Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Coming into the light: Helping my daughter in her recovery from anorexia

 It's been two months since I last wrote, and a lot has changed in that time. The most important change has been a dramatic improvement in Sofie's mental health. I feel hesitant to jinx it, but for the past month Sofie has been much better. She has worked hard to be in recovery from anorexia, and finally acknowledges what has been happening to her for the past year and a half. With the help of the right psych meds, she now eats three meals per day plus snacks. Although we abandoned the FBT method somewhat (it just didn't work for us in its prescribed fashion so we had to modify the plan to work for my child), she is now able to choose to eat when she wakes up and throughout the day without me having to remind her. She is working towards her goal of having a nose piercing (that is the big reward for three months of continued eating) and despite my initial hesitance to let a child so young pierce her face, I will be delighted to see that stud on her beautiful nose to remind me daily of the battle we have fought together. 

This anorexia struggle has been hell on earth, and I have had to restart anxiety medication to cope with it, as the constant fear that your child's life is in danger will make even the most calm and stable person a miserable, anxious wreck. I am learning to be ok with the fact that I have gained a lot of weight through my child's struggle, with the depression that accompanies watching someone you love struggle so badly, and in the process of re-feeding her the calories she was lacking. I am coming to terms with my own views of weight and body shape in our society, and although I prefer to be someone who is active and strong, I am trying to view my body as the precious vessel that carries me through life. Regardless of what size and shape I am, my vessel is doing me a huge favor, and I must be thankful. 

Our society has a seemingly endless abundance of fucked up shit to say about women's bodies, and I am even more aware of just how disturbing those messages are now that I am trying desperately to protect my daughter from it. Coming from a family of people with weight-related body image issues, Sofie's struggle has put into perspective just how harmful so many of those messages can be. There is literally no reason for anyone to comment on anyone else's size, and yet we do it time and again, unconsciously, leading only to harm.  My goal as I continue to support my daughter through this challenging time in her life is to be mindful of the comments I make, and try as much as I can to educate others when I hear unconscious comments about themselves or others. I wish everyone could see our bodies for just what they are, vessels to help carry us through this glorious and confusing existence. 

Sunday, December 18, 2022

The Battle of a Lifetime

 It's been years since I've written. I am unsure as to why I've gone so long, I've meant to write, but it's just gotten away from me. Probably we were all so consumed on our phones during the pandemic that I couldn't look at another screen, or maybe I didn't have anything to say. The truth is likely that I just forgot. But I am currently in a battle that is so deep and scary that I have to write about it or I fear I will lose my mind. 

I am not sure I will ever post this writing. I hope I do, but I have no idea if that will seem like a good idea or not. My youngest child is entrenched in the deep embrace of anorexia and has been struggling badly for at least a year. This is a personal hell that only some people can relate to, but no one should be ashamed of. It has a deep and powerful hold on the victim, that as my friend says is like a bittersweet vine that climbs a tree and strangles it to death. Just when you think you've gotten to the roots, it shoots back and wraps its vines tighter and tighter. 

 As her mother it is my job to pull her out of this trench, to chop down these vines, and I can assure you that absolutely no one wants this job. It took me a long time to realize what was happening to my child, and by the time I let go of my denial and took full stock of how deep it was, my baby was drowning. It's been about a month since I woke up and poked the bear, and it's in full fury now. Anorexia gets loud and angry when you call it into the light, and most people who treat eating disorders liken it to someone living inside of your child (I think of it as a little tumor who talks, living on her brain and ordering her not to eat). The only proven way to kill that tumor is by calling it out and taking away its power. It has taken me the last month to see that there is no other way. 

So for the past month we've been floundering around trying to figure out what to do. We tried a week of partial hospitalization, which didn't work well for Sofie, and made her depression and anxiety rage to a scary place, so we are now going it at home with outpatient supports. We may revisit the partial idea, or a residential placement if our work at home is not enough, but Jon and I have come to terms with the fact that regardless of what treatment choice we make, the rules and routine at home have to remain constant in order to fight this disease. 

We have been fully practicing Family Based Treatment (FBT) for the past three days (we tried to practice this up until now but didn't see the full magnitude of how we have to completely commit in order for it to work) and it is HARD. FBT requires parents to take complete control of their child's eating habits in order to rid them of anorexia. It takes months to years to work, but it does work. I have been out of work, tethered to the kitchen, and fighting battle after battle over grilled cheese sandwiches and smoothies. Each time I win a battle and Sofie eats what I put in front of her, anorexia rages louder in her head. But the only way to quiet the beast is to eat your way to health. Her starved brain cannot make decisions that will lead to anything healthy, so I have to make them for her. She is angry at me for doing it, but also I know she wants help and can't find a way out on her own. 

So here we are on day three, and I am hoping to keep this blog as a log for a bit to see how we do. Today I won a battle with a grilled cheese and I felt very proud of my accomplishments. I took her skiing today and she was the happiest she's been in a long time. I am dreading the next mealtime. Every meal fills me with anxiety until its done, but I have to maintain calm at all time and hold my ground. She has to eat, and anorexia cannot win, but man it's scary out here. 

Sofie becomes a person I do not recognize when anorexia is speaking for her. She appears possessed and says things that my wonderful child would never say, in a voice I don't even recognize, and on several occasions I can hear Sofie poke through and whisper that she wants help, but doesn't think that she deserves it, or that she wants to eat, but she just physically cannot. After many years of terribly hard parenting times, it is amazing but this is the absolute hardest thing I've ever done. This battle is horrendous, and terrifying, and sneaky, and depressing. All I can do is try and hang on while I wave my machete and chop down the vines one by one. 

The BEST Grilled Cheese - Bakers Table

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Scattering Love

It has been four months, three weeks, and two days since our kids lost their mother. I don't know what the hardest part is for each of them, but I would guess it is trying to make it through every day as though everything was normal, when it so clearly will never be the "normal" they once knew ever again. It might be the fear that everyone else has forgotten, that everyone has moved on with their lives, and they have been left behind in a space of despair, desperately yearning to talk to her again. They each vocalize (or don't vocalize) their grief in such completely different ways, but all equally profound and deeply heartbreaking. We never forget what they've gone through, the sadness in their eyes won't let us forget.

Today would have been Rebekah's 39th birthday. To commemorate the day we made a pilgrimage to her favorite beach, Scarborough Beach in Rhode Island, to scatter some of her ashes at the spot where her family has vacationed for years. The day was warm and sunny when we arrived at the beach, but a thick warm fog quickly rolled in and enveloped us. It felt like a spirit embracing us, and I can't help but wonder if Rebekah wasn't with her kids as they sent her ashes off to sea. The kids wanted to walk quite a ways out on the jetty, to a small inlet that was protected from the wind. They took turns sprinkling the ashes and watching the water sweep them away. It was a beautiful moment, one that I know would have made their mother proud.

After the ashes scattering we headed north to Enfield and met up with Rebekah's family at the cemetery to bring flowers to the space where the rest of her ashes are buried. The kids were very happy to see their grandparents, and it was a nice way to end the day.

Jon and I are beyond proud. We are in awe of these kids. Their kindness, grace, strength, and perseverance in the face of such a deep and profound loss never ceases to amaze us. They are beautiful, resilient humans who I am certain will grow up to become beautiful, resilient adults.

I want it to get easier for them. I don't know when or if that will ever happen. I cannot imagine losing my mother, not even now at 38. Thinking about it makes me weep. I want to shoulder some of that for them so that they can feel joy for at least a little while. I am hoping that at some point they will find some peace. Until then we will continue to hold them up with love as best we can.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Going Home

I just returned home from two weeks in the Dominican Republic, a country that helped to shape the core of who I am. I have been back often, as most of you know, but for the first time in 16 years I was able to visit the town that first made me fall in love with the island. I did not visit San Cristobal while I was married to Francisco for many reasons, most of all because he wasn't comfortable with the idea, and also because it was logistically hard to fit into our trips there. Jon was on board with the idea of us visiting the town I called home back in the 90's, and was excited to meet the people there, so we went together.

It's interesting visiting a place that you were so desperately in love with, so long after that time. So much has changed, and yet somehow nothing has changed. Many people have moved, died, or grown up and didn't recognize me, but the feeling was the same. It's a gritty town with an edge, but at the core, just like any other place on the island, it's filled with loving people who are trying their best to get by. We sat on the porch at Maria's (a woman who was like a mother to me), although she had just recently left for a trip abroad to visit her daughter in the Netherlands, so I was unable to see her. Life flowed around us the way it usually does, and I felt like I had never left. I haven't had so many feelings overwhelm me in a very long time. I found myself texting Jane (my best friend who lived there with me) to give her a sense of how it felt, but even with that I couldn't make it clear how surreal it was.

Being back in San Cristobal was like floating like a ghost over my adolescence, viewing my 18 year old self from above and feeling like I was watching her from above. It felt like going home again. The poverty there is always staggering, and it always leaves me with an ache to not be able to help my friends more, but I was able to do a lot with the donations we had collected to rebuild a friend's home that was destroyed by fire. We were also able to pay for medical expenses for several  people and buy groceries for some hungry families, so our trip was helpful on many levels. I wanted to stay there forever, or at least for a few days, and hopefully at some point I will be able to go back and stay a while, as opposed to just a few hours.

The rest of our trip was exciting and packed with fun and sunshine. We brought my daughter and three of Jon's kids, who did well with the culture shock. I was ready to come home after the two weeks, as the exhaustion of translating was wearing on me, and I missed my surly teenage son (who sadly didn't want to come with us for many teenage angsty reasons). So we're back in the gray New England winter with cozy fires in the pellet stoves and dogs to snuggle with, and our kids are back to ignoring us and hiding in their rooms. Life with teens is a constant feeling of loneliness and angst, but at least I have the memory of the warm salt water washing over me and the sun of the island to keep me company.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019


I have been trying to muster up the ability to write a blog for quite a while, but I can't seem to get myself to sit down and get the words out. First I was consumed by the busy everyday life of the working mom, driving kids around and helping make sure everyone has taken their medications, does their homework and picks up their bedrooms, while also staying up all night at work helping bring babies into the world night after night. The regular routine many of us are used to that swallows us up when we aren't paying attention, and leaves little room for much else. So I didn't write for months.

Then something big and awful happened.

My step-children's mother, Rebekah, died on Thanksgiving day.

It came out of nowhere and we don't know what happened, but she died suddenly and without warning and for a long while our lives just stopped moving. We have been picking up the pieces ever since, trying to help sort out the confusion that comes when someone dies.

We had a challenging relationship with Rebekah, as most people do with their exes, but for the most part we worked it out and were able to parent the kids in an amicable way without too much drama or arguments. We were able to share holidays together with the kids, and talk back and forth about the minutiae of life in a way that felt good to all of us and made the kids feel safe and secure. Although she struggled to find her path in life, she loved her kids, that much I know, and they loved her very much.

It has been a roller coaster of emotion for the four kids she left behind, to say the least. It is an unparalleled level of unfairness that they have to endure this kind of a loss this early in their lives. When they should be thinking about college, and prom, and theater productions, and middle school instead they are left feeling empty and sad and confused. All I want is to ease their burden, but I can't. There isn't really anything anyone can do or say that can make this easier for them. They just have to go through the process, and the process is hard and shitty.

There are a lot of things I am grateful for. I am grateful to everyone in our lives who have helped to hold up the kids, and Jon, and me so we can be there for them when we need to be. The amount of food and love and kind words and cards we have received has been both overwhelming and uplifting. I had no idea how helpful food was when people are grieving, and this will certainly change the way I approach helping people when a loved one dies. I don't know how much it was helpful for the kids, but it sure as hell was amazing that Jon and I didn't have to spend every waking moment in the kitchen. I am grateful that the kids were home with Jon the night that the police banged on our door to tell us the news, and they were not with her to witness such tragedy. I am grateful that her family was warm and accepting of the role that I play in her children's lives, and that planning her services was not a difficult ordeal. I am grateful for the love that Jon and I have for each other and our kids, that keeps us afloat as we wade through this deep ocean of child grief.

I just wish I could hold onto the kids' sadness for bit so they didn't have to. And at the same time I don't ever wish to feel that kind of pain. It is remarkably unfair. Helping kids grieve is a challenge I don't feel like I have the training for. Each day is up and down and I honestly never know what kind of emotions to expect at any given moment. I feel like we are grasping to the side of a fast moving train, trying to stay attached but at any moment one of them might lose their grip and fly away.

We are gearing up for everyone to go back to school tomorrow. We have had as good a Christmas as we ever could have hoped for, given the circumstances, and I think some routine will do everyone good. I am looking for the light at the end of this dark and narrow tunnel, and although I do not yet see it I am hopeful it will come soon.

Image result for butterflies

Monday, June 4, 2018

Gearing Up for Summer With Teens

I love summer. It is my favorite season, which likely comes as no surprise to anyone who knows how much I love hot weather. But the one thing I do not love about summer is spending it with teens.

I don't mean to be negative about teenagers in general. Most of our kids love to go outside and do things, and I have so much fun doing that with them, but there is a small sect that would be the most content if they were able to stay inside and play video games 18 hours a day. It is unfathomable to me to think about spending even one glorious summer day indoors, let alone all of them. A couple of our kids have no interest in going to camp, or joining us on our family camping vacation (just one someone in particular, but that is so sad to me). So I dread the summer when it is my job to break out the mental jaws of life and force these kids into outdoor fun.

The hard part is that they often are too busy complaining to allow themselves to have a good time. Nate is especially good at this routine. He will not have fun, and you can't make him, so this year I am giving up on trying to make anyone enjoy themselves. I will force them outside (partially by withholding all access to video games) and then the rest is up to them. I'm hoping this takes the pressure off of me, and allows me to enjoy my own summer.

This is all likely a product of my having spoiled my kids. If I could do it again I think I would likely withhold all fun things until they were begging to go to the lake or out to ice cream, and not make it all so readily available. Jon and I are going to try changing our video game policy in our home (to no video games in our home) because who actually benefits from those horrible things anyway? I also need some creative strategies to convincing a kid to go outside and making him think it's his idea. So if anyone has any thoughts I am all ears. Summer in New England is way too short not to enjoy every second of it.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

In The Trenches

Parenting  is HARD. This is not a cliché. This is not a whining mommy blog where I can't get my three year old to put on their socks (which was also hard, not to minimize the experience of people dealing with three year olds, I whined loudly on this blog during those times as well). No, this parenting of these children who are both my children and my blended children as they emerge from divorce and rocky pasts, and struggle through depression and anxiety and trauma and heartache is so much harder than I ever thought possible. I am talking the hardest fucking job I have ever had.

It is not the daily arguments or tantrums that overwhelm me, but the emotional sadness that they all feel at different times. It is usually staggered, but sometimes it's all at once, and it is a deep, deep sadness. It is an intense pull of emotional turmoil that they need to let out, and sometimes they do and they feel better. Other times they don't let it out but instead it festers into a dark and scary explosion, which splatters our lives with the heavy, sticky paste of raw emotion gone wild. It is both emotionally depleting and heart-wrenching for us to muddle through with them. Even when they express these emotions and feel better, as a mother I can't help but absorb those emotions in to my own being and hold onto them for my children, and it drags me down into sadness and misery right along side of them, as they seem to rise out of it I feel wasted and vacant.

The part that also saddens me is that they don't really seem to rise out of it. Most of our kids seem alright for a few moments, maybe a week or even a couple of months, but then we're back to the pit of sadness again, with threats of suicide and hurting themselves, trips to the doctors and therapists, and anger and crying that is often worse than the last time. The older they get, the more intense the emotional rise, and the harder the crash.

What is also alarming is that it is every single one of them. We have six kids, and not one of them is OK. I thought for a while that maybe they were feeding off of each other, and I do think that the amount of attention paid to a child in crisis does affect the overall morale, but these kids are individually feeling the pain of their lived experiences. There is nothing that either Jon or I can seem to do to ever make it better for any of them. We try and we fail, and although I believe that we are not terrible at this, I can't help but feel like a failure most of the time.

I get a lot of "those kids are lucky to have you" which, like adoptive or foster parents know, is not actually true. These kids would be lucky to have not gone through all of the shit that got us here in the first place. All of our kids deserved two loving parents from the inception who loved each other enough and were stable enough to create a healthy home. Our kids deserved to not witness the collapse of their families. Our kids deserved to not have terrible things happen to them. Our kids deserved to have a life free of emotional abuse. Our kids deserved to be able to express their emotions and have them validated. Our kids deserved all of this before they were so old that they were broken and harmed from it. All kids deserve these simple things from the beginning.

I hope we can get them all safely to the other side. I don't know what will happen or how their lives will pan out but as any parents knows, all you really want is for your children to be happy, in whatever way that is possible for them. I absolutely hate not knowing what to expect next. I wish I was a religious person who could pray loudly to my deity for salvation of their souls, but I don't believe in any of that, and I am pretty sure it wouldn't do much anyway. Right now we live in the trenches of parenting, and here we will remain for many more years. Here's to hoping we all make it out safe.