"Welcome to the club." That's our greeting, how we break the ice.
When new family members or friends attend their first support group meeting and walk into the room where the meeting is held, you can feel their sadness and confusion.
Once everyone in the meeting room is settled – old timers and new arrivals – we acknowledge the new attendees by saying “Welcome to the club. Nobody wants to join.” We are glad they are here, but for me personally, it is bittersweet.
It means that there is yet another family or a close friend who loves someone with an eating disorder and is struggling to make sense of the illness that has consumed their family.
They come wanting answers. They come wanting a game plan. Just tell them what to do to help their loved one get better. They want reasons, they want to know why. Why? That is a question we cannot answer. What we can give them is support and help them to learn about the complexities of an eating disorder.
We also help them see how important it is for them to take care of themselves. If they are not careful, they will become a victim of the eating disorder along with their loved one.
Is it important to move past your shame and reach out for support? It is very important. I asked those who attend the support group to share what they have learned. This is some of what they shared:
“I love this group because every person can relate to my story. I never found anyone who could relate to me as to what our family was going through. We felt isolated. We would go from being depressed, to being angry to blaming our daughter for the downfall of our family.”
“Being a member of the support group has done many things for me. It has given me a place to land where everyone knows exactly what we are going through as a family; a place where I don’t have to apologize for any of the fear, anger, resentment or frustration the eating disorder brings out in me.”
“I think two of the most useful things for me was finally realizing , really knowing, that my daughter has to own her recovery and that it is out of my control what that path of recovery looks like. The other important saving grace for me has been learning to reclaim my life and not let the eating disorder beat me up and isolate me from people and activities that I have always enjoyed.”
“The group has been a lifesaver for me. Having a daughter with an eating disorder is stressful, overwhelming, scary and challenging on a daily basis. The group provides a safe, nurturing and caring place to get help and feel connected to others with the same struggles. I leave the group more empowered and confident.”
“The group also stresses taking care of myself. Listening to the stories and struggles of other moms, I learned early to take care of myself. By taking care of myself, I am better able to take care of my daughter. This is why I continue to come to the meetings.”
“I enjoyed the fact that I wasn’t alone. I was in a safe and nonjudgmental place where I could talk about my concerns, fears and experiences with my daughter’s eating disorder. “
“I found the most important part of the group for me was the camaraderie and the resource information.”
“We are learning to cope. We can now see a future filled with love instead of a hopeless world spinning around food.”
All of these comments share a common thread: They learned to cope, they learned to understand, they learned the importance of self-care.
They reached out for help. All of them – mothers, fathers, spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, friends – all from different backgrounds – yet all bound by a common thread. They all love someone with an eating disorder.
They pushed through their shame and their fear. They shared their pain and realized they were not alone.