I love my mother. Her illness does not make her any less of a role model in my eyes. I do not judge her for spending most of her teenage years, early twenties, thirties, and some of her forties fighting the urge to purge – and losing. After many years of being angry and confused I understand her struggle. I understand what it feels like to develop a severe sense of inadequacy as a teenage girl due to a lack of control in your life. I understand how it feels to have vicious numbers constantly pushing their way into your brain every time hunger pangs hit. I understand how it can feel like winning when months of damage makes those hunger cues disappear altogether and you’re left with a seductive emptiness instead. I understand how the act of eating can become so taboo that any intake feels so unnatural during the day, but as soon as night falls there’s an inescapable urge to binge on every cracker in the box, every bean in the can, and even every drop of jam in the jar. I understand all these terrible facts about eating disorders, so I do not blame my mother for making our house her “safe zone”. By this I mean our house is free of anything that may trigger her emotional eating leading to a binge leading to a purge.
As a child I resented the fact that I could never reach for a Pop Tart, a handful of Lays, or a scoop of ice cream at home. Then, as I got a bit older I began to realize that it wasn’t just standard junk food that was missing from my shelves; it was all food minus a few low-calorie, low-carb staples. When my friends ate sandwiches at lunch-time, I pulled out a cold, bun-less hot dog because bread was not something my mother let us buy at the grocery store. When dinnertime rolled around at one of my play-dates there would be the occasional order placed to Pizza Hut or Dominos, but generally I was served a dinner that consisted of salad, some rice or pasta, and a sweet meat dish. My own dinners at home were always a switch up between Mexican take-out or McDonalds.
It wasn’t until I was in high school that my dad confided in me about my mother’s past with bulimia. He told me how she hasn’t “practiced” in years, but when she finds herself alone with bread products, snacks, cookies, etc. she still feels the urge to binge, and resisting that urge is something she still hasn’t mastered. It finally made sense why my cupboards and refrigerator shelves looked so different from my friends’ and why my dinners consisted of single portion take-out meals that didn’t yield leftovers she could binge on. That’s my background. I don’t think it’s why I developed anorexia and that’s not what this article is about. I don’t wish to discuss my sickness but rather, my recovery.
After my family grew aware of all the weight I had lost while I was away at college, the first step towards recovery was to move back home. It was my choice. I knew I’d feel more comfortable in that setting; I thought would be able to exercise more control over my surroundings and not feel as compelled to control every calorie entering my body. For the most part I was correct. But moving back to the house where healthy staples such as pasta, rice, and bread were still banned has made recovery twice as difficult.
As a bulimic my mother had to re-learn how to eat without binging. As an anorexic I’ve had to re-learn how to eat without restricting and to be honest, it’s much easier to restrict when certain foods just aren’t around. In a way my house is an anorexic’s paradise because it’s sickeningly easy to under-eat when the only options available are things like egg whites, frozen vegetables, and yogurt. I’m proud of my mother for recognizing her triggers and creating an environment for herself that helps her avoid binging and purging. She prefers to eat her meals out of the house to avoid having prime binge candidates at her disposal but she’s still nourishing her body and more importantly that nourishment isn’t ending up in the toilet. I am proud of my mother’s recovery, but I can’t help but feel that my own is in jeopardy. This is a pivotal point in my life where I’m young enough to replace my unhealthy habits with better ones, but in order to do that I need to address my own triggers. I need to become more comfortable with eating things like Pop Tarts, Lays, and ice cream again. I wish that my home could be my “safe zone” as well as my mother’s, but when you’re a recovering anorexic living with a mostly recovered bulimic that’s not entirely realistic.