I always wonder if I’ll recognize the things in my children that I managed to hide when I was a teenager. More often than not, these thoughts linger on the usual suspects; drinking, smoking, hanging out with questionable company. I’ve heard parents of older children say they always thought they would be hip to what was going on – until they realized that they weren’t. Will my kids be able to hide things from me?
When I think about the things I hid in my teens – my struggle with disordered eating is definitely the thing that stands out to me the most. It almost trumps my fear of alcohol, drugs or any other thing parents of teenagers have to deal with. Will I recognize the behaviors of a person trying desperately to disappear?
Will I notice the extra trips to the bathroom, the watery eyes and runny nose when she* emerges? Will a calloused knuckle ring a bell? Will I see her look away when people tell her she looks “great?” I had an eating disorder for over ten years and not a single person in my life ever seemed to realize it. I had boyfriends. I was close to my family. I was fully emerged in a very social life with people constantly around me. Nobody ever asked me anything.
Nobody wondered why I dropped twenty pounds my senior year in high school; they were too busy applauding me for how amazing I looked. I know what it feels like to go to bed hungry – and not because my family couldn’t afford food. I became addicted to that feeling, of my stomach growling at night and the weakness I felt in the morning. Nobody ever knew.
My mother grew up poor and hungry, there is no way she would have conceived that one of her kids wouldn’t eat. She also grew into an immense vanity that appeared in a lifetime of senseless diets (she never had any weight to lose) and an obsession with the weight of my older siblings. I think it’s true that older siblings always bear the brunt of the pressure for perfection; my siblings suffered through the constant nagging, while I was able to vanish into the background – almost literally – as I lost more and more weight.