Mother-Daughter Dynamic

I feel that it’s fitting to write a post about my lovely mother just in time for Mother’s day. I’m of course not going into what she did “wrong” in “contributing” to my eating disorder, as obviously that would not be quite a great mother’s day gift, and also because any of the comments she’s made over the years–especially before she even knew what I was dealing with–were mostly only harmful to me because I interpreted them that way. In other words, as my therapist would say, it was the eating disorder talking when my mother made a seemingly insignificant comment (to the non-eating-disordered listener).

Months ago I watched a video clip on YouTube of an anorexic being interviewed by a reporter. When the anorexic revealed her daily food intake, the reporter mistakingly commented by saying, “Well that’s actually more than I thought it would be!”
I stared, shocked. The reporter had no idea what she had just done, but I knew instantly how the girl must have felt hearing that. I knew the girl’s internal thoughts, but I also knew that the reporter had expected to see something like only a half an apple a day, instead of the (still) measly portions the anorexic was allowing herself.
There is a love-hate relationship between the eating disorder where you don’t want it, but all the same you hold it dear to your heart–and even though you know you must eat more or eat less. hearing a comment about food like that is gut-wrenching.
Do I really have an eating disorder? If she says that, I must eat less. If this looks so “normal,” then I’m not doing enough.
I could already hear the thoughts going through this girl’s head the moment I watched the scene unfold. And yes, just as the comment was uttered, the girl, looking stoney-faced, stood up abruptly and left the room.
“Did I say something?” the woman had asked, her eyebrows raised, worried. “I thought that was helpful to say!”
Just as I would not dub anyone who might comment on my food as “cruel,” any comments my mom made about my food would not be considered cruel either. It was how my eating disorder interpreted it and warped my beliefs–just as this scene with the anorexic girl illustrated. And since you can’t prevent everyone from making innocent comments like this and completely remove yourself from the world, I’ve learned to take the random comments I hear that might harm me and reassure myself of their true meaning. This is tough work, and sometimes these innocent comments feel like a slap in the face, but I know the logical side of Rachael must take them with a grain of salt and move on.
This is part of recovery.

Special thanks to Peter Draugalis

The Best Mom I Could Ask For
I would like to highlight what my mom has done for me–because after I explained everything about my eating disorder, after I told my mom what bothered me most, the innocent but eating-disordered-bully comments have died down. She knows what not to say around me–again, not because the comments are inherently cruel, but because they trigger me. She has been the most patient, caring, loving mother I could ever ask for through all of this. In fact, she was one of the first people I told about my eating disorder. We were both just as inexperienced and confused about what an eating disorder meant, so it was hard to know where to go after I confessed.
My mom, besides offering to weigh me (we laugh about this now, although at the time it was one of the worst things you could do–she simply did not understand), offered all the help she could give–including seeking help, which I at first refused. One of the greatest things she could do for me was listen, and she definitely did that. But she has gone above and beyond, as well–she has listened, researched, gone to parent meetings, and agreed to read some of the eating disorder books I’ve suggested to her to help her understand (including, recently, a graphic memoir called Inside Out: Portrait of an Eating Disorder by Nadia Shivack, which I highly recommend). My mom has listened hours upon hours to my questions and insights, has allowed me to open up more than ever before. I have become more of myself through this whole journey and it’s a huge thanks to her. In a way I am thankful for my struggles because they have allowed me to be as truthful as possible about my feelings–something that I’ve done for the first time in my life. I have never felt more like Rachael, even as uncomfortable as I am in my own body.
Our parents are not perfect, but mine are pretty darn close. I do believe that family dynamics can be part of triggers of eating disorders, but that comes with a combination of many outside factors–personalities, mass media, and simply who we are as people. There are parts of the relationship between my mom and I that have been strengthened because I finally told her exactly how the comments she made made me feel–because her comments, although harmful to me, did not make her a bad mother. They just allowed me to open up to show her how I really felt, which in the end only helped me. I have become more myself than ever before not only because I allowed myself to speak, but also because my mom allowed herself to listen.
That, I believe, makes her one of my greatest heroes.

About Rachael

Rachael Steil is a graduate from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts. Steil an author, speaker, and a recipient of the Spirit and Outstanding Runner award for the Aquinas College cross country team and has received 6th place All-American accolades in cross country as well as 7th place in the NAIA track nationals.

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