what i learned about comfort food, memories and triggers

OnceInnocent

Registrant
I was 10 and looked out the window that used to be in my room. There were Legos to my left, a piano to my right. I stood in the spot that used to be a wall of closets between my bedroom and my older brothers room. It was warm and sunny. School was just about over for the year. The windows were open and the breeze ran over my face and bare arms and legs. This should have been a happy time, but I looked out the window and though, "Why does summer make me so sad?". I had asked my parents. They had no answer except, "maybe because you will miss your friends?"

Every year, I feel the same thing coming on. And just like a trained animal, I get anxious when I'm reminded there's only 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 months until summer hits again.

When I finally realized that it had something to do with abuse memories, I thought, like an idiot, that now that id made the link in my head, I will move through it and summers will forever be wonderful... "Not so fast!" my brain says to me. Since I've been in therapy, I've made several attempts to take a stab at what memories of abuse actually had anything to do with summer. There's time in tents, there's being face down in an heavily treed vacant lot... being fondled on the school bus and cars, all having happened in the summer. But the abuse was never JUST in the summer. So, why is it such a bad time for me?

It wouldn't bother me so much, but summer should be fun. Now that I'm an adult, I want to pass on fun summers to my own family. And it worries me that if my baseline sanity is at a particularly low watershed in the colder months, what on earth will I do in summer? Or more importantly, what will my family do with me?

The other day I was listening to a bbc sounds podcast called The Food Chain, that surprisingly helped me clear up a lot.

The first thing to know is that if you don't have a love hate relationship with food, as in, feel guilty when you eat or are just extremely aware of how you and food interact (hint: I have neither of those) then you may experience comfort foods in this way.

1. You may know you like "comfort foods" but not actually crave them or remember them, unless they are presented to you. So that's the difference between the two memory functions: recognition (seeing something and knowing its name) vs recall (remembering something when you cant see it - like when you are trying to remember that thing that you finally remember in the middle of the night).

2. You may know that you like a food because "grandma used to make this at Christmas" or something like that. But chances are you don't remember how many times you had it and what tiny sensations you were feeling when you ate it and what other things contributed to your brain "encoding" the food with all those different happy experiences.

It's a bit like, "why do I like that song". Answer: Its way to complex to know and there's no way to go back in time and unravel it all.

And so it goes with abuse.

And so it goes for summer time. There are just TOO MANY memories that I don't remember, the complex feelings and associated experiences when I was abused in the summer... somehow it was the right combination to crystalize into a time of year I dread. And I know, even in lockdown, people are enjoying it and I'm not, makes it all the more frustrating. Summer should be a time to relax, be with family, do fun things that involve water and shirtlessness.

As usual, the pointless question "why?" is involved. And that's the thing I wasn't understanding for decades.
I know and have told so many other survivors, "you can answer all the other "wh" questions, but don't even bother asking "why", because why doesn't have an answer except "because". Why leads us "down the rabbit hole", "up the creep without a paddle", "right round the bend". It goes nowhere and gets us nothing while keeping us busy focused on so many negatives that it drives us nuts.

In my mind I thought I was asking "what is it about my abuse that is causing me to feel this way about summer?", when, in fact, I was asking "WHY do I feel this way about summer and what does it have to do with my abuse." I fooled myself into chewing on that for 30 years. Whoops! lol
 

Fitz

Registrant
Wow. I read this through twice and thought about it before deciding to reply. Well said, Once.

I thought I was the only one who didn't like summer. I used to assume it was the heat, humidity, bugs, and the added work load on the farm, but eventually I started connecting the dots. Yes, abuse happened year round, but it was much worse in the summers. Sunday afternoons were the worst, as my parents were often not at home at all Sunday afternoons during the summer. (Cows at grass meant less chores and they liked to take advantage of that and go visiting summer Sundays.) This left me at the mercy of my main abuser. I didn't connect my feelings about summer fully with fear until fairly recently while discussing triggers with a friend.

Some of the obvious triggers I can easily understand -- the scent of "Old Spice" anything, the sound the door to the upstairs hallway in my parents' house makes when it closes, etc., but others I don't understand. I understand better now that my feelings about summer include not just heat & humidity, flies & mosquitoes, added outside work, etc., but also memories of less supervision being dangerous for me personally.

Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

Now.... if I ca only figure out why the sound of brown paper bags rustling drives me nuts.
 
Thank you both for sharing. What a remarkable place this is where we can unpack fragmented memories, images, body sensations without a clear sense of what they are telling us. This is what the healing journey looks like for an abuse survivor. We are eternally left with hints... which reminds me of a quote from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets...

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
So many stones to decipher...
 

OnceInnocent

Registrant
Wow. I read this through twice and thought about it before deciding to reply. Well said, Once.

I thought I was the only one who didn't like summer. I used to assume it was the heat, humidity, bugs, and the added work load on the farm, but eventually I started connecting the dots. Yes, abuse happened year round, but it was much worse in the summers. Sunday afternoons were the worst, as my parents were often not at home at all Sunday afternoons during the summer. (Cows at grass meant less chores and they liked to take advantage of that and go visiting summer Sundays.) This left me at the mercy of my main abuser. I didn't connect my feelings about summer fully with fear until fairly recently while discussing triggers with a friend.

Some of the obvious triggers I can easily understand -- the scent of "Old Spice" anything, the sound the door to the upstairs hallway in my parents' house makes when it closes, etc., but others I don't understand. I understand better now that my feelings about summer include not just heat & humidity, flies & mosquitoes, added outside work, etc., but also memories of less supervision being dangerous for me personally.

Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

Now.... if I ca only figure out why the sound of brown paper bags rustling drives me nuts.
its amazing how similar survivors responses are during and after the abuse. so glad to be able to share and learn here. its a lot of validation.
 

OnceInnocent

Registrant
Thank you both for sharing. What a remarkable place this is where we can unpack fragmented memories, images, body sensations without a clear sense of what they are telling us. This is what the healing journey looks like for an abuse survivor. We are eternally left with hints... which reminds me of a quote from T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets...



So many stones to decipher...
that's quite a quote! love it! thank you @Visitor
 

Fitz

Registrant
its amazing how similar survivors responses are during and after the abuse. so glad to be able to share and learn here. its a lot of validation.
Well said! I'm still amazed when I discover that others have felt, reacted, and responded like I have.
 

Guss

Registrant
I can relate to certain comfort foods. It is because my grandma, and grandmother made them as expressions of their love for me. Grandpa would grow the most wonderful strawberries, and bring us containers of them. His face always beamed when he brought us something from his garden. I used to start getting sad in early May, and it would pass the middle of June. I was an adult before I clicked that the wreck that killed grandpa was May 23, 1969. Three weeks later grandma died from her injuries. I became an emotional orphan, and never really felt wanted or loved again.

My dad already did everything he could to torment me. He used to beat me. Mother was abusive too. They spoiled the other two. Summer meant working me like a mule in the worst heat of the day. He'd lay in the shade on a cot with ice water, and make me push a plow in the hottest part of the day just to be mean. He suffered the last 7 months of his life. I didn't know about it until 5 days before his death. I wouldn't have said that I was happy or sad. He had gotten part of what he deserved at my siblings hands. If I had chosen to hate them, they'd have won. I chose to neither love nor hate them. I refused to give them the victory.

I would feel stressed February until May, and sometimes in autumn because of the abuse memories. Driving past certain places or seeing certain vehicles would sometimes trigger breathing issues. I knew why, and most of the time I could hide things until I was alone. I started to avoid those places.

My parents had beaten me down until I was defenseless. I was ripe for a perp's picking. I didn't really feel safe until my abuser died a few years ago. I came close to killing him once. I came close to killing my parents. Nothing I could done in revenge would have ever taken this pain from my heart. I would have liked to wish that they were burning in hell but I couldn't wish that on any person. I had to just leave that up to God.
 
I'm sorry it was so hard Guss. I felt great relief when my mother died, though she was 92 years old... a frail old woman. But I really was happy when she was no longer on the planet. Amazing the pain we carry.
 
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