Picking up the pieces of life after an eating disorder recovery can be challenging. Years, decades, may have passed. Relationships tested, scarred, and lost. Decisions made that cannot be un-made.
So it was for me. For more than 40 years many of my thoughts and behaviours were at the behest of my eating disorder. My parents and sister did not know that; they simply saw June misbehaving badly. Now that I was able to think and behave with a free will, I had to face the aftermath. There was much joy but also much pain. Hiding in my eating disorder to deal with the pain was no longer an option. I had to learn new coping skills. I had to learn acceptance, and to live in the moment. In 2005, I was on the verge of recovery. I had slogged against ‘Ed’ for years, and the summit of freedom was in sight. But re-emerging into the light after a long time in the dark was fraught – debilitating and discouraging obstacles seemed intent on popping up to block my pathway. How I dealt with these challenges would determine if I slipped down into the eating disorder, or continued the upward climb. On August 10, I described one such major trial in a letter to my therapist:
I am really battling depression this week. Luckily I am seeing you today.
In February this year my daughter ‘A’ announced she would marry this September. Some months later, my sister’s daughter announced her engagement and set her wedding date for one week prior to that of my daughter. I thought the timing – just one week apart – a little strange.
When the wedding invitations to my niece’s wedding were sent out, the situation became more strange. I did not know invitations had been sent until three weeks later, when my children mentioned they had received invites. I did not receive one. I kept looking in the mail each day for the next two weeks, but an invitation did not come.
Last weekend, my daughter phoned her cousin to ask her directly ‘what is going on?’, and was told that my sister had asked for me not to get an invitation.
Old feelings of rejection hit me all over again. I also felt distressed at my sister for putting my daughter in an awkward position in the lead up to her wedding.
My daughter was now in the difficult position of re-assessing her own wedding list. She asked me what I would like her to do, and I told her that I could not tell her what to do, who to invite, because it was her special day. I said that because someone hurts you doesn’t mean you treat them in the same way. On the other hand there is a fine line between that and guarding oneself against further hurt.
With depression deepening and tears flowing, I phoned my second son, who is a rock for me, and he managed to calm me and put things in a manageable perception.
He emphasised: “Mum, you seem so happy at Leongatha (where I had moved the year before), you are going to Rotary, you like your newspaper job, you are getting to know people. Go down to nearby Inverloch and walk along the beach and think about all the good things. Your life is at Leongatha now. Forget everything in your childhood valley. We, your children, are your family.”
I wailed and said: “I know, I know what you say is true, it is just that I have made the big effort to get my own Patch and be part of a new community and beat my eating disorder and start a new chapter in life and my sister doesn’t see this – I am in distress, and worse, your sister ‘A’ is also in distress.” But my unflappable, ever-calm son responded: “‘A’ will only be distressed if you are distressed, so you must try and be strong and focus on ‘what is now’.
I hear my son but don’t know what to do. Don’t feel strong enough to talk to my sister. Afraid of further rejection. I mean, if she wanted me to attend the wedding, she would have invited me, her only sister, right? Is it my eating disorder or something else that has allowed my parents to split their family down the middle? I don’t know.
Years ago, when I realised I needed counselling, I had encouraged my sister to seek some, too. She said ‘you go, I’m fine’. Well, I didn’t think things were fine then and certainly not now, but what can I do?
This is dragging me down. I am trying to do my best and adapt to Leongatha, I do enjoy my work and the people are friendly, but oh, tis a struggle to develop a sense of belonging with others when feeling so alienated from one’s family of origin.
But I am lucky. I have friends and my children are supportive; I would be totally lost without them.
I am depressed. It is like a cloud sitting on my shoulders. I am trying to kick it off, but it keeps coming back. My moods are see-sawing. Can you tell?
I talked with George, my children’s dad. He is always a rock when the chips are down. We agreed that my sister should be invited to our daughter’s wedding. George said: “Two wrongs don’t make a right, but she will have a lot of … if she accepts.”
I had tears rolling fast down my face by this time (I am an emotional wreck) and was fiercely trying to stop them escaping from my eyes. I had this panic feeling that oh, it may be too painful to attend my own daughter’s wedding…. George held on to the phone while I caught my breath.
Now that I know my sister will be at my daughter’s wedding – I have no doubt that she will accept the invitation – I need to prepare myself emotionally.
Like, I have to practise detachment of a supreme level to pretend I am not hurting. Even though I have moved well away from my childhood valley, and made a big effort to start belonging to a new community, where I have known absolutely nobody, the past is playing havoc with my present. I wish I could look forward to my daughter’s wedding without the fear of seeing my sister. I can see that my sister will feel validated, having not invited me to her daughter’s wedding, but yet receiving an invite to my daughter’s wedding. I am the bad one, the ‘one with problems’ in the family’; I did not deserve an invite, but my sister is the good one, and so she has received an invitation. I am rejected and she is accepted.
Now, I am on edge again, wondering if she really will accept the invitation or not. I look in the letter box every day for two reasons – a) hoping (silly, I know) for a late invite to my niece’s wedding and b) dreading seeing my sister’s handwriting on an acceptance card.
I feel dreadfully ALONE and CUT OFF from my family tree. I feel I can’t talk to my parents or my sister and I have no brothers or other sisters. Each time I have tried to talk to my parents, they have turned on me and refused to give assurance or answer any questions.
My children are my family. They and George keep reminding me of this. But my sister’s decision not to invite me to her daughter’s wedding has made the lead up to my daughter’s big day, just one week later, very stressful.
HOW WILL I COPE? WHAT CAN I DO?
I have to fight the urge to sink deeper and deeper into a black hole.
My therapist gave good advice. She became my coach. My sister and her family, including the new bride and groom, attended my daughter’s wedding. How I coped, the skills I practised, defined my recovery. ‘The wedding’ was to become the last big test in my divorce from ‘Ed’, the last hurdle between me and freedom.