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Under House Arrest

How an eating disorder held a family captive.

Our family was being held hostage. 

We no longer took vacations. We stopped having company for dinner. We didn’t go anywhere unless it was absolutely necessary. We stopped being a family.

Afraid to cause any upset, we walked on eggshells around the one who held us hostage. His name was Ed, . 

When denial left and reality set in, it became apparent that our daughter was very ill. We did not understand that the behaviors we saw were a result of her illness. The anger and manipulation were not who she was, they were who Ed was.  

Ed likes to take control of his victims and their family. He proceeded to isolate my daughter and then began to work on my husband and myself. The mere thought of having to take my daughter somewhere sent me into a state of panic. 

Ed was unpredictable. 

Sometimes he behaved himself and led us into a state of complacency. Other times his behavior made our world crumble. It was a painful experience and even more painful to try and make sense of what was happening to our family. 

To avoid this pain, our social activities were limited to those in which we had no choice but to attend. Looking back at that decision, it is clear to me how much power I was giving to Ed. It was easier to avoid uncomfortable situations than it was to face Ed. Those decisions made me feel better, but they did not help my daughter. 

A hostage situation was developing and I did not see it coming. 

This illness can consume your life. It certainly consumed ours. We allowed the eating disorder to define our family. We were not an eating disorder. We were a family who had a daughter with a disease that could be fatal.  We were scared. We were scared to make Ed angry. We were scared of losing our daughter. We were scared of each sunrise and what the day would bring. 

I went to bed scared and I woke up scared. I was scared to the point of being numb. Fear would wake me at night and I would go to my daughter’s room and make sure she was still breathing.   

I was on an antidepressant, but my daughter was not. I did not see myself as a hostage, but I allowed myself to become a prisoner in my own home. I was afraid to step outside of my front door with Ed. I thought I was in control of the situation. I was my own hostage negotiator, but I didn’t know you can’t negotiate with Ed. 

The lessons I learned came after my daughter recovered from this disease and Ed was no longer a participant in our lives.  

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,

I can see all obstacles in my way

Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind

It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)

Sun-Shiny day.

The rain did leave and I did see; however, what I saw was not a pretty picture.  I saw the damage that Ed had done. I saw the power I had given Ed.  

By joining my daughter in her struggle with Ed, I became a co-dependent in her disease. If she and Ed were having a bad day, so was I. If Ed was happy, I was happy and on and on it went. Her moods were my moods. It was a very long ride on a very sick merry-go-round. The scenery never changed.

Families need to reach out for help. It is important that you are able to function as a family through this disease. 

Is it easy to do? Not at all. You cannot be the victim's doctor, therapist and nutritionist. All you can be is mom and dad. Let the treatment team carry the load.  

Parents and siblings need to take care of themselves. It is difficult for relatives and friends to understand what is going on in your family. They have not experienced it and they are not educated to help guide and support you.   

Having your own therapist or attending a support group is vital. Listen and learn from those who have walked this path before you. Ed was my classroom, mistakes my teacher.

We need to mirror in our lives what we want for those who are suffering with this disease. 

It won’t always be easy, but it will be worth it. They will return, not the same as before, but healthy and on the other side of this illness. You won’t be the same, either.  

Victor Frankl said: When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

Learn what you can change and let go of what you cannot.

When my daughter was in treatment, I joined her for family therapy. On my first day, the therapist asked me to hold my arms out in front of me. I did. He then asked me to wiggle my fingers. I wiggled my fingers. As I sat there with my arms straight out in front of me, wiggling my fingers, he said, “That is where your control ends.”

What a sobering moment that was for me. 

I needed to see that I had no control over what Ed did, but I had complete control over how I responded. That therapist helped me see that I could not change my situation but I could change how I was reacting to the situation.  

One day at a time, step by step, those changes had to start with me.

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