AS THE BLOOD COURSES THROUGH THE MAP OF MY VEINS AS IT JOURNEYS TO THE HEART, I KNOW THAT EVEN THOUGH THE ROAD IS LONG IT’S MAKING IT WHOLE AGAIN.
~ Alexis McDonald, The Wunder Year Blog ~
My daughter has an eating disorder.
There. I’ve said it. Publicly.
And the sky didn’t fall and the earth didn’t rattle and my heart didn’t stop beating. Though, there have been times in this journey with her that it has felt like it would stop and break in two. There have been times when it felt like there was not another breath left for me to take as I struggled to wrestle under control this disease that threatened to take her away from me.
My daughter has always struggled with being here in this world. As a child she once threatened to go back to heaven. When I asked her, with a smile, “How do you plan on getting there?” her reply made my heart stop beating before it sped into overdrive as my mind tried to grasp how a five year old could even understand the concept of suicide. “I’m going to go into the kitchen and get a knife and stab myself to death. And then you’ll be sorry,” she added with a toss of her curly dark hair and a stomp of her tiny foot where she stood at the top of the stairs looking down at me.
I have taken that proverbial knife out of her hands countless times since that moment 21 years ago. I have rescued her from the edge, pulled her back from the precipice again and again, believing each time that this time she would get it, this time she would see the beauty and wonder that I see in her.
But she didn’t. See what I saw. She saw only the darkness within her. That place of deep regret for being born, that place where her fear of the darkness of oblivion overshadowed her longing for the light.
I was a master at talking her out of the darkness. Talking her back into her senses. There were times when she was a child that I would sit quietly on my bed as she thrashed and screamed and yelled obscenities about life and living, about herself. There were only two rules I insisted she follow in those emotionally charged moments; she was not allowed to leave the confines of the bed until she’d spent her emotions, and she wasn’t to speak out against her sister.
“I don’t love you anymore,” she would cry, and I would respond, “And I don’t love you any less.”
We were a masterful duo. She knew that in her darkest moments I would be the voice of reason, of loving acceptance of who she was, exactly as she was in that moment.
And in our delicate dance, I believed my calm acceptance of all of her, beauty and the beast, was powerful enough to overcome the darkness.
I was not that powerful.
I could not stop her from vanishing before my eyes. Pound by pound. Inch by inch.
I knew it was happening. I knew she was disappearing. And I was helpless.
The disease was stronger than my capacity to call her back into the light. This child whom I had carried in my womb and birthed into being, whose every breath made my heart skip with joy, was lost to me.
It would take my letting go for her to discover her own strength. It would take my letting her walk out the door to set her free.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this, I told myself. I wasn’t supposed to have to let her walk away leaving me fearing for her life.
But it didn’t matter how I thought it should be. It was the way it was. We were where we were and I had to let go and trust in the universe, trust in Love, trust in my daughter that she would do whatever it took to find herself – where ever that would be.
“I can’t do this for you anymore,” I told her that night when she pronounced for the umpteenth time she wanted to end her life and I knew I had no words left to convince her to stay.
“Do you have a concrete plan?” I asked her.
“No!” she cried. “I’m going to check myself into emergency. I need help.”
“Yes you do,” I replied. “And I am not the one to give it to you. You need to do this for yourself.”
And she walked out the door and in that action claimed her power to reach out for herself. And in reaching out, she found the strength to keep taking a step forward, and another, and another.
That was a year a half ago.
She has done a lot of healing and counselling and reaching out and speaking up and taking steps in the right direction since then. Sometimes she’s fallen down.
“I can’t stop your falls,” I’ve told both my daughters. “But I can be here to help you when you choose to get back up.”
Today, my daughter is choosing to get back up. She’s choosing life over the disordered eating that almost took her away.
It isn’t easy. I watch her struggle with body image, with the voices in her head that would have her believe she is not worth fighting for. I watch her and stand-by, quietly holding space for love to consume her. And when she reaches out, I reach back. But not until then. I cannot do it for her. Reach out. To do that would be to deny her right to know her own power.
It has been a difficult lesson, this lesson of letting go to let Love be my guide. To accept that all my love cannot prove to her she is loveable. Only she can do that. Believe. In her own worth. All I can do is hold the space for her to fill — with Love, with joy, with laughter and acceptance.
My daughter has an eating disorder. The sky hasn’t fallen, the earth hasn’t quit turning on its axis. And, no matter how much I assert, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way”, I cannot change her or this disease. I can only Love her, exactly the way she is.
I am grateful, today my daughter chooses life. I wasn’t always sure she would, but today I know that whatever choice she makes, she has found her truth and in that truth is Love filling every breath she takes.
*****************February is Eating Disorder Month in Canada. I wrote this blog to support my eldest daughter Alexis, who is one of the most courageous and beautiful human beings I know. If you would like to connect with her — if you have an eating disorder, or fear you or someone you love has an eating disorder, she writes daily about healing and celebrating life at her blog, The Wunder Year