Chapter 4: What I Learned As a Father On My Daughter's ED Journey
It was difficult for me to become a father. I had no experience in raising children and then suddenly I had two teenagers, who had lost their father a few years before, looking up to me.
As I fell in love with these articulate, sweet girls I did my best to do what was right for them. T.J. was immediately trusting and eager for a relationship with me. Lauren was not as easy. She did not trust me. Did not trust that I wouldn’t leave them. It took time and patience to get her to open her heart to me. But when she did it was absolute. I had claimed these girls and they claimed me...such a gift. I did not have normal parental instincts when it came to their emotional wellbeing, and when Lauren really began to struggle, I was at a loss with what I could do to help.
I was also scared to death. I made many mistakes.One of such mistakes was attempting to apply logic, rather than understanding.
Before Lauren received treatment, we all had different ideas of why Lauren had an eating disorder. Because I am so logical, I believed that it was an issue of control for her. But what we learned from treatment, however, was eating disorders do not stem from a psychological need for control but rather is a brain disorder that alters their response to food.
I had so many questions and no answers when we began dealing with this overwhelming situation. I have had some of those questions answered.
To hopefully help another father who is struggling to understand eating disorders, I have answered some of the questions that I think will help.
What has been the most difficult part of supporting your daughter’s recovery?
It was difficult to see her so upset and struggling, while also watching how upset it made her mother and how desperately she was searching for answers. Family dinners were either a total war zone or complete silence as I struggled to not comment on the amount of food she was or wasn’t eating. I thought that if she simply ate, all of this could be solved. I didn’t understand that she did not have control over her eating disorder.
What advice would you give another father of a loved one with an eating disorder?
Gather all of the information you can before you take action. Acting without knowledge is when you will make the worst mistakes. I remember telling her mother that maybe we should just get her a gym membership so that she could workout instead of restricting, however, we learned in treatment that the metabolism of an anorexic is much faster than normal and that for them to become weight restored, they need to have a high calorie intake that exercise would impede. The most important thing, however, is to be involved. Not being Lauren’s biological parent made it easy for me to take a back seat and let her mother handle this – but to beat an eating disorder, it takes the whole family being educated and providing an environment that she can properly recover in. That means being on the same page and no arguing. Period.
What has been the most helpful for your family to support Lauren’s recovery?
Finding Project HEAL, and through them, UCSD Intensive Family Treatment. It changed our lives. There are only so many answers you can Google. Only so many therapists a small town can provide. You need people who are educated and have research and data behind them when it comes to dealing with eating disorders. The support systems we gained through the other families attending treatment was also invaluable. It really helped to have other parents who understood exactly what we were going through. It is not only comforting for our daughters to know that they are not alone, but for us as well.
What misconceptions did you have or what mistakes did you make that you learned from during treatment?
I made the mistake of thinking we could handle this ourselves or that a therapist could fix this. I didn’t believe she needed treatment at first, but after learning more about the biological aspects of this disease, I now know that she could not continue to recover without treatment.
Life has changed so much in a few short months since treatment. We are now able to enjoy outings like baseball games and going to the movies once again. Family meals are now looked forward to and enjoyed. Laughter is heard more often than ever before.
This disease tore our family apart, but treatment put us back together again.
I encourage fathers to put aside our own logic and what we think works and accept what is presented in treatment. Be present, compassionate and engaged in the process. Removing the internal struggle and tension was such a relief. For Lauren. For me. For the whole family. Knowing exactly what to do and what not to do, satisfied my logical side and helped me to gauge effective responses. Your support and understanding will move mountains.
Those girls looking up to me are a gift from God. I can see the trust in their eyes, and it’s a feeling I never even knew existed. Project HEAL truly saved this family that has become everything to me.
Click here and make a donation to Project HEAL’s Treatment Grant Fund, which will help individuals just like Lauren.