A Message to Mothers of Children with Eating Disorders
Five 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.