I have found transparency and vulnerability to be such gifts. It’s terrifying, the idea of opening up and letting anyone take a look at your insides, at all the ways you fit into yourself. Pointing a flashlight at all the cobwebs, in all the dusty corners. All the things that you’ve tried to clean up but no matter how hard you work at them they just won’t go away. It’s a huge blessing to find release in art because it gives you ways to be okay with all that you are. You get to learn that it’s not so much about cleaning up all that mess but opening doorways and windows to let more light in, to shine some clarity in the space and see that… it’s not really not that bad. It’s livable, and that’s a fact that you become surprised to learn even though this whole time you HAVE been living in it. Through honesty in art you get to learn that the things you used to be so scared and ashamed of are actually structures that shape you into who you are. And while some things DO need to be cleaned up and taken away, most of it can stay and you become grateful for them.
I want to share on some of my experiences with food, my mother, and the way they affected me as I grew up.
As I have shared in one of my other posts, there was never a time that I didn’t know that the way I looked was a disappointment to my parents.
I think back to pictures of me stuck in old brown photo albums. I have ALWAYS been cute as hell. At every stage of my life I have had large, innocent eyes above smooth chubby cheeks. A lot of the time they were raised by a sunny smile, either before or after cracking some dumb joke. I remember being a Force in school in Rwanda… frequently getting in trouble for talking in class, laughing too loud, distracting other students with my antics. I would challenge boys I liked to races I knew I would lose, but wanting that rush anyway. At home I invented games for my little siblings and I to play, games that had us shaking the house with our energy and driving our nanny wild.
Things changed a lot with we came to America. All of a sudden we went from being an affluent, high middle class family with a nanny, driver, and servants, to drowning in poverty. My parents- my incredibly intelligent parents that had Masters Degrees in their fields, obtained in a foreign language-had to get jobs working nights at Burger King. We went from a large gated house to a tiny apartment, a stint in a family homeless shelter, to a small section8 house. People from churches delivered secondhand clothes to us and boxes of non-perishables from food pantries. In that time I stepped into the role of an assistant parent, and nearly all of my energy was turned towards taking care of the house and my siblings. Most of the cleaning and laundry chores fell to me. I wasn’t a proficient cook yet but in time I learned to be. I came to loathe Saturday mornings because instead of getting to sleep in after a hard week at school, my mom woke us all up to clean and berate us into working harder than we were able to. I ironed the entire contents of my father’s side of the closet weekly, identical work shirts and dark slacks with sharp creases.
And I gained weight. Those years between the ages of 12 to 17, when I left home, are when my obsession with food fully solidified itself in me. I couldn’t help it. Even the constant threat of physical pain couldn’t stop me from binging whenever I could. When we lived in Rwanda the worst my mother could do was to be mean about it. She would be scornful, she would glare, and she would ridicule me over my body. She would smack my hand when I reached for a second piece of candy or treat at a party, but I knew I could run off and have fun somewhere else.
Being poor and out of our element in this country brought out the worst in all of us. I retreated within and became a shy, stuttering shadow. My father found it easy to be absent, to be gone for hours and come in long enough to eat dinner and pay a little attention to us kids. He would do what was needed, what my mother saved for him. He would eat dinner alone while we sat near him so he could scold us over our behavior or bad grades and tell us to listen to our mother. If nothing was wrong he might play cards or watch a movie with us, getting up often to refill his glass of Jim Beam and ice.
And my mother became a monster. I know now that she didn’t set out to be that way. But over time her struggles, personal failures and crushed hopes turned her into another person. I still have nightmares sometimes in which I am young and under her care again. Those dreams are slow and yet really clear, all my choices taken away and my voice gone.
My mother is someone that was geared for success in every way possible, and when she didn’t get it the ways she expected to she clamped down on the things she felt she could control. With me it was food. She would count bread slices at random times to see if I had snuck any, and I could expect a certain amount of beatings correlating with the numbers she found. At meal times with the entire family and sometimes guests she would say my name warningly or even snatch platters of food away from me. She would openly discuss my body and weight and expect others around to throw their comments in. She made it a point to fill up my brothers’ and father’s plates with food while glaring at me to make sure I didn’t take too much. When my sister grew to a certain age she started in on her too.
I learned to steal food as much as I could. I learned to think of it as “stealing” food, the food that was in the house where I lived. I would make peanut butter and banana sandwiches while my mother was in the shower and wouldn’t hear the crinkling of the bread bags; it was safest to grab slices from the bag she hadn’t opened yet, and to take them from the middle. I would stuff snack bars in my bra and head to the bathroom with a book. When sweating over the stove I would cut pieces off meat that was still cooking and stuff into a napkin so I could eat it later in bed, with no one around to make comments or slap it out of my hand.
I thought my mother hated me. Nearly every action or word of hers seemed to do with weight and how to lose it. She would constantly talk about other teenagers and their bodies and whether they exercised or were just lucky like that. She told me over and over that *everyone* thought I was disgustingly fat and near a morbid death, that her and my dad were the only ones that cared enough to tell me so to my face; and yet as I got older and tried to articulate to her that she sometimes hurt my feelings she would scoff and tell me that I shouldn’t listen to anyone’s opinion of me. It was very confusing and to this day I still suffer from a deep anxiety that won’t let me be 100% sure if the reality in my head matches that of everyone else’s around me.
Sometimes I think that I should be “better”, that I’ve somehow failed to reach a level of normality that most people my age have. But when I take the time to connect within and write down my experiences I am taken to a place of such gratitude because OH MY GOD. I have come from such darkness and pain and really messed up mental states. I still have really bad days that sometimes stretch into bad weeks. But throughout any of these bad times or panic attacks I get to be comforted by the fact that I do not live in a trapped space!! My mother remains in that trap, has lived in it nearly all her life, and taught me about the world from that place. She gave me the tools she thought would help me the best. She had no way of understanding how hurtful they were because they are the same ones she used for herself. I do not blame her or hold any anger towards her at this point.
I’ve seen quite a few instagram pictures and facebook posts about the concept ancestral healing. I love the idea that the healing I manifest for myself will rise out of the current flow of time and will serve to heal generations behind me, and generations forward. It’s out of my hands, in the control of a higher universal love and it really helps release pressure off of me. I am so grateful all I have to do is work on healing ME, in the ways that empower ME the most.