As a parent of a child who successfully went through treatment for an eating disorder, I understand the challenges and frustrations you may experience all too well. My daughter was highly resistant and we encountered many obstacles during treatment. What I will tell you, should offer you hope. Here is the framework:
- Reframe Won’t into Can’t
- Be All-In
- Don’t Be Afraid of What ED is Afraid Of
- Fake-It-Til-You-Make-It…and you will make it. (further on down the recovery path, that is).
Obstacles in treatment can come in many forms and are often counterintuitive, frustrating and exhausting. One such obstacle we encountered was refusal. With treatment increasingly getting positive recovery results by focusing on rapid and complete nutritional rehabilitation as the first and necessary goal, refusals happen, a lot. Expect them. It is your job and your clinician’s job to be consistent and calm in your response. DEPEND on ED to refuse and you can reframe those refusals as instructions.
With a reframe you can see a refusal as a CAN’T and not as a WON’T, and then do whatever you and your clinicians decide you would do in that situation. For example, making liquid nutritional supplements a requirement. The consequence could be eating more at the next meal, supplementing with meal replacements, withdrawal of normal activities, stepping up to a higher level of care. Whatever you have promised to do is NOT punishment. It is a promise of love and boundaries. Assume your child would comply if they could, but they CAN’T, and it is time for plan B with you and your clinician. No one’s fault, no blame, and no need for emotion. Reframe.
ED is a pretty heinous hostage taker. It will always ask for everything it can get. An ED does not play fair and isn’t rational, but give an ED zero choice and it will give in. Parents are often shocked when this works, and have to fake-it-till-you-make-it until this resolve becomes second nature.
When you encounter obstacles in treatment be “All-In.”
Everything else needs to go on hold including work, other children and responsibilities. It is not forever, but being “All – In” is what will turn the corner sooner rather than later and enable all of you to return to life and health sooner.
Don’t be afraid of what ED is afraid of, whether it is a scale, a specific weight, a particular food, or not being able to play a sport or dance. I remember being at a conference for parents and clinicians of children in eating disorder treatment. A mother introduced herself to me privately, her adolescent had just started treatment. “Do I really need to have her to drink whole milk? “she hesitantly asked. I paused for a moment, she was looking for an answer that would alleviate her distress. I responded
“I know how hard it is, believe me I saw the worst, but yes, you really do. I don’t negotiate with terrorists and I imagined that ED was a terrorist holding my daughter. No negotiating, so it is yes to the whole milk”.
You are your child’s best chance at complete recovery. I know you are up to the task even though you may not feel up to it.