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.