RICHARD, ANN & DAVID EPSTON
David: What I suspect would be of interest to other parents and families are your reflections on becoming “anti-anorexic parents”?
Ann: At the hospital, we had no understanding of what Diana was up against. There was something amiss there. I felt a lack of sensitivity, heart, spirit or respect for the individual.
David: What happened in terms of this ‘anti-anorexic practice’ that allowed you to stand firm in your own knowledges, wisdoms, as I not only suspect you did but in fact I was a witness to that?
Ann: The first thing that struck me was that you spoke to me as a person who could be trusted and respected and that my opinion was worth something. That had never happened before. It was just the very way you spoke, especially about anti-anorexia. In terms of anti-anorexia, anorexia was now something against which we could fight. Instead of Diana being a problem she had this problem. Anorexia almost had its own persona. So we could now say – ‘Anorexia has intercepted and overtaken Diana. This is NOT Diana. She is separate from it’.
David: Do you think that was important?
Ann: Very important! Very important!
Richard: Until then Diana had been A PROBLEM and somehow or other, we were engaged in fighting Diana. Certainly Diana was engaged in fighting us. But when I understood that anorexia could make her fight us, that started to transform my approach to her. I must say when you first started talking about ‘anti-anorexia’ – it’s language and its practices, etc., it really got up my nose. Through my love for Diana and my wish to help her, I started to discover what anti-anorexia was all about. Any offence I had felt was replaced by understanding. Anti-anorexia stood for ‘unity’; anorexia is ‘disunity, division, discord, hatred and violence’. Anti-anorexia provided me with the tools and language to bring about ‘unity’ in our family. It was a complete change around. In it we were given dignity and respect and we were able to start respecting ourselves again. We were grilled by professionals elsewhere.
Ann: It still seems really important for us to have understood something about the enemy. Diana did not believe there was an enemy AT ALL. She thought everything was fine! There were flaming rows between us before we learned what we had to learn about anorexia.
David: What effect did your anti-anorexic practices have on your couple relationship?
Ann: It is full of love now.
Richard: Our maturity and the enjoyment of each other has risen a thousand fold.
David: Ann, you were saying that your heart was breaking seeing what anorexia was doing to your daughter. And you thought that you had to be stoical and brave….like a good soldier?
Ann: I think I would have seemed withdrawn, standoffish, keeping my distance. I may have seemed a bit cold trying to be brave but not letting myself feel it. But we talked to you and almost practised being there with her. Hearing other stories from the League of people who actually joined with their daughters and their rage against anorexia, especially Kim (16) and how her family screamed with her. Some of those stories made me realize that part of Diana’s anguish was against Anorexia. And at times my heart could really feel this. Then all the anger and frustration I felt – I would be crying and crying, so upset – and then I became angry that anorexia was doing this to her. LOOK WHAT IT’S DOING TO YOU…IT WON’T LET YOU EAT OR FEED YOURSELF…IT MAKES YOU LIE ON THE BED CURLED UP…IT FORBIDS YOU FROM TALKING TO ANYBODY…IT MAKES YOU LASH OUT AT EVERYONE. I allowed myself to feel what anorexia was doing to her. I still haven’t been able to explain to my mother, whose house we were living in at the time, why she has so few plates. I had never done anything like that before. Diana was shocked and really came to. Here is my mother so angry that she is breaking plates. BUT I WASN’T ANGRY AT DIANA….I WAS JUST REALLY ANGRY AT ANOREXIA. And that was so different because I couldn’t have been angry at Diana.
David: Richard, you were tested in ways Ann wasn’t. You were subjected to violence and that is not an easy thing to accept from a loved child. How did you contend with that in this new way of thinking and being we are calling ‘anti-anorexic parenting’?
Richard: First, I thought that Diana and anorexia were separate things. Anorexia was responsible, not Diana. And now I could let go of the rage that was rising within me. The first time, it was like I was leaving all my life behind me. As it I was losing everything that was very dear to me because of the strength of the anger. After four or five times, it became easier to surrender the anger.
David: How would you translate this anger into words? How would you give expression to it?
Richard: I almost consciously practised addressing anorexia, sometimes out loud.
Ann: It was pretty hard because Diana didn’t want to hear it. She didn’t want to hear the word ‘anorexia’. She sure didn’t want us separating her from it. She sure didn’t want to know about that. And she certainly wasn’t saying – ‘Oh yes!’ Absolutely not. It was like taking away her dearest friend.
Richard: Can I give you an example. You’d suggest it was dinner time now. Diana would get angry and storm off to her room. And I’d go and say to her “I’m really sorry anorexia is preventing you from having your dinner”. It sounded false the first few times. We hadn’t had a great deal of practice then. Anti-anorexia is work you know. You would be talking to your daughter and addressing anorexia at the same time.
Ann: She’d say – “Shut up!”
Richard: “Piss Off”
Ann: “Get out of here!”
Richard: I’d just go away if that was what she wanted.
Ann: I think our experience was different in that anorexia did not want to speak to Richard. I wouldn’t like to count the hours I sat with Diana and talked or just sat. She was crying or lying on her bed and all I could do was hold her hand while she cried. I wouldn’t even say anything. And sometimes wh\e would start to talk.
David: I recall you starting to have what I would call very rich anti-anorexic conversations as she started joining in? But you had paved the way when she started walking along it with you?
Richard: I would agree with that.
David: How many weeks or months did you persist with your anti-anorexic conversations – ones in which your conversant DIDN’T APPEAR to join you in it – until Diana was a part to such anti-anorexic conversations?
Richard: Several months I would say. I remember a conversation in the hospital just before she started to turn against Anorexia. She was being forced to think and do things, abstain from things because of anorexia. And I was saying – ‘What you want is perfectly valid. It is respectable but what is it you want?’ That seemed to go to the heart of it. There was nothing false, nothing being practised. I was deep into anti-anorexia. It was just honest love of Diana and antipathy and complete opposition to Anorexia. And then discriminating between what she said and what anorexia said. To be able to see quite clearly the difference. And always remaining true to Diana – speaking to HER, never losing faith in HER and never getting angry with HER.
David: There was a point I think when you both had some idea when you were speaking to Diana and when you were speaking to Diana being spoken through by anorexia. Can you talk about how you figure such discrimination came about? Why I ask is that when she did turn, it was extremely dramatic. One night, I recall, she phoned you from the hospital and told you she wanted to do something anti-anorexic. She wondered if you had any ideas. You suggested and she took I upon herself to eat some crumbs of a banana cake. That was soon followed by HER DECISION that she didn’t want this anorexia life any longer. She wanted a normal life.
Ann: That’s right. That was a very quick thing but to be honest, I think Diana had made that decision even before she went into hospital. She was till in two minds – ‘Why am I here even though she was on death’s door’ but also she went because she wanted to fight. And she kept saying – ‘Why aren’t they helping me?’ It was as if her mind really wanted help but she was at such a low ebb that it was hard for her to know what really would help.
Richard: You were talking about anti-anorexic discrimination – exactly what was Diana and what was anorexia. That was the key. Ann and I had many conversations about it and as it were fostered in each other a love of Diana – the real Diana that we had known before and knew was still there. And of whom we could still have glimpses. It was very important for me to have overcome all those awful negative feelings. (In fact before anti-anorexia, anorexia had got me to hate the very daughter I loved). Looking back now, that discrimination was vital. You make the slightest mistake and anorexia is in and Diana feels betrayed. It’s awful. But if you can clearly identify anorexia Diana clams down…you can clearly identify anorexia. Diana calms down…you understand her…she’s being understood and heard….AND ANOREXIA has much less power. You don’t have to do anything about the Anorexia. That’s what I found. In fact, I’ve got the feeling after all that I hand;t done anything. But then I think, of course I’ve done something. Although in discriminating between anorexia and Diana, there appears to be nothing happening. It is entirely mental, tiny, unremarkable about the difference between Diana and anorexia is clear, obvious and distinct.
David: What you tell anyone reading this how they might go about your practice of discrimination?
Richard: The firs thing is determination. We determined to do whatever it took. That’s what underpinned our practice. It was founded in love and a knowledge we would never divorce. There were many moments – sometimes many in one day – when either of us might have said – ‘Goodbye FOREVER!’ That took real effort to overcome that.
David: Was that close?
Richard: Yes it was. They were really dark days.
Ann: They were ghastly.
Richard: We would be watching if we were having an anti-anorexic effect. And say to each other – ‘Let’s go over the conversation beforehand’.
David: You teamed up?
Ann: We tried to. It was quite hard. If you want to say something you normally don’t go to someone else to check it out.
David: Did it make you self-conscious about what you were saying and doing?
Ann: VERY! It still does. I don’t think we will ever stop now. I don’t think we will ever stop.
Richard: We have really deepened our understanding of each other.
David: Would you say you have become more reflective?
Richard: I have found I have lost all my former knowledge – all my firm foundations, my frameworks. How I slotted people into categories, made decisions about them and decided that’s the way they will always be.
Ann: I think our daughters now feel listened to. Before I think they felt – ‘You don’t know what you’re saying because you are 17 and we have all these years of experience and we know better’. We didn’t do it to be mean. We were just caught up in that way of thinking.
Richard: It’s revolutionary stuff for a man that an 18 year old, a 12 year old and a three year have their own opinions. Well, maybe that says more about me than other men but I have met this in men before.
Ann: One of the things we have e found lately is that the kids say Richard and I argue more. That’s the way they put it. It is true but now we disagree whereas previously we would have argued.
Richard: We have to educate the kids about that.
Ann: It is okay for us to disagree. and both of our opinions can be right.
David: If I put it this way would it make any sense – that you are coming to respect each other’s differences rather than trying to press the other into your ways…to turn the other into your clone?
Richard: And being terribly offended when that doesn’t happen. To go back, the tool against anorexia is the heart. In my investigations I learned that I could trust my feelings, say what they are and not be ashamed of them. This was a revolution for me because when you speak to anorexia, YOU HAVE TO TELL THE TRUTH. That means saying what is in your heart. For example, if someone full of anorexia turns to you and says ‘How are you?’ and if I reply with ‘Fine!’, if that is not in my heart, that gives Anorexia a chink. If you say – ‘I’m feeling shitty’ and you’ve never ever sworn like that in your own house to your own child, I was very, very surprised at the results of that. It seemed to deflate anorexia. I discovered that I could also reveal the contents of my heart. When I would overhear a conversation between Diana and Ann which was full of anorexia, I would say to them – ‘Listen to each other with your heart!’ It just transformed matters. And it is not would I usually would have said.
David: Would anorexia require you, if you were feeling miserable to say ‘Oh, I’m feeling fine?”
Ann: OH YES!
David: You would have to be good or better than good?
Richard: Can I amplify that? I feel that we all have misunderstanding of anorexia. To some extent, we all have it. So I can refer to the person with anorexia just as having more of it that the rest of us.
David: Yes, I accept that entirely. We’re all in it.
Richard: With that understanding, if the person with the most anorexia says – ‘How are you?’ and you say ‘Fine!’ and that’s not true, that’s because a bit of anorexia that’s in you is wanting you to be perfect and smooth the waters. And present a good picture. But she can know what the ‘truth’ is and you have to look past your own anorexia to see your ‘truth’. And the ‘truth’ might be that ‘I’m pissed off’, ‘I’m, feeling joyful’. And cry….
Ann: Oh yes.
Richard: There was one day I remember things going particularly badly and I suffered physical beating and I just broke down. It’s hard to remember. I wept for ages, hours and Emma, our 8 year old, came over and she stroked my head and cuddled me. That also was a transformation – to be able to do that without leaving the room or getting angry. That was a real relief and release.
David: I remember you telling me you found ways to be mad at anorexia because at times your circumstances were almost unendurable. Can you talk about the ways you found to be mad at anorexia by which Diana did not feel blamed or driven into the arms of anorexia?
Ann: When I got really upset and angry, I was able to direct my anger at anorexia. Diana still gets angry at me so you can say anorexia still has a bit of a hold. It says sometimes – ‘Hey, you’ve put on weight!’ But today, she said to me – ‘You can tell me if I’m eating too much, mum!’ That’s our agreement…that’s what she wanted to do. I say – ‘Yah, okay!’ A little later, she went out to the kitchen to get something to eat. I said to her – ‘Diana, why are you doing that for?’ She said – ‘I don’t know…I just thought of it’. “Okay, do you want me to say – Diana, don’t eat that or do you think you really need it?” She said, “Oh yeah, I do”. I said – “Ah well, I guess you know yourself!” Sometime later at lunch time, she got a lot of salad things out and all of a sudden said, “I can’t stand this. I’m so disgusting”, and sat down on the couch and started to cry. I went up to her and said, “Where did that come from? What happened?” She said, “I can’t stand it. I am so fat!” I said, “What happened because I don’t understanding it. You got out all the food and put it on the bench and something hit you? Can you tell me about it?” She said, “I don’t really know! I don’t know!” She couldn’t explain it. So we talked about – “When don’t you feel like this? When do you feel confident?” She replied – “Well, at work I feel really good. Being around people.” I asked – “Is that when you feel in control of your life? When life’s good and you feel great?” “Yah, at work I feel like that.” I asked, “What happens when you are home?” “I get really bored, sitting around.” The conversation went on , “What do you think you want to do?” She was really bright by the end of it.
David: Do you think her voice got stronger?
Ann: YAH! It strengthened again. And she got her confidence back and then we talked it through – ‘What are you worrying about?’ She said – ‘Do you think I should have that salad now?’ “What do you think? I wasn’t bothered. If she wanted it, that’s fine and if she didn’t that was fine. She went off and made a salad and I went off an did something else. And that was that.
David: I think a lot of people would have been inclined to take over from Diana at that time. It is very hard not to. I remember one person being close to being readmitted to hospital in extremis. And she had just been discharged after 2 years in hospital. She said, “David, if you tell me to eat, I’ll eat.” I thought to myself – “Oh, this is a trap!” And I didn’t want to get into it. I said, -“Well, I will. WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO SAY?” She said, “Say this…I just took her voice and echoed it back to her. I said it in my voice but it was her voice. “Heather told me to tell Heather that it is okay to eat. That it is not a sin.” What else do you want me to say”, I would ask every so often.
Ann: Sometimes people with anorexia think you are trying to trick them. But in actual fact, you are genuinely helping them find their own voice, which has been taken away from them. Anorexia has been speaking through them so much that you have to help them rediscover their voice. It happens in the moment and bit by bit. You just don’t wake up in the morning and plan – now I am going to speak anti-anorexically.
Richard: We did at first. We had to practise it. But that is where you need your heart. It takes a moment but you have got to go into there and have a look. And that’s when you say – “No, she doesn’t want me to tell her to have a salad! I will reaffirm that it’s her decision. That’s where you need heart form moment to moment, picking up the tiny clues that tell you the difference between Diana and anorexia.
David: It is a matter of small victories and moments of freedom?
David: A lot of people would think such matters are really trivial. But it’s more or less how water cracks rocks.
Richard: I want to praise you, David, for teaching us how to praise anybody, but specifically Diana. We were like the praying mantis watching for the spider and soon as it appeared WE WOULD POUNCE ON IT. But the ‘spider’ was something that we could praise about Diana. It had to be something you knew was praiseworthy. You couldn’t make it up. You had to tell the truth. You can’t fake it. You can’t fake it. And these moments of freedom can be covered over for hours, even days. But when we started doing that, I’m sure that was a large part of the chink in the great darkness that went on so long. Praise is brightness.
David: Do you think praise is critical to self-respect?
Richard: It supports the person; it upholds them.
David: After all, anorexia is eternally deprecating!
Richard: That’s right.
David: Richard, I remember you saying something to me in jest but I think you meant it too. ‘David, there is something different between your anti-anorexia and ours. YOU BELIEVE IT!How did you come to believe in it?
Richard: Just slowly. I saw results. And gradually my faith in anti-anorexia deepened. And I discovered in myself a ‘truth’ that was unaffected by success or failure. It was really a voyage of self-discovery for Diana and myself.
Ann: I don’t think I was comfortable when I started endeavouring to speak anti-anorexically. At first I was uncertain. It sounded really weird. When I began, I got the reaction from Diana that mum and dad have really gone round the bend and are l losing it. But I kept seeing breakthroughs in Diana. When she was in hospital, I would arrive there and someone would have treated her with disdain. And I would say – ‘Anorexia is doing this, isn’t it?” She;’d agree. Somewhere along the line, she had come to understand her life ‘anti-anorexically’. There were chinks, definitely some chinks. She would start to say something and then break down and cry. We would speak about how anorexia was causing this to happen. And she would often just cry. This would be just like a gentle reminder.
David: Was that a relief that all this torment was at least in some way comprehensible?
Ann: Yes, relief mixed with real desperate sadness. Anorexia is just such a hell of a thing to stand up against.
Richard: There would be moments of gentle crying where there was relief and sadness. There wasn’t the bitter, strong crying of desperation, anger and frustration. Those were the moments we knew we had pegged anorexia by the gentle surrender in her.
Ann: Particularly the day in the supermarket about the job. There was a lot of talk before she got the call offering her the job at the supermarket – “I would really love to try to fight back against anorexia because IT is going to stop me getting the job. Or keeping it as well!” And for me, that was like “Wow! She is actually saying there is an enemy. That was the first time I heard her say that Anorexia was her enemy and would try to stop her doing what she really wanted to do. That was the first time she saw Anorexia as in her way.
David: Was that something like her discriminating between anorexia’s intentions to have her lose the job and hers to keep the job?
Richard: For sure, because that led to freedom, the job led to freedom.
Ann: But ‘anti-anorexia’ always rang true for me from the beginning but to put it into practice was difficult. There is something I would like to add. Our eight year old said something about anorexia this morning. I don’t remember how it came up. She said – “In a way, anorexia was the best thing that could have happened!” “Yes”. I said, “but why do you say that?” She said – “Well all these things that we all have been feeling and thinking, wouldn’t have come out, would they?” “Yah, but it was a pretty awful way for it to happen but at least everyone has learned to say how they feel and talk about things so this won’t have to happen to anyone else.” She said – “Yah, that’s right.” SHE’S EIGHT YEARS OLD!
David: She’s immune from anorexia!
Richard: Sounds like it, doesn’t it.
David: I think this is as good as you could get when your 8 year old daughter says that to you. I hope you will remember that!.