Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Take Care of YOU


hope faith heal pray

One of my friends asked me a question the other day.  This young woman is someone I have watched grow from being entrenched in her eating disorder and fighting treatment to accepting help and healing and moving beyond her eating disorder and healing.  It’s been a truly beautiful process to witness.

But she’s currently in a dilemma, one that a lot of us who were sick with our eating disorders and moved on to healing have often been faced with.  When I was sick, most of my friends were sick.  We shared that “bond” of wanting our eating disorders and not wanting to accept the help of others, which we saw as an intrusion rather than help.  And then I made the decision to get better and sought treatment on my own.  The day I made the call for an admissions interview at a treatment center–the day I made that call on my own, without any prompting from friends or therapists–I called from a friend’s office.  I was in tears.  After I hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, “Sometimes choosing life is the most terrifying thing of all.”  And she was right.  The process of giving up my eating disorder and choosing life took not one, but two fairly long stays at a treatment center.  But in the end, it was worth it.  Still terrifying, but worth it.

And you think, “I’m recovered, so things will be fine now.”  And then you realize that some of your old friends are still very much attached to their eating disorders and aren’t all that supportive of your recovery.  Whether it’s because it means you’re different than they are now, or because it threatens them in their own eating disorders–there probably isn’t a really good way to put words to this.  But one thing is clear: maintaining certain old friendships holds you back from making further progress in recovery.  Where you are in recovery and where they are in recovery/illness work against one another.

The dilemma:  continue the friendship because you know what it’s like to be where that person is in illness and you don’t want to abandon him or her even if it’s threatening your own recovery, or step back from the friendship and limit contact with that person and move forward in your own recovery and health and hope they will see you as an example and choose to follow you.

At first glance, it seems rather simple: move on and protect your own recovery at all costs. But then what do you do with the heated comments from the people still enmeshed in their eating disorders?  The comments that accuse you of betraying them?  Or abandoning them?  Or of turning your back on them? Of being a traitor?  Of being unsympathetic, or selfish, or arrogant?  You know that the best thing for your own recovery is to move on and limit contact.  But that part of you that does know what it’s like to have people leave you because of your eating disorder is screaming for you to stay in the friendship and help them, save them, convince them that they can also recover and that it’s worth it.

I have no simple answer.  I’ve done both, depending on the friend.  Sometimes, I have stayed in the friendship, when the other person allowed me to move on in recovery and did not accuse me of being a traitor (?) or being a hypocrite (?).  If the person allowed me to talk about recovery openly, and if that person didn’t continue to celebrate her eating disorder triumphs with me, I could safely stay in that friendship.  I have also left relationships.  There were people who felt threatened by my recovery and let me know that and there were people who called me names for choosing to leave the eating disorder behind, people who were accusative and non-supportive.  People who judged me openly for choosing recovery.  These relationships threatened my own recovery, and I chose to leave and/or severely limit the contact I had with them.

Facebook is rife with these relationships. People who have never met in real life but are connected by their eating disorders.  In the beginning of my recovery, I went through a massive “friend purge” and only kept those friends who were supportive of my stage of growth.  If I hadn’t done so, I am not sure I would be where I am in recovery right now.  As my time in recovery progressed, I began accepting friend requests from people in all stages of illness and recovery.  I now have over 700 friends on Facebook.  Only a small percentage of which I’ve actually met.  A great number of those friends are still stuck in their eating disorders and post status updates documenting their “progress” in their eating disorder, or they post pictures that once would have been triggering.  But I am now at a point in my recovery where I can read those updates and notes and see those pictures and not have it affect my own recovery.  Hopefully, my encouragement to continue fighting and to continue working toward recovery and celebrating their small (or large) steps of progress will help them.  I hope they can look at my profile and my pictures and my activities and see that recovery is possible and that it is worth it.  But again, I am not pulled back into the illness by looking at their profiles.

So my advice is to step back from friendships that threaten your own recovery.  You do not owe anyone an explanation.  You certainly do not owe them an apology.  You owe yourself everything you can do to protect and further your own recovery.  If at some point, you feel stronger and ready to see what could be triggering, you can always rejoin groups or friendships–if you want to. Something Fishy has several message boards, including one for “fishies” early in recovery and one for “fishies” who have been in recovery for a longer period of time but still need or want support for the daily trials of life.

My advice is to take time and ask yourself how strong your feel you are in recovery and how much it would take to threaten your recovery.  Ask yourself what kinds of things you are willing to see and read without them negatively affecting you.  Ask yourself what you are willing to do to protect your own recovery at all costs. Take an internal inventory of your own strengths and areas that still need strengthening.  Your only responsibility is to yourself.  A significant number of people with eating disorders are people pleasers, which only helped our eating disorders.  Part of recovery is learning to name your own needs and also to meet those needs.  That may require stepping away from the eating disorder community, and no one should make you feel guilty for doing so, because it means you are now building a life for yourself, a life free of the eating disorder.

Let me say for the third or fourth time: protect your own recovery at all costs. You will know when you are ready to step back in and offer encouragement.  It’ll be this feeling you have inside.  Until that feeling rises up, take care of you.

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March 13, 2011 - Posted by | Communication, Eating Disorders, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Excellent post! Now that I’m strong in my recovery I can really look back and see some places where I didn’t fully protect my recovery and kept “friends” that didn’t support me in my effort to recover. It was only after I stepped back and took a look at what “friendships” were aiding my recovery and those that were aiding the furthering the eating disorder and started to really value my life and my recovery did I discover that some of my “friendships” were toxic and some where supportive. When I was entrenched in the eating disorder I was far more concerned about hurting other people’s feelings than looking out for my own health. Thanks for sharing!!

    Comment by Cathy | March 13, 2011 | Reply

  2. AMEN AMEN AMEN! I’ve been at the end of the comments about how I’ve “abandoned” others because they are so entrenched in their eating disorders and I want nothing to do with it. I’ve been told that I don’t have a heart or that I used to be so much nicer when I was sick- what a mindtrip, right? I’ve been told by one girl that, without her, I would go right back to the eating disorder and have a life of “starving.”

    And even though it stung, I realise that my health is my own… and I have to take responsibility for it. LIFE is about choices, and I CHOSE to surround myself with positive, healthy Christian influences who will encourage me to be more Christ-like. 🙂

    Comment by Lily Jane | March 16, 2011 | Reply


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