Be warned. This is a personal, self-psychologizing essay. Yesterday in a discussion about saving money and our budget, we segued into talking about the hole in me that I’m trying to fill with food and with buying things. I eat to ease my pain – literally and figuratively. When I hurt I eat and my pain is less. When I am upset, I eat, I calm down. When I have been through or in the process of going through something very stressful, I wind down with shopping. When I lived among good thrift shops, I spent hours there – until my feet and legs hurt, trying to distance myself from whatever was stressing me. And, it worked.
So, I know that there is a hole, and that it can be temporarily filled with food, clothes, bright colored junk, towels, etc. But, the hole consumes everything I put in and is still there.
Most spiritually astute people suggest that God could/should fill that hole. Well, I’ve been working with God for some 25 years, and the hole is still there. Fortunately, the hole has not consumed God for me; nonetheless, I keep trying to fill that hole with something.
Scientists have long known that black holes consume all matter that comes near them. But, until they began analyzing the holes, figuring out what they were, they had no idea why. So, yesterday, we began working on what the hole is in me that I keep trying to fill with food and shopping.
And, I think we’ve hit on something. (I will add here, tongue in cheek, that it’s easy to blame the dead because they can’t defend themselves, and everyone I mention here is dead.) When I was born, Mom said, I was a beautiful child and most wanted. I was loved and cherished beyond imagining, she said. But, some of my first memories are of having to sit and listen to my Dad preach/rant while he was drunk so that Mom could get things done. Inconsistency. If I am beloved child, why is Mom letting Dad abuse me verbally and emotionally? The words they spoke didn’t match their actions. I think that was the beginning of the holed.
Then, Dad went back into the Navy (had served in WW2), and our family consisted of Mom, David (my brother, 6 years older than me), and me. Suddenly all efforts were focused on David; he became the man of the house at age 13. He got to drive the tractor – never mind that it was devilishly hard work. And, he got to drive to school even though he didn’t even have a driver’s license when I had to ride the school bus. Mom and David had jokes that they didn’t share with me. If I was the beloved daughter, why was I left out? Where did I fit in the family relationship.
I was often sent to my grandmother’s, just down the road, to stay until Mom got off work. My grandmother had a hard life. My Mom had loved and discarded my Dad, the oldest son, several times before they finally married. So, my grandmother was not fond of her. And, she let me know every thing that Mom did of which she did not approve. But, I was her beloved granddaughter. Yet, I was subjected to vitriol about the Mom I loved.
We lived out in the country and did not have much contact with the social groups in town – unlike the times when Mom was growing up in an even smaller town where she was a star, a beauty and the “leader of the pack”. I had few friends and no one with whom to play. We were poor, and Mom did not want the rest of the world to know that we were poor; so we skimped on food to have me wear pretty dresses (that I hated) and be in beauty contests (which I hated even more) and be an attendant to my aunt’s Eastern Star installations (which were very uncomfortable since I knew only my aunt). Appearances were everything. Who we really were was hidden; we were ashamed of our poverty, ashamed of my Dad (the town drunk), we were ashamed of the fact that my Mom worked. But, we had to dress as well and act perfectly; so that no one would think we were poor white trash. If I was the beloved child, the smartest one in the class, then why did we have to do such uncomfortable things? Why wasn’t I good enough already?
When my brother died, Mom had no choice but to transfer the responsibility of making choices from him to me. She was incapable of making choices; she wanted someone else to choose so she wouldn’t have to blame herself. (We talked about this near the end of her life, and she pinpointed this trait.) Some choices I made were good, but something was always wrong. She was seriously ill; so I rented an apartment near the college I was attending and used the bit of inheritance from my brother to pay the rent. I got a job. Mom was getting well. Then she found a job which she held for 35 years. But, my choice of a place to live was wrong; so she moved us into the projects to save money. I gave up my job and began drinking.
The hole kept growing, and I had no way of filling it. As I grew into my 20s, I tried to fill the hole with sex. Thank God I could not have children or the tragedy would have grown. My behavior only made the hole grow bigger because people (Mom, aunt, grandmother, friends, etc.) would tell me what a wonderful person I was and then attack my lifestyle and career choices.
Until I was 50 years old, that hole kept growing. A friend named Bill and a good therapist stopped the growth of the hole. Because it was not consuming me any longer, I thought it had gone; I ignored it.
Now, I know that I still have this hole, this gap between what is said and what happens in the past, present and future. I project ways in which this hole is never filled. And, this scares me. I love my partner, and I want my words and my actions to be consistent with that love. But, I need to make the gaping hole inside me smaller in order to maintain that consistency. To do that, I need to more understanding, maybe have some ritual cleansing, maybe writing more essays, certainly awareness of times when the hole gobbles up not only food and shopping but also my love.
I need my therapist to help me do this. I need my partner as an ally. I need God to be with me. And, as I pray for my friends, I need their prayers, their love, and their guidance. Together we can make the hole in me, and the hole in others, smaller and smaller. I think that real love and real peace are connected here.