In my adolescence and teen years I was unaware of what was going on right in front of me – namely, my mother’s struggles with food. She discussed food and body and loved sharing stories of the size of her jeans what meals she skipped.
At the same time, I was jumping from treatment to treatment and trying to find a purpose and reason to recover from my own eating disorder. It was hard to recognize how damaging the environment in my own home was.
In addition to the food and body talk, my mother refused to come to family therapy sessions. The few times she did come, she left in a fit of rage after being confronted for her words, behaviors, and choices. Choosing recovery was difficult when I had this example in front of me.
Then, about 10 years ago, I decided I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I chose ME, I chose health and recovery. Yes, when I look back now I was still engaging in behaviors daily, but my mindset on what life should be had shifted.
Soon, I was working full time again and was able to smile about the “real” life (rather than treatment life) I had for the first time in so many years.
But about 6 months later, reality hit me like a brick. I was finally able to see how deep in her anorexia my mother was. I realized just how triggering it was to be around her.
With that came more outside triggers. one trigger after another, and unfortunately, the culmination of these ended in relapse.
Fast forward to 18 months ago, when I had to leave my little boy and go back into treatment. It was the most difficult visit to a treatment center that I had ever embarked on. Partly because it wasn’t my first, second or even tenth time at that rodeo. Plus, I was away from my precious baby for six long weeks.
During those six weeks friends came to visit, I met some incredible people, and my dad called every day. But not once did I get a text or call from my mother.
Her excuse? She was over my disorder and thought I should be over it too.
In those 6 weeks, I realized I had the power to map out my relationship with her. I had the power to decide how I would let her eating disorder behaviors, comments and thoughts, affect me.
I had been searching for years for the power to set boundaries with her, but never had. Now, I was ready to.
Maybe it was because I am a mother now and would never treat my son that way. Or maybe it was because she never contacted me and I was okay with that. or maybe it was so many pieces falling into place.
As soon as I came home, I began working with my therapist on how to set boundaries when faced with difficult family situations. The next few times I saw my mother I was nervous knowing I had to set the rules (maybe not aloud, but in my behavior).
I decided for the unforeseen future, I could not eat meals with her. Her comments around food we too triggering.
When her words became too hurtful, loud or mean, I left. I got up, got my son, said goodbye and walked out the door. It was hard. But I did it. And it felt GOOD.
I told her that food, weight, meal, clothes, size, etc. were not allowed to be part of the conversation when I was present. And I reminded myself that if she was unable to respect that, it had nothing to do with me. But I had to stick to my boundaries and do whatever I could to take care of myself and my son.
I (and you!) have the power
Overall, my relationship with my mother and her relationship with food and body will always be an issue. But not one that I am going to give into.
I have the tools and boundaries now to know that if I am being triggered or attacked I can walk away, get in the car and drive away.
This is something I was not able to do for over 30 years. But now I see that the future of this relationship is now in my hands. I have the strength to determine when someone around me is saying or behaving in a way that will compromise my recovery. And I have no obligation to tolerate it.
So, warrior: if you have a triggering person in your life (or even in your family) know that you don’t have to tolerate it. You can set boundaries and walk away from unhealthy situations. Your recovery has to come first.