Tuesday, January 06, 2009

My Best Life

Yesterday I made it a point to watch Oprah and the special about her weight and her plan to get back on track. I still have 20+ post-partum pounds to lose, and am feeling unmotivated, frustrated, and generally annoyed with the whole idea that I'm supposed to kill myself re-shaping a body that is never going to look anything like it did two kids ago. I was looking for an ah-ha moment.

Oprah has always claimed to have a food addiction, but she added to that yesterday, saying that she wrongly filled her life with food, instead of joy. That happiness was lacking from her life. And there it was.

When I was two, my father left my mom and I. I remember it vividly. I also remember all the times leading up to it, when my parents were fighting. I lived through my mom's subsequent divorce, bankruptcy, and the stigma of having divorced parents. I coped with being an only child, an only grandchild, an only niece--being the lone child in any gathering of adults. I dealt with my mother's long series of boyfriends. The ones who touched me inappropriately. The ones who paraded naked in front of me. The ones who flattered me and fawned on me. The ones who called me stupid and said "Get the kid out of here." I spent Kindergarten reading books to my classmates, bored out of my mind. And elementary school in a private school where I was economically and socially disadvantaged. I always felt awkward and overly formal around my peers. Always had trouble making friends. Never truly felt like I belonged with anyone.

I strongly feel that children carry love and joy in their hearts, and can eek it out to last a lifetime. But deprive a child of love and joy when they are very small, and they will have to subsist on strength and will alone.

I was not a happy child. And my mother was not a happy mother and had nothing to give me. I did not grow up happy and joyful. I grew up strong, determined, and emotionally ambivalent. Few friends. Solitary pastimes. A closeknit family where I always felt out of place. An outsider to my own life. Christmases were horrible. Six adult family members sucking from me any pleasure I might have experienced. They were like vultures feeding off my happiness, expecting an enraptured display of joy after each present was opened. Only if I poured my happiness out of me and into them were they satisfied. I was allowed to keep none of it for myself.

And so I turned to food. Food was my joyful mother, pouring thick gravies down my throat and filling my belly with warm bread smiles. Name a date. I will tell you about the food. My mind records the happy flavors of every event. Not the people. Not the conversations. Only the food.

And I also turned to writing. The act of writing was a way to harness all that negativity and get it out of my system. I learned how to write humor, and often reflected on the absurdities and tragi-comedies of life. You will notice though, that my characters are never happy. There are no happy endings. Things just go on. I don't understand happily-ever-after.

Partly that is because I do not experience passion. Emotional ambivalence again. I don't think I know how to feel strongly about anything. I feel like I am powerless to hold on to my own emotions. Whenever I feel something, I never feel entitled to it, as if it is someone else's.

I am passionate about nothing. And this bothers me. I have friends who are passionate about everything and I just marvel at them. How do they do it? I could very easily walk away from my life and start over a thousand times, always in search of more happy.

I had thought that being married would do the trick. But I haven't become a happier person. I thought having children would bring me joy. Not really. I love Tom. I love Sam and John. I fiercely protect them and want to share my life with them, which is about as passionate as I get about anything. But they do not make me deleriously happy, and from my experiences as a child, I know it's dangerous to ask them to try. You would think that writing would make me happy, and finishing a novel wouldfill me with pure unadulterated joy, but it felt more like a compulsion to be perfectly honest.

Obviously, things need to change. I can't keep depending on food to feel happy. And I also can't remain in this extended state of ambivalence, either. It effects every aspect of my life, and especially my writing. My writing will be better if I tell stories for the joy of it. And give my characters the happy endings they deserve.

I need to get out there and find the things that bring me joy. I need to know what "happy" feels like.

Tom and I have been discussing all of this lately. None of us is doing well with the "happy" concept right now, and have discussed making a lifestyle change or two. More on that later. In the meantime, I am going to take a break from writing until February, and spend the next month in search of some joy.

3 comments:

  1. Kristine2:59 PM

    I commend you for being so brave and honest about your feelings and your past. I also watched Oprah's show yesterday because as you, I can't seem to lose those last 20 pounds and was looking for some inspiration.

    I've always used food as a form of comfort and a coping mechanism, which has meant that I am always battling my weight. And I know a big reason why I became a writer is because I am an only child and grew up in an environment of mainly adults. I created stories and fictional "friends" because I didn't seem to fit in doing anything else. I still feel that way.

    I truly hope you can find the joy you deserve and are looking for in 2009.

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  2. Brittany, you have no idea how much I could relate to your post. I grew up in a toxically dysfunctional "enmeshed" family, everyone's identities so much a part of the others' that I, too, now have trouble feeling passion. Feelings were threats, as was childhood itself. I don't talk to my parents much anymore.

    2008 represented a huge change for me, one that was a long time in coming. Neither marriage nor kids had inspired me either - husband and I are best friends but not "lovers," you know, like in the movies - and the most jazzed I ever got was when I was working on an article with sources who clearly loved what they were doing.

    And this past year, when I actually made friends with one of them - well that kind of snowballed and I did find passion to some degree. Still not the joie de vivre that makes me loooooove every moment with the boys, or "live in the present" like everyone says you have to, but I feel more fulfilled now.

    Best I can say is leave yourself open to opportunity. If something feels right, even if you don't know why, grab it and hold onto it and see where it leads you. And even though I'm a sucky friend who didn't visit you this past holiday, please PLEASE let me know if I can help you in any way. OK?

    (((HUGS)))

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  3. brittany, you are very brave to have written this and i thank you for doing so. i think many writers become so because our perspective on growing up is a bit skewed from dysfunction. i think we write to find our place, fit ourselves in, examine how people fit together, etc.

    i can also tell you that the ambivalence you feel at the moment, home with 2 young kids, will pass, too, and i've seen you enjoy the bright spots of it and them, too. take the doot story. you revelled in it in writing about it, that is a joy right there. oprah also said on that show that happiness is not an achieved and kept state. it's recognizing the moments when they occur. in it, carni wilson even said she is often afraid of recognizing them for fear they will be over when she does look at them.

    this is something i used to wrestle with constantly. and now, with a teen who likes to appear ambivalent whether he really is or not because of his parents' divorce starting around age 6, a 10 yr old with autism who sturggles against the world a lot, and a husband who tends toward the negative first before he realizes that's not the only perspective b/c i remind him, i get really weighed down with being the cheerleader, when i feel similarly myself.

    however, there is something i have discovered, after 40, mostly, that i have many moments of happiness each day, if i stop and look at them. my baby's smile, the taste of something delicious - carrot or cake - the stars in the night sky, s's goofiness when he's being funny, whatever it is, if i stop and breathe it in, it's a beautiful thing.

    the reason it's cliche is it's true: happiness is fleeting, life is fleeting, but if we take that moment and appreciate it for all it's worth, what a boon!

    and i still have that 20lbs, too, and i'm a few months out in front of you! it may not be the dysfunction of food, after all, it just may be more the fact that you had 2 wonderful little boys pretty well back to back and in your 30s. give yourself a little forgiveness on that, and a little time. as a breastfeeding mom, give yourself at least a year before you beat yourself up over weight. you are perfectly normal.

    i feel like when you came back from your writer's conference, you were in an ecstatic state. that's how it felt reading what you wrote about all the good that came from it. your feelings then were contagious, and i was excited for you. we all still are. you're in a transitional state with your writing that is largely out of your control as you send the finished book out to agents and publishers. you are a mama bird, pushing your baby out of the nest. it's scary! no wonder you are feeling ambivalent! this too shall pass. and when it's accepted, and published, and you get that first sales check, oh boy, i want to be with you to celebrate it!

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