A Family's Fear, Part 2: Sue, Allan, Donna, Tom

A United Front
Sue, whose daughter, Jennifer, also has anorexia and bulimia, tells Meagan's parents, "I feel your pain. I know the pain that you've gone through. I still feel the pain, but what has changed is the way that we deal with it."

Jennifer's family has worked on changing their behavior while she was in treatment. "We've become so much stronger. I've taken care of myself, since the last time [Dr. Phil and I] met, because it really matters. I had to build my own foundation. I had to reach out to people. I can't do it alone. We've become a united front," she says, grabbing her husband's hand. "Abby is part of it. We've had the best summer that we've had, not because Jennifer isn't there, but just because we don't lie to her. We go out to lunch. We played golf this year. We've had a picnic this year and had people over, without having to worry about what was in the refrigerator and what was hers. And we don't lie to her about it anymore."

Before, Sue says the family would follow Jennifer's mood. If she was sad, they had to be sad too. "Talk about being held hostage," she says. That doesn't happen any longer.

[AD]Allan says, "We were very fortunate to get some good counseling that helped us, and ultimately, it's going to help Jennifer. We spent nine or 10 years battling this disease, but also enabling it and allowing it to control us. We're away from that now … The parents didn't cause it, and you can't fix it."

"It's amazing, the blueprint," says Meagan's father, Tom, noting how similar their families are.

"That's a good term for it," Dr. Phil notes.

Dr. Phil explains why Meagan's family must take care of themselves.

After making some progress, Jennifer checked herself out of treatment and now lives on her own. Her family still loves her and worries about her, but their lives no longer revolve around her and her illness.

Donna agrees that they also need to get on with their lives. She says they have a dishwasher that broke that they never fixed because it became a hiding place for food that Meagan wouldn't eat. Dr. Phil says that's another example of a family making special rules for the disorder, which just contributes to it.

"Loving her is not enabling her. I still talk to Jennifer two, three times a day, but we don't talk disease," Sue says. "You have to decide what you do to contribute to it. It's the smallest thing: buying special mustard, buying special dressing " that's enabling."

Dr. Phil explains that he arranged for Jennifer to get treatment. She began to make some progress but then she dropped out. "What was the excuse?" he asks her family. 

"We didn't listen to the excuse because then that would be giving the disease some attention," Sue says.

[AD]Dr. Michael Berrett is the President and CEO of the Center for Change, where Jennifer was placed. "It's a marathon race. It takes a long time, sometimes years," he says. "And people with this illness need to get in treatment; they need to stay as long as they need to. If they fall out and relapse, they need to come back. They need to never give up, and if they never give up, they will get well." He says when people get well, it's due to perseverance, dedication, telling the truth and facing fears.

Dr. Phil asks Sue and Allan the hardest question they've ever been asked.


Sue says, "We're there every day when she picks up the phone " when we pick up the phone. There are days, because she is living by herself right now, that if I don't get a phone call soon enough ... whew!" Those are the days Sue worries her daughter has died.

Allan says he's not prepared for Jennifer to die. "I won't give up, but I also won't enable the disease anymore. It's not allowed in our house," he says. "I will just keep fighting, and fighting and fighting, and hopefully, Jennifer will see the light, and live and defeat this disease."

Dr. Phil asks Abby the same question: Is she prepared for her sister to die?

"It's just the worry about getting that phone call," she says, with tears in her eyes. "But we have done everything, and you can only learn from it ... She has risen to the occasion, and she's still fighting, she's doing better for herself, so we can say that much."

[AD]Dr. Phil makes it clear that if the worst happens, they have to know that it didn't happen because they decided they had a right to live their lives. He tells Abby, "You've got to know that you didn't choose your sister's death because you chose your life."

"I know. It's just still so hard to hear and hard to think about," she says, wiping her tears away.