Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

My family



Hold on.  I need to refill my coffee cup . . . 


That was only partly in jest.  This comes form my Topics page.  I’ve been avoiding it because it is so complex.  So this entry may be long and jumbled.  (But I’m procrastinating at the moment, so it’s all good.)

The topic suggestion:

what is your family’s take on your eating disorder and recovery? that’s the part of the story that is often missing. i’m always curious – it goes so far beyond “well, she was sick, and now she’s better”.


My family and my eating disorder.  I’m hoping that if a member of my extended family reads this and reports back to them, my parents will agree with what I’ve written here.  

I did not develop full-blown anorexia until after I left my parents’ house.  I began over-exercising when I was 13, but I was also an extremely talented athlete and had been competing in something since I was a child.  So it would have been difficult to look at me and draw the line between “healthy” and “unhealthy” exercise unless you knew the motivation behind it.  And, of course, no one did.  For me, every workout was a way to escape, to numb out, to pound out every feeling inside of me until nothing was left.  For my coaches, this desire to “do more” was a sign that I wanted to succeed.  And I did want to succeed.  

So my parents were not witness to my dropping weight, my skin color changes that are all too evident when I look back at photos, or my odd behaviors around mealtimes.  My first inpatient hospitalization specifically for the eating disorder was in 1999, and I needed my parents to take me, and I called and told my mom, “My therapist said I need to be hospitalized for anorexia or they will 2PC me (involuntarily commitment) me.”  Her reply was, “But why do you need to be hospitalized?”  

This idea that anorexia was not as serious as, say, my suicide attempt, remained constant for several years.  There was always a disappointed sigh when I said I needed to be hospitalized, along with the question, “Why?”  There would be the “But you were doing so well” comments and the “I thought you were being good” comments.  

All of this being said, I was not always honest with my family.  I did not tell them–or anyone save two very close friends–about the sudden cardiac arrest (which we originally thought was attributed solely to the eating disorder but now think was mainly due to the ARVD and was aggravated by the eating disorder).  They didn’t know about the extent of my exercise, the types of pills I was taken, or the number of nights spent in the ER.  

We had done family therapy–a couple of sessions when I was in the hospital–but my parents were not receptive to that and the sessions were mainly filled with the therapist attempting to explain to my parents why it was so important I be there and why I needed their full emotional support and what that could look like.

When I went to Sheppard Pratt the first time, I initially told them I didn’t want to do family therapy with my parents, but my social worker/family therapist pretty much insisted.  So every week by conference call and once in person, we did family therapy.  And this time, my parents started to listen.  (I do have a gut feeling that my father was more receptive because I had a male therapist.)  Prior to this IP visit, my parents didn’t really see a problem with over-exercise, until my therapist forced me to list, in detail, exactly what I did each day, which shocked my parents.  My parents were also made aware of certain behaviors that were previously unheard of to them.  I failed my first meal pass because I hid half my food at the dinner table and lost weight the next day.  Then I had to tell them why I had failed the pass.  They had never heard of anyone hiding food.  

The second time I was at SP (my last hospitalization), we continued family therapy.  And yes, we did have to cover some of the same groundwork, such as no, I was not happy to be gaining weight and didn’t want to drink the supplements because I knew they would help me gain weight.  By this point in time, my voice was stronger, and I had the support of my therapist, and I set up ground rules such as, “Do not comment on weight.  At all.  Positive or negative.  No comments.”  And similarly, “Do not comment on my eating.  At all.”  These rules are starting to bend a little, but it’s been almost three years.

I think a major part of the change in my parents willingness to work with my therapist was that for the first time, one of my family members was witness to my relapse.  I was living in DC and worked in my brother’s office.  I went to his house on weekends so I could see my nephew.  He saw me losing weight.  He could see how it was affecting me physically and mentally.  

Now?  I still get the occasional, “Are you being good?” questions that I both cringe at and shrug off because it’s not about “being good,” but I also know this is how they know how to phrase things.  I’ve learned to understand the ways that my parents are able to offer support.  We are only just beginning to be emotionally close, which I used to be upset about, but they would–and will–pay for my electricity bill if I need them to, or they will send me money if I need to buy food.  I’ve come to accept this concrete form of help as one of the ways they can show support.  In the past year, we’ve been able to talk about things more–my discomfort with my new size, how much it makes them happy to hear me say while shopping, “I’m hungry, can we get something to eat?”  

My parents and I have been through many changes–as any child and parent does.  I think the healthy development of our relationship was delayed because of my eating disorder.  I sort of skipped the adolescent anger and just shut down all forms of communication.  I think they were not receptive in the beginning.  They are not emotional people, and I am very emotional by nature, and I’m not sure they knew what to do with that.  I know I didn’t tell them everything at first  (And there are reasons for this dating back to my adolescence.), so in some circumstances I never gave them the chance to support me.  I can be stubborn and willful, so that may have something to do with it.  But I get that from my father, so that may have something to do with it.  

I will say that unless Sheppard Pratt had “forced” me to do family therapy every week, I would not have the relationship with my parents that I do now.  I would not have been comfortable with them coming to take care of me after my surgery, and instead, I was thankful my parents were with me through that ordeal and missed them when they left.  

It’s not a perfect relationship.  But I’ve yet to see a “perfect” relationship.  But we’ve come a long, long way.


September 13, 2009 - Posted by | Communication, Eating Disorders, recovery, therapy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. ARGH. I just realized I wrote out this long history of my parents and my journey but didn’t really tell you what they thought of sickness and health. Maybe that will be a part two.

    Comment by surfacingaftersilence | September 13, 2009 | Reply

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