For this mother of a daughter with anorexia, hope has been elusive and almost taunting at times. Hope can be like a ghost, a flitting, fleeting image that leaves you wondering whether you really saw it or whether you imagined it.
But last week I saw what hope looks like. It was not a questionable sighting, this was the real deal. It was the most uplifting, inspiring, and life affirming thing that I have ever experienced.
Hope is achingly beautiful. It is awesomely powerful. And perhaps the most incredible quality of hope is that even if I can’t see it in front of me anymore, I know that it’s still there because I felt it. It’s indelibly etched upon my soul.
Before last week, I am not sure that I fully believed in the concept of recovery from eating disorders. I know that people talk about being recovered, but I am a cynical person by nature and a negative thinker in many respects, so I was pretty skeptical that anyone ever really recovered from enduring anorexia. While my heart dared to hope that my daughter would completely recover, my head wasn’t fully on board.
Almost seven years after it first reared its ugly head, my daughter’s anorexia is still here, though thankfully not in the same life threatening, life compromising way that it used to be. To her tremendous credit, my daughter has found a way to live with it, much like people live with diabetes. While I do hold onto the hope that she will someday make a full recovery, it always seemed like a pipe dream, a mother’s folly. That is, until last week, when I was sitting in a restaurant in Boston across from a woman who had suffered with anorexia for many years. We were taking a lunch break at the International Conference on Eating Disorders and a group of us attended a luncheon. Some members of our party were professionals, some were parents, and some were “survivors”. I knew the history of the woman across from me, and I watched with absolute awe as she made menu choices and ate a full three course meal in the company of others with incredible ease and comfort. It was like watching someone who had been afraid of heights climb Mount Everest without faltering once. I was seeing what recovery looks like up close and personal, with my own two eyes, and I have never seen anything more magnificent.
The next day, I was walking around the exhibition hall at the conference with a newfound friend who also had a serious history of anorexia. I confided to her that since I was from Israel, the booths featuring US treatment centers were not particularly relevant to me; however, many of the booths offered bowls of chocolate and that was really why I was making the rounds. She told me that she had promised her kids that she would bring home some chocolate and she then proceeded to grab a few miniature chocolates from a nearby bowl, stopping to unwrap one and pop it into her mouth. Her eyes sparkled and danced, and her great enthusiasm for life when she spoke about her daughters was almost contagious. For a moment, I imagined my own daughter at some point in the future casually popping chocolate into her mouth and talking about her small children with such great joy, I imagined the sparkle returning to her beautiful blue eyes; and in that precious moment, it didn’t seem so utterly inconceivable to think that my daughter’s anorexia would leave her someday so that she could reclaim her life. For a moment, hope was standing right before me, in all of its breathtakingly resplendent glory.
I met quite a few other anorexia survivors at the conference, one of whom had anorexia for upwards of forty years. She recovered against all odds. She is an anomaly, which just proves that you can never close the door on hope, because anomalies exist.
The downside to hope is that it can hurt in the face of reality. It is painful to dream of an anorexia-free future for my daughter while she is still ensnared in the sticky web of the illness after all of these years, and yet I find myself doing it anyway.
I learned a tremendous amount from the International Conference on Eating Disorders, some of which I will be applying to my advocacy efforts both in Israel and more globally, but the most significant part of the conference for me was spending three days in the company of living miracles.
Don’t worry, I am still the same cynical, skeptical person I was before. But when it comes to recovery from eating disorders, I do believe in fairies; because last week in Boston, I saw what hope looks like.