After writing the post “Deep In the Muck,” I’ve been contemplating other symptoms I manifest, which point to the same moment of childhood trauma, giving rise to the same fantasy (a desire to bridge the psychical gulf between myself and my mother). My birthday was a few days ago (38), and my little family collaborated to make me a delicious peanut-butter banana ice box cake, which is delectable. Yesterday, after indulging in one generous portion of leftovers, I went back for a second generous portion, knowing full well I would feel like shit afterwards–both physically and emotionally, and I did, in fact, feel like shit afterwards. I began to view my long history of disordered eating through the lens of psychoanalysis, and I realized my sordid relationship with food has been (and remains) yet another symptom that points to my repressed desire to have community with my mother.
I think it is quite fitting that while I wrote feverishly in my notebook, unpacking this symptom and its residual effects over my life, the song “Pet Cheetah” played in the background. My family are fans of Twenty-One Pilots and we often play their music on shuffle via our wonderfully creepy Amazon Echo/Alexa. The chorus resounds, “No, I move slow / I want to stop time / I’ll sit here ’til I find the problem,” as I exhausted my right hand scribbling 12 pages of notes into my notebook explicating my own symptomatic behavior.
I must qualify this post by first stating that I have no credentials for psychoanalysis. I am a bit of a philosophy aficionada, and I am extremely interested in the work of Jacques Lacan. As I have said in recent posts, I am participating in a book study of Slavoj Zizek’s The Sublime Object of Ideology under the direction of Peter Rollins, so I am applying the content of that book to my own personal issues, in effort to understand myself better, and hopefully become a better human, friend, mother, artist, etc…the list is infinite… I have no analyst of my own, and I realize the transferential relationship between analyst and subject is essential to solving psychological problems present in the analysand. Nevertheless, I am optimistic that my regular conversations with my husband about these topics fulfill the requirement, at least in part. Also, if my analysis is imperfect, what does it matter if it helps me manage psychical symptoms more effectively?
With that said, I am ready to dig in. I have struggled with disordered eating since I was 12. From 12 until roughly 19, the symptoms were quite severe. I starved for long periods of time in effort to maintain very low weight, but I would always end up binging and gaining all of the weight lost and then some. This cycle persisted until my 20s. Since becoming a mother, I have found myself slipping into some of the old patterns to a much smaller degree. I have been on Weight Watchers for 2 years, now. Initially, I joined to lose baby weight from my second pregnancy, and I have kept my membership in effort to maintain a healthy lifestyle since then. It is very good for me. Nevertheless, it has not solved all of the problems associated with my pathology. Of course not. To follow, I would like to analyze this symptom of disordered eating, applying the criteria Zizek set forth in his book, in summation of Lacan’s psychoanalytic process.
Currently, my disordered eating presents more in the form of overindulgence. This is why I am grateful for Weight Watchers, because it really does help prevent me from becoming a persistent binge eater. I believe that I often slide into over-eating because I enjoy the symptom as a bi-product of my unconscious fantasy to gain fellowship with my mother through personal failure. Thus, it isn’t a surprise that my mom has also suffered from disordered eating for much of her life. She is in the stage of compulsive eating at this point. I have heard it said that many women who suffer eating disorders in youth become compulsive eaters with age, and I can see how that pattern would develop over time. The older we get, the easier it is to cave into the allure of overindulgence.
When my eating disorder first presented in Middle School, my mother reacted to it with severity and spite. I will not discount her concern for my health; however, I do think there was a measure of envy lumped into the mix when she confronted me about the behavior. My typical response to confrontation was to eat. And eat. And eat. I always thought I responded this way because I feared death, but now that I am looking deeper, I am beginning to think I responded this way so as to establish connectivity with my mother on another point–that of self-esteem. By binging and gaining weight, I was similar to my mother, and maybe she would appreciate our relationship through this identification. I loathed myself when I put on weight, but that self-loathing was something with which my mother could relate. However, it never actually worked as I expected it to. Probably because no matter how much weight I gained, my mom still perceived my body in a more positive light than her own.
Presently, I think there are a few things happening in my unconscious when I overeat. I think for starters, I feel this sense of inevitability. My mom lost control of her diet; therefore, I am likely to, as well. Further, I think this sense of predestination coincides with my unconscious desire to have friendship with my mother.
This is the process as it unfolds in my life: (1) I overeat. This is my psychichal symptom. (2) I enjoy my symptom. Not because I enjoy the food. That may be the case in the first serving of dessert, but by the time I am ingesting the second, I am no longer enjoying the food. In this event, I am enjoying the unconscious fantasy that I will be “like” mom and therefore “liked” by her. (3) All the while, consciously, I think I am seeking success, prosperity, validation, adoration, and self-worth, so I am demoralizing myself because I have no self-control. (4) What I am getting is a sense that I am nearing the realization of my repressed desire. This is where the analytical work should intervene, and I hope with all my heart, I can accomplish this without the aid of an analyst. Zizek says the patient must “go through the fantasy.” Peter Rollins often says “traverse the fantasy.” Wanna know how I internalize this?! It involves cussing. For those who know me in life, I am sure these posts are shocking (I don’t typically use this language in real life–or at least, I didn’t for the first 36 years). I am gonna share this anyways, though, because it is helping me. Where Zizek says “go through the fantasy,” and Rollins says “traverse the fantasy,” I must say, “Fuck the fantasy!”
Why the strong language? Because it is the only way I feel I can do the thing, in truth. I have to say “Fuck you!” to the fantasy that my own self-sabotage is going to mitigate my alienation from my mother. I have to use this language because for 38 years I have been ruled by this unconscious drive, and I want more than anything to break free! The hope that I will eventually have fellowship with my mother by sabotaging everything I desire on a conscious level is fallacious! Why must I continue to lead a miserable life chasing an empty promise?! Thus, “Fuck you, fallacious fantasy! I don’t need you anymore!”
As to my mother, I have imagined a sort of letter I would write, if I could:
Dear Mom. I love you. Your self image is NOT tied to my success or failure. I have recognized this. I am releasing myself from the oppression of my desperation for fellowship with you. The barriers alienating us have nothing to do with me. I am ready to live my life now, rather than manipulating it to bring validation to yours. I know you love me. We are cool, now. Peace!
For my reading public, peace to you as well. I hope you can unearth the repressed fantasies that drive you to sabotage. I would say follow my lead, but I dunno. I have no proof that this is gonna actually work. I will let you know in a year!