We are complicated beings, us humans. Our relationships are multi-layered, they run deep and long, and are encased in emotions of all strength and variety.
As a woman, 2 of our most significant relationships in our lives involve our relationship with our mother and our relationship with food. Not surprisingly, they are intricately connected.
During my teenage years and into my early 20s, I was consumed by an eating disorder that had immense control over my life. In turn, it had great bearing over my relationships. It was a time I really needed someone solid in my corner, someone who could have my back and love me even though I could not find love for my self.
My mother was unable to be this person for me. She was very angry with me for my dysfunction with food. She didn’t understand it and was horrified that I was putting such a strain on the family. Whether it was my perception of her at the time or the twisting of a heart-broken knife in my gut, I resented her for this. I turned my back and ran in the other direction as fast as I could and it took me over a decade to forgive her, and my self, for our broken relationship during those hard years.
Just as my relationship with food had become more and more disconnected, so too had my relationship with my mother. The more I hated myself for my dysfunction with food, the more I got twisted up in my head about my Mom.
It was at a much later time in my life, when I had matured and opened myself up wide to the healing process, that I was able to see truth and understand that she had tried her best, and that she too was lost with what to do.
I sought out the forgiveness needed for the both of us.
And I am a different person for it.
But it was not an easy thing to do.
Our Mothers are our first source of food in this world. From the moment we are conceived, we rely on our mothers for sustenance. As infants, we rely on our mothers for comfort, to protect us from harm, and to nurture our gentle being. As children, we trust that our mothers always have our best interests at heart; that they will always show us the right path; that they will be the love we do not yet understand. This relationship that builds between Mother and daughter is the foundation for the young woman’s relationship with her self, her relationship with sustenance, and her relationship with love. It may not be the “be all, end all”, mind you, but a critical piece of the life puzzle.
So what if the relationship between Mother & Daughter is severed? What if it does not contain this trust? What if the Daughter feels mislead or abandoned or rejected or resented? What if the Daughter is never taught that she is good enough/strong enough/smart enough just the way she is?
Oftentimes, this broken relationship between Mother & Daughter manifests as dysfunction with food.
Abandonment may look like overeating: the need to always fill a hole with food.
Rejection may look like anorexic tendencies: losing dangerous amounts of weight in order to gain attention.
Resentment may look like excessive control: calorie counting, obsessive portion controlling, and scale monitoring.
Not ever feeling good enough may look like excess weight: not caring much about her self/body because she never thought she was pretty/smart/strong/skinny enough anyway.
If you, like me, know deep down at the core of your being, that you may never recover from your struggles with food unless you address your relationship with your mother, believe me, you are not alone.
You know what must be done.
And there is help.
How To Begin The Healing Process
Journal: My first suggestion, when it comes to emotional healing, is often to journal. Writing is an easy and wonderful way for the human emotions to come forth in a safe environment. Address your relationship with your Mother, speak to specific circumstances that were hurtful or confusing, write her an unsent letter from you as a teenager, or perhaps you just tell your story from where you are now.
Find Someone To Talk To: Whether this be a therapist or counselor, a trusted friend or partner, begin the process of allowing your feelings to come out of your mouth. We have to start somewhere and often, just getting out the gate is all we need to keep going.
Go Slow: This is no small feat. I know. Be patient with your self and allow your emotions to come forth as they need. Sometimes this looks like a gushing mess of a cry; other times it rears its head in anger and resentment first. It is a process, not a race.
Do Not Involve Your Mother (Yet): You will know when and if the time is right to involve your Mother in your healing journey. Remember that your healing journey is about YOU, not her, and to grant forgiveness does not necessitate the contribution of the other person. You may forgive without her participation at all.
If this has been a tough read for you, then give yourself a pat on the back for making it to the end. Then, re-read and make a plan. The sooner you get starter, the sooner you make progress!