I've been thinking a lot over the last week about why I am the way that I am.
This food and body stuff didn't happen overnight...it never does, right?
You see...things happened to me as a child that made me feel anxious and insecure. I was thinking really hard about how this all started, and one of the events I can trace it back to was in first grade. My teacher asked me to come up in front of the class and start a record we were listening to for our phonics exercise. Yep, that was back in the days of phonics. All I had to do was put the needle on the record.
At first, I was excited that she asked me, but when I got to the record player, I was suddenly shy, nervous and intimidated...and paralyzed by fright. I stood there before it, unsure of what to do. Finally, my teacher said, "just put the needle on the record!" Her tone, as I recall, was slightly exasperated, like, "let's get this show on the road."
The kids in the class giggled and I slunk back to my desk...mortified. This gave me a feeling of failure and no faith in my ability to master unfamiliar tasks.
I can think of many more events, and quite a few of them involve my teachers in grade school. I don't know why these seemingly inconsequential events had such an impact on me... but I think it was because I really put my teachers on pedestals and I was a people-pleaser. I wanted them to see what a good girl and a good student I was. I was once publicly humilated by one of my teachers because another boy and I had traded shoes... (weird, I know) something kids did in the 5th grade to indicate they were "dating." She announced to the class that this kid and I had "officially traded shoes." The class giggled and bent down to look at my feet. For some reason, her scornfulness (and their curious attention) made me feel that I didn't deserve a boyfriend, not now...not ever.
And of course, there are the stories of my embarrassment and failure in gym class... being picked last for teams, getting weighed and being almost the fattest in the class, (over 100 lbs in 3rd or 4th grade) having boys call me a fat whale in gym class, tasting blood in my throat after doing a shuttle run...dreading the pull-up test because I knew I would not be able to hang for even 10 seconds.
Paralleling these events in grade school was my chaotic home life and my dad's alcoholism. I can remember going home at the end of the day, never knowing what I would find. This jacked my anxiety up to insane levels, and I started having panic attacks at a young age...perhaps nine or ten. I didn't want to go anywhere that was unfamiliar because it made me feel out of control. If I tried to sleep over at a friends' house, I would often have panic attacks and insist on leaving once it got dark. This alienated me even further from my peers and didn't do anything to improve my social standing. In fact, several girls "dumped" me as a friend after I wussed out at their slumber parties. I couldn't bear the thought of being in a strange house and having people "fall asleep on me." I liked to be at home where at least there were certain things I could do to master my own surroundings.
I was considering about all of this yesterday as I ran on the treadmill... and I started thinking. I had this paralyzing anxiety and insecurity as a child and teen, but when I was introduced to alcohol in 1988, I found something that put a band aid on all of it. I know this isn't going to be a shocking revelation to anyone else who drank to deal with things/feelings... but alcohol was the thing that helped me deal with all emotions...good and bad... well, essentially I mostly used it to not feel.
When I drank, I felt powerful, invincible and strong. I didn't feel insecure about my body, self-conscious or anxious. I realized with my first drink that alcohol gave me a coat of armor that nothing could penetrate. It made me oblivious to the world around me and removed my preoccupation with "self." Is anyone looking at me? Are they talking about me? What are they saying? I didn't care when I was drinking.
So, starting at the age of 15, alcohol was the tool I used to NOT FEEL...to get a brief reprieve from my constant self-examination. From that point forward, my development was arrested and I did not experience emotions fully and authentically. Chemical help enabled me to go out with people and be something I was not. I didn't have to feel uncomfortable or anxious with alcohol as my companion.
I know lots of people use drinking to loosen up at a social event, which isn't such a big deal, but I always took it to the extreme. I NEEDED alcohol to interact and talk to people. I had half a box of wine with my old boyfriend Dale before walking across the stage to receive my high school diploma, because I couldn't bear the thought of everyone looking at me and thinking "Hmmm...I think Melissa has gained weight. Is Melissa getting fatter?" As if everyone in the audience was fixated ONLY ON ME. Of course, that's crazy and paranoid, but it was how I felt.
I can remember going to a wedding of a friend when I was 19. I looked around at the reception hall of people, of girls dressed up in little cocktail dresses, and felt fat and out of place. I imagined them looking at me with scorn and evaluating me. I felt panic wash over and I knew I would not be able to talk to anyone until I had a few drinks. I went straight to the bar and ordered a beer, and stood there drinking for a half hour or so by myself until the alcohol had taken the edge off my anxiety.
Age 28, feeling fat and out of place at Charlie's Club because my drunken date John was draped across a table of women who were regarding me with reproach. I quickly excused myself for the "bathroom," went to the bar and downed two shots of Jager. That did the trick. I returned to the table, not caring what the other women had to say about me.
There are thousands more situations like this where alcohol was my helpful "aide," and I continued to use it into my late 20's... despite many consequences and problems that resulted. The funny thing that happened though, was that once I got into the later years of my drinking, alcohol no longer worked. It didn't relieve my nervousness, in fact, in made me MORE nervous, especially the next day when I was sobering up and my central nervous system was "waking up" after a night of drinking. the consequences and painful repercussions far outweighed the brief "pleasant" period. Also, I didn't have the period of calming buzz and euphoria I loved so well...I was buzzed for maybe a half hour and then went into a blackout. Buzzed to blackout.
The point of all this, in a nutshell, is that I used alcohol to NOT FEEL from age 15 to age 30. Here I am at 38, and with going on 8 years logged into recovery, I still feel like a teenager. I have a lot of trouble asserting myself, and this bothers me. I've been mulling over this for the past week. Shouldn't I be farther along by now? Shouldn't I be fixed? Why do I seem to be getting worse?
Throughout the day, things will happen... I'll be put into unpleasant situations... and my mind will scream, THIS IS WHY I DRANK. I get through it, without alcohol of course... but it doesn't seem to get easier. Or maybe it does with some things? I can finally dance sober...
Exercise definitely helps me feel strong and in control of myself, it has helped in so many ways. "Gaining control of the physical body puts you in the driver's seat of life," says the 4-Hour Body guy... and I agree. Exercise has helped me to gain mastery over many things and to see myself as capable and worthy.
(it's so funny... as I am wanting to type "exercise" I keep thinking of the world "ALCOHOL." LOL)
So what's the answer??? I don't know. Becoming aware is the first step, right? I have become aware recently that I am not as far along as I would hope to be... that I am still a people pleaser at times, I still feel socially awkward most of the time. I thought it would be getting better, but it's NOT. I thought with practice, it would come easier, but it doesn't.
Anyway, I had a great weekend...Friday night I had a few cheats (pizza, Girl Scout cookies), but Saturday morning I had a hard run and an hour of bootcamp working out with some other folks at the gym, which was great. Yesterday I had a 4.5 mile run and exercises on the bosu ball. Monday is one of my off-days for exercise.
I am going to keep thinking about this and trying to figure it out... what it comes down to is that my poor body image made alcohol the perfect solution to my problems at the time... but after many years of using it as a coping mechanism, I am still trying to put the pieces together and figure out who I am.