During our recent book club meeting, we met at the bookstore to discuss Dave Eggers book, Zeitoun, which follows the Zeitoun family and their experiences with the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina. Although Zeitoun never presents itself as an overall expose of the crises that arose from Katrina’s damage, nevertheless, it is a poignant and painful narrative that certainly addresses wider issues than one family saying, “This is our story.”
We, as a book club, had a lively discussion over a two-hour period — with perhaps half an hour actually focusing on the book itself. Ultimately, I believe that we were avoiding a deeper examination about the powder keg of political, religious and psychological questions that Zeitoun brings out.
This is comparable to my approach to the review I want to write for Barbara Hale-Seubert’s memoir, Riptide: Struggling with and Resurfacing from a Daughter’s Eating Disorder. Though it is an emotionally difficult task, I feel passionately committed to sharing this book. Luckily for the reader, the book is much easier to read than it may be to discuss. Tackling painful issues is precisely what makes Barb’s book so powerful and necessary. Riptide is a courageous, insightful, honest examination of a journey few families want to talk about: the addiction and self-destruction of a loved one and the family’s roller-coaster ride alongside them.
Without a doubt, families trying to deal with a loved one’s psychiatric illness or addiction struggle through exhausting waves of guilt, anger, shame, love, helplessness, self-doubt, despair and hope. Though our culture has become more accepting of and open about addiction issues, we still struggle with what to say to families who are suffering. These families often feel the addicted loved one somehow serves as an indictment, shouting to the community that “there’s something wrong with those people, that someone in their family would have to deal with things in such a self-destructive way.” Families are afraid people will judge their loved one — or the entire family — as weak, lacking in self-control, crazy, bad parents, bad Christians, abusive, ignorant — you name it. Whether the blame and shame comes from the community or only from the minds of the family themselves, there’s no doubt there’s usually more than enough to go around. Thus, families protect the loved one and themselves by keeping the issues “private.”
Erin’s mother, Barb, too struggled with all these feelings. Though Barb Hale-Seubert and her husband Andrew Seubert are therapists, their profession did not always ease their suffering through the many years of dealing with Erin’s illness, her short recoveries and her many relapses. As a matter of fact, being a therapist often increased Barb’s feelings of shame and guilt. A mother often blames herself for her child’s patterns of self-destruction, thinking the “if only I were a better mother” that our culture and perhaps our own deep-rooted psychology plants inside us. Worse for Barb, she would think: “In my professional capacity, I have helped so many people. Why can’t I help my own daughter? What will people think of me as a therapist when they see my daughter slowly killing herself?”
We have so many stories, studies and sayings that tell us the lengths a mother will go to in order to save her child: Barb, too, fought like hell to save Erin from the disease which ravaged her for 10 years. The problem was, too often, Barb ended up fighting Erin to save her from herself.
Riptide takes passages from the journals that Barb kept over the years of Erin’s illness, until and beyond Erin’s death in 2000, at the age of 23. Through her writing, Barb was able to move to a more peaceful place in being with Erin. Barb began to understand how Erin’s eating disorder had a stranglehold on Erin, that Erin believed that she could not cope with life without the eating disorder, even while those coping techniques were killing her. Near the end of Erin’s life, Barb was able to be with her in a place of love and forgiveness, instead of endless tension and struggle, knowing that the only one who could save Erin was Erin herself.
Barb gives her readers an amazing gift sharing Erin’s life and death and Barb’s own struggles alongside her daughter with her book.
Frederic Luskin, Ph.D., author and director of the Stanford Forgiveness Projects, praises Riptide as “a well-written and searingly honest account of a mother’s journey through loss and grief…. [this] story culminates in what healing from pain can lead to – finding the compassion and forgiveness that offer meaning to our heartbreaks.”
With Riptide, Barb Hale-Seubert offers inspiration and guidance to families living with a loved one’s addiction, mental illness and/or eating disorder. Though I cried while reading it, I had a terrible time getting started in writing this review, I feel blessed to have read it and proud to recommend and sell this important book.