When my child was in the grips of his eating disorder, every day was filled with “not one more” wishes.
Not one more appointment with a doctor, therapist, dietitian or psychiatrist, who all contradicted one another.
Not one more trip to the hospital for medical stabilization.
Not one more stressful meal.
Not one more night sleeping in the chair outside my son’s bedroom, terrified he’ll die.
Not one more stolen moment in the bathroom with the shower on to deafen the sounds of my fear and loneliness.
Not one more argument with my ex-husband about how to best help our son.
Not one more moment feeling scared, incompetent, helpless, ashamed.
Not one more day watching my son disappear before us, his body growing smaller and his spirit fading away.
The “not one mores” were endless. They were a never-ending trail of macabre thoughts that chased us through the darkness.
We had one objective, and one objective only: Save my son’s life.
After many false starts, detours and dead ends, we did. We found an eating disorder treatment program that understood our son, knew how to help him, and showed him how to help himself. His suffering … our suffering … was going to have a happy ending.
This was eight years ago. For him, it’s a hazy memory. For me, not so much. During those fragile early days, I was my son’s silent, ever watchful guardian. As he slowly shed the shackles of his disease, I breathed better, but remained vigilant. As the days became months, and the months became years, I began to trust. My tentative hope that he had won his battle gradually morphed to belief that he truly had won.
My “not one more” wishes have been granted.
I wish I could say that when my son got better, life simply moved on. That would not tell the full story of our recovery. Being a parent who nearly lost her child to an eating disorder is a funny thing. You see, I never considered the toll it would take on my family. On me.
During the early days of my son’s recovery, I returned to my normal life, only nothing felt normal. I was frenetic, running from my feelings. It wasn’t until exhaustion set in that the pain settled in. My days of breakneck distractions were replaced with weeks of emptiness. Getting out of bed was an accomplishment.
I finally sought help and with a wonderful therapist began my journey towards healing. You see, no one had warned me that families need to recover, too. I was completely unprepared and unaware of how my son’s illness had impacted my wellbeing. I’d always thought of it as his eating disorder. In truth, it was ours. It’s impossible to live with the fear that your child may die and not be affected.
As I progressed through my recovery, I began thinking of all the other families I’d met while my son was in treatment and wondered about them. How are they coping? Have they found resources to help them?
In a beautiful twist of fate, I received the opportunity to work in the eating disorder field, for one of the best treatment programs in the nation. Now my days are filled with giving hope to other families that they, too, can have their “not one more” wishes fulfilled.
Even better, my “not one more” script has changed to reflect optimism rather than despair.
Not one more moment of struggling on your own, because there are experts here who will help your loved one find their way back to wellness.
Not one more feeling of shame, because we are going to normalize this disease for you.
Not one more worry about being a failure, because there’s no greater super power than getting your loved one the care they need.
Not one more dreaded meal, because your loved one is going to rediscover joy in feelings and in food.
Not one more worry that your loved one is not going to get better, because they will.
You will never forget those difficult days when you were in the midst of the struggle. It’s impossible to lessen the pain. However, in time, you can find peace. You can find your new normal.
To any parent walking this path, please know that you are not alone. Ask for help. Connect with others through family support groups. Speak with a therapist. Surround yourself with a support system of family and friends. Take time for self-care.
Commit to not one more day of doing this alone.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, contact Center for Discovery to get the help you need.
Shelly is a member of the Discovery marketing department, where she has dedicated her career to helping individuals and families find access to life-saving treatment.