I arrived to you broken, sad, helpless, hopeless and scared. At times, I am still all of those things. The only difference now, is that I know I can handle it. Why? I would like to give you all the credit for this courage, strength and ability to pick myself back up again, (and most of the time I do), but I also have learned that you couldn’t help me with any of this, if I wasn’t open to it. This is a team effort, and knowing that makes a world of difference.
I have often thought of this relationship like a compass. When I get lost, you help point me in the right direction. It isn’t about telling me, it’s about guiding me, helping me take chances, reminding me that I am more capable than I believe. “This is going to be hard”, you tell me, but you’ve often said, “I wouldn’t suggest this if I didn’t think you could handle it.” These very powerful words resonate with me.
Honouring the space between no longer and not yet was my mantra for a very long time because of our work. This was my struggle and continues to be my struggle. It is painful at times. My heart literally feels broken. Hope and expectation can be very painful if I hold onto it for too long, or wish for something I have very little control over. I describe it like a virus carrying the thoughts, wishes and beliefs through my entire body until I am consumed with sadness. We all have hopes and dreams for our children, but when you can’t give them their health, or you watch it disappear, it changed me and forced me to try and find peace in this in between space. While I have come a long way, I still struggle with this.
Accepting a lost relationship when that someone is still right there in front of you hurts. One session you simply asked, “have you allowed yourselves to grieve?” That was a moment flooded with emotions. You gave me permission to essentially let go of something I was clinging onto. Mental illness is cruel and debilitating for the person going through it, but also the family that struggles to find their way through it with them. I have always believed that connection is the key to love, life, adventure, curiosity, forgiveness, growth, acceptance and so much more. But when that person you so desperately want to be part of that with, shuts that door, especially when a teenager, and that teenager is your daughter, it hurts more then I can even describe. When your daughter is struggling, it is the worst feeling in the world. An eating disorder nearly killed her once, almost twice and it is a road I would not like to travel down again. Without connection, I believe people get sick. I know that after years of struggling to find our way again in recovery with our daughter, that I lost connection with myself. Without connection to myself, and others, I am lost. And if I do not have that connection, I am afraid of what that means.
About a year and half into my daughter’s eating disorder, I really lost my confidence. I refused to listen to my gut instinct, instead defaulting to everyone else around me. What made it feel worse was that I knew this wasn’t how I operated. I had always believed in myself, but I didn’t even trust myself anymore. How could I? I had let my daughter down. I hadn’t been able to protect her from the evils of an eating disorder. How had she lost faith in herself? At first I thought we could handle this –she is an amazing, brilliant, gifted young lady, but after each year passed, the struggle continued. I became more tired, more uncertain, more worried. I tried to put on a brave face and believe the end of the dark tunnel was near, but I wasn’t being honest with myself. I underestimated the powers of mental illness. I let her and myself down.
This realization hurt. It hurt all over. I felt like each step weighed 50 lbs. Far too many sleepless nights and I was starting to feel numb. I look back and wondered how I ever managed. You mentioned I was operating in survival mode. I made it through each day doing what I had to do to survive, but watching my daughter disappear mentally and physically for years took its toll on me. It still does.
I believed I had failed my daughter. How could I let this happen? I was angry that I felt there was nothing I could do about it. Frustrated that the lies about meals and disordered thoughts were increasing. Scared of finding food in another hidden spot. Worried that the next doctor’s visit would bring more weight loss. I didn’t look forward to cooking anymore, meals were stressful and sometimes I wondered if I was ever going to love a family meal again. Broken hearted that the happy life we once had was slowly disappearing and changing forever. Worried about what all this meant. And there was not a thing I could do about it. The whispers and stares from the gossiping parents and peers made it worse. I honestly believed I had failed. Failed my children and my husband. I could tell myself that wasn’t true, and so could friends and family – but it didn’t matter. I believed it.
By the time we met you, we had seen many other therapists, individually and as a family. I remember that uncertain feeling walking into your office for our first session with my family. It’s hard to start all over again with a therapist. After our first few family sessions it became clear to me that your style was a perfect fit for our family. There was a beautiful balance of being straight forward, with the right amount of nudging so we could get to a place of self –reflection. Okay, I say we, but I meant me!! We each would take something different away from these sessions, some more than others, but for me this was a game changer. I remember one particular session, where we all laughed in a way that we hadn’t in such a long time. It brought tears to my eyes. Before that, I had believed we were never going to experience laughter like that again. I will never forget that moment, and how it made me feel. Something very special about you, is that you knew. For weeks and months, you said things to me that I was thinking and feeling and I hadn’t said a word. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel alone. It confirmed that maybe I’m not as lost as I think I am. I remember walking out of a session one day thinking how clearly our thoughts were aligned – it gave me confidence to believe for small moments that I should trust my gut instinct again. What a gift…I’ve said thank you more times than I probably should, but I am and will be forever grateful and thankful. It is a genuine, heart-felt appreciation for finding a small belief in myself again. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Even with these moments of beautiful reflection, I get overwhelmed with guilt. We are here for my daughter, and I am somehow walking away with a new perspective. This is what I want for her. Desperately. I remember one day sharing with her about a reflection that really impacted me. You had asked me to think about something in particular. Something you noticed. It made me uncomfortable enough to know it was something I had to spend time thinking about. It was another powerful moment of reflection. At one time, I had decided to share something with my daughter. It was a very vulnerable moment for me and it took courage to share. She told me to stop bragging. I was crushed and it felt awful. Was I? I didn’t think so, but now I felt I couldn’t even share with her. With the best of intentions, I had somehow failed her again.
Nine months later our family sessions were put on hold. Our daughter didn’t want to participate anymore and you were changing direction with your practice, which meant a break from any session in the near future. I could feel the energy that day in the room and knew before you even said anything. I don’t know how, but I did. To this day I still feel awful saying you couldn’t leave, but I also understood how important change is. I was feeling a wee bit selfish in that moment. I felt like my world had fallen apart, again. This is the time we came together a family, we sometimes laughed, and cried, we grew, we reflected and ultimately, we stayed in that room every week together for one hour. We all struggled with this differently, but I was scared what it meant for me. You kept us accountable. We showed up each week whether we wanted to be there or not. Our daughter’s departure from these sessions was like falling back down again and we had to pick ourselves back up.
I remember being scared when I felt the time was right to find you reach out to you again. Our daughter was on a new independent path, not wanting support at all still. There was nothing we could do or say to convince her. I felt lost again. I was scared that when I suggested this new territory of working together, just the two of us, that it wouldn’t work out. There were too many unknowns. But you had impacted me greatly, and my heart was open to this new process. If we were not going to do this as a family, I knew I had to do it for myself. There were no guarantees, but I was willing to try.
Eventually this path led us to working together for about a year now. A lot of magic and tears have happened in that time. I have been greatly affected by my daughter’s eating disorder, and the way it has changed our relationship. I will never get back those lost years. And at this moment, I’m not sure what to expect in the future. That hurts. It has broken my heart and knowing that it may never heal hurts even more. This is where acceptance and letting go and honouring that space fits back in. How do I accept something I don’t want to? How do I help my daughter when she doesn’t want to be helped? How do I let something go which I so desperately want to hold onto? Well the painful truth is that it is up to me….and you will be by my side through it all. You often say you “can’t and won’t take this away from me.” Sometimes I sit there wishing you could. But the only way out is through. This is the messy and the complicated, and while I want to run and hide, I know in my heart that showing up and working through this with you, is the best thing for me. As I write this, I take a deep breath. Whenever I do that in a session you always notice and remind me it’s a good thing.
I’m learning that it feels worse to hold onto something I don’t have rather than leave space for what could be. Continual reminders that I am human help. That being a mom through all this is incredibly hard and that it will affect me. Naming every feeling, understanding how it makes me feel and recognizing that I have an ability to make a choice about how I move forward. Incredibly powerful and after many sessions I remember coming across a quote that perfectly described what you were teaching me. “Name it to tame it, feel it to heal it.” This so beautifully describes another gift you gave me. It is simple, yet powerful.
You often remind me that I lost my confidence and ability to believe in myself and tell me it isn’t the case anymore. You believe I am capable, and we are here together. You will walk through this with me. You can support me through this with perspective and will be a sounding board for me. It was incredibly meaningful to hear those words.
I remember the session you asked if I have ever thought about writing a letter of forgiveness to myself. For days it weighed on my mind. I didn’t even know where to begin. I took myself down to my favourite spot on the beach and I sat very still for a long time. And then I cried. The tears flowed. I gave myself permission to forgive myself. How powerful is that? For too long I believed I didn’t protect my daughter. I ignored my gut. I stopped taking care of myself. I gave up everything I loved doing. I was aware that I was resentful, but until I forgave myself for it, I was stuck, and I couldn’t move forward until I acknowledged it. I still go that place of negative self-talk, but more often now I recognize it, and I forgive myself. When we discussed all of this you noticed how important permission is for me. When I’m overwhelmed or sad or frustrated or angry, I give myself permission to do exactly that. I let those feelings come, and then I let them go.
I am always aware how difficult it is to balance trying to help someone who doesn’t want help, and not feel the guilt of being sure to take care of myself. These sessions became about me. A mom struggling in a world, where I would give anything to keep my daughter safe. Give her relief from her harmful thoughts. Have her believe she is one of the most important people in the world to me. That she is beautiful, brilliant and creative. That perfection is unattainable. That imperfection can be beautiful and mistakes are part of life. That sometimes we all question ourselves, but knowing that it is safe to share these thoughts is better then letting them fester in our minds. That life will be difficult and when it becomes overwhelming that asking for help is vitally important. This is why I show up to therapy. Because it is hard to watch that sparkle disappear in my daughters eye. It was always there, and one day it disappeared. The physical and mental changes over the years have been exhausting for her and our family. But we haven’t given up. The strength and courage in our family exists and this is why we will eventually make it out of that dark tunnel. I just don’t know when.
I am in a better place then I was a few years ago because of the work we have done together. Thank you for listening when I could barely speak. Thank you for accepting the quirky, emotional person that I am. Thank you for challenging me. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and expertise. Thank you for being there for my family. Thank you for never giving up on us. Thank you for being my cheerleader and for being so authentic and genuine. Thank you for offering a space that builds trust. It is because of our sessions that I feel I have never given up.
Thank you for being my compass on this journey.