When someone you love is faced with an Eating Disorder, the struggle (not the individual) can create turmoil for the entire family (close friends included).
Bottom Line: Everyone Suffers When ED’s in Town.
If you are the one suffering from an Eating Disorder, it is important that I first point out five major facts:
- You are more than likely suffering… or have suffered tremendously.
- AND Your family is suffering too.
- But it’s not your fault!
- You did NOT choose this disorder.
- It is ED’s Fault. You, as well as your entire family, are all victims.
That being said, this post is aimed to surface the pain and suffering of family members who have dealt with, or currently experiencing a loved diagnosed with ED.
The other day I was sitting in my social worker’s office reminiscing about my history with Anorexia. We were discussing a decade of family meetings that occurred during some of my darkest days with ED. He began the discussion by asking how my family was doing, and I expressed my deep appreciation for the family support I have had over the years. It wasn’t a surprise to me that I ended with:
“I seriously cannot understand why or how they even still speak to me after what I have put them through.”
My Social Worker laughed and quickly responded with, “They never have, and never will give up on you”
This I understood… clearly… but what he said next really struck me:
“Kristen, two years ago you thought your mother and father were, in your own words, the ‘cruelest people on earth.” You though they hated you and you concluded that they were too angry with you to be compassionate towards you pain. You called them selfish because you though they were only worried about how ED affected them. You said they blamed you and they thought you were purposely trying to hurt them, and therefore they hated you, thought you were a burden, and tortured you. They made painful comments, talked behind you back, and wanted you to disappear.”
It took me a minute to dig to the darkest most guilty compartment of my brain, but eventually I remembered this. I remembered their anger, their irrational comments, outbursts… I remembered overhearing them gossip. I remembered it all.
But I did not feel anger. What I also remembered was my mom visiting me throughout my most recent and most excruciating stay in Resi. She came often dispite the long drive to support me… and showed no signs of hate anger, or dissapointment. When I was actively in treatment, the WAR ENDED. Actually, it was if none of what I just mentioned above ever happened! She wasn’t cruel to me, and I didn’t feel like a target of her anger. She was there everyday with open arms… telling me how much I rocked her world… and bringing me knitting and teddy bears galore.
So What Changed? Home was a War Zone while I was sick, but when I entered into treatment the war didn’t just end – If was as if it never existed.
I wanted to write this post to give comfort to both parties. To the families who are watching a loved one suffer from this terrible disease, and to the victim of ED who may be living with guilt over animosity with his/her family.
UNDERSTANDING A LOVED ONE WITH AN EATING DISORDER
It is important for the families to understand the mental state of an ED victim in the heat of the disorder… coming from the horses mouth (me).
This is what it looks like:
- While side effects differ in accordance with the type of Eating Disorder (anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, or a combination of all), there is one thing for certain. Our brains are not working correctly! We are malnourished, dehydrated to the max, physically exhausted, and completely defeated. Our decision-making process is derailed… and often impulsive.
- We have lost control of our minds (lost our minds essentially). Our Eating Disorder is forcing us to give in to dramatic compulsions. We are slaves to ED, it has beaten us down, and we are now too weak to fight it. We have surrendered, and therefore feel at our lowest point. We are Failures.
- Following failure comes deep depression and the will to change diminishes. We lose sight of what we were fighting for.
- But here is the kicker! These humanistic emotions are ENHANCED by our physical state! Dehydration, lack of essential electrolytes like potassium and magnesium, in starvation mode… all of these internal attributes cause anxiety, mood swings, highs and lows, delusions… you name it.
- BOTTOM LINE: We are not US.
Now in this dark place… we enter SURVIVAL MODE. Any emotions or feelings you cast upon us do not reach our minds. We have become self-absorbed, unaware or a world outside our own heads. We cannot feel your pain because we are trying to save our own life. It is all consuming.
Later we will come back down to earth… through recovery… and what will follow is severe guilt for not being more compassionate and understanding as to how our disorder has affected you… but in our darkest hour, there is no brain-space left for that.
FOR EATING DISORDER SUFFERERS
UNDERSTANDING YOUR FAMILY’S PAIN AND THE NATURAL HUMAN RESPONSE TO TRAUMA.
For the one’s you love, understanding you while you are head first in your disorder is impossible.
- For one… you, in that moment, are not the person they have known before and this is incredibly confusing. Your moods and emotions are faulty due to the physical and emotional side effects.
- They know you are in there… but they feel immediately estranged and thrown as to how to approach this other you.
- The feeling of “estranged” is because you, yourself have gone cold to them… through isolation. You have shut them out in shame. You have hidden yourself away from them.
- Your family feels helpless. They cannot get through to the real you… deep down
- Your family feels helpless because there is NOTHING they can do. They have to sit there in the front row and watch you crumble to pieces. To be blunt, they are in a sense watching you slowly die.
- Imagine watching someone you love in unbearable pain… through a bulletproof glass window. You cannot reach them. There is nothing you can do to stop it. But you have to watch… and its a waiting game… and you go crazy.
- That is what happens with your family. They are suffering too and have no way of stopping it. It drives them bananas. Its torture.
- Chime in the anger. The outbursts. The comments. The impulsive behaviors. Yes. They Hurt You! No doubt! But they are HUMAN just like you and they are entitled to react as humans do in traumatic situations.
- Just like you have no control over your moods, depression, anxiety, compulsions etc., they also are losing control.The anger is not geared towards you. It is geared towards the disease.
The only person who can change anything is the deepest and strongest part of YOU. When you give recovery a chance, all of this will suddenly disappear. There will be no grudges or leftover pain.
Most importantly there will be no BLAME. Everyone was a victim and acted in accordance with their emotional pain. Only robots can hold back emotions. I highly recommend reaching out to ED support groups dedicated to families coping with a loved one who is suffering. NEDA, aka the National Eating Disorder Association, provides numerous ways to find Help and Support for ED while coping. I would also recommend a site called EdReferral. EdReferral has one of the best databases on the web for Eating Disorder Treatment Centers, Specific Levels of Care, Clinicians, Dietitians, Specialized ED Therapists, Nutritionists, and Support Groups.
I hope this was helpful to the families and those suffering with an eating disorder. Please feel free to ask questions or comment on your personal ED experiences. I would love to hear your stories, coping mechanisms, and thoughts on the fight against Eating Disorders.
CHANGE IS POSSIBLE.
I AM LIVING PROOF