Tag Archives: mothers

mothers day blessings

woman drinking ginblessed is the mother who gave up her daughter for adoption.

blessed is the mother who chooses daily between cocaine and breastfeeding.

blessed is the mother who drags herself to an abortion clinic.

blessed is the mother who is mortified with guilt over having beaten her sons.

blessed is the mother who can’t give up smoking.

blessed is the mother who makes more kraft dinner than broccoli.

blessed is the mother who works two jobs.

blessed is the mother who works in the sex trade.

blessed is the mother who can’t pay the rent.

blessed is the mother who died while driving drunk.

blessed is the mother who is afraid to leave her abusive husband.

blessed is the mother who has disowned her parents.

blessed is the mother who soothes her pain with valium.

blessed is the mother whose only babysitter is the TV.

blessed is the mother who hears voices.

blessed is the mother who is fighting anorexia.

blessed is the mother who is afraid she’ll abuse her daughters the way she was abused.

blessed is the mother who yells too much.

blessed is the imperfect, suffering, bewildered, overwhelmed, underpaid, lonely mother.

may she be happy, may she be peaceful, may she be healthy, may she be free.


image by zoe

eating disorders: mothers and daughters

mother and daughterthis is a continuation of my conversation with joanna poppink about adults recovering from eating disorders, with an emphasis on how that impacts relationships. joannna poppink is a psychotherapist with a private practice in los angeles specializing in eating disorder recovery (you can see her blog at stop eating disorders.) yesterday i said i was going to present it in two parts; actually, i’ve decided to present it in three parts because … well, you’ll see why in the last instalment.

here joanna talks about how women with anorexia or bulimia (and, by extension, with any kind of eating disorder) relate to their mothers.

isabella: women with anorexia or bulimia often have complicated relationships with their mothers. when that is the case, how can these relationships become a little easier?

joanna: this is a huge question with, in my opinion, some wishful thinking attached.

first of all, women without anorexia or bulimia have complicated relationships with their mothers. the mother-daughter relationship is one of the most complex relationships of all. so please, all women suffering from bulimia or anorexia, take a breath and ease up on your self criticism, your judgments and your desires for wish fulfilling ease with mom.

that said, what is an approach that can bring some ease to the relationship?

the fast answer is the simple and straight forward one. get well.

eventually, if you stay on your recovery path, you will get well. as you gain more health and emotional stamina you will be able to use your emerging creativity along with your strategic thinking and core of love you have for this woman who is your mother to negotiate your relationship.

what does this mean? well, it means you can’t have what you want. your mother may change. she may not. but you are changing. so it’s up to you to find a way to relate to her as she is, not as you wish her to be. it can be a shock to your system to look at your mother as a woman.

if you always argue about certain topics, don’t try to win. as you would with a friend or acquaintance, sidestep the subject and bring in a topic that is pleasant and interesting for her. give her the gift of peace and ease. it’s a gift to you too.

let go of your need to win and your need to be seen in a particular way by her. focus on conversation and activity areas where you are compatible or where you can be patient and generous.

your great gain in life is recovery itself. you get a healthy life that you live with more responsibility and satisfaction than you ever had while living with your eating disorder. with your increased health and life energy, you can afford to be generous with this woman who is your mother in all her imperfections.

you are an adult now. you can extricate yourself from situations that go against your health and your values. you can accommodate with generosity when the situation brings no harm to you and brings space for peace and ease with your mother.

to do this, you have to let go of many wishes and hopes for responses you felt you were entitled to. but that sense of entitlement may be a leftover from your eating disorder. if you drop those entitlements from you psyche (not so easy) or drop them into your journal (much more doable) you can free yourself and your mother from the past and be with her as she is.

you may discover a woman you didn’t know was there. you’ll certainly discover more about who you are and how you can be increasingly present and competent in this world.

stay tuned for part 3!

image by deederdoll

a mystery about weight and shame: two weeks under

here’s another book i read recently – two weeks under, by rivka tadjer.

doing these book reviews reminds me a bit of my aunt. she loved buying clothes but she’d often get sick of them real quick, and then she’d ask me if i wanted them. she was 40 years older than i so – well, as you can imagine, as a 22-year-old, i didn’t quite share her taste. but she’d always urge me to try them on anyway (we did wear the same size) and i was often amazed how good her pink polyester set or her brown tweed skirt would look on me.

two weeks under was a little like that. i’m not quite sure what you’d call the genre because i rarely read this sort of book; it did remind me a bit of confessions of a shopaholic (which i managed to read 2/3 through). what would you call that genre? let’s ask amazon. oh yeah, chick lit. two weeks under is also a mystery but not the mystery that i tend to read (i like tough-wounded-but-compassionate-guy stuff, and irresponsible-funny-guy stuff, that kind of thing; robert b. parker is my guy!) perhaps it’s chick lit mystery?

here’s the description from amazon:

elana diamond’s 35th birthday isn’t much to celebrate. she’s still alone and depressed, so this year the make-a-wish-candles can do you-know-what with themselves. and her archrival at work, who thanks to her flawless judgment also happens to be her ex-fiancé, is being groomed to fire her. fighting to keep her job, she can’t afford to pay attention to her non-existent personal life, much less the sudden rash of suicides going on in manhattan. all professional women, all just like her. then someone closely connected to elana becomes the next suicide. she can no longer ignore the dying women, or anything else. an intense, secretive reporter surfaces, claims to be a friend, but he’s a little too knowledgeable, a little too curious. reluctantly, elana tries to figure out why the suicide happened, and if this reporter is involved. she finds herself lured into a consuming world of shame and dieting, where going under a medically induced vanity coma to lose weight makes sense. a kind neurologist tries to help, but when elana finds out what really happened with the suicide, she’s in so deep she might not survive it. anyone who tries to help her won’t either. and no one seems interested in facing the truth. racing against time, and fighting her own demons, elana must try to find enough evidence for the truth to be heard, whether or not she makes it.

what i found interesting was the way tadjer treated the subject of being overweight.

145 pounds, 5-foot-6. disgusted, she studies her lumpy, clearly 35-year-old self in the shower.

honey, that’s not overweight. it’s a woman who, depending on her frame, may have some soft spots on her but overweight is something else. i couldn’t quite decide whether tadjer really believed that numbers like that were overweight, whether she wanted the reader to think that the protagonist thought that was too much when it really wasn’t, or whether she hadn’t done her research (the last option is unlikely – she teaches journalism at SUNY).

now i may be splitting hairs here – but if the target readership is women who are battling with weight, then they will probably ask themselves questions like that, too.

fortunately, rivka tadjer has a blog, so hopefully she’ll read this and help us clear this up. consider yourself tagged, rivka! (does the answer lie, perhaps, in your definition of the term “weightism”?)

tadjer does a good job at bringing out the deep yet only superficially articulated feelings of shame that plague women who are struggling with their weight, as well as the uneasy, disjointed and a lot of other un- and dis- relationships such women have with their mothers:

i spent a lot of time alone when i was a kid, so as horrible as it sounds, being alienated came kind of naturally. i guess you can inherit loneliness. and when you’re alone, you start guessing at what’s right, and you start judging yourself, harshly.

well, my mother was the first to do that. she always wanted me to be more – smarter, neater, better dressed, more doting, better looking. she told me i did things wrong all the time, didn’t show me how to do them properly, and then she’d pepper in that i shouldn’t push myself too hard, success isn’t everything.

on that same page, there’s also an intriguing sentence, “i’ve been the ayn rand of my own body.” i wonder what exactly is meant by that.

how cool, to be able to ask the author these questions. i’m looking forward to your answers, rivka!

if you’re looking for an easy read over the holidays but want something a little different than a mindless romance novel, two weeks under will hit the spot.

blogathon: leaving a cult

canadian mental health association

this is an entry for my participation in the 2008 blogathon, a 24-hour marathon of blogging. please support the cause and donate – however much, however little – to the canadian mental health association (vancouver/burnaby branch). to donate, email me or use this URL: www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=d2252. you should be able to get there by clicking the link; if not, just copy and paste the link into your browser. it will take you to the appropriate location at canada helps.

thank you for visiting, reading, commenting and, if you can, donating!

losing the the way – a memoir of spiritual longing, manipulation, abuse and escape is about kristen skedgell’s intense 15-year involvement in a christian cult. it shows how easily an idealistic young person can be swept away by a spiritual quest and manipulated through the quiet malevolence lurking beneath the religious exterior.

kristen is a fellow blogger. some months ago we had a few conversations and it ended in her sending me her book. since a friend of mine is touched by a similar situation, i was particularly interested in the book. i raced through it, am writing about it today, and will then pass it on to J, whose whole family has been taken away by an aggressive evangelical ministry in bellingham.

the following excerpts trace a bit of the story. a teenager, lost between an alcoholic father, an emotionally absent mother and a hostile brother, finds “the way”, an evangelical ministry. the head of “the way” is dr. victor paul wierwille, who is also called “the doctor”.

the doctor also likes folksy tales of homespun poems. he read one called “the touch of the master’s hand” at the meeting. “joyful noise”, the way band, played in the background and by the time he was finished half the room was in tears. the poem described an abandoned violin that was going to be “auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd” until the master musician came and played on it, making it sound beautiful and more valuable than anyone could afford. i thought of my brother’s violin and how wonderful he made the instrument sound. i thought of my life and how much of a failure it was. how someone needed to pick me up and play on me as the master had played on that violin. god was the master.

one of the things that can quickly make me angry is what we might call “sentimental manipulation”. hitting those easy-to-reach emotional trigger points with hot-and-heavy black and white emotions and twisting them for irresponsible purposes. it usually involves a crafty way of mixing “beautiful” and “pure” emotions with guilt, grief and shame. and it seemed to have work just peachy for the good doctor. or, as it were, the bad doctor.

when kristen, now already deeply involved in the ministry of “the way”, goes to a fancy high school and then college, she starts experiencing hard-to-understand moods and has no idea what to do about them. again, the doctor has an answer (that’s what these people do, they have answers; questions, on the other hand, are NOT allowed). the answer is: it’s the devil!

when it comes to my own healing, i’m not even sure what to ask for. i don’t yet know the word for these debilitating bouts of depression. i only know that suicide is caused by a devil spirit and i don’t want to be possessed. i limp through my classes and delegate ministry responsibilities as much as i can. i pray in tongues often, and i sit on the roof, waiting for help.

through all of this, however, kristen still has lingering doubts, caused by her intelligence (she’s studying political science, for goodness’ sake!) and her mental health difficulties, which, in the doctor’s mind, seem to be either unimportant or of the devil. she also wonders whether having sex with the doctor is the right thing to do. not surprisingly, this sort of sexual abuse is sold to her as a special secret between the doctor and herself, never to be disclosed. understandably, she dissociates. after another such encounter (as usual, boring, unloving and clinical)

suddenly, something shifts deep inside me. now i get it: all things are pure to the pure. my mind can do anything. a great door has opened and the doctor has ushered me into the deeper mysteries of the world, where grace resides supreme. i promise the doctor that i will keep his secret. i promise i will be here for him whenever he needs me. i have successfully squelched my feelings and my renewed mind is in control. i am finally committed to the word. in the bright light of the coachman’s suite, i am initiated.

“all things are pure to the pure” is taken (stolen?) from the bible and used as a perfect pretext to engage in whatever the doctor and his minions feel like. since he is so pure, there is no problem, right?

being “committed to the word” means a commitment to a literal interpretation of the bible. which turns out to be the doctor’s interpretation. no-one is allowed to interpret anything for themselves. the successful squelching of the feelings is accompanied by a successful squelching of critical thought – indeed, the two go hand in hand.

kristen gets married to an equally unhappy, abusive man. she gets pregnant, and then …

but here he was, this infant, as honest and real and fragile as life itself. it was impossible to dissemble in his presence. his very existence demanded that i be honest. i had to come clean, to face my life in all its complexity and be real for once. i was not the useless, angry, depressed failure i thought i had become. i was not a thing to be used. i was a giver of life. a mother. a woman. a human being. i had participated in the greatest mysteries and god had allowed it. surely, if this baby had the right to exist, so did i. i was not here for something bigger, bigger than the god i knew. it overcame all my doubts. it loved me in spite of myself. and that is the gift this baby brought me. love.

reading this again, tears come to my eyes. kristen is saved by the child. ironically, the doctor de-emphasizes jesus. we can take the image of jesus-as-the-child, the quintessential babe-in-arms, we, perhaps, see in our hearts that it was jesus who liberated this woman from the clutches of a devilish church.

mother’s day poems

for this mothers day, some poems i’ve written over the years:

ma durga, mother, warrior, goddess

mother of the centre

mother of the centre,
black madonna,
spirals around herself –
invisible and solid
iridescent and opaque
invincible and weak
irresistible and stark
irreverent and pious –
and dances: she is a dervish queen!
the dust that swirls around her feet
adores her.


mother haiku

waking up again
she cries; it’s a cold, cold night.
her mother holds her.


moon mama

. moon mama
……… in the sea
show her teeth
………….. wide grin
stars mirrored in those
……………….. wide ivory mama tusks

.. and when she burps
the fish laugh

(image by parag sankhe)

identity guilt and oppression

i just spent a little time reading through joyce trebilcot’s dyke ideas, a “passionate and insightful contribution to lesbian philosophy.”

seeing that a little while ago we had an interesting discussion on guilt here on this blog, her thoughts on “identity guilt” and “official guilt” were particularly interesting.

what i here call identity guilt is implied by definitions of persons that are imposed and hence oppressive: women as defined by men, lesbians as defined by hetereosexuals, people of colour as defined by whites, fat people as defined by non-fat people, etc.

such definitions not only stereotype and degrade those on whom they are imposed, they also, paradoxically, both blame the oppressed for being who we are, thus suggesting that we have the power to change, and imply that we have no power because our condition is innate and immutable.

for example, a traditional patriarchal definition of white women includes the claim that we lack courage.

this was written in the early 90s. while words like “patriarchal” have fallen out of fashion, and it’s become politically very incorrect to assert that “a patriarchal definition of white women includes the claim that we lack courage”, much of what trebilcot says here is still alive and kicking right beneath the surface (viz mike huckabee’s victory yesterday).

but that’s the sociological part of it. i’d like to talk about the psychological insights (which, to be sure, can never be separated from what’s happening in society.)

these oppressive moves, we can also make them on ourselves, and it’s not something limited to being gay. indeed, as we all know, that’s when oppression becomes most effective: when it’s internalized.

as women, we’ve all been there. for example, at some point – also in the 90s, if i recall correctly – the image of the superwoman started emerging. you know, the super-slim, super-healthy, super happy 45-year-old successful lawyer-cum-hockey mom with three kids, two dogs and one sexually completely satisfied husband, the she-god who never tires to redecorate the house, to volunteer at every bake sale, the one who’s always perfectly turned out, even when she goes to her evening class at university, where she’s working on her PhD.

i don’t know many mothers who don’t buy into that image at some level and don’t feel guilty in at least the deeper recesses of their pretty widdle minds when they can’t – surprise – reach that ideal. it’s not an ideal that real mothers came up with, it’s an outside definition, most likely concocted by marketing professionals who know how the power of guilt can be turned into profits.

identity guilt happens when we think we should conform to an outside image and we don’t make the cut. we can easily turn into our own oppressors, and, to use trebilcot’s words, “blame ourselves for being who we are, both suggesting that we have the power to change, and implying that we have no power to change because we are who we are.”

tomorrow i’ll compare this to “official guilt”. let’s see whether we can learn something from the distinction between the two.