From The Other Side

The Mother:

glass broken‘I am overwhelmed with desperation and loss.  I’ve seen counsellors, rung helplines, chatted to the Samaritans.

Anorexia has stolen my 18-year-old daughter, my lovely, funny, beautiful friend.  It’s worse than your worst nightmare – indescribable. I live with this person who used to laugh at my jokes, tell me her secrets, share her chocolate, make me coffee after work – everyday things that I took so much for granted. But now my daughter has gone – replaced by a robotic character devoid of personality. She rarely smiles, never laughs.  She’s skeletal, has no soul in her eyes.  It’s heartbreakingly sad.

I had counselling with a mental health charity, but got hysterically upset…I’ve attended team therapy with her, showing interest while she sits nodding or mute.  I’ve stood in supermarkets while she studies ingredients and says why she wouldn’t dream of eating that. I bought extra duvets and put the heating on in July because she was too cold to sleep.  It’s relentless. I have no more idea how to help now than I did when it began, and I’ve taken every bit of advice out there.  I don’t know what to do for the best, for my daughter, for me, and my other children’.

Jane: Source

The Brother

‘I am scared of my sister.

Not that she’ll hurt me. She weighs 77 lbs. She can’t really hurt anyone. Except herself, maybe. But she’s been doing that for years now—it’s pretty much her mode of operation. Although, on some level, my sister has hurt us. She has hurt my family in the way that people with different addictions hurt their loved ones—by lying, by being self-destructive, by blaming everyone around them for their problems, everyone except themselves. But no, that’s not why I’m scared of her. I am scared of my sister because it does not feel like she’s my sister anymore.

Everything about her, sadly, feels like the disease.

The way my sister watches me eat feels like the disease watching me eat. The way she asks where I’m going with my friends because she stopped talking to all of hers feels like the disease. The way she screams at my parents for causing all of her pain (they didn’t). The way she takes my little sister out to eat fast food every day even if she isn’t hungry so she can eat through her. The way she sneaks around the kitchen at night drinking liters of water to stave off her hunger. The way she talks about exercising and running marathons she’d never survive, let alone finish. None of it feels like my sister. And I wish it wasn’t.

…I am tired. I say that a lot. I am tired. And I am. Tired. I am tired of medical bills from programs that my sister never finished. I am tired of seeing my parents blame themselves for something they have no control over. Tired of lending my sister The Beauty Myth, Judith Butler articles, and Jessica Valenti literature that might inspire her only to find them all collecting dust on her shelf. I’m tired of cleaning vomit stains off the toilet. Of realizing spoons have been disappearing from the kitchen and then finding them stashed away in her room inside empty boxes of cake mix. Of the lies my sister tells about her “recovery” on Facebook every day and the clueless and well meaning people who like and comment on and believe her lies. I’m tired of Ana. Of Mia. Of Ed. Of everything. I am tired of being tired.

My sister describes a lot of what she feels as being invisible. And I am sure it is true that she feels that way. But I know from the experience of living around an eating disorder that the person with it often becomes the only visible part of a family. Since my sister has been ill, my parents stopped calling me at school. Every conversation upon coming home from college was about my sister and how she was doing. Every song and movie had to be stopped or turned off if it triggered her. We were not allowed to talk about anything but her disorder at the table because it made her feel invisible—except if we asked her about how she was feeling then we were judging her for being sick.  No one cared if I was depressed because so was she and she was sick and I was not. It was not important that I became suicidal while studying abroad because my sister had left the hospital again and maybe this time she wouldn’t go back and might really die. These were all concessions my family made to ensure my sister’s survival. The great irony of all of these behaviors and sacrifices is that it nearly compromised my own.

….I love my sister. I do. But I am losing her. And that hurts. And it hurts not just because I miss who my older sister used to be, but because as her disease gets worse, it silences my family more and more. To be the sibling means not talking about your own issues to make space for theirs. It means being perfect in a corner because the disease has taken up the whole room. It means that while understand I will never truly know how my sister suffers, it is essential for my survival that somebody—anybody—knows that I do.

Source: United States of Meryl

The Partner

”The more I pushed her to change, the more she pushed back. She tossed the sexy clothes and adopted a uniform of baggy pants and shirts to hide her wasting body from me. We rarely made love. She had so little energy that she’d fall in bed by eight, just after the kids went to sleep. Her allergies flared and her periods stopped. I found myself making excuses for Meg’s gaunt appearance, telling friends and family that she had the flu or another illness.

Our arguments escalated until one night we went out without the kids and I ordered a cheeseburger for her. She refused to touch it. I begged. Finally I said, “If you really love me, you will eat this!” She wouldn’t. I knew she still loved me, but I was devastated. The plate sat there between us, untouched.

To Meg that meal was probably like so many others, with me nagging and her not budging. But to me it marked a milestone. I finally realized that this wasn’t an eating problem. Meg was fighting me as she never had before, and the problem was more than food. The flawless world I’d convinced myself we lived in had spun out of control. We weren’t perfect. And Meg was very, very sick’.

Tom: Source

For support:

b-eat: Helpline: 0845 634 1414 or email: (list of resources)  (forum for parents/carers)

8 thoughts on “From The Other Side

  1. It’s all I can do not to cry at this.
    I’ve recovered from anorexia but the thought of what I put my family and friends through makes me feel so guilty but at the time you can’t what is happening. And if you can see it, you can’t do anything about it.
    Thank you Emma.

  2. Hi Emma: I completely agree. This is a very hard read – but the brother’s line echoed something Glen said when I was at my worst: ‘I know you feel like you’re invisible, but you’re shouting so loud no-one else can be heard’.

    You’re right – it’s an addiction and when you’re in it, you can’t see what’s going on. One of the hardest things about recovery is when you can see it – the wreckage of your choices. It’s at these times that I cling to grace: the grace of Christ who nails our guilt to the cross and the grace of those who loved me though I tore them apart.

    Here’s a post I wrote on this topic:

  3. Painful to read but it’s good to give families a voice. I agree with you Emma (above), I hate to think what I put my family through. Well done for recovering :) And recovery is the best gift to give to your family and friends as they would want to see you healthy and happy.
    Thank you for this post Emma S x

  4. Very painful to read but thank you for reminding us that
    anorexia impacts on so many more people that the primary sufferer and the results can be devastating.

  5. I can’t stop crying. How could I have done this to my family, my boyfriend? I’m still not fully recovered but have no idea how to even begin addressing this…I’ve been so selfish

  6. Esther – I’ve done it too. And yes, eating disorders are selfish: as we both know, there’s no room for anything else. Sadly,everyone screws up. Maybe not like this – maybe not with an eating disorder – but all of us make mistakes. It’s right to grieve and it’s right to say sorry. But we’re not the past. We can’t pay for our own mistakes – and we can’t make it right. EDs say that we can make things better by ourselves. We can’t. They tell us that we’re guilty and shameful and lost. But this is only part of the truth. We’re also forgiven and redeemed and restored. We live by grace – all of us – not just those who struggle with food. And this means we can walk and not look back.

    Rom 6:4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

    Glen wrote a great post on this here:

  7. Oh man. I – I actually have no words. I’ve been – I’m being – so bloody awful. Oh shit…

  8. Emma, thanks for this. I’ve been suffering for years, aware of the effect on my family but reading this really brings it to heart. It’s so hard when you know the effect it’s having on others but you’re still trapped. In God’s strength we can do anything but realising this in practice….

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