DEAR AMY: Due to a job layoff last year, our 32-year-old daughter has been living with my husband and me. She recently returned to work, but receives a low salary and no health insurance. She has a gluten intolerance, which requires meals without wheat and other additives. She refuses to eat the difficult to find and expensive gluten-free meals I purchase, accept any money or use the microwave. The food she purchases is scanty. She appears emaciated but is adamant — without benefit of medical advice — that her weight is normal. She even pointed out that a certain model was skinny, although the model appeared to be heavier than she is. She became irate when I questioned the comparison. My husband feels that as an adult she can make her own decisions. I believe that she is rebelling against her need to return home at her age. What can we do before she is hospitalized for anorexia?
DEAR WORRIED: Your husband may not understand that if your daughter has an eating disorder, the disease will be calling the shots. Disordered eating trumps mature adult behavior. Anorexia is a pernicious illness that intensifies with time; professional treatment and specialized therapy is important.
Your daughter’s eating issues may have been triggered by her health problems. Underlying depression brought on by her personal and professional challenges would be a factor, too. Anorexia is an expression of a person’s need to control a very basic aspect of her life when other things may seem out of control, but the lack of basic nutrition can make her ability to cope with other life challenges worse. Be honest, gentle and loving toward your daughter when discussing her eating issues. Don’t judge or shame her.
Please urge your daughter to see a doctor and a nutritionist, if possible. The National Eating Disorders Association offers helpful tools for loved ones — you can communicate with a counselor through the website or join their Parent, Family & Friends Network: Nationaleatingdisorders.org.
DEAR AMY: About a year ago, my younger brother (who is an alcoholic) called me to talk. We have rarely been in touch by phone or in person for nearly 35 years, due to me moving more than 2,000 miles away. During the course of our conversation, “Chuck” told me that he had been seeing a therapist. He said, “I’ve finally found out what my problem is.” I asked him what that is. He yelled into the phone, “My problem is YOU!” He continued to berate me until he slammed the phone down. I haven’t had any communication with him since. I have had therapy for my own problems with alcohol, and have learned that a true alcoholic (I consider myself one, but have been sober for three years) normally blames other people for their own problems. And it’s inconceivable that “I” am the root of my brother’s anger. According to my siblings, Chuck has alienated every friend and most family members with his behavior. This includes drinking and taking Valium. He has blocked all my emails, will not answer any phone calls and rejects any attempt I make to contact him. He is stubborn and obviously has this progressive disease, yet he will not seek treatment. His other belief is also classic for an alcoholic — he thinks he can control his drinking. I’m at a loss as to how to help him. His blaming me for his own serious problems keeps him from discussing anything with me. I don’t like his behavior, but I love him and don’t want him to die. Any ideas?
DEAR SHUT OUT: You have learned a lot about alcoholism through your own experience and research. And now you need to absorb the biggest challenge of a family member of an alcoholic: The serenity to accept your own powerlessness in getting him to change.
At this point, you need to manage your own feelings about this relationship and the episodes that led to the estrangement. In addition to maintaining your own sobriety, you should sit in the chairs with other adults who struggle with a loved one’s drinking, through attendance at an al-anon support group (al-anon.org).
DEAR AMY: Thank you for your ongoing support for literacy through your “Book on Every Bed” holiday campaign. This is the fifth year my husband and I have done this with our children, and starting Christmas morning with a wrapped book on their beds has become a treasured family tradition.
DEAR GRATEFUL: This makes me very happy. Thank you.