It’s the holiday season, a time when we are most likely preparing to give gifts to friends and family. The last thing on our minds as a parent caring for an anorexic teen is giving any kind of gift to ourselves. Today, I want to tell you about a gift that is worth giving yourself. I know how hard it is to take care of yourself while taking care of your teen, but I also know how much it matters.
I learned about an exercise during my training to become certified as a life coach that I didn’t necessarily see the value of at the time. I’ve come to really appreciate it as it applies to the circumstance of being the parent of an anorexic teen because it helped me step into the future at a time when I was so consumed by the present that I couldn’t see past my daughter’s anorexia. It allowed me to visualize what it would be like on the other side of anorexia. It gave me an opening to become the mom I wanted to be but that I didn’t think I could be when my teen’s anorexia was at its worst. I didn’t want to do this exercise when I most needed to do it. I didn’t think it could do anything for me. I was wrong.
I am sharing this exercise with you because it was something that I didn’t realize was powerful, but that led me to a place of confidence and belief that didn’t seem possible. I encourage you, wherever you are in your teen’s journey, to write a letter from your future self to the current you. What would your future self want you to know? What would your future self tell you about what you are going through now? How would your future self encourage you, support you, and guide you?
I realize that this might feel strange. It might sound like I’m asking you to believe in magic. It might sound like the most impractical thing to spend your time on under the circumstances. Stay with me. The less you think you can spare the time to consciously focus on yourself long enough to complete this exercise, the more it will benefit you. Imagining yourself in the future will help you see that the present is temporary. All of what you are struggling with today can and will change. Take yourself as far into the future as you’d like. You can write from a place that is 3 weeks from now, a year from now, 5 years from now.
Once you decide how far into the future you want to go, ask yourself some questions. How are you doing? How is your teen doing? What is different about you? How do you feel? What are you proud of? What are you grateful for? What have you learned?
There is a lot of talk about self-care and how important it is to prioritize yourself when you are caring for your anorexic teen. This exercise is the deepest form of caring for yourself. It isn’t indulgent. It is a productive way to nurture your relationship with you. Your relationship with yourself is important because your capacity to care for your anorexic teen is directly proportional to your capacity to care for yourself.
We may not think about it very often, especially when we are dealing with something as urgent as anorexia, but the choices we make today impact our future selves. In the future, what will you be glad that you did now? What can you do for your teen now that will serve her in the future?
Most of what will benefit us in the future will not be exciting and fun today. Getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, avoiding alcohol, managing negative feelings, keeping up with doctor’s appointments for yourself and your teen, continuing to feed her when she is resisting, being accountable with yourself, not giving up when things seem hopeless, etc., are challenging on a daily basis. But, meeting those challenges is an investment in your future, and in your teen’s future.
This is a simple exercise, but it isn’t easy. It is possible to think about who you want your future self to be and to start thinking and feeling the way your future self will someday be thinking and feeling now. In other words, you can start becoming who you want to be today. You can begin visualizing the results you will have in your future.
Below is the letter I wrote from my future self when my daughter was first diagnosed with anorexia and we were at the beginning of refeeding and weight restoration. I hope my sharing of this tool will inspire you to use it.
A Letter From My Future Self
I know that your daughter’s anorexia is the scariest thing you have ever experienced. I know that you wish you could rewind your life and go back to a time when anorexia hadn’t taken over her life and yours. So much has happened since then, and all of the hard work, trial and error, persistence, and belief in her recovery has paid off. As bad as things seem right now, I want you to know they are only temporary.
You believe that you and your daughter have what it takes to go through the storm individually and together and to come out on the other side as better versions of yourselves. That belief will serve you well. It will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done to walk beside your child’s pain and struggle and to remain the mom that she trusts can love her through the worst moments, but you will do it.
The seemingly endless days of preparing food that she refuses to eat will come to an end. She will cry less and smile more. Even though mealtime feels like a war zone right now, you will figure out how to create peace at the dinner table so that your family can enjoy meals together again. At times it won’t seem like she’ll ever be okay, but keep going. Now she says she is hungry. She enjoys eating, ask what’s for dinner, and she even says things sound good, smell good, and taste good. You have stopped walking on eggshells!
I really appreciate your willingness to do things that don’t come naturally to you as a mom, because you know that the only way she’ll get better is to require her to eat even though she’s terrified of every bite. Thank you for tolerating her fear and discomfort. I am amazed at how calm you have learned to be even when she is distressed. You will come to understand that her anorexia doesn’t define her; her bravery, tenacity and grit do. You will also realize that your child’s anorexia does not define you.
As overwhelmed as you feel today, you are learning so much about anorexia, treatment options, and recovery. You are a devoted mom who is not deterred by unexpected challenges. You are capable of being a warrior, a fierce one. You are learning to discern whether a treatment professional is helpful or not. Trusting your instincts will be very beneficial to your daughter.
You are growing into a mom that knows how to take charge with confidence in order to advocate for your child. You are confused at times, but you keep taking action anyway. You are willing to fail and not make it mean that you did anything wrong or that you can’t do anything right. I’m so glad you know that you did not cause her anorexia and that she did not choose it. Thank you for deciding to believe what you want to believe about anorexia recovery regardless of what anyone else believes. As a result, you won’t be offended when well-meaning people say all of the wrong things.
I am so proud of you and so proud of your daughter. You always knew she had a very bright future and that she would become an even more amazing young lady for having gone through this. I am so impressed that your commitment never wavered. I am grateful for your family and their ability to appreciate the abundance in your lives regardless of the circumstances.
It took determination to not let yourself feel like a victim. Thank you for unconditionally loving your daughter even on the worst days; that was the very most important thing all along.
You were right that you didn’t need all of the answers to have an amazing outcome. You were the very best person to help her, and you did not crumble. In fact, you became stronger. Best of all, now my relationship with my daughter is stronger than it was before her anorexia. Your belief in her, your belief in yourself, and your belief in recovery created the life that I have today.
Thank you for caring about me and for fighting for my daughter.
If you are wondering how you can make a difference in your teen’s recovery, the best place to start is a phone call. To schedule a time to talk to me, you can access my calendar under Free Consultation here on my website, or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, please consider giving yourself this gift worth giving: write a letter from your future self.