“Oh, why you look so sad, the tears are in your eyes,
Come on and come to me now, and don't be ashamed to cry,
Let me see you through, 'cause I've seen the dark side too.
When the night falls on you, you don't know what to do,
Nothing you confess could make me love you less,
I'll stand by you,
I'll stand by you, won't let nobody hurt you,
I'll stand by you
So if you're mad, get mad, don't hold it all inside,
Come on and talk to me now.
Hey there, what you got to hide?
I get angry too, well, I'm alive like you.
When you're standing at the cross roads,
And don't know which path to choose,
Let me come along, 'cause even if you're wrong
I'll stand by you,
I'll stand by you, won't let nobody hurt you,
I'll stand by you.I'll stand by you,
I'll stand by you, won't let nobody hurt you,
I'll stand by you.
Baby, even to your darkest hour, and I'll never desert you,
I'll stand by you.
And when, when the night falls on you baby,
You're feeling all alone, you're wandering on your own,
I'll stand by you.”
I’ll Stand By You, The Pretenders
Life is hard. I don’t think anyone can go through it without going through some sort of hardship. Everyone has a time during their life when it seems everything has fallen apart. This happens because of health issues, divorce, death, job loss, failed relationships, you name it. My current time of hardship is the result of my eating disorder and the process of recovery.
My time in recovery has been a very hard and dark time in my life. The daily stress of recovery is draining, and I have very little energy left to pour into relationships. As a result, it has brought about an isolation that I never could have imagined. I spend most nights at home with my husband, or alone laying down.
I once was a woman who loved hanging out with people. I loved giving gifts, traveling, going shopping, and supporting my friends through their hard times. When a friend or family member had a baby, I would throw them a party or make a meal and drop it off. If a friend was going through a divorce, I would travel and visit them to boost their spirits. Going through a breakup? I’ll sit with you as you cry. Need a babysitter? Sure! Want a weekend away? I’m there! I loved to take care of people. Now, all of a sudden, I find myself on the flip side of that equation, and I’m not used to it. I am now the one who needs support. I’m the one who needs the visits and the cards and the encouragement. I am now the one who needs my friends and family to stand by in support of me, and it’s a scary, vulnerable place to be.
I’m not used to needing anyone. I’m a strong woman. I do things myself. I don’t ask a neighbor for an egg; I drive to the store and get it my dang self! It’s great to be strong and all, but now that I’ve hit my time of hardship, I realize how deeply I need support from others.
Sadly, when you go through hardship, a lot of people bail. Especially when what you are going through is hard to understand, not outwardly obvious and goes on for years. Some people can’t handle the stress of supporting someone. Others are simply too selfish. You know that person….they are always going through something, and the moment it isn’t about them…BYE! Some people simply don’t have the time, and others just don’t know how to be supportive, so it’s easier just not to be. Supporting someone can be draining, confusing and time consuming. No matter the reason, not everyone is as supportive as you hope they’d be.
To be honest, in my situation, I don’t blame them. I’ve been in treatment almost a year and a half. I understand that it’s a big ask to expect people to support me for that long, especially knowing that it may be even another year and a half. It’s hard to maintain support for such a long recovery process. I’m not as fun as I use to be. I don’t like to go out as much. When I’m asked how I’m doing, my answer is never, “Sunshine and rainbows.” I haven’t been able to pour as much into relationships as I used to, so there isn’t much in it for them either.
The mayor problem with all of this is that I still need as much support today as I did when I first entered treatment. Actually, I’ll go out on a limb and say I need more. At the beginning of recovery I had a lot of energy. I was ready to tackle this problem head on, and plow through any roadblock to reach my goal. Fast forward a year and that energy is lacking. The motivation is mostly gone. The milestones stretch further apart. The weight won’t budged. I’ve grown weary.
Ironically, most people assume I’m doing fine at this point. Here’s what they see: I’ve been fighting this for a while. I’m eating normally. I’m not breaking down every time I’m asked how I’m doing, and I still seem committed to recovery. Like I said before, I’m a strong woman! However, I am NOT superwoman. I’m not invincible. This shiz is HARD.
In a way this process has actually been a blessing. It has a way of weeding out the real from the surface level. Shannen Doherty, the actress from 90210, was a guest on the show Chelsea. She is battling cancer, and during her interview the topic of support came up. She said, “Cancer has been a Godsend in a lot of ways, because boy did it clean house in my life.” (1) I give an AMEN to that! E.D. recovery has had the same effect in my life. It has cleaned house. It has allowed me to see the true friendships in my life. It unveiled which relationships were surface level, contingent on what I had to offer, and which relationships were genuine and strong.
Cleaning house can be a blessing, but it can also be heartbreaking. I had friends from childhood that I assumed would 100% be there for me. But, when the going got tough, they bailed. For a long time I blamed myself. I convinced myself I wasn’t lovable and that I wasn’t worth the support I needed. I was “too much” and I should not be a burden to anyone. Over time, (and with lots of expensive therapy haha), I’ve learned that this has nothing to do with me. Some people have their own issues to work through. Their lack of support says more about them then it does about me, and that’s O.K. The blessing is that this process has showed me who I can depend on as I struggle, and who will stand by me even when, for now, I can’t give more in return.
God has truly blessed me with some very supportive people! Cue totally cheesy 90’s ballad “I’ll stand by you” by The Pretenders. I have family and friends that even now, seventeen months in, still stand by me! These people (you know who you are) call me and ask, genuinely, how I’m doing. They sit with me as I cry. They encourage me when I’m discouraged. They celebrate each and every little win and milestone of recovery. They have shared countless conversations over glasses of wine. They have sent scrapbooks of letters and sweet notes and texts. They have come to support meetings and sat through meals with me. They don’t judge me when I’m panicking about going out. They understand when I’m “just not up for it this week.” They are my prayer warriors and my most faithful and genuine friends and family. I am so incredibly thankful for all of them. Without them, I highly doubt I would have made it this far!
If you know someone who is going through eating disorder recovery and you are having a hard time knowing how to support them, fear not! I am here to help! Here are some tips from my own personal experience that can help you support your loved one.
Validation is KEY. Validation allows your loved one to know that they are heard and understood. Dismissing how they feel, or dismissing their thoughts is not helpful. Honor their experience, even if you see it differently. For example, “I can see how that would trigger you.” It’s basically saying, “How you are feeling and what you are experiencing is valid.”
Don’t always try and fix it. Sometimes we don’t need you to fix the problem, we just need you to be there for us as we go through it.
Remember you are not the professional. This is a biggie. Opinions are like…well.…you know the saying. We have a team of professionals. Doctors, dietitians, psychiatrists and therapists that know what they are doing. We know you read a book ten years ago about calories, or an article about mental illness on facebook, but adding your opinion can make us very confused and stressed which is not good for recovery.
Prayer. The power of prayer is real. It also gives us a sense that there is something greater helping us along, and something bigger than ourselves that we can have hope in.
Send a text. You live far away, or you don’t have time to sit and talk, so send a text. When I get random texts letting me know how strong I am, that someone is praying for me, or a text that is a funny meme or a scripture, it boosts my spirits and strengthens me.
Call and ask genuinely how we are…and then listen. We live in a time where picking up the phone and actually having a conversation must be scheduled. It’s sad. When someone calls me and genuinely wants to know how I’m doing, and is willing to take the time to listen, it is so incredibly helpful.
Get together and be flexible. Eating disorders thrive in isolation. Recovery is so difficult that I rarely ever initiate getting together with people. When my sister-in-law can tell I’m having a bad day she quickly says, “Come over for a glass of wine!” I can go to her place, a safe space that I feel comfortable, and spend time with someone else. I don’t love going to restaurants or bars at the moment, but taking a walk or hike is awesome.
Educate yourself. Eating disorders are hard to understand, but lucky for us there is a lot of information out there to help you understand your loved ones mental illness. Go to my resources page to start.
Send cards. This is the BEST! For my birthday, one of my sisters gave me a book of encouraging letters written by loved ones that I can read when I get down. This has been incredibly helpful in hard times. Another friend continues to send me cards that I prop up on my window sill. When I look at them I’m reminded I am not alone.
Compliment us. Eating disorders are VERY critical, so taking a compliment is almost impossible. Try compliments like, “That necklace is really stylish.” Or, “You are so creative, thanks for your help.” This is a good one: “ You are strong and bold.” Or, “ The color of your dress looks amazing on you.” These are things that we cannot judge ourselves over.
Go to a support meeting with us. Not only will you find out more about your loved one at these meetings you will also find out more about eating disorders and how to better support your loved one.
Encourage us. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times - recovery is HARD - encouragement goes a long way.
NEVER. EVER. EVER… talk about diets, calories, exercise or getting bikini ready. This seems like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how many people think nothing of blurting out how much food they’ve eaten and how many calories they now need to ‘run off’, right in front of someone in eating disorder recovery. It is VERY triggering and the consequence can be detrimental to your loved ones for days, if not weeks. Plus, we probably actually know more about calories and diets then anyone else so it's a pointless conversation...
Don’t get in a power struggle about food. The eating disorder is our battle to fight. We have to decide to eat. You can come along side us in doing that, but don’t argue about it. Eating is not simple for us. Sometimes we can’t just eat the burger.
Don’t be judgmental. We are doing the best we can. Being critical of our every move, or the times we relapse or slip up is not helpful. Of course, if we are doing something completely wrong you should let us know, but try to remember we are truly just trying to get through it.
Learn our triggers. If you know what triggers your loved one’s E.D., then you can know what to avoid, as well as how to support that person if one comes along.
Do not compliment us on their weight or bodies. I mentioned compliments in #10, but I must take the time to talk about this one by itself. This particular type of compliment is typically a major trigger for people with an eating disorder. My husband at one point was very discouraged because he found it hard to compliment me in a way that I would accept. I know people get nervous to tell me that I look good, or healthier, and for good reason. It doesn’t work! I actually HATE it. We have eating disorders, and for some reason, anything you say about our bodies and ‘looks’ gets twisted. If someone says, “You look good,” my immediate thought is, “no I don’t. I am huge and you should not lie to make me feel better.” Then that immediatly turns into “I need to lose weight.” Which then turns into a behavior….and so on. If I have lost weight and someone compliments it, it then feeds the eating disorders obsession with losing weight. If you are a big enough moron to mention that I've gained weight then obviously this will trigger my eating disorder into telling me to stop eating again. It’s best to keep compliments generic and not something our E.D. can use. Plus, our weight is the least interesting thing about us. I’m sure you can find something better to compliment.
Let us rest. We are not being lazy. Our bodies and brains are actually going through a LOT that you cannot see. We are fatigued for a reason. Our bodies are in overdrive trying to heal. We are swollen and sometimes in pain. Mentally we are exhausted. Sometimes just need to lay down.
Don’t assume, ask. Don’t assume your loved on is ok. Don’t assume they have been eating because they have gained some weight. Don’t assume they haven’t been eating because they lost some weight. It’s best to just ask.
Let them know you love them. Eating Disorders are mean. It’s likely that your loved one has gone through the day with 1000 ugly thoughts tearing them down. Sometimes we just need to know that we are loved; that we matter and that we have worth.
When all else fails, just ask how you can support them! I’m sure they will be able to tell you!
I hope these tips can better help you to support your loved one, and enable you to stand by them through the long haul of recovery! Thank you to all who have so wonderfully come along side me with support and encouragement during my recovery! I am incredibly blessed with fabulous friends, a family I can lean on, and even through this blog, people who have sent letters, comments and prayers of support!
- Sara -
1 - Chelsea, Netflix. 28 Oct. 2016. Television.