An epiphany at 72 – it is never too late to be fully you
My birthdays have often been a non-event. However, an epiphany has marked my latest milestone. Yesterday, surrounded by five grandchildren and their parents lustily singing Happy Birthday, I felt overwhelmed by a sudden, deeper freedom to experience the moment. I thought, my goodness, I’m going to burst into tears. Tears of gratitude.
Tears of gratitude welled in my eyes because, at 72, I am “still here” and ongoing healing continues. I did not expect to live this long. Tears of gratitude because, surrounded by family, I could feel their love at a new level.
Tears of gratitude because I was free to soak up the moment and be totally present, without interference from the horrid eating disorder voice that had taunted and haunted me since age 11.
With the temperature hitting 36 degrees Celsius, we had been to the beach on my birthday morning – having fun paddling, swimming, and sailboarding – before gathering indoors at my daughter’s home for a birthday lunch.
I had just moved from sitting at the dining table to relaxing on the sofa when the call went out, “Grandma, come on!”
I looked around to see a surprise was in store.
A birthday cake, decorated by youngest granddaughters, Kayla and Amelia, 11 and 10, was being brought to the head of the table. I said, “Wow, I was not expecting a cake!”
The girls were proud of their decorating efforts, and I assured them that I was impressed.
My grandchildren, aged 10 to 16, have access to 100 per cent Grandma June.
ED had allowed me to be only a partial mother to their parents when they were young. The difference now is that ED is no longer sapping my energy or manipulating my behaviours. In previous years, the presentation of a birthday cake would cause inward groans of “Oh no,” and incite a catastrophising spree of negativity – How many calories in that icing, in those macaroons, in that cake? How much exercise will I need to do, to compensate when I go home? Oh, it is all too much. Best option is to avoid eating the cake! I simply cannot eat any of that cake! Not even a crumb!
Too bad about the disappointment and hurt of loved ones. Too bad that they and others would misunderstand and consider my behaviour to be rude, disrespectful, and impolite. Too bad that I would withdraw in shame even more.
I could feel the love
At this week’s birthday there was NO negative self-talk. No anxiety. No fear.I was surrounded by deep love and receptive to it. I could FEEL the love, and I felt safe and secure, I felt accepted and acknowledged. I was not feeling as someone with an eating disorder. But as Mum and Grandma. Me. Totally me.
No wonder my eyes were filled with tears of gratitude.
Candles were lit and, with several huffs and puffs, were extinguished. A knife was passed for the cutting of the cake. A slice for everybody. Including me. I assured my grandchildren that both the cake and the decorations tasted delicious.
Living in the moment
I am ever grateful that I persevered in reclaiming my healthy self from the eating disorder illness so that I can enjoy my grandchildren, and make up some of the lost years in sharing with my children. Living in the moment and being totally present, without interference from the ED voice, is super wonderful. I’m grateful to be here, free, to enjoy this chapter with my family, and to watch them grow and blossom into their own lives.
This morning, eldest grandchild Lachlan, 16, phoned and said, “Grandma, can you collect me from the golf course? I’m ready to come home now.” Of course, I’m on my way, Lachie. As I’m letting him out of the car upon arriving home, Lachlan says, “I’ve nothing on this afternoon, Grandma, so I can go walking with you and Maisie (my English Staffy), if you like.” Yes please, Lachie! (I love walking and talking with my grandchildren). Meanwhile Olivia, 13, has asked if I can take her to the shops tomorrow, to look for bargains at the end of year sales. Yes, Olivia, I will love to take you shopping. Amelia wants to come too. Great. we will all have fun.
Feeling wanted, connected and accepted
I feel wanted. I feel connected with my family. I feel accepted.
For more than 40 years, my ED snuffed out all good healthy feelings like this. I missed a myriad of opportunities to share happy occasions with my children due to ED’s dominance. Christmas and birthdays were particularly dreaded events. Debilitating anxiety and depression would precede both. Festive and family occasions were a reminder of yet another instance of failure-to-be-free, of failure-to-be-me.
Being free from the ED means freedom to anticipate, to embrace the moment, to be happy without feeling guilt.
Hold on to hope, faith and trust – always
This post is especially for everyone who is experiencing eating disorder symptoms today.
Always hold on to hope, faith and trust. Seek people who will listen to you, guide you with patience, and provide reassurance when the inevitable slips occur along the way.
Recovery work is a tough slog, but the rewards are great. Family is a constant reminder of this. If you don’t have a family of origin to support you, you can create a family of choice. This is important to remember – there is always an answer. Whatever your age, never, ever give up! Many a time, I wanted to give up. I’m so glad I hung on, persevered, and got my life back.
You can get your life back, too. You deserve a full life. Don’t settle for less.
Carers can listen and provide the vital element of love
For everyone who is caring for someone who has an eating disorder, be patient and avoid being judgmental. Know that your loved one is still there. They might be suppressed by their ED right now, but recovery is possible. You have a role to fulfil in recovery. Our health professionals provide great expertise but love is a powerful healing tool that only families and friends can give. Focus on encouraging your loved one’s healthy self to strengthen and, little by little, you will assist them in coming to the fore. Listen in a bid to understand and allay their fears and anxieties. What might seem a trivial concern to you can be monumental to someone with an ED. Widen the window of what does work for them, allow the light in, and gradually the darkness and self-doubts will recede.
Moving towards a heightened sense of self through sharing our stories
I extend appreciation to the many contributors to The Diary Healer during 2022. Your stories have inspired and given hope to many people. Your stories have reached into many countries, into many homes, into many hearts, around the world. I look forward to sharing more stories in 2023. Storytelling helps us to overcome isolation, to understand and respect each other, and learn from our experiences. Together, through our storytelling, we can raise awareness, and each of us can progressively move towards a heightened sense of self.
- I encourage you to share your story. To express interest, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
So glad you had a happy birthday June. I wish you a happy belated 72nd,
Thank you, Jennifer — you are inspirational in the way you live your life.
PS: I look forward to being your dolphin-mentor as you write your story during 2023
Happy Belated Birthday! You are the grandma I aspire to be, and your story is a source of hope to so many. Thank you for sharing it to sustain hope.
Dear JD, Thank you for your beautiful message – meeting wonderful people like you through involvement in the field of eating disorders has provided a source of comfort, encouragement and acceptance that has enabled me to be as wholesome a person as I am today, and to embrace the joy of grandparenthood — a joy that you share too xoxo