For as long as I can remember, my eating disorder has appeared as contraband. Calling it “my” may even elicit disapproval. I remember the well-meaning conversation where it was clear that a “recovered” person no longer speaks of “such things”. The window was closed, drapes drawn, and lights dimmed. I felt alone. A failure. Less than.
One of my earliest memories is how I used to follow my mother around on Friday afternoons until 5:30pm when the babysitter, Martha arrived. I was a nervous wreck about her and my dad going out on a date. They generally stayed in town, went to poncho’s and the movie theatre (in adjoining buildings). The kids, 4 of us at the time, would eat fish sticks and mac ‘n cheese. To this day, the smell of fish sticks evoke an uneasiness in my stomach. I was convinced that they were going to get in an accident and die. I was 5.
Anxiety has been a part of my life longer than my 26 year old sister.
I vividly remember mealtimes in my family, my best memories-mostly. As a little girl, I was controlled by my fear of health fatalities. I was worried that if someone else in my family ate a second pork chop that it may harm them-so I asked for it. My health did not concern me. I spent a lot of my childhood eating other things to try and prevent someone else from eating them and dying. This would explain my 4 cinnamon brown-sugar pop-tart breakfasts as a 9 year old. What I did not recognize is that my mother still had 3 boxes in the cupboard. This began my toxic relationship with food.
I carried around extra weight for the majority of my childhood. I was a chubby girl. Uncomfortable. Stricken with fear.
In high school, after losing over 50lbs at the onset of my eating disorder, I slept in my jeans in fear that I would outgrow them overnight. Waking up, I would feel my hip bones, suck in real deep, and know that I was safe— for that day.
As a mother, I have accepted the changes that having children impose on the body… and yet, still hold myself to unrealistic expectations about how my body feels. I’m not talking about looking like the girls in magazines. I’m not interested in looking buff. It’s about how my body feels from the inside. Not feeling centered and comfortable in myself can set me up for anxiety that fuses itself into nearly every aspect of my daily life.
I was re-reading a book the other day that I read while coming out of a particularly rough phase a few years ago.
“Recovery is like a big old house,” she said. “The anorexic or the bulimic is always going to live there. People sometimes think, I can evict her, I can get rid of that. But you don’t develop an eating disorder for no good reason. It’s a profound experience. So how could you wipe out that whole piece of your history? I prefer to think of it this way. She used to rule the house in a kind of tyranny. She was in charge of the kitchen, in charge of everything. Now she still gets to live there and she may still have some of the old fears and vulnerabilities, but she’s got only one room in the house and has to make way for more and more occupants as time passes.”
I was relieved to know that I am not the only one who still houses her, unintentionally. My eating disorder did serve a considerable purpose. Most days, I still wake up and am greeted by her, in some form or another. Her voice, although timid, is piercing and knows exactly where to find my soft spots- Anxiety.
Having children is enough to cause any well-meaning mother anxiety. Having a child with special needs, living 500+ miles away from my family, and having an underlying issue with anxiety is enough to paralyze me if I let it. Some days I do.
Last night, while shopping for jeans with Britt (the bff), we came to the conclusion that perhaps I need to take a break from jeans. After making our way through 5 or 6 stores, it was clear that this was not going to end in a purchase. My anxiety was pretty high throughout the whole process, which is what prompted me to invite a shopping partner.
Jeans are a container for me, they remind me of where my body needs to remain in order to maintain my position as person in charge. This explains why I slept in my jeans as a teenager. My anxiety is fueled by a need to control a chaotic world. Controlling food = anxiety is eliminated. Easy peasy. Right?
Rehashing these old habits, beliefs, and parts of myself is dispiriting. But, I know that I am not alone in this either. My eating disorder will probably always be a part of my life. The one caveat: if God would miraculously strip it from my past, which He’s capable of, but I think He intends it to instead tether me to Him.
I’m speaking to this because I felt prompted by the book I was reading. I do not know how you, my readers can relate to eating disorders- but I bet we can all understand anxiety to some extent. Open dialogue about taboo issues is one of my favorite things. It puts me in a vulnerable position, which has always produced growth.
Bravery is not always about taking a stand when others can see it, but fighting demons behind drawn drapes.