When you are emotionally attached to someone, it’s easy to give in.
I know because I’ve done it.
Negotiation becomes a part of your every day
and you want to give in, you want to say
“okay, you can just have soup today”
because it’s easier -
for the both of you.
Even though you know you are giving into the disease and that will ultimately mean more trouble than it’s worth.
Even though it really means you’ve given it the upper hand.
Everything your child was, you have to let go of because she’s not that any more
and even when she makes progress towards recovery
she will be changed, different somehow
and you are changed too, along with the kind of relationship you had before Anorexia came to stay.
That’s just the way it is.
Anorexia creeps into every part of life – both yours and hers.
It’s confusing and contradictory.
In place of your “before” child is this
who is suddenly upset at the prospect of eating some potato
(because potato is a carb and carbs are the enemy – carbs will mean that you will be punished and it’s easier to fight your mother
than to listen to Ana tell you that you are awful and fat and hopeless.)
This new person will always have some kind of inner turmoil going on in her being
because really, it is like harbouring a second person inside a singular casing.
There is the recovering girl (or boy) who is screaming to be heard, the one who wants to get better
and then there is Ana, who tells that girl (or boy) to do what she says, or suffer the consequences,
whatever they may be -
physical pain by way of an unrelenting headache
or not allowing one sip of water to pass her lips
or emotional abuse that comes in so many shapes and sizes;
that she will never be pretty
or that not making her bed in a certain way will cause her to crave ‘forbidden foods’ (and forbidden foods mean physical punishment)
or that her mother is trying to make her a slave and keep her tethered to the house forever
or that because she’s eaten toast that morning it would be better to kill herself.
Things like that take your breath away.
Breaking routine is one of the worst things you can do for someone who is under Ana’s spell.
Asking your daughter to go out for a celebratory lunch, when she has just passed her driving test will make everyone’s day crappy.
Especially when she has it in her head that she will be having soup that day (the only allowable safe food).
There will be no pride or happiness or anything but feeling miserable because of food and the amount of food that is forced upon her on any given day, let alone a day that was already “Ana stressful **”
and you will feel bad on so many levels and wish that you hadn’t changed things up at all.
Here’s the thing you learn though -
it’s okay to make your anorexic eat.
It’s okay to be the mother again and to take the decision process away for now.
It’s okay to insist that she do it your way because your way will help her to get better and perhaps even stay that way.
It’s alright to say that it’s not up for discussion (even though that is entirely foreign to your old parenting values).
It’s hard having to deal with all of the turmoil that comes along with food intake and anorexia
but it’s harder to watch your child waste away to nothing
and so you don’t negotiate any more.
You tell her it doesn’t matter what she says, that she will eat what you tell her to
and surprisingly she does.
Recovery is long.
The average period is five years for an adult to learn to live with anorexia,
three for a child and anywhere in between for a teenager and you will need to be strong
for your recovery girl.
You need to give up self blame or blame of anyone or anything else because the truth is there was never anything you could have done to prevent this disease.
You look at Ana like an angry, confused, at her absolute worst toddler
who will push you and push you until she gets away with murder or worse.
She’s challenging you, feeling her way, pushing buttons to see just how far she can go before you snap
if you stand your ground and give strict boundaries and don’t at all give in
then you see more of that recovery girl peeping through.
A shy smile,
a moment of pride when they conquer a fear (and when Ana comes to stay there are suddenly many),
a kid who enjoys cheese again, if only one square,
someone who knows that a glass of water won’t make her weigh kilos more than she is
and there will be periods of normal (whatever that is, anyway) -
until the next meal time comes around.
This is a Maddy approved post.
** Ana stressful is anything that may induce an anxiety attack.