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When You Can’t Go Back, Go Forward

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.


    • Mel Stevenson

      Wonderful words, Judy. And also worth accepting that our children cannot go back to the ‘before’ and what they were either. They are also changed, and so many also come out the other side of the illness more compassionate and sensitive to the suffering of others. We lose, we gain and we hopefully grow.

  1. Daryl

    Once again a powerful, poignant post Judy. You express so well the challenges and the hope that we walk on this journey. This resonates with me & so very many others I’m sure.❤️

  2. Ellen

    Thank you Judy! I really needed to hear this! I feel soooo lost and full of doubt as to who I am and where I’m/ we’re going. Your words are comforting.

    • Ahlam

      I agree , I feel lost and lost a big sense of who I am as a person. This is beautiful and I appreciate how I can relate to every word expressed.

  3. Alex

    Thank you, Judy. You explain the conflict and contradictions that come with this illness so well. Thank you for normalising these feelings and for acknowledging the trauma along this journey.

  4. Diane

    Thank you, Judy. So well expressed. My daughter has been in full recovery for about six years now. Early on, I think I was wandering a bit aimlessly. In hindsight, however, I can see how that journey has helped me to support others in difficult situations, even if it’s not the same type of situation. And it’s all the things you mentioned, the ways this journey changes it, that have given me the gifts to be able to do this. I wish my daughters had never, ever, had to experience the trauma of ED and OCD. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But I wouldn’t want to be that person that I was before.

  5. Deanna

    Thank you. I was just doing my own writing about this today and your words captured what I am experiencing. A bit lost right not as our daughter is 3 1/2 years post diagnosis and just now eating independently. I am knowing I can’t go back to life before and writing down the things I am celebrating that I left behind and the things I’m celebrating that are part of the life after. It is a sort of gratitude reflection I think while knowing and recognizing that I will recover, too. It is good to put words to this space I’m in currently between the two lives and to validate that “feeling lost” is real for us as caregivers as I find my new normal.

  6. Justine

    It has been incredibly traumatic as a mother to learn that someone I love so very deeply, to the very core of me, could possibly suffer in ways that i cannot see, hear, feel. It has been incredibly traumatic that my senses and life experiences do me no good and help her even less when she is pulled far away by her illness. It has been incredibly traumatic to think that even with all my energy, all my thoughts, all my spirit I may not be able to help my daughter rid herself of this illness for the duration of her life and mine. It has been incredibly traumatic to have therapists teach me about my personal locus of control…that it only reaches so far. It has been incredibly traumatic to move from day to day and wonder is she there yet? Is she okay or is today the day I learn she is not and we only think she is. I certainly do not feel superhuman…i feel very human and it’s really, really hard but it’s all I have and all she has, so forward we continue to go, together.

  7. Purplerain

    Thank you Judy, what a wonderful post. I’m definitely different from “before”. I judge less, I feel more. I look for support and I’m willing to give it too. I’m part of the FEAST family, so important to me.

  8. Joy

    Wow, Judy. As always, your words are thoughtful, insightful, and validating. I am still in the middle of this journey. I think I am feeling very much the same as Justine. Even as my daughter is now moving from the worst depths of the illness toward the goal of recovery, I realize I am a few steps behind. I have been in HIGH ALERT state for nearly a year. I am sooooo tired. I just can’t shake the exhaustion. But I also recognize that the fact that I can actually feel tired is new. I had no time to be tired before. Now that I am transitioning from constant vigilance to ongoing oversight, I am definitely starting to recognize the trauma. I am definitely not in the “after” yet, but I hope to one day experience it. Reading the blogs and forum posts on this site help me know that there will eventually be an “after”. I think one thing I have learned about the “after” is that it will never be ED free. It is a part of my daughter’s being. It is a part of our family history. I hope we will never experience the depths of it again, I know we are forever changed. But I appreciate the positive outlook on how this experience can change us in ways that may allow us to be better and kinder and more human for ourselves and others in the future.

  9. Dorine

    Dear Judy,
    Thank you for your post. WE are in the midst of coping with my daughter’s eating disorder. This has been going on for the last three years. She has been through Anorexia and has somehow, not fully recovered. She is being treated by a psychologist and a nutritionalist who are not willing to even speak to me about her condition ( I really do not know if this is the usual case). My daughter refuses to have any discussions about food and about her treatment which creates a lot of tension between us. Only yesterday , I bought some bread from the bakery and my daughter shouted at me that if I won’t hide it she will through it away. She is out of home a lot so that she skips eating at home. It makes me so sad, tense and I am constantly worried that she might not be getting the right kind of treatment. The refusal to discuss food is also carried to other topics and there is hardly any communication between us on some days. It is unbearable on some days and I feel “Where did I go wrong”? “Why is this happening to me ?” . I really do not know how to deal with this . Since the psychologist refuses to speak to me I am left with blank pages all the time . Please help me if you can !

    • Judy Krasna

      That sounds like a very difficult situation. I find that parental intuition is usually accurate and that if parents feel that their child is getting the wrong treatment, especially after 3 years, they are probably correct. I also believe that you can’t keep doing the same things and expecting different results. I have been in your position with that feeling that nothing is moving and the treatment is wrong, and I took a leap and pulled my daughter away from the providers who I didn’t feel were helping her and found a much better alternative. I truly hope that you find a way forward.

  10. Liz

    Going on year 4 and daughter unable to eat independently. Each time she gets the chance to be in charge of her food it ends up backwards, I end up back “in control” of food which for her is just going through the motions (which is better than restricting).
    We can’t get to a place where she accepts meal corrections without me having a fight with her ED. I’m tired, my husband just wants happy and my other kids are scarred.
    It’s a wretched illness.
    I’m so tired of her being 2 people, when I do
    My job she hates me, when I don’t she hates me more.

  11. Judy Krasna

    I’m sorry, Liz. This illness is truly awful. I hope that you can find support for yourself to get you through this difficult time.

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