Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Question #8: Parents

Question # 8 comes from Licketysplit once again, and man, does she have some good ones. My little fingers were a'typing and a'typing. She asks:
Has your family always been supportive and understanding in regards to your eating disorder and recovery?


The short answer is no. Here's the long answer:


My family has always been pretty supportive of what I did and do in my life, but my mom is a lot more supportive than my father. Her take on me and my life is basically –I trust you, I trust your judgment, so if you're doing something, I support it. My dad would like to say he took the same approach, but he didn't.


In regards to my eating disorder, my family tried very hard to be understanding. It's a very difficult thing, having a child (especially one who's actually a teen or young adult) with an eating disorder. It's not easy for parents to "get it" and be able to magically understand. I still don't think my parents really understand, in the real sense of the word. But they did a lot to help me. They wanted me to get better. They were worried. They were concerned.


There were definitely moments I feel they should have done more. There were also definitely moments when they yelled and made me feel terrible. And there were also moments when they seemed to stop paying attention. You have to understand that all of this is from my perspective, the point of view of the eating disordered child. So can I really say they should have done more, felt more, acted differently? I don't know if I have that right. I am willing to accept that my perception at the time was skewed, not only about my body's appearance, but about many other things. I also know very well that there were times they were at their wits' end... times when their worries and panic overshadowed all else.


As far as moments I feel they should have done more— my two worst years were my freshman and sophomore years of college. I was far too thin—many, many pounds lighter than I am now at a healthy weight—and I was far too sad. I was so sick my hair was falling out and my friends were deeply worried. I was trying everything to help myself, because even at my sickest, I didn't want the life I was living. I saw a therapist at home, one at my university, had phone sessions when I was away, did group therapy, saw a nutritionist, etc. I sought out at least half of these resources myself. In fact, I'd made an appointment at the university counseling center before I even told my parents I had a problem. I personally think I needed IP and could have benefited from it. I think my state of mind was one that wanted to get better. Perhaps not totally, as I hung back and clung to behaviors and a "thin" identity, but I think the stronger part of me was bigger. Had they told me they wanted to send me somewhere, I would have fought them. I would have said I didn't want to go. I know I wanted to finish out college with no interruptions. But I wish they'd have tried harder to impress upon me that something more intensive was a possibility, was an option, was something that could help me.


Instead of using in-patient hospitalization or residency as a threat, they could have made it seem appealing, helpful. Instead of flinging around the phrase "We'll take you out of school and send you somewhere!" while screaming at me, they could have tried to explain that college would be there when I got back, that I could do IP while at home for the summer, over winter break, anything that was comforting and helpful, instead of making it seem like if I was sent to a treatment place it somehow meant I was a failure, had come to the last resort. Instead of likening IP to a mental institution, they could have took a breath and realized, hey she just needs more help than we can give her.


Lucky for them (and for me too I suppose), I finished college in 4 years with 2 degrees, my double major propelling me forward instead of holding me back. I figured it out on my own. I ate up the support I got from my best friend and leaned on her when I was weary of my journey. I utilized my resources and turned myself around. It just took longer.


As for moments when my parents yelled and made me feel terrible, I think it's par for the course. I don't blame them. I remember a specific night when I was 19 and they'd come to have dinner at my university (in a different state). My room mates and I had made dinner for our parents and my mom and dad noticed that I did not eat much of what was served. They abruptly left as soon as the meal was over and everyone else was still sitting around the table. I had to walk them downstairs and out of the building, while knowing that everyone was exchanging looks and talking about me back inside, other parents included. My parents chose to scream at me outside my building, in front of several people that were walking or sitting nearby. I still find it hard to understand what screaming at a frail, scrawny, scared 19 year old girl (in front of other people) is going to do. I know their frustration at my situation got the better of them. But I was thoroughly embarrassed, ashamed, depressed, and hurt.


They told me I "wasn't even trying" on more than one occasion, which made no sense to me considering I was doing everything in my power to get a handle on the situation and use my resources. Once, my father even threatened to stop paying for my therapist, as if that was somehow a solution. His reason: it obviously wasn't helping me, because I wasn't as far along as I should be.


I'll tell ya, though, I was a girl with "daddy issues." It's plan and simple, though as far as that phrase goes, it was really anything but simple. My dad and I didn't have a good relationship and while it's gotten better over the years, there is still room for improvement. The eating disorder thrived off of my problems with my father, his words to me, his manner towards me, and his lack of support.


My mom picked up the slack, though she still had her faults.


But you know what, everyone does. I can't blame her and I don't. She did what she could and she was wonderful to me, providing me with help that I needed, financially and emotionally. My dad was a different story, but since they're married, he was along for the ride whether he liked it or not.


And as for moments when they seemed to stop paying attention, well, it happens I guess. When I was doing better, doing well, they seemed to forget that there was ever a problem. Seemed to ignore that I was still in pain, still dealing, still healing. They didn't seem to understand that even though I would eat 3 meals a day, I was still not mentally recovered. They didn't "get" that even though I gained weight, I was still freaking out inside, still not in a place that was good. I got the distinct feeling, and often, that they thought Well, her weight is up, she's eating and doing pretty well—she's out of the woods. Finally.


Not that simple, but of course, you and I both know that.


You have to understand, though, that I answered your question from my own memories and thoughts, and that I now look at it all with a few more years under my belt, some extra wisdom, and a healthy recovered mind I was lacking before. At 25, I look at my past with my parents with the ripe desire to be a parent myself as soon as it happens for me, and the knowledge that nothing is EVER as easy as it looks...and that what seems so obvious to me may never have been obvious to the people around me. I love my parents and they did more for me during my illness and recovery than many parents do or can. They have always loved me and my mom supports me so much now with all my endeavors to reach out to others, to help and support, to spread the message that recovery is possible. She sees how far I've come and she's come pretty far herself. My dad's transformation is yet to be seen, but that has very little to do with my eating disordered past and very much to do with his own life.


It's not always about us. Parents are people. Parents are people. Parents are people. I think every child should be required to say that three times every day as s/he grows up. :) It can take us a while to realize that. And while I still would have done some things differently if I was them, I'm sure their job was no piece of cake. It's the now that matters. And I'm happy with the now.


What a question! :)


Laura Collins said...

What a thoughtful and insightful post. Thank you so much for this.

Arielle Bair (Becker) said...

You're quite welcome! :) Thanks for reading!

now.is.now said...

Thanks for sharing. Sounds a lot like my situation (except I'd replace my mom with your dad and my dad with your mom). I agree with the bottom line though: parents do their best given their own emotional maturity, their own understanding, and their own insecurities. They're people. They miss opportunities to intervene. They intervene in not-so-helpful ways. But they're never (hopefully) intending to harm. They're acting the way most humans act when they want to fix something that they don't understand and are simultaneously in a little bit of denial anyway...

kberman said...

Hi, I have added you to my recovery journey links. I have been blogging since Nov 2004 but didn’t have comments. Recovery date is Nov. 24, 1976. I would be honored if you’d check out my main blog, kathyberman.com

Cammy said...

I ditto the thanks for sharing. Your description of how your parents handled it is similar to mine, especially the issues with making parents realize that external improvements do not mean that all is well inside also.

I have a ton of respect for you and your dedication to using your experiences to help others, thanks.

grace said...

What a great post Arielle. I also suffered from both anorexia and depression simultaniously and as I look back I feel like I've taken my parents with me through this journey. Although they have provided the best possible support and genuine encouragement as possible, they have not truly encountered the reality of an eating disorder. I am not fully recovered, not mentally yet. They assume I am well because my weight is slowly creeping up to the recommended weight by my doctor. But, I also know I cannot expect them to understand. Just by being disordered and depressed really took my parents at shock. I guess I'm grateful to be able to communicate to a certain extent regarding a difficult topic.

Anyway, thank you for your ever honest and helpful answers.