A Promise to My Children During Eating Disorders Awareness Week from Their Recovered Mother
Dear Beckett, Sophie & Sammy,
This is a special week for your momma and a lot of other people too. It’s a week where people speak up about a sickness that is very serious, but sometimes not talked about very much. You know I’m a psychotherapist (I know, I know, emphasis on psycho) and that I help people with eating disorders. I haven’t talked to you much about my work because it can be pretty hard to understand. When I come home tired, you make me smile as you remind me of your idea of what I do: “You just sit and talk to people all day! What’s so hard about that?” Daddy’s work is much easier for us to see as we can drive by the houses and businesses he has helped build. My work must seem sort of invisible when all you see is an office with comfy furniture.
Since you guys are getting a little older, I wanted to tell you something that’s important about me. For seven years I had an eating disorder. I was very sick for a long time, mostly when I was in college, but I’m all better now. When I married daddy I was slowly getting healthier every day. Finally, I had something way bigger than my eating disorder to help motivate me – I wanted to be a mom.
You see, I had been praying real hard to be a momma. It was my biggest dream since I was a little girl. I told my third grade class on ‘Career Day’ that when I was all grown up, I wanted to be a mom. When asked in graduate school what I planned to do with my degree, I pretty much answered the same way. I don’t think anybody was looking for that response, but it didn’t matter to me, because being your mom is my true calling (the thing I was meant to do while I’m here on earth). But I was really scared that, because I had been sick for so long, maybe my body wouldn’t work right anymore and that my dream might not come true. I promised myself that if I was able to get pregnant, I would lay down my eating disorder and fight as hard as I could, once and for all, to stay well for you guys and for myself.
Want to know something really special?? The day I found out I was pregnant with Beckett, I committed to that big promise that I had secretly carried around in my heart. I’ve kept the promise for thirteen years and I’m really proud of myself for that, because it means I can really be here for you.
Even though it was hard being sick for so long, something beautiful came from it. I learned that I have another very important calling that’s really meaningful to me. When I was sick, I had a hard time finding anyone to help me who really understood how to do so; eating disorders are tricky to heal. I wanted that to be different, even if only in a small way for other people. So daddy and I moved to the same college town where I was sick, and now, I help a lot of other college students get better. Every day I feel so lucky and blessed that I get to be your momma AND that I help other people get well.
I’ve made some new promises along the way. Some of them may seem silly, but oh well, you know I’m kind of silly.
1. You will never hear me order a ‘Skinny Latte’ from Starbucks. It’s just too stupid to say out loud and brings up unnecessary questions.
2. When you want to order pizza and have a picnic in the living room, I will be the first to get it all set up and eat with you. Always. Because pizza is delicious!
3. If you want to throw on swimsuits on the first warm day of summer and run through the sprinkler in our front yard, I’ll do it with you! I don’t feel the need to hide my body anymore. In fact, I’m really proud of the body I have. It helped me grow and feed you!
4. You will never hear me complain about the way my body looks. The way I feel in my body and how I talk about it has an even bigger impact on you than what I say to you about your body. I wish more moms knew this – maybe they would talk more lovingly about themselves.
5. I refuse to be the mom who orders a salad, “Oh, and could you hold the croutons and cheese and put the dressing on the side?” (If salads like this feel really nourishing and satisfying to you, great! For me, a salad like this would feel restrictive.) Nor will I ever go on a cleanse, a detox, or a diet. I spent SEVEN long years doing that, and it’s so NOT FUN! What I eat communicates a lot more to you than what I feed you.
6. We will talk about what ‘sometimes’ foods are and what ‘always’ foods are and you will know the difference. I added this as a new promise when you came home and told me one of your friends said that McDonald’s makes people fat and you didn’t want to eat there anymore. Wait, what?? Sometimes as a mom, you have to do some deprogramming because other people and the media don’t always convey the truth. There is no restaurant, or food for that matter, that can ‘make you fat.’
7. I promise to show you that it’s important to move your body in ways that are fun and feel good to YOU. I won’t spend my time running away from myself in the form of over-exercising. It’s way more fun to play with the three of you anyway! But when you are upset that I’m leaving to go to yoga, I want you to know that it’s important for me to love and take care of my body, just as I love and take care of yours.
8. I will share with you what a powerful messenger your body is and encourage you to listen to it – like when it tells you to rest when you are sick or hurt and how hard it fights to get well, all on its own. Our bodies are really cool that way!
9. I made another new promise as we pull through the carpool line after school and I heard, “Mom, what does it mean to have a six-pack?” (And yes, I needed to take a minute before we talked about this, because I was so upset that elementary-aged kids even have these conversations). You will be surrounded in this lifetime by conversations about weight and shape. It’s important for you to remember that we all have unique body types and comparing ourselves to others (really in any way) just doesn’t feel good. So, I promise to teach you how to turn the conversation away from this kind of talk, and move on to topics that relate to your friends’ insides, rather than focusing on their outsides. Doesn’t that sound more fun?
10. We are going to talk a lot about how we mess up – every day. All of us. It’s just part of life. We need to get cozy with the idea of imperfection! Most importantly, I want YOU to know, in your heart, how wonderful, special, and amazing you are – because I’ve learned it’s not enough for me to think that about you, you need to believe it too.
So, my sweet loves, those are some of the promises I hold in my heart so I could stay better and to help protect you from this illness. I’m not going to get it right all the time. And that’s okay, too. I never promised to be a perfect mother. I figured out as I got better that there really is no such thing as perfect. But then I had each of you, and wondered if that was really true. As I got to know you, I realized that much like me, you are perfectly imperfect.
I’m so grateful that I have the three of you and that I’m all BEDR (pronounced better and stands for Beautifully Eating Disorder Recovered)!
Love you with my whole heart,
by Angie Viets, LCPC
Angie owns her own private practice in Lawrence, Kansas and treats adults struggling with the following concerns: eating disorders, mood & anxiety, or simply . . . life! To learn more about Angie and her practice, visit her website.