Friday, February 16, 2024

How I lost 100 pounds by recognizing gaslighting and turning off the gas

Hello dear friends of this blog on how I lost 100 pounds without gastric bypass or weight loss drugs. In this month's Happy Heart February weight loss challenge, I'm exploring a lot of issues that may not seem relevant to weight loss. But they are very much about mental and emotional health. Today I'll share how I lost 100 pounds by recognizing gaslighting and shutting off the gas. 

The term gaslighting is one I've only recently become familiar with. But the experience of being gaslit as a child and teen, I know very well, as well as the toxic shame and chronic guilt it produces. However, I only just recognized that gaslighting was happening. I didn't see that the four people who were supposed to love and protect me, only had self-serving interests at heart. I thought that parentifying, exploiting, manipulating and endangering me were just what parents did. 

It might seem strange to anyone who has not experienced this. Believe me, I question my own experiences all the time. That's what gaslighting teaches you to do: deny, don't think, feel or question, it's all your fault, responsibility, job or problem. You're in the wrong. You're too sensitive. You're too critical. I heard these things so often that I started saying them to myself. I struggle daily to correct wrong ideas about myself and what is and isn't my fault or responsibility. I still hear voices every day and in nightmares every night. I second and third and twenty-sixth guess every decision I make. 

So what does this have to do with how I lost 100 pounds? My self-image was (is still) so damaged by C-PTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder) from gaslighting that I developed self-harming behaviors. I was underweight from lack of care and self-care. Then later, toxic shame and chronic guilt led to having two stillborn babies, depression and anxiety and then to antidepressants which caused weight gain and obesity. 

Much of my toxic shame and chronic guilt stem from being gaslit about what was my responsibility to my parents. They were very transactional and love must be earned by rigid obedience to them. But the target always moved and the to-do list kept getting longer. So I always failed and required punishment which I only later understood was abuse. Consequently, I made some poor parenting decisions, like spanking my kids, because that's what was done to me. My good loving sense said it was wrong. (I'm still mad at myself for not listening to that.) But since my parents did these things and they were never wrong, I must be wrong, again, right?  And it was a real mind-eff: my natural guilt faulting me for spanking while my toxic guilt shamed me for not spanking. Damned if you do and don't. 

To further the hypocrisy, the one time I confronted it, they lied and said they never hit me. At another time, she accused me of abusing my children by slapping them. When she was reminded that she herself frequently slapped, it was denied. Now she was very self-righteous, the many times I was slapped that I was being sassy and brought it on myself. Though what I could have said, at age 8, when I never even talked about all the scary and dangerous things that did happen and accepted her every "do as I say, not as I do" I don't know. 

But yet when it was pointed out that I spanked for the same reasons I was spanked, she lied and said she never had and that I was abusive. So I'm confused. It's justified when you did it and abuse when I do? If so, why did you lie and say you hadn't?  If you realized later it was wrong, why did you still preach to me the "spare the rod" doctrine (though I was the only one of your kids you hit)? Why did you say God expected me to and then fault me when I did?  Or do you just make it up as you go along? 

The "Rules for thee but not for me" was another big part of the gaslighting. I'll blog more about that later.  And rules for thee and rules for half-siblings. They never punished them like me. In fact, they punished me for things the others did. They always took their spouses' or kids' part. Every. Single. Time. Like when I was outed from my room and made to sleep in a tiny cupboard room with my infant half-brother, at age 14. Apparently I didn't show enough enthusiasm. I couldn't have actually questioned it because I was too afraid to. And I wouldn't have anyway and they knew it. That's how it worked. I was told to and I did. End of subject. 

But my dad decided that I was somehow being disobedient. Or his conscience was saying it was a stupid move. Or he was mad at his wife for wanting her suite of a room to herself and not wanting to be bothered with their child at night. Or he was just pissed off because he always was. Regardless, yet again, he spun it that I was at fault. All of a sudden, he began beating me in front of everyone. It scared the shit out of all of us. I was so humiliated, I wet my pants. I weepingly apologized though for what I have never figured out.  I, of course, slept in the room with the baby (and got up with him at night, every night). By way of acknowledging his tantrum, dad said I was too sensitive. 

This just confirmed to me that I was a dangerous mess of a person who needed constant, punitive, vindictive chastisement or I'd go off the rails on a crazy train. No punishment was too harsh for me. Like kicking me out of mom's husband's house (operative words "his house" not mine. No house was ever mine that I recall since about age 3   or 4) when I was 16 and making me homeless. I deserved it and more. That's what I told my then boyfriend, now husband when I explained some of the things that were done to me. 

This vicious cycle of shame, punishment and gaslighting have just about killed me several times. They have certainly pushed me to the edge and I would have gone over if not for my now family and my Higher Power whom I choose to call God. What's also helped is calling out what happened for what it is--wrong. By telling my stories regardless of who thinks I should keep them secret. By knowing that what happened, happened, even though no one mentioned them again. By trusting my version of events even though no one else has ever mentioned them again. 

It's also helped to talk back to people, in my mind. I'll never be able to say to them what I need to say. I'll keep the peace and keep on pretending because confronting it only hurts me further with the continued gaslighting and lying. But now at least, I'm doing it to protect me and the people who perpetrated these sick, deviant behaviors on me. So I say in my head, all the things I should have been able to say at the time. I call them out,  polite and obedient be damned. 

Thank you for joining me on this very unpleasant walk down memory lane. My inclination is to apologize for upsetting you, like I did the one time I shared this with an extended family member. But I can't do that anymore. No one was or ever has been there, caring or supporting me through it. No one knew or cared to know. I faked it for everyone, to spare anyone knowing what I was dealing with. I had to manage alone and do the best I could. If I'm to fix this mess I am now, I need to be honest.  

I'm sorry to my children for the wrong things I did when I thought they were right. I'm sorry for not trusting my gut. You were never the problem, I was. You were and are the solution. The sunshine in the dark. You are all that I want to be. And one thing I promise, here and now, is that no child or teen that I have any responsibility for will ever go through anything like this alone. Not while I'm there. 

So this may not have a lot to do with weight loss as such. But it has everything to do with losing toxic shame and chronic guilt which have much to do with overall wellbeing. 

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