Why Dinner Makes Me Nervous

Trigger warning, friends: Bulemia.

For the last 6 months or so, my body sensory information  has been rapidly changing and thawing. It’s a continuing evolution, an evolution, as long as I have this body, I guess. Lately, I’ve become increasingly aware of how much tension my body is holding when I’m about to eat dinner.

When I was married, it used to be just a general increasing anxiety in the evening that made me irritable, quick to burst into tears at the least thing not working out. Eventually, instead of giving the kids dinner at a dining table, I switched it up to a little coffee table in the living room. That change helped diffuse some of the resonance with dinners in my family of origin. My body still held a ton of bracing, though.

Now, post-divorce, half the week I’m eating dinner by myself (or with friends) and not w my boys, or a partner. So, I’ve had space to investigate a little.

What comes up when I relax my body, is visual flashes of my dad eating dinner across the table from me.

In my family home, the kitchen itself was a sweet, tree-house-feeling one. Kind of plain, but on the second floor, with a big deck outside the plate glass windows, overhung by a giant Ash tree. My Mom made healthy meals, that she didn’t have any passion for creating. But she dutifully and resourcefully put good food in front of us every day.

So. There’s that. Healthy food, with moderate flavor, that had some resentment built in. And, of course, there I was, sitting across from my abuser at every evening meal. Watching him eat in his sort of….Jewish survivor way: huge, overfull bites, like he hadn’t eaten all day, like he might not get this much food again any time soon. Like the kossacks might charge in at any moment, and at least if he had a mouth really full, he could chew on that for a while.

In high school, when my body was looking and feeling very womanly (large breasts that made me feel naked even in clothing,) I consistently overate. Stuffing myself at the meal, and then eating more after, to my mother’s obvious annoyance, and disgust. I exercised a lot so I wasn’t heavyset, but I created a body that was dense. And that full feeling kept me from the more subtle and difficult body sensations that I must have been managing, always.

For several years in my mid to late teens, I binged and purged whenever the stress was too much. Puking up meals of spaghetti, chili, something made without love, eaten in the presence of my father, my abuser. At that point I don’t think he was sexually abusing me anymore. Still, my body reacted to his presence with extreme physical anxiety. I remember digging my nails unconsciously into my palms, so hard they turned purple, when I’d get an early morning ride from him to my high school. Also, this feeling of turning to stone while sitting in the passenger seat. The heaviness was particularly strong in my legs, which felt like they might sink through the car seat. I now recognize that “stone” sensation as a trauma freeze response.

Last night I kept gently testing out relaxing my body while eating dinner. I was by myself, so I could really focus on what was going on inside me. I would soften and feel how pleasurable it felt to eat the nourishing food I’d made for myself. Kale salad with ginger-miso-tahini dressing, roasted pumpkin seeds, raspberries, avocado. Hearty toast with ghee and pink salt. All made with some joy in it, just for me. I felt body sensations arising from the enjoyment. I tasted, really  tasted, my food. Then, inevitably, the tension and clenching up would return, my body going mute again. I’d notice, and breathe for a sec, relax, and have another bite. Feeling returned, flavor enjoyed again, a pleasurable looseness in my body and heart.

It’s a slow, deliberate process, this.

But I’m healing Dinnertime.

Deb Talan

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