I take a deep breath and squat, my skin barely touching the seat of the outhouse toilet. I pee as fast as possible, wipe, and toss. I nearly break into a run fleeing the small, reeking confines of the camp latrine. You see, I have been in mortal fear of using the outhouse my entire life.
It took me decades to figure out why I feared sitting my bare bum over a gaping hole in the Earth. The stench is enough to warn anyone off, but it wasn’t just that. And it wasn’t my horror-movie fear of a giant anaconda slurping up out of the muck and carrying me off to his lair. No, my fear of outhouses is baked in–genetically woven into my fiber.
The story goes that my Great Aunt Creasy went to the family outhouse one summer day, broke the toilet and pedestal, then crashed through the floor. She landed several feet below “up to her neck in raw shit.”
The storyteller’s tone was always 90% serious and 10% humorous–whether it was my grandfather, mother, or one of her siblings. Although the teller sometimes changed how many hours it took to fish Great Aunt Creasy out (“She dog paddled in that shit until the next morning.” “Brownie’s Wrecker got there right after supper.”) or what she said as she screamed and cried for help (“Lord, get me out!” “Davey Earl, get the block and tackle!”), two details remained the same throughout the tellings: Great Aunt Creasy wore fire engine red lipstick way beyond the boundaries of her lip lines and “she was a big, big woman.”
Now, clearly, a story like this would frighten most children who might have the need to visit an outside toilet, but for me it became a defining narrative about the bodies of women, my body, and fat.
As my battle with binge eating disorder worsened, my weight increased and I internalized messages about body hate and fat. Great Aunt Creasy’s plight exemplified for me the reality of being a fat woman and only years later did I realized that my fear of outhouses wasn’t about pissing in a dark hole in the ground, but about the shame I would face if I broke the toilet seat and fell into the filth below.
Subconsciously for years and then consciously for many more, I wondered on the increasingly fewer cases I needed to use an outhouse if my weight now was enough to break the seat. Had I become “a big, big woman”? Would this be the time my too-heavy body finally pulled the trigger and made me the subject of generations of family lore?
On the surface, it is a good story, right? It’s not everyday that someone has to be hauled out of a latrine by a tow truck. But I wonder now as I wondered then if my family was trying to entertain me and my cousins or warn us all by repeating Great Aunt Creasy’s potentially fatal accident? After all this is the ONLY story I’ve ever heard about her. It’s all I know of a woman–my own flesh and blood–and her time on this Earth.
In my marrow, I feared such a legacy while still deep in the throes of Binge Eating Disorder. I had internalized Great Aunt Creasy’s humiliation. Her shame had become my shame. I became her–a woman kicking and thrashing to stay afloat in a pond of shit her family had created. This fear and shame eventually extended to other areas of my life as I found myself carefully testing porch swings to see if they could hold my weight; easing gently into my own bathtub, pausing with a racing heart at the slightest creak; and generally holding my breath in life, not just because I didn’t want my bathroom to come crashing through the ceiling, but because of a generations-deep fear of the shame I’d feel because everyone would know that it wasn’t a rotted floorboard that caused the crash, but the weight of “a big, big woman.”
In other words, I care more about what you think of me than I care about my own well being.
Now THAT’S some shit.
**Note** This entry is an excerpt from my newest book, The Optimistic Food Addict: Rebounding from Relapse (Fall 2017).
If you want to read more writing like this, please see my other books on the subject of food addiction: The Optimistic Food Addict’s Recovery Journal and Activity Workbook and The Optimistic Food Addict: Recovering from Binge Eating Disorder.
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