There are times when a book reaches out and grabs the reader by the heart, head and gut all in one fell swoop; stirring up a myriad of emotion, causing a sense of wanting to turn away and read on simultaneously, because it resonates to the core of who we are as fragile and maliable human beings. Riptide: Struggling With And Resurfacing From A Daughter’s Eating Disorder penned with naked vulnerability by therapist and mother Barbara Hale-Seubert is such a book.
I was introduced to it by a dear friend who is part of the family. She knew that as a therapist myself who has worked with folks diagnosed with eating disorders, I would find Riptide to be an inside-the -disease view that I was not privy to from my side of the healing chasm. And it does feel like that at times, but Hale-Seubert is able to eloquently bridge that divide by taking the reader along on both a hopeful and horrifying journey. She emerges from it, more than a survivor, but rather a thriver, using the wisdom gained by reaching out and helping others. She is washed ashore, gasping for breath as the riptide of her daughter Erin’s insideous eating disorder that spans the spectrum from restricting (Anorexia) to binging and purging (Bulemia), had pulled her under.
Word by word, she weaves a tale of the strength and resilience it takes for a family to embrace the loved one, while battling the condition with her. Erin’s decline from a happy toddler to teen with a secret that steadily becomes a full blown addiction is inexorable; like a runaway train that no amount of love can halt. It is heart-rending to witness. I found myself taking deep breaths with Hale-Seubert, and needing to put the book down and compose myself, wipe away the tears and continue on. What must it have taken for Erin’s family to move through this experience, I pondered? She honors the love and support of her husband Andrew (also a therapist and author) who came into her life after her first marriage ended, and his son, as well as her daughters as companions along this arduous way.
What was most impressive was the courage evidenced for Hale-Seubert to peel off the layers of her own perfectionism, exposing her harshly self critical voice, even as Erin’s body de-evolved. Her own family history, the body image messages she adopted without question until this crisis hit, her first marriage, things that slipped past her radar come to bear as she desperately endeavored to rescue her daughter from the clutches of the steadily strenghening biopsychosocial disease. She questioned, both as therapist and mother, how this could be happening with/to her daughter. Feeling a mix of shame and pride, delight and despair, riding the roller coaster of emotion, she invites the reader to be companions on the way.
How elastic is the human heart? By reading this book, you will soon know. It is a must read for any professional working with clients diagnosed with eating disorders and highly recommended for those bearing the diagnoses and their families; a cautionary tale and a light on a darkened and tangled path. With steel machete’, created of love and necessity, Hale-Seubert cuts through the seaweed that grabs at their ankles, pulling them under again and again, until there is no more fight left in any of them. Exhausted and paradoxically sweet relief accompanies the anguish of Erin’s inevitable passing. Those who have witnessed the suffering of loved ones, will certainly understand that juxtaposition.
Erin’s spirit lives on in the beautiful artwork that is displayed in the book; fanciful, whimsical and sometimes dark; echoing her deepest doubts and most passionate prayers for what her life could be. Some of the most poignant insights came from Erin; this young woman who left the planet far too early. So much promise, accompanied by the even stronger pull of fear. In the end, love remains, solid, full bodied.