Mile 23: Being a Sister to a Recovering Anorexic
Netflix just released a new video on anorexia that was met with some controversy.
I love that Hollywood is tackling this issue head on and naturally, they will receive criticism for any missteps, but the good news is that they are trying and that is a great thing in my mind. I’m not an overly emotional person, but when I was watching the trailer, I did tear up when we heard from the sister who spoke about losing her sister because of the disease. I think it resonated because right now, I can fully relate to that. In my experience, eating disorder strain and can completely destroy relationships. Being a sibling to someone who is struggling is really really hard.
Jolene is coming home in about a month from almost a year of treatment at a centre in Miami. We barely spoke the entire time she was away. This is not because I don’t love her dearly, but because I don’t know how to talk to a sister I felt I lost. I began to be afraid to say anything because it would often trigger her, or make me angry with her response and quite frankly, I was not willing to ride the wave of emotions that comes from having a loved one who is working through something very very hard. So I completely disconnected from her and treated her with distance and a bit of indifference.
Here is my take on the matter: no relationship in your life can be perfect all the time and sometimes you need to sit with that discomfort of not having everything in your life lining up perfectly, as long as it is for a season in your life. I am not talking about conditional love because I love Jolene with or without her eating disorder. I am just saying that you can’t be all things to all people all the time and my asterisk was that as soon as Jolene tried to get better, I would do my best to shake off that disconnect and work on our relationship like my life depended on it.
For us, that time has come and I am really hopeful and excited about it. Jolene and I have communicated in a flat, insincere way in the past – exchanging pleasantries and dancing around the elephant in the room which was my anger at her and her fear of me. If this sounds like counselling talk, you are spot on. Jolene and I have a weekly video chat with her therapist and I am so glad that we can start this way.
It sure isn’t perfect, but we are trying.
We say the “I’m sorry’s” that need to be said for literally years of things that we have done.
We try and find things we have in common and I tell her things I really like about her.
And we set up a game plan to keep the friendship growing when she returns.
I wanted to write this post because I have had a few people reach out to me recently – whether they were struggling themselves or were siblings of someone who was struggling and I think there is not enough discussion on how to be a sibling to someone who is dealing with an eating disorder.
Being a sibling to a recovering anorexic is hard. You will do things you regret to deal with the illness because there really isn’t a guidebook on this. It will be messy, clumsy, horrible and sad. But like anything in life, if you want it enough, there is a way through and that is what I am focusing on.
I will never get to know that sister I disconnected from because Jolene has worked very hard at letting go of the part of her who thinks that she isn’t interesting or worth taking care of. Instead, I get to know this smart, sassy, fierce little lady who has a really incredible future ahead of her.
“Hi Jolene, my name is Jessica. I like coffee, athletics and I think we have the same sense of humour.”
I am always happy to have conversations with anyone who is struggling or connected to someone who is. That being said, I am just a listening ear and am happy to share a list of therapists, hospitals and professionals who can provide help.