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Love Comes In Many Forms

By Martina Candiago, Windsor, Ontario, Canada

We are almost at the end of our journey through hell with my daughter’s eating disorder. My daughter is 19 now, she has full control of her meals, and she is thriving. She does still have regular monthly check ups.

I often reflect on the beginning of her illness, and my absolute blindness. I could beat myself up for such a state of oblivion! Was I giving her the wrong kind of love?

My daughter was 13 when the illness started creeping in, and she was shortly diagnosed as her therapist spotted the early signs. By that time her weight already dropped significantly; she was constantly cold, in pain and lost her periods. I didn’t even consider anorexia. Anorexia was an illness from American movies! After all, she just started eating “healthy”. I thought her symptoms were the cause when in fact, the cause was incomprehensible. Our family doctor wasn’t concerned and just advised her to eat.  The therapist referred us to the clinic specialized for teenagers. 

The day of the appointment came, and my daughter was referred straight to the hospital. I was required to stay, as I needed to be present at each meal and snack to learn how feeding will be done at home. No nutrition labels, no internet access, no contact besides family, bathroom and shower surveillance at all times, feeding through pains and screaming; and if the food came out, it went in via NG tubes.

I thought that the hospital treated her quite cruelly. When I reported back to my family, they found it unbelievable. Why can’t they send her to a treatment centre then? This is not humanely possible to do at home! What mother would feed her child while she is in excruciating pain? And so much food while being bedridden! All common sense just went out of the window for the treatment staff, I thought. My motherly instinct couldn’t comprehend such atrocity as acceptable; I pushed for other tests. When my daughter vomited in the shower, she begged me not to tell the nurses. I felt for her, so I didn’t. I couldn’t bear the consequences, not realizing I could create far worse ones. I was convinced she couldn’t eat because there was something wrong physically on the inside. Look everyone, she was eating but it hurts! The tests showed no physical problems.  She gained some weight, and was let home after 3 weeks. We were to continue Family Based Treatment (FBT) at home. Finally, I can feed her my way! Without all those drastic measures. So I thought.

Luckily, my daughter allowed me to be present at her therapy sessions from the beginning, upon hospital discharge. The therapist pushed the same treatment as the hospital, and as I soon found out, F.E.A.S.T.’s Around The Dinner Table (ATDT) forum supported the very same idea. Hearing this so called cruel approach to eating disorder treatment from the posts of those who lived it finally validated its efficacy for me, lifted the veil, and brought me fully onboard.

I was lucky indeed from the very beginning to be surrounded by knowledgeable staff but blind spotted by my own concept of love for my child, by common sense, by my wrong instinct. This illness struck me to the core like a tornado, earthquake and tsunami at the same time, and my beliefs no longer served me.

When I read the posts from those who got their child back, it was like reading fiction.  Cheerful ending out of impossible situations. (Happy just doesn’t sound right.) Would that happen for us as well? ATDT was like another dimension where recovery was possible. I kept going to that fiction every time the lows hit, the doubt crept in.  Insisting on feeding through the pain and screaming is motherly love. Open door policy in the bathroom is motherly love. Replenishing vomited food immediately is motherly love. Going to emergency when she refused to eat more than a day is motherly love (I went even after one skipped meal). Yes, I lost my job, I went on anti-depressants, my life consisted of cooking and sitting at the endless meals while being yelled at, but motherly love proved strong enough to keep my eyes on the prize. Years later, the fiction was becoming real, even for us. I just had to be loving her the way she needed, not the way I wanted, and I needed to forgive myself for not doing so earlier.

 

 

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13 Comments

  1. Anne Marie

    Martina,
    I’m so glad that your daughter is holding firm in her recovery. Thank you for your brutal honesty about your ‘blind spot’, I know it will be tremendously helpful to many of us. I’m a parent peer supporter and I will be sharing this with many people.
    Love and best wishes for your own recovery from the trauma of ED,
    Anne Marie

    • Theresa, United States

      This was an encouraging post that will resonate with so many of us. Those early days were exhausting, filled with never-ending stress, strong battles, and sometimes yelling. It has changed our entire family.

      My 15 year old daughter is six months past discharge of her in-patient stay. She is weight restored even after a summer filled with her favorite sports. With the anxiety of school approaching, her anorexic behaviors and thoughts are getting strong again. But, this time around, I am aware of our enemy that is the ED. When my daughter cries and tells me she hates me so much, I respond with “I love you enough for the both of us, so you can hate me.” I understand it is the ED that hates me for refusing to allow it to control my precious child.

      Battles are loud; wars are long. We are all soldiers fighting for our children’s lives. Have faith. Be strong. When you feel your strength is gone, pray. No one can do this alone.

      Thankful for F.E.A.S.T. With it, we are not alone.

  2. Laurel, Australia

    I also learned to witness and support my girl rather than engage with the disordered behaviour. To ‘Be the Shore’ for my sweet little kid who is being tossed around in the roughest of waves. Toughest thing to do. FEAST helps me to do that. So much love and admiration for you Martina. You are amazing!

  3. E.

    Many thanks for sharing your experience. We are also Canadians, and we have been living in hell for the last 5 years, we moved to beautiful NZ and the transfer, along with other things, affected our daughter. She is turning 18 this month, we found how deleterious the effects of the illness are while receiving her bone density results. In NZ, children are considered adults very early and are expected to ‘realise’ that they are ill and that they need to eat to get well. She is partially understanding the consequences that the illness has, and is trying her best to eat. But your story of success mends my broken heart with hope. I also believed that we needed to respect her freedom of choice, and were blinded by our deep ignorance of the illness. We met with her class Dean, to inform him of her condition but our broader aim was to ask the school to include the topic in the curriculum, as early as possible. Mental illness remains a difficult topic and anorexia tends to camouflage within what society deems as beautiful. All the best to you and your daughter!

  4. David Dempsey

    Thank you for sharing this. Our daughter was diagnosed with AN at age 12. She is now 17. Reading your story brought back many memories – the fighting, the yelling, the effects AN has on the rest of the family, the tough love, etc.. Our daughter has been in a much better place for the past couple of years and our family dynamic is much improved. I would not say she is cured but does eat independently, is much happier and more affectionate toward everyone – including our dog:). It was hitting the goal weight (which kept going up), getting on low dose Zoloft and finding a good therapist that got us across the line. My wife and I are now trying to prepare her mentally for successful eating independence in college. She seems to have lingering AN driving perspective on some foods and has eliminate others that were prominent in her recovery – almost as if she will not eat them BC she associated them with AN. As stated in another post – bad things happen overnight and good things happen over time – it’s a process:)

  5. Nina B.

    Love this post. Thank you for sharing. I agree with you, I needed to read to understand what I needed to do as a mom. But motherly love, motherly focus, motherly strength and determination can do miracles!!!!

  6. Jill Uccellini

    I can’t read any post without crying – I just want hope. I’m so happy to hear your daughter is doing better and you are such a dedicated mom, please know that!

  7. Katy

    Thank you Martina, those are very powerful words, and resonate with me. It’s such a hard path to follow, it helps enormously to have regular reminders that it is the right route. So pleased to hear you and your daughter are at a better stage now.

  8. Kelly

    Martina,

    Thank you for writing about the very thing I am going through right now. My d was diagnosed 9.5 months ago and is still in very deep water with this horrible disease. Every time she is weight restored (she has been hospitalized and wr 5 different times now) she comes home and promptly loses it all just as fast as she can. She does not want to let go of this illness.

    During these last months, in the same amount of time that she was in utero, a new person has been brought into our family – me! My motherly love and instinct, like yours, was to protect her from the ‘mean’ medical professionals, to soften the edges of her treatment, to prove my love to her. I also kept things from the nurses at my daughters’ request. I also was ok if she missed a meal at home because her stomach hurt or she just couldn’t face another eating session.

    I have finally learned that my first instincts were not what she truly needs and that my love needs to bigger, stronger and wiser than this dreadful illness. If I don’t want to lose her I can no longer make it ‘easier’ for her or else we will lose her precious life. As hard as it is and despite the many times I’ve had to privately cry my eyes out I am determined to stick with this new version of me that I have had to become in order to keep her alive.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and journey.

    • Martina

      Kelly, by coming to the realisation you did; your new version of yourself as you describe it, you gave yourself a strong shield against ED. Remember, each time it gets extra tough, you are fighting the illness, not your girl. Keep going, keep feeding. Sending lots of strength.

  9. Jennifer

    It is nice to see a post from a fellow Canadian. I too am in Southern Ontario. My d was diagnosed last year. She has had anxiety issues since a child. Was very athletic. Covid hit (among breaking up with her first boyfriend) there was alot of talk in the media about now everyone will just sit around and get fat. No sports etc. My d decided to exercise and eat “healthy”. We go to a clinic every 1 – 2 weeks. Along with her ED we are working hard on her mental health. She is 15 so its a constant battle between the “teenage years” and the ED. I truly value stories such as yours because it is very easy to feel alone (I am a recent single mom with no ED support from Dad). Thinking and praying for all of you!

  10. Simone

    Thank you Martina, for reminding us that those tough calls we have to make as Mothers are the right ones. I’m not always the best at doing that, often avoiding confrontation. But when I steel myself for the fight, I find my daughter is angry- but then relieved -to be free of another one of her rigid ideas. So much of the responsibility to get our kids well falls on our shoulders, no wonder our ‘paid jobs’ end up in up in tatters! But I think you can safely put down ‘Miracle Worker’ as your new job description! I’m so happy that the fiction is becoming your reality. I will read your post often to remind myself that the good things will come, with time.

  11. June Alexander

    Martina, thank you. This is one of the most heartfelt, love felt stories I have read about mother-daughter relationships in eating disorder recovery. I hope mothers (and fathers) everywhere read your story! I am one whose mother was unable to access support to understand that my recovery (from SEAN that developed age 11) depended on receiving love from her in the way I needed. I survived but our family was forever divided. We never got our family back. The cost is immense. Your story touches me deeply. You are a brave and loving mother. Your daughter is blessed to have you as her mom. Food is our medicine, but being in touch with our feelings is what makes the medicine manageable. Your pearl of wisdom that deserves to be framed and hung in every family’s home: I (just have to) love my daughter in the way she needs, not the way I want.

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