To Eat or Not to Eat: The End of a Troubled Relationship

Not all bad relationships are between people. I’ve limped along my negative relationship with food for decades, carrying the associated emotional and physical baggage.
My old diaries from ages 13 and 14 are missing the cursory teenage angst about boys and mean girls at school. Even the fact that my mother disappeared with her last husband, leaving me and high dry with a barely- adult sister.
Instead, the journals contain page after page of what I ate:
          Monday- cornflakes with skim milk.
    Thursday- one box of Suzy Q’s, one pound M&M’s, cornflakes with whole milk.
You get the point. Starve, starve, starve, and binge.
When I was in my mid-twenties, already a single mother of two girls and on food stamps, a friend set me up on a date. The date wanted to meet for lunch at Simon & Seafort’s, an Anchorage landmark known for its fabulous seafood and steaks. I spent the next few days fantasizing about what I would eat. Should I order something I knew I’d love, like a burger and fries, or venture into new territory and order a shrimp louie?  My poor future date.  I never thought a lick about him.
Just as well.
We met for lunch a few days later. My date was a portly brunette at least twenty years older than me with a mustache that covered his upper lip. He didn’t smile much, but talked a lot. He was a museum curator, and he assured me he had LOTS of money. “Order anything you like,” he said. Seeing my look of surprise, he said, “I’m serious. Anything.”
He didn’t have to tell me twice. But since he did, I went wild with the appetizers. Calamari, potato wedges with gruyere, beef tips, and crab and artichoke dip on bread. Yum!
My date? I don’t know what he ate. He just talked and talked and talked. But I didn’t mind. I was self-medicating. Our waitress circled the table repeatedly, trying to take away baskets with food still in it. Since my mouth was full, I had to shoo her away by waving my free hand.
When the bill came, my date finally got quiet. “I’ve never had a lunch cost so much,” was his only comment.
Another one bites the dust.  Although it was a great temporary departure from poverty, the food hangover lasted for days.
As much as I adore eating, I don’t love the feeling of being that out of control.  I want to eat food that’s kind to me, and eat what I need, not everything I can swallow.
It’s important to be intentional about all relationships. I don’t hang out with people who bring out my worst qualities or encourage me to abandon goals and core beliefs.

 And the same is true with food.

Recently, I’ve come to love the show Hungry Girl on the Food Network.  I’m confident Lisa Lillien and I would be friends if she lived in Alaska.  The food is fun, with respectable portions thanks to some innovative substitutions. I haven’t tried a recipe of hers that I didn’t love.  A close second is Not My Mama’s Meal’s by Bobby
To Eat or Not to Eat: Three Questions I Ask Myself When Deciding
  1.       )      Is this food good for me?
    2)      Will I like myself after I’ve eaten it?
    3)      Have I exercised enough to burn the energy it will give me?
Pretty simple, but I’m used to telling myself I deserve to eat this cake, French fries etc., instead of I deserve to feel healthy and fit.  And I do deserve to be healthy.

You do, too.

Any recipes or tips you’d like to share, Dear Reader?

Turkey burger with Hungry Girl Onion Rings

3d Book Group/ AfterImage by Carla Malden

Every six weeks or so, I get together with some of my favorite friends and talk books.  Until now, we’ve met at a coffee shop, spoken about our impressions of the book, and let conversation morph into one about our lives and loves.

(1/2 the group at Cafe Del Mundo

This time, we tried something different.

I selected the book AfterImage by Carla Malden. It was recommended to me last summer at a writer’s conference as an example of a memoir that seamlessly moves from the past to the future while telling a beautiful love story.
Normally, books about women whose husbands have died make me jealous. My marriage was heinous, and I really wanted my husband to die. I prayed for it to happen. It never did.
But this book tells of an enviable relationship that began for the writer as a teenager and led to a personal and professional partnership (the two were screenwriters) that ended too soon. The author had me hooked in the first paragraph:
“Mrs. Starkman,” said the doctor, “sit down.”
          Ten months, three week later, my husband was dead.
           Cancer is an awesome opponent. Sometimes it wins. Even when it most should not. Even when all goodness is on the other side.
I wasn’t the only one who loved AfterImage. We all agreed that it was lyrically written, universally relatable, and pretty funny in spots for a book of its kind.
I saw on the author’s site that she attends book groups in person or via Skype when possible. She responded immediately when I submitted a request. Due to the time difference between Alaska and California, we settled on a Q and A format. The group submitted their questions and comments to me which I forwarded on to Ms. Malden.
What was it like, writing this without your husband who you wrote with for ages?
It was the only type of writing I could do without him.  I could not return to screenwriting (and still have not). This was a completely different type of writing — more individual, less dependent on a particular structure.  I found I could access that voice, whereas I didn’t feel I had the confidence or the inclination to write a screenplay without him.  We had developed a rhythm as to how to do that together over the years that I didn’t feel I could re-invent.  This book took on a method of its own.  I had to write it, in a way, even though it was agonizing.  
  Was it a cathartic experience? 
   “Cathartic” isn’t precisely the right word.  But it was a learning experience.  I learned that I really love writing prose which I hadn’t done in a long time.  In retrospect (as it’s been a few years now since I finished the actual writing), I realize that it was important for me to turn the events of that year into some sort of narrative that I could wrap my arms around, to make it less surreal.  Writing the book helped me understand that this had really happened… and, at the same time, turned it into a “story” that I could somehow contain (or, at least, have the illusion of containing).  Maybe it helped stop that “story” from subsuming the rest of my life because for a while there, I really felt like I would never come up for air. Wasn’t sure I wanted to — which I think is necessary part of the process.  I now believe you have to make that daily choice to live — in whatever limited way you can — when you’re in the darkest depths of an experience like that.
  What are you reading now?
  Right now I’m reading “Defending Jacob” which is a courtroom best seller — the kind of thing I very  rarely read, but it happened to be on a Kindle that was given to me.  (I rarely read on the Kindle either — I prefer the old-fashioned way!).  Before that, I read a book called “Heft” that I found enormously inventive and compelling.  Within the past year I was on a Meg Wolitzer kick — caught up with everything of hers I hadn’t read before, and then, coincidentally, her mother, Hilma Wolitzer, just came out with a new book called “An Available Man” which I really enjoyed (though it kind of freaked me out because it’s about a widower and parts of it were so much like a fictionalized version of my book).
There were a few more questions she answered, but you get the drift, Reader. Suddenly reading a touching story became a real conversation, and our book group was so thankful that our author provided insight. And the author was sincerely touched that we chose her book to read and spent time discussing it.
Our 3d book group was a great success. Next group, we’re hoping to have local author Bong attend with us and tell us about writing Escape to Survive.
What tips do you have to keep your book group fun and relevant?

AfterImage will soon be available in paperback.

Child Abduction’s Anniversary

Eighteen years ago today, my daughters were snatched and taken to Greece.
There are certain details I’ll never forget. I remember waving goodbye to them as they climbed into their father’s jeep for their two day visitation.   I remember meeting my friend Julie for lunch that day to celebrate her birthday. I remember feeling slightly guilty for enjoying the much-needed break from the constant demands of single motherhood, not realizing that this break would last just over two long years.
March 13, 1994 is one of my life’s uglier anniversaries.
But there is much about the next many months and years that are important to remember. Important enough that I’ve written them down so that our history will not be erased.
I remember the support from my friends, my coworkers, and the Anchorage community at large. The tireless work of local attorneys Michael Schneider and James Gorton. And I remember the trips to Greece which led to new and lasting friendships, and to finding my daughters. Only to be arrested.
International parental child abduction is on the rise. Less than half of the parents whose children are taken from home countries ever see them again.
But thanks to the help of so many, I became one of the luckier ones.
So what’s the anniversary I do celebrate?
May 24, 1996. The day the girls and I returned home to Alaska.
 In truth, I celebrate just a little every day that this crisis from our past could not prevent us from enjoying a fabulous future.

Take It From Me: Supporting Your Abused Friend While Staying Safe and Sane


  • Tell her she deserves to be treated well.
  • Tell her you’re concerned for her safety .
  • Ask questions like “Why do you think he/she does that?”
  • Limit how much time you spend listening to her vent.
  • Report abuse of children in the home, or of children witnessing the violence to child protective services.
  • Refer her to get help at the local domestic violence agency.

  • Tell her, “I’d never put up with that.”
  • Tell her to leave her abuser.
  • State your negative opinion about her abuser.
  • Think you can rescue her.
  • Judge her decision to stay in the relationship.
  • Become her cheerleader or get invested in her decisions.

Your loved one in an abusive relationship feels plenty of judgment already. No need to add to the pressure.

A few explanations are necessary.

Why not tell her to leave her abuser?

Because more women are seriously injured or killed when leaving a violent relationship, not while remaining in it. She alone will live with the consequences of leaving, not you.

Limit how much time you spend listening to her vent. Now that’s always been a controversial one. I nearly burned through a couple of relationships, leaning so hard on a couple of friends I dared to share my scary secrets with.  It’s a lot of pressure to put on the listener. And because we’re all human, it leads the well-meaning friend or family member to become invested in the choices of the abused. After all, how long do any of us want to hear the same version of the depressing story, over and over again?

Don’t cheerlead. By that I mean, don’t say, “I knew you could do it!” if your friend leaves her partner, or gets a job, or whatever.  It seems nice. It seems harmless, right? But in the end, your abused friend, who wants your approval, may feel pressured to be less than honest with you when she waffles on her choices.

It takes most women several tries before she’s able to leave her violent relationship for good.  Pace yourself. Take care of yourself. You’ll be a better support in the long run.

What tips do you have to maintaining your support of an abused friend while staying safe and staying sane? Leave a comment below.