Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that some people develop after seeing or living through an event that caused or threatened serious harm or death. According to the 2005 National Comorbidity Survey-Replication study, PTSD affects about 7.7 million American adults in a given year, though the disorder can develop at any age, including childhood. Symptoms include strong and unwanted memories of the event, bad dreams, emotional numbness, intense guilt or worry, angry outbursts, feeling “on edge,” and avoiding thoughts and situations that are reminders of the trauma. National Institutes of Health report: PTSDIt was my oldest daughter who insisted that I show signs of the Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. I scoffed at the idea. That's what my father has, and for good reasons. He's served in both Korea and Vietnam. I really didn't see it as being an issue in my life. Besides, don't I have enough "issues" already? Recovering from food addiction, in my experience, is quite enough to have to deal with. But after many up and downs in my recovery, I finally had to concede that maybe something is going on within my mental/emotional processing that keeps causing depression, anxiety, despair and finally, the inevitable "first bite" of food that I have for years had difficulty restraining my consumption. So, I got on my computer and did the research. Unfortunately, I didn't like what I uncovered.
Since I'm a Kaiser Permanente patient (sorry, I can't link to their site; but you can go here, here or here for more information), I went to their website, read everything I could about it, and found an self-assessment form. I filled out the assessment and looked at the scoring ranges, which was:
If your score is:
0 – 16 = No symptoms of PTSD.
17 – 20 = No to minimum symptoms of PTSD.
21 – 29 = Mild symptoms of PTSD.
30 – 49 = Moderate symptoms of PTSD.
50 – 86 = Severe symptoms of PTSD.
My score? 73. Pretty solidly PTSD. Who knew? I sure didn't.
Suddenly, the memories began rushing in, and even though I was extremely upset and sad by their appearance, I felt like I had finally found the missing puzzle pieces. I'm not "constitutionally incapable of being honest with (myself) themselves" , as the book "Alcoholic Anonymous" states. Nor am I looking for the "softer, easier way" to recover from food addiction. Just because I could have PTSD doesn't mean I expect special consideration, i.e., a "pass" on eating "weighed and measure meals with nothing in between, no flour, no sugar, and no excess portions" or using the tools of the program to get from one meal to the next. It simply means, as far as I'm concerned, I get counseling that focuses on decreasing the effects PTSD has had on my life, and especially, my recovery.
But what does PTSD look like if you aren't a military veteran who has been in combat situations? I don't know about anyone else, but mine began with a military veteran--my father, who had served in Korea and Vietnam.
I was fourteen years old in in the spring of 1972, and already in the point of absolutely no return as far as food addiction goes. At that time, I weighed anywhere between 210 to 220 pounds, and I was ashamed of my body and miserably depressed about my inability to stay on diet most of the time. One day, I sitting on my bed listening to my radio, and I heard my mother saying something to my father. As usual, I ignored them and continued gazing out of my window while listening to the music. My father appeared in the bedroom doorway and told me to turn the music down. Like most teenagers, I was annoyed with that directive, but I reached over to turn down the volume. Next thing I knew, something that felt like large rock struck the right side of my face, and I went flying backwards across my bed. Stunned, I looked up and saw my father glaring at me. He pointed a right index finger in my face and snarled, "You better move faster when I tell you something to do, you hear me?" I couldn't say anything. My throat closed up and I could feel the tears dripping off my chin. He had never, ever done anything like that before, and fortunately, he never did it again.
I don't remember much of what happened after that. I know I stayed in bed crying, and I wasn't allowed to go to school until the black eye had completely healed. Maybe my mother gave me an ice pack for my eye, maybe she didn't. Maybe she came in my bedroom and tried to explain my father's irrational explosion to me, maybe she didn't. All I know is that nothing was ever said about the incident. The message was unspoken, but clear. I was to act like it never happened and tell absolutely no one about it at school or anywhere else. And I didn't, until I wrote this blog forty years later.
Being addicted to food is catastrophic to one's physical and mental health, but over the years, I found it to be an excellent temporary balm to any emotional wound, including my father hitting me in a sudden fit of rage . The downside is, like drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling or shopping, it takes rapidly increasing amounts of the substance or behavior (for me, it was food like a double cheeseburgers with bacon, lettuce, tomatoes and onions, large fries and a large chocolate shake) to get that calming, drowsy relief from the mental and emotional storms that raged (and persist to this day) inside me. By the time I graduated from high school, I was stuffing down enough food to bring my weight up to 240 pounds. When I was an English major and a supposed to be a graduating senior at California State University at Sacramento, I weighed 265 pounds. I rarely showed up for my classes, and when I did, all I could do was either think about what (and where) I was going to eat as soon as I got out or I fantasized about having a boyfriend. My once honor roll grade point average dropped to 1.85, and I was on academic probation. So I left school, went on a starvation diet that made me drop 57 pounds in four months, found a job as a newspaper writer, AND...lo and behold, a boyfriend seemed to magically pop into my life. I thought I had found the answer to all of my problems. Lose weight, get a job and a man--life is good.
As that old saying goes, history has a way of repeating itself. In my case, I didn't see the signs or recognize the familiar patterns. Like many people who grew up in alcoholic families, I had no idea that I was repeating my past, and even if I had some inkling, I would have denied it. "I never saw my father hit my mother," I would have told a person who might have suggested that I was turning into a carbon copy of my mother. And that would have been an absolutely true statement. He didn't my mother. And he only hit me once. Yeah, it was pretty harsh; my eye closed and it was red, black and blue for almost two weeks, but so what? He never did it again, and that's all that matters. It's in the past.
Well, that boyfriend became my husband (now ex) and the father of my three children. I didn't know it back then, but he had, and still has, one the most maniac types of bi-polar disorder, a heavy addiction to cocaine, marijuana, crack and sex with numerous women, and an aversion to finding and keeping suitable employment to help his growing family. Worst of all for me, he had been severely abused by an insane, autocratic step-father. No, I didn't see it coming. Repeating the past? No way! My dad not only hit me JUST that one time, but he ALWAYS worked and provided us. How could anyone say I was repeating the past? Besides, that's all over and done. I've "moved on".
During the six and one half years we were married, he slapped me numerous times, usually because I didn't respond to him "with respect", or I wasn't "paying attention" to him. It was true; I didn't respect him, or to be even more honest, like him. Pay attention to him? Please. He was a full grown adult; his "attention time" should have happened with his mother, so as far as I was concerned, his neediness was not my problem. Our children, however, were a different story. They needed to be cared for by at least one rational thinking adult. Not only that, I had a household to run with whatever money I managed to hide from him to pay the bills. He hated holding down a job (I did that most of the time), took what little money we had and spent it on drugs and all kinds of women, then expected me to be his adoring fan, no matter what he did. I found very little to respect.
(By the way, the behavior and attitude that I've described in the previous paragraph is known as "codependency". In this excerpt from the WebMD article that I've linked to, you can read what kind of codependent I was):
Still, the codependent partner often finds some type of reward in this setup. "Probably the most significant theme is a sense of control," Bochner says. "The other person plays the out-of-control person, and so the codependent partner gets to be the person who is in control and thus respected."He says the partner who is codependent can be "the better person, the smarter person, the person who's recognized as having it all together. They're defining themselves as strong enough to deal with it when actually they need to realize that maybe they should be taking care of themselves instead of proving their strength."I won't go into detail about the physical abuse involved in that marriage because even though it has been nearly 30 years of numbing out the pain and stuffing the memories down with food, reviewing that period of my life feels very raw. But this is what happened:
1. He became angry because I had to go to a work related event, and he wanted me to stay home and cook for him. He shoved me down on the ground, grabbed the still-hot iron that I was using to iron my clothes, and held it over my face, telling me he would burn it off unless I promised to stay home.
2. After a July 4, 1981 argument, he pinned me down in the back seat of his mother's little Datsun beater, and smashed his fist into my face repeatedly. According to the x-rays, his fist came within a millimeter of crushing my temple, the doctor in ER said. He was upset and wanted me to call the police. My parents did it for me. A few days later, I entered the hospital to have reconstructive surgery on my face.
3. After another argument, he grabbed our oldest daughter, who was about 16 months old, and our son, a one month old infant, held them over the balcony of our two floor apartment and threatened to drop them. I completely broke down to the ground, crying hysterically. He told me, "You know I wasn't going to do that. You know I would never do that." He frequently said after threatening me or the children.
4. He broke down the front door after being on the run for two months with a teen-aged girl who was a foster home resident, screamed at me about how I was "keeping him away from his kids", pulled out a very long, serrated Bowie hunting knife out of his pants pocket and tried to stab me with it. I fought him off with a closet pole.
After we split up, I numbed the pain with King Henry VIII sized portions of food, and ate my way up to 400 pounds. I'm no longer anywhere close to that weight, but I've been struggling with my recovery for almost two years now. Hopefully, with therapy and support of my 12 step friends, I will be able to "trudge the Road of Happy Destiny."