reconciling the experience of holding hope and sadness as a caregiver

As a carer, I’m kind of impressed with myself right now (in my own humble opinion). I’ve been able to pick up on the therapeutic lingo in the eating disorder recovery world and have been trying to apply some of the coping strategies that OJ learns in treatment to my own life. I first heard of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) when OJ started treatment and I was introduced to this idea of holding on to two different emotions simultaneously. This is something that patients in eating disorder treatment centers get to practice often, but as a carer we just hear bits and pieces of what this model means from the outside. This idea of dialectics feels important to me right now as I am having a difficult time feeling both hopeful and sad.

i’m working on balancing opposing emotions

This week OJ and I met with her outpatient dietitian together as a way to ensure there is open communication about her meal plan, behaviors, and urges, along with how we could create the most supportive environment at home. We’re trying to eliminate loopholes for her eating disorder to find. I know that OJ was hesitant to have me join a session because she feels shame and guilt around asking for more help and support. I understand her desire to recover on her own as a badge of individual self-sufficiency, but her team and I have been trying to tell her that no one can recover from this illness on their own.

I know how important this conversation was and how crucial it was to be having it at this point in OJ’s recovery. I think there is a greater sense of hope amongst all of us and I want to hold onto that because that’s special. OJ is about 1 month out of an intensive outpatient program and last time we were at this stage, unfortunately, she was already pretty deep in a relapse. This time though we are doing things differently. We have a more tangible relapse prevention plan outlined with red flag behaviors.

With each post I write, I find the similarities in lessons learned between myself as the carer and OJ as the person in recovery uncanny. I feel hopeful that I can provide OJ with a little extra support in meal prep, in reducing measuring, and in enjoying and finding curiosity in “flex” foods that will continue to push her recovery forward. I’m also hopeful that with this added support, in turn, OJ will feel more comfortable asking me for support when she needs a bit of an extra safety net. As I’m trying to grasp onto and experience the well-deserved hope, I’m recognizing that I’m not fully present, but rather I’m consumed by the past, self-blame, and sadness.

I keep repeating to myself what we’ve been told hundreds of times (so much so that I sound like a broken record in my own head): recovery is not linear, and relapse doesn’t mean failure, etc. I’m scared to be in this precarious position and don’t want to be deceived by her eating disorder’s free spirit. I know that each potential (re)lapse along the way is an opportunity to learn, but I struggle with berating myself for not catching the signs early enough. It’s a vicious cycle of rumination.

Where art thou mindfulness?!

Also like OJ, learning how to ask for help is one of the more challenging necessary tasks I have been faced with. I can sympathize with OJ wanting to be able to be self-sufficient to avoid feelings of guilt, as I too feel bad asking for support from others when OJ is struggling and it is difficult for me to cope. So when we are both struggling to ask for support, we’re left in not the most authentic relationship that we both strive for. Relationships are supposed to be able to support each individual and allow space for each partner to receive external support.

Authenticity is one of the core values that I know both OJ and I independently value wholeheartedly. This is where the “sad” part of the dialectic comes in. Despite the hope I’m holding because things feel different right now, I’m sad because well, to be blunt, recovery seems just so fucking slow!

I know I need to chill, need to take a deep breath and find that mindfulness. I know it’s not possible for instantaneous relief (in fact, the need for that is kind of what got us in this situation in the first place!). It’s not the same as having instantaneous access to the interwebs literally everywhere, including on an airplane (cue Louis C.K. rant). I have the patience because I know this has to be done “right”, and “right” means in whatever way OJ’s recovery happens, but I have so much anticipation.

I’m sad because I feel like I have to catch myself when I get excited thinking about our future together. Currently, I’m working on getting used to having a new, steady job and maintaining a better work-life balance. I want to be realistic with where we’re at in recovery and I’m afraid of the future being taken away from us again. But with the often painfully slow pace of recovery, the ups and the downs, how far ahead can I look?

I want to go away for a week or two with OJ like we were supposed to last summer for our honeymoon, but I know that is still a ways away from being feasible, and that makes me feel utter sadness. I know the first step is to mentally prepare and plan to go away for a long weekend together even though this feels like the complete opposite of what she’s working on right now, which is to decrease rigidity. However, I do have to be compassionate in that, I find it difficult at times to remind myself that something I don’t have to think twice about will literally consume OJ with fear for at least a week before it happens. Not that this is news to us, but very little, if any, spontaneity exists and that is challenging for someone like me who likes to go with the flow and not plan for adventures.

Don’t get me wrong, the difference between last year and this year at this time is huge. In fact, we know that to be literally true, because today marks exactly 1 year since OJ was admitted to her second residential treatment center for an eating disorder, but the first one to change her life. While we’re not particularly big on celebrating the holidays, it will be nice this year to spend New Year’s together rather than alone in my hotel room after visiting OJ. I’m still feelin’ the sparkling apple cider though over champagne! This girl knows how to romanticize rehab!

in love and support,



reconciling the experience of holding hope and sadness as a caregiver
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