I don’t know how many of you struggle with disordered eating, but let me tell you – it is my very least favorite thing that I/we’ve ever had to face. It is a demon unlike any other and it has a way of permeating every moment of your life in a way that feels very similar to drowning.
For the system, our eating issues are mainly present in a teenaged part, River. She developed an eating disorder when she was the main fronting part back in the mid-late 90’s. In fact, our very first hospitalizations were centered around eating disorder recovery. It was seemingly the worst between the ages of 13 and 16. But being hospitalized and essentially forced to eat pushed River back inside and left room for another part to figure out how to get through this crazy life. This is around the time Julia took over as the full-time fronting part and our coping skills switched from starvation to self-mutilation. Not ideal, but somehow less deadly.
The severe distortions and behavior patterns around eating remained mostly dormant for a long time. I now know there were issues of purging in college, but I’m still not clear on what exactly was going on. And I’m fairly certain there has always been an underlying theme of “food is bad”, but it presented itself in less serious manifestations.
That is until five months ago.
I’m almost 100% sure that the exact moment River reappeared as a fronting part was the day my wife lost her job. I think that experience was intensely triggering to a system that has spent a good amount of time homeless and without proper access to food. Since River has started fronting again, I’ve also realized how truly fucking nuts my parents were around food. I now have memories of myself as a kid foraging for food and only finding packets of pudding to eat. In the powder form. Or the powder mix for corn muffins. Or dry pasta. Or plain mustard. It’s awful and devastating.
Then, a week later, when we were preparing for admission to a residential trauma treatment program, Zooey had to fill out this form to fax in. Although we hadn’t experienced truly disordered eating in a while, Zooey said she was going to check off “eating disorder” because of the unresolved nature of River’s issues around food. Then she asked me what I weigh (required on the form). I told her and it didn’t really bother me. But it bothered River a whole lot and I think that was the final trigger for her. Since that day, she’s been almost 100% controlling our food and liquid intake.
Not fun. And nowhere near enough intake.
Fast forward to last week. I get out of session and my wife meets me on the street outside the therapist’s office. I ask if she wants to get dinner. River had decided that if we had to eat out, she would choose a Thai place she spotted across the street from the new office. Wife says no, she already ate. Fine. River decides on eating at home instead. But we decide to stop at a café to get something warm to drink. I had to pee so I went upstairs to use the restroom. I say to my wife, “I don’t want to eat here” – a direct message from River.
Except, my wife didn’t hear me. She didn’t buy me anything to eat, but she bought herself a wrap and a chocolate chip cookie. River is intensely sensitive to what, how, and where people around her are eating. So I get out of the bathroom and I see my wife settling into a table with food and everything just starts to get fuzzy. Anna (a child part) felt really, really hungry (probably because we never eat enough and being hungry is a trigger for her), so she asked if Wife would split her food with us. Wife was fine with that, so Anna grabbed half of the wrap and took a bite.
I can’t explain it, but it’s like the entire world just exploded inside our brain. When parts come out, but don’t take control of consciousness, it’s like being shoved to the backseat of the car. I can see and hear and sometimes feel what my body is doing, but I have no control over it.
So here I am, watching helplessly as River starts yelling at Wife (we NEVER yell at each other….EVER). I felt River’s emotions…she was absolutely terrified and hysterical and just so ANGRY.
Then she just started crying and I could feel how utterly out of control the entire universe felt to her in that moment. Anything at all that messes with her very precise schedule and routine around food tends to have that effect. She wasn’t just upset that Anna ate the food, I think she genuinely felt like something remarkably awful was going to happen to us because of that small deviation from her eating plan.
It was awful.
Luckily Wife is the greatest human ever and as soon as she recognized River’s distress, she apologized for not hearing her request to not get food and soothed her fears around having eaten the food. But we continued to cry on and off for the next couple of hours and River was still in distress when it was bedtime.
I have so much compassion and love for this little girl. I get very frustrated when I lose control of time around meals and it’s annoying to have to eat according to the rules set by a 13 year old. But I get that this is her way of keeping us safe. I don’t completely understand it, but I know enough to see that she’s trying to help the system the only way she knows how.
I just hope I can figure out how to get her help before we quite literally starve to death.