Many of the eating disorder and addiction sufferers I’ve been privileged to interact with are adults who’ve been battling these illnesses for years. Some are married. Some are not. Some have boyfriends or partners. Others do not. Some are in school, miles away from home. Some have been forced by their illness to move back home. Some have families and full-time jobs. Others work several jobs to try and make ends meet. Some have always been and remain close to their parents, while others come from broken or abusive homes and are, understandably, disconnected and distant ant from theirs. Many have been in and out of treatment programs multiple times, have blue chip treatment teams and still find themselves in a constant tug-a-war between relapse and recovery. Others don’t have or have long since exhausted the resources needed to secure the treatment they long for/desperately need and, as a result, are forced to make due. Some, thankfully, are more firmly rooted in recovery. But, at one time or another, all of them, sufferers, those in recovery and loved ones alike, have shared the darkness and questioned whether their story would have a happy ending.
I was reminded of that a few weeks ago when one of those friends, a young woman I deeply admire and respect, wrote to share her sense of exhaustion and openly wondered if her most recent stumble will be the proverbial straw that breaks the will and the patience of those who, in her words, “up to this point have so heroically and patiently supported and encouraged her”. As I read her e-mail, I couldn’t help but wonder how often those same hurtful and fear-engendering thoughts entered our own daughter’s mind and found their way to a heart already questioning its worthiness. You see, try as we might – and believe me we tried mightily – my wife and I were far from perfect in responding to the daily and often all-consuming challenges that an eating disorder presents to both the sufferer and those who love them. In fact, the tears littering the keyboard as I type these words have their birthplace in too many remembered moments when my response to various incendiary situations spawned by our daughter’s eating disorder only added fuel to what already was a raging emotional bonfire. All of which brings me to this note:
Dear Loved One,
I know you’re weary.
I know you’re frustrated.
I know you’re angry.
I know you’re wondering what you did to “deserve” this.
I know you don’t think you can do this for even one more minute, let alone another day, week, month, or year.
I know you’re losing patience.
I know you want your life back.
I know you want your loved one back.
I know you’re asking yourself if/when this nightmare will end.
I know you feel like you’re running out of options.
I know you’re scared.
I know there are times when you feel helpless.
I know you are starting to lose hope.
But, here’s the thing: Despite how they may act or what they may say in the grip of these insidious diseases at any given moment, your loved one feels those things too (weariness, frustration, anger, guilt, shame, fear, helplessness, hopelessness, confusion, etc.) and would give anything to have their life back – and you yours. The last thing they need is to feel more of it – to be given a reason to believe that the lies their eating disordered (or addicted) mind has been telling (screaming at) them all this time are true (e.g., that they are a “burden”, that they are “worthless”, that they are “unlovable”, that the world (even your world) would be better off without them, etc.).
You are the truth that stands between your loved one and those lies. The good news is: You are stronger than you think you are and more courageous and resilient than you realize. You have a greater capacity for patience and empathy than you ever imagined and, while in this moment it may not seem or feel like it, your love and support are actually limitless. The same is true of your loved one. Rest in that hope, draw strength from it – and if, as I suspect, you’ve already gone the “extra mile” pause for a minute (or two) to catch your breath – you’ve earned it – then keep going, keep loving, keep believing. Because the magic may well be in the next one.
Wishing you peace and strength,