I Don't Want My Daughter Starving For Love Like I Did

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sad woman

"I want to mix something. Like, with liquids," my 10-year-old daughter, Genny, said. "I want to see what I can make."

"OK, you can use water, dish soap, and cooking oil," my husband, Nick, said.

They both headed downstairs to get Genny set up with materials for her experimenting.

"Can you do it, too?" Genny asked Nick.

As they descended the stairs, I was transported to my childhood.

Crouching down on the bathroom's black and white tile floor, a little plastic cup in my hand. I poured different shampoos and cleaners together, combining them, intrigued by what they might make.

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I never asked anyone for permission. I never said to my mother or father, "Can I do this?" I only voiced my desires in my mind.

There was something inherently bad about it, I knew. Dangerous. I knew it was unsafe to mix cleaning liquids with others, but I was willing to take the risk. 

What was I hoping to happen? Could I die from breathing the fumes I created?

A few years later, I graduated to playing with matches. Intrigued by the idea of creating fire, something so dangerous, but that I could control. I only built small fires out of matches, candles and tiny scraps of paper, crouched on the floor by the living room bookshelf.

Once I started junior high school, shy and not fitting in, suffering from depression, my parents divorcing, I graduated from building fires to deciding what would or wouldn't pass through my lips.

My mother began her new life at the expense of mothering me. I felt unloved, uncared for, starved for love, and abandoned. I tried to shut down my needs so that she could be happy. I wouldn't let her see me needing her.

The starving of myself was like saying to my mother that I wouldn't take what she wasn't even offering — the connection to a mother providing food for the child. I cut off that need at the same time I felt she and my father stopped parenting me.

Hence, my neediness and feelings of being unloved, unlovable, unneeded, and unseen eventually led to me becoming a stripper (who didn't need to beg for attention).

Fast-forward and I'm still living as that lonely girl who didn't have the ability to handle her experience of being abandoned. I'm still living that tape, stuck in a rut.

And now, at 44 years old, ten years after my mother's death, I find myself battling a disorder I thought I said goodbye to twenty years ago.

It seems the chaos of my family and work life, my depression, and my self-criticism precipitated my current weight obsession. Before I knew it, I was skipping meals, counting calories, and was preoccupied with not eating.

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It's like I'm taking the life my mother gave and throwing it back at her, once again. Like the old days: I won't eat; I won't live. I don't deserve to live. I'm unworthy.

I got stuck in those feelings. I'm not that girl anymore. I know I can make different choices now. I can face what I couldn't then because the anxiety was too great.

I will go back to myself as a child and nurture her. I will go back and face what she feared, and I will lead her out. I will comfort her. I will comfort me.

I keep reminding myself that I'm living a different life. I'm loved, needed, and an integral part of my family. But I still need to step on that scale every morning and see the numbers descending.

I hear Genny and Nick's muffled steps down the stairs. I know he will guide her and keep her safe because she still knows to ask before trying things that might be dangerous.

But am I there for her, as she needs me? Will I be there for her in ways my mother wasn't for me?

Yesterday morning, she walked into the bathroom as I was stepping on the scale.

"Oh, let me try!" She stepped on the scale and happily proclaimed her weight. "What was your weight?" she asked.

"It's not important," I said. It wasn't a lie. My weight isn't important; I recognize that. Even though this morning I had to step on the scale again.

Once I was in the shower, I heard the bathroom door slide open. I looked and it was her, stepping onto the scale.

"Oh, man! I didn't gain any weight," she said as I wrapped my thin body in a towel. 

I took a deep breath. I'm OK for now. She's OK for now.

"Well, you can't expect to gain weight overnight," I said. "But you're growing. You'll gain more weight in time. You're just the right size for you."

I must find a way to believe this deeply for myself before she feels the need to change the direction of the number on the scale; before she starts kindling flames that she will spend the rest of her life fighting to quench.

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Sheila Hageman is a writing teacher, an author, a mother, and a body image expert. She has appeared on numerous TV shows and has been featured in Salon, Mom Babble, Say It With A Bang, She Knows, and Huffington Post.