Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

answer to a question: protect your own recovery

I received the following question on my Questions and Topics page the other day, and I also received a similar question about internet support groups in my inbox:

“I am 23 and in recovery from anorexia. After several months of treatment IP and in Partial, I now only have a therapist, yoga instructor and nutritionist that I see. Do you think that groups like ANAD or other eating disorder support groups are useful? I worry that if I am around people who are struggling, I might be triggered to go off my meal plan and restrict again.”

There are some great reasons to join a support groups–both in real time and online.  But there are also some risks inherent to both, and understanding whether or not a group is a good idea for you requires that you know yourself–know what you need, what has been helpful and, most importantly, what has been harmful.

Support groups are not a one-size-fits-all type of thing.  And the pros and cons may vary from group to group, even within the same organization, such as ANAD or OA or AA (only naming a few here).  Here are some general thoughts and suggestions, in no particular order:

1.  Make sure the group has a moderator.  One who is either fully recovered and has been for a length of time, or who is a trained professional.  I’ve witnessed eating disorder support groups turn into symptom exchange time, hospital comparison time, and sickest weight comparison time.  They might as well have put a sign on the door proclaiming If You Desire To Be Triggered Back Into Your Eating Disorder, Please Enter Here. My advice to anyone who goes to even one meeting of a support group and comes across this: leave immediately and don’t go back.  Don’t give it another shot and see if it was a bad day for the group.  Chances are pretty strong that the group dynamic has evolved to become what it is on the day you first meet it.

2.  If you are worried about being triggered by someone still caught up in the depths of an eating disorder, don’t go.  If you are worried that you might be triggered by seeing someone you think is smaller than you are, don’t go.  If hearing talk about hospitals triggers you, don’t go.  Know your triggers and respect them.  Especially if you are new to recovery.  Someone once gave me this advice: Protect your recovery at all costs.

3.  Facebook and myspace and all those related social networking sites.  If someone is posting pictures that may trigger you for whatever reasons, do not look at the pictures or “unfriend” them.  This is your responsibility, not theirs.  You need to know what triggers you and learn to avoid those triggers.  You may not like what they are posting, but they may not like what you are posting, either, from what music you like to your religion to your politics to what your favorite color is.  Take responsibility for your own reactions.

4.  Online support groups.  Be extremely careful with these. If they are not moderated, they can easily turn into a site of triggers. There are only two I’d recommend: Something Fishy and MentorConnect.  Something Fishy is a pro-recovery site with multiple bulletin boards.  They are closely monitored, but people still will discuss some symptoms and struggles, and sometimes you may catch a triggering post before a moderator catches it and blocks it.  But of the peer-moderated sites, it is as pro-recovery as you can get.  MentorConnect is a ning network and actually involves a request to join and they have very strict guidelines about the content of blog posts, comments, forums, chat nights, and pictures.  Of all sites I have seen, it is the most recovery focused one.  If you apply to be a mentee-level member, you can be matched with a mentor.  Their motto: Relationships Replace Eating Disorders.

Someone else sent me an email and asked me about keeping in touch with people from their inpatient stays:

This is a tricky one.  I am casual FB friends with a great number of people I was IP with.  I am close friends with few of them.  At one time, it was extremely difficult for me to be friends with people from my IP stays, especially the people that didn’t want to get better, or the ones who relapsed.  And yes, I realize I relapsed after the dawn of Facebook and people may have unfriended me.  You throw people on a unit together, people who in the “real world” feel alone and alienated because of their struggles, and they are going to bond.  And this is understandable.  We witnessed certain things together.  We watched one another go through really shitty times.  We held each other’s hands when we cried.  And, hopefully, we came through the other side.

But there will always be people from your IP stay who don’t make it to the other side, or they don’t make it to recovery for a really long time.  If watching another person struggle is a trigger for you, it is not selfish to take a step back.  Protect your own recovery at all costs.  There will come a time when you are stronger and may be able to be a support for them, but until you know that time is here, protect your own recovery–protect your own life.

Yes, you may meet someone on an IP unit or IOP program who is one of your soul mates.  I’ve met a couple of my soul mates this way.  But I know that if we had met “on the outside” we would have still been soul mates.  The eating disorder gets relegated to the “oh yeah, we both had that, huh?” parts of our lives and everything else that makes up a relationship comes to the surface.

And that’s what I’d encourage more than any support group.  Finding someone whom you connect with that has nothing to do with the eating disorder.  At school, at church, at work.  Build a social network.  Which is scary for those of us with eating disorders.  You don’t have to tell them about the eating disorder until you feel ready to, if you ever even want to.  Surround yourself with life.  People, things, activities that require all of you–an active, healthy, fully participating you–and none of the eating disorder.  Give yourself reasons to slowly let go of the eating disorder.

So there’s my roundabout answer.  If support groups help you–great.  But know your limits.  And know your triggers.  Surround yourself with positive people and things (and cute furry baby animals whenever possible!).

Protect your own recovery at all costs.


September 12, 2010 - Posted by | coping, Eating Disorders, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Thanks for this. I’ve been wondering the same thing for some time now, and hadn’t quite thought about it in this way. “Protect your recovery.” I think that could.should apply to everything in life. Hmm… *ponders*

    Comment by Sarah | September 12, 2010 | Reply

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