mum it wasn’t. And all those foods I associate with all my loving and nurturing days in my childhood, were nothing but a crutch. The crutch wasn’t mine though, it was Mum’s.
My dad worked away a fair bit through my youngest years. If he wasn’t working, he was playing football, at football training or at the pub. He worked hard, left the house early and went to bed early; like most dads did and still do today. He was a pretty heavy drinker back in his day when drinking wasn’t seen as a problem, when one would get in the car and drive home more than happy. It was the normal. The done thing. We knew no better, nor did they. The drinking probably wasn’t the issue in reality, his absence more likely was. Ironic that he now owns a pub and isn’t the drinker that he once was.
Late at night, the television would glow from the dark lounge down the hall, oozing into our bedrooms. These are the earliest memories I have, of mum sitting up late on her own. I must have been four or five years old. Maybe six.
Chip packets rustled. Spoons tinged. I listened to it from my pillow down the hall.
Cruisey days at home with my two sisters, mum would beat up a batch of meringue, but it never made it to the oven; consumed straight from the bowl. I guess sharing it with us girls was her way of making it okay? The ice trays were filled with sweetened vanilla milk, not water; crushed at night she would eat it as a frozen treat while watching Prisoner or Bert Newton on the Don Lane Show. In this age and day one might identify this behaviour as binge eating, severe depression, loneliness and even a form of self harm. I wonder if she even knew that’s what it was?
Mum lived for dad. That’s the honest truth. He was all she knew, going straight from the maternal nest to a home together. They spent over 30 years as husband and wife. Thirty years of watching him be busy with work and everyone but her. That must have been hard. A conscious decision to persevere? Probably not, and more likely a continuance to contend with the huge network Dad was surrounded by. He was everyone mate. She chauffeured him round the countryside while he perhaps unknowingly played the social butterfly, and I watched it all from the backseat. Mum was a convenient non-drinker.
I know Dad loved Mum. And this blog isn’t about bashing his reputation or the reverence that people associate with my father. I just don’t think he even realised she felt the way she did and I doubt she ever told him. I certainly didn’t know it, but then, I was a small child, just watching my mum get through the days and nights with her girls.
The years of what I only presume was her loneliness, and filling it with food resulted in diabetes later on. The immediate effect was weight gain, something I never noticed as a child. Later I noticed that she hid from a camera for decades. Barely any photographs of her with us kids, or dad. No photos of her with friends, or the G Mart – her own mum. It was like she never existed. Is this how she felt? Like she didn’t exist or wasn’t worthy? Did she hate herself, or who she was?
The shame she must have lived through just tears my soul apart. I see it now, clear as day.
Later years lead to an addiction to gaming. The pokies held mums hand while dad worked and socialised. I don’t blame dad. I wasn’t there either. I had moved out of home and my sisters had their own lives too. He didn’t even know at first, no-one did and not many know now. I kind of feel bad even mentioning it, but it’s my history, and it matters that this shitty subject is transparent and human. More than a handful of people in my circle will be dealing with addiction in some form or another. You don’t have to be a bad person to get trapped, just a little ‘lost’. Dad dealt with the gaming soon enough, and the later years of their marriage right up until her death were, I believe, the happiest of their lives. They made plans, together; travel Australia, watch grand kids grow up and live those earlier missed years together. They had finally found some peace I think. Mum’s days weren’t so lonely anymore.
I was sitting up lat’ish a couple of nights ago, and I was missing Mum. I miss her every single day, but more so that day. No reason. I just did. It’s my normal now and unless you’ve lived it, you won’t understand it. Some might think I am rehashing her death, over and over, but I won’t forget the first thirty years of my life and how it has moulded me. I will talk about her, when and where I like. End of story.
I got up and cooked a small saucepan of creamed rice. Something I have not cooked or eaten in many decades. This little bowl of creamed rice was ‘mum’ in a bowl. Stupid…? Perhaps! Exactly what I needed though, and while eating a small bowl of creamed rice intentionally made with coconut water and no sugar as a healthier way to eat it, it dawned on me as I stirred the thick rice, that perhaps this is how mum endured the hours on her own?
That’s not to say I am on my own. I am far from that and this is in no way me reaching out for help or trying to say I am lonely. My hubby is fab and the boys are great but in the past few months I have watched a slow ’empty space’ creep into my life. Minutes and hours spent in my home, on my own, because children are working, at school or with mates, and my hubby is working, asleep or on his bicycle. I can clean, and I can work, I can fill it with my football obligations or watch the idiot box, but there is only so much of that you can do, right?
Is this how it starts? Filling loneliness with food? For me I don’t eat obsessively while on my own, I drink tea, or have a yoghurt, maybe a piece of fruit, maybe a couple of squares of dark chocolate, certainly nothing sinister. My choices now, even at a subconscious level are completely aware of where my mum was mentally. I’ve known all these years, without even really ‘knowing’. I am NOT where she was 4 decades ago, and I know this absolutely.
My weight yoyo’s. It has done so all of my life. I get active, I drop it. My eating is never a direct result of my size… it’s how active I am. Right now I hate my shape and size. Constantly obsessing about what I can wear. Constantly feeling too curvy. Why is this battle at such a subliminal level for me? My mental health screams at me to get on the treadmill or go to yoga, and I despise that entire thought process. Perhaps I should get on the treadmill if I feel that empty space encroaching? Is that a healthier alternative to sitting, or cleaning, football or working? I don’t want that one small bowl of creamed rice to grow into an unhealthy food relationship. And it won’t. There should be no guilt associated with food, EVER! But I felt guilty eating that one bowl of rice. That’s the crux of it. I don’t necessarily think the guilt had anything to do with what I was eating though, and I think it’s important to recognise that my ‘loneliness’ for lack of better terminology, is very, very, different to Mum’s. I am not neglected, nor am I alone. I am, in that moment, just missing her, or my kids or my hubby at any given time. That’s okay right? Allowing myself to feel and recognise that this is part of my journey and the bowl of rice was just a window!
So, from one small bowl of creamed rice you get the deep correlation to food and emotional eating. I’ve recognised that decades ago I watched it from the sidelines, unknowingly abetting her, helping her with that crutch, keeping her secret. Some of that is my guilt now, and I’ll wear it. But, I won’t allow that pattern to recur. My night owl habits of watching the telly, blogging, footy scrambling, reading and sipping tea won’t define who I am. That is ‘my time’ and I enjoy it. A wise friend of mine said to me that I “should be comfortable with my own company”… and I am, for the most part. I just don’t need hours and hours of it. It’s now time for me to manage this ‘spare’ time during the daylight hours better. Find a productive and healthy way to utilise the coming days when these alone times become longer and more frequent over weekends and afternoons.
I am okay. I am more than okay. My life is full and is loving. I am supported to the best of everyone’s ability and I have no expectations of people anymore. Just expectations of me, and that’s probably worse lol. Yes, I just used a ‘Laugh Out Loud’ in my blog. This blog is particularly raw, and a little more than confronting for me than it is for you, and it might hit a nerve or two for a few who are reading, but please don’t judge. It is what it is… the past is the past and I am still trying to nut it all out and this blog is a way for me to process shit. You are free to not read it. You may worry a little, or be angry that I haven’t ever mentioned any of this, but the honest truth is, I didn’t fucking realise until I got up and made that bowl of bloody rice. Go me!
Make sure you turn the teapot twice clockwise and once anticlockwise!