Childhood, Family, Sexual Abuse, Shame, United Pentecostal Church

Food, Shame, Trauma

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about the trauma I experienced as a young person. I’ve been thinking about my weight and wondering what role trauma has played in my day to day habits. Because of growing up UPC I have had to work very hard to learn to love myself. Shame was heaped on me during childhood and even now at 47 years old I still struggle to get rid of it. Much of that shame came from the church but some of it came from my parents.

As a child, I was often hungry. My mother never wanted people to know our business so I never reached out to teachers. During my elementary years I was still in public school and going home for lunch was how we hid the fact that there was nothing to put in my lunchbox. I felt shame every time I had to run home and scoop peanut butter out of the jar because that was all there was in the house to eat. I would eat it off the spoon and wash it down with some water before heading back to school. Peanuts do not agree with my stomach and I wonder if some of the stomach issues I had during childhood had something to do with this habit. Later on in middle school and early high school, we would be without electricity on and off. My mother would keep a cooler with milk and bologna in the kitchen. When I look back at photos of myself from age 12-15 I am super skinny. I’m skinny in an unhealthy way. I have to wonder why none of the adults in my life asked about whether or not I had enough to eat. I have one memory of an adult commenting to me but it was just a passing comment. She was sewing me a new school uniform for the year and she told me that I looked so thin she was afraid I would blow away if I wasn’t careful. At this point, the adults in the church knew about our money problems. If only my mother would get her heart right…

One time I dared to comment to an adult in our apartment complex that I was hungry. I was about 6 years old. This compassionate woman was our next door neighbor. She waited until my mother came home and brought us a bag of groceries. Inside was a loaf of bread and some milk, along with a few other things. My mother was VERY embarrassed and really angry with me for saying anything. I never did that again. The last thing I wanted to do was to make my mother angry. She would not only spank me but she would threaten me with hell for not being obedient.

The start of the time when I was the thinnest was right when Steve Dahl was molesting me. It is hard to know for sure what role his actions played but I have my suspicions. I have a clear as day memory of him telling me the only thing he would change about my body was my tiny tummy bump. My stomach wasn’t flat, it has never been flat even when I was a size 3. As I write this my tears are overwhelming me. I have never cried about this before, maybe I have unlocked something? One of the reasons┬áthat spending time with Steve was so alluring is because he fed me. He took me out for ice cream but also for real food if I was spending the day with him. My mother rarely had the money for that, but it was something my dad would do with me. My father being in and out of my life would make a big show of treating me when he was trying to make amends for being absent. Steve was in many ways a substitute father. Food was definitely part of the grooming process.

While at the Christian school I barely ate anything. I never ate breakfast and I would usually bring an apple or banana for lunch. I would save any change I found for the soda machine. I could get a soda for 25 cents. No one ever asked why I did not eat, in fact, no one really ever asked how I was doing. Right now I am talking about the adults, I’m sure that my friends commented but I’m also sure I just brushed it off. Once I reached about age 14 I started to make babysitting money. I would use this money to buy clothes (not food) because Sunday church was such a fashion show and I was already one of the poor kids. I just wanted to fit in. When I was old enough to work I got a job at a steakhouse and then I was never hungry. I was given one free meal per shift and I had money to buy food for when I was not working. I worked as often as I could. I would often pay for my friends and me to grab a slice of pizza or some other fast food, I liked being able to treat them.

I left the church at 16 years old and launched into adulthood. I had my first apartment at 17 and I was married at 19. In my early to mid 20’s I started to gain weight. Some of it may have to do with the damage done to my body during childhood. It seemed that I gained really easily and if I ate what “normal” people ate I would balloon up. For years this tortured me. My first husband mocked me and made fun of my body, which I’m sure you can guess did not help. I could not figure out what was going on and all the doctors would say to me is to eat less, exercise more. I did that. When I wasn’t pregnant or nursing I ate very little and worked out whenever the kids were not awake. It did not make a difference.

Thankfully around 1998, I discovered feminism! It has taken me years to learn to love myself and let go of shame. I have been working on being more healthy overall. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. Balance is very important to me. I have discovered that I am an athlete. Being a plus size woman can make that hard, but I love being athletic so much and I have not let my weight stop me. That being said I am not perfect. I try hard to eat healthily and I try to love myself even when I don’t see the scale move, even if the scale never moves. During my long struggle with my body, it has never really occurred to me until now that maybe some of my childhood trauma has affected my body. One thing about writing is that it brings things to the surface that you might never notice otherwise.

I know that the lifelong insomnia that I suffer from is at least in part caused by being afraid of missing the rapture. I’m hypervigilant even though I no longer believe that doctrine. As a kid, I would lay awake worried about the rapture and I would often be awakened by nightmares about it. I’m sure I have sexual abuse trauma hiding out in my body. Little by little as I bring my trauma out into the light I hope that some of that trauma can be released. I wonder how many of us within the #churchtoo movement suffer from the same physical issues.

I hope you can excuse this long rambly post. I knew what I wanted to write about today but I wasn’t sure how it was going to come out. Much of this I am still unwinding and trying to make sense of it all. To all those out there who feel I should just let it go, get over it, and move on, I wish it was that easy. I am the walking wounded, working to heal a little more each day.