I have not felt peace about publishing anything for quite sometime, but today I’d get no peace if I didn’t. We’ve had quite a cold snap here recently, so cold that it caused every arthritic joint in my body to lock down. I spent three days in bed hardly moving, struggling to even get myself to the bathroom and back. This morning, I finally managed the grueling climb up the stairs, but spent the morning in considerable pain and with limited mobility. A dear friend and prayer partner prayed with me over the phone, as we often do, and as she was praying for me I felt the pain leave the very worst spot, then dissipate from the rest of my body. My breath caught in my throat, and I took a few steps without my cane. I squatted down to the floor and stood back up without pain, turned my neck every direction. It was as if chains had fallen from my body. With my friend still on the phone I sprinted up the second set of stair and knocked on my upstairs neighbors’ door to share my joy with them. I picked up my fifty pound five-year-old and swung him around. I have not lifted him without crippling pain in years. I spent the remainder of my day calling family and friends to share the wonderful news, and doing things I have not been able to for far too long. I had a dance party with my kids. I scrubbed the kitchen floor. So many, many things. Life is good.
I still wore make-up off and on. Still restricted, but not as severely. The eating disorder still lived in me, but no longer controlled me. I stopped trying to win the unobtainable prize.
A few months after I graduated the outpatient program, I went off of the antidepressant. I got a job that I enjoyed, started dating, and regained most of my privileges. I generally liked my life. A while later I got an internship in my dream career with my target company and took off across the country. Finally, I moved on with My Life, whatever that was.
The internship required a lot of hard physical labor, so naturally my appetite matched my activity level. So I ate. And ate, and ate, and ate. I savored every bite without giving my figure much thought. Food was fuel, and I needed lots of it to work. It was the healthiest time of my life, physically and spiritually. I found a local church and attended regularly. I joined prayer groups, faithfully did devotions, and served the poor. And God began to touch me, teach me, heal me. When the internship ended, I returned home a new woman. Though I still experienced unhealthy thought processes, I lived out a healthy relationship with food and exercise for the first time in my life. Since then I have had a couple of relapses, but nothing close to a full-blown disorder. Right now I’m in a pretty good place and have been for about a decade. I try to eat a reasonably healthy diet, but I allow myself treats sometimes and don’t feel bad about them. I still have an occasional slip-up. Eating disorders are kind of like alcoholism; I will always be “recovering” and will have to remain vigilant for the rest of my life.
The greatest healing came only a few years ago when I got pregnant. For the first time, I loved my body. I felt like I looked “normal” for the first time. I had a perfect little bump, and all the wonders of pregnancy gave me a whole new perspective on my body. I had already landed a husband, and while he found me attractive he certainly didn’t marry me for my looks. I had a beautiful birthing experience and my self-worth, self-respect, and respect for my body skyrocketed. I felt like a rock star. Now, I have saggy, stretch-marked breasts; a saggy, stretch-marked stomach; and stretch marks in places I never even knew one could have them. After subsequent pregnancies, even my stretch marks have stretch marks! And I love them. I love my body. It made the most amazing little people, and it STILL turns my husband on. Through my wonderful husband and the way I see my own children, God gives me glimpses of how He sees me. How He loves me. Through counseling, adulthood, my marriage and motherhood, I have begun to learn about real emotions. My children are allowed to feel whatever they feel and to express those emotions appropriately (ie, in non-violent ways). I still have great difficulty expressing my own needs and emotions, but parenting my children is helping me to learn.
My closest friend trampled me and kicked me off to the side like so much garbage. The one I trusted and loved like a sister, who was supposed to know me, has hardened her heart. I never saw it coming. It hurts. A lot. Like a bad break-up or a death in the family. Sadly, I know this pain well. My dad left us a lot. Mother was emotionally distant. Close friends turned and either left or actively caused damage, time and time again, until I learned to stop trusting. I shut down. I lived in books and daydreams, and I poured my heart out in music. Until high school, when God sent some amazing, beautiful, wonderful girls into my life. This girl. While God sent the others only for a short season, this one stayed. We loved each other through some deep, dark, dangerous woods. And when we came out the other side hand in hand, we partied hard, good girl-style. We prayed, we worshiped, we sang. We took long drives, drank too much coffee, borrowed and lent, and we LIVED. We were life-long friends, and now, suddenly we’re not. Though this SHOULD hurt more than those childhood wounds, because we shared so much for so very long, somehow this loss is different. Instead of crumbling in, I find myself reaching out, not to replace her but to build naturally on existing friendships. We cannot be who we’re meant to be without other people. We cannot minister effectively unless we let people in. We have to take the risk, time and time again, or miss out on fulfilling our God-given purpose. And God has proven to me that no matter the hurt, no matter the betrayal, He is bigger. Though I grieve and wonder how this could have happened, what went awry, I have a strange peace that only comes from the Holy Spirit living in me. I don’t know if we’ll ever mend, and if we do if we can regain what we had, but I know that whatever happens she is in God’s hands. I am in God’s hands. They are the only hands that can bind this wound, the only safe harbor for my heart. Sister, friend, I will always love you, but if our season together ends for good, this time I walk forward with my head held high, trusting my Savior to lead and to heal.
Sometimes, you know the other person is wrong. They have HURT YOU, and it’s wrong. You have every right to hurt, they have rubbed salt into an open wound unknowingly or have ripped open a scar. You care for them, want what’s best for them, ache for them. And you are hurting. And so you pray, “Lord, change their heart, open their eyes.” And God whispers into your very core “leave them to Me. Trust Me to take care of them. Let Me work in YOU. ASK Me to work in YOU.” And that is where I find myself tonight. Sometimes, you start out praying for someone who genuinely needs it, unselfishly, but instead of just fixing the other person God addresses your hurt. Instead of saying “yes” and spawning an apology, understanding, compassion, He says “no, beloved. This way. Let it go. I know, you have every right to be hurt. Give Me your rights. Give Me the hurt. Let Me soothe it regardless of what I do with your injurer, just leave them to Me. Forgive, beloved, and let go, and let Me.” I am not very good at letting go, and God knows this about me. Forgiveness? Sure. But forgetting? Trust? Moving forward? No, those are very hard for me. And so He gives me opportunities to practice, over and over and over again. Often I fail. So we practice some more. And when I fail, He keeps calling to me, gently, Let Me bind up your wounds. But I don’t. So here I am, Lord, struggling to let go, struggling to trust You. Here I am. And here’s my hurt. Help me not to snatch it back this time. Gently pry my fingers open. I want to give this to You. Help me let it go.
The counselor was a petite woman dressed very conservatively, but I remember the color of her shirt really brought out her eyes. She had frizzy hair and wore no make up, but was attractive nonetheless. Every once in a while, you meet a person who you can practically feel love and compassion radiating from, filling the room like exquisite perfume. This woman was like that. She just shone. And she had such concern in her eyes. It was beautiful, and it terrified me, because I knew that there was nothing I could hide from someone like her. The Holy Spirit’s presence is so strong with people like this, if you can manage to lie to them it breaks your heart while you are doing it and the guilt eats away at you. You feel as if you’ve defiled something pure. They are just so filled with love and genuine goodwill towards you, and their sincerity is completely disarming. She asked me a few questions, gently, kindly. I answered honestly, heart pounding and sweating, without making eye contact. We set up the time for our first session.
In the days leading up to our session, my inner monologue changed from very controlled and demanding to one of great fear. I desperately wanted to cancel and just disappear, pretend it never happened. But I knew the memory of the counselor’s overwhelming care for me, a total stranger, would haunt me. And I knew I had to get better or die, but I wasn’t ready to relinquish my perceived world where I was DOING something, making a real difference in something. I was accomplishing something real in my body, and I liked the euphoric feelings I got after a “good” work out, or when I’d pushed my body to the limit and begin to black out. I was addicted to starvation. I didn’t know myself without it, or how I would fill my time. It was what I was best at, and hiding it gave me as much of a high as doing it. And I was terrified of getting fat, being seen, having to participate in society. People were cruel, and I wanted nothing to do with them. People let you down, but my highly structured routines and rules remained a constant for me.
The morning of our session, I woke up in a near-panic attack. I gripped my phone, staring at it, willing myself to call and cancel. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I cried. And then, a strange sense of acceptance washed over me. I went through my morning routine with a small remnant of anxiety, wondering when it would change, how many more times I would go through these same motions, and what my mornings would be like after, if I survived. I waited until the last possible moment to walk out of my dorm room, and slowly walked through the cool Autumn air to the health center.
My anxiety increased with each step. I walked in, signed in on the clipboard, and sat down to wait. My heart was pounding. I wanted to leave. And then, out she came with a folder in hand. She smiled, we shook hands and walked back to her office.
She showed me to a very small room. One wall disappeared behind two floor-to-ceiling bookcases, each stuffed with books. Her desk chair, when she pulled it out, sat inches away from the shelves, and my chair was close to her desk, right up against the back wall. Thankfully the room had two large windows (covered with sheer curtains for some privacy) to help keep the space from feeling so claustrophobic. The windows made it kind of cozy.
We spent the first session just getting to know each other. She told me a little bit about herself and her background. I liked her more with each thing she told me, and against my will began to trust, just a sliver. She had some dry questions for me just to get a feel for where I was right then, I’m sure they were partly to determine if she could treat me or if I needed medicinal aid from a psychiatrist, or even hospitalization. She asked about some behaviors and thought patterns, the severity, and the duration. Some of the questions were difficult, but they were really just facts. We didn’t really get into “the hard stuff” that day. I left somewhat relieved, appalled at the things I’d revealed, anxious about the repercussions, yet with a small sense of freedom that the first part was over.
The second session was kind of transitional. We did some clarification and filled in some details based on the results of the first session, but we also started to get into the roots of some of my thought patterns and behaviors. Slowly, my eyes began to open. I learned things about myself and my background that day, shocking things. I left the session in a daze with a lot to process. I walked around in an introspective haze that week, and entered our third session with curiosity. I only felt anxious about what I might learn about myself and my past.
After several sessions, I began to live with a small sense of liberation. I was able to enjoy some small parts of life and truly see and experience them for the first time, or at least the first time in a long time. I gained some tools to deal with some of the thoughts and patterns. Some of the disordered behaviors began to loosen their grip. But then, something went horribly wrong.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28
A part of God’s plan for our family became clear today. A tragedy struck an old friend last night. Soon, because of the eviction, we will live close by to help ease their suffering. Obviously I’d rather have a better reason than eviction, but I am glad and grateful that we can be there in time to bring some holiday cheer.
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. Isaiah 61:3
As I moved through high school, I experienced periods of healing along with periods of simply getting worse more slowly than before. Sometimes I took two steps forward, one step back. Other times it was ten steps back, then two steps forward, then just crawling forward inch by inch. By graduation day, I knew that I was sick and needed help. I began to recognize some of my disordered thoughts and behaviors for what they were. That didn’t mean I stopped, many times I didn’t know how or was too wrapped up in the illness to care. But I saw that some of my thoughts and behaviors were abnormal and unhealthy. Sometimes I was afraid, sometimes I just wanted to be normal, but I wasn’t quite to the place of wanting to fully heal just yet. I’d been sick for so long that I felt it was a large part of my identity, and I wasn’t ready to let it go.
After graduation, I went to my second-choice college. In orientation, the counselors from the health center each spoke about some of the common problems new college students face and what resources were available on campus and in town to help us navigate these challenges. One of the things covered was eating disorders. My heart fluttered as I listened and heard specific things about myself included in the descriptions of disordered thinking and behavior. I was sicker than I’d thought, and I was not alone, not by a long shot. Things I thought I owned were common.
I left that orientation session a little shell-shocked from the new information. I tucked the resources away in the back of my mind, in case I ever felt ready to use them. But the disease had so consumed me, I wanted to see how sick I could get before I had to start getting well. How thin could I REALLY get? How hard could I push my body? How long could I deal with the blackouts and other side effects before collapsing in public, and thus “getting caught?” This is how sick I was. I actually thought those things. I wanted to push my body to the brink of death, just to see where the brink was. I didn’t care if I fell over the edge. I didn’t consciously want to die, but if I did, I thought I was OK with that. I wanted to stop, to be free, but I didn’t care about actually getting better. I didn’t think I could. I just wanted to be free from the strict litany of rules and the urges and the fun-house mirror distortions. But I didn’t want to be fat, to be noticed, to get hurt again.
Deep within me, the Holy Spirit had been whispering to me for a long time. No. Beloved. Stop. No. Sometimes louder. This is wrong! You’re hurting yourself! It hurts ME when you do these things. Can’t you see I have plans for you? Beloved. And I would tell him Lord, I can’t stop. I don’t want to stop. Please don’t make me. This is MINE, I don’t want to give it to You and anyway, I don’t know how. I do not trust You with this part of me. Don’t let people see me. I just don’t want to hurt anymore. This doesn’t hurt. Let me have this. It’s mine. I want to serve You, but I don’t want to get hurt so that means keeping people out. If they can’t see me they can’t hurt me. Just let me do this. Let me disappear. And then God would be silent, and I was alone. I’d feel empty. So I’d try to fill the emptiness with runner’s highs and hunger.
Those first few weeks of college, I reveled in my new-found freedom. With no family meals to worry about, no friends holding my spot at our lunch table, I ate less than ever before. And with a beautiful campus where I could run and hike and a free gym with all kinds of equipment, I was in anorectic/non-purging type bulimic/ED-NOS heaven. I rarely went to the dining hall. I lost weight more quickly than I’d ever been able to at home. And I loved it, but I felt like crap. And of course, it wasn’t enough to appease the disease. It demanded ever more, more pounds shed, more ticks on the pedometer, more time in the gym, fewer calories. I began to black out more frequently. I couldn’t concentrate in class and frequently skipped class to exercise. The numbness and tingling in my extremities got worse. And one day, I finally collapsed during a run. Just blacked out and fell, mid-stride. Fortunately it happened in a well-populated area of campus and a cute boy came to my rescue. He scooped me up like I weighed nothing and carried me to his car, then drove me to the health center. He asked if I wanted him to stay with me, but I told him I’d be OK and gave him a winning smile. I never saw him again.
As I waited to see the nurse, I filled out the necessary forms and took in my surroundings. The medical scale in the corner naturally grabbed my attention. There was a large plant by the check-in counter, and a book shelf filled with those clear plastic brochure holders. Any mental health-related issue you can imagine a college student dealing with, they had a colorful brochure for it.There were some on eating disorders I made mental notes of; some on depression, learning disorders, pregnancy and STDs, drugs and alcohol. Then it was my turn to see the nurse.
She examined my ankle and felt like it was probably just a sprain, so she splinted it and issued me a loaner pair of crutches. She gave me some samples of Aleve and told me to visit the hospital in the morning for an X-ray if the pain got worse or wasn’t improving, and gave me my discharge information. And then she flipped to a new page on her clipboard. She asked how I was liking school so far, if I was making friends, had I tried any of the clubs or extra curricular activities. She said they ask any student visiting the health center for any reason a few standard questions and smiled. I was caught a little off guard by some of her questions, and the fall had scared me, so I answered more honestly than I otherwise might have. She looked a little concerned and asked if she could introduce me to one of the staff counselors. I said yes, and immediately regretted it.
The girl I was would not recognize the woman I am. She would find me repulsive and mystifying. She would think me crazy, and would turn away from me in disgust. At my sickest, I often ran my fingers over my bones, mesmerized by their shape. I felt frustrated and angry at myself when I could only feel part of a bone, when stupid, ugly flesh, even organs, got in my way. I pinched and poked and wrapped my bony fingers and hands around parts of me, trying to gauge their size and create new unrealistic goals. I saw fat girls, some who were actually overweight, but most of whom were probably healthy or even too thin, eating ice cream or mashed potatoes. They repulsed, mystified, and confused me. WHY would they do that to themselves? Didn’t they know how disgusting they were? I could not imagine liking myself, appearing happy like they did, while eating like THAT, looking like THAT. I am truly, deeply ashamed of how judgmental I was. It pains me to remember these cruel thoughts, and to think of the friendships and opportunities I missed out on.
Oddly enough, some of my closest friends were very heavy. Their attitudes and behaviors confused me, but their genuine friendship, their true beauty in spite of their weight, their acceptance and love for ME, softened my heart and my thoughts. These girls showed me the love of Christ in the way I most needed it, and that love and joy for life overshadowed anything physical. When we were together, we laughed. We prayed. We studied. We shared secrets. And we ate. I let my guard down and began to trust, and to eat. And when we were together, eating wasn’t so bad. When I was alone later, assessing the damage, it wasn’t as bad as I’d previously believed it would be. It was still unpleasant, but it was not Anathema.
Even though I was beginning to heal, I was still very, very sick throughout my teen years. I would frequently black out when I tried to stand. I’d lose feeling in my feet and legs. I was always cold. At one point, my hair began turning grey. I felt high when my blood sugar got low, and I liked it. The goal of my bedtime workout session was to push my body until it literally could not go anymore. Then I’d claw my way into bed and do whatever exercises I could, lying there, until I literally could not move. At some point early in high school, as I started making friends, I began to see that there was something wrong. And over time, I knew I needed help. I had no way to get it, but I knew that if I kept on living the way I was living, I was going to die.
Every crumb that entered my body consumed me. Every morsel occupied my entire mind before it entered my mouth. Every calorie crowded out the important and the mundane. Every bite required atonement. To live was death. To think about anything real was pain. So I stayed hungry and focused on that. I thought about what I could see and touch: my legs, my stomach, muscle definition and hair and what I could pinch and where and how much. I believed somewhere deep inside that if I could just shrink down small enough, I’d be invisible. And if they couldn’t see me, they couldn’t hurt me. If nobody saw me they couldn’t punish me for crashing through glass walls. Not my parents, not my peers. If only they couldn’t see me, they would just leave me be.
Clinical anxiety is largely misunderstood by those who have never experienced it. An undercurrent of anxiety ran through my consciousness every waking moment. When I had nothing to worry about, my brain would find something. As I went through puberty, the changes in my body became an easy target. I was an early bloomer, and so went from a socially awkward child to a socially awkward adolescent who stood a head above her peers and whose developing breasts were, therefore, at eye level for her pubescent male peers. I went from being a target who could hide behind her books and stay out of the way, to a giant target with acne and frizzy hair with nowhere to hide except in giant tee shirts and hoodies.
I obsessed about my weight and measurements. I weighed first thing in the morning, then over and over again throughout the day, before and after anything I thought might affect my weight by even an ounce. I measured various parts of my body morning and night, and replaced my tape measure frequently in case it stretched out with use. I studied nutrition, gleaning everything I could about what nutrients we require to live and what different ones did. When I ate, I ate things that I thought would not make me gain weight (this was of course the most important criteria), that would help me not starve myself into blindness or hair loss, things that were supposed to be good for my skin and nails and kidney function. I had an extremely strict, very limited diet and all kinds of tricks to stick to it without being found out. I had a trove of tricks for staving off hunger as long as possible and distracting myself from the pangs.
I tried to induce vomiting a handful of times, but no matter what I tried I physically could not do it. I’d gag and gag, but never could get anything to come up. So I gave up on that traditional method of purging and turned to over-exercising instead. I’d sneak in reps of different exercises throughout the day whenever I could get away with it, in addition to my regular after school session and my more private, secret hour-long session before bed. I researched the most effective ways to burn calories and fat. Towards the end of middle school and entering high school when I had been suffering from this disease for several years already, I got careless. I was finally making some friends, and some of them began to suspect and to worry. So I had to reevaluate some of my strategies. If I was making friends and spending time with them outside of school or church, that left me with less time to sneak in exercise and more encounters with food to navigate my way through. But I found that as I began to make some real friends, missed sets and reps bothered me less.
I would read about actresses and supermodels who were taller and thinner than me and think dammit, why can’t I get below x weight and y body fat? I’m just not working hard enough. I don’t have enough self-control. I’m not a REAL anorexic. But I realize now, I just am not built to get that thin. I have hips and broad shoulders, and no amount of diet or exercise will change your bone structure. But even when I could feel my bones, even when some of my unrealistic, unhealthy goals were met, it never satiated. It was a competition, I was losing, and that was unacceptable.
Those friends I mentioned earlier, the ones who began to worry and suspect, they accepted me and liked me for who I was. They were real friends, my first. God used them, among other things, to begin to rebuild my shattered self esteem. Through those friendships, He began to show me His love. Some of the goals, preoccupations, and lies began to slip away, just a little bit at a time. When I went away to college, the health center offered free counseling. I’d known for about a year that I needed help, but I had no way to get it. In college, away from the stresses of home, I found the courage to finally begin the healing process.
Mother had a stable but low-paying career working with children. Daddy worked at the family business, with a few short breaks. It was an extremely profitable but seasonal business. We maintained certain standards year-round: If we wanted a new toy or other luxury, we could either get it with our allowance or wait until Christmas/our birthday. We occasionally got a small amount of “allowance credit,” but were not taught anything about long-term planning. We didn’t go out to sit-down restaurants or order pizza very often (although we did eat a lot of fast food during the busy season.) We didn’t attend many movies, skating rinks, Chuck-E-Cheese, or other places that charged money for entertainment; except for special treats. And even during the brief time we were on food stamps, Mother always made sure to put a little something in the offering plate at church. My parents also maintained some luxuries whenever possible, even if that meant forgoing groceries or other necessities: Mom’s hair was always salon-dyed (as was mine once I reached the proper age), nails always painted, make-up always done. Mother forced me to have my hair dyed for years, but I could manage to avoid the nails and make-up if I really worked at it. She bullied me and sometimes withheld privileges if I failed to comply. We occasionally received hand-me-down clothing from our cousins, but we never purchased clothing or toys second-hand. Dad frequently traded his sports car or pickup truck for a newer model, owned the biggest TV on the market, and had a personal computer before anyone else on the block, in addition to the recreational drugs. We had a cleaning lady most of the time, but would occasionally cancel her services for a few weeks during the slower months. Even when the cleaning lady was on hiatus, we had very few chores.
During the busy months, Mom and Dad saved for the slower months, but it seemed they never put back enough. They kept a specific fund that could not be touched unless a dire emergency arose: the Christmas fund. Christmas was an elaborate celebration in our family. We wore brand-new matching outfits to the Christmas eve service at church. We opened our brand-new matching Christmas PJs Christmas eve, to wear to bed and then for pictures Christmas morning. Mother prepared a feast for our extended family on Christmas day. And the gifts, oh, the gifts. Each year we prepared a list of desired presents at Mother’s prompting. This list had to be long enough to share with the extended family and still leave enough to flood the house with gifts from Mother, Father, and Santa on Christmas morning. If the first list wasn’t long enough, we had to add to it. Gifts would be piled everywhere, under the tree, on the furniture, under the dining room table, around the hearth. Mother would choose the items from our lists that she found acceptable and would pass some of them on to extended family to purchase for us. The rest, if she deemed them acceptable she tried to find them at the best possible prices. If she could not glean enough gift ideas from our lists, she still felt compelled to drain the Christmas fund, so she purchased things seemingly at random, or things that fit her taste, things she wanted us to like. As an example, once I reached the appropriate age, I usually received large amounts of make-up, especially kits, either from expensive department store brands or even occasionally drug store brands. Mother trained us not only to smile and say thank you, but to effuse over each gift and spend some time playing with it enthusiastically for the camera. Christmas meant more than just gifts, of course, but I will save the rest of the traditions and memories for another entry.
So even though an abundant Christmas fund sat in the bank, if the money ran out during the slow season Mother and Father would not touch it unless a true emergency arose. This meant that sometimes we ate nothing but pasta and hamburger for weeks at a time. Other times it meant we had three meager meals and no snacks, left with rumbling tummies for much of the day and night. Complaints about hunger elicited a number of responses, ranging from denial to charges of ungratefulness, belittling to annoyance. Meal and snack times and amounts were set and they had better be enough or we could “get over it.” Sometimes I would sneak food, even hiding boxes and wrappers in my room or in strategic places around the house. If I got caught I was reprimanded, and punished by missing the next snack or meal. As I got older, I would gorge myself in secret on grocery day so that at least for one day I wouldn’t go hungry.
We also had to wear worn-out and out-grown clothing and shoes until Christmas, and then whatever we got for Christmas had to last us until the busy season, growth spurts not being accounted for. This meant that some years we went without winter coats, appropriate shoes, and occasionally no socks and one fitting pair of underwear. If we got down to no underwear that fit, then mother would pick up a few pairs, but that was pretty much the only exception. Child Services got involved on a couple of occasions, but that would only fix the clothing situation for that year. The following winter we reverted to the old way of doing things.
During the busy season, we lived the high life. With Daddy’s first big paycheck or two, Mom and Dad would catch up on the mortgage and any other lapsed bills. Then, right before Spring Break, we’d go on a huge shopping spree for our Spring wardrobes. We shopped the sales racks first, but after exhausting those we paid full price for the remainder. We’d get new water shoes or flip flops, sandals (sometimes two or three pairs for the girls), hiking boots, sneakers, at least two pairs of dress shoes, at least two swim suits and a cover-up each, church clothes, school clothes, and of course, play clothes for the long summer. We’d also each get one especially fancy outfit just for Easter. After Easter, the special outfits might be worn to a Summer wedding, but we usually only wore them once or twice and then donated them. We always did something for Spring Break; sometimes just an inexpensive camping trip to the lake or a park, other years Disney World or the beach or a water park, depending on how the busy season started out that year. We would have another huge shopping trip at the end of the school year to replace any outgrown clothing and fill out our Summer wardrobes. During the Summer, we always made at least one trip to an exclusive beach resort or theme park. We stayed in luxury suites, condos, or even rented a townhouse. We attended lots of summer camps: some VBSes, some educational day camps, and some sleep-away camps. We did lots of what people now call “staycation” stuff, seeing local attractions and such. And some years, we took an educational trip, such as visiting Washington, D.C.; Colonial Williamsburg, VA; the Grand Canyon; Mt. Rushmore, to name a few. Some of these trips early in the season went on credit cards that my parents then ended up making payments on into the Winter, contributing to our economic difficulties in the lean months.
My parents saved for retirement, but a tragedy wiped out most of those savings in my teen years. More on that later. They did not, however, save for our college educations and even with an upper-class income between the two of them, they paid for a lot of things with credit for a long, long time.
My Junior year of college, Mother called me out of the blue one day to tell me that there was no more money. And that was that. I’d chosen an intense major and didn’t even have time to look for a job, let alone actually work one. It was too late in the semester to drop any classes without penalty to find work, so I did the only thing I knew how to do: I paid for everything with credit. Car insurance and gas, cell phone, prescription medication, and any incidentals that came up. That semester I flunked out, mainly for unrelated reasons but it would be naive to say that stress had no effect on my studies. I don’t know how my brother managed to get by. My sister managed to pick up more hours at her part-time job, and allowed her boyfriend to help her make ends meet. Mother has no recollection of this. She and Dad managed to get through that Winter somehow.