Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Other Side of the Fence

Hi, Again,

This past week I had the distinct honor of speaking to a group of male eating disorder inpatients at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. It's hard to describe the emotions that zipped through me like electricity as I entered the room. All of them stared at me with inquisitive expressions, eager with anticipation over what I'd say. I wanted to say the "right" words, to describe my story in such a way that would spark them on towards full and immediate recovery. But I knew very well that I had no control over their perceptions of me or how they would interpret the words that came from my mouth. I had a hard time accepting that.

The experience reminded me of how my parents and friends must have felt when I was "chained" to my own anorexia over eighteen years ago. How helpless and useless they must have felt. If I had a nickel for every time I heard the comments, "Can't you see, Gary, what you're doing to yourself? Why don't you just eat and be done with it?" I'd be comfortable well off financially. They simply could not understand what I was going through, no matter how sympathetic they were to my plight.

Recovery is a process. It doesn't and will not happen without each individual making radical changes in his or her lifestyle. Others can encourage, send flowers, lend listening ears, give the most sound advice in the wolrd, plead and beg, bribe, compromise, or do any number of creative things to purge their loved one from the eating disorder. But all is for naught without a direct decision by their loved one to take the risks necessary to slowly let go of the eating disorder lifestyle.

The best friends and family can do is take care of thier own selves, and not try to "fix" their loved one. This sounds almost counterproductive or selfish at first glance, but it's not. When we try to bend and twist our loved ones into our own agendas, we end up frustrated when it doesn't work, which only incites more anger and frustration for everyone. We can do our best to "be there" for our loved ones and stay by their sides while they struggle and work through their own issues and process, but that's where the road ends for us. We need to let go and allow our loved ones to press on ahead and develop the tools necessary for healthy living. The quicker we accept this, the less stress will be felt on the shoulders of both parties.

As an elementary counselor, I witnessed many parents of kindergarteners struggle with finally letting go of their child for their first day of school. They wanted to stay there the whole day and make sure thier son or daughter wouldn't be exposed to uncomfortable situations, or bullying, or being picked last for a game, or not being able to write their name correctly. But unless the kids were given the chance to struggle and work through these normal tasks, they would not develop the self-confidence and skills needed to go through school successfully. It's called being responsible TO a loved one and not FOR them. It's trusting in your loved one's ability to work through tasks on his or her own. It's allowing them opportunity to feel the pain of their poor decisions and pride in their wise ones. When they stumble and fall, it's helping them back on their feet, dusting them off, and letting them try again. This takes an indescribable amount of patience, but it pays off handsomely over time.

I hope the young men (and women) at Rogers Memorial Hospital will work hard at their own processes, to talk, to feel, to think, to gather the strength within themselves and apply it to thier change process. It feels satisfying on the other side of the fence.

I hope your summer is kicking off to a pleasant start.

'Till next time,