Please enjoy part two of the recovery story from our community member.
In the first part of my story I told you about my daughter’s struggle and recovery with anorexia. I also talked about how her eating disorder impacted the entire family. I would like to expand on that as well and talk about her continued recovery once she came home from the residential treatment center.
Let’s talk about me first. I am the mom, preparer of food, laundry service, carpool coordinator, housekeeper. I am the one who is home with our kids the majority of the time. The incredible guilt that I felt and continue to feel for not being the parent that spoke up is crazy. My husband, her father was the first to notice. I actually seemed to enjoy the changes that she had - exercising, interest in cooking, becoming vegetarian. How can I possibly have thought all of that was normal?? It has been about 5 years since her eating disorder and to this day I feel incredibly anxious and GUILTY when discussing it, like I let her down. Like a horrible mother. I honestly believe that I just didn’t want to accept or admit there was anything wrong.
Over time I have come to terms with my feelings but whenever I reflect on that time it will wash over me again.
How I saw her dad through all of this. He was the parent that stated something wasn’t right with our daughter and he was concerned. He was the one that initiated the sit down with the three of us to discuss her behavior and eating changes. He was the one who said we need to make a doctor’s appointment. I can still remember when we had a meeting with the school’s principal, guidance counselors and nurse to discuss her diagnosis and what they could do to help. I remember him breaking down and crying. He was actually excited (probably not the best word) to have her admitted to a residential program because she would be fixed. I just didn’t want her to have to go anywhere. He just wanted her “fixed” and would do anything to make this happen even if it made her completely angry.
We have two other children who were absolutely affected by her anorexia. They were in 1st and 4th grade and they witnessed their sister dwindling away, becoming very distant and not engaging. They watched her cry at the dinner table. They heard me cry at the dinner table. They heard me say I can’t do this and their dad says we have to, in regards to making our daughter eat. I went through the motions of their lives but felt like I was walking on eggshells with everyone. I feel like dinner times should be where a family comes together and not an event we just hope to make it through.
Preparing dinner for your family shouldn’t make you break down and cry and pray they eat right? For me this is how I felt every day. I love to cook but during this time with the care my daughter needed I definitely lost my joy in many ways but certainly in cooking. This was the most stressful part of my life, cooking. I was so elated to have her enter the Emily Program so they could deal with her at meals. Can we go back to the GUILT I felt even thinking this? One of the first things they did was take her out of the kitchen and she could no longer plate her own food. The first meal I was allowed to be with her for they made her sit at the table and I was to get her food. It was tacos. I couldn’t remember the last time she ate a taco. I prepared 1 small taco on her plate and nothing else. The dietitian pulled me aside and asked me if this is what I truly felt a 14 year old should eat for dinner. Even typing this out my stomach is in knots, I started crying and said she won’t eat it if I put more on her plate. I was so ashamed for not doing what she needed and taking the easy way out. The dietitian was very kind but stern and said it is my job to give her what she needs, not what she wants. So I served up two normal tacos, put a fake smile on my face and sat down with my daughter. We made it through taco night, it wasn’t pretty. There were several other not so pretty times - pizza night, candy bar for snack, eating out, the list goes on. But we made it through and she came home.
Everyone was so happy to have both of us home. I had moved to Minneapolis for 6 weeks in order to be with her throughout her treatment. I was so happy to be back home and I naively thought things would just go back to normal. I was wrong. It was easy (again, not the best word) for her at the Emily program. Even during out-patient, where she lived with me but went there for 8 hours/day there was still a lot of structure. When we arrived home it was back to our busy chaotic lives where dinner plans can change. I tried to keep a schedule to help her cope. I gave her options for snacks. I snuck heavy cream into her dishes. I did everything I was supposed too. There were still many meals that involved crying.
Sometimes I had to leave because I couldn’t deal with her behavior. I am very thankful for my husband and his strength and that he wasn’t bothered by her defiance. He was very patient and stern with her and was much better at getting her through the difficult meals.
Looking back on those first few months at home after her treatment, life was very difficult. My other two kids just wanted to be kids and have a fun summer. I was trying to be that parent as well as mom to a daughter in recovery from an eating disorder. Sneaking the ice cream out of the freezer to blend into her afternoon smoothie. I felt very alone. My husband obviously was fantastic and could handle her sometimes better than me but the feeding of the children is my primary responsibility and continued to stress me out. Over time she became more flexible and easier as she continued to recover but the next hurdle was going back to school. Seeing her deal with other teenage girls, who can be very mean in case you didn’t know, made me so sad and angry for her. She tried hard to jump back into her life but some of her friends were not very receptive. She was now a freshman in high school and trying to figure out who she was besides an eating disorder. My daughter is very intelligent and motivated so she found her niche in academics, speech and choir.
It was good to see her come alive again.
She made it through high school and is now off to college. Over the years our entire family has gotten back to normal and I have found my love of cooking again. I am not one to share our story with many people but what I will say is when an eating disorder affects your child it will impact every member of your family. For me, the most difficult part of her recovery was returning home from residential treatment. I no longer had a support team to fall back on and answer my questions. To tell me I was doing OK and that she would be OK. We made it through but it wasn’t always pretty.