Following is a letter written by Bonnie Brennan to anyone who is caring for a loved one with an eating disorder.
Today I would like to acknowledge all the caregivers.
You know who you are.
Someone you care for has an eating disorder. You may be a professional, spouse, parent, sibling, family member or friend. You may be just beginning to realize your care is needed or you may have been in this for decades.
Here is my message for you:
Recovery from an eating disorder wouldn’t be possible without you.
You have been doing the incredibly hard job of being present for the many different aspects of recovery and for facing the truth of the pain that eating disorders bring to those that have them and to those who care for them.
I have no doubt that, at some point, you will experience caregiver stress. This stress may come in the form of one or more of the following experiences:
- Having a desire to want to control everything
- Feeling anxiety, depression, frustration or worry
- Experiencing the burden of always being “on call”
- Avoiding your own life and experiences
- Seeking your own ways of “checking out”
I ask you: Please don’t judge yourself harshly for this.
You have had the courage to hang in there when others may have not recognized the illness as serious or dismissed it as a vain character trait. Eating disorders thrive in secrecy and isolation. We caregivers do better when we support each other.
One of the most rewarding parts of my job is to be able to tell an exhausted and possibly traumatized professional, family member, partner or friend:
“We’ve got this now. Please go get some well-deserved rest. We will certainly need you later.”
As we learn how to most effectively treat eating disorders we also continue to learn about how to help caregivers be partners in recovery. Part of this process is coming to realize what one cannot fix.
There is a very natural urge to want to fix the problem of an eating disorder or to uncover the reason the illness is there in the first place and figure out the solution to repair it.
Every month, during the Knees to Knees exercise of our Family Days program, I witness caregivers telling the person they are there to support:
“What I accept about this relationship is that I cannot fix your eating disorder.”
What follows are typically tears of realization and relief from both parties. Part of this powerful experience is acceptance and knowing that things may not turn out okay. The risk that you realize you are taking is your biggest triumph and a very powerful part of the love you are providing in the act of taking care.
Thank you to all of you wonderful caregivers.
Bonnie Brennan, MA, LPC, CEDS is Senior Clinical Director of Adult Residential and Partial Hospital Services at Eating Recovery Center.