My mom is a badass. She celebrated her 60th birthday last year with her first tattoo, a hummingbird inked into her wrist. The bright colors are extraordinary.  Several weeks after her tat job, she hosted a dinner party. Her friend’s husband disapprovingly looked down at my mom’s wrist and asked, “What does your husband think about all of this?” Without skipping a beat, my dad responded with a smile, “I think it’s terrific”.

My mom felt a little pinch of defiance. Why in the world would it matter what my husband thought? I’m 60-years old! I can do what I want.

Oh how times have changed! The mentality that wives still need to ‘ask permission’ from their husbands after 40+ years of marriage is mind-boggling. It helps me continue to recognize that each generation brings a different perspective to most situations. For instance, writing this blog has introduced interesting responses from family members and friends.

My mom has talked to a few friends about my ED Recovery blog. She finds herself trying to explain that she’s okay with it and that the two of us are doing great. I want to protect my parents and scream to the world that I was raised with love and my bulimia isn’t their fault. Eating disorders are rarely caused by parents.  Eating disorders are caused by a combination of genetic, biological, psychological and social factors. I personally think my size contributed most to my eating disorder. I had always felt different by being a big girl compared to my classmates. I wasn’t fat, I was big. At the time, I just couldn’t see the difference.

We all have something and bulimia just became my thing.

I don’t blame my mom for my eating disorder and I don’t blame myself. My mind doesn’t have any room for blame because that emotion doesn’t serve me.  I like to keep acceptance and gratitude for recovery on the forefront of my thoughts.

My mom comes from a generation where people didn’t talk about their problems. She was raised in a southern home and learned to keep family business private.  There wasn’t a local community support group and if there was, it didn’t feel comfortable to ask strangers for help so publically. She didn’t know how to talk to me about my body because she didn’t have those kind of conversations with her own mother.

Now she has a daughter who has stripped naked for the world to see in a blog.

It was scarier for me to share my writing than to tell the world I was recovering from a 24-year relationship with an eating disorder. When I share my work I’m opening up the innermost parts of my mind. I do not have control of the outcome. This is scary sh!t for someone who likes to have a sense of control.

I’ve learned to be more vulnerable than I ever imagined because I know it’s vital to talk about our private body shame and secret inner dialogue. We all have little thoughts where we tend to think about ourselves throughout the day, some of its positive and some of its brutal.  The power of these mean voices dissipates once we’re strong enough to admit their presence. Sharing my feelings feels better than stuffing them down.

Parents only know what their kids tell them.

I grew up well-rounded. I received good grades, played in three sports a year and joined all sorts of clubs. I worked in hospitality since I was 16 and I was raised to be independent.  I talked to my dad about boy troubles, to my mom about friendship woes and to my sisters about everything else. We were a close family, but I never talked about my eating disorder. It’s very easy to get away with ED behaviors when you’re being a good girl because no one expects it. You learn that it’s the one thing you can get away with and the one thing you feel like you can control.

In the early 90s, towards the end of middle school, I told my mom that every now and then I overate and made myself sick. She spoke to a doctor who very matter-of-factly told her it was an adolescent phase. He came across like it really wasn’t that big of a deal and it would work itself out. Doctors trained in medicine are not usually trained in the areas of mental illness. The word mental illness was a foreign concept to us. The idea of seeing a shrink or a therapist was taboo. The general consensus was that kids had to be really messed up to see a psychiatrist. She wasn’t pointed in the right direction or in any direction at all.

My mom asked me on and off about my eating disorder but either I lied or I purposely told her it wasn’t a big deal. I also assumed it was a phase and besides, “I had it under control”.

The word ‘recovery’ was something that related to alcoholics, not kids with food issues.

My behaviors didn’t seem to have any long-term effects. This made me feel like a kid throwing up her food on occasion wasn’t that big of a deal and certainly not a major health disorder. I treated my ED like a small chapter in girlhood adolescence.

Many of us are not raised to look in the mirror and start off our days by saying, “I am enough. My body is beautiful.”

Having a daughter with weight issues was a touchy subject. I lashed out in anger anytime my body was brought up into discussions. I wanted help, but I didn’t want to talk about my weight.  My weight was deeply personal and the more I became connected to my food addictions, the less I wanted to share my feelings.  My mom only knew what I was willing to share with her. I could talk in circles with her about dieting as long as the conversation felt like we were in the trenches together, but when the talks turned towards my bigger problems with food, I closed up.

We were both raised in a culture of dieting for weight loss, not for health. My mom watched her own mom diet and I did the same. I listened to my mom talk to her girlfriends when she thought I was out of earshot. I was a quiet, curious observer around adults. None of them talked about their bodies with self-love. It was normal to feel shame about their weight. They stored low-fat and fat-free diet foods in our kitchen cabinets while overeating popcorn and snicker bars with us on movie nights. Yo-yo dieting was part of the scene and I witnessed it all.

hummingbird

In addition to being exposed to the main stream fitness and diet fads, I also feel like being raised to be nice caused part of my sickness. I never learned how to fully express my emotions and I don’t think many of us do.  I realized I wasn’t the best communicator when I tried to talk to my then-boyfriend-now-husband about heavy topics that wore on my heart. All I knew how to do was to cry. It frustrated me to see myself unable to talk things through like a ‘normal’ person.

As children, we grow up learning that good behavior is more acceptable than bad behavior. My upbringing was no different. Little kids are punished for being angry or being upset. “Go to your room and cool off” or “You’re too old to be crying like this”. It’s was more important for parents to receive accolades for well- behaved kids. Acting out was out of the question. We needed to play the part and look like ‘good kids’.

I had a friend tell me about his mother impatiently reprimanding his son because he fell at a restaurant. He was wailing from his accident and his mother was embarrassed by the theatrics, “Tell him to stop crying. People are staring.” This is just how our moms and grandmothers were raised. No one ever talked about the hardships of motherhood the way the blogosphere tells it like it is today.

During my recovery, I’ve had to tell my mom, a few different ways, she inadvertently hurt my feelings growing up.

It’s changed us for the better. My mom understands me better and we can talk about anything now.

She sees how much of my moodiness and discontent related to my body and not her. She can now see my perspective as a kid and understands why I was not able to talk through hurt feelings or anger.

She has always loved me unconditionally now it’s my turn to return the favor and really mean it. My words hurt her deeply, but we’ve been able to stay strong and love each other even more through it all. I had to have total acceptance of her doing the best job that she could to raise me. I had to risk disappointing her so we could be closer and it turned out to be the pivotal part of my healing. She received my words with open arms.

Life is too short for inauthentic relationships. Being a close family means being human with each other. We’re going to have moments of anger and moments of tears from hurt feelings. This is normal. What’s not normal is pretending that everything is okay for the sake of not rocking the boat or not wanting to stir the pot.

Being human means learning how to express all of our emotions, even the ones that are considered bad behavior. Now that my mom and I have had a couple of big healing talks, the little stuff that comes up is so much quicker to fade. We’ve learned how to communicate all the way with each other. I used to just graze the surface stuff because it felt less risky, even though my heart was on fire. I know now it’s better to speak up and move on.

Being a family means understanding that we are going to disagree and we are going to get along. It’s practicing love and kindness through unexpected arguments. It means talking it out until everyone feels heard. My mom and I chose to grow together for the rest of our lives instead of growing apart.

Whitney Gale Signature