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Anorexics Battle with Self-Hate

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Parents, husbands, wives, partners, friends, physicians and medical personal caring for anorexics, you must oppose the voice of self-hate that the victims of anorexia are living with every minute of every day or the voice will take control.

It was the summer of 1991 when Meg started hearing the voice of self-hate. At the time, I wasn’t aware Meg was hearing another voice in her mind. But as I look back, the summer after her first year of college her behavior changed. That summer was more like a three month war, and our battlefield was the kitchen table. Joe and I were on one side of the table, and now I realize that it was Meg and the voice on the other side. Our battlefield, the kitchen table, was purchased when Meg was only two. It was a parson’s table with benches that Joe lovingly finished. But that summer every time we sat down to eat our evening meal at this table where our family had shared so many happy times, I could see that Meg was struggling and unhappy. It was worse when she first came home from college. At college, she could have avoided eating at all—and probably did. So now having to sit down to a family meal was very difficult for her.

Yet I’ve always loved cooking so, for most people, eating at our home would have been a joy. But not for Meg. Of course I cooked all of her favorite foods trying to entice her with the aromas of fried chicken, lasagna, beef bourguignon and even her very favorite, brownies sans walnuts, but they all went unappreciated. She had so many excuses for not eating: Oh, Mom I had a late lunch…I’m not feeling well…I’m really not crazy about meat anymore…I have to go out to meet friends. Take your pick.

It was a tradition in our family to watch the national evening news before dinner. My daughters called me a news junkie, but I only admit to being a political-news junkie. So most nights our meal began with tease Mom, the bleeding heart liberal, with Joe and Meg acting as devils’ advocates. Back then Meg had no idea that she’d find herself working for three high-powered Democratic senators after college. But I didn’t mind the teasing because it got Meg’s mind off the job at hand: eating.

While we were joking around, Meg would relax and take a few bites of food. Yet this light mood didn’t last long because as the meal progressed something would come over Meg. She would disappear, not physically but mentally.

While we watched her disappear, I always felt she was battling with herself to do the right thing, as we all do, battling with what I thought was her conscience. I knew she felt terrible about causing us so much grief especially since I was still dealing with unrelenting back pain. But I had no idea that Meg was hearing another distinct voice in her mind. We learned years later that anorexics have an internal battle with their own self-hate: the voice. I wish we had known earlier.

Licensed psychotherapist and parent coach with 25 years experience, Lynn Moore, explains the voice. She states that “As she [the anorexic] progresses in the illness, all other voices are blocked out and the eating disorder is the only one she will listen to. It makes the rules and defines what she eats, when she eats it, with whom she eats, how many calories she will consume….” This hateful voice tells the anorexic that they don’t deserve to eat because they are too fat, ugly, bad etcetera.

Certainly, the voice was never more apparent than during the surprise visit we paid Meg in November, 2006, never realizing that it would be the last time we would ever see Meg alive. At that time, she was living in Annapolis, Maryland where she moved after she married. Meg had been making excuses for two years whenever we asked to visit her or asked her to come home or to meet us for an Orioles baseball game in Baltimore or to visit a museum and have dinner in D. C. There was always some reason why she couldn’t see us. She left us no choice: we had to sneak up on her.

The day of our surprise visit was the day after Thanksgiving. Meg said she was going to her in-laws for the holiday, but I felt she was lying. When Meg drove up to her apartment that day and saw her father standing outside her door, she immediately sped away. Joe came back to the car looking ashen, he said, “She’s not going to make it.” In the seventeen years of Meg’s anorexia, I never heard Joe say anything so negative. Now I was terrified. Joe told me to stay in the car. He felt I would scare her away since Meg knew I wanted her to go into the hospital. Joe walked back to wait at her door again hoping she would return.

At last Meg did return but ran into her apartment building through another entrance and slammed the self-locking door before Joe could stop her. He rang her buzzer repeatedly, but she wouldn’t answer. So we went down to the town square since we were parked illegally. Sitting at a deserted outdoor café, we called her and left message after message. She answered once and screamed, “What are you stalking me!”, and hung up. As sick as she was, she hadn’t lost her flair for the dramatic. After that I phoned family and friends asking for prayers not on Sunday, but right this minute. Soon after my request, Meg called and said we could come to her apartment but just to talk and just for an hour.

Meg opened the door, and what I saw will be with me forever. My once beautiful daughter looked like a frightening old woman: the least amount of flesh imaginable stretched across her facial bones. Her beautiful thick, dark-brown wavy hair looked dry, thin, more like straw than hair; her waves were gone. She wore a thick terry bathrobe trying to hide what we knew was underneath. We tried to keep our composure or we knew we wouldn’t get in. Never having seen her apartment before, Meg wanted to show us around, trying to act light. She was very proud of her home and her new modern-Ethan Allen furniture. The apartment was in a lovely location right on the water. Then we finally sat in the living room to talk.

After a short time speaking to her, it was evident that she was being held captive by the self-loathing voice in her mind. I’d never seen the voice so strong before. We tried to convince her that she deserved to go into the John Hopkins’s program for anorexia. Those words had almost worked once before when I wrote them in a letter to her right after she was married. We repeated that she deserved to get well so she could have a wonderful life with her husband and family. She listened, but did not respond for what seemed like ages as if she were thinking. But actually, it looked more like she was listening intently to what someone else was saying, her eyes rapidly scanning back and forth. Then her head and neck would recede into her shoulders like a turtle retracting its head into its shell, her body tensed as if preparing to take a blow.

Actually, Meg’s physical reactions to our conversation reminded me of Dr. Moore’s explanation of how powerful and violent the voice can be, she said, “It is like she [the anorexic] is in an abusive relationship (which she is) but is too afraid or dependent to get out. It doesn't matter how many people tell her she is in danger, she cannot leave or kick out the abuser….The voice inside compels her further and further down the path toward destruction….She desperately wants help but cannot ask for it because she is not allowed to….As she progresses in the illness, all other voices are blocked out and the eating disorder is the only one she will listen to.” And since Meg quit her job as a legislative analyst before her husband left for Kosovo, she had been living with this unopposed voice for too long. Meg didn’t have a chance.

Finally I convinced her to sit on the sofa with us, and I put my arm around her and held her. Joe sat on her other side and held her hand. We talked for a long time about the ordinary things of life: her favorite dog, Duke; her sister; her nieces; our friend Cindy and our neighborhood in Hampton. She told us about the people in her neighborhood who were kind to her. Then gently Joe said, “Meg, you’re going to die.” She quietly denied it. I told her that I Goggled the directions to John Hopkins Hospital from her address, and that we wanted to take her there. She acted as if we were out of our minds. She yelled, “I can’t just leave. I have a life. I have this apartment and a husband. I have bills to pay.” And I knew from talking to the intake nurse for the anorexia program that they would only accept her if she entered voluntarily so taking her against her will would be futile. Next, Joe asked her to come home with us: same reaction.

Of course Joe argued that we’d have her mail sent to our house and that her husband, Steve, wasn’t here and wouldn’t be for six months, so how much did she really have to do? Following each logical argument we made, she would be silent as if she was considering it, but she actually looked as if she was being brow beaten by the voice, frightened and miserable. Yet while I had my arm around her and Joe was holding her hand, I made one last request. I asked, “Will you please at least agree to call John Hopkins and make an appointment for an evaluation.” She picked up the phoned and made the call. Joe and I opposed the voice and won a small victory.

For years Meg would never allow her father and I come up to see her together. Now it appears that it was the voice of self-hate that prevented these visits. Meg knew and therefore the voice knew that together Joe and I were a powerful force, and if given the opportunity, we could overcome this self-hate. “Where two or more are gathered together in my name there am I.” Adult anorexics must not be allowed to isolate themselves if at all possible.

Although keeping an adult anorexic close after they turn eighteen is a challenge. Realizing that I’ve written before about Meg becoming anorexic after she was eighteen, I feel it is important enough to repeat. Since Meg was of legal age she was the person legally responsible for making the final decisions about her own life or death health issues. There is something wrong with this system. How do we as a society allow people who can not make the basic decision to nourish their bodies so they do not starve to death make the momentous decision of whether to enter a hospital so they can save their own lives? I believe Meg would be alive today if we could have put her into a good in-hospital program for anorexia. When people have been starving themselves and living with this self-loathing voice permanently in their minds, they are unable to make such vital decisions on their own behalf—“voluntarily.”

My experience trying to work with Meg’s doctors consisted of repeatedly calling and asking to speak to her long-time doctor as well as her long-time psychologist. And in both cases, receptionists would tell me that Meg did not give the doctor permission to talk to me. I even showed up on their doorsteps when Meg lived in D.C. with the same results. It is a stressful six-hour round trip of driving. So I started writing letters begging them to help me get her into a program. I even put in large bold letters at the top of the first page that Meg had mentioned suicide after coming out of the gym to find a note on her car that said, “You are too ugly to use the fitness center. Don’t come back.” I thought suicide was a reason to cooperate with parents desperate to help their grown children. But the doctors hid behind The HIPAA Laws (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). When I called Meg’s doctor after she died, he said, “I wanted to talk to you, but…the HIPAA Laws.” The HIPAA Laws. What about the Hippocratic Oath?

Now I’ll end where I began when Meg’s self-hating voice first started back in 1991, the summer after her first year in college. During that summer, Meg had so many voices opposing the voice of self-hate that she made great progress. She followed her young-female nutritionist’s instructions, meticulously measuring all her food to ensure that she ate enough of the right types. She faithfully went to her appointments with her psychologist. Meg’s parents, Cindy and her fellow employees were all speaking in unison, “You are beautiful, wonderful person, Meg, not because you’re thin, but just because you are you. It took a lot of work on Meg’s part but she now weighed one-hundred and eighteen pounds.

Surely at this time, Meg was cooperating with life, and life, in turn, seemed to be cooperating with Meg. Her psychologist highly recommended a colleague in Boston near Meg’s college who specialized in anorexia nervosa and made arrangements for her to continue treatment as soon as she got back to school. Her sister, Kae, had an intern who went to Meg’s college and lived in an apartment that had room for one more. Kae thought highly of this intern. She said, “Mom she’s an intellectual. She’ll be a good influence on Meg.” So Meg had no more worries about the dreaded dorm although I was a little worried about the intellectual.

My Pollyanna tentatively reemerged. Meg’s psychologist believed she was ready to go back to college and although Meg was a little apprehensive about the peer pressure to be thin, she really wanted to get on with her life. So we gave our permission. After all, Meg did the work, gained weight and learned about having self-esteem in areas of her life other than just her body image. She seemed strong enough to go back to college and succeed. So she went.

Lynn A. Moore-EzineArticles.com Expert Author

Add a Comment4 Comments

Mary, I too have followed your pieces about Meg since you started writing them. You write so evocatively that I can see the room as you all sit around the table, I can feel the tension as you huddle in her apartment, I can almost hear the whisper in Meg's ear from her darker voice. This is just so very sad.

She was loved so much, and yet she couldn't trust that love. It shows how hauntingly strong an eating disorder can be.

I am stunned at reading your thoughts about how the privacy laws prevented Meg's doctors from helping her further. I understand it, from a legal point of view, but I'm with you -- it seems like the "First, do no harm" part of the Hippocratic Oath would have inspired someone to find a way.

Thank you for revisiting your family's pain and loss so that you can share it with us readers. I know that from reading this, a parent of an anorexic girl will feel supported and understood and, maybe, like they have been handed some new tools. I surely hope so.

The best to you, Mary.

November 5, 2009 - 9:13am
EmpowHER Guest

Mary S., thank you so much for sharing your personal tragedy with us. It took a tremendous amount of courage for you to open up and talk about the realities you and your family faced with your daughter's illness. I hope in doing so, this has helped you to gain strength and courage to face each new day with the goal of continuing to share your experiences with the rest of us. I have daughters too...I am truly greatful that you have opened your heart with your story, personally helping me prepare for their future as well. Bless you, Joe and your family.

November 3, 2009 - 7:54pm
EmpowHER Guest

Mary, I have been following your posts detailing your daughter's story for a while now and I find then highly informative and also deeply sad. I am very sorry for your loss. You demonstrate great insight, bravery and compassion in your telling of your daughter's and your story and I hope you continue submitting pieces to Empowher as I feel that I, and many others, derive strength and insight from your story. Thank you. From Adrienne.

October 25, 2009 - 7:53am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Thank you Adrienne,
I am deeply gratified and humbled by your comment.
Mary S.

October 29, 2009 - 5:51pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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