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The Day 'Joy' Returned to My Life After Parenting a Child in Recovery

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Editor's Note

If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

I woke up on a Saturday morning feeling carefree and happy. We had our family friends of 21 years over with their two daughters for our annual holiday gift exchange and dinner. This tradition is one which my family and I have come to cherish. The last five years, however, had been tarnished.

Three out of the last five years was a table set for  seven people, rather than eight. Trying to keep normalcy in our lives for those years, we had that dinner. We maintained the tradition as best we could. What was different was that I had one son at the table and they had their two daughters. Three out of five Christmases our youngest son was absent in the months of December and January, because he was in a residential treatment facility for an eating disorder. He was a time zone away in Colorado. He was absent from our holiday traditions and absent from years of making family memories to add to the scrapbook. So, our lovely friends helped us keep the tradition and dined with us during those times allowing the void, sadness and emptiness of that eighth seat to be vacant.

Fast forward to that weekend over the holidays, when I woke up happy because we had our annual dinner with eight seats filled in our home. My son was present physically, mentally and spiritually to participate with laughter, love and protectionism of his recovery at this 22-month mark. When I woke up, what I was so grateful for was to feel joyful. I had true inner peace reflecting on the prior evening. I had laughed, a lot! I did not reference his eating disorder history, or discuss the past five years in a single conversation. I did not even triple check his plate to make sure portions were right or behaviors were devoid. Oh, I am sure I did glance, but not in an obvious, worried way that I had in other years. We simply celebrated how life marches on for 21 years, and how friendship bonds grow as you watch your children grow into young adults.

What I realized is that for the very first time, in a very long time, I was back to being me. I had returned to a mom of two sons who are healthy and happy. I was that wife who was carefree and engulfed in the joyful moment with my dear husband.

I did not realize until I reflected on this great evening how lost I had been, or how somber I had become. During this very long period, I shared private moments with my husband and we found laughter. But that was a different kind of laughter. At times it was forced so we did not cry. We found laughter at odd things that others would not find funny. We did this out of duty and coping. It was a comic release at times to avoid the pain and sadness we were going through dealing with our son’s illness. It was not the authentic, uncalculated happiness where you just let moments happen without being on edge.

When you are in the middle of the wrath of a child’s eating disorder, it robs not only the patient, it robs the entire family unit. Even when the child enters recovery, you are the most paranoid person you will ever know. You are so worried that any day that eating disorder can show up like an uninvited guest who inhabits your whole life.

I sit in reflection not to lose sight of all we went through for the past five years. Getting to this point took a ton of discipline and oversight as parents. I believe parenting a child with any illness or addiction is the most selfless act you will ever perform. If you are not fully aware, you can get sucked in. It is why when you are going through a crisis, it is so important to communicate with your spouse and continue to seek professional help during the relapse and recovery phase.

As I have told many families, life was on hold until we got our son recovery focused and he was successful at it. There is no magic time point that life gets back to normal. It is different for each family and each parent, I presume. But what is wonderful, is that happiness and normalcy are truly possible after going through such turmoil. If you are in the bottom of this relapse phase, please know that life will come back to you again. Recovery is possible when you do the hard work as a parent. And the reward is one morning you wake up and realize happiness returned.

Enjoy it, savor it and don’t take a day for granted. I know I certainly won’t.



Photo credit:EllenaZ/Getty Images

Originally published: April 8, 2019
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