I’ll never forget the night that I pieced together my cycle while journaling in bed. I had been reading Geneen Roth’s When Food is Love – a book that wound up being life-changing for me.
In her book, Geneen explains that our disordered eating patterns are a metaphor for how we live our lives. I could easily recognize that I had been restricting and binge eating for years, but I had never considered that every aspect of my life followed a similarly dysfunctional cycle.
I grew up in a turbulent household, and while I have many fond memories, I remember always being on edge. Along with being physically abusive to my older brother, my father was incredibly moody. He often made hurtful comments that still pop into my mind as an adult. He told me I was selfish on a regular basis and that I was killing my mother. We lived in a rural area with no houses within walking distance, so if I wanted to go to a friend’s house, my mom had to drive me. She never seemed bothered, but Dad would later tell me I was exhausting (and killing) her. I always felt torn when a friend invited me over, because despite knowing I was “killing” my mother, I wanted to escape. My friends’ parents always seemed so “normal.”
On a good day, my dad would be funny and sing songs, take the family out for a drive in his old convertible, and spoil us with “stuff.” I was more on edge on good days, because I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. The good times never lasted long, and I always felt a heaviness that my friends didn’t seem to feel.
On that day several months ago while I was journaling in bed, I realized that I had continued my childhood cycle without even realizing it. If things felt “too good” in my marriage, I would find something to worry and gripe about, which would inevitably lead to an argument. I never felt safe or settled with my husband, because I kept him at arm’s length and got mad at him for insignificant issues.
I landed an amazing job as a news writer last year, but I couldn’t celebrate my success because, upon landing the job, I was already in fear of failing.
If I started to feel overwhelmed by a friendship, I’d pull away and quietly end it, or I’d let minor irritations build up until I blew up in anger. I always thought something was broken in me – that I was incapable of maintaining friendships. Looking back, I see that my parents had the same pattern of ending meaningful relationships. Their emotional immaturity resulted in my own stunted emotional growth.
I’m still working through this part of my recovery journey, but what I’ve learned so far is that my thoughts were very black and white. I was either obsessively dieting or having a free-for-all. My house was either impeccably clean or in chaos. I either agreed with my friends or pulled away from them. There was no middle ground.
It makes sense that I grew up to be someone who saw the world in black and white. When I was 18, my parents got mad at me over something trivial, and they stopped talking to me for a year and a half. Over the years, they divorced me multiple times for minor disagreements – all of which could have been worked through with an honest conversation. I had seen them cut people off throughout my life, but it was deeply wounding for me – their daughter – to be the one they discarded. Fortunately, I’ve seen their pattern, and they will no longer have the opportunity to hurt me by disowning me. While I’m on a constant mission to reflect and improve myself, they have no desire to change.
When I began piecing my cycle together, I felt an overwhelming sense of excitement and sadness. I mourned the life I could have lived, and I was hopeful for the future. What confused me, though, after my “aha moment” was the emptiness I felt mixed with that joy and sorrow. Sure, I had worked out my patterns, but knowing how to move forward proved to be the most difficult part.
I asked my therapist why I felt so confused by my newfound knowledge. Sure, my curiosity had led me to that epiphany, but my question was, “What now?” She explained that my awareness would change everything and the process would take time. I waited for months for answers while I continued to read people’s recovery stories and listen to inspirational podcasts. I became aware of everything; I felt I was in a hyper-sensitive state, but I had no idea what to do with my awareness.
Then one day, I realized I hadn’t binged in a couple of weeks, and I was actually feeling my feelings. Although I had a lot of uncomfortable emotions to deal with, I wasn’t pushing them away. I was opening up to my husband, and although I still freaked out occasionally and we’d have arguments, I didn’t hold onto the anger nearly as long. I was processing my feelings and dealing with them rather than sweeping them under the rug just for them to resurface later.
Although I had been in therapy for a couple of years before my aha moment, my recovery journey took an important turn that night as I wrote in my journal. I needed to become aware of my confusion to find the answers.
To My Readers,
I understand that sometimes it feels like you’re not making progress. There were days in my journey that I felt I was back to square one. I assure you, you never, ever have to start over! All of the work you’re doing is adding up, no matter how insignificant your efforts seem.
If you had a tumultuous upbringing, I recommend Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, by Lindsay C. Gibson. This book will help you to understand why your parents are the way they are, and it will add awareness to your recovery journey. Gibson tells stories of grown men and women who have dealt with emotionally immature parents. It’s truly an enlightening resource.
I wish you the best as you continue to navigate the labyrinth of recovery. You’re not alone on the path. One day you’ll look back and be amazed at just how far you’ve come!