Writing as therapy for eating disorders: A self-help tool for your child and yourself
By Bharati Lall
Reflection: “Your daughter may die.” When my daughter’s eating disorder specialist said these words, a sense of hopelessness engulfed me. I felt dizzy. I didn’t want to hear those words, no matter how much compassion was behind them. I wanted to remain in denial about how serious my daughter’s eating disorder and accompanying behaviors were, and would continue to become until she agreed to treatment. But I did hear the words, and I listened for the deeper meaning of what may have been meant for me.
I needed more than love to save my daughter
I would not save my daughter through denial. I could not rescue her through love alone. Love was not enough. She needed medical intervention and I needed emotional sustenance. Facing the potential death of a loved one may seem morbid, but for me it became spiritual and healing. It allowed me to grieve and express my sadness and powerlessness over a disease that seemed bent on destroying everything in its path…
But could it? Could a disease destroy my love for my daughter? Was I doing everything I could to support her and show her I loved her unconditionally?
My love was stronger than the illness
When I realized that the disease could never change my love for my daughter, I felt an inner peace that allowed me to visualize the funeral service I would plan, including the songs I would want played in my daughter’s honor. My love for my daughter was stronger than any disease. This realization allowed me to begin to feel empowered.
As I thought of what I would want expressed through her eulogy, tears began to flow uncontrollably and a fierce love for her and compassion for all those controlled by an eating disorder was released. A deeper sense of clarity began to emerge. The truth behind the cunningness of an eating disorder was being exposed and I was beginning to accept the facets of this illness by detaching my hopes and dreams for my daughter from the reality of her situation.
‘You will not take me, too’
My role as her mother, as a wife to someone grieving his child’s suffering, as a mother to siblings confused by this dreadful disease, as a friend to others who were also experiencing the chaos of this terrible illness was to be compassionate, knowledgeable, strong and objective. There was nothing more that the disease wanted to do than to deceive me into believing I was not doing enough and that I was to blame for my daughter’s struggles. From deep within my own broken spirit, I found the courage to say to the eating disorder “You will not take me too! I will not lose sight of the person inside of my child! And I will not forget who I am either!”
Choosing to nurture my needs
The reality that an eating disorder is fatal and can lead to death helped me develop coping skills for those very trying times when I did not know what the next hour would bring. As holidays approached, I admitted to my small circle of friends and family that were supporting me that I needed help. I reminded myself of Christmas’ past and how my daughter loved participating in certain traditions.
As painful as it was, I chose to continue with some of those traditions with my other children or with my friends or husband to a smaller degree knowing that the pain I felt was helping me face reality.
I expressed the guilt, anger and jealousy I felt towards other families during this time and chose what activities would best nurture my needs.
If it was solitude I needed, I found it. If it was being with a group of people that understood me, I asked for time. The motivation to keep going was to imagine what my “healthy daughter” would want me to be doing.
- Do I understand the fatality of my loved one’s eating disorder and risky behaviors?
- Am I able to accept I cannot “cure” the illness through denial?
- Am I doing the best I can to be supportive to my child’s health?
- Are there songs or poems or special writings that, through their messaging, bring me a sense of connection to my loved one?
- With whom can I share my deepest fears and what are these fears?
Over the years of conversations with parents and caregivers of loved ones suffering from an eating disorder, I was inspired to create a workbook, a guided journal that would allow me to share these sacred exchanges with others that may find healing and understanding from them. I did not know how to begin but felt this desire grow stronger with time. Although the confidence in my ability to develop a workbook was low, I felt a calling to explore how my experiences may help others. I noticed a writing workshop being offered by June Alexander in my town and signed up for the opportunity to learn more. I had met June at an ED conference several years before and remember feeling nurtured by the compassion and understanding she was able to relay through her own writings. After the workshop, I reached out to June through her website and asked if she would mentor me with my project. Not only have I grown as a writer through her feedback, but I have experienced a deeper sense of healing and compassion emerge within me for myself— something I did not expect. This unexpected effect has changed me.
There is freedom in surrendering our deepest fears and feelings. This is what I hope users of my guided journal will experience, through answering the questions posed after each reflection. This workbook is a compilation of stories and reflections from mothers, fathers and caregivers I have been honored to meet and talk with over time. By sharing experiences, we each found an inner strength within us that allowed us to confront the eating disorder that was consuming our loved ones.
For more information on Bharati’s workbook, write to her at Healingspacenow@gmail.com