At the risk of riling up the self-righteous writers of nearly 2.6 million articles that surface when you click Google’s autocomplete suggestion “stop blaming your parents for your problems,” the domestic violence I endured as a child affected my adulthood by shaping my personality and impacting both my physical and mental health. For example, much to future door-slamming neighbors’ dismay, I became super sensitive to sounds. I also developed eating disorders.
An Aversion to Noise (and the Oak Ridge Boys)
Afraid that my father would choke my mom to death or that my diabetic, epileptic, and mentally handicapped brother would die from a seizure and get me in trouble, I honed my hearing so I could listen to what was going on downstairs and across the hall while I lipread “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” episodes on Nick at Nite.
When you can hear a dog whistle, electric saws, sanders, and drills are a million times more annoying than usual, but as my parents renovated our century-old farmhouse for a decade, I also braced myself for a scream. Anytime my undoubtedly red-faced father shouted, “HOLD IT,” I thought for sure he was about to run a circular saw across my mom’s fingers. It was a fair assumption since he’d already broken a couple.
As if the foregoing, his undiagnosed intermittent explosive disorder, and his obnoxious yawning, stomping, and country music, which vibrated my pillow via 3-foot-tall speakers, weren’t enough to fray my nerves, he kept my brother, Bo, from bothering him by buying whatever he wanted and then exiting stage right to mow our 4-acre field.
While I attempted to do homework, Bo, who not only blared the Game Show Network every hour he was awake but cheered and clapped for contestants, entertained himself with:
Anorexia: A Potential Eject Button
I stopped eating the day my Aunt Mary visited from Pennsylvania to see how my parents were getting along after police officers coaxed my mom from a bridge to a psych ward. As she entered the back door I held open, she looked my mom up and down and said, “Anna Marie, you’re nothing but skin and bones.” She then glanced at me and said, “You’re skinny, too, but you’ll never be as thin as your mother.”
Until that point, I hadn’t realized it was a competition.
As I wasted away, felt faint, and fit into mini skirts my anorexic mom had worn in high school, I remembered reading that people starved to death. This little light bulb overhead became the goal. I’d thought about killing myself before but feared pain. I also didn’t want to screw up and become a burden to my mom, who already had to take care of my brother 24 hours a day. Anorexia seemed like an easy way to escape the noise and violence, plus I enjoyed having control over something — especially my own fate since my father was going to kill all of us sooner or later.
Eventually, guilt set in. If I died, there would be no one around to keep an ear on things, and he might follow through on his threat to hang my mom from a deer hook and skin her alive.
So I started eating again, and soon it became hard to stop.
Binge-Eating Disorder: The Silencer and Coping Mechanism
Food turned into an addiction for two reasons. First, as mentioned in “Everything Happens for a Reason (or Why I’m Like This),” I learned not to step between my parents at age 9, when my father shoved me against the refrigerator he’d choked my mom against and told me to shut my mouth or he’d shut it for me. But the older I got, the more tempted I was to tell him off. Sugar helped. Instead of intervening in tirades, I inhaled Little Debbies that I hid from my brother in a dresser drawer.
Second, as Christian speaker Joyce Meyer said in her book “Good Health, Good Life: 12 Keys to Enjoying Physical and Spiritual Wellness,” “Food is reliable. … Anytime we feel emotional pain or spiritual emptiness, whether through sadness, depression, or boredom, we can easily reach for food to numb the pain or fill the void.”
By the time I began binge eating at age 17, a country full of snack cake-filled Costcos couldn’t anesthetize the pain I felt, but the words “spiritual emptiness” weren’t part of my vocabulary. I believed in God, but for some reason he’d ignored prayers to protect my mom and keep my cats out of the road. Likewise, the 24″ x 36″ picture of Jesus’ face at the foot of our steep pine steps failed to prevent my father from yanking me down them by my wrist even though Jesus was looking right at him. As far as I was concerned, the framed Bible verses mounted among deer heads and hooves on our wood-paneled living room walls meant as much as the words printed on the newspapers stacked next to the rabbit cage.
Since the women I’d met from my father’s side of the family all weighed around 300 pounds, I guess it’s a good thing that he’d threatened to burst into my bedroom and beat me in the middle of the night like his dad did to him because I started lifting weights to be able to fight back long before I could drive to Dunkin’ Donuts. But shoveling a dozen crullers and cream-filled doughnuts down my throat in one sitting a couple of times per week was clogging my arteries, doing as-yet-unseen other damage, and depleting my energy.
To combat sugar crashes — and remain upright in general since depression runs on both sides of my family, or more likely, everyone gets depressed due to how they were raised — I listened to ‘80s new wave dance music nonstop. The fact that I still do probably pertains more to what actress Wendie Malick said in a Coastal Living article: “They say you spend your life trying to recreate the place where you were happiest growing up.” For me, that’s tucked inside song lyrics I sang before my mom had her first affair, my father began beating her, and I became a cliché.