Full and Comprehensive Healing: How Do I Get There?
By Libby Beall Goff, Author of By Their Side: A Resource for Caretakers and Loved Ones Facing an Eating Disorder
“I remember being asked, ‘What do you feel?,’ ‘How does this make you feel?,’ and, ‘What are you feeling?’ Most of the time, I could not find the words to verbalize the depth of my emotion—scared, angry, frustrated, and often inept. At times I felt numb, blank, incapable, exposed, and honestly, there were moments I was just too tired to identify how I felt. I vividly remember feeling paralyzed with fear: the dark fear of losing a child. I would question myself in uncertainty, wondering, ‘Why can’t I fix my child’s eating disorder?’”
This is how I felt at the beginning of my long parental journey with our child who was diagnosed with an eating disorder at thirteen years old. I felt so lost those first few years; I was uneducated about eating disorders, in disagreement with my spouse, confused by treatment, withdrawn, and floundering for answers. There was no doubt that I was totally lost in guilt!
I felt that floundering over a decade ago, but those feelings of fear no longer exist. Most gratefully, our family is stronger today than we could have ever imagined. We are not perfect, but we are comfortable in the truth that no one is perfect. Healing is possible. Recovery is possible. But what does that really mean? It means doing the hard work and often making hard choices for the sake of your child, your family, and yourself. Was it easy? No! But recovery and healing are undoubtedly worth the time and energy.
So, how do we begin this healing process?
Ten Cognitive Exercises to Consider
Putting One Foot in Front of the Other
- Listen to your intuition. There is something to be said for the power of intuition. It acts as an internal guide, urging you to do, sense, and react. It is always present, yet we sometimes ignore this innate gift. We may not always read our gut correctly, and sometimes, we can second-guess ourselves. Remember that the gift of intuition is ever present, no matter how deeply it lies buried within your soul. Listen to your “inner knowing,” and allow it to be your guide. At times, this means adhering to your intuition when it tells you to do the hard thing for the sake of your loved one’s health.
“Intuition is not always the easiest way, but it is the right way. It scares me because, even when I know the right and wisest thing to do, I hesitate. I hesitate because it’s sometimes the most difficult choice!” -A dad to two young adults
2. Know that you are not alone. There are thousands and thousands of other families seeking help for loved ones who are struggling with an eating disorder. Reach out and ask for help. The ANAD Helpline will help you feel less alone.
3. Practice meditation. Meditation has been found to increase happiness, lower stress and anxiety, aid in the treatment of depression, develop perspective, increase compassion, and lead to an overall higher sense of personal wellbeing. The practice has been utilized as a healing tool for over five thousand years, originating in ancient Vedic tradition from India. Meditating has no religious affiliation and is accessible to anyone, regardless of belief system or lack thereof. For guided meditation, consider the app Calm, Sam Harris’s Waking Up, or Headspace.
4. Engage in visualization. Visualization is a personal and healing practice where you picture in your mind what it is you want to manifest. Your brain is stimulated by visualization as you choose what you want to see. We often ask, “Do you see what I mean?” Try envisioning your loved one struggling with an eating disorder as fully recovered; see your family happy and yourself healthy. For an introduction to visualization, consider following this link.
5. Love without conditions. Try to model a consistent love without judgment, even in the times when you are disappointed with your loved one’s behavior or choices. Unconditional love sometimes requires tough love, but never prideful love, nor love given in return for actions of approval.
6. Forgive and learn from all mistakes. You will make mistakes. Forgive yourself. Do not hold yourself captive to self-ridicule, resentment, and/or grudges. Your child will make mistakes. Forgive them. Choose forgiveness, and then try applying the learned experience to future decisions and resolutions.
7. Take a break, and then reset. Allow yourself to cry, to break emotionally, and to process your frustrations. Therapy is a safe and private space for that. A trustworthy friend who allows you to emote and experience your emotions with no judgment and no intention of “fixing you” is helpful as well.
8. What are the needs and wants of your family members? Through active listening, you might learn something you were not aware of, and one of them just might have an excellent idea or solution to an issue.
9. Get centered in your faith. We live in both the physical and spiritual realms. Humans have a tangible, physical body and a mysterious soul within it—soul, spirit, call it whatever you wish. Recovering from an eating disorder is most successful when we nurture both realms of life. Nurturing our bodies alongside our spirits while caring for a loved one battling a disorder is just as important. Ultimately, love is the answer.
10. Have a sense of joy and a sense of humor. What makes you happy? What makes you laugh? What brings joy to your life? Try to make your personal happiness a priority; it will positively affect those around you. As Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, explains, “Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit.”
Recovery is not about perfection, and the ten steps above are to be crafted to your own needs. You may do them well, but don’t expect perfection. It is freeing to be comfortable in the truth that no one is perfect. It is the perfectly imperfect that we need to love, nurture, and respect.
 Gretchin Rubin, “A Secret to Happiness? Don’t Get Organized.,” GretchinRubin.com, October 2, 2009, https://gretchenrubin.com/2009/10/note-to-self-dont-get-organized/.