by Joanna Poppink, M.F.C.C

Part Five

The Creation of an Overeater - Mary's Story

What follows is a synthesis of many overeaters' stories to convey the nature of the secret-keeping strategy commonly used by people who overeat and/or binge. This one is selected to show the complexity of what goes into creating and maintaining an inner secret.

Four year old Mary sits cross legged on the gold-braided living room rug looking up at the TV. Behind her on the big, brown couch sits her father reading the newspaper. He grunts and shakes the paper.

She hears the sharp rustle and cringes, but stays seated on the floor. He slams the paper down on the wooden coffee table. Her hands tremble, and her heart pounds. She breathes short, fast gasps. She sits very still, trying to become invisible.

He growls softly, deep in his throat. Her body stiffens as she stares at the TV, focusing her eyes, ears, heart and soul on the screen. She hears a thud as he jumps awkwardly to his feet. She keeps watching TV, trying to get inside the set, the story, the figures on the screen.

He kicks the couch. She hears the wooden legs scrape against the floor. Her body tight and unmoving, she tries to be as hard and still as the floor. The colors on the TV screen seem to become more vivid to her. She tries to pour her entire being into the screen, making the pictures and sounds her whole world.

He roars at the walls. "Nothing gets done around here. What kind of mess is this?" Mary's eyes glaze. Her heart beats faster. Her mind is totally absorbed in a soap commercial. Her body attempts to retreat into a numb calm. She ignores the pounding of her heart.

From the coffee table her father picks up a small box of crayons and throws it across the room. She breathes deeply and stares at the Bugs Bunny cartoon now playing. She is oblivious to all but the cartoon. She has achieved invisibility and nonexistence.

He bellows, "Nobody does a damn thing around here!" and sweeps an end table with his hand, sending a lamp and ashtray flying. She has lost awareness of her body, the floor, the room, sounds, sights, smells. To Mary now, only Bugs Bunny exists. Her father lurches around the room, mumbling unintelligibly. In the cartoon Bugs Bunny steals a carrot. Mary laughs.

Her father whirls at her. "What's so funny, you lazy good-for-nothing brat, making a mess everywhere and laughing at me!" She looks up, dazed. She doesn't know what he is talking about. She is so removed she doesn't know who or what he is.

"Answer me, you worthless, no-good!"

He picks her up and throws her across the room. She crashes into the wall. She may feel terror and pain. She may cry out, "No, Daddy, please," or, "I'll be good," or "I didn't do anything," or "I'm sorry."

She may say and feel nothing. She may remain dazed and feel body pain later. She may not remember this happened. She may remember the events but not the feelings. She may remember body and emotional feelings, but not the event. Lack of memory or partial memory shields her from the unendurable knowledge that she lives with a dangerous person. This person can explode at any time, frighten her, hurt her for no understandable reason, and she can do nothing to stop him or protect herself.

All she can do is blank her felt existence out of existence. For a while, Mary does not exist to herself.


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Joanna Poppink, M.F.C.C., licensed by the State of California in 1980, is a Marriage, Family, Child Counselor (License #15563). She has a private practice in Los Angeles where she works with adult individuals and couples. She specializes in working with people with eating disorders and with people who are trying to understand and help a loved on who has an eating disorder.

Contact Information:
10573 West Pico Blvd. Suite 20
Los Angeles, CA 90064
(310) 474-4165 phone
(310) 474-7248 fax

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