"I completed your soccer registration today," I told my son B last week as we were standing side by side in the kitchen preparing our snacks. I knew I could have just let him do it, but as an almost senior, it was the last time I was registering a kid for high school sports, and I felt melancholy over it all.
"Does that mean you are going to come to my games?" he said, raising his eyebrows as if daring me to react.
"Brennan, how many of your games have I missed in the past four years?" I snapped, taking a defensive tone, his words ripping at my heart like a scab from a wound that had not yet healed. "None," I said before he could even answer, "that is how many I have missed."
"I don't know mom,” he said with a teasing lilt to his voice, you might find a cycle class to go to instead.”
"B, this is the second time you have brought this up lately," I said, referencing a similar conversation we had a couple of weeks prior, “is this still an issue?"
As if I had to ask.
Part of my recovery from anorexia included unlearning the destructive habits that I had in place for over a decade. Rituals meant to provide a structure and sense of control that made me feel safe from a life that felt very unstable. I relied on obsessive exercise to keep at bay the anxiety that constantly hummed through my body. I needed the minimal and predictable food rotation to keep my body comfortable, so I did not have to feel any of it, emotionally or physically. I ensured my exercise, nutrition, and sleep occurred at precise times to provide a predictability in a home where I felt none. Taking care of my eating disorder was my priority, at times even over my kids, and I justified it.
B won't notice, I said to myself during cycle class, the music pumping so loudly it reverberated through my body as my legs pushed the pedals harder and faster. As if I could ride away from the overwhelming guilt for not being at his game.
B said he doesn't care if I am there, I repeated in my head as I sat alone at the kitchen table while my family was at B's game, eating my perfectly portioned and timed meal. I was taking small bites but tasting nothing but the bitter flavor of self-hatred for caring more about food than I did about supporting my son.
But he did notice, and he did care.
Just as crucial as unlearning destructive habits, successful recovery has been dependent on the understanding that my eating disorder did not only take a toll on my mind and body, it weighed on my whole family, especially my kids. I have had to find the courage to give them the space to be angry, hurt, and resentful, not only for all the worry I caused them, but for making them feel, at times unsafe and unloved. I have been steadfast in my determination to regain their trust and to be there for them physically and emotionally, even when they push me away. It has been the most challenging yet most therapeutic part of my recovery process.
I suspect that B's jabs at me in the kitchen were his teenaged boy way of letting me know I still have work to do. He was telling me needs me to keep showing up for him. And it reminded me, just as my recovery is ongoing work in progress, so is his.