Another phrase people use when describing dealing with addiction or mental health, is “facing your demons” and while I hate cliches I realise how apt it is when dealing with an eating disorder.
We’re big Buffy fans in our house. We know a lot of demons. The big horned deep voiced ones. The impossibly ugly, but generally friendly ones. The worst kind of all though are the ones that look just like normal people or that take over those we love so we can’t see which part of them is still them and which part a demon.
And so it is with anorexia. It feels as if my happy go lucky, delightful, wise and thoughtful daughter has been possessed. Not by a demon that makes her head swivel or causes her to scream obscenities or attack those she loves, but one which makes her meek and sad and quiet. It whispers in her ear that she is fat, greedy and disgusting and if she eats she has failed. It tells her that if she starves or purges herself of any food she has eaten, she has done well and can relax. It warns her to fear any occasion, any celebration which might involve food.
I call this demon the illness. When L wraps herself in her duvet and cries after food, I go to her and tell her I know what the voice is telling her, but that it is the illness, that she has to be strong. That her life will be wasted if she listens, that she is beautiful, strong and brave. I tell her I hear the same voice sometimes too and I know that perhaps this illness comes partly from me, so perhaps we can fight this together. That I will like myself more too.
Poor L. She is a “pleaser”, happiest when making others happy, always wanting to help, to cook, to tidy, to plan surprises and special times for her loved ones. Wrapped up in her world, hearing two voices argue over her, not knowing which one to please. She frequently tells me how sorry she is, how badly she treats me, and I laugh and hug her, tell her she has nothing to apologise for, that my biggest worry is how she treats herself, not me. Because the truth is, L’s own voice needs to be heard. If there was an incantation that could cast out this demon from my daughter ‘s head, that could vanquish it forever, it will need to be one cast by L. Not me. I can hold her hand and give her every support and encouragement, but only she has the power to do it. I want her to be louder, angrier and really pissed off with this illness. Not fearful of every mouthful, or fearful of upsetting me. I want her to see how wonderful she is and to devour life, not just food.