Eating Disorders: A Family Disease

An eating disorder doesn't affect one person only.

During my daughter’s lengthy battle with anorexia, I was great at throwing a good party. 

I was the only guest invited and no refreshments were served. I had these parties on a regular basis, at least once or twice a week. I held them in my car, my bedroom, the park – anywhere I could be alone.

Pity parties were my specialty and some of them lasted for hours.

When a family member is in the midst of an eating disorder, the feelings of helplessness, failure and disappointment are profound. Confusion lurks in every corner.

I was under the impression that when my daughter’s treatment team was finally in place, we could all get on with life. She had the help she needed. In six months (give or take) all would be well. Little did I know that Ed () planned on an extended stay.

As time marched on, so did Ed. He was allowed to take over our personal space and private emotions. Because I did not want to ruin the happy facade, I didn’t reach out for help or support.  

Instead, I chose to withdraw and feel quite sorry for myself. My thought process was very simple: If my daughter continued to see just how miserable I was, surely she would come to her senses and recover. Couldn’t she see how she was damaging her family? Party on.

The more pity parties I scheduled, the stronger Ed seemed to get. How was this possible? It was possible because I had allowed Ed not only to weaken my daughter, but to weaken me as well. I didn’t need another pity party. I needed a spinal implant. 

After my daughter recovered from her disorder and Ed had reluctantly moved on, she attended one of the support group meetings. During the course of the meeting, the parents were asking her some questions and she mentioned that when she would see me having one of my pity parties, it actually made her eating disorder stronger. It did this by telling her “see what you are doing to your mother," “look how unhappy you are making her," “you are worthless." 

Ed is not known for his complimentary nature.

This inner dialogue made Ed stronger by reinforcing her already fractured self image. She saw that I wasn’t strong enough to stand up to Ed, so how was she going to stand up to him?   

For lack of a better description, my pity parties fed her eating disorder. They added grease to an already raging fire – you pick the metaphor. I thought I partied alone, but Ed was present through my weakness and inability to face him. 

I finally did get that spinal implant. It took time and patience for it to settle in. I realized that we needed to make some changes within our family unit. My daughter needed to see that her family was willing to get help and make whatever changes were necessary to help her recover. We were going to face Ed together. 

This was no longer her private war. Through her eating disorder, she was telling us that something was wrong. We needed to support her and each other as we navigated the fragile road that eventually led all of us to a place of recovery.  

Parents often comment that their loved one is not willing to receive treatment. If that is the case, then I encourage the parents to get help. You cannot navigate this disease on your own. Learn how you can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. 

We can make decisions with the best of intentions, but Ed has a way of manipulating our actions to suit himself. 

Therapy was difficult for me. Those slices of humble pie were hard to swallow. I had to put aside my defensive posture and deep resentment.

Ed likes to divide, conquer and isolate. He almost succeeded. Eating disorders are a family disease and the sufferer is not the only one who needs fixing.  

Nancy Clarkson January 26, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Not sure if you can! The e-mail had a heading: Patch -- Eating Disorders a Family Disease, but generated from the e-mail account. I responded directly, but it kept jumping back. It referenced this particular column in blue just above the note to be inquiring about the support group. If yo
Tanya Rose January 26, 2012 at 08:42 PM
That should work! Maybe the person doesn't have the email address anymore?
Nancy Clarkson January 26, 2012 at 08:42 PM
oops . . . hit submit a bit early. It also referenced the article in the subject line when I hit reply. I just tried to respond again and it was sent back. Perhaps comcast is having issues and that is why it is coming back. I will keep trying. Hopefully whoever sent it to me this morning, will contact me via another outlet. If there is anything you can do, let me know!
Tanya Rose January 26, 2012 at 08:49 PM
Unfortunately I would just try the same things you're trying! This should work - I bet it is a problem on Comcast's end. I hope you're able to get through!
Carol Lynch January 28, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Thank you for your care and concern. I found the meeting info on your website.


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