Backing Off

L went back to the unit today. I was supposed to be going to London, but a further attack of the dizziness caused by labyrinthitis and a cancelled meeting kept me at home. I was pleased about this, it would mean I got to spend the evening with L and K. A colleague came to see me in the late afternoon as we needed to meet and it was easier to do that here. L arrived home just before 5. She looked exhausted and drained, she was completely pale and drained. I got up to make her dinner. Immediately the conflict starts. I have homemade tomato soup, she doesn’t want that, she wants the tinned soup her father brought for her ‘specially’ – watery low calorie soup that has no place as a meal for a recovering anorexic. She argues. I am worn out and it doesn’t help that I don’t want to have this argument with an audience. I give in on soup and curse her father for bringing the bloody soup into the house in the first place. I insist that she has a shake. She wants to make it herself. She wants powder and milk. I argue back, but calmly. I just prepare the shake – she shouts at me about how her team expect her to take responsibility, to make her own food. But this isn’t taking responsibility, this is controlling, restricting, resisting every calorie, refusing to be fed by me. Am I being controlling, I think? No, I just want to make my white faced, gaunt daughter something which will nourish her. She is off for the evening with her father. She almost certainly won’t eat snacks and her father won’t enforce them

She loses it, she shouts and swears and tells me I am treating her like a f***ing mental case. I resist the urge to respond by saying she does have a mental illness. I keep making the shake. She then puts her coat on, grabs her bag and storms out, into the freezing cold. I know where she is heading. To her father’s down the road. Except when I call, he isn’t there. Half an hour passes and I still don’t know where she is. She ignores calls and texts and I am really worried. Eventually, of course, she is at her father’s, eating some tinned soup for her evening meal. She has no snacks with her, and probably wouldn’t eat any, as her father will profess not to know whether she should or not. He will have no idea whether a snack is one apple or slices of toast and lemon curd.

I am just exhausted and sob. I have absolutely no idea what I should be doing any more. In her words, this really isn’t bloody fair. So, I have made a huge decision. She can make her own choices about food. Over to her. I am sick of this battle, I am tired of the ever-so-polite enquiries from her team as why I feel the need to make her eat? What would happen if I backed off? Surely, until she takes responsibility, she can’t get better.

So, I am backing off. Her choices about food will be hers. It is not giving up, I will be there for her to cook if she wants me to be, or not if she doesn’t. I will not pester her about snacks. I will not fret about whether the right food is in the house or not. I think the therapy team may be right – I am not her carer, I am perhaps her enabler, keeping her in the anorexic place. I don’t know anymore, but right now, I have run out of other ideas. I feel broken. This time, either L or Ed wins.


5 responses to “Backing Off

  1. You know, I think you might be taking a good approach. I can’t imagine how daunting this will be for you, as L’s mum. L may initially retreat into ED’s comfort zone, I think I probably would, initially. But, something would twinge with me whilst I was doing that. I’d increasingly hate deceiving my Mum. L knows Ed is her comfort zone, but deep down she really does know that he’s hurting her. She wants to be a ‘good girl’. I think this desire will come through. If you dare to invest so much trust and responsibility in her, I think she will eventually recognise this and the disappointment in herself she will feel from betraying your trust will encourage her to fight Ed. This won’t be easy for either of you but I think your relationship is sound enough and open enough to weather this. It will give L the opportunity to weigh up independently what matters most to her; a life of servitude or some fight for freedom and uninhibited happiness.

  2. I think you’re doing the right thing. Allowing L to take responsibility for her own recovery. She may fall into Anorexia’s safety net initially, but she will hopefully (with a little nudge from her team) see that she’s not getting anywhere and needs to work at this herself. For me, the biggest turning point in recovery was when I had time away from my treatment team. I live alone, so I have always been responsible for making my own meals, but when my team weren’t there for an extended period, I felt as though I was letting them down by letting ED win and falling into her control completely. I didn’t want to let down their hard work. From that, came an understanding that I had to do this for me as much as them – ED was taking my life, it would continue to drain my life until it killed me and it would take away everything I loved and have worked for. That was when I realised that no matter what, I needed to fight the ED and do it for myself, and myself only.

    L will get there and she has an amazing mum looking out for her. Stay strong, I can’t even begin to imagine how hard this is for you.

    much love,

  3. I know at the moment you will be feeling a whole mix of feelings and I am sorry you say you feel broken but I just want to remind you that taking a different approach doesnt in any way mean that you are giving in or letting L down (just because you are not directly controlling her nutrition.) The change may be stemming from despair rather than feeling you are all ready for the step but ultimately allowing L to take a more responsibility for finding her own way is a hugely important step to be making. Initially L may stumble because there is no denying that it is hard sometimes to do what we should in recovery but true recovery is finding that inner strength to keep fighting. I know myself that when I was in adolescent treatment I was just going along with what I was dictated to me, I wasn’t engaged properly with recovery and thats why I think allowing L to find her inner fight now whilst she still has her team and her family there to support this process is hugely positive and important. Personally I wish I could go back now as I would tell myself to make the most of my early treatment and would ask my team and family for the space to find my own feet because ultimately I found myself at a point where I had been swept along in the process so much that when it came to standing on my own I found that I’d not really built up the right metaphorical muscles to keep me standing let alone fighting. L has a brilliantly supportive mother in you, and that is not because you cook her meals but because you really try to understand and support her. By stepping back you will be supporting her in a slightly different way and the transition to which may not be smooth but try to see this change as opening new doors and unlocking other parts of the journey, daunting but crucial parts if you want to keep moving forward. Trust you’re instinct, at times you may need to seize control back a bit and at times you may just need to let L stumble safe in the knowledge that you are there with the plasters or in reality kangaroo time and a willingness to listen or simply gossip girl and love. Keep positive x

    • Thanks, all of you. Was it Einstein who said the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over again even when it didn’t work. Perhaps this really is a new start rather than giving up.

      • You are not giving up: By giving your daughter control over what she eats, you are sending her the message that you trust her and that she is worthy of that trust. Hopefully it will build up her self-confidence.

        I can kind of imagine how difficult it is for you, because I have someone very close to me—who is anorexic and bulimic and lives at home. Her mom often calls me because she does not know what to do. It sound like a horrible place to be … but I think that the fact that you’ve come to this realization on your own (that you’ve got to trust your daughter, or at least try it for a little while) is a pretty amazing step.

        You’re a good mom, Emily.

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