It looks as though he’s holding the world, my 18-month-boy in his bed, the way his arms stretch out, and he’s asleep. And I’ve never seen anyone so vulnerable. The way he trusts, lying so extended in his blue blanket and shampoo-hair and I think of how I would curl up tight around the bones, feeling each of them before I fell asleep then hugging myself tight so the world, so my parents, couldn’t touch me.
At what point do our children go from believing in love to believing in hate? At what point do they curl into a fetus position and try to stop the world from getting in?
Try as we might we cannot stop the world, and it will get in, and no matter how we’ve raised our children to see themselves as souls with skin, their skin will get hurt, and their souls, too.
I wanted my mum to hug me but I wouldn’t let her, because letting her would mean feeling again, and I couldn’t afford to. My world was too easily shattered, my soul, too soft, and so I’d stopped eating to stop feeling, to barricade my soul from the beauty and the ugly of a world I couldn’t predict.
Food was something I could control. And in spite of being told I was beautifully and wonderfully made, I didn’t feel beautiful. I didn’t feel wonderful. My parents, try as they could, didn’t speak my love language, and so, I stopped speaking theirs. I wanted to punish them for letting me down. I wanted to hurt them because they were the closest thing to heaven that I knew of, and it had left me wanting.
Family can be a kind of heaven on earth. A child looks to his parents for reassurance that goodness exists. A parent can best show this through grace. Through the daily sacrifice of living Christ on cross. Through extravagant love, and enormous hugs, and grace. But no parent is perfect, and no eating disorder is the fault of a parent. Because evil exists, no matter how good and loving and holy a home.
Because family is seen as this “safe haven,” when evil does intervene, the child lashes out at the people he thought he could trust. When abuse happens, and a mother or father wasn’t able to stop it, the child lashes out. When a bully picks on a child at school, that child will lash out. Because home is where the heart is, and when the heart feels threatened, so does home.
And when the one place where a child can lay stretched out, asleep, becomes threatened, there’s no where else to go. And so a child turns inward, erecting a fortress, because that’s all he/she has left. The safety found in one’s own arms. Hence, the fetus position. The curling into oneself, and not letting anyone else in.
But some nights my mum would sneak into my room and if she thought I was truly asleep, she’d crawl into bed beside me, and hold me, and those were good nights. Because I knew, deep down, she was trying her hardest. I knew it wasn’t her fault the world was awful. And because all I wanted, deep down, was to be loved.
*For videos and discussion questions on how to walk in healing, please visit here.