Today, we have a guest post written by Angelica Harris, Andrea’s mom. Since the theme of this year’s NEDAwareness Week is “It’s time to talk about it,” Angelica has agreed to write a guest post about her reaction to finding out Andrea has binge eating disorder, and her own past issues with anorexia and drug abuse.
A FAMILY SECRET UNVEILED:
LIVING WITH A DAUGHTER WITH BINGE EATING DISORDER
What the hell was wrong with me today? If I could, I would have eaten everything in sight, and honestly I did!
Today was one of those days for me; I was totally out of control with my eating.
I can tell you this; in my youth, my eating and drug addiction was due to abuse both domestic and sexual. I am an ex-addict. I was addicted to prescription weight loss drugs, and my drug of choice was Dexamine. In high school, my doctor put me on Speed to lose weight. I became addicted, and after I lost the weight, I was so dependent on the highs and lows of the drug, I sought out Black Beauties and Quaaludes. I had a bad image about myself, and finally being thin, I could buy the clothes I wanted, and also get some attention I craved from yes, both boys and girls. It took some dear friends and my high school teacher to help me get off the drugs.
In my mature years, my eating disorder was directed more towards emotional and stress eating. I took care of a very sick husband, a son with learning and neurological disorders, and my parents and in-laws. I neglected my health, and I paid for it. But today, I stand proudly and healthy at almost 60 years of age; I have a good husband, a great daughter, and a son who is a professional chef.
My children were two sides of the coin. Andrea was a straight “A” student, gifted. My son, John, always needed my attention, and Andrea felt the sting of neglect in her own way. Yet, I always looked at her as the “Normal Child” who was perfect in every way.
Little did I know that when she was all grown up, a monster would show up in the form of an eating disorder.
“Andrea, you need to lose weight!” said my mother-in-law one day to my beautiful daughter. She looked at her grandmother with tears in her eyes and then looked at me.
I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Honey I agree; you got very heavy and need to do something about it.”
A few months later, my daughter walked into the kitchen and said, with urgency, “I really need to talk with you later, it’s important.”
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“I just really need to talk with you,” she said as she exited the kitchen to go back down to her room.
At dinner, I could see from across the table that Andrea was fidgeting and picking at her food, as she always does when something is deeply bothering her. She seemed to be preoccupied and out of sorts.
Andrea and I headed down the basement to our family room. We sat across from each other, and when I looked at Andrea, a feeling of dread hit my stomach. I knew that whatever she was about to tell me was not going to be good.
She started to cry, and began to sob, and I was very perplexed. Through tears, Andrea said, “You know when you and Nonnie [her grandmother] told me that I needed to lose weight?” She was shaking, more like trembling.
“Yes I do,” I said, “but honey you do, and you know it – we only said that because you got heavy within the past year, and it’s not like you.”
She sat straight and she said, “There is a reason why I can’t just lose weight.”
By this time, I had this feeling that my daughter was going to tell me she had cancer or something. She took a breath and said, “I‘ve been looking online for certain symptoms with eating disorders.”
“Yes, like anorexia and bulimia, but what does that have to do with you?”
Again Andrea took a breath, and calmly and with tears said, “Mom, I have what is called binge eating disorder.”
Many of you might be familiar with anorexia or bulimia. The eating disorder I want to discuss doesn’t involve in the abstaining, avoidance, or purging of food, but quite the opposite.
Binge eating disorder, or BED, is by far the most common eating disorder in the United States. While most prevalent in teens and adults, cases have been recorded of people suffering from BED at all ages. BED is usually characterized by a person who eats an unusually large amount of food in a short period of time, usually followed by a feeling of a loss of control and guilt over the episode [x].
At first, I said, “Andrea, you mean you just eat out of control, but you can learn to eat with better choices, and even lose weight if you want to.”
She said in own defense, “No Mom it’s not like that. I am not your Normal child, I have a problem, and I need help.”
It was then that the gates of my youth flooded my memory to recalling my drug addiction, my need to be the skinny girl my friends and parents wanted, and the perfect daughter that my mother had, but abused due to her own mental illness.
I sat there and listened to what she was saying. “I’ve been checking on eating disorder clinics here in NYC. I found one in Manhattan.”
Andrea entered treatment at Monte Nido that summer; she received a scholarship for treatment, and took a leave of absence from her job. That summer was hard on our family. Just as we had to learn about our son’s issues, now I had to learn about Binge Eating, the symptoms, and how to deal with Andrea.
What I wasn’t prepared for was that I could not talk about my own drug addiction in family meetings or my weight loss. It was difficult for me to realize that by talking about my own issues with weight and drugs, I was triggering Andrea’s issues with body image and guilt about her own “full body.”
I had to learn to take my own issues out of her equation and stop my own denial. To realize that these were Andrea’s issues, her reality, and if I was going to help my daughter to recover, I would go to our private sessions with her social worker, and to family meetings to listen to the other girls in the program about family life and eating disorders.
It is almost three years now since Monte Nido, and I have watched Andrea go from a woman with a BIG SHAMEFUL SECRET to someone who is not afraid to tell her own truth.
I know how hard it was for me to face my own truth; I wrote my memoir, “Living with Rage-A Quest for Solace,” four years ago, and it took all I had to tell the world that I was molested by my own uncle, nearly killed by a schizophrenic mother, and date raped. I hid this deep for years until my own social worker helped me to find my truth. It was within these findings that I founded my non-profit educational agency, the Excalibur Reading Program.
For Andrea, she found her truth, and is now letting the world know about it with her friend, Laura Keller, here on Binge On This. These two young women are taking the world by storm, and through their own bravado are sharing stories of other adults and young women who are not only binge eaters, but those who are anorexic and bulimic. Their message is clear: eating disorders can kill. They can cause massive health issues with the heart and stomach, and blood disorders that become so life threatening that if not caught on time will lead to death.
Andrea was a Psych-Bio major, and has a Bachelors of Science degree. She was going to save the whales, but instead, facing her own demons, she is now a student at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Service. She wants to help others who are just like her. I am very proud of her courage and the woman she is now.
I do admit that just like all of us, she does have her moments. There are times I see her struggling through days when she is anxious about her job, or friends, or issues at home. I begin to see the eating disorder efface itself again when snacks become to look more like meals, and she is eating in the middle of the night. Yes, a mother sees all, yet, she finds her way back through her therapy sessions, and through her nutritionist, who helps her with her food choices and menu plans.
As for me, I do fall off my own program once in a while, but what I have learned through my life is that everyone has their own issues with body image, self esteem, and confidence. It is how we look at ourselves and how we believe in ourselves that help us to find the courage to face our demons. We learn how to balance them and find a way to overcome them in the face of adversity, even when the world does not understand who we are. For Andrea, she made the world know who she is, and for that she is a Hero in my book, and is one for others, too.
About Angelica Harris
Angelica Harris is a successful author, entrepreneur, advocate, and speaker. She founded the Excalibur Reading Program in 2005, where she works with special needs children, educational enrichment for all grades, and socially challenged youths through the District Attorney’s office. She uses her story to build a community of conquerors that will fight domestic violence and help others—and one another—find healing. Angelica works tirelessly to globally eradicate domestic abuse and sexual assault.
Learn more about her books, programs, and initiatives at www.excaliburreadingprogram.org, or contact Angelica’s Executive Assistant, Ashley Franklin at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an interview or speaking engagement.