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Recovering Sibling Relationships in the Wake of an Eating Disorder

by Judy Krasna

I walked into the kitchen on Saturday afternoon and found my three 27-year-old daughters sitting around the table having what they call a “coffee party”. They were talking and laughing and gossiping and enjoying each other’s company. Two of my daughters were eating cookies from a Tupperware container. The third, the one with an enduring eating disorder, was eating apple slices. But at that moment, I was focused less on what she was eating and more on the fact that she was smiling and laughing, which is more the exception than the norm. One of my granddaughters was drawn by the activity in the kitchen and decided to join the party, climbing up onto her aunt’s lap and grabbing an apple slice with her grubby little fingers. One by one, everyone else piled in, grabbing extra chairs, coffee mugs, and cookies, until the kitchen was filled to capacity. I left, to give my kids their space. I sat on the couch in the living room, with a view into the kitchen, and watched what others would consider normal family interaction, but what I consider to be nothing less than a miracle.

Everyone assumes that since my daughters are triplets, they are besties. Truth be told, they never were. They have three very distinct and separate personalities. They are about as different from each other as humanly possible, in a multitude of ways. In fact, they do not even look like sisters, much less triplets.

My daughter’s eating disorder insinuated itself into our lives when the girls were 14. It invaded our home like a violent, savage, despicable, and offensive uninvited guest. It injected itself into every relationship in our family, seeking to divide us and to destroy the bonds of love that hold us together.

Whatever positive relationship my girls had with each other was blown to hell once the insidious eating disorder reared its ugly head. Our home, which was previously warm and loving for all of our kids, became an extraordinarily unpleasant place to live, to the point of being insufferable.

My daughter’s resistance during mealtimes made everyone want to get the hell out of Dodge and go somewhere without loud, hysterical screaming fits, ranting tirades, mentally unsound behavior, and frightening bouts of unrestrained anger. We wouldn’t give in to compromised nutrition, and my daughter fought us tooth and nail. It created exceptional tension and stress for everyone in the family. My kids couldn’t invite friends over because they didn’t want to expose them to the crazy hell that was going on inside our house. I begged my daughter not to act out when her 7-year-old brother invited his friends over, because it would scare them. It was like we were living in a powder keg, never knowing when or how badly it was going to blow. The strain of living in a constant state of dread took a huge toll on our family.

Though my other daughters understood that their sister’s behavior was caused by her eating disorder and that it was part and parcel of the illness, they still resented her. She made their lives a living hell. She usurped all of the parental attention that was supposed to be divided 4 ways, pretty much commandeering all of it. She was no longer present or available to be their sister, and they missed her. They were frustrated and crushed that she didn’t seem to care about them anymore. They felt betrayed, abandoned, and jilted. More than anything, they were deeply hurt.

The girls went for therapy together, to try and heal the rift that the eating disorder had created between them. But the truth is, that what they needed most was time. I did my best to facilitate the healing process, coming up with mother/daughter activities that all 4 of us could do together to rebuild the ruins of their relationship. I think that as they got older, maturity helped them to get beyond all of the negative and to make a real effort to become closer to each other.

Looking at them now, you would never know how frayed their relationship was in the past. COVID-19 has brought our family back together under one roof and has given everyone the chance to spend time together for more prolonged periods of time. This has given me the opportunity to observe my kids hanging out with each other as adults, having a good time together.

Every time I stumble upon them laughing together it fills my heart with indescribable joy.

It has been my experience that the trauma of the past cannot be erased, but it can be overcome. My family has overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles that threatened to demolish the bonds between us. If anything, those bonds are stronger and more stable now than they were in the past.

So as I was sitting on my couch watching all of my kids having a “coffee party” at the kitchen table, I came to the beautiful realization that while my daughter herself is not yet recovered from her eating disorder, her relationships are. And that, my friends, is huge.

 

 

 

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16 Comments

  1. Daryl

    Beautifully moving Judy. A testament to the tincture of time and the will of a parent to continue to create opportunities for siblings to interact and help to heal their relationships. Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. Lisa B

    Thank you Judy, for this beautiful reminder, that we “see” the progress! I am still waiting with a love filled heart for the time my two daughter’s are able to heal their relationship.

  3. Mary

    Thank you for your story Judy. It gives me hope that our family will find laughter again and that both of my daughters will one day be able to enjoy each other’s company.

  4. Suzanne

    Thank you Judy for this. It fills me with great hope that, one day, my two girls also will again be able to smile and laugh together.

  5. Bronwen

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is so heartening to hear that those relationships that seem irretrievably broken can be repaired with time, love and effort.

  6. Lou

    Thank you Judy for putting into words the reality of what this illness does to families. But more importantly thank you for giving us hope that relationships can heal.
    Keep safe and well during this difficult time xx

  7. EMMA CODRINGTON

    Beautifully written Judy. With my daughter away in SA in a clinic it has been lovely to spend some time with my sons and husband in a much more relaxed environment. We all miss her like mad but we know that we could not continue on like we were. Anyway this is about you not Me! Thank you for sharing.

  8. Helen

    Judy! Dearest Judy! This resonates to the depths of my being. The illness causes division, grief and uncertainty. It brings chaos to the ‘norm’ that was family life. You’ve shared a glimpse of your wisdom, and the beauty of the hard work you’ve put in. What a triumph, what an enormous blessing. Thank you

  9. Ilona

    I have twin daughters and a younger son. One of my daughters had an eating disorder (she is still in therapy but doing well). What you wrote really resonates with me. Thank you.

  10. Amy

    Thank you Judy. I can completely relate to the chaos ED created in your family and the emotions and aftermath. Sibling healing is so important, and I believe often forgotten in the therapeutic process. FBT focuses so much on the parent/carer and the affected person, often at a time in crucial individual/family development stages. You were so wise to keep trying and to find ways to allow time to heal. Sending you much love~ Amy

  11. Laurie Ward

    Thank you so much for sharing! My heart hurts so bad for my kids and our family situation. I have triplets too (16yrs old) and a younger daughter she is 13. My 13yr old has been battling an ED for a while but really bad for the last year. Her siblings resent her and our house is not a happy place.😔🙏 I pray for the day I will see them laughing together again! Thank u for sharing!❤️

  12. MPH

    Your family life resonates like mine and I can only hope that time will heal the frayed relationship between my daughters that the ED created. A lot of hurtful things have been said and done that makes it hard to forgive and forget.

  13. Jenny Chang

    Your article caught my attention. I have twin boys (14) and a little girl(6). Both boys have eating disorder, one is now in residential program. We are still fighting it. Boys are competing their eating disorder. I have doubts that am I pushy on their eating? The one at home is very resistant to eat and become very aggressive. I don’t see how they will turn out to be?

  14. Karen Brehmer

    Judy, thank you for writing about this. I really haven’t read many articles about the broken sibling relationships that ED causes. It makes me feel better knowing we’re not the only family dealing with this. I look forward to the day when my kids enjoy each other’s company again.

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