Updated: Oct 8, 2020
Through a twist of fate, I got lunch with a woman, let's call her Rachel, from my church small group. We both had dance class on Tuesday and Thursday; she was the session before me. After a few awkward get-to-know-you questions and half-hearted munching, we stumbled into our eating disorders.
If you have ever had one of those conversations, it's thrilling. It's like figuring out you are both obsessed with the same 90s sitcom.
Rachel and I became fast friends. Since it was early in the semester, we decided to have lunch every week. We got to know each other better, and each other's eating disorder better. It was helpful and a relief to have someone to talk to about my struggles.
That initial bond is enormously significant. It cemented a relationship that might not have otherwise happened. I now had an ally and a confidant. She became the person who I bounced ideas off and talked to about recovery strategies.
It was vital to my recovery journey, but it was also dangerous. Thankfully, Rachel and I were in the same stage of our journeys, and we desperately wanted to get better. If we hadn't been, the situation could have played out a lot differently.
To have an excellent eating-disorder-related relationship, it depends on where you are in your journey and where they are in their journey. You wouldn't ask newlyweds for marriage advice. You would want help from the couple celebrating their sixtieth wedding anniversary.
As I'm more than five years into my healing journey, I can talk to anyone about their eating disorder. But when I was in the thick of it, I couldn't give anyone advice or comfort. I needed someone who was more healed than I was to relate to, talk with, and bounce off ideas.
It seems super obvious, but there are still relationships that become toxic because of eating disorders. My mom and I had mirrored eating disorder journeys, and for a while, I couldn't talk to her about my struggles.
The situation was disappointing and frustrating for me. Someone so close to me was struggling with something, and I couldn't help. Someone so close to me was struggling with the same thing I was, and I couldn't talk to them about it. Someone so close to me was doing just as wrong as I was.
But I couldn't drag her down or let her drag me down. We each had to heal in our ways. And since we didn't live close or interact with each other every day, it didn't make sense to walk our journeys together.
If you know someone who also has an eating disorder, send them to this website! (Shameless plug lol) More seriously, determine where that person is in their eating disorder and determine if talking about it will help either of you. Each combination can have its positives and negatives.
Stages of Recovery
There are three stages of recovery: the transition/abstinence stage, the early recovery/repair stage, and the ongoing recovery/growth stage. As a general rule, the person in the more progressive stage of recovery should take a mentor role in the relationship. Check out the article on the stages of addiction recovery.
How to recognize a good relationship:
It's Positive. Recovering from an eating disorder is a long process. The ability to be positive and stay positive assists with the constant setbacks. It helps to have someone who can pull you out of the fog.
Talk Regularly/Communication. A staple of a healthy friendship is the ability to tell each other everything. Understanding each other's ins and outs of your day to day life can keep you and your eating disorder accountable.
Mutual Trust. You know they aren't going to spill all of your secrets to the world. You trust that the other person has done their research on this topic or that.
Similar Goals. It helps if you both want to stop binging or start eating regularly. You can share tips and tricks and encourage each other when they fall off the wagon.
Similar Values. If both parties are Christian, they can talk about how their faith is affecting their eating disorders or vice versa. If both parties want to go vegan, they can support each other in that.
Encouragement. More than being positive about the situation, both persons can motivate the other to achieve their goals or get up after they fall.
Mutual Respect. Your partner is going to believe your story. This person is going to listen to your account and do anything they can to help you out.
Realistic Expectations. They don't expect you to heal overnight. It helps to have a person on your team, especially if you have some enemies that don't support you.
Able to forgive. No one is perfect, and grace is needed in every relationship. Some people take longer to heal than others. Find someone who will be patient with you as you mend.
Support each other. Even if you don't agree with a goal or a motivation, supporting each other is a staple of a healthy relationship. Pick a person who can assist you through all the setbacks.
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