There have been times throughout these years when I’ve come to know something without a doubt. Whether it’s a reality of my situation or about myself that I’ve until that moment denied, or it’s a reality of someone else in my world that affects me, or it’s a reality of LIFE – it’s been a defining moment that I’ve never forgotten.
Unfortunately the path to insight and enlightenment never runs smoothly – I found most of these occasions oh-so-painful. Because why do we hide the truth from ourselves in the first place? Mostly because it hurts too much? For me, that’s definitely so.
After I left home, I still held on to some fantasy that my mother did, deep down, love me as a mother. That the imaginary mother I’d spent my life hoping would emerge would come out and show her ‘real self’. It’s hard for someone who never existed except in my dreams, to show their ‘real self’.
I hung on to anorexia for many years in the hope that “my mother will love me, and then I’ll be okay, and I’ll be able to get better.” I don’t know what it was that I actually expected from her. Maybe it was just for her to acknowledge the pain that she’d caused me for so many years. Maybe it was for her to just care. I saw other patient’s parents and loved ones come into the hospital all the time, always hugging them, supporting them. Going into ward rounds with them (ward rounds being the most emotional and terrifying part of our week!). Wanting to be a part of whatever it took to help their loved ones. In comparison, I was very alone. My case workers went into ward rounds if they had the time, and I really appreciated that. They came to visit me. Friends sometimes came too, as long as they weren’t the friends I’d made on that very ward – because there is a ‘no past patient’ visitors policy for good reason. But there wasn’t anyone to hold me and tell me it was all going to be okay and remind me that there was more to life than this. Not that, in hindsight, having that happen would have ‘set me free’ like I imagined it would.
There are LOTS of people who don’t have anybody, and lots of people who might have families but struggle with them immensely so I know I’m far from alone. But it’s very hard to avoid feeling abandoned and uncared for when you are locked up in hospital against your will, trapped and frightened.
The bottom line is that even had I had the most supportive family from the start, even had my mother come in and apologised for the hurt and abuse, hugged me tight, promised me she wouldn’t hurt me ever again, told me she cared, whatever – even had that happened, it wouldn’t have helped me eating disorder wise. That is something that I’ve slowly had to accept comes down to me alone.
It’s been very, very hard to let go of this imaginary loving, supporting mother. Very hard. I had to admit to myself that she’d never really loved me and that she didn’t love me now, at all. That she would never love me. She wasn’t capable or willing to love me. That all she knew was how to cause harm and she wasn’t going to start changing in her 60′s (as she was then, she’s now in her 70′s) from the person she had been all her life long. She doesn’t even want to change. She’s happy being a malignant narcissist. And yet, I always held tight to the hope that somehow she would change, and the erroneous belief that this would be the key needed to unlock my illness and allow me to heal.
My moment of truth came about five or more years ago. (It’s hard to keep track of when things happened, the fifteen years of continual hospitalizations are a long blur to me. I even have had quite a number of people come up to me and say hello, start reminiscing about “this time when we..” and I cannot remember ever having set eyes on them in my life!)
I had been transferred from the ED unit with heart problems to the emergency department for safety’s sake, later to be transferred to cardiac care. It was there that I was told that they were not expecting at this stage that I would live through this night. The constant purging had dropped my potassium so low that my heart was struggling, and several days of IV’s hadn’t brought it up at all either. My other organs were also starting to fail and in tandem with being emaciated and weak, I was in huge trouble.
At that stage, I still had my mother as my next of kin. (I now no longer have any family next of kin – two special friends have that honour, and they not only would be prepared to be there if needed, they volunteered for this.) My mother was called by the emergency department staff and asked to please come in right away, as her daughter was in a critical condition and not expected to survive the night.
My mother lives an easy 5 minute drive from the hospital. She also, at that time, was driving everywhere all the time, long distances, short distances, daytime, night time, everywhere. There wasn’t any need for her to even go through the city area as she was on the same side of the city from the hospital.
But this evening (it was about 6pm I remember) her response was something along the lines of “I can’t come in. I couldn’t possibly drive there at night”.
The nurse who called her didn’t give up with that – and she was actually furious when she told me of this response. Not just that, but the nurse who had come down with me from the ED unit and who sat by my side for the next 12 hours, indicated to bring the phone to her and started telling my mother off. It didn’t work.
It was at this moment, that I realised without a doubt, that my mother did not love me, never had, never would. I could no longer deny that.
She didn’t even care if she never saw me alive again.
I made it through that night – it was one of many expectations of me not living that I defied. But the part of me that had hoped my mother could love me, that died.
It still has been years between that revelation, and me being able to totally cut her loose. I remained in touch, kept taking her calls and holding on through the inevitable screaming fits. (We never saw eye to eye, and our conversations would always degenerate into her offending me, or me offending her.) I don’t know why I bothered, but some part of me couldn’t stop trying.
Despite all the abuse – physical and emotional, the neglect, the craziness with food, turning a blind eye to and enabling the abuse from others – I kept forgiving her. I used to be endlessly forgiving. Maybe too forgiving. I gave every excuse in the book for her actions. At some stage, I had to wake up and realise I was flogging a dead horse here.
This all has had a huge effect on me in eating disorder terms. I had to face up to the fact that it really didn’t matter whether my mother loved me or hated me, I still had this disorder, I still had to deal with my problems, I still had to choose ultimately whether I wanted to live or die. I also came to the conclusion over time, that even had my mother been different, the most loving, caring woman on earth – I would still have this eating disorder and still be unable to heal from it just for having her support.
This has been one of the scariest revelations over the years for me – that there is nothing outside of myself, that can change this. Take away every single reason, influence, everything – and I would still have this. This includes being scared of weight gain, wanting to lose weight, being scared of eating, feeling unloved and unsupported, hating myself, being scared to either live or die, dealing with my past, getting anything from the eating disorder at all – I would still have my eating disorder.
It truly has a life of its own, and I truly believe I was born with it lying dormant in me, just biding it’s time for the right conditions and triggers to be present. Take them all away and it’s still part of me that I’m going to have in me forever. I wish I could rip it out, but I can’t – I can only do my best to manage it, like a diabetic must manage their diabetes for life.
Don’t get me wrong - I do believe complete recovery from an eating disorder is possible. I’ve personally witnessed a number of friends achieve this. I just don’t think that it’s possible for everyone, and most likely not myself. There are things I just can’t undo – how can I unlearn how to purge at will, for example, which has been the biggest stumbling block to maintaining my weight for years – because even eating my meal plan, I have that outlet in which I can undo all that good work in just one split second’s weakness. And how can I oust the ED voice from my head, when it’s been there all my life? I can live with it, grow stronger than it, refute it, but I can’t see it not ever being there. Even more, I have a feeling that the C-PTSD and the haunting remnants of my past will never give me much peace either, and all that is very much tied up together.
Even lately, when I’m still maintaining my weight, I’ve started ballet, still working on getting a job (and still hopeful), am doing art classes, more social, more active than in all the more than a decade previously – I haven’t been coping. Every day is a battle – the social anxiety in particular is a huge problem. It often takes me several attempts to get to classes or appointments because I’ll start out, chicken out and come back home, only to turn around again and head out again. I just don’t understand the level of absolute FEAR that keeps popping up for simple everyday things.
The C-PTSD problems, especially the constant dissociating and the abundance of triggers for this everywhere I go, also haunt me big time. It frustrates me because I want to move on, I’ve left my past behind. I do get pangs about just ‘cutting off’ my entire family like I did – but I’m able to see that it was my only choice and that they only will ever keep hurting me if I keep giving them the chance too. So usually when I think of them, I shake my head and say “Pfffft”. And yet they still follow me everywhere like shadows that only I can see.
Life itself is overwhelming and most days, I’m just not coping with it at all. It is extremely tempting to go crawling back to the disorder because I know it will kill me if I relapse – and that would at least mean it was finally all over with. Because I am SO TIRED.
There still is that ever-present urge to keep living though. To keep fighting, and so I do. That belief that everything that happens is for a reason, and the knowledge that even though I still have so far to go, I’ve come further than I thought possible, and that I already have had people say they have been given hope or inspired by something I’ve written or done or said. That really is an important one for me – my priorities have changed so much over the years – from everything being about me being successful and the best I can be, to wanting to do the best that I can do with what I have. If I can just live a functional life, be happy and content, give Shalimar as happy a life as she could have, and most of all, leave this world in some way a better place for my having been here – that’s all I want now.
The only chance I have of achieving this comes with continuing to fight – but also in letting go. Letting go of past dreams, letting go of past hurts, letting go of people who I used to not be able to imagine living life without. It means grieving all that I’ve lost or will never have. And it means growing up.
I’ve come to realise that there is a part of having an eating disorder that is very childish. Someone once mentioned in a blog – (I cannot remember who, or I’d link you – if it was you, please let me know!) that to have an eating disorder is a bit like throwing a childish tantrum. I’m not happy with the world and with my life and with myself? Time to throw myself down on the floor and kick and scream and hold my breath till I turn blue. Or refuse to eat, throw it up, throw the dishes at those trying to make me eat, throw it in their faces. It’s still a tantrum, whether it’s someone or something else I’m rejecting or my very self.
But not only do I need to grow up and take responsibility for being alive, but I also needed to do a lot of growing up in order to leave my mum behind. True, she never mothered me – but in my imagination, she did. That, at least, was something I clung on to, and I had to give that up like finally parting with a security blanket or favourite teddy bear.
Most of all, I had to learn to start parenting myself. I don’t have much of a clue how to do this, but I’ve started with being kinder to myself, practising self acceptance, and being firm with myself, too. I’ve read a lot of information online to educate myself as to why my mother is the way she is and why, particularly sites like Daughters Of Narcissistic Mothers, which have made me realise how far I am from being alone. I guess it’s a start – the main thing is that I’m not even relying on the fantasy of having a mother to soothe myself any more. Neither am I letting my absent ‘mother’ torment me as she did for all that time. I don’t have a mother. I never really did.
I know that whether a family is supportive or unsupportive varies widely among all of us. Eating disorders are not caused by parents/family. They might contribute in some, sure. But they don’t cause it. And for all of us, in the end it comes down to us alone against the eating disorder – only we can fight our own battle. But support and being loved do make a difference, as does feeling alone, feeling unloved, unsupported, and being constantly in battle with our family.
How has your family relationship affected you in terms of your eating disorder? Have you ever had to cut someone close to you off completely? How did you get through this?
A huge thank you to everyone for yet again reading through such a long winded post, and for all your comments – your contributions are always so thought-provoking to read!