When a parent accepts that their child has an eating disorder

By Bharati Lall

One of the most challenging times in my life was when I had to accept the fact that my daughter had an eating disorder. Despite my instinct telling me something was wrong for weeks before the diagnosis and confirmation by the medical team that she was indeed struggling with an eating disorder, I chose to dance with denial a bit longer before admitting defeat and becoming open to seeking help.

Upon reflection, I now believe that my ego was being held hostage by my daughter’s eating disorder. Voices telling me that eating disorders don’t happen in families “like ours”, reminding me that after all, I stayed home to raise my daughter, I breastfed her, I made sure to raise her with a strong sense of self, I knew all of her friends, I volunteered at her school, I brought her to church…I…I…I…

Was the eating disorder all about me? What about my daughter?

I needed to accept the truth. Surrender to the truth. Allow myself to let go of ego and embrace humility.

I had to force myself to walk away after signing my daughter into the adolescent unit at the hospital for inpatient care. My knees buckled as I heard my daughter’s small voice crying out “I promise to eat. Don’t leave me here.”

That evening, a friend stopped by to see me. Her daughter was recovering from an eating disorder. What I vividly remember was the support, understanding and compassion I received from my friend. She openly shared her daughter’s journey and more important to me at the time, her feelings and reactions to this terrible disease and what it was doing to her as a mother.  Although I did not “believe” that my daughter was in as bad a condition as her daughter was, her words touched a place deep in my heart and I began to “hear” her. Her words became the seeds from where I cultivated the courage to ask for help from someone who had undergone similar experiences with their child. I was able to find a safe place for my shameful thoughts with this woman. Guilt, anger, sadness, anguish, blame, anxiety, envy…she understood and did not judge.

A friend ‘knocking on the door’

A few years later, I decided to become a parent mentor for an organization that paired parents up with other parents and caregivers that were experiencing the effects of a loved one struggling with an eating disorder. I became the “friend knocking on the door” in the form of phone calls, email messages, and texts hoping to deliver a message of nonjudgmental support and understanding. These interactions with mothers, fathers and caregivers were precious and sacred connections. We found healing in the sharing of stories and experiences; we shared in each other’s joys and sorrows; we held each other’s children in our hearts. What is amazing to me is that these bonds were created through the content of our messages. Only rarely did I actually met someone physically; the words contained in an email, text message, or on the phone were just as powerful as a face-to-face conversation.

Creating a journal for caregivers

The inspiration to create a workbook, a guided journal to share with parents and caregivers was born from these connections. A safe and sacred space where deep healing can take root is created when vulnerable feelings are shared and supported. By sharing quotes, reflections and questions on a variety of relevant topics to caregivers, I am striving to engage parents and caregivers on a healing journey that will empower them to trust their instincts, courageously accept the truth and not allow the eating disorder of their loved one to consume their sense of self-worth and purpose. My humble desire is that this workbook will become a tool that is helpful to parents and caregivers to aid in uncovering, discovering and expressing their feelings.

Bharati lives in the USA in western NY. She has been a parent mentor and advocate for people suffering from an eating disorder since 2008. Her personal journey as a parent with a daughter diagnosed with an eating disorder continues to lead her on a path of self-discovery. She serves on the advisory board of the Western NY Comprehensive Care Center for eating disorders and has been actively engaged in raising awareness on how parents can best support themselves and their loved ones from this tragic disease. She is training to be a NEDA Body Project Facilitator and continues to mentor parents and caregivers who are seeking guidance and support.

Watch for further updates on the parent and caregiver workbook and guided journal in “Dear Diary.”

Sharing your story

If you have a story about how your illness has affected your relationship with self and others, click here.

June Alexander

About June Alexander

I have written nine books about eating disorders since my recovery (my “reconnection with true self”) from anorexia nervosa and other long term mental health challenges in 2006. In 2017, I graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy (Creative Writing). My contribution to the eating disorder field was recognised at the 2016 Academy for Eating Disorders International Conference in San Francisco where I was awarded the Meehan/Hartley Award for Public Service and Advocacy. I am currently a co-chair of the NEDC Steering Committee Evidence of Experience Group, a foundation steering committee member of the annual World Eating Disorders Action Day, and an Advisory Panel member for F.E.A.S.T.

All articles by June Alexander

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