When we were younger, my sister was always there for me. She always took care of me. Whenever I had a bad dream as a kid, and I woke up shaking with my heart pounding, she was the one who I woke up to comfort me. She always made herself available to talk to me and to spend time with me. And then, when she was 15, her eating disorder took my place. She always had time for her eating disorder, she took great care of her eating disorder, but she started to push me away and to shut me out. That hurt me in ways that I can’t describe.
It wasn’t fair that her eating disorder changed my life. It robbed me of my parents’ attention, it yelled so much that I didn’t feel comfortable inviting my friends over, and it changed our sister relationship and our whole family dynamic.
Now, it was her waking me up in the middle of the night, but not for comfort after a bad dream. She woke me up because she vomited into the sink, and it was clogged, and she was freaking out that our parents would find out. She actually expected me to help her clean up her vomit and then to keep it a secret from our parents.
This was not my sister. Whoever it was, I didn’t like her at all.
I would pass my sister’s room late at night when everyone else was sleeping and see her exercising like a demon. Was I supposed to tell my parents about it? I knew that it was dangerous for her to exercise, but I also knew that if I told my parents then I would ruin our relationship. I felt totally torn. I knew that my sister was really sick, and I was scared. But for years she kept my secrets, so should I keep hers now? If I did keep her secret, and something bad happened, would it be my fault?
I decided to call the family therapist who we had seen a while back and speak to her about the scary behaviors that I was seeing. I didn’t feel right telling my parents, but I needed to speak to someone who could tell me what to do. She spent a lot of time on the phone with me and helped me a lot. I don’t know if she ever spoke to my parents, but she gave me really good advice that helped me resolve some of the inner conflict that I felt. She also helped me to understand my sister’s illness better and I felt less angry at my sister. Still angry, but less angry.
My parents tried their best to take all of us into consideration. One of the best things that my parents did was to take my siblings and me on vacation to visit our grandparents for a month during the summer when my sister was in inpatient treatment. My mother took us and stayed with us for 2 weeks while my father stayed home so he could visit my sister. It felt like a real vacation, with lots of fun summer activities. Then my mother flew home, said hi to my father at the airport, and they switched places. She stayed with my sister while my father entertained us for another 2 weeks. He took us to this really fun resort with a great water park and we had the best time. I remember it as a terrific summer, despite the fact that my sister was sick, and I give my parents credit for making it all work. It didn’t hurt that my grandparents totally spoiled us and made us feel special.
For a while, my sister got most of the attention, and it was hard. My mom’s best friend decided that instead of offering help to my mom like making us dinner, she was going to take the other kids out to do something fun. She would pick us up and take us out for ice cream, to a movie, or to dinner. She didn’t ask a lot of questions, and I appreciated that. I didn’t want to talk about what was going on with our family. I just wanted to get out of the house and be able to breathe a little, and she provided that for us on a regular basis. That really helped me.
My siblings and I all go to therapy now to help us fix the residual damage caused by our sister’s eating disorder. The damage is significant. Each one of us has been affected in different ways.
More recently, my relationship with my sister has improved a lot and we have gotten closer. My mother insists on scheduled family time and I think that being together has helped us to heal. We have learned to sit around the table and laugh again as a family. It’s not an easy thing to leave the past in the past, but I’m trying.