Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

An Open Letter to Those Losing Weight

Dear S0-and-So-Who-Is-Following-Doctor’s-Orders,

I realize that, medically, losing weight and becoming more in shape is healthy for you and what your body needs.  And I am proud of you for taking medical advice seriously and taking appropriate action.

Dear So-and-So-Who-May-Need-to-Lose-Weight-But-is-Doing-So-Unhealthily,

I realize that, medically, losing weight and becoming more in shape is healthy for you and what your body needs.  And while I commend your desire to follow medical advice, the manner in which you are going about it is disturbing and, if nothing else, borders on obsessive, and most likely falls into the official “disordered” category.

There is a misconception that you have to be stick thin and bony to fall into eating disorder behavior (and diagnosis), but there is no weight cut off.  Cutting out entire food groups and attending multiple exercise classes a day propel you into “unhealthy obsession” at the bare minimum.  I am worried about your physical and psychological health and would like to see you talk to someone so you can enjoy a healthy relationship with your body–regardless of its size and shape.

I am also concerned for those around you.  For anyone recovering from an eating disorder, let alone for someone trapped in the midst of an eating disorder, your behaviors and words encourage an eating disorder lifestyle and discourage someone from seeking recovery.  For someone in recovery from an eating disorder, your behaviors and words make us question our own recovery.  None of us are fooled by your claims of “health” and “nutrition” and “strength.”  We have used those excuses ourselves, and they only ever led us down a path of destruction, which is what we see happening in your life.  These excuses also hurt on a personal level because they make us realize that you do not respect what we went through in order to recover, and they also mean that you do not believe our reasons for our concern.  For someone on the verge of an eating disorder, your actions and words only encourage said individual to go ahead and plunge into the ice cold water of what is actually an illness and not a lifestyle.

Please know that you are cared for, and that we wish for you true health.  Please know that the path you are on will not lead to happiness, but will, in fact, lead to depression and self-hate.  Respect not only those around you, but also yourself.

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June 2, 2011 Posted by | Body Image, Communication, Eating Disorders, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Gaining Back Trust

DEAR MAN

Describe Express Assert Reinforce Mindful Appear Confident Negotiate

The first time I encountered Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)  was back in 1999, and let’s just say that when I first began, I was anything but cooperative.  I really had no faith that this type of treatment could help with anything, let alone the reasons that landed me in the hospital.  But, by the time I finished my rather long inpatient stay, I had been converted enough to agree to the outpatient program.  And by the time I finished the outpatient program, I had been converted enough to drive two hours one way one night a week for skills group for the following year.

The acronym DEAR MAN comes from DBT, hence my little intro of me and DBT.  The reason for this?  I got an excellent question on my Questions and Topics page from someone who developed her eating disorder while living with her parents.  She is now in college and in recovery, but is home for the summer and is finding that her parents are not trusting this new stage of recovery and make comments about her weight and her eating habits and then she gets defensive and then the parents react and well, I think most of us have experienced what comes next.  She ends her comment with the main questions of “are you ever able to gain your loved ones’ trust back?”.

I’ll address that question first, since it’s the easiest to answer.  Yes, you can gain back trust.  No, it is not easy, and yes, it will take some time.  After going to college, I never lived at home again, but I still had to regain my family’s–and my friends’–trust.  At first, I did go through the stage of constantly feeling like I was being watched and having to answer way more loaded “how are you doing?” questions than before I went to treatment. All I can offer here is that time really is the key factor.  Time and consistency.  Friends and loved ones need to see you doing well and not acting on symptoms for a good period of time to trust that it isn’t a calm period in the eating disorder leading up to another relapse but really is the real deal.  How long this takes will vary from family to family and will also depend on the length and severity of the illness.  But yes, with that time and consistency, you will show them that you can be trusted again.

However, promising eventual trust doesn’t help the current situation of comments on food, eating habits, symptoms, and weight.  It may help you some to remember the fear your loved ones had of losing you while you were sick, so these questions are not meant to annoy you but to reassure them.  Of course, you’re still in the same situation, and here is where DBT and DEAR MAN may come in handy.  DEAR MAN is a method of discussing difficult subjects with people and a way of asking for something.  In this case the difficult situation is the lack of trust you feel and you would be asking them to stop asking so many questions.  The reason you would use DEAR MAN is because it helps both parties remain calm and focused, rather than reacting emotionally, which can lead to irrational arguments.

I would suggest asking your parents to sit down to talk one day.  Perhaps not near a meal time and not directly after they’ve asked a question about habits or weight.  You don’t want to enter this conversation when you are already ruled by emotions and are anything but calm.  When you talk to your parents, follow the acronym above.  This is your time to calmly describe how you feel when they ask their questions and to suggest alternative ways of handling the situation.  You want to avoid blaming statements and rely on those “I feel” statements we learned in treatment and therapy.  Back up your “I feel” statements with proof of how you are holding onto recovery–give specific examples.  And as far as negotiation is concerned, maybe you could have a weekly check in or, if you are in therapy, you could say that if you start to slip, you will bring it up with your therapist.

Gaining back our loved ones’ trust is something almost all of us who have struggled with an eating disorder or other addiction have had to go through.  It’s not an easy time, and I wish I could say there was a given length of time that it would take.  The more you are able to remain calm and not react emotionally, the easier this time will be for you, however.  I wish you the best through this and hope that some of this wordy response helped.

May 31, 2011 Posted by | Communication, Eating Disorders, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Missing the Illness, Part One

One of the topic suggestions was how to deal with missing being sick or deathly thin.  At first I didn’t think that I could write on this topic, because I had no idea what the person was talking about.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I did know what the person was talking about and just didn’t want to admit it.

I don’t miss being sick, and I honestly don’t miss being deathly thin.  But I do miss the results of me being sick and deathly thin.  I don’t miss the tiredness, the constant cold, the feeling like crap, the inability to attend all my classes or do all my work, and I certainly don’t miss the fact that when I was sick the papers I wrote made absolutely no sense (even though I thought they were brilliant at the time).  I like being a competent adult.

Here’s what I miss that I was ashamed to admit: I miss being sick because when I was sick, other people took care of me and checked in on me more often.  People called me to see how I was doing.  People offered their support on a regular basis.  Friends offered to eat with me or cook for me or sit with me or talk to me.  When I was in treatment, I had a whole treatment team taking care of things and I could finally let go, give up some of the control, and let someone else call the shots.  I “just” had to sit back and accept the help offered.

I was ashamed to admit this because I’m thirty-some years old and an adult and shouldn’t need other people to take care of me, right?  But life has been rather stressful lately, and I’ve found myself wanting to throw up my hands and let someone else step in and be the adult.  I don’t want this responsibility, and I find myself wanting to retreat.

But here’s the thing–There’s no magic age we reach when we stop needing other people.  No magic number when we stop needing someone else’s care.  No turning point where we’re supposed to be able to do everything on our own.  This has been an exceptionally difficult lesson for me to learn: that it is okay to need someone else.  I may not need them in the same way I did before, but you know that quote “No man is an island”?–it’s true.  I am not this self-sufficient island, capable to taking care of every small little thing, one-hundred percent of the time.  I need other people in my life.  I still need other people to call me and say, “how are you doing?”  I still need a shoulder to cry on.

There’s a significant difference between when I was deathly thin and now, however: Now, I use my voice to meet those needs rather than my body.  And that, as most of us know, can be terrifying.  A lot of us developed our eating disorders in part because we didn’t know how to use our voices.  But I do know one thing: my friends appreciate me using my voice and find me easier to relate to now than when I used my body to speak for me.  And I’ve found that they are more able to meet my needs now that I use my voice and not my body.  But yes, this way is, initially, harder and scarier.  As you keep using your voice, however, it gets easier.  It may take a long time for it to feel natural, but it will get easier.  And you will find the people around you more open and honest.  And they will be more willing and able to be close to you.

So I challenge you–if you are missing being sick, what, exactly, are you missing?  And what have you gained that you would lose if you become sick again?  Do you really miss all the physical complications of an eating disorder?  Are you willing to give up the freedom you have gained?  And once you identify what you are really missing, can you write down ways to meet those needs?

Remember that you deserve to have those needs met in healthy ways.  You do not deserve what the eating disorder does to your body and your life.

Use your voice, not your body.  Your body will thank you.

April 30, 2011 Posted by | Communication, Eating Disorders, identity, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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.

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

More on Facebook

So I decided I needed another post on facebook, and it probably won’t be the last.

Let me make one thing clear: I wish I had had facebook when I was starting to accept I had an eating disorder.  I would have found other people like me instead of feeling like I was the only one. I could have found support; I could have found suggestions for healing; I could have found places to get professional help; I could have expressed myself and been heard.  All things I didn’t have in the beginning.

I am concerned about one thing–posts expressing the desire to quit, how worthless the person is (not feels, but is), and how pointless all forms of help are.

Again, let me clear on one point: We have all felt like quitting, we’ve all felt worthless, and we’ve all felt that help is pointless.

Let me write the same thing in two different ways:

1. I’ve been feeling frustrated lately and exhausted and this brings up feelings of wanting to quit and I could really use some encouragement right now.

2. Life sucks.  It’s not worth it.  It’s pointless, and I’m not bothering fighting the eating disorder anymore.

Or:

1. I feel so isolated and alone and don’t know where to reach out for help.  I know other people are out there fighting, but I’m having a difficult time connecting with them right now.

2. Everyone hates me.  Everything I say is wrong and I might as well just shut up because that’s what other people want me to do anyway–just disappear.

 

In both cases, Sentence 1 expresses feeling, difficult feelings, and asks for help.  There is no blaming.  There is the confusion and pain that come with fighting an eating disorder and the fear of seeking/asking for help.

In both cases, Sentence 2 expresses the same feelings, but blames the people reading and/or makes offering help nearly impossible.  How do you convince someone life is worth it?

AND what happens if the person reading Sentence 2 isn’t in such a hot place him/herself?  If the reader is already contemplating giving up and thinking about the pointlessness of fighting and of life in general, Sentence 2 is only going to reaffirm those feelings and prevent that person from asking for help.  So now we have two people on the verge of quitting and shutting out help and advice.

No one is saying that you should silence yourself on bad days.  These are the days when you need to voice your feelings the most.  But–and this is one hell of a significant but–how we word things has a great impact on those around us.  While we can’t be responsible for everyone’s feelings, we can be responsible for our own actions and the likelihood our actions and words have of harming others.

Facebook is a wonderful, needed form of support.  Responsibility needs to come along with the territory, however.

April 13, 2011 Posted by | Communication, Eating Disorders, feelings, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

the problem with being strong

Lately I’ve discovered there’s a problem with “staying strong” all the time: it’s impossible. And the message to “just stay strong”?: great at invoking guilt and shame in the recipient.

I’ve discovered both of these facts quite recently, thanks to my heart.  As I’m dealing with the uncertainty of everything tied up with my heart, combined with Bipolar Disorder Depression flare up, I’ve had a lot of well-meaning friends tell me that I “just” need to stay strong.  The problem being that right now, I feel anything but strong.  Most of the time, if not all the time, when someone tells me to my face to “just be strong,” I smile and nod.  Anything else would be rather inappropriate.  Here’s the problem: very few of my friends know what it is like to have a chronic illness and only one of my friends, who lives 1,000 miles away, knows what it’s like to live with a chronic, degenerative heart disease for which there is no cure or treatment.

Here’s what I learned, literally, yesterday: it’s okay not to be strong.  Yes, when you are fighting any illness, there is a degree of strength involved.  But there are moments when being strong is just not feasible.  These are the times when it’s okay to admit, “I’m having a shitty time and could really use some help.”  “I’m not sure I can keep fighting all the damn time and could use a rest.”  “I could really use a listening ear right now and I don’t expect you to solve anything or fix anything, just listen.”  It’s okay to have days when the social world seems to much to bear because it means faking happy and you just don’t have the energy.

What did I do yesterday?  I vacuumed and dusted my living room, took a nap with my cats, knit, wrote, and read.  I did a couple of errands so I’d have something to eat and drink and gas in my car, but none of those required heavy social interaction.  I took a break from the world.

Today, I plan on interacting with that very world I isolated myself from yesterday.  I know enough about managing depression that complete isolation rarely, if ever, helps the situation.  Nor does it help me deal with my heart condition.  I may have ARVD, an untreatable, progressive, and degenerative heart condition, but that does not preclude me from having a life.  It may be a different life than I had planned, but it’s still a life.  A life which I get to define.

For those of you struggling with any form of chronic illness: it is okay to not be strong 100% of the time.  It is okay to ask for help, to admit that you’re not feeling all that strong at the moment.  We do not do this on our own.  No one can bear my heart condition for me, but other people can help me bear it.

It took me a long time to ask for help for the eating disorder, to admit that I even needed help.  But letting go of that control and facade that gave everyone the idea that I was in control and “fine just fine” was the first step to my recovery.  Letting people in allowed me to heal.  I am not sure why I didn’t make that connection with my heart condition.

So go ahead, let go of the control and let someone in, as scary as that may sound.  None of us have to do this alone.

April 9, 2011 Posted by | bipolar disorder, coping, depression, Eating Disorders, health, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Letter of Hope and Encouragement

Hope is Possible

I was reading on Facebook, reading a post on a certain page, and Jamie had written a letter to a friend, reminding her that her worth lies in the internal beauty and gifts and talents and not the external–not what any scale says, not what any number says, not what the size of her clothes are.  She reminds us that a scale is a 2 inch piece of metal and springs–nothing more, nothing less.  She gave me permission to use the letter here.  As a possible trigger, there are numbers included, but at no point does Jamie reveal the highest or lowest weight or her current weight.  The numbers are metaphors and not points of comparison.  I found this letter full of hope and encouragement, reminding us all that we are more than our shapes, our sizes, our numbers.  The real beauty of each of us lies within and no one can take that away from us:

Dear Beautiful Girl,
You are more than a reflection in the mirror. More than the number on a scale. More than the size of your jeans. You are YOU. In all the world there is not another like you. Why do we as women have such a hard time accepting ourselves for who we are, where we are? When did you become a body instead of a being? My answer is probably different than yours yet it leads us both to the same place of discontentment. We rejoice over the dimples in a babies thighs or the little rolls on a toddlers tummy, yet we can stand in front of a mirror ( which by the way, is no more than a piece of glass ) and berate ourselves for hours at a time for these very same characteristics. Why? For some it’s a learned behavior I suppose. We’ve grown up in a society that teaches us from early on that beauty is skin deep. That who we are and what we can be IS determined by the reflection, by the number, by the size. For some it goes deeper. How we view our bodies has developed as a result of some kind of trauma. Abuse in any form can destroy how we view ourselves. Abuse by others and also abuse we inflict on our own bodies. On the souls living within our skin. My body isn’t perfect. It wasn’t when it was 20 lbs lighter nor was it when it was 20 lbs heavier. I am short, by the worlds standards I will never qualify as a ‘supermodel’. But at what point will I allow myself to say, ‘screw the worlds standards’, and decide that who I am is good enough. When will I accept that my God given gifts and abilities do NOT change regardless of whether The Gap tells me I’m a size 2 or a size 20. So many days I begin by standing on this little white square that I have given complete power to. This box can in a matter of 5 seconds determine the mood I start my day in. Whether I eat or don’t eat can be decided by this box. Whether I dress to be noticed or hide my body…also determined by it. If you take this contraption apart, you will find one tiny metal spring. I’ve given the control of my life, of my emotions, over to a 2″ piece of metal. Kinda eye opening to look at it that way. If I got up every morning and looked at the spring instead of what it’s housed in, would it have as much power? I don’t think so. Honestly, I think it would feel pretty silly. So why do I give my body, my ‘house’ more power than the soul within it? My body is visible. Your body is visible. And yet everything that controls the outside is located INSIDE. So why do we put the constant focus on what’s displayed on the outside? I’ve looked a complete mess lately. Hair every which way, baggy clothes, no makeup… In some ways I believe that my outside is finally lining up with the ‘spring’ inside of me. I’m allowing myself to just BE. No expectations, no pretenses. It’s just me. Take me or leave me. Because if my appearance is why you love me, I’d rather you didn’t bother. I’d rather be loved for my unloveliness than idolized for someone I’m not. You, my friend, my sister are 100% flawed perfection! If you were perfect, people would be intimidated by you. You are beautiful, absolutely stunning in who you are. Because the spring inside you is lovely, YOU are lovely. You radiate life and joy and love. Life, joy & love are the best examples of beauty that I can think of. So girlfriend, OWN who you are! Allow yourself to look in the mirror and tell the girl within you how absolutely gorgeous she is. I know she needs to hear it right now. Build her up instead of tearing her down. And praise the God who handcrafted her for what an amazing and awe inspiring work of beauty He created.
You are beautiful and oh so loved…
XOXOXO

 

Remember that that piece of metal is just that . . . a piece of metal.  YOU are so much more, with gifts to offer the world and love to share with those you come in contact with.  The beauty of you is YOU and will remain YOU regardless of your size or any number of measurement.

April 7, 2011 Posted by | Body Image, Communication, Eating Disorders, identity | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

facebook is . . . ?

facebook

I have a feeling this may be an unpopular post.  But it’s an honest one, with some honest opinions and some honest questions.

Facebook was initially a way to stay connected with people you knew from high school or college or work.  It quickly grew and soon people were friending people based on mutual acquaintances or interests.  I myself have 717 friends and it’s a rare week that I don’t get at least two or three friend requests from strangers–and accept them.  People find me through this blog, through mutual friends, through common networks, etc.  And I have absolutely no problem with that.  Facebook has broken down a lot of walls in our social world.

Facebook has also become a place where people find support.  I honestly wish I had had this when I was an adolescent or in college, first struggling with Bipolar disorder and the eating disorder and feeling like a total freak because I must be the only one in the whole world to feel this way and do these things. Maybe I would have sought help earlier if I knew such a thing as help existed.  So all of these eating disorder groups are good things in my eyes.  And I know I’m on the very unpopular side here: but pro-ana groups even have their place.  I really do believe in the freedom of expression, and unless they are actively converting people, I think they should be allowed a place to converse and share their feelings.

But there’s one thing I don’t understand: status updates.  I mean, I understand the general idea.  But I don’t get the status updates that are along the lines of “Life totally sucks ass.  I’m going to give up on all of this shit.”  and “This is just waaaaaaaay too hard and not worth my time.  Definitely going back to the old way.”  I’ve seen both. Multiple times.  And I don’t respond.  It’s been my experience that the people who “give up” and “walk away” do so without saying anything to attract as little attention to themselves as possible and to avoid the pleas of not giving up and keep fighting and you can do it.  People who announce that they are going to give up want someone to convince them otherwise.

So my question is: Why not flat out ask for some support and that way you don’t waste time getting messages telling you that it’s worthwhile and that you shouldn’t give up.  Wouldn’t messages letting you know how to keep fighting and how to deal with life be more helpful? And wouldn’t status updates such as these let people know where you really stand and what you really need?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with flat out asking for support and encouragement.  Isn’t that why we all have friends we’ve never met in our networks?  We have similar struggles and we get that about each other and so saying, “I’m having a crappy day with X and could really use some support” will most likely result in that support.  I’ve seen status updates like that and the resulting responses that are full of encouragement and no judgment.

Letting people in is part often one of the difficulties of having an eating disorder.  What safer place to test out asking for support and help than someplace where you’re not going to see the people who read your status?  And then, maybe, just maybe, you’ll one day get up the courage to ask someone in real-time for such support and encouragement.

meanwhile, I have to go stop my cat from climbing on top of my wall phone.

let the public flaying begin  . . . .

March 28, 2011 Posted by | Body Image, Communication, Eating Disorders, feelings, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.

March 13, 2011 Posted by | Communication, Eating Disorders, recovery, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Formspring, Take 2

formspring

I’ve written about hellspring . . . er . . . Formspring before.  I had closed mine, and then over break got bored, and decided to start it up again.  So far, people have, for the most part, asked respectful questions.  I leave it so that anonymous people can ask questions because I’ve gotten some good questions about recovery that I don’t think people would ask if they had to attach their name to the question.

Then this morning, I got one of those not-nice questions: “Why are you so fat?”  I’m really not sure that the person who asked that question wanted my initial reaction to be bursting out loud into laughter.  I think that person probably meant it as an insult.  My answer: “because I’m healthy!!!”

A) I know I’m not fat.  In any sense of the word.  I’m not overweight.  I’m not pudgy.  I’m not ill proportioned.  I am a very healthy size for someone who is my height.

B)  I am secure in this self-knowledge, so a comment like this really does make me laugh.

C) This person obviously isn’t a friend because a friend would know that because of the ARVD and my heart, doing anything that would alter my weight negatively could risk my life.

D) I am concerned for the individual asking the question for multiple reasons.  This individual thinks it’s funny to insult someone, which my mother always told me was impolite, rude, and disrespectful.  “If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all” kind of thinking.  This person thinks it’s okay to make someone else feel like shit, and generally that means the person doing the dishing isn’t that secure in his or her own self.  This person, if they honestly think I’m fat, really has a skewed perception of what thin, healthy, and fat are and that’s concerning and unhealthy.  And finally, the people who would consider me fat tend to be the people who have an eating disorder and are in the “pro-ana” camp, whether or not they will label it that, and that is very dangerous indeed.

E) People can leave comments such as this on my formspring and I won’t give a damn.  I worked my ass off to get “this fat” and I’m damn fucking proud of this.  Because when I would have been considered “thin” or even “normal” by this questioner’s standards, I would have been close to death.  Oh, I just threw out that D word and questioners such as this one tend to scoff at that, but I don’t.  Because I have a list of over ten men and women who I knew personally that died because of their eating disorder.  And I can’t keep track of how many parents I know who have lost their child or the number of people I’ve met on online forums who have died from their eating disorders.  So guess what, this “fat” girl rests secure in the knowledge that she’s alive and is thankful for it.

F) But I know a great many people who, if they had gotten this question, would have taken it to heart and would have stopped eating or would have gone on an insanely long run.  Even though they’re already underweight or at a healthy, normal weight, thus putting their lives in immediate danger.  And even if someone is technically and medically considered overweight, hearing a comment like this could result in the beginnings of an eating disorder or an exacerbation of existing symptoms and would definitely result in feelings of worthlessness and shame and guilt and depression.

Basically, the person who left that question for me was engaging in cyber-bullying, a situation that has gotten way out of hand and had resulted in individuals hurting themselves and committing suicide.  In what moral world is that considered okay?

Please, if you are suffering from an eating disorder or self-harm or depression or just have days when you feel like shit, do yourself a favor and protect your formspring account and either block anonymous questions or block anyone who isn’t approved as your friend.  No one needs these questions.

And please, if you’re the person asking them, take a look inside yourself and ask yourself these questions: Is it okay to make someone else feel like shit?  Why do I feel the need to belittle other people?  What would I feel like if someone asked me this question?  Am I willing to be the trigger behind an act of self-destruction?  Why do I take pleasure in causing other people pain?

Have some respect for yourself and other people and cut the crap.

February 3, 2011 Posted by | Body Image, depression, Eating Disorders, relationships | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments