Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

The Pull of Friendship

One of the topics that several people suggested I address is eating disorders and friendships.  That is, maintaining friendships with people you either met in treatment or met through an eating disorder forum or support group.  I briefly tackled that topic here, but I think it’s a worthy topic to look at in more detail.

The question isn’t whether or not you should maintain friendships with people you met in treatment if you are both doing well.  Congrats to both of you, and I hope you continue to support one another in recovery.

But what about two different scenarios–the first being if you aren’t doing well and have basically stated you don’t intend to and the second being that you are trying as hard as you can to work toward recovery but you have certain friends who are doing everything they can to cling to the eating disorder.

In the first post I mentioned, I address how when I was sick, I was super-eating-disorder-activist.  I lobbied, I spoke at colleges and universities and conferences.  And the vast majority of my friends also had ties to the eating disorder world.  Looking back, I do not think this was helpful.  What I needed to be doing was “normal” stuff that would teach me I could have and enjoy a “normal” life, such as school, work, friends and family and social engagements that had nothing to do with eating disorders.  I needed to purge myself of the eating disorder identity (every pun intended).

I am not sure I could have recovered if I had kept up close ties with everyone from treatment.  The people I maintained contact with were people I would have been friends with if we had met in a class or on the subway or at a coffee shop.  The eating disorder just happened to be this unfortunate coincidence that we shared.  AND all of these friends also wanted recovery, so we were able to support and encourage each other in a positive direction.  If we bitched about a bad day, the response was more along the lines of “What can you do to turn it around?” than “Ugh, me, too.”  We called each other out on things we saw that weren’t recovery focused.  I still have a couple of friends do the same for me.  Recently I wanted to take a break from therapy, and one friend questioned my motivation for that and asked if it would, in all honesty, be a good idea.  And after journaling on the topic, I realized she was on to something.

Does it sound cruel to do what I’m suggesting?  Keeping friends who are actively pursuing recovery and not maintaining friendships with those who aren’t?  I repeat something I’ve said before: Protect your own recovery at all costs.

After a year of self-enforced exile, I returned to the online eating disorder community.  And I still maintain online friendships with people who are at all stages of recovery, even those who say they don’t want recovery.  I know what it’s like to have people give up on me and walk away, and to say it hurts is an understatement.  Now that I am strong enough, I will not be that person who walks away.  Neither will I be the false, cheery voice that only says, “You can do it, hun, hang in there.”  I am not afraid to ask questions and to push someone in the direction of recovery.

But I know myself right now, and know that I am not triggered by pictures or comments or numbers or people going in and out of treatment.  I could not say that when I first started on the road to recovery, hence my friendships with recovery-minded people who would not trigger me.  Know your triggers, and if something/someone is triggering you and you are having a difficult time staying on-course, there is nothing wrong with taking a step back from that group or from that friend.  When you are more solid in your own recovery, then, if you want, you can return and help others.  If you are still triggered, then that is not the role for you.  Your recovery is your number one priority.  Do not compromise it, do not put it in danger.  If talking to others or posting on forums helps you, then keep that up.

Know yourself.  Know your triggers and take steps to avoid them whenever possible.  Your life is on the line.

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April 27, 2011 Posted by | Communication, Eating Disorders, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

we’re allowed to be human?

Bad Day

I’ve gotten a couple of messages recently from people who are either fully recovered or have been almost fully recovered for some time or who have been doing extraordinarily well for sometimes . . . and the fact that they’ve been doing well has been no secret.  Friends congratulate them, offer encouragement to “keep moving forward” and the like.  And they think they’re through with the eating disorder.  They like their new, free life and have things to live for that they couldn’t have imagined before.

And then, out of the blue, a weekend comes along triggered by stress, memories, poor body image, fear, and a whole lot of other things.  And they find themselves engaging in old eating disordered behaviors.  And, in general, two things happen in each case (other things happen but aren’t as predictable) : A) they feel crappy about themselves, or ashamed, or afraid this means a total relapse; and B) someone else will say, “But you were doing so well.”

Let’s look at B first.  How do you think it feels to hear someone say, “But you were doing so well.”  Sure, it may be true, but what do those actual words imply?  A) That you should have continued so well; B) this is definitely not good; C) You’re certainly not doing well now; and D) All of that progress just went down the drain.  So what kind of feelings do these linguistic interpretations stir up?  A whole crapload of shame and embarrassment.  And the feeling of letting someone else down in the process.  A lot of us have this perfectionistic background and grew up with the need to please others no matter what, so hearing that we’ve let someone down, well, all the old issues just come roaring up to the service.

What’s wrong with saying, “Sorry you had a rough weekend, but I know you can get back on track like you did last time.”?  What’s wrong with saying, “Is there anything you want to talk about?”?  What’s wrong with “I’m here if you need anything.”?  Knowing someone is there, beside you, willing to sit with you, is tremendously better than hearing that, “But you were doing so well” and all of that statement’s implication.

Now let’s look at A.  Is this a reason to feel shame?  No.  We expect people new in recovery to have lapses and bad days.  Well, guess what?  Years of self-harming behavior don’t disappear in a month.  Those tendencies may be at the back of your head for some time.  And what’s important is not the two days you slipped back into old habits but afterwards when you realize what’s going on and work on turning things back around and getting back on track.  That’s what the comments should be about: the strength and determination it takes not to let one off weekend pull you back into the eating disorder.

I keep this blog. I encourage people through snail mail and through facebook.  I’ve lobbied for the Eating Disorders Coalition.  I’ve given talks during NEDA Awareness Week.  I’ve helped friends find treatment.

I’m supposed to be better, right?  I mean, I call myself recovered.  Fully recovered.  And yet, this past month has been difficult.  Change and loss have always difficult for me, and when my life seems to be made up of changes and loss?  And I’m still struggling with depression and receiving ECT each week, soon to be every-other week.  And I’ve found this fully recovered self struggling with restricting.  I’m still not over my desire to disappear when things in my life well, to put it plainly, suck.  (And yes, I know I can’t disappear.)

Here’s what’s making this not a relapse: I started talking to my therapist after I noticed I wasn’t eating as much after only four days.  There is no hiding it from my treatment team; they all know.  There is no trying to get away with something.  There is no desire to keep going, only a desire to get back on solid ground rather than stay in this muddy terrain.  And there have been steps taken to get back to that purely solid ground.  And there has been pride for everyone one of those steps taken.  I won’t let myself get to a dangerous point, but I don’t even want to be below an ideal point.

What does this make me?  Human. I’m not perfect.  My recovery was never perfect.  I’m not perfect.  I never will be.  But just because I’m having a hard time does not mean I’m no longer in recovery.  I care too much about the life I gained to give that up.  But it will take some work on my part to get back to that fully recovered self again.

I am not ashamed of where I am.  I am damn fucking proud of myself for bringing it up with my therapist before he noticed anything.  I never would have been able to do that in the past.  There’s a lot of things I’m doing now that I never would have been able to do in the past.  And that’s what I’m choosing to focus on.  As i said in a recent post: The past is in the past.  The future has yet to happen.  But I live in the now.  What I choose to do now, not what I chose to do last week, is what is important.

April 27, 2011 Posted by | Body Image, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, feelings, recovery, therapy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment