Language of Recovery
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Ten years ago I began to see signs in a different language–signs that I ignored. However, even though I disregarded them, they persisted in ever growing intensity. Was I a traveler exploring this vast world of ours? No. I was just a mom who held down a part time job while homeschooling my two daughters full time. So, what were these foreign signs? They were the signs of my youngest daughter’s journey down the rabbit hole we call eating disorders.
My journey with my daughter was lonely, terrifying, exhausting, and life changing. Ten years after its onset I can say it was the hardest thing I have ever done, yet it shaped me into the person I am today.
Rachel was eleven when her eating disorder manifested. She was diagnosed at twelve years old - she was 5 feet 7 inches and weighed 77 pounds. She didn’t present as having a typical eating disorder and because of the lack of understanding of eating disorders by her primary care physician it took time and research to get her treatment. Eventually she was re-fed over eight and half weeks at McMaster Hospital in Hamilton. Rachel struggled hard after she was refed. For years she was consumed with thoughts that I was poisoning her. Each meal was a battle. Though she knew on some level that food was medicine, she couldn’t help but continue to think that it was also poison. In concert with the eating disorder thoughts, she was plagued with suicidal ideation. She was unable to function socially and academically, and was unable to go to the high school she loved. She became utterly entrenched in her eating disorder.
After four years of struggling, and coming to the end of the resources at McMaster, Rachel came to the realization that residential care was the only way she was going to get better. At sixteen, she bravely signed the papers and was given the opportunity to receive care at Avalon Hills in Utah. With the very hard work she did at Avalon and the follow up care at McMaster and CMHA, Rachel obtained her high school diploma and graduated as the Valedictorian. She is now twenty-one, a third year university student on exchange in England studying Film, and feeding her passion for medieval history. Rachel is one of the 20 to 30 percent1 of eating disorder warriors who are fully recovered.
Through Rachel’s journey I learned to read the signs of her eating disorder: the sneer of rage and utter defiance, the tears of desperation, the cry of anger and frustration, the fear of medical tests, and the terror of medication side effects. Yet over time I also was able to read the signs of recovery: the yearning to get on with life, the dedication to make a difference, and the deep seated determination to change.
Learning a new language takes time and lots of trial and error. My actions and my emotional displays at the beginning of the eating disorder only entrenched it further. My daughter was terrified and angry and she needed me to be something more - she needed me to be her emotional rock. In time I was able to be that. But it took time. When I dropped Rachel off at Avalon, it physically hurt to leave her there and drive to the airport. It was the absolute hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life. Yet, it was the very best thing that could have happened to her, to me, and to our relationship. While she was at Avalon I was able to step back from battling for her life. I learned to walk beside her (and not for her) and be a supportive and loving mom. I wrote to her every day. Some days, my emails to her were over ten pages long. Every day I sent hope, encouragement, and my love as we both healed and made the changes necessary for her to live the life she dreamed of.
The pieces of language that transcended life before, during, and after the eating disorder were hope and belief in my daughter’s ability to make it through, to make a difference, and to succeed at whatever she chose to put her heart to. Hope and faith are what made the difference - they were the wind under her wings at all times during her recovery journey.
Techiya Loewen is a mental health advocate/family peer supporter/administrator. Through the week she works as an administrator in a family health team. In her personal/professional life she supports parents with children with eating disorders by providing one-on-one support and facilitating a monthly drop in support group in Hamilton, ON. Techiya supported her daughter through her eating disorder journey and assisted her daughter with her charity work in providing random acts of kindness gifts to children on the children in McMaster and Grand River Hospital. In 2015 Techiya and Rachel ran an evening program for parents and eating disordered patients at McMaster from which the monthly support group was developed. Techiya can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1Roberts. (2016, March). Lecture: Eating Disorders, Brescia University College.