When my son was plummeting into anorexia during the autumn and winter of 2009 and spring and summer of 2010, I reached my lowest point as a mother. Up to 2009, our home had been a safe haven from the world 'out there' - stuff like work, crime, bad news, even rude people in the supermarket and all those other things that irritate you in life. 'Shutting up shop' for Christmas on the 23rd December, my husband's and son's birthdays, was like shutting out the outside world and sinking into a warm scented bath tub of safety and security.
But with the advent of the eating disorder, all of that went out of the window.
Our home became a battleground where terrible and traumatic things went on. In a way, the outside world that I had so loved to shut out at Christmas became a safer place than those cubic metres within our house walls.
Home was a place of danger and fear, of sudden noises and outbursts, of dangerous activities, even potential suicidal acts.
Our family meals which had always been so cosy (my son used to eat anything and everything!) and a time where we three sat round the dining room table and talked became hell on earth.
Nowhere in the house was safe. Even when my son was out of the house at school I was on permanent Red Alert waiting for the call from school to say that Ben had kicked off in some way. In other words, he appeared to have gone completely crazy.
Driving in the car with Ben wasn't safe either. We had some nightmarish journeys, notably the car trip where he attempted to climb out of the door while the vehicle was moving. Car journeys back from his treatment sessions at CAMHS were always hellish as he 'punished me' for whatever had gone on in the session. Maybe he'd put on a tiny bit of weight which, in his distorted mind, made him believe we were making him obese. Or maybe the psychiatrist had disagreed with me on some point (usually around weight gain) and I became Big Bad Mum who was trying to make him explode with food.
Once inside the house all hell would break loose and, for many months, it was just Ben, me and the destructive eating disorder because my husband was working away.
During those months and years our house was a dangerous place and, in my head, it has never regained that feeling of security which it used to have.
I think this is one of the reasons why this Christmas was so difficult for me. In the past, I used to go mad at Christmas. Mad in a Good Way. Lots of decorations and lights, loads of Christmas music and carols, tons of Christmas food and lots of excitement and fun.
This Christmas frightened me because my body's and mind's reaction took me by surprise. I knew I wasn't feeling very Christmasy, but that's been the case since that first Christmas with anorexia back in 2009, so it wasn't unusual.
But what was unusual was the sheer enormity of my body / mind response to this Christmas which frightened me so much that I can't put it into words. I can't yet describe how I felt or how I behaved. All I do know is that I stood up, brushed myself down and somehow got through it because I didn't want to ruin Christmas for everyone else. I deserve an Oscar for my acting!!
I'll be talking more about safe places in subsequent posts because having a truly safe place - whether in reality or in your mind - is central to recovery from trauma. Or even a safe person who 'gets it' implicitly and who you can trust to support you one-hundred-per-cent, whether that's a therapist, a relative or a friend.