My battle with anorexia is my mother’s battle too

By Allison Richards

I lie a lot. I’m selfish, fearful, demanding. I often can’t feel the weight of my actions. I hurt people—the people I love.

But still, she loves me. 

In myself, I see only the result of truly terrible decisions—starving myself, lying, hopelessly needing reassurance. I usually can’t see past my flaws, obsessing always over an imperfect body, nervous twitches, and my too long toes.

Regardless of this doubt, regardless of my toes, I know I have been truly loved. I know because at 6:30 this morning, before the sun, before her coffee even, my mother drove me an hour out of town to see a nutritionist. She spent an hour in the car, before dawn, just to sit in the waiting room. 

I know I have been loved.

I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa at eighteen, and at eighteen I held my mother’s hand while she cried. I explained then, that it wasn’t her fault—that it was nothing she did or didn’t do. I had simply gotten sick. “Like a cold,” I explained. It just happened.

With this, I thought I could release her—that I could separate her from what I was putting my body through. I convinced myself that if I could clear her conscience, I could go on starving as if she couldn’t feel it too. I was sure that if she didn’t feel responsible for what was happening to me, watching me measure yogurt with a quarter cup wouldn’t make her hands shake—wouldn’t make her panic.

I didn’t know that this word—this label—was as much hers as mine. That when I took it on, so did she.

I have been in treatment for three years, in which time I have seen specialists, nutritionists, counselors, and therapists. I have been hospitalized twice, sent away to rehabilitation centers for months, and told by professionals that I am lost to myself. I have been in treatment for three years, and so too then, has my mother.

After every appointment, I tell myself that this time, this meal, I’m going to do it. I’m going to finally commit. I will rise above these thoughts and everything will be clear, like before. Like when I was young, and everything was Disneyland-simple. When instead I held my mother’s hand to cross the street.

But it’s always just words.

I shelter my mother from my struggles as best I can; I tell her that my appointments are going well, that I’m eating everything I’m supposed to. But she is a mother, my mother; she sees through this immediately. Anorexia is smart, but it isn’t a mother. She has seen me in the hospital, drinking nutritional supplements with a heart monitor. She has visited me in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Elmira. She has spent hours consoling me, cooking for me, pleading with me, and still I hurt myself—I hurt us.

I can feel my body growing weaker; I can hear my doctors reciting the risks I’ve heard a thousand times: bone loss, heart deterioration, loss of neurological function. But the voices, anorexia’s voices, tell me I’m succeeding. And so I dream of sweet, decadent carbs while filling my stomach with diet soda and coffee. I take long, hot baths to warm purple toes, and stare in cold blood at the mirror—at a body I hate. I hurl insults like knives at the body my mother made, that she loves.

I am lost.

There are extraordinary cases, however, where she can find me. We were arguing about rice, years ago. Rice. I was being defiant. “Allison. Where are you?” Where was I? I was standing not four feet from her. I responded with confusion, “What do you mean?”

She responded with a promise.

“I know this isn’t you. I’m not going to let this thing take you. I love you. I love you so much.”

And so she won’t. Neither of us will give up, we can’t. She tells me she loves me, and we go on fighting.

She tells me she loves me, and I believe her.

Allison Richards is a twenty-one-year-old creative writing student, living in Northern New York. She is currently undergoing treatment for Anorexia Nervosa with the support of her family and friends.

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