First things first: I want to give you a hug. What you’re going through, I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Every day you put on armor to go into battle, and I know, it’s exhausting. It’s scary. It’s exasperating. It’s heartbreaking. For lack of a better word, it just sucks.
I was recently talking with my mom about her experience, watching me go through my eating disorder, and I realized in talking with her, just how truly terrible it is for the loved ones. Here are some of the things I took away from that talk.
“One of the most painful things about watching your daughter [or son] go through an eating disorder, is that you don’t know who your child is anymore.”
Growing up, my mom and I had the type of relationship that is depicted in Hallmark movies. We were best friends. Inseparable – Joined at the hip, doing everything together. She was my hero. I wanted to be just like her. We spent so much time together. We would take a walk every evening, talking about life. And then as though that wasn’t enough, she’d tuck me in for bed every night and lie in my bed for 30 minutes, and we’d talk and laugh and pray. We took mother/daughter trips together. We took cooking classes. Went to seminars together. She was a preschool teacher and I’d come over every day after school and be an assistant in her classroom. We were BFF’s.
But when I developed my anorexia, that all came to a screeching halt. As I got more and more entrenched in my disease, and more and more deceitful with the lying and manipulation, I severed ties with all the relationships in my life, going into what I like to call, “frantic isolation“. Not isolation where I barricaded myself in my room, (although I did do that, but only to secretly exercise). But frantic isolation, where I had to stay busy – by myself. I was constantly running here, running there, running errands, sneaking off to take power walks, etc. Communication stopped, cold turkey. Our only interaction was when there would be a blow up about food, or calories, or treatment, or where to go from here. And my mom withdrew. She couldn’t watch me eat, as she couldn’t watch me “self destruct.” So she withdrew. She spent a lot of time in her room. She went to church to pray for me every night. And as my weight dropped and dropped, she came to terms with the fact that I would die. You see, my mom knew all along that I had an eating disorder. I was “fooling” everyone, including my father, that the weight loss and the inability to gain weight were due to my Ulcerative Colitis. And as I said, it did start out as that, but then the anorexia took hold. But my mom knew all along that it was anorexia, and not Ulcerative Colitis. And she knew that there was nothing she could do to make me get better. She knew that it was up to me to choose life. That it was up to me to beat the eating disorder.
And that’s where the overwhelming feeling of helplessness comes in. That was one of the more resounding themes echoed by my mom, dad, brothers, friends — Everyone felt this utter sense of helplessness. That they were completely out of control. They were watching me waste away to nothing, yet there was absolutely nothing they could do. They couldn’t get me to eat anything that wasn’t “approved.” They couldn’t get me to talk about what was going on. They couldn’t get me to go to treatment. They couldn’t break me out of the deathly cycle I had gotten my self trapped in. Their hands were tied, because try as they might, I was the one that had to do it.
“And there was a tremendous life-or-death desperation.”
If you’re reading this, that probably hits pretty close to home. You’re watching your child spiral out of control, every day wasting away a little more and more. You’re desperate. You bring her to the hospital, and they monitor her vitals, “pump her with Ensure” and then discharge her two days later. Nothing solved. “But at least we bought her a little more time. We staved off death.” But then, once she’s home, the eating disorder rages even harder than before. You’ve taken her to doctor after doctor, therapist after therapist, nutritionist after nutritionist, but even IOP outpatient isn’t working. Maybe she’s one way to her therapist, but you know the real face of the eating disorder, and it’s not what she’s presenting to the professionals. Maybe you check on her in the middle of the night to make sure she’s still breathing, like my parents did. You’re desperate. And everyday you gear up for battle, facing tantrum after explosive blow up, over small things that to her are insurmountable. This is a dark time, and it is all-consuming, for all involved.
“I didn’t know who you were. You were lying to me. Manipulating me. There was no trust. And I was taking the brunt of your anger and aggression. Who was this girl?”
Getting lied to, eating disorder or not, just hurts. There is such a lack of trust when it comes to eating disorders, it’s gut wrenching. Face it; you can’t take your daughter’s word for anything. She’s sneaking exercise. She’s getting rid of food. She’s not eating what she said she did. At inpatient I heard so many “tricks” from girls about how they “got away with” this and that. I won’t go into too much detail, but it involves socks, and plastic baggies in undergarments. Use your imagination. But the cold hard truth of the matter is that trust is nonexistent.
But my mom was smart. She revealed this to me just the other day, about her “game plan” back then. Even though she couldn’t/didn’t have trust in me, she wanted to make sure that I maintained my trust in her. Now, that’s a little hard to grasp, but it vitally important, as I realize now, so I’m gonna say it again:
My mom didn’t and couldn’t trust me, because my ED was lying to and manipulating her. But she knew that if I was ever going to recover, and if our relationship was ever going to heal, I had to be able to trust my mom, so she made sure that I maintained my trust in her.
That’s one of the main reasons why my mom withdrew from everyone. You see, my mom went radio silent with her friends, our neighbors, my friends’ moms – everyone – about what was going on with me. She didn’t talk to anyone about me, or what I was going through. No Facebook statuses, no prayer requests, no email blasts. Nothing. That’s why she went to church every day – because she needed to pour out her fears and anxiety, and just talk to someone about the hell that she was going though, so she talked to God. And the fact that she wasn’t talking about me to any of our friends was seriously so important, because whether I knew it at the time or not, the trust stayed intact. This made communication lines stay open when I slowly began healing and started talking, because I knew that she was a “safe space.” I knew that she was trustworthy. I knew that she would not betray me to anyone when I was at my most vulnerable.
And I asked her why she did this? It’s so counter intuitive – when you’re in need, that’s what friends are for – to listen to your troubles and shoulder the load with you. Especially in this day and age with Facebook, and Internet support groups, a listening ear is easily attainable. But like I said, my mom was smart:
“I knew it was not my story to tell. And I knew that if you were ever going to trust me again, if there was any hope that we could get back to the way we once were, I had to be someone you could trust.”
And here’s what I want for you to take away from this post: You can get back to the way you once were. I know right now, all you know is that your child is a shell of who she once was, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. She’s blatantly lying to you. She’s manipulating you. She’s spewing rage and anger. She’s manic in her behaviors. She’s isolated. Depressed. Perhaps even suicidal. She’s out of control. You’re out of control.
This is where inpatient comes in. Not outpatient, not intensive outpatient, but inpatient. Because the fact is, she can’t beat this eating disorder on her own, and sadly, you can’t do it for her. And with outpatient, she’s still in her environment, where there are triggers, stresses, and distractions (hello: internet, cell phones, and skinny-obsessed media outlets like TV, movies and radio). Plus, with outpatient, she’s still able to exercise control. With outpatient, you, the parent, are placed in the role of enforcer. You have to be the police. The bad guy. Not only is that exceedingly unfair to you, but also – she knows how to manipulate you. There can’t be any, “Okayyy, if you just eat half of it.” Or, “Okayyy, just two more bites and you can go.” No. To beat this disease, it is ALL OR NOTHING. No compromises. No gray area. Because ED dwells in the compromises. ED preys on your daughter by shaving off just a little bit here, and a little bit there. She needs the Gestapo to enforce her meal plan and her recovery. You should not be placed in that position: It’s not good for you or her.
You see, inpatient completely strips you of control. As I mentioned in this post, they take every ounce of control, and take it away. For three meals and three snacks, you sit at a table with 4 other girls and two nurses who are table monitors. They make sure that she eats every bite and scrapes the plate clean – literally. They make sure that she is not hiding food, that she is not exhibiting disordered eating habits, like pushing food around on her plate, eating with too many condiments, eating too slowly or too quickly, eating food in patterns, drinking too much liquid with her meal, etc. They know how to handle breakdowns, they know how to relieve anxiety. Sound like a headache to be responsible for all that? Yeah. That’s why they’re professionals.
And there’s no compromise. At outpatient, you can get by without conquering fear foods. “OK, honey, you don’t want butter on that toast? Okayyy, I’m just glad you’re eating the toast.” No. At inpatient, it’s “No, you’re eating the toast, with the butter, and if you don’t then you have to drink the calorically equivalent amount of Ensure.” Plus, if you pull that stunt at inpatient, you’ll be taken off of “privileges” and not be allowed to walk anywhere, but instead be driven around in a golf cart. At inpatient, there are no mirrors to “body check” her reflection, like she does roughly 10 times or more a day in her bedroom. At inpatient, there’s no bedroom door to close so that she can do crunches or jumping jacks. At inpatient, they flush the toilets for her so that she can’t engage in bulimic behaviors. Not to mention, inpatient is actually a hospital, so they take her vitals three times a day to make sure her organs don’t shut down suddenly due to the shock to her system of metabolizing food, or God-forbid that she go into Re-Feeding Syndrome. Like I said in my earlier posts, inpatient didn’t cure me of my anorexia, but it did save my life. I got the weight (mostly) on. And to be fair, I do think it planted the seeds for my total recovery. The thing was, I wasn’t ready for recovery yet when I went. I still wanted my eating disorder – I wasn’t truly ready to give it completely up yet, which is why I relapsed. But it did save my life.
Sorry about that rant/tangent, but back to my mom and her wisdom to keep my trust. Healing will come. It is a long road and a difficult process, but healing will come. And when that day arrives, having your daughter’s trust intact will make all the difference in the world.
I am happy to say that my mom and my relationship is better than ever. She’s still my best friend. I can talk to her about anything. And to be completely honest, I think the whole situation brought us closer. They say that that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and there’s actually a lot of truth in that. Through healing therapy we were able to open up about some things that probably would have never been “unpacked” otherwise. I think the biggest thing though is that we both have this shared hell that we both endured and overcame. There’s a mutual respect, and for me, there’s an overwhelming sense of gratitude for her forgiveness and her willingness to love me, despite the pain I caused her, and despite the fact that I had broken her trust.
You are in the midst of a storm right now. But there will come a day when you have the daughter you know back, and she will be stronger for getting through and beating this. And you will be stronger. And your relationship will have been reinforced by a situation where all parties were tried, and triumphed. But first, she needs to beat this disease. She needs to expel the voice of ED that is dictating her eating disorder, and she needs to claim recovery. But you can’t do that for her. Only she can. Only she can decide to get better. Inpatient can help: she just needs to get there…one way or another.