Tomorrow is the last day of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week here in Canada. What have you learned about this dangerous disease that steals the lives of too many young women, and men too?
Last week, I asked my eldest daughter if she was okay with me sending in an OpEd (Opinion Editorial) to our local paper. She quickly said yes and when I sent my first draft, gave me some helpful insight into how to frame it better.
My daughter’s courage, willingness to be vulnerable, to walk with integrity and honesty inspires me every day.
After we’d gone through the piece together, she said, “Thanks for doing this mom.”
I am in awe of this young woman who is brave enough to face an eating disorder and bold enough to talk publicly about it — and to be okay with her mother doing the same.
At one point, I mentioned one of the statements I make in the article — how sometimes she’ll say something and I find this thought immediately racing through my mind, “Oh no. It’s back.”
I wish you wouldn’t do that mom. she said.
And I replied, I’m getting better at not doing it.
And I am. And it takes time.
Fact is, as I learn to let go of my fear and trust in her truth, the thought falls back into the darkness of the past, leaving me free to breathe easily in the beauty of the present.
To read the full article that was published Saturday, click HERE.
Expect the unexpected and you will not be disappointed.
A woman sent me a tweet with a link to a video she created to raise awareness of eating disorders and to inspire people in their recovery journey of breaking free from ED.
Lilac Sheer uses song, animation and her own story of recovery from ED to drive home an important message — There is another path. There is help. You are not alone.
And in her note I was reminded. I am not alone.
There are no coincidences. I needed to hear Lilac’s words. I needed to see through the darkness of my fear to the light of hope always present in our human connection.
Yesterday I had a conversation with someone trapped in the darkness of depression’s cloying mass. I wanted to cry. To scream. To punch out the darkness so the light could get through to them. I wanted to run after them and pull on their arms and force them to turn around. I wanted to shout at them so they could hear me. Don’t go so deep. Don’t take that path. Look. Come this way. Here is the light. Here is love waiting to embrace you.
But I am not that powerful. I cannot punch holes into the darkness consuming another’s mind and being. I cannot make someone hear my words when darkness is blocking out all sound of Love, hope, and joy.
I can only hold space in the light of my heart so that where our space connects, it is only Love they feel between us even when it is love they most fear.
I can listen with a loving heart. Hear with loving ears. Speak with loving words.
I cannot change another’s path. I can illuminate my path to shine fiercely, brightly, lovingly. I can shine my light into the darkness so that they do not feel so all alone, so scared and small.
And I can let them know, as Lilac Sheer did for me, you are not alone in the darkness. I will stand with you. I will hold space for you. I will be with you. Fierce. Loving. Radiating with the light of hope that beyond the darkness you will feel and see and know the light entering on your next breath and the next. So that no matter how deep the darkness feels you know deeper within you, deeper than the darkness — Love is always present. Love is always with you.
I may not be able to punch holes into the darkness, but I can hold space for the light to shine through. Always.
Please take the time to watch Lilac Sheer’s amazing video animated by the very talented Natalie Biegaj.
Punch a hole into the darkness — Like it. Share it. Let those trapped in depression’s cloak of darkness or struggling to free themselves from ED’s killing embrace know, they are not alone. None of us are.
When my eldest daughter was about 6 years old she got a hamster. It had its own cage complete with spinning wheel and sawdust on the floor. It was sweet and cuddly and funny and she loved that critter with all her heart. When it died a few months after coming into our home, she was devastated.
“I will mourn for three days,” Alexis informed me. “And then I’ll be okay.”
I baked her a cake in honour of her grief and mourn she did. For three days she cried and lay on her bed curled up in a ball. We sat in a circle eating cookies and shared stories of her lost pet and Alexis drew pictures to commemorate her oh so short life.
After awhile, she decided it was time for another hamster.
This one was not at all like the first. It was mean and bit when held and didn’t at all like being cuddled. Putting your hand in his cage meant risking the loss of your fingers so I was the one relegated to cleaning the cage and caring for it.
I did not like this pet and when it died, nobody mourned its loss.
I decreed us a Rodent Free Household, and neither of the girls pushed back. At least, not in the rodent department. Four legged friends of the furry, wiggly, woofy kind were another matter.
Bella came to live with us after a visit to the Humane Society. She was big and black and furry and 1 years old and loved to run around the back yard chasing the girls or to curl up in their bed and cuddle. She was perfect.
Except for her predilection for chewing shoes. She didn’t just chew them. She ate them. Completely. But usually only one of each pair. I’d spend days searching for one of the girls’ missing shoes only to discover the only evidence of what happened to it in the backyard when I cleaned up the offerings Bella dropped there.
I couldn’t get mad at her. She was way too sweet.
For the first while of having Bella in our home, she would travel between my house and their father’s house in the next block whenever the girls went over to stay with him. I’d pack up a bag for them and a bag for Bella and off they would go.
Sometimes, they’d come home alone. Bella is staying with dad today mom, they’d tell me. He’s going hiking and thought he’d take her with him.
Sometimes became often until eventually, Bella took up formal residence at their father’s house. She’d still come to visit me, but I always knew where her heart was. And that was okay.
One day, while the girls were at their dad’s, Bella ran out onto the street and was hit by a car. He called me immediately and I raced over to take the girls while he took Bella to the vet emergency hospital.
When I arrived ten-year-old Alexis, ran into my arms crying her heart out while her sister promptly informed us that she was going to the hospital with Bella. She was not going to leave her alone.
Alexis and I went for ice cream sundaes and talked about life and accidents and what can happen while her sister walked into the emergency room and insisted on being present throughout the surgery to repair Bella’s back leg.
As a mother of a daughter with an eating disorder, I have struggled to not unwind history in search of that one moment where had I done this, not that, perhaps ED would not have raised its ugly head.
I know it is self-defeating, and fruitless, to find EDs origins in the past. I know that it is in the here and now that healing begins, yet still I wonder.
What if I hadn’t baked that hamster a cake?
What if I didn’t offer up ice cream sundaes to soothe her fear?
Ultimately, with ED as with all things, the answer lies in the present.
There is no one inciting incident that marks the beginning of EDs presence. His beginnings are a constellation of factors, some environmental, some emotional, some actions taken with well meaning intention, some without thought.
No matter his beginnings, there is only the truth that ends his presence in the here and now. Forgive and let the past lie where it belongs so we can surrender and fall into Love.
When her sister was in her late teens my youngest daughter and I would often talk about the possibility that her sister had an eating disorder.
“Do something mom,” my youngest daughter would insist.
I worried that if I ignored it she’d die. If I acknowledged it, she’d lie, and lying would only make her hate herself more which would exacerbate the problem.
So mostly, I did the best I could, which given the gravity of the situation, was never enough.
I’d obliquely refer to eating disorders, ask if she was okay, ask if she thought she needed professional help. I’d read online about EDs and while part of me believed it was possible, the other couldn’t believe it was true.
I was so accustomed to the violent swings of her emotions. I chalked it all up to ‘it’s just the way she rolls through life’.
The first time she threatened suicide she was five years old. I can’t remember the instigating situation but I’ll never forget watching this tiny, perfect human being standing at the top of the stairs looking down at me and informing me that she was sorry she’d picked us as her parents, she was going back to heaven.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I told my precious child before asking. “How do you plan on getting there?”
She didn’t hesitate in her response. “I’m going to go to the kitchen and get a knife and stab myself to death.”
I stopped smiling. My heart stopped beating for just a second as I quietly suggested we sit down and talk about this.
It was one of the most heart-breaking surprises of being her mother. I never, ever anticipated having to talk my five year old daughter off a ledge. But I would do it, again and again over the ensuing years.
At 13, after her sister informed me one day as I drove her to dance that I couldn’t leave her alone with her sister anymore because every time they were alone Alexis threatened to kill herself, I put them both into counselling.
It seemed to have a positive impact for awhile but then, I fell into a pit of despair in a relationship that was killing me. I tried to juggle the darkness consuming me while I also worked to keep the darkness at bay in Alexis’ life too.
It was exhausting and terrifying.
Even though I know that part of my natural defense/response mechanism is to assume everything is my fault, that I need to fix it because I broke it, when I look back on those days now, I am in awe of the fact that I never once thought I needed help. I was so consumed by guilt and shame and self-flagellation, I couldn’t see the disease eating away at my life was part of the problem that was killing my daughter.
There are familial threads in eating disorders and depression.
My mother spent her life in a deep sea of grief. When we were children, the darkness would become so great, her despair so all consuming, she would stand in the kitchen and hold a knife to her breast and tell us she was going to stab herself to death.
I told myself I had to fix it. That I had to make my mother smile. That I had to lift the cloud of gloom that enshrouded her.
I wasn’t that powerful, but I thought I had to be. And so, I kept smiling and laughing and wanting to be like the sunshine while my mother fought the darkness and I fought with her to be less sad, less clinging, less scared of the world around her.
I was never big enough to take the knife out of my mother’s hands all those years ago, but I became a master at taking the knife out of Alexis’ hands until one day in her mid-twenties when I told her I couldn’t do it anymore.
I was exhausted and had run out of things to say.
That was the day I quit enabling her, quit propping her up and talking her out of every dark corner she’d disappeared into.
That was the day she saved her own life.
C.C. and I were visiting in Vancouver. Something had triggered her despair and in her anger, she informed me she didn’t want to live anymore. I asked her if she had a plan to take her own life and she informed me she was going to the emergency room and checking herself in.
“That sounds like a good plan” I replied and let her walk out the door.
It was just after midnight and I could not go running after her anymore. I had to trust the Universe. I had to believe that whatever happened next, I was not powerful enough to fix this. I had to accept, I love my daughter. It was time for her to learn to love herself.
On the other side of the door, at the end of the sidewalk, my daughter tells the story of sitting down on the curb and calling the Distress Centre. A kind, caring voice answered the line. In that stranger’s deep listening, Alexis let go of the rope she was hanging herself with and began the journey of learning to live without ED consuming her.
It has not been a straight line through recovery. It has not been a one step after the other. There have been many detours back to the darkness, many steps forward when I thought I could grab her out of ED’s arms.
My daughter has taught me a great deal about courage. She’s taught me alot about learning to trust, about being willing to let go of my belief I have to fix it, I have to hold it all together. I still struggle with letting it go. Still sometimes fall into the trap of believing I have the power to make my daughter love herself more than ED or the darkness consuming her.
Like Alexis, I am learning to reach out, to not hold myself in silence’s killing embrace.
I am grateful for a stranger who listened deeply to Alexis one night years ago. Because of her, I am learning to walk my path without fearing I won’t have the answers that will save Alexis’ life. Because of her, I know, there is someone on the end of the line who my daughter can reach out to when the darkness becomes too great. All she has to do is call.
This is Eating Disorder Week. Please, if you are living with an ED, reach out, seek help. If you are living with a loved one with an ED, know, you are not alone. Distress Centre Crisis Line: 403.266.HELP (4357)
I shall be writing more about ED from my perspective this week. It is healing and it is freeing because in writing it out, I find myself not alone with just my thoughts.