“We’re not fighting you, we’re fighting the eating disorder.” I, along with, I’m sure, many, have heard this numerous times. So frequently, in recovery, the idea that the eating disorder is the enemy is reinforced that it’s natural that, further through the process, an eating disorder is assumed to be a sort of devil. It becomes so engrained in what is believed to be true, that the purpose is lost and the veracity behind the statement is skewed. We forget what it does.
Though I don’t mean to say that an eating disorder is at all a positive coping mechanism; what I do want to emphasize is that it is a coping mechanism. In treatment, I wrote many thank you letters to my disorder, before saying goodbye. This being because it did something for me. In so many ways, my eating disorder saved me and, in this, it wasn’t my eating disorder that was the thing that needed to be destroyed, but rather the need for it. It was the fact that I couldn’t survive without using behaviors that was so devastating, not simply the behaviors, themselves.
For those of us who have spent a decent amount of time in treatment, it is inevitable to make connections along the way and, with the relapse rate being what it is, those relationships wind up including people who will continue to struggle at varying degrees. Something I’ve had to consistently work on is deciding which relationships to keep, while still putting the maintenance of my relationship with myself as priority. It’s a constant conversation that can be controversial; some believe distance is necessary, some think relationships are the only way one another can help each other to grow stronger together, others believe in cutting off completely from anyone with a diagnosis, and still there’s others who agree with something somewhere in between.
I think it’s personal. I think it’s not a one-size-fits-all deal, and I certainly believe it has to be approached as a question. For me, I’ve had the tendency to stay in touch… With pretty much everyone. My stance has not always been accepted and, perhaps, it might not always be the best thing for me. However, I’ve found that, though I keep in touch, there’s a natural disconnection that happens when another is struggling; they’re not totally there. For this reason, I’ve often heard expressions like, “it’s not them, it’s their eating disorder,” and I think this is a major reason why people steer clear of staying in contact.
Though this can be disappointing and, to some, angering and frustrating, the way I’m able to expose myself is through the lens of motivation. The thing is, the reason I’m writing this at all is because I’ve felt particularly motivated recently to defend those who suffer. Maybe it’s because, being outpatient, I’ve been reminded of the daily challenges that come with recovering in the real world, but, for whatever reason, I’ve felt the need to voice for those who are stuck in their worst nightmares and, for whatever reason, can’t get out. For the average person who hates themselves after having a cupcake and doesn’t realize he/she is living under the rules he/she never had a say in, for the child that will inevitably grow up to attempt to fit into a certain mold set out for him/her, and for the person with an eating disorder who isn’t getting the help he/she needs, or isn’t ready to accept it.
Maybe I’m getting into a larger tangent here when I say that I generally believe all people to be good, when I say that everyone who does something against themselves or others, I believe, is already suffering in a big sort of way, but I think this directly links to those still struggling with an eating disorder and, for those out there who are dealing with how to approach relationships with others from treatment, I think it’s important to keep this in mind. I still think putting one’s own well-being first is massively important, but I also feel the need to advocate that, if you can, remember the person behind the disorder and fight for them. It isn’t without a hand that those who still struggle can see what’s beyond it all, and I’m a firm believer that relationships are one of the only things that are powerful enough to combat the enmeshment that happens between a soul and a disorder.
Though fighting the eating disorder is important, the person lives in the same body as that disorder, and that person needs compassion. Confusing the two (the eating disorder and the person) can be all too easy, but throwing anger, hatred, or disconnection at the face of the person who already suffers, isn’t going to save them, nor will it change the situation. Though the behaviors ultimately are the direct reason the individual dies, they hurt before they act, and often that pain comes in the form of loneliness and disconnection. For me, I choose not to hate the eating disorder in another, nor the person for choosing it, but rather the circumstances that brought them there. I do my best to help the person I know is behind the struggles remember the other alternatives, and I use the devastation of their current downfalls as a reminder of how far I have come and why I never want to go back.
Food for thought (no pun intended).