There's an adage about adulthood that goes something like, "You spend your adult years unlearning all the trauma you faced as a kid." Trauma is something that's not easily definable, but you know when you've experienced it. You feel trauma in your gut. I knew my eating disorder wreaked havoc on my body, soul, and psyche, but I had no idea that its discrete edges would shape my life after I recovered from anorexia and bulimia. The things recovering from an eating disorder taught me about motherhood, as I endeavor to become a mom, have given me surprising courage in a time that's fraught with challenges and joy (I'm talking about parenting here, people, as this is what I've heard about the whole mom thing).
It's difficult to write about my eating disorder. Now that I'm managing my recovery, something I'll be doing for the rest of my life, I no longer feel like the trauma of disordered eating consumes my every thought. I actually feel something that's quite the opposite. I feel responsible to other girls and women struggling with issues about their bodies and/or themselves, and want to make sure I don't glamorize or fetishize those unhealthy things I did to myself the first time, when I hit puberty, and then again after suffering an unendurable betrayal and breakup. When I was sick I would search the internet (and in the early days, the library for books) about stories of other women starving themselves. Their disease provided a roadmap, and often gave me ideas on how to starve, binge, and purge that I hadn't thought of on my own.
So you won't find those details of my illness. Suffice to say, I was sick, and I'm not alone in this particular sickness. According to Parenting, there are more than 5 million Americans who have a clinical eating disorder, which means their symptoms meet the medical criteria. Think about all the people who have fraught relationships with food, their bodies, and the axis of control that moderates disordered eating. Of course, part of that population includes mothers. Research on the children of parents with eating disorders has only recently emerged, according to the United States National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. There's much to consider: is passing disordered eating onto your kid genetic? How do you moderate issues of feeding, eating, weight, and exercise when you're raising a child as a mother recovering from an eating disorder? This topic is rich for mining, and you better believe I'm found my next project. However, for now and because I feel confident in my recovery, I'm going to take inventory of all the ways that recovery can prepare me for motherhood. Hopefully much of this resonates, and this is only the beginning of the discussion.