After last night’s journey to understand how to reach someone in the throes of anorexia, and how to answer the “Million Dollar Question” of how to help, I’d like to now address those of you in “recovery,” as well as the loved ones of those in “recovery.”
First, for those who have been though this battle, I commend you for fighting and winning. I hate to use the word, “winning” because with it comes so much baggage that harbors a lot of weight, yes, pun intended. Winning communicates that a) it’s a game, b) it’s something that is trivial, and that c) that if you’re in your eating disorder or have relapsed, you’re losing, or even worse – failing. Because the truth is, there will be days where, even though you’re in recovery, you can still slip. You can have a day where you let the mirror get the best of you, where you “forget” to pack a lunch, overindulge and are consumed with a self-hatred – resulting in isolation or worse. Those days happen. But that doesn’t mean that you’re a failure or that you’re worthless. I think that’s why relapse is even more perverse than before, because there’s so much praise and accolades for beating anorexia. Winning, coming out on top, succeeding — all feeding that devious perfectionistic voice inside, that when one slip up happens – and it will – you spiral into a hole of, “I failed. I’m worthless. I don’t deserve recovery.” And then that leads to shame, and before you know it, you’re back down to double digits and your hair’s falling out.
Which brings up this next extremely important point: for those of you with daughters –or sons- who are in recovery: keep loving them. Keep being supportive. This isn’t easy. Wounds take time to heal, I know, and you have probably been betrayed, lied to, deceived, and on the receiving end of a lot of rage, anger, fury, tantrums, and tears. Not to mention, you yourself have been worried, anxious, angry, confused, desolate, guilty, sleep deprived…need I go on? So let those wounds heal, but may you never forget what your loved one has been through. The body, when cut deep enough, heals, but leaves behind a scar, which is a lasting reminder of the wound it once had, and the healing that took place. Just as Jesus’ wounds in his hands and side remind the world of His sacrifice, they also claim victory. So embrace the scars left by the eating disorder, and let them remind you of the strength your daughter has, but also the delicateness that will always be a part of her makeup. And I say “delicateness,” not because she is weak or inadequate or a failure, but that sometimes, ED’s voice will be stronger than others, and she’ll be like a house of cards, ready to break at the slightest comment. Not that you have to walk on egg shells around her, but never underestimate the power that words can have, either positively or negatively. As much as it sucks, ED tendencies will always be a part of her DNA, and every day she has to choose to live.
I’m not saying this like I’ve got it all figured out, either. There are days when I struggle too. Many days. My tendency is to shut myself off and isolate myself from my loved ones. That’s my red flag. But little things can help. I got a text from my dad just yesterday. I applied for a job that didn’t pay exceptionally well, and he said, “You are precious and talented and your time is worth far far more than that, honey.” And in just that little sentence, I felt so loved and valued. I saved it and made it the background of my phone to remind me when ED’s voice was loud. So you just never know what you words can do.
But recovery is an every day – every moment decision. Some days are more difficult than others. Sometimes, out of the blue, little “triggers” or reminders of your anorexia will come flooding back and catch you by surprise. Keep doing the next right thing. Keep being open and transparent with those you love. Because ED cannot win if it is out in the open. ED thrives in darkness. In secrecy. So choose light. Choose life.