Updated: Oct 12, 2020
When I was 14 years old I went on a trip with my Dad and his new girlfriend cross country from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Cape Cod. This is where his girlfriend and her son, who was my age, had lived prior to moving to Santa Fe. She wanted to show my Dad more of herself and share this important piece of her life with him. The road trip had been brutal for the two 14-year-olds squished into a full car as this was in the 80s and I was lucky to have a tape player and two cassettes with me. But each leg of the car ride felt like a personal prison of discomfort. I had been through so many girlfriends with my Dad, I had assumed when they first started dating that this too would pass. However, this cross-country trip was where I was seeing that this was different and not going to pass as the others had.
As an adult looking back on this trip, I recognize that it was one of those major life changers for me and it set up some long-term issues that have been ones I have worked on in recovery. I was at that age when the messages I received stuck in a way that can be hard to unglue.
What comes to me is the lack of control I felt on that trip and how it was the starting point for me trying to find ways to control my life going forward. I had learned to ‘be good’ long before this trip and had already started the process of fitting myself into the mold of what people wanted of me. However, on this trip the painful competition for the attention and love of my dad with his girlfriend was a new level of confusion for me. I had always had to share my time with his girlfriends, but this one had new rules for us to follow. We could not hold hands, I could not sit on his lap and we could not be alone for more than a few minutes.
Toward the end of the trip we were at a restaurant with one of her friends and I asked if I could have a few dollars to go out on the boardwalk and get a hot dog. Money had always been very tight growing up, especially with my Dad and I knew that we could not afford to eat at the restaurant. However, the friend insisted that they just get a few appetizers. This put a strain on the event where eventually there was a big blow up that ended with the girlfriend screaming at my Dad about how much money it cost to have me along and what an inconvenience I was. I remember what a terrible night that was and that I flew home the next day unexpectedly.
Control—I found it. I did not eat at their house for years, then I started to just not eat. Anorexia became my way to control my discomfort at my father's house, at school and socially. As I started to lose weight, having not eaten for the days at my father's house, the boys gave me more attention than they had before. I was getting compliments on being thinner and thinner—and it became an obsession to hold onto this new attention. The interesting thing was that no one noticed at my dad’s house that I didn’t eat. Years later when I talked to my Dad about it, he had been surprised and felt badly about not seeing it. I feel lucky to have been relieved of this control in my eating when I was 17. An awareness came over me that I was deserving of happiness and did not need to punish myself anymore. I can see now that this was yet another moment of divine intervention that my Higher Power gave me to help me along my path to healing.
As an adult looking back I see the humanness in the entire experience for everyone on Cape Cod and how difficult and painful it must have been for all four of us. I have an empathy for a woman who was trying to do the best she could in a new relationship and with very little money. I have empathy for her son who also had a hard time on the trip with me and my Dad invading his life. I feel for my Dad who was a single man trying to please everyone that was there and then in the life that followed. Those were painful times for all of us.
As I do more recovery work, I see that we all can only do the best we can at that moment, and sometimes that does not fill the needs of those around us. As a parent I have failed my boys when they needed more from me. As a child I am forgiving my parents for the same.
I feel lucky to be able to recognize when I am feeling hurt or powerless and wanting to take control to ease my discomfort. I can also better recognize when I am actually hurting myself as my anorexia had done all those years ago. I will continue to work on being gentle to myself and forgiving of others.