May 12, 2017

A Message to Mothers of Children with Eating Disorders

mothers of children with eating disordersFive years ago, my son was admitted into inpatient treatment for anorexia.
My wonderful friends at ERC invited me to write a Mother’s Day blog post this year. As a writer and a mother of a son in recovery, I seemed to be the perfect choice. I readily accepted the opportunity.
But, writing this wasn’t easy. I am still struggling to put five years of emotions into words. Five years later, I still search for meaning — for a pearl of wisdom that I can pass along to you.
Five years later, this is still hard. I feel some guilt (even though we’re told not to blame ourselves). I feel angry (that this happened to my child). I feel helpless (at witnessing my son’s pain). I feel some variation of these emotions at some point every day.
I still watch my son. I observe his behaviors. I worry. I hover silently and invisibly. But in the spirit of “never letting them see you sweat” I keep all of this to myself.
I could easily let my son’s eating disorder consume me (pardon the pun). I could easily let it define me. However, I refuse to give it that much power. Yes, my son’s eating disorder is forever a part of the fabric of my motherhood. But, I can control how I manage my thoughts and feelings. For me, I do this through making the conscious decision to live a life of gratitude.
We can focus on what we are grateful for
Every night, once I’ve gotten into bed I go through what I call my “gifts and gratitudes” for that day. There are a number of ways to practice gratitude, but this is how I do it:
  • I send a “Thank you” to the Universe for all the good things that happen to me or my loved ones. It doesn’t matter how big or small they are – I just recount them. I savor them. I celebrate.
  • For example, last night I gave thanks to the doormen in my building who always have a kind word when I pass through the lobby. I gave thanks for my older son who called to casually ask my new address (accidentally slipping that he was sending flowers for Mother’s Day). I then gave thanks to my son’s girlfriend who doubtlessly reminded him that this Sunday is Mother’s Day. I gave thanks on behalf of a beloved ERC co-worker who nailed an important presentation that morning. I gave thanks to my “ex” who asked me to dinner on May 24, the one-year anniversary of my Mother’s passing. I gave thanks to the sweet woman in my elevator who had a lovely smile. And then I thanked the Universe for helping me find one of my favorite earrings that I’d misplaced.
  • This recounting takes just a couple of minutes as I drift off to sleep.
This nightly ritual began without any intent to become something bigger. It was an “a-ha” moment I had five years ago. Our family had traveled to Denver so my son could receive inpatient care and I was living in the nearby Ronald McDonald house. One evening, after a particularly tense family therapy session, my son’s counselor called me to tell me that she wished I was her mother. I’m sure this was a break in some sort of protocol, but she must have known that I needed to hear these kind, heartfelt words. When I heard her speak, I was filled with gratitude, because I hadn’t felt good about my “mothering” abilities for a long time. Her words felt like sunshine during a very bleak time.
No matter how dark the present may feel, there’s always something to be grateful for.
Later that night I decided to search for and find all the good, positive things in my life that day:
  • My son had the world’s best treatment team
  • The company I was working for fully supported my need to work long-distance so I could be with my son
  • My friends’ and family’s outpouring of love
  • The Ronald McDonald Foundation — providing us a beautiful home away from home
  • Most of all, I was thankful that my son was alive and willing to do the hard work it would require for him to recover from his eating disorder
That was a whole lot of gratitude to hold onto while my son was in a wheelchair and going through the painful process of refeeding.
I wish I had a million more wise messages to share with you today, on Mother’s Day. I wish that I could make sense of my son’s eating disorder, but I can’t.
What I can tell you is that there is always hope and joy in life — you just have to choose to see it.
My nightly “gifts and gratitudes” ritual has eased my burden. I now know, five years later, that I am living a good life with bad moments — not a bad life with good moments. There is much good in the world to be seen and acknowledged if we open our eyes and our hearts to it.  
I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day today. Please know that this message is from my heart to yours.
- Shelly G.
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