A mother with a broken heart, smiling
A mother with a broken heart, smiling
Becky Henry is a mother on a mission. I have had the pleasure of meeting her several times – at NEDA and F.E.A.S.T. events – Becky stood out from the crowd – her spark and brilliant smile caught my eye. I mean, she was always smiling, and her eyes were twinkling. She definitely looked like ‘Fun’. We got to talking as we walked back to the conference venue after dinner one evening and I learnt that behind Becky’s bright exterior is a mother suffering enormous pain. We hugged, and cried. You see, an eating disorder has come between Becky and her daughter, just as it came between me and my mother. We each have experienced losses. The alienation that eating disorders can cause is painful for parents, and painful for children. We all suffer. We can all only do our best. It’s how we go about this that can make all the difference. Today, Becky fills a little gap in my life, that yearned for a mother’s understanding, and I hope I fill a little gap in her life, that yearns for a daughter’s understanding. You see, Becky shines. As a parent who has lived with the impact of eating disorders for more than 12 years, Becky has gone out of her comfort zone and established Hope Network, LLC to empower other parents and carers and reduce their sense of isolation during a loved one’s eating disorder.
Interviewing dozens of families, Becky has filled her book, Just Tell Her to Stop: Family Stories of Eating Disorders with personal accounts
from more than 40 families. Through her book, speaking, coaching, tele-classes and other events, Becky also educates both families and health care providers about eating disorders to help more people get the treatment they need to recover. Becky’s philosophy is that joy and hope are both possible and necessary for families facing these devastating illnesses. She is on Facebook daily, encouraging families throughout the world to find joy, hope and resources. Here, she shares her story:
What I get out of working in the eating disorder field
Helping families of those with eating disorders feel inspired and motivated to make the choice to have joy, peace and hope again lights me up. Watching these parents/families reclaim their power and joy from the eating disorder feels like together we are beating ED. And beating ED is soothing balm for the broken heart that somehow still beats in my chest.
I do believe that the essence of being fearless or brave, as I like to call it, is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. I get much joy from helping families who are feeling fear to bravely experience joy in the midst of the life threatening situation they are experiencing with their loved one. It doesn’t make the crisis go away, but I teach them how to choose how they react to it, and once they get that, they have access to experiencing joy.
On a deeply personal note, this work allows me to take against eating disorders in general while all I can do for my own daughter is send her love long distance.
How I became an advocate
My daughter became ill as I was finishing my training to become a life coach. While beginning to learn how to be a parent of someone with an eating disorder, a pastor gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten. She said I needed to not only practice “extreme self-care” but also needed to make a TOP 10 List of things that fill me up and do at least one every day. This seemed so greedy and selfish to me at that point, (and feels greedy and selfish to most parents in this boat) but I get it now and share this learning with others. It’s that old oxygen mask theory, if you don’t have yours on, you can’t care for another.
After I finished my coaching training and had spent all my free time studying eating disorders and learning how to get my oxygen mask on, I realized that I wanted to coach in this specialized niche.
Why I do this
I found out the hard way (when it took two years to get my daughter diagnosed) that health professionals often aren’t taught that people with eating disorders come in all shapes, sizes, colors, genders, nationalities, socioeconomic backgrounds and AGES. We also experienced the antiquated “parentectomy” model of treatment, which is NOT helpful and IS harmful and still happens to this day. As families of those with eating disorders we need to speak up and stop letting these illnesses gain power in the dark corners. We need to actively educate our health care system to use proven methods to help our children get well.
The families who have a loved one with breast cancer and autism have shown us what a difference it makes when we are vocal and take action. It’s time to make some noise, stop the stigma and fight for evidence-based treatments.
Maintaining my passion
It is heartbreaking to hear daily the stories of pain, hopelessness, and helplessness from parents. Eating Disorders are treatable illnesses, yet there are many barriers to effective treatments that allow this unnecessary suffering to continue. It is wrong and I can’t bear the injustice of it. It keeps me going when I hear from families that together we were able to reduce their pain and suffering, increase their joy and help them to support their loved one in recovery.
It also helps when I hear feedback like this about my book: “You are such an amazing and inspiring person and parent. Your advocacy work is changing the lives of so many families!” “Your book helped me feel less alone, and helped me understand my child’s illness better.” “Thank you Becky for doing this important work, you give our family hope.”
How helping others has changed my life
Kathleen MacDonald of the Eating Disorders Coalition appreciates that I not only understand the vast complexities of eating disorders in families but also am authentically walking the talk on claiming joy.
You see, while I am coaching other families to reclaim their joy from these destructive and challenging illnesses I am reminding myself daily to do so too. Our story is not tied up with a pretty ribbon with a happy ending, or any ending…. My family lives in limbo as the eating disorder has taken our daughter out of our lives; we have no idea if this is permanent or temporary. Daily I resist the sadness that threatens to consume me. Helping other parents provides a clear purpose to my life, a welcome distraction and beautiful relationships with amazing people who are making a huge difference in the world.
It was so refreshing to hear Kathleen say that she loves that about me – that I am one of the walking wounded leading other injured soldiers to fill their cups up, put their oxygen masks on and PARTY! Yes, party. My mantra is joy in all circumstances, and though I don’t do it perfectly … what is that anyhow? I strive for doing it with my best effort and model this. We do not help anyone else by being miserable and sad. No one. Not even ourselves. I believe in smiling, how about that? A mom who has a broken heart, smiling. How could I? I say, “How could I not?”