How do I reduce my feelings of guilt and anxiety?
August 18, 2013 3:44 PM   Subscribe

These feelings are with food and my mother mainly. My eating disorder started in 2010 when I was living with my alcoholic mum and her abusive boyfriend for a few months to try to get her to leave and start a new life elsewhere. Since then it has gotten out of hand, I lost around 20 pounds and gained almost 40 in a year.

I have been to therapy and it hasn't helped.
When my parents were together my mum used to drink in secret and get very angry. She then found a boyfriend on the other side of the world and left us to be with him. I was 15 years old so not too young thankfully, and my brother was 12. He used to be a mummy boy but when she left I had to sort of look after him. My mum is now broke even though my dad sends her money, the government took away her house as she couldn't pay bills. When I turned 18 I went to live with her before university, to see what was going on as she barely spoke to us and I missed her. While I was there her boyfriend would beat her up as well as one of her friends and he has guns. I called the police who took away his guns but later have them back. At one point I was so scared I kicked him out of the house and slept with all the knives in my room. My mum would drink and call me a bitch and insult me. I have not been to that country since. I developed an eating problem there which intensified during university. This university is in a foreign country far from my mother and my father.

At first I had anorexia but I hid it very well so even though I weighed 98 pounds, I convinced my dad that I could gain back the weight and be fine. Well I did gain it back but by bingeing, and now three years later I am still bulimic but instead of everyday I only do it once a month.

It has taken me a while but I have learned that my mother is not my responsibility, and that I should live my life without worrying too much about her as she has been given plenty of opportunities to leave but refuses. Now I have finished university and have an amazing boyfriend and friends and I feel very happy. I am moving to a big city as I got a job, and will be living with my best friend. However, my dad is trying to make my mother move in with me instead, which gives me panic attacks and feelings of fear. She came to visit me in June and was of course drunk on my graduation and crying everyday. Is it selfish that I refuse to have her live with me? I offered to have her live near me and I help with her bills, but my dad says that I have to live with her in the flat as I should help her. I feel guilty for not wanting this, and would like another view on this situation. She lives in a cold country in a house with no heating with her boyfriend. People say I am too nice and I should learn to be a little selfish, however I am not sure if I should apply it to this case where she may be at her lowest point in life and nobody wants to employ her.

Also, even though I feel happy, my relationship with food is still unhealthy sometimes. For example yesterday I ate some fish and chips and felt guilty so then I couldn't stop eating sugary foods, and we went out for alcoholic drinks which also makes me anxious and want to eat even more. When this happens I get very upset and sleep all day the next day which has happened today. This happens around once a month. I am not sure if I should cut out sugar which is a trigger, or try to have it moderation withouth feeling guilty, as well as alcohol? Btw I am a vegetarian.

Therefore my questions are, should I make my mum live with me? And do you have any advice for my unhealthy relationship with food? Thank you.
posted by lovisa91 to Human Relations (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Is it selfish that I refuse to have her live with me?

NO! NO no no no no no. No no no. NO! It is a GOOD CHOICE. This is a GOOD CHOICE. There are other things to say but before anyone says them take a moment to congratulate yourself on making this GOOD CHOICE. EXCELLENT WORK LOVISA! GOLD STAR!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 3:50 PM on August 18, 2013 [24 favorites]

However, my dad is trying to make my mother move in with me

When I got to this line it gave me a real jolt. Why on earth is your Dad trying to force you to look after your mother? It appears that she has caused you pain throughout your short life. It is very wise to recognise that she is not your responsibility, and has made her own choices as an adult. But I know it's harder to act on that, and not beat yourself up for being selfish. Please know this: you are not being selfish in being absolutely clear that this is your chance to have your own life, that you want to enjoy it free from guilt and anxiety, and that under no circumstances will you be allowing her to live with you.

You should research a counsellor in your area who works with eating disorders. Personally I feel you'd be better with a person-centered/Rogerian therapist, and not just a CBT practitioner, (a combination would be best) as I think it would be helpful for you to have a chance to explore your experiences with your family. Your anxiety and guilt need to be worked through in relation to your mum in particular, and if your anxiety lessens so will your need to try to calm it by controlling your food. Good luck. You've done amazingly well to get so far, you deserve a happy future and I hope your move goes well.
posted by billiebee at 3:59 PM on August 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's a total cliché but it's a cliché for a reason: YOU HAVE TO PUT YOUR OWN OXYGEN MASK ON FIRST. You don't have to help your mother at the expense of your own health. Maybe once you're in a healthier place you'll be able to provide her with more support. Maybe not.
posted by mskyle at 4:01 PM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

First, all therapy is not made equal. I have had a lot of very bleh therapists--and a couple who were amazing and so helpful that they totally made up for all the bleh.

Your relationship with food will probably always be unhealthy sometimes. Key word: Sometimes. Everybody's is that way sometimes. Most people eat emotionally or overeat or skip meals or whatever... once in awhile. You don't have to be perfect, you just have to be basically okay.

I have found that, because of my history of eating problems, I cannot do 'cut out X'. I can do 'have less of X'. I cannot do absolutes. Absolutes demand perfection, and the perfect is the enemy of the good. You don't need to be perfect. I still have to repeat this to myself a lot. I binged and binged and binged and gained a hell of a lot more than 40lbs from my low weight--but you know what? I feel better about my body now than I did at that point. I'm shifting back towards healthier habits now. I'll get there. You'll get there. You don't have to be perfect to be doing fine.

And that ties into the mom thing: You don't have to be the perfect daughter to be a good daughter.

I know it sometimes comes up that MeFi is not good with cultural issues on this front, but I don't think this is cultural. It's absolutely cultural that there are expectations like this. I'm probably not from the same background you are, but I have bailed out family members repeatedly. And they have bailed me out repeatedly. That's how things go, where my family is from. Some of this supportiveness is good. It's only good as far as everybody comes out ahead. When you come out feeling horrible? It's a bad solution. You are not a bad child for protecting your mental health.

Get your own oxygen mask first. Help her where you can without hurting yourself, and later on you may be able to help more.
posted by Sequence at 4:01 PM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

No, of course you should not have her live with you. Why doesn't she live with your dad, if "help her above all" is the dominant issue? Your dad is a full-fledged adult much better able to deal with her needs than a young person just starting out in life. It's wrong of your father to ask you to take this on, and I'm not even sure that having her live near you and "helping with the bills" is a great idea if it can be avoided - that sounds like a great way to suck up all your money and time with family drama.

There are certainly plenty of situations when our obligations to our parents are more important that some petty little issue or some inconvenience. That's true. But a history of violence, drinking and emotional abuse from your mother trumps all of that. Your mother has used up her chances to be deeply enmeshed in your life. Help her, certainly, but you are not obliged to take her into your home. It might be a little different if you were older, wealthy and had a lot of space and could afford all kinds of extra services for her, maybe. But certainly not now.

I hear you on the "I start eating and then I can't stop when I get really upset" front. I think that you should work on the trigger events as much as possible - like, the anxiety that you may have to take your mother in, that's got to be a huge trigger. I have found that sometimes I am able to say to myself "I am going to feel sick if I eat this" and I'm able not to eat it - I visualize how horrible I will feel and that helps. I also try to eat enough protein early in the day so I feel fuller. But honestly, I've just accepted that sometimes I'm going to eat my feelings. It's worth trying to minimize/avoid this, but I find that it helps to say to myself "eh, it happens, I'll eat healthily the rest of the week" rather than imagining that I could lead a perfect life of flawless eating habits if I were only A Better Person.
posted by Frowner at 4:05 PM on August 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Moving on from there (it definitely had to be said as clearly as possible), it sounds like there are a lot of things that you're doing right and that you've accomplished with very, very little support. You should be hugely proud of your accomplishments and feel good about yourself.

This is often not easy; you have come from a difficult situation. I know it's super hard to do this when people are related to you but you have to take care of you. I think family is really, REALLY important but it doesn't necessarily seem like your mother and father are acting as family to you. It also sounds like, with your "amazing boyfriend and friends", you are doing a great job creating your own family. Those are the people you support and who support you; I don't know about your dad but at this point I would say, harsh as it sounds, that you don't really owe your mother anything. You can't help her and you're just going to get dragged down too. If your father is trying to make her move in with you, he also clearly doesn't have your best interests at heart. You need to have a talk with him about boundaries and then refuse to talk to him if he brings it up again. This will feel super, super mean and hard to do because you are a nice person, but I really suggest you do something like this:
Dad, I appreciate that you want mom to get help. I want her to get help too, but I can't give that help to her and if I try I will be putting myself in a dangerous situation. This is a very hard decision for me and I need you to respect it. If you ask me again to put myself in a dangerous situation I will need to terminate the conversation.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 4:06 PM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oops, sorry for posting three times but about half of my answer disappeared.

Once you say this, you actually need to walk away if he brings it up again.

In terms of food, two things:

1) Therapy really is helpful, especially as you have a serious medical issue. Also, a therapist is there to be on your side and you need that. If you are comfortable telling us where you are, some MeFites might actually have suggestions for good ones in your area.

2) I too have some pretty serious issues with food. Something my psychiatrist has said to me is that I have to be nice to myself. Just saying "Well, I made a bad choice but I'll do better next time", possibly out loud, can be super helpful, even if you feel silly.

Bottom line, you have done some amazing things and it looks like you're working hard to surround yourself with positive, caring people. Your job from now on is to take care of yourself like you want to take care of your family; give yourself the love and support that you give to others. You really do deserve it. Good luck!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 4:10 PM on August 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

You should check out AlAnon. It is a group that is for YOU. it does not help you figure out how to get your mum well, it is a group that helps YOU with the issues in YOUR life as a person who loved someone with (among other things) a problem drinker.

You are not responsible for your mothers well being.
posted by waterisfinite at 4:11 PM on August 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also, learn to trust that "OMG NO I CANNOT" feeling. I used to try to override it when peopledasked for help that I knew would be overwhelming for me to provide, and every time it was a terrible disaster that just made things worse. There's a big difference between "oh, goddamn this is going to suck" and "NO NO THIS WILL MAKE EVERY WAKING MOMENT TERRIBLE". When you have that definite "this is a burden to heavy for me to lift" feeling, you must attend to that. It will feel selfish, and there will be times that someone else would find the burden easy and you'll think "why can't I be like them, I must be too weak if I can't do what they can do", but you need to pay attention to your real abilities.

Also, here's my bet: you take your mother into your apartment, she will be drinking and causing all kinds of emotional crises and probably all kinds of costs, visits to the hospital, etc. Having her there will make it hard for you to hold down your job and keep your life together. Ultimately, either you'll both crash together or you'll kick her out with much pain, stress and awfulness for everyone. It is NOT doing her a favor to start off on a way of helping her that can't be sustained because it will destroy your ability to sustain her.
posted by Frowner at 4:11 PM on August 18, 2013 [10 favorites]

And lastly: I used to say to myself "I have to do [self-sacrificing inconvenient thing that is sure to be a disaster] because otherwise [terrible consequences]" and what I have noticed is that the situations where I used to just knock myself out doing things I did not want to do and did not feel at all comfortable doing...well, once I stopped doing those things, the people in question found other alternatives. Nobody died. Nobody ended up on the street. In some cases, things actually improved, because people found a GOOD solution instead of the half-ass one I would have provided. Your mother needs a long term solution that is stable. You can't provide that. All you can provide is an insecure, miserable situation which will last until your energy gives out.

And last of the last: sometimes there are people where helping them is like throwing money down a well. You never come to the end of their needs, and no matter how much you provide up front, it doesn't really help. The best I've found in those situations is to commit to providing exactly what I can comfortably provide and only that. I know that even if I could provide ten million dollars and a diamond pony, things would still go off the rails, so it doesn't make much of a difference if all I can really afford to provide is $50 and dinner.
posted by Frowner at 4:19 PM on August 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

Is it selfish that I refuse to have her live with me? I offered to have her live near me and I help with her bills, but my dad says that I have to live with her in the flat as I should help her.

Hell no, it's not selfish. It's SMART. Look at your parents and what a gigantic fuck up they've made of their lives and ask yourself "why would I take advice or direction from this person? They make bad decisions every day and have for decades. Their lives are a disaster." The evidence shows that your parents are not good at making a good life so why listen to their ideas? You are grown up and at least as smart as them, plus not an addict or with a history of bad decisions. Trust yourself and your friends who have your best interests at heart.

Besides which I would not let my mother move in with me and she's really quite a nice person and never did anything terrible to me as a child. That's not selfish, we would drive each other nutso. Sending money and letting her spend it as she may, without expecting anything, is really the only thing you can do here, assuming you are able to and want to help her financially. Don't bankrupt yourself or go short on money in any way, you know damn well she's going to spend it on booze and bailing her boyfriend out of trouble.
posted by fshgrl at 5:09 PM on August 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

You made the right choice, and you don't need to let anyone make you feel bad about it. This is not your responsibility. You are awesome! Don't let your parents ruin your life! And I can't favourite Frowner's comment enough, take heed!
posted by windykites at 5:36 PM on August 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

I agree with everyone else who says NO, NO, NO! Do not take on responsibility for your mother. Do not even have her come and live NEAR you. She is not healthy for herself, she is not healthy for you. Do not do it. She is not your responsibility.

Your mother is not your responsibility. (repeated because you need to repeat it to yourself). And besides, ever heard the saying 'no good deed goes unpunished'? It is very true. If you take on your mother (a so-called good deed), you will suffer the consequences. And you know that already.

When your dad asks you next time say to him "Dad, she is not my responsibility. She is her own responsibility. Her choices made her what she is. I can't change her, I can only look after myself." And then remind yourself that it is not selfish to care for yourself and your well-being, it is your responsibility to do so. Do you want to be the kind of partner and perhaps mother your mother is? No? Then do not live with her or near her.

And as to the monthly binges, are they at all related to your menstrual cycle? A few days before bleeding perhaps? You could be lacking one of the B group vitamins. And as a vegetarian, are you eating enough protein? Maybe a good check up with bloods, and a chat to a nutritionist may help.
posted by Kerasia at 7:48 PM on August 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Do not, under any circumstances, allow your parents to derail your successes by agreeing to their outrageous and unhealthy suggestions. Your responsibility is to yourself - to heal and have a healthy and happy life. Safeguard your heath and stay on the path of creating a new and nourishing relationship with food.

Increasing your stress by having your Mother in your life and in your home will likely contribute to your eating disorder getting worse. Make sure you're getting therapy to work through the results of your chaotic youth and eating disorder. Good luck to you. Your gut instinct to say no to this terrible suggestion shows that you know how to preserve your well being.
posted by quince at 7:55 PM on August 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Here is what you say to your dad. "Dad, I appreciate that you want to help mom, it shows that you have a good heart. I am not able emotionally or financially to care for her. She needs professional help. When I went to live with her she was in a violent and scary situation that cause me pain and distress and I won't put myself through that again. I don't feel safe around her and it's not fair for you to ask me to do it. She is a grown woman who has made some terrible decisions and it's not my responsibility to bail her out of her situation."

If you don't feel comfortable saying it to him, in person or on the phone, email it to him.

I went for therapy with a counselor who specialized in eating disorders. It helped me a ton. See if there is anyone where you are that can help.

I'll never have a "normal" relationship with food, but I'm in a good place right now.

I cannot urge you enough NOT to cave into your father's demands.

You don't owe either of your parents anything. Just say to yourself, "I am allowed to live for myself, without regard to what anyone else wants from me." Over and over and over again.

Be happy!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:45 AM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm with some of the others. If it's so important that your mother live with someone, she can live with your Dad. If he doesn't want her chaos under his roof, why does he think it's such a great idea to put it under *your* roof?

OK, snarkiness aside: she needs professional help, and you aren't qualified to give it to her. Resolving her issues requires professional help and her own willingness to get help. She'll just be an anchor that drags you down.

It's not your fault that you were born to a mother who's not really capable of caring well for herself. Take care of you.
posted by RogueTech at 7:50 PM on August 20, 2013

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