“My eating disorder had become my best friend, my soulmate: to have and to hold, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.” The words floated from my mouth, coating the room in the potency of my hardships. It was the first time I publicly spoke about my recovery. All of the emotions I wrestled, all of the thoughts I braved, and all of the pain I suffered, saturated the five double-spaced pages. And when it was over, tears pooled in the audience’s eyes and I knew I had finally gotten through to someone. Someone finally understood.
No one had quite understood the gravity of my eating disorder before; People knew I had one but, they just couldn’t wrap their heads around it. I’m not the type to share emotions, especially the negative ones (probably one reason I developed an eating disorder) so, no one grasped the true depths of my problems until I gave this speech. After sharing my speech multiple times, I was finally published on a website a good friend wrote for; And just like that, the article began to spread. It was shared over 1200 times. Friends messaged me with their love, while people I had met only a few times, expressed their gratitude. However, my family’s response was not what I expected.
When my parents finally read the article, they told they were proud but, they wanted to tweak just one little thing: I didn’t mention or thank my family once. “Because, Rachel, we’re the reason you were placed in the treatment center. We paid for it. We allowed you to drop out of school and live at home for a year. I assume it was implied that you couldn’t have done it without us,” they reasoned. This statement, this little declaration propelled me into an abyss of anger. Of all the invalidations they previously uttered, this, by far, was the worst. My recovery was mine; I did it: by myself, for myself. No one deserves any credit except myself. If you fought tooth and nail, suffered beyond your imagination, and labored ruthlessly in order to accomplish your greatest feat, wouldn’t you be upset if someone attempted to rip the credit from you? That’s what my family did, thought they deserved a piece of the pie.
Well, I’m here to thank you parents. Thank you so much for refusing to validate me, denying me the structure I required, and dismissing my anxieties. Thank you for saying, “you shouldn’t feel that way,” “stop being so inflexible,” and “there is more than just you in this family.” Thank you for refusing to change your habits. I loved having an eating disorder and sporadic meals, no restaurant reservations, and the constant banter of exercise and diet; It made life so interesting. Thank you for yelling at me when I voiced my concerns about food or exercise. “Rachel, just get over it. Eat something beforehand,” was always the response I demanded while a trigger drove tears to my eyes. Thanks for refusing to change the subject when I asked; I knew these things were going to pop up in the real world so, I need to experience them now. To hell with a safe place. And finally, thank you for confining me in an environment that bread distresses after I expressed uncomfortable emotions and concerns. I owe my entire recovery to you. Thanks.
My family may not have been the most supportive when it comes to my recovery but, they peppered me with ‘I love you’s in a sea of hugs every day. After attending parent sessions at my treatment center and being involved in family therapy, I will not fault them for trying. I know they tried and I’m grateful for it but, for some odd reason, they just couldn’t support me the way I needed them to. Maybe having the ability to support someone is similar to having a knack for math: some people have it, and some people don’t. Or maybe, in fact, my family’s own anxieties, their own problems, and their own set of insecurities is what hindered their support capabilities. As months passed and I progressed in my recovery, I noticed the very same loathsome emotions, feelings, and sensations that frequented my consciousness in my parents’ eyes. With this sight, I realized something extremely profound: Helping someone through a hardship is challenging enough but, it’s nearly impossible if you’re not comfortable in your own skin, not happy with who you are. It became obvious that my family was struggling with their own set of issues that they refused to recognize, surrendering them unable to support me because they could barely stay afloat themselves.
My parents were unwilling to change their way of life, which is a crucial part in aiding a person’s recovery. The life of a person in recovery is fragile; the slightest crack has the propensity to derail their entire progress. There are many metaphors I can use to explain this: If you’re supporting someone with cancer, you aren’t going to be late for chemotherapy, you’re going to hold their hair back as they puke, and you’re going to change your lifestyle to help them. If you’re supporting an alcoholic, you’re going to deprive the house of alcohol, you may stop drinking for a while, and you may even stop going out to events where alcohol is present. Being a caregiver, no matter the health problem (addiction, depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, cancer, brain tumor, or any sort of disorder), requires a lifestyle change. So, pull up your big boy pants and change it.
I love my family very much and, even though it was minimal, I thank them for the support they were able to provide. However, I am more grateful that they’ve finally realized that maybe they need some help too. My mom has accepted the fact that she is struggling and isn’t required to reside neighboring hell and she’s paving her own road to recovery as we speak; I am a proud child. I’m not sure if I’ll be ok, I’m not sure if my mom will but, all I’m certain of is: before you can support someone on their road to recovery, you have to be ok yourself.
By: Rachel R., Anxiety In Teens