Michelle, 28, suffers from anorexia and bulimia and admits to using drugs, including cocaine, to deal with hunger pains. Her family says they’ve done everything to try to help her, but at just 75 pounds, they fear she could die at any moment. Have they been enabling their loved one? And, will Michelle get a wake-up call when she meets Trina, a 24-year-old woman left with permanent brain damage due to her eating disorder?
A Family Illness
Anne and Mike say their 28-year-old daughter Michelle has been battling anorexia, bulimia and drug addiction for 10 years, and at just 75 pounds, they fear for her life. The parents say Michelle cycles between binging, purging and starving herself, all the while using pain pills, cocaine and other drugs to cope with feeling hungry. “Michelle is slowly dying before our eyes,” Anne says, adding that Michelle has difficulty caring for her 2-year-old son. “Michelle is so frail. She’s barely making it through life.”
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Mike says Michelle’s room would often be riddled with food wrappers and bags of vomit after binging and purging at night. “The smell would be horrible,” he recalls, adding that her addiction also turned her into a thief. “Michelle has stolen checks, credit cards to buy over-the-counter laxatives, weight loss pills.”
The couple says they’ve spent more than $100,000 trying to help their daughter, who has been in multiple treatment centers, and nothing has worked. “When is enough, enough?” Anne asks.
Michelle’s sister, Katie, 26, says she’s angry at her sister and doesn’t even want to look at her because of everything she has put their family through. “I’m so sick of hearing about Michelle’s problems,” she says. “It’s been going on for too long.” She says Michelle is good at convincing their parents that she’s eating healthy and not puking — even when she is. “Michelle is an embarrassment to herself and my family.”
Michelle explains how her illness has gotten such a hold on her. “I’m killing myself, every day, little by little.”
Dr. Phil lists the effects of Michelle’s illness, explaining that two days prior to taping the show, she suffered a seizure. He also says that in the past, medical personnel have had to try 30 to 40 times to find a vein on her, because she was so dehydrated. “You’re living with bags of vomit under your bed, in your car. You’re throwing up in the bathtub,” he says, adding that she has been stealing drugs, money and other items to feed her illness — and has been arrested as a result. “You’re a level four felon, right?” he asks, and she nods yes. “You were a nurse’s aide. You were stealing patients’ drugs,” he explains, adding that she’s now on five years’ supervised probation — which she has violated, earning her five days in jail. “You’re a liar. You’re a manipulator. You’re suffering from anxiety and depression,” he continues. “Your family is pulling their hair out; yours is falling out.”
He also points out that when she was pregnant with her son, she starved herself and weighed 10 pounds less at 34 weeks than when she first conceived — and the baby was born 6 weeks premature.
“You are shocked that it has gotten this far. Would you agree with that?” he asks, and she says yes.
Have Michelle’s parents enabled her? And, Michelle grows heated. “I don’t like myself!”
“She has become a passenger on this anorexia train.”
See video of Michelle in her Los Angeles hotel room that her parents describe as frightening. Was she putting her son in danger?
Anne explains why she blames herself for her daughter’s eating disorder. And, Dr. Phil puts the situation into perspective: “She has one priority, and that’s to be alone with her disease.”
Anne tearfully apologizes for her mistakes. “I can’t change anything that I did in the past,” she says. “We can’t go on living this way. She has to have the help, or she’s not going to be here. This is our last-ditch effort.”
“You realize, you parent from guilt, right?” Dr. Phil asks, and Anne says yes, growing more tearful.
Dr. Phil points out that Katie feels neglected by her parents because of their constant focus on Michelle.
“She’s so angry,” Anne says. “She’s angry with all of us, especially me.”
Dr. Phil turns to Katie and says, “It doesn’t help to be angry, but I sure understand it.”
A Wake-Up Call for Michelle?
On June 3, 2010, Sandy says her daughter, Trina, suffered massive seizures as a result of her eating disorder. “When she arrived at the hospital, she was basically dead,” she says, adding that Trina, now 24, suffered severe brain damage, leaving her in a vegetative state. “She can hear, but she can’t respond.”
Sandy and Trina join Michelle and her family onstage.
Sandy shares what life is like caring for her daughter full-time — will it serve as a wake-up call for Michelle?
Dr. Phil tells Michelle’s parents that they need to educate themselves about how to deal with their daughter’s illness. “You cannot let the eating disorder rule the house,” he says. “You’ve shaped your lives around pathology.” He says they need to require Michelle to get help. “This is so beyond you,” he tells the parents. “You are not equipped to deal with this.”
Dr. Phil introduces Dr. Jennifer Henretty from the Center for Discovery, which specializes in residential eating disorder treatment for adult and adolescent women. He tells Michelle that she needs treatment for anorexia and everything that empowers the disease.
“We will really work with this family,” Dr. Henretty says. “There’s a lot of healing that I believe can take place here.”
“You deserve to have a chance to do this,” Dr. Phil tells Michelle. “Your son deserves a chance for his mother to get herself right.”
“I’m in, 100 percent,” she responds.