The fact that I am a mom with an eating disorder is one of the things I am least proud of. Or perhaps you could say that I had an eating disorder because it is in control now. Control being the operative word: My eating disorder was nothing if not a quest for control. Control is deceptive because you have to hold on, or it will slip away at the last second. I never want my kids to feel this way.
I feel proud and fortunate that I’ve made some major changes in my life. I am in therapy. My husband and I have worked hard to have an open and honest relationship, and he always calls me out if I’m going down the slippery-eating-disorder-slope.
My anorexia and bulimia started when I was 12, triggered by a number of uncontrollable life events and loneliness, mostly related to my parents’ divorce. I felt in control. I felt safe. I could never relax.
My eating disorder combination got pretty bad. I passed out several times over the next 10 years. I starved, I took diet pills, I lost hair, I didn’t get my period until I was 18 and I threw up often and lied about it. I can’t tell you how many times I was asked about the retching sounds in the bathroom, only to say it wasn’t me or that I had eaten bad food. No one seemed to catch on.
Now I am more balanced and at a healthy weight. But there is the control aspect — when I’m particularly stressed, I feel like I’m losing control and want to punish myself by withholding food. It feels so good.
I was relieved in a sense when I had two sons because I thought that I didn’t have to immediately worry about eating disorders and body image. I’m aware that eating disorders can still happen among boys, but the stereotype abounds.
Just recently, as I read a daughter’s account of her mother’s devastating eating disorder, I realized no one is safe. Abby Norman observes some of her mother’s behavior and realizes that anorexia is rarely ever about weight. This is very true.
Abby goes on to describe her mother’s quality of life after years of anorexia, “She lives a quiet and solitary life because her days are filled with a lot of pain. She doesn’t leave the house much. She has the companionship of my younger brother and mountains of books. She is very smart and funny, despite her illness. She no longer purges, but she is still very much emaciated and her body has withstood years and years of abuse.”
Sometimes, I let myself slip back into that abusive disordered eating because the control and the self-harm feel safe and good. But as a parent, I’m beginning to realize that your kids are always onto you. I thought that having sons would mean I would not likely pass on my eating disorder, but kids still sense the fear and need for control.
I want my sons to know how very much I love them, but I’m working on loving myself. I don’t ever want to pass down that self-punishment and shame that comes with disordered eating. My eating disorder has been manageable for years, but maybe that in itself is the deception. You can’t manage fear. You can’t hide it from your kids.