So I've been 'at this' for over ten years and that means I've seen countless families face eating disorders and then move on. I now hear from the parents and the children, now adults, of those families and I'm struck by the fact that these kids would still be ill or dead had their parents listened to the popular wisdom at the time. There is a new generation of recovered people and they are different than the recovered people of the past. The narrative of recovery is shifting from tales of victims to stories of family courage and professional skill.
As I get graduation pictures, wedding pictures, and baby pictures I also get Masters' theses and manuscripts: these young people are living rich real lives. I'm hearing insights and witnessing action by a cohort of people who in an earlier era would have been expected to languish in illness and misery. Why? A different professional stance toward family and the biological nature of mental illness.
More and more patients are like my daughter who is now an independent and healthy adult (and one of my closest friends) because of the work of eating disorder professionals who empowered her father and I instead of telling us to let her figure it out on her own. I'm seeing a cohort of young adults who are pursuing or enjoying careers that have nothing to do with eating disorders. I'm witnessing young parents who are lovingly connected with their own parents. There are siblings who have aunts and uncles who are fully engaged and grandparents not consumed with worry for their children's children.
Instead of counting the cum lauds, I hear from parents whose deepest pride is for loved ones who passed on the highest honors to take time for music, or travel, or fun. Moms and dads are telling me anecdotes about family trips and kindness to great-grandma and moving in to the house down the street. In other words, these families are enjoying the benefits of mental health.
People didn't believe in these unicorns 20 years ago -- an eating disorder diagnosis was a shameful mark and there was little hope of normal life. Some people still don't believe that early intervention and parent involvement matter -- they continue to believe an eating disorder is evidence of deep damage and lifelong struggle. Soon, these pessimists will be rare and mythical.