I cried after talking to your parents tonight. I often cry after talking to parents. There are a hundred reasons why. Maybe I will be able to outline some of them here. The main reason, is usually because I can’t answer the one question that they so desperately wanted me to be able to answer: “How can I get my daughter/son to want to recover?”
I can’t answer that question because the answer doesn’t exist. I have wracked my brains for years now and I still can’t think of a single thing my parents could have done or said that would have made me want to recover when I didn’t. And so I have to be honest, and I have to tell parents that no, actually, they can’t make their son or daughter want to recover. And I hate saying that because it makes me feel useless. All this knowledge I have about eating disorders and recovery, and I still can’t answer the most important question. Useless.
I cried because they love you. But that’s more about me than it is about you. I think it is because for such a long time, I was unable to connect with anyone well enough to feel loved. I knew intellectually that my family loved me, but was unable to connect to it emotionally. The brain in malnutrition is a fascinating thing, and when the body doesn’t have enough energy, everything else — all the things that make being human so rich — falls away. The ability to feel connection, and love, was certainly one of those things for me. And it makes me feel sad to be reminded of it, because it was a hollow and empty time.
I also cried, because talking to your parents and seeing their pain reminded me, very rawly, of the pain I put my own parents through. I know my eating disorder tortured them. I have long forgiven myself for that, but it doesn’t mean I can’t regret it. I don’t hate myself for it, but I still have sadness when I am reminded of how much suffering I put them through.
I cried because I thought of you. I haven’t met you. You won’t talk to me, but I know you. I know that your defensive outbursts and anger happen because you are afraid. I know that when you are threatened you say vile things to the people you love, and I know that you hate yourself afterwards for it. I know that you feel attacked and misunderstood. I know that you want nothing more than to dissolve into their arms and to allow your parents to feed you, but you can’t let yourself. I know how exhausted you are of being like this, but how terrified you are of the thought of not being like this. I know how alone you feel, and how lonely you are. I was right where you are for a very long time.
I know a part of you listens when you parents challenge you. I know you are desperate to appear as if you are right. I know you are stubborn and you want to believe that there is nothing wrong with you. It’s them, not you. I know that deep down you don’t believe that. That’s one of the reasons you flare up so much when they question you. That’s why you are so defensive. They love you enough to challenge you, and you hate that. I also know that part of you is begging them to challenge you more. But then again, if they did, you know you would only fight back harder. Knowing that makes you feel hopeless. You need help but you can’t accept it.
I remember so many times I would storm out of my parent’s house in a rage having screamed at my mother because she had had the audacity to tell me a truth about myself. “You’re not eating enough.” Or, “you’re underweight.” God I would hate her in those moments. The pure rage I would feel when she said those things would cause me to say horrid things to her. Things that I would immediately feel ashamed for saying. I would batter her with words, and science, and reasons why she was wrong and I was right. The I would leave, shaking. I would get in my car and drive “home.” Back to my lonely, single-bed flat. I would have only been in the car 2 minutes before the rage would wear off and be replaced with pure sadness. I would cry most of the drive home. Many of the tears were about feeling guilty for being mean. Most of them were about feeling lonely and lost and so very, very exhausted.
So yeah, I cried after your parents described to me the rows you all get into, and the rage that you throw at them sometimes. Because I know how painful it was to be me, when I was you.
I told your parents tonight that they can’t make you recover. But I told that they should keep telling you the truth, even if you hate hearing it. Because I know behind all the tantrums and the hubris there is a part of you screaming “I’m not okay!” … and that if we keep talking to that part, and encouraging that part, and giving strength to that part, it will get bigger. Until one day, you’ll admit that you are not okay. And that, that’s the start of recovery.