I was a dramatic, fearless child. I spun around in the living room in a blue dress my mother made. The Beach Boys played on the record player and my brother copied my made up moves. He copied everything I did and I liked it that way. I was bossy. I was the leader. I wanted everyone’s attention to be on me. In every home video from my childhood, I am yelling, look at me! Look what I can do! Look what I’m about to do! Daddy, LOOK!
I loved that dress so much because when I danced in circles, the skirt would follow and I just knew I looked exactly like the dancers on TV. I was so confident that at a mostly-adult party my parents brought my brother and I to, I took center stage in front of the DJ and improvised for the unsuspecting audience. They applauded when I was done, and egged me on to continue. I only knew how to be a winner at that point. I didn’t fear being judged, and all I knew was that I could be anything. And I was everything. When my grandmother asked me what my favorite subject in school was, I replied, math. She told me not very many girls like math, and it was a great thing that I was so good at it.
I was only six, and I remember her saying that so clearly. Little did I know I would fail her hope for me to continue to succeed past the long division lesson. When I realized I wasn’t so great at math anymore, I hoped she would never ask me what my favorite subject in school was again. I didn’t want her to be disappointed in me.
The worst thing that could happen to me was acknowledgement of failure.
When my parents were called by the school nurse in 9th grade, for failure to eat lunch, my parents sat me down at the dinner table and expressed how disappointed they were. I had already beat myself down to nothing before they had a chance to, I was barely listening. I was planning how to be successful again. Planning how to be deceitful, because I had to be thinner, but I could never allow them to know again. They would love their perfect, successful, thin daughter who had only ever let them down one time.
Several times in the following years, I wanted nothing more than to tell them the truth. I wanted to tell them how every single day I woke up and the first thing I thought about was what I would eat and how I could burn it off and how it made concentrating on AP European History so hard that I cried before school the morning of a huge test. I was hyperventilating as I walked toward the classroom door and the teacher felt bad enough for me to send me to the library so I could take the test later. I wanted someone to say it’s going to be ok, we’ll get through this together. I wanted them to know how awful I felt when I would throw my entire lunch in the trash as soon as I got to school. I didn’t want to waste all that food, but I couldn’t figure out any other solutions.
They promised me I could tell them anything, but they didn’t know what anything could possibly entail. My mother’s brain doesn’t work the same as mine. She doesn’t need anything to be perfect, she doesn’t crave competition or sweat, and she doesn’t have a sense of urgency to get things done. She is relaxed, kind, and gentle. But she doesn’t get me or this, or the need to be in control. The confusing thing to me is that my dad’s reaction to knowledge of his daughter’s disordered eating was always denial followed by anger. It’s confusing because he should understand. Our brains are wired the same way; we both have an overwhelming need for control, we have type A personalities, we’re bossy, determined, motivated, and stubborn. Neither of us wanted to talk about emotions but both of us needed to. I’m not sure that that will ever happen.
I am protecting myself by not telling them–my fear of their disapproval is astronomically high. And I am protecting them, from having to wonder if it is somehow their fault–something that could have been prevented or permanently stopped.
I started to read The Power of Now 2 weeks ago, and haven’t been able to move beyond the first chapter. I put the book down and felt empowered, but chaotic. I looked at the book everyday since then but can’t open it back up. Something tells me if I open it up, and read the rest of it, I’m going to feel like I understand something that I didn’t before. And that something will get in the way of self-wallowing and destructive thinking. I don’t even know who I am without these things and it’s pretty terrible to not want to help yourself, but it is equally as terrible to not know what one might be like without things that are part of one’s identity. Even if that identity is only in my head. What if I stop caring about my weight entirely, and I gain 100 pounds?