Last updated on October 6th, 2020
It’s time for goodbyes and I want to send you all my wishes. I so hope that you have found support in this book. For all the time I’ve been writing here, I have held you in my mind, as a dear friend.
I’d like to finish with joy.
Is it insensitive to talk of joy when eating disorders are turning so many lives inside out? Even in normal times, it’s not a popular concept. Some of us have been raised with an ethos of self-denial, where we deny ourselves not only material goods, but kindnesses and pleasures. We turn down the nourishment that make us flourish, that sustains our wellbeing and allows us to radiate light for the benefit of others. Self-denial may have started as a spiritual aim, a quest for virtue, but to me it’s like more of a wallow in the mud.
I’ve already mentioned how close to each other sorrow and joy are. An eating disorder throws us parents into greater sufferings than we’ve ever known. Sometimes it can seem like it will take years, and a string of miracles, for us to ever feel good again. Our children, presumably, share a similar despair. And yet I believe that joy is a life force which is bubbling up in us all the time. We can put a lid on it, or we can open up, enjoying and sharing its riches.
The invitation is to ‘stoke the fires of joy’.
I wonder if you’ve experienced something like this: you’re due to go out with some friends, but you nearly cancel because you’re exhausted and you’re crying all the time. But you go all the same, and maybe there’s good conversation, or good music, or good food and good cheer, and suddenly you notice how very relaxed and contented you’ve been feeling for the last hour.
Perhaps the switch in mood happens over small things. You notice the golden evening sun playing on the irises outside your window. Or you share your dog’s delight as he chases leaves on a windy autumn walk. You’re fully enjoying life, for this moment in time.
I’m proposing that you not only let yourself enjoy these opportunities, but actively seek them out, because they nourish your soul and put you in touch with joy. Resist labelling yourself as someone who’s sad, suffering, in distress. If you’ve learned anything about emotions in this journey, it’s that they come and go. What remains is your drive for life.
I wonder if a moral concern might hold you back. Just as bubbles of contentment, fun, or connection percolate through you, you think, ‘My kid is suffering. Right now, this very moment, she’s ill. What kind of a monster am I to be feeling so wonderful?’
Even without illness in the family, it can seem wrong to enjoy life: we’re reminded, every time we turn on the news, that there is so much pain in the world. We value life’s riches, and we long for them to be accessible to everyone at all times. We imagine that we should show solidarity with misery by being at least a little bit miserable.
Just recently I was walking my dog while feeling seriously down in the dumps. I passed a few people and kept my eyes lowered: engaging with anyone, even with a silent nod, seemed like too much hard work. And then one man strode by, relaxed, open, smiling: everything about this guy said, ‘Life!’ I was too knotted up to give him eye contact, but the light he shone nourished me for hours. I hope that the next time he feels low, he too encounters someone who’s in touch with joy.
Having had pain right inside my family has taught me the power to be gained from accepting what is, and being open to joy. I’ve now experienced how it’s in no way selfish: when you’re embracing life, others aren’t left behind, because they’re nourished by your vitality. Stoking the fires of joy doesn’t take away from anyone and it enriches life – mine, my family’s, and way beyond. My wish is for you to radiate the good things you value, because they will warm your child back to life.
I like the metaphor of the lighthouse in a beautiful piece entitled ‘Stoking the fires of joy’ by David Spangler[i]. Standing strong among fierce winds and lashing waves, the lighthouse penetrates the darkness and guides ships on their journey. What use is it to anyone if we become part of the storm, when we can be part of the lighthouse?
Let’s give the last joyful words to a young person on her way to recovery:
“I feel awake for the first time in so long… My heart is just overflowing with appreciation for life. I cry easily now – I never had that before. I cry out of joy, out of gratitude, out of appreciation. I feel strong and comfortable in myself. I feel like I’ve sunken into myself. I feel okay being me. I feel like I’m becoming the person I really am. I feel like I’m living authentically… I just feel so empowered. I feel like I can trust myself. I feel like my opinion matters. I feel like I have found my voice of self-protection, which had been missing for so long. I just feel really alive.[ii]”