I spoke with a father this week who told me his daughter, 35 years old, no longer threw up but still had compulsive thought patterns and feelings of shame. He said the first he and his wife knew their daughter had a problem was when a friend of her confided to them that their daughter, then 20 years old, was suicidal. I was so moved by this man's story, especially when he thanked me, with tears in his eyes, because it was the first time he spoke about his feelings about his daughter's trials.
The question that comes up is, why would a loving parent who saw his child every day not noticethat she was suffering so terribly?
A daughter is a parent's child regardless of her age. In a reasonably healthy family parents love their daughter. They are proud of her, melt when they see what they consider is adorable, swell with pride at her achievements and keep locks of her infant curls tucked away in an envelope forever so they can remember her sweetness by touching the precious strands with their fingers occasionally as years go by.
The last thing a loving parent wants to know or see is a flaw or a weakness or a serious illness in their child. Yet, once they do see they will move heaven and earth to attempt to help their child be well or recover or live as close to a normal life as possible when a difficult condition is permanent.
The powerful feelings that get turned into positive action when a child suffers from any kind of challenging condition often get waylaid when the challenge is an eating disorder.
First of all, an eating disorder can co exist with intelligence, high achievement and beauty by cultural standards. Plus, since negative feelings are pushed away and hidden, the daughter often presents an independent attitude and cheerful disposition in public. Everything that a parent thinks is a hallmark of health and accomplishment is there. What isn't visible is the dark despair the daughter feels and attempts to overcome with all her positive activity and suppression of her emotions. Even she doesn't know the depth of her spiritual agony.
Moreover, the daughter of any age with an eating disorder often doesn't want or seek treatment. She believes help is impossible. She believes that she can't function without her eating disorder behavior and doesn't want anyone to "take it away from her" (as if anyone could. Recovery is about healing, not control.)
When her pain and suffering become too intense, even by her standards, she may want recovery for herself. Often she wants recovery so that her loved ones will not have to worry as much as they do. She needs and has always needed recovery work with mental health professionals who know and understand both eating disorders and the process of recovery. At an advanced stage she needs intensive recovery work to save her health or even her life.
The New York Times ran an article, A Mother’s Loss, a Daughter’s Story, that describes love, bewilderment, frustration and pain in the real story of Melissa, a daughter who suffered and unwillingly died from her eating disorder. Judy Avrin produced a film that documented her daughter's life and tragic end. It's about a mother working through her grief. But it's so much more. It's a perspective in detail on a family story that may have help, information and inspiration for other families. Perhaps it will help families identify eating disorders in their midst sooner and find ways to help their precious daughters. It may also help a daughter to expand her perspective of herself and her situation and motivate her to be more open so she can get the help she needs.
I hope so.