My Mother The Food Addict
It’s not right to publicly admit that you don’t like your own mother. But it’s also not right how much my mother likes food.
My mother once stabbed me with a fork.
It’s the kind of dramatic, metaphoric, ironic, twisted move that she excels at: stab the anorexic with a fork, as if she might eat me. My mother loves to eat. She is a food addict, though she herself would deny this. At first she ate because of hormones: she had fibroids, needed a hysterectomy. Then she ate because of her arthritis: it was hard for her to burn off calories when she couldn’t move around. When she got a knee-replacement surgery, she said it hadn’t worked, and so now she stays immobile until the NHS agree to cough up for another. Oh, I forgot about the severe blockage in her carotid artery that had the potential to cause a stroke: then she ate because she was stressed. Now she is in her sixties, she is immense, still sedentary, still consuming, still expanding, and apparently, according to Dad, her heart is too. Her latest coup is an X-ray which reveals an enlarged heart: enlarged because it is straining to cope with the excess pressure placed upon it by her weight. The majority of my existence on this planet, I remember my mother as being fat, immobile and chewing on something. The fact that I am an anorexic exercise obsessive who finds the sight of fat people eating visibly disturbing makes horrible, obvious, Freudian sense.
She hasn’t always been like this. She was beautiful, bewitching, naughty, crude, hilarious—she was thin. I think being a mother ate her up, made her depressed, devoured her spirit. To fill in the hole, she ate. My mother should have been a Playboy Bunny, or the childless wife of a rich man who would let her follow futile but endearing passions, hobbies and interests: bourgeois activities like pony riding, looking pretty at cocktail parties. I don’t think she’s academic, my mother, though possibly she was simply never given the opportunity to be. I wish she would lose weight, exercise, eat less, love us.
When I was about five, I remember hunting through my parents’ large wardrobe. My twin sister came in.
“What are you doing?”
“They’ve got Mum,” I said. “The aliens have got Mum and they’ve left someone else in her place.”
It was feasible. When Dad got bored of us he used to say he was Uncle Eric, Dad’s identical twin brother, and Dad had gone away. He’d keep it going until we cried, and then he’d hug us and feel guilty. This woman looked like Mum, sounded like Mum, but she didn’t act like a Mum was supposed to act, like I remember her acting, distantly, from when we were preschoolers. Mum said it was the hormones which made her crazy, but my older siblings say she always was. After the hysterectomy, she didn’t get thin and normal. She got fatter and meaner. If my mother was a TV character, she would be an obese Betty Draper. If I was a TV character, I would be an anorexic Tony Soprano.
It’s a curious feeling to not like your own mother, to walk out of the room every time she eats. It contributes to those loud, hateful voices in my head, and clamours for attention over all the others: You’re a bad person. She brought you into this world. Love her. Love her. I tried valiantly over the years, but the older I got, the more we learned about what food had turned her into, the harder it became.
“Remember Hiney? Our dachshund?” asks Big Sister.
“Mum told Dad he was incontinent and so had to be put down. He wasn’t. She just got sick of him.”
Older Brother who lives in Portland, Oregon, tells me about the time she chased him through the house wielding a carving knife. The time she made him walk six miles home through the snow because she couldn’t be bothered to give him a ride home. The weekly wallops across the head. I am reminded of when she forgot to pick us up from Primary School, so we waited in the cold, increasingly upset and worried, for two hours until she breezed up in the Toyota, said innocently, “Oh, I thought you’d have the sense to wait inside,” and gave us a hard, beady Jaws stare, daring us to complain. Dad and I once overheard her plotting to poison the starter to get back at Grandson Max, because he’d complained to his Daddy that Grandma was horrible to him. I’m sure she was just trying to be funny, but there are some things you just don’t say. Having said that, tact is a concept that has, for the most part, successfully evaded my family. I have inherited this trait. My GP Dad has been known to tell patients complaining about their failure to lose weight, that “there were no fat people in Auschwitz.” They were all in our house.
Once my mother stabbed me with a fork.
We never did the things you’re meant to do as mother and daughter. I learned how to apply make up from strippers in a Manhattan club. I had to figure out sanitary towels through trial-and-error—she’d been irritated and disgusted the first time I’d gotten my period. As children, we could all cook and clean at a young age through necessity—she disliked doing either. Dad never hit us, but until the time she could not—or would not—walk, Mum used to dole out the slaps, the punches, the kicks, the hair pulling, until well into our twenties. Older Sister told me that Dad had once stood over her as she assuaged a worried Social Workers‘ fears over the phone. Now Mum refuses to move and sits in the same chair in the kitchen for hours on end, I always stand well out of slapping distance of her meaty paw.
I am a bit worried when Dad buys her an electronic wheelchair so that she can still get around.
Once my mother stabbed me with a fork. When people ask about my relationship with my mother, because I tend only to talk about my Dad, it’s what I say. My mother stabbed me with a fork. I don’t say it to shock, but because it explains quite a lot. Why I am—what one might term—a big old Fuck Up. I don’t blame Mum for the fact that I’m bonkers, that I find happiness so difficult, that the majority of my life has been spent in various methods of self-harm, that I’m an alcoholic, an addict and in recovery. But I blame Mum for the fact that her love of food means I don’t have a mother who will hold me and stroke my hair and let me cry and love me when things are difficult. For some reason, I’ve never really come to terms with that.
Ruth Fowler has written for The Village Voice, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, The New York Post and The Observer. Her memoir, No Man's Land, which documented her pre-sobriety experiences as a stripper in Manhattan, was published by Viking in 2008. She also wrote about why doctors can't deal with addicted patients and nursing your way back to health, among many other topics.