72: Reclaiming My Sparkle

72: Reclaiming My Sparkle

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

Reclaiming My Sparkle

You yourself, as much as anyone in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.

~Buddha

Eighth grade is the year your mom might curl your hair for a school dance, take you shopping for cool clothes, or help you navigate the awkward changes of puberty. It’s not the year you expect your mom to save your life. But that’s what happened to me.

At the start of seventh grade track season, I weighed 110 pounds. My coach called me “beefy” and my brother made mooing sounds whenever I walked by his room. So I began counting every calorie that entered my mouth. By the start of eighth grade, I’d dropped thirty pounds.

Only I still felt fat.

One evening after dinner, Mom followed me outside. “I’m worried about you,” she said softly.

I sighed and rolled my eyes as we took a seat on the wooden swing.

“You don’t really eat anymore,” Mom said. “You just slide food around your plate.”

I looked down at the ground, my eyes fixated on dozens of tiny black ants zipping around.

“They’re so lucky,” I thought. “They don’t have anybody telling them their thighs are chubby.”

Mom Was Right : Reclaiming My Sparkle 259

“Christy, have you heard of anorexia nervosa?”

“What? You think I have it?”

“Your clothes hang on you. You sleep all the time. Your hair is thinning.”

Mom scooted closer and gently laid her hand on mine. “I love you,” she said. “I’m going to do what’s best for you, even if you don’t like it.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked defensively.

“How do you feel?” Mom asked.

This sounded like a trick question. Was she expecting me to admit to feeling weak, agitated, freezing, and irritable? That my stomach was raw from constant hunger?

“I feel fine,” I said flatly, pulling my hand from Mom’s grasp.

“You’ve always had a sparkle about you…” Mom’s voice trailed off. “That sparkle’s gone.”

The following morning, our family doctor suggested that I go to an in-treatment hospital sixty miles away. My length of stay could be weeks or months, depending on my progress. I felt angry, blindsided, and ambushed.

That evening, I laid into Mom at the dinner table.

“Why do you have to send me away?”

“We’re just trying to get you healthy,” Mom said.

She set down a glass of milk in front of me. I pushed it away. She scooped a heaping mound of noodles onto my plate.

“That’s enough!” I shrieked. I felt like my mom was trying to fatten me up before sending me away to further fatten me up. As I stared at the steaming spaghetti sauce, my blood boiled.

“I don’t want to be fat!” I yelled.

“You’re not fat,” Mom said. “You never were.”

“Just eat something,” Dad said, offering me a slice of garlic toast.

“Eat! Eat! Eat! That’s all you ever say anymore!” I cried.

I covered my ears and zoned in on the negative self-talk that played like a looping tape in my mind.

“At least drink your milk,” Mom said.

“Gross, no!”

“Please!” Mom pleaded. “Do this for me.”

Pre-anorexia, there was nothing I wouldn’t do for my mom. Certainly drinking something simply because she asked me to would have been a no-brainer. But now, my paranoid mind couldn’t stand the thought of ingesting even one calorie, let alone 110.

“Get that away from me!” I said, standing up and backing away from the glass as if I were staring at a tube of poison.

Mom continued to patiently hold the drink out in front of her.

My senses were on overload. Every hair on my body stood on end. I imagine that’s how it might feel to be robbed at gunpoint. Only this wasn’t a bad guy; it was my mom. And she wasn’t threatening me with a weapon; she was offering me dairy.

Mom shifted her body weight slightly, and it set something off inside me. Like a cornered jungle cat, I swatted at the drink, sending it crashing to the floor. Milk exploded all over the area rug. Mom gasped and jumped backwards. I darted down the hallway to my bedroom, where I slammed the door shut and started sobbing.

Mom cried too, for different reasons.

The next morning, I went to the hospital wearing my thickest sweatshirt and clunkiest pair of hiking boots. Bangle bracelets and beaded necklaces hung on me to add weight to my frame. Despite looking like a blinged-out rodeo clown, I felt confident I could outsmart the doctors. If Mom and Dad saw that I’d put on pounds, they might reconsider admitting me.

My plan was foiled, however, when the nurse explained hospital protocol for weigh-ins. She instructed me to remove my jewelry, shoes, even my hair barrette. I also had to take off my clothes and put on one of those hideous striped polyester gowns that tie in back. But that wasn’t the worst part.

“Turn and face the other way before you step onto the scale,” she said. “We don’t let our patients see their weight.”

Though the number was at my back, it read seventy-seven pounds.

“Say goodbye to your folks,” the nurse said.

Panic washed over me. I lost my breath the way you do at the crest of a steep roller coaster. I was twelve years old. I didn’t want to be left alone in this strange place that reeked of bleach. I didn’t want to wear this frayed pink polyester gown. And I certainly didn’t want to spend my every waking moment being lectured about how I needed to gain weight.

Mom laid her soft hands on my sunken cheeks.

“I adore you,” she said as she wrapped her arms around my skeletal frame.

I was angry, but mostly I was scared. I clung to Mom; I didn’t want to let go.

While at the hospital, I befriended a sixteen-year-old patient named Beth. She’d been in and out of the hospital seven times in the past four years.

“I see your mom in here almost every day,” Beth said. “My mom stopped visiting after the third time she admitted me. I’m a huge embarrassment to her.”

“Because you’re sick?” I asked.

Beth nodded.

“That’s awful,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”

“So, it’s not like that with your mom?”

“No,” I said. “Not at all.” Although I’d had my fair share of arguments with my parents in recent months over my food issues and weight loss, their love never wavered.

The next time Mom came to the hospital, I shared Beth’s story.

“Would you keep visiting me—even after the seventh time?”

“I’d be here even if you were hospitalized seventy times,” Mom said.

“I’m sorry I let you down, Mom,” I said quietly.

“You’ve never let me down,” Mom said. “It takes tremendous strength to battle this illness, and you’re doing it all on your own.”

I shook my head and grabbed her hand. That’s where she was wrong. I was not alone.

At that moment, something inside me clicked, and for the first time I wanted help. I wanted to get healthy. I wanted to reclaim my sparkle. And thanks to my mom’s fierce, unfailing love, I did.

~Christy Heitger-Ewing

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