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 »

  1. Thank you so much for this piece. I find myself identifying with it because I feel that in some circumstances, it’s not healthy for me to remain friends with some of the women I’ve met because of the place I am in currently–which isn’t bad by any means, just fragile. That being said, I am also a people pleaser, and I hate hurting people’s feelings, and I feel selfish for asking for distance. I really appreciate that you say know your triggers. I am coming to realize that self-preservation is more important than maintaining a friendship that could potentially add pressure to something that has just been renewed. It really is as serious as “your life is on the line.” Too often I forget this in attempts to be liked by everyone. Thank you again.

    On a side note, I am slightly aggravated that in this situation, I sound like I would be in Kholberg’s stage 3 of moral development. Ha.

    Comment by Claire | April 27, 2011 | Reply


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