By Judy Krasna, F.E.A.S.T Executive Director
For many families, there are two distinct periods of time; there is the time before their child developed an eating disorder, and there is the time after. Despite how much parents want to go back to the “before” and return to their regularly scheduled lives, I don’t know if that’s possible, because I don’t think we are the same people “after” as we were “before.”
This journey changes us. It forces us to overcome colossal challenges. It forces us to summon inner strength we didn’t know we had. It forces us to parent differently. It forces us to take a hard look at the relationships in our lives and evaluate whether they are what they should be. It forces us to see life through a different lens, to shift our priorities, to sacrifice endlessly, to constantly pick up the pieces, and to adjust our expectations.
This journey makes us more compassionate. It makes us better parents. It makes us recognize how little control we have over our own lives. It makes us recognize what matters most. It makes us humbler. It makes us more understanding. It makes us more practical. It makes us look at our values and our beliefs. It makes us both tougher and gentler.
This journey brings out both the best and the worst in us. It brings out our fears. It brings out our insecurities. It brings out our guilt. It brings out our inadequacies. It brings out our negativity. It brings out our fierce protectiveness of our children and our families. It brings out our fortitude. It brings out our tenacity, our determination, and our grit. It brings out everything that makes us caring and capable parents.
This journey challenges us. It challenges our relationship with our child, it challenges our relationship with our spouse/co-parent/partner, it challenges our family dynamics, it challenges our sanity, it challenges our hope, it challenges our family’s future, and it challenges our confidence in what we think we know.
This journey is paradoxical; it makes us both fragile and ferocious.
This journey expands our capacity for love, for patience, for support, for perseverance, for kindness, for tolerating distress, and for overcoming adversity.
This journey forces us to become superhuman. And once you become superhuman, can you go back to being just regular human?
I think many of us look at the “before” with a sense of innocence; our lives were so blessedly uncomplicated. It’s very normal to want to return to that time and place. However, I am not sure you can walk backwards on this journey.
Aside from how this journey changes us as people, as parents, and as families, there is another element at play here.
Eating disorders are a traumatic experience. The trauma that we encounter through this journey is significant, and I don’t think we talk about it enough.
Combat soldiers who return from war can’t just slip back into the “before” of their lives. They have to adjust for their lived experiences and for their trauma and find a “new normal” that is fulfilling, meaningful, productive, and that makes them happy. Sometimes they need professional help to make this happen, and they definitely need support.
Making space for that trauma is important, and so is being realistic about its impact. It’s kind of ironic– the way that I see it, this journey has both inflicted trauma on us and also given us some tools along the way that we can use to deal with it.
I think that instead of trying to fit back into a “before” life that may not comfortably hold us anymore, we need to take create our own “after” using the wisdom, vision, and insight that our journey has provided us. We need to create something different than what we had before, something that reflects our family’s journey and is true to who we have become. Yes, it’s challenging, but if there is one thing I am positive of when it comes to our community, it’s that we are experts at confronting and overcoming challenges.
I know that some parents are discouraged that they can’t go back to before and they feel a little lost. Please know that this is perfectly normal. Also please know that your “after” can be imperfect and still be a place where good things happen and where your family can flourish.
If you can’t go back, go forward, one foot in front of the other. And remember that the most beautiful flowers can grow from the most unlikely places, under the most difficult conditions.