I remember the first meal I ate at Rock Recovery with my daughter. It had been some time since I learned she had an eating disorder, and by now the illness was not as completely baffling to me as it had been at first. I had started off as the Classic Clueless Dad, wondering what the problem could be, probably hurting more than helping with awkward comments and reactions. At one level, I knew that eating disorders could be serious, even fatal: Before any of our kids were born, my wife and I had known a woman who literally starved herself to death (massive kidney failure was the proximate cause) through anorexia. But that couldn’t possibly have anything to do with my daughter.
For one thing, life couldn’t be that unfair. It had hit her with leukemia when she was only four years old. It had made her endure childhood trauma that we didn’t find out about for years afterward. In her freshman year of college, fibromyalgia literally left her walking with a cane.
So when the reality was undeniable, I was angry, I was resentful, and I was probably very little help.
The meal was not, to be honest, the most comfortable experience I had ever had. I was conscious that everyone was conscious of how everyone else was eating. I was not sure how to proceed. I slowed down, made vacuous comments about how good the food was, felt my face flush.
It was a little awkward. And yet I was participating in a healing, through food.
Food fills life’s meaningful moments. The wedding cake, the Thanksgiving spread, the covered dishes after the funeral. We eat together when it matters most.
The world’s great faith traditions see food as a point of contact with the infinite. Whether Seder, Eucharist or breaking the Ramadan fast, food has always informed faith.
Food even helps guide life decisions. I can honestly say that one of the things that convinced me I was meant to marry my wife of (now) 33 years, and not the woman I had been dating seriously before I met her, was that the woman I would marry loved and enjoyed food, and my other girlfriend didn’t.
So although my primary worry about my daughter’s eating disorder was its effect on her physical and mental health and her relationships, there was always another source of pain and anxiety, just beneath the surface: How sad that she can’t enjoy one of life’s greatest graces!
Rock Recovery brought her that grace, and more.
It was not her first treatment for eating disorder. She had sought help once she recognized she had a problem, and I think she benefited from therapy and the friends she made there. But I noticed a difference once she got involved with Rock Recovery – maybe a renewed sense of purpose, maybe a stronger determination to finish the work, maybe a lot of things. But whatever it was, it took her to a good place.
I always had the feeling that the faith dimension of Rock Recovery was the most important part. Not that the group insisted on a particular religious approach or orientation; as far as I could tell, they didn’t. I never had the impression they were preaching or proselytizing. They just seemed to be putting into practice what they believed, without pretense or self-righteousness. (The scripturally-inclined may consult James 2:14-18 as a good description of how I perceived Rock Recovery’s approach.)
My daughter is now married, working in health care policy and the caregiver of a good-sized dog. She loves food and cooking for others and herself. One of this summer’s rituals is having her younger siblings, home from college, over for dinner. Her husband has supported her through everything. The change in her is amazing and wonderful, and life-affirming. The fearful young woman who stirred her food around the plate but didn’t eat it now loves eating good food. (I might add that the suffering young woman who walked with a cane now runs marathons, literally.)
Now back to that first Rock Recovery meal. Eventually, some time before dessert, I realized: It’s stupid for me to feel self-conscious about how I’m eating. Get a grip: For everyone else at this table, this is not just eating. It is work. It is hard and necessary work. It is important.
And so it remains.