Something I have noticed recently is just how much the emotional abuse I experienced from my father and brother growing up has impacted my mental health issues. While these issues have been around since I can remember, they have been especially difficult to cope with since moving in with two men recently. Although these men are generally nice, the constant flashbacks and projection have put me in extreme emotional distress.
Here are my observations:
- I cope by eating fast food. My mom, brother, and I used to get away from the negativity in our house by going on drives and ordering tons of food from McDonald’s. Having comfort food is absolutely normal. That’s why when you lose someone, whether through death or a breakup, loved ones bless you with an abundance of carbs. However, when you need comfort on a daily basis, this can be unhealthy.
- I’m afraid people, particularly men, will catch me eating. Growing up, I was seen negatively by my father for eating. Sitting at dinner, my father would look at me with his drunken, hatred filled eyes every time I took a bite of food. I remember one incident of being physically intimidated into a corner for having a piece of chocolate when I was 10 years old. We also had to lie and go to great lengths to hide any evidence that we went out to eat or else it would have caused a dispute. I still experience this startle response anytime someone finds out I’m eating, especially unhealthy food. Once I was eating Chinese takeout in my apartment. As soon as someone knocked on my door, I immediately jumped and accidentally dropped my food onto the floor. More recently, I was home alone with one of the men I recently moved in with. I was feeling down, so I went to McDonald’s. I pulled up to the house and ate in the car because I was afraid he would see me with the McDonald’s. The entire time, I was looking over my shoulder to see if he was going to come outside and yell at me.
- I binge and hoard food in my room. Because we felt like we couldn’t eat at dinner, my mother and I would binge as soon as my father left the table. I mean, we would really shove it down because we were trying to eat an entire meal in 3 minutes before he came back. I also learned to take food to my room or hide food in my room so that I could eat in case I couldn’t eat dinner.
- I feel guilty and worthless for eating. I can’t recall being called beautiful or intelligent or funny, but I can remember being called fat. When I was 8, my dad required that I bike a certain amount of miles on the stationary bike before I could have dinner. Instances like this, paired with everything else and growing up in this society, I constantly feel guilty for eating anything. My worth as a person is entirely based upon my weight, to the point where if I “feel” fat, I won’t leave the house. Unfortunately, I have learned that that feeling doesn’t go away no matter how thin I get.
- I need to make sure men are “safe” before I hang out with them. The other day, I was feeling emotional. My housemates and I were going to go to a bar. Since I don’t know the two men as well, I asked if they would judge me if I got emotional while drinking. While this seems silly, it is very important to me to have this reassurance and there are many ways I “test” men for being safe. I was not allowed to be emotional in my house when my father was around. Once I had really bad Charlie horses for the first time and cried because they hurt that bad. He told me to “shut the fuck up, it isn’t like you’re pregnant” even though I was 12 years old. When I was crying in the car as we drove to where my brother had just gotten in a serious car accident, he punched me in the back of the head and said “stop crying, pussy.”
- I get upset if I think I did something wrong. This is because I’m used to me doing something wrong triggering an angry outburst from my father. Once I dropped a jar of ketchup at a restaurant I was working at and immediately starting tearing up (as a 22 year old woman). This is because I started to panic because that is how I was conditioned to respond. I also constantly worry that people are mad at me even though I know I didn’t do anything wrong. This is because literally anything could make my father angry at anytime.
- It hurts when people only talk to me when they’re drunk or high. Growing up, my brother wanted nothing to do with me. I know his friends will say “he loved you so much,” but we lived in the same tiny house and would go months without talking to each other. I would try to start conversations with him in person and via text, but I was constantly rejected. The few times he would have a conversation with me, he was high. In particular, one time he came into the house and looked at me for a moment. He then said “shit, I just tried this new drug and I forgot what your name was.” I immediately started crying because that was the first thing he said to me in months and it reflected just how little I meant to him.
- When I’m excluded, I feel the pain of my brother’s rejection all over again. I was constantly trying to have a relationship with my brother because I loved him and I wanted that positive male influence in my life. Not only did my brother constantly choose drugs and other people over me, but so did a lot of my friends who ended up gravitating towards his crowd. It always upset me that my brother could write a birthday note for one of my old friends (who was then close to him) or buy gifts for his girlfriends, but not even acknowledge my birthday in anyway ever. All I’ve ever wanted in life is a family; a group of people I belong to who view me as important. When I try to find those groups, but am rejected or excluded, it deeply hurts and reinforces the idea that I am unlovable and unworthy of anyone’s time.
A lot of symptoms of anxiety and depression, as expressed above, are conditioned in childhood. It’s important for us to figure out what our triggers are and how we were conditioned to respond to those triggers. As I cry while writing this, I think about how I had no idea that living with two men would be this difficult. I am also hopeful that it will be a healing life experience for me.