From My Sister: Convinced
“I definitely don’t have an eating disorder,” my sister Lydia insisted several times during our conversation over the summer of 2014 about her recent health and lifestyle changes. Not knowing how to properly counteract or express my opposition to her insistence, I did what I am usually known best to do: listen. Which gave Lydia an ample amount of time to explain that what she was eating and how often she was exercising was “similar, but like, not the same” as someone with an eating disorder.
I nodded and “mhmmmd” at all the right places, listening to how hard she was trying to convince herself she did not have an eating disorder.
While I may show signs of what our family calls as “disordered eating,” I have never been diagnosed with an eating disorder myself. However, two out of the three women in my direct family having been diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa, one of them being our mom who raised her eating disorder alongside myself, Lydia, and our brother Alex while we were growing up and still carries it with her today. As children we didn’t necessarily realize that our Mom’s eating, exercising, and social habits meant she had an eating disorder until we were old enough to sit through uncomfortable middle school health class lectures about anorexia and bulimia.
So what I thought had just started off as being a healthy lifestyle change for Lydia in the beginning of 2014, my thoughts quickly turned south when she came home for that summer after her sophomore year of college. No matter how much she insisted that she did not “have an eating disorder like Mom’s,” that it “wasn’t as bad” because she was “just trying to be healthy,” there was little doubt that she had not developed an eating disorder. The signs were all there: excessive weight loss, high consumption of regimented low calorie meals, trouble articulating words when reading out loud, and an increased intake of coffee throughout the day. I listened and I watched as I am good at, not knowing how to step in and help my sister who was clearly pleading for it.
Fortunately, my Mom’s and Lydia’s eating disorders have not claimed their lives as too often they tend to do. While both are currently in different stages of recovery, the road to each of those points has never been easy. It’s taken lots of tears, therapy, angry outbursts and awkward conversations for our family to learn how to cope, give support, have patience, and provide hope that recovery is possible no matter how determined an eating disorder is to prevent it.
Over the decades worth of immersion in my family’s eating disorders, I’ve also learned that there is no perfect way to be supportive. As the role of a supporter, there will be times when you’re angry, when you say the wrong thing, when you feel helpless to what you’re loved one is experiencing or the actions they are taking. Relapse is almost inevitable, even after several months worth of successful treatment and you’ll struggle to see how you’ll be able to support them through it again. Sometimes, recovery seems damn near impossible for them and for you.
But there will be times where you’ll see the door to recovery open for your sister/mother/brother/friend/spouse/family member, even if it’s just a minuscule crack at first. Eventually that crack may grow larger and larger as they catch glimpses of their recovery through the door, not quite ready to step into yet. Eventually, they might push the door open quietly or even curiously, or maybe they’ll throw it open and make a spectacular entrance like I witnessed Lydia do after her second round of treatment.
Eventually, you’ll most likely be able to hear them say “I have an eating disorder, but I’m not going to listen to it anymore,” and despite its simplicity, nothing in the world will sound more convincing than that.