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Fortresses to Build and to Destroy: How I Recovered from Fatness and Rebuilt My Life

Fortresses to Build and to Destroy: How I Recovered from Fatness and Rebuilt My Life

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Fortresses to Build and to Destroy: How I Recovered from Fatness and Rebuilt My Life

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Nov 30, 2005


The author first conceived the title of this book about 30 years ago, when she became convinced that her obesity had a purpose, and that understanding the emotional issues driving her tendency towards fatness would be necessary for healing. To that end, she studied her own behavior for many years, keeping notes of the factors involved in her overeating and obesity as she discovered them. At age 60, when 370 pounds threatened her life, she received the medical intervention called Gastric Bypass Surgery. She believed that as she lost weight she would relive her original childhood suffering, during which she began to use images of food and fat to defend against feelings of isolation. Therefore, she would need to find new strategies for dealing effectively with old challenges. To accomplish this goal, she kept a journal during the weight loss, recording her experiences, including the resurgent memories of unresolved grief. The author hopes that her story might help other people similarly identify their own faulty learning, including the tendency to addiction, especially emotionally based over-eating.

Readers can use the authors method of discovery for their own growth and recovery. It includes defining what she believed to be her problem, proceeding with a workable program for weight loss, remembering the traumatic events alongside the gifts of her childhood, recording her emotional reactions to change and progress, finding new responses to old deprivations, searching for important truths about herself, and making new decisions for her future. Additionally, the book follows a format that includes questions for groups of people who wish to share their own emotional struggles with defensive fatness. As such, it will be a valuable resource for people using surgery to assist them in the weight loss process.

Nov 30, 2005

Sobre el autor

Alexis Morgan has always been an avid reader, and she loves spending her days with hunky heroes and gutsy heroines. She’s published more than forty books, novellas, and short stories, including contemporary romances, American West historicals, and paranormal romances. She has been nominated for numerous industry awards, including the RITA© from the Romance Writers of America, the top award in the romance genre.

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Fortresses to Build and to Destroy - Alexis Morgan

Fortresses to Build

and to Destroy

How I Recovered from Fatness

and Rebuilt my Life

Alexis Morgan

This book is a work of non-fiction. Unless otherwise noted, the author and the publisher make no explicit guarantees as to the accuracy of the information contained in this book and in some cases, names of people and places have been altered to protect their privacy.

© 2007 Alexis Morgan. All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.

First published by AuthorHouse 3/5/2007

ISBN: 978-1-4208-8654-2 (sc)

Library of Congress Control Number: 2005908468

Printed in the United States of America

Bloomington, Indiana


Part I: Questions Posed to Myself, Getting Started

Part II: Childhood Difficulties

Part III: Diary of Progress and Personal Difficulties

My teen-age son has a father who lives with a host of physical and emotional problems. This book explains how connection and support from family, church, school, and community help develop resilience in a child. I know that my son will be okay if he can look to what is positive and nurturing in his life, while avoiding the pitfalls of shame and blame that affect so many children growing up in dysfunctional homes.


Taylor, Arkansas

This book details one woman’s attempt to overcome both her health problems and her traumatic past. It is useful not just for those seeking to lose weight or overcome abuse but for those looking for their internal strength to overcome obstacles in their lives. This book is more than an autobiography, it is more than therapy. It is a journey of spiritual and personal growth for readers and how one woman found the courage to overcome the haunting memories of an abusive childhood and use that experience to help others.

Kenneth Bridges, Ph.D, Professor

El Dorado, Arkansas

I saw myself in the writer’s situation many times during the reading of this book. My mother was often unable to relate to me as an individual, and I in turn had boundary issues with my own adult daughter. I am learning to accept myself, my needs, my personal goals, my own rights and personal space, and reading this book has been one more step in a lifetime process for me. I think this book would be great for anyone who has had problems with the mother-daughter relationship. The journey towards a healthier relationship might begin with anger, but ultimately it proceeds towards hope and forgiveness. I recommend the book for anyone who has unresolved issues with a domineering or manipulative mother.

Sharon Merritt

Hot Springs, Arkansas

This is a courageous account of one person’s journey to authenticity. The writer’s struggle was with obesity but the concepts can be interchanged to apply to anyone suffering from any addiction. I would recommend this to anyone who is tired of living with the emptiness of trying to please everyone but herself and is ready for self-awakening.

Julie Bray, RN

Shongaloo, Arkansas

When I read this book, I did not see the author as an adult in its pages. I saw the many six-year-old children that I see in my job as an elementary school teacher. I know that an increasing number of children are growing up in heart-breaking home situations. It is comforting to know that the encouragement we give them at school really does help them to achieve the ‘resilience’ that will enable them to live productive adult lives. Although I have not myself had a lifelong weight problem, I have had a recent problem, and the author’s description of the dynamics of overeating have been helpful to me to change my eating habits and develop healthier patterns of relationship building. I found the book to be helpful in coping with and resolving issues that have affected my life in negative ways. This is not a book just for help in losing weight, but a life help book.

Marian Rucker, Elementary School Teacher

Camden, Arkansas

This is one of the most powerful and beautiful books I’ve ever read. Ms. Morgan relates her issues with food addiction back to her often-traumatic childhood. I have had problems in my own life with obsessive eating and always wondered why. The questions to the reader at the end of each chapter were so helpful to me in my own discovery of this question. This book is for everyone seeking an understanding into their addiction or a loved one’s addiction. It is thought provoking and so beautifully written. You won’t be able to put this one down!

Allie Hughes, Preschool Teacher

Although I have never had a weight problem, I have had difficulty pleasing other people in ways that not only do not successfully help them, but which in addition, make me feel tired and depressed. It has encouraged me to learn that no matter how privileged my life might be, other people can and must solve their own problems. After reading the book, I have been able to have a new respect for the problems that other people face, partly because of traumatic experiences in their childhood, partly because of privations that I never had to face myself. Mainly the book gave me inspiration to stand up for myself and my beliefs, and to build the life that I want for myself.

Amy Wilson, CPA

El Dorado, Arkansas

To DG~

You have built your walls

Like veils of steel or lead

Of fine silken chain-mail.

These veils shroud you

In elegance and mystery

Their gentle armour protects you

from pain


those who can’t handle the truth

You gaze from within

your sanctuary

at everything that surrounds you.

Taking in


what you see and hear,


the life around you

But like light through a veil

your strength shines through.

And people stop and stare

at the movement, light

and shadows

they may think they see through

catch glimpses of you

but they can’t see who’s really there.

When souls come near,

those who understand

who and what you are.

They are allowed in

to that holy place

closely held to your heart.

Otherwise, they move along

passing this special place.

Never knowing that they lost

a chance to touch true grace.



I want to thank all the people who helped me with their time, attention and support during the writing of this book. Many people read the work while it was a work in progress, giving me encouragement to complete the project and very useful suggestions for improvement.

I especially want to thank Oprah Winfrey just for being herself, and for creating an environment in our national community in which such a story could be written. She has inspired me with her life and with her personality, just as she has countless other people in our world.

The book is dedicated to my daughter, who has enjoyed my successes and suffered with me through my failures. It is meant for both of my children, who, through understanding their mother’s plight and journey to wellness, might be helped as they also recover from whatever pain was wrought in their own lives by their own misguided or wounded parents. They are a dear treasure to me. They are a testimony to the fact that many of us endure and yet thrive. Each of them can say with Billy Holiday and me, Blessed is the Child Who Has His Own.

To My Readers

This book has been written over a period of four years, following the gastric bypass surgery that enabled me to lose 170 pounds, and to begin to recover the possibility of living a normal life. To do this, I decided to keep a journal, a diary, of my progress. In this diary I would list the personal challenges that I expected to face as I attempted to try one more time to live without a wall of fat. I asked myself: What was the fat for? What had it done for me? What did it protect me from? Why did I need it? If it were gone, what would I need to learn to cope with life without it? Thus the title of the book, Fortresses to Build and to Destroy.

The book is written in three parts. Section I is a diary of progress and set-backs occurring over a period of four years, from October 2000 to October 2004. The first entries include the questions that I asked myself. The chapters that follow record the difficulties that I encountered along the way, including the reemergence of my most serious problems. In the last chapters I begin to find answers to my lifetime questions about the causes of my pain.

Early childhood memories are described as they come to my mind during my weight loss. So the first section of the book can be read as a person on a discovery journey who is having flashbacks. These flashbacks occur in the order in which the person having them can tolerate them, much as happens in real therapy with people recovering from trauma.

Each chapter has one of three purposes. Some relate events as they are occurring during my weight loss and recovery. Some are descriptions of my mother, father, and younger brother, the key figures of my life during my childhood, while many others are organized according to specific types of childhood trauma that occurred over an extended period, such as the chapter on Pain and Food.

The chapters about my childhood are related according to my chronological age at the time, because it is important to know the relationship between a child’s developmental age and her choice of solutions to given problems. (For instance, a problem arising at around age six will often require solutions involving mental abilities with rule-making and task competency, as well as previously established skills in the use of fantasy and magical thinking.)

Memory of childhood events does not automatically produce healing of trauma. It is possible to remember certain events in our lives without being able to solve our problems. This happens partly because more discovery and understanding must occur before new learning can produce skills enabling adaptive action. Those things that continue to elude our grasp and acceptance are those that are the most painful, the most intolerable discoveries. The pain experienced while searching for knowledge is the reason that it has not been found. The owner of the life to come is not yet ready for the reality of the life already lived.

So it is that at the end of nearly four years of struggle, I began to find meaning in my childhood memories, to manage painful insights, and to complete my own healing journey towards inner peace.

There is another reason for the organization of Section I into a combination of chapters on personal history intertwined with chapters on specific topics, such as humiliation or sexual trauma. This method enables readers who have eating problems to focus their minds on one facet of the problem at a time. This is necessary because any lasting recovery from obesity will require that each aspect of the dysfunctional use of food and fatness must be understood and resolved in order to achieve ultimate victory and freedom.

In addition, the book is organized so that it can be used by support groups. Such a group can select out one chapter, such as the chapter on Pain and Food, for group discussion. Likewise, this method will be useful to a therapist who is helping a client with specific problems of unresolved anger and grief.

In sum, Section I is an attempt to describe the ways in which childhood trauma contributed to my lifetime problem with both eating and fatness.

Section II is about those things in my childhood and later adolescence that strengthened me and either fostered growth or decreased the effects of the damage caused by childhood trauma.

It is rich with experience and adventure, enough to challenge the readers to ask if they themselves are providing these same essentials for growth and personal resilience to their own children, to the children of their extended families, and to the children in their communities.

The final Section III is a brief picture of myself as I am today, after a four-year struggle for growth. Part of the secret of my success during these years has been my determination to put my progress into a written form that might help others make a similar journey through their own childhood trauma towards healing and recovery.

Therefore, I hope the book is useful to all people who struggle with fatness, and to their families. It is also meant to help people who wish to recover from adult depression and social anxiety caused by unrecovered childhood loss and grief.

My story demonstrates that sometimes recovery from faulty learning and emotional trauma can take a very long time. Healing occurs alongside the purposeful desire to heal, much learning, support from others, and consistent, determined effort!

The good news is that even a small amount of recovery increases a person’s potential for effective living and for happiness. So if complete recovery requires many years of effort, it is still true that life gets better immediately and continues to improve throughout one’s quest for peace and wholeness.

Finally, I have written for others the book that would have changed my life if I had read it when I was thirty-five or forty years old. Even though my recovery took a long time, a description of my discoveries, with definite direction for problem-solving, might help someone else heal faster.

The names and places in this book have been changed to protect those who were part of my story. Hopefully those who really helped me will recognize themselves despite the name changes. In addition, there were people who helped me edit this book whose names must remain anonymous. They will recognize themselves in the initials JB, HC, LJ, MJ, KJ, CL, DS, MS, and JW.

They included teachers at school, leaders in the church of my youth, my music teacher(s), my husband, his sister and her husband, my daughter and her husband, my son and his wife, and even the family members who hurt me. I hope it will be seen as a book of gratitude to God, who has helped me more times in my life than I can count, and who kept supplying me with the strength and resources, especially in the form of very helpful people.

This includes hundreds of clients who have given me the greatest of compliments by building new lives for themselves in front of my eyes. With my clients, I am able to be myself--vulnerabilities, knowledge, leadership skills--and all. I get to see myself as I am, and that is good. That they graciously benefit from what I have to offer has been a life-changing experience for me.

I hope I am able to maintain my weight loss and to continue to be of service to others. I hope I will have a little bit more fun. I intend to use humor more often. I enjoy people, and hope to become more relaxed about my relationships. Whatever happens, I am a happy person, and I have a good life!

Train a child in the way he should go,

and when he is old he will not turn from it.

Proverbs 22:6 NIV

...the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

Romans 8: 26, 27 NIV.

Section I

The Problem: Stresses and Causes

Part I: Questions Posed to Myself, Getting Started

Part II: Childhood Difficulties

Part III: Diary of Progress and Personal Difficulties

Part I: Questions Posed to Myself, Getting Started


Feelings of Inferiority

It is the end of January 2001. I have lost 70 pounds, one fourth of my total weight loss goal. On October 2, 2000, I had bypass stomach surgery, and for the first three months I would not have suggested this surgery to anyone. But now I have reduced to the size I was when I first came to Maple Grove, Arkansas in April 1989, almost 12 years ago. When I first came here, two and a half years after becoming a widow, I was full of hopes for my future, hopes that were dashed by disappointment and loneliness within two weeks of moving here.

I came here because of an opportunity to work as a therapist at the mental health center, a choice that changed my life, especially because it led to a later opportunity to develop my own private practice as a psychotherapist. It was an important experience for me, because the longer I worked at that place, the more I felt that I was reliving the pain of my childhood and adolescence. Such an experience forces you to change--to search within yourself for the necessary questions of your life, and to grasp an inner willingness to move in the direction of growth instead of further deterioration.

I tried to discover the growth opportunities germinating in that painful and stressful work situation; nevertheless, I observed those stress levels damage my physical and emotional health. I gained an additional 30 pounds, and by the time I left there I was unwilling to socialize in any context. The work situation had reactivated childhood ‘avoidant’ coping patterns, habits that had nearly gone into remission during the previous two years of grief recovery. Later, I realized it was best to avoid socializing in such a small town until I had succeeding in establishing a successful private practice.

Lest you feel sorry for me, I must add that the quality of dialogue and relationship with clients has far outweighed in satisfaction any of the pleasures of social experience that I had to forego during these years in which my primary goal was to build my private practice. Now, however, I choose to attempt weight loss again, so that I can not only be more useful, but also enjoy a complete and satisfying life as well. I am now 61 years old, and ready to try again.

Twice before in my life I have lost weight down to a perfect 132 pounds, once when I was 17 years old and once when I was 34 years old (each time I kept the weight off for nearly two years before disappointment and depression triggered another weight gain). If that weight seems too high, then imagine my very large-boned, muscular legs and wide, full, hips. I am pear-shaped; the lower half of me is a full size larger than the upper half. Furthermore, those large legs are possibly the beginning of my story.

My childhood was a mixture of unusual blessings countered by the continuous trauma of family life with a mentally disordered father and a distraught mother. My brother, one year younger than myself, was my constant companion, and sometimes temporary enemy. My legs are what got me pegged in my isolated, alienated family as ‘low man on the totem pole’ (a phrase acceptable if you grew up in the Pacific Northwest). My life was confusing, because I was both the most important and the least important member of my family. I was least important because I received fewer privileges; this included unfair distribution of food and shelter, less opportunity for social activity, more criticism, less affection, less support and less freedom than other family members. I was more important because my mother needed my service to my brother and herself; eventually my father, as he succumbed to mental illness, needed me as well.

Why the service? My story includes the reality that every member of my family needed service, and they needed it badly. That made me, with my sensible, cooperative, conscientious and encouraging ways, very useful and valuable to all of them. My usefulness to them is also the possible cause of their ambivalence towards me, because the very one who inspired their prejudice and derision was also the one whom they needed the most often.

In the long run this might have been a greater blessing than a hardship, as the challenge of the problem may have strengthened my character more than one would expect -- except for the eating disorder and fatness that would emerge as a constant life curse.

Back to my childhood, I was most important because I carried more responsibility than was befitting any child from the time that my brother was born. You and I can imagine the loss of my childhood at the age of 15 months. I can remember it only by looking at the struggles in my life: for instance, the quest to give up taking care of other people or to stop humiliating myself for mysterious, undefined reasons.

The parts that I do remember are the constant responsibility for my carefree, intelligent, creative and sociable brother; attempts to help my mother by listening to her troubles and providing work for the household; and skills that developed over time necessary for calming down my volatile, sometimes crazy father.

These burdens often felt like slavery to the interests of others. Nevertheless, they were also the source of many therapeutic skills that I now use in my private practice of psychotherapy. What is important here is that they were the cause of a deeply held belief that my status as the inferior member of the family was somehow essential to their survival.

Sometimes a child knows that her mother needs her, and in such cases she is probably correct in her assessment of her family situation. Because she is a child, she will not know how to moderate her caretaking of family members. She will get stuck in a family dynamic in which she benefits others to her own detriment. She will not pull out of that stuck place for the simple reason that she, as a young child, is accurate in her assessment of her mother’s urgent and immediate need. To change her relationship with her family would be tantamount to abandoning them. This state of mind will continue until the child grows up, deals with her losses and grief, and finally turns responsibility back to the ones who originally placed it unfairly on her.

The problems I would never solve for myself were the problems of responsibility, equality, fairness and justice. These problems eventually became intertwined with issues of independence, talent, pursuit of truth, morality, and the need for goodness.

I can add here that I believe that every woman who has a chronic weight problem throughout her life began her journey with some inner conviction of her own inferiority. For each woman it is different. The key to discovery is to observe that one-and-only-one child in the family is serving the others; simultaneously, this ‘victim child’ will unconsciously assume that she is in some way inferior to the other members of the family. Each woman must discover her own liability in her childhood family. Was she the oldest? The youngest? The ugliest? The prettiest? The most cooperative? The most rebellious? The least talented? The most talented? The most naturally moral? The most different? The most independent? The least needy? The most capable of assuming responsibility and leadership?

Anything that makes you different from the rest will make you the servant and scapegoat to a family obsessed with prejudice, perfectionism, obedience, alienation, inadequacy, isolation, resentment, envy and false pride.

Which brings me back to my legs. I was pretty, smart, well-behaved and shy. No one would have defined me as inferior on the basis of those qualities. I was not overweight anywhere but my legs until I was nine years old.

However, to a family obsessed with feelings of inferiority, my legs were proof of my inadequacy. They were not only too large. My hips turned inward, producing knock-knees (which by now have produced serious osteoarthritis). My ankles were 9 inches around, even when I was my best weight. The Achilles tendons in my ankles were too short; so I developed a peculiar gait by the time I was eight years old. I can never remember being able to run with the speed or agility of other children. Climbing was impossible because of lower body weight, coupled with lack of strength in my hands and arms.

So I was different from other children from the beginning. Other families might have helped with this problem, but not mine. To them it was a badge of inferiority that I would live with perpetually. My problems seemed to intensify their own feelings of inadequacy, prejudice, and false pride.

Moreover, it gave them a problem outside themselves that they could strive to eliminate, without correcting their own impossible dreams, or their own faults and fears. They could degrade and belittle me, because they had first been degraded themselves. They could punish me as they had themselves been punished for their own weaknesses by their own families.

How did I know they defined me as the inferior member of the family, and that they felt somehow more adequate themselves by doing this? My father berated me constantly from the time I was eight years old for my walk and general clumsiness. Whenever I ate the same food as others, he predicted that someday I would be fat, and that no man would ever love me. My mother laughed at my looks in ways that hurt me, while simultaneously praising my brother for being more fun-loving and cute. My brother bragged about his good-looking legs during times when wearing bathing suits made the contrast between us most apparent and humiliating to me. Each family member seemed to feel contemptuous of my body shape, even angry about my failure to measure up to expectations, which intensified my shyness and feelings of inadequacy. By the time I was eight years old, I believed that I owed service to my mother because I was a disappointment to her.

It seems to me that my status as the inferior member of the family, accompanied by the roles of scapegoat and servant, was very important to all three family members. Why do I feel this way? Because with every moment of victory in my life, they have responded with an inability and an unwillingness to cope with any promise of success and equality that I effectively earned for myself. For many years I accepted this inequality as appropriate to my circumstances because I had physical limitations and an inferior body shape. I also learned from many painful experiences that I wore the badge of inferiority, the scarlet letter, the tangible evidence of weakness, for them, and I dared not abandon that status without causing disorientation for them.

I wonder now how much I have governed my entire life with this principle: that is, I am fat, because they need me to be that way. If so, I am in for a rocky road as my surgery imposes weight loss on my life. Am I ready? What do I have to learn about myself? Who do I want to be? Who do I have a right to be? Who does God want me to be? Who have I been all this time (disguised and hidden under a protective wall of fat)?

Oddly enough, my story will show that I developed myself fully in many areas of my life. So much so that my weight now seems to be a grand comprise with some profoundly distressed inner world. I will be fat for them and their needs in exchange for all the good things that I want to do, that I will do, and that I have done.

Long ago I realized that my strengths were far more important than my weaknesses. It is better to have a good brain and a kind heart than a good pair of legs.

However, such spiritual understanding about my own actual value did not stop me from developing a serious problem with felt humiliation, expressed symbolically through the accumulation of body fat. I did it to myself, as some sort of guilty payback for betraying their interests and abandoning their prideful agendas. I went forward alone, without them, without their approval, and without their help or support. Being fat and being alone was the cost of my freedom and my continuous effort to become the best that I could be without either their permission or their encouragement.

Where did I get the strength during my childhood to ‘go it alone’? When I was eight years old, I discovered the Bible and the New Testament description of Jesus Christ. He was the best, most caring, most inspiring man I had ever known. His teachings showed me how to live better than my family was living. Paradoxically, it was also at age eight that I began to handle the emotional pain of my loneliness and distress with images of the good, delicious food that I would have for myself someday.

I start my story with this part of my life, because it poses the important question of my life. If a person is inferior because they are fat, then are they superior when they become slim?

My family seemed to believe this about themselves, that is, that they were superior to me because they were slim, and not fat or disabled. By contrast my inferiority seemed to entitle them to demand servitude from me. That was how I was to pay them back for the shame and humiliation that my weakness brought into their life!

Another paradox has been that Jesus Christ taught the virtues of servanthood to God. Thus, as young as I was, I learned to do what I had to do as if I were doing it for God, according to the teachings of Jesus Christ. I can remember consciously thinking about these things, especially during troubled times with my brother and father. If you learn such a valuable lesson about life and health during the early years of your life, it will stay with you for the rest of your life, or as long as you still want it. I live with this advantaged point of view to this day.

If I unconsciously agreed with my family’s belief that one is superior if she becomes slim, was that part of the reason that my family reacted to my occasional joy over weight loss with such negativism? Was I just playing the ‘winning’ side of the game my parents developed and enforced for all of us? Moreover, was an aversion to being ‘superior’ part of the reason that I could not lose weight and keep it off?

There are whole therapies that declare that the struggle between inferiority and superiority are the basis for all disorders. I can tell you for sure that they are the basis for the difficulties between each member of my family and me.

Except my daughter. When I was 34 years old, and slim, she was the only family member that genuinely enjoyed my freedom to be my true, most happy self. She enjoyed seeing her mother become slim, sexy and glamorous. Sadly, it was also she who subsequently had to suffer for twenty-five years the effects of my life-threatening and debilitating obesity. Her relationship with me demonstrates a kind of love, faithfulness and constancy that is unusual in this world.

Until now, my quest in life has been some combination of freedom, truth, love, courage, humility, faith and genuine usefulness. Now I want to know where equality fits into this quest. I am mentally and physically prepared to begin.

Questions for the Reader:

1. In what way did the writer begin her life with feelings of inferiority? What choices did she make that helped her overcome these feelings? Have you ever felt inferior to others? What did you eat afterwards?

2. Which of her solutions helped her cope emotionally, while simultaneously causing perpetual life problems for her? Have you ever responded to a problem by making choices that helped, but that also made things worse?

3. What talents made the writer useful to her family?

4. Why did family members eventually resent the very talents and abilities that they utilized to maintain order in the family?

5. How did the writer cope with the resentment of her family? Have you ever had to cope with resentment over your best qualities and talents? How did you handle it?

Graph of Discovery

One is commended for good sense, but a perverse mind

is despised. Better to be despised and have a servant,

than to be self-important and lack food.

Proverbs 12:8,9 NRSV

"If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last,

and the servant of all."

Mark 9:35 NIV


Jealousy and Competition

It is February. I have now attended three consecutive small group meetings organized by my church. This group meets one evening each week, in a member’s home; the purpose is to help a dozen individuals discuss their spiritual lives, study the Bible, and give support and love to one another. This is an extremely important step for me, as I have avoided such activities for at least twenty years.

Thirty-five years ago I would have said that this type of activity was very fulfilling to me, as I felt useful, effective and enlivened by such activities. During my teen-age years I began to experience freedom from my usual shyness and reserve during religious group discussions. I felt accepted and valued, and sometimes even admired and trusted. When I was young, I wanted to be a minister, an unusual desire for a girl during the 1950’s. Someone suggested becoming a minister’s wife, but I knew that would not satisfy my needs for intellectual and organizational action. When I was in my twenties, I began to think about this again, but the male ministers in my life advised me against this choice as being likely to lead to failure.

When I was thirty-four and slim, three of my female contemporaries became ministers, and I was happy for them. Eventually a minister suggested that I enter Christian Education by way of a Social Work degree. This degree would afford more career options if the path to Christian Education was not fruitful. I followed this advice, but ultimately came to see Social Work as a dynamic ministry in itself, because it served the types of people and problems that Jesus cared about. Now that I am in private practice as a therapist, I fulfill some of the desire to minister to others, and thereby spend most of my life persuading others towards psychological health, love, truth, courage and spiritual growth. I can do this without involving myself in the organizational and social activities that I used to love.

Why did I withdraw, quit, give up and stay away? I got hurt. I became angry. I became afraid. I protected myself from disappointment that was unbearable to me. I ran away from situations where I might be a disappointment to others. I lost opportunities for progress towards my life goals.

Those lost opportunities were partly due to the weight gain itself. Moreover, the stresses of family and work life, the challenges posed by sexual prejudice, and my own loss of a sense of direction made my hopes seem impossible. What is different now, that I am going to start again? I don’t know. I only know that it is time to live my life, and begin again. Whatever I couldn’t deal with then, I am going to deal with now. Starting over means that I am willing to get hurt again, to feel angry again, to be anxious again, and even possibly to humiliate myself again.

Despite my shyness as a young child, by the time I was 27 years old, many people would have said that I was an extrovert. One church member told me that I should work for a hotel as a hostess and talk to all the arriving guests. Another person, whom I later learned disliked me, told me that I was effervescent and had twinkly eyes. It was true. At that age, the minute I saw people at the church I was filled with happiness. I enjoyed and admired almost everyone I met, and wanted to talk to them all. I was like Oprah Winfrey, filled with ideas, opinions, and enthusiasms. I loved to talk to people. All people. I was happy to be me! Even though, at that time, I weighed 200 pounds. Everyone thought of me as spiritual, intelligent, capable and friendly.

No one doubted that I was a good person, a good wife, a good mother, a good Christian and a good citizen. I rarely experienced jealousy from others. At this time, I felt respected, even admired, because many people indicated confidence in me, both as a person, and as a church leader. Furthermore, I was accomplishing a lot because of intellectual and organizational interests and skills. I was a very active leader in the local Presbyterian Church and in community volunteer activities; people appreciated my work and its effects on church life, even as they could see how much I enjoyed these activities.

In later years I came to believe that my success was acceptable to others because my fat meant that I was not a source of competition to either women or men, not professionally, educationally, or socially. Because I was fat, I did not have to cope with disturbances to the progress of my various ventures; people were able to accept, even admire, my work because there was no jealousy or threat to others regarding either popularity or sexual attractiveness.

Also, I did not have ego needs; nobody had to think about my feelings, because I concentrated on my work projects. I didn’t have personal things to feel joyous about, the ways that slim, healthy, active people do; so I could concentrate on other people’s needs and feelings, and on matters of organizational importance.

In the 1960’s, my type of woman was rare. I was really like a man in some ways; that is, I was very serious about my work and my interests; I stayed detached from my own personal needs, desires, feelings and goals, while I attended to the group needs of others. I had a logical, organized manner of thinking and speaking. I was self-starting, purposeful and enthusiastic, which presented an image of self-confidence.

During the late 1960’s, a man could strive to become confident,

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