A Sister's Love
by Cameron Roberts
My mom first told me in the car on the way home from school. It was a sunny day, the sky was clear, and the birds were chirping. When she told me the news, the sky suddenly turned gray. I knew things were not going well, I could tell by looking at her. My sister was too skinny. In fact, she made Kate Moss look fat. Which is why I'm not sure why I was so shocked to hear that she had an eating disorder. I guess it was because I was so naive at the time. I was 15, and my world was perfect. I made good grades, had lots of wonderful friends, and had a perfect family. Well, so I thought.
It is still hard to imagine how one eating disorder can mess up an entire family. It took us a while to realize she had a problem. Two years to be exact. She began going to a therapist and a nutritionist. I decided that I too would go to the nutritionist. After I found out about my sister, I began to do the opposite of her, and eat a lot more than normal. Why I can't really say. It was like suddenly food was always the main topic in our home. Her therapist told her that anorexia in upper-class families was very common. That, I thought, was the dumbest thing I had ever heard! Just because we live in a country club, my sister decides not to eat? She continued to see the therapist, and, after a while, she began to act like she knew what she was doing. She thought she was eating healthy. We all knew that she wasn't.
People at school began to talk about the anorexic Roberts girl. She hated it. I soon realized that my sister's problem was more than just an eating problem. It wasn't just about being skinny. She was depressed. This is still something I can never figure out. There was nothing to be depressed about! Almost every single guy desired her, she was loved, and she was popular. What more could a seventeen-year-old girl want? Nevertheless, the therapist put her on Prozac to help with her depression and her mood swings. Supposedly, her whole problem was my parents' fault. They didn't give her enough attention or push her enough, so she decided to get control over the situation through food. After she was skinny, she got attention all right.
Weeks went by, and the situation seemed to get worse. My sister's eating habits had not changed and everyone in the house was still fighting. Even me, which was not something I particularly liked doing. My parents began talking to the therapist with her. This is when things took a turn for the worse. She was analyzing my family like we were some sick, twisted made-for-TV family! This annoyed me. My family was perfect! Everything was perfect. At least in my mind they were. I had not even met this lady therapist who thought she knew my family, and already, she began to drag me into this. Was it not my sister that was sick, and not me? I was fine, at least, that's what I kept telling myself, when really, I wasn't fine.
When she was a sophomore, she began dating a senior. The pressure of looking great was on her even more. Deep secrets began to come out about her relationship with him. Things didn't look so great anymore. We began noticing that she would hide her food. One day, I remember we had gone to Bahama Breezes and my mom kept telling my sister to eat the chicken in her salad. "Shut up!" she would scream. My mom would point out that she was pushing her chicken under her salad. This would go on for a while. That same day, she also ordered a virgin daiquiri which used to be one of her favorite drinks. After she ordered this 12-dollar drink, she decided there must be too many calories, and drank none of it, thus causing another argument.
My sister was having horrible mood swings all the time. She would be normal one second, and then next thing I knew, she was yelling and screaming about something. We started to not get along, which was not common. We had always had a good relationship, and now, there were too many secrets about her I didn't know. I was left out on everything. The rest of my family was pretty much dealing with her problem together, and I was left in the dark. Not that they really meant to exclude me, but it just happened. I was not as vivacious, and I withdrew my feelings from everyone, even my closest friends.
Things started to slowly fall apart in my life. I was never happy, which is unlike me. I began to turn to unhealthy habits I never thought I would try. All I could think about was her, and how I really didn't know anything that was going on. My perfect family did not seem so perfect anymore. My sister's one little disorder was causing us to have to look at everything about us. This did not settle well with me considering how I do not like to see the truth if it hurts. I see what I want to see, and I did not want to notice any of this. She was withering away in front of my eyes, and there was nothing I could do. Except just watch, and wait. Unlike my sister, I was not very good at hiding things. But I was getting better at accepting what was going on.
I went out to eat with my parents one night, and that's when the bombshell exploded. I remember everything about that night they told me. We were eating Mexican. My parents were on one side of the booth, me on the other. "Cameron," they said, "your sister is sick. She's not getting any better. She is down to 102 pounds and if she gets to 100, there is a 50% chance that she could die." I started to laugh. I asked them if they were joking. What a cruel joke that was! I knew she was sick, but close to dying? There was no way this could be happening. I stopped laughing when I saw a tear stream down my mother's cheek. So they told me what would happen next. We were going to have to send her away for a month to a clinic in Florida. I said nothing the rest of the evening. The clouds had finally settled in, and the storm began. I tried to shelter my eyes and ears so I would not be scared, but it wasn't working.
Our last week together, she and I really didn't see too much of each other. I guess it was too painful. The night before she left, she came in my room, and lay in my bed with me. She asked me to take care of myself and her best friend, who was really upset by the whole thing also. She told me not to worry, that she'd be okay. We cried together the whole night. The next morning she left, and the goodbye was hard. I did not want to go to the airport with my parents. I did not want to accept the fact that she was gone. So like all my recent problems, I dealt with this by putting it away in my mind. "She isn't really gone," I told myself. "This is all just a bad dream." The funny part was that I actually believed that!
Soon after she left, I went to Disney World with my school chorus, and for a short four days, the thought of my sister was out of my mind. When I got home, reality was waiting. I remember walking into her room to tell her about my trip, and noticing how completely empty her room was. Her stuff wasn't there, and neither was she. My heart just stopped. I wanted to call someone and tell them how I was feeling, but I knew no one would understand. I then remembered my promise to my sister, and called up her best friend. We talked for hours almost every night. She would take me out to dinner, and we would just talk.
The weeks my sister was away went by with a blur. I had stopped sleeping that month for my tears were too loud to sleep over, not to mention the strange voices I began to hear. They came with the storm, these voices, maybe because I was lonely, or depressed. They would taunt me, telling me it was my fault she was sick, that I should have noticed, and should have stopped her.
My grades were going down, and I had lost communication with most of my friends. School was hard, and I remember how everyone seemed to give me funny looks, as if they knew the secret that we didn't want anyone to know. My parents did not seem completely normal either. We rarely talked about her, I mean, they tried, but I didn't want to. For talking about her would mean that it was real, and all really happening, and I didn't want to believe it.
She returned in May, in time for her senior prom, which had been talked about while she was getting help. She said she didn't really want to go, but she did. She seemed better. Something had changed inside her. She began reading books like The Golden Cage: The Enigma of Anorexia Nervosa. It was all too weird for me.
I still wasn't talking to anyone, and the pressure built up inside of me. Finally, I couldn't hold it in anymore. It happened in 3rd period, my English class, which happened to be good because the teacher was a trusted adult I could talk to. I didn't mean for it to happen....it just did. We were reading poems, and for some reason, I started to cry, and that cry turned into a bawl, and the bawl into a sob. Embarrassed, I excused myself from the room. My teacher came out and talked to me and suddenly, I felt better. Finally, I could talk to someone. I guess people started noticing that I was depressed, especially my sister. We were in the car, and she asked me what was wrong. "Nothing," I had replied. A few bad words and a couple of tears later, I told her. And we talked. All the way home we talked, and then out on the deck, and then in the parlor, and then it had ended. And we were better. She had told me that she was worried because I had eating disorder written all over me. Yeah right. Me? Live without food? I don't think so. She explained how the girls that were at the treatment center were all just like me. They had too much pressure put on them, by themselves and everyone around them. They didn't know how to handle it so they controlled themselves with food. It made sense. It all made sense. She later talked me into going to her therapist with her, which I did. It helped so much. So, I went again. It was so good to get some of the things off my chest. We talked, and for once I could truly tell someone everything. More than I could tell my parents, my teacher, or even my friends. It was like a giant rock had been lifted off my shoulders. I could finally feel the warmth of the sun on my face.
After the second time, I wasn't completely better, but my parents insisted that there was nothing wrong with me, and I shouldn't waste anymore time on that. Well, this upset me, and I cried, my sister yelled, and the dark clouds returned again. And they stayed. Summer was here, and I stopped talking to my friends and my family. I hated my parents, which hurt. I hated myself for hating them. Suicide was an option, but I never had the guts to do it. The question in my mind was always, "So how many Advil would it take to kill me?" I was like this throughout the entire summer.
In August, we took a "family vacation" to Hawaii, and for some reason, I did not feel bad anymore. I stopped thinking of my parents as evil, and began to love them again. They were the cool parents they always had been. The rainbow had come out, and the sun was shining brightly.
We still get nervous about my sister, and food is still a tender subject in my house. But the truth is, we are getting over it, and we're doing it as a family. Personally, I am still not completely well. This might be because I never actually came to terms with what was wrong. But I am better, and am continuing to improve every day. These things take years to heal.
So to anyone who has someone dear to them going through an eating disorder, I feel for you. My only advice is to talk to someone, and be patient. You do not have to be strong all the time. And hopefully, the sun will shine again.
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