Thursday, December 30, 2010

Guest Post: Eating Disorders + Friends- yay or nay?

Hi all! 
I asked the lovely, brilliant, talented Amanda to write a post for me. I have always admired her blog, her careful, detailed and in-depth writing style, and her attitude towards the realities of recovery. Amanda has become what i would call a 'blog friend' to me, and i couldn't think of a more appropriate topic on which to hear her 'speak' than that of friends and eating disorders. 
I have many of my own stories and theories on this, as well as on friendships in their own right. For now i'll let Amanda's piece speak it's truth, the great truth that it is. 

I'm thinking of doing a series on friendships, so if you could please leave in the comments any ideas/suggestions/questions/topics that you would like me to address in an upcoming post, that would be wonderful (it may, but does not have to do with eating disorders)
Thanks! And now it's Amanda's turn...

When I was first diagnosed with an eating disorder, I didn’t know anyone else with an ed. I felt like a royally-screwed freak, to say the least. Going inpatient was my first exposure to other women with eating disorders, and that was a revelation to me! I didn’t feel so alone or bizarre anymore; instead I felt safe and accepted. These were (otherwise) normal women—not scary or strange!

(Source: Lusiacativo )

I almost immediately attached myself to someone who arrived shortly after me: my now best friend, Julia. We quickly formed an inseparable bond of mutual love, support, and trust. My counselor warned me not to become too attached to Julia, because becoming dependent on or competitive with each other would actually hinder our recoveries.

However, that never happened. I witnessed other relationships detrimental to overall recovery, but Julia and I remained strong and true friends. When she left the inpatient center before I did, that was a real test of my recovery—could I continue without her?

I’m proud to say that I could. And I did.

The next test was of our friendship. We live states apart, so would we remain friends after we both went home? Were we “eating disorder friends” (that is, was our friendship based entirely around our disorders), or were we friends who just happen to have an eating disorder in common?

 The end of the story is that we are friends, period. She is my soul mate of friends, and our bond is not based on an eating disorder. That just happens to be what brought us together—and it’s amazing and frightening to think that if we hadn’t both gone into treatment at the same time and place, we never would have met!

Yet the fact is we do have an eating disorder in common, and that’s something we do still talk about and support each other in. Obviously that makes our relationship fundamentally different than our other friendships—and while that’s potentially toxic for some people, it’s not for us. It’s an unclear and difficult balance, but I think the difference is that we are friends first and we have eating disorders second.

And as selfish as this sounds, we are committed to our own recoveries first and each other’s recoveries second. Keeping that in perspective is most important, which is a major lesson I learned while inpatient…
 Your recovery IS NOT and CANNOT be dependent on anyone else’s recovery.

(source: Here Comes the Sun)
 Granted it’s terribly hard to watch a friend fall and not be affected. After I came home from inpatient, one of my local friends “came out of the closet” with her eating disorder. I watched her struggle and crumble, and I have to admit that it hit me hard. However, even harder was the decision I had to make for my own health: I had to put my recovery first, because how could I support her if I relapsed into my own ed? And how could I tell her that she should be pursuing recovery no matter what if I wasn’t doing that too?

There is a fine line when it comes to friends with eating disorders, even if you only know them through blogs. So I think the “take home” points from this are:
  • There is a difference between “eating disorder friends” who have only an ed in common, and friends who both happen to have eating disorders. (Hint: you want to be the latter.)
  • Comparing or competing is not indicative of true friendship. You can only hurt each other in those ways, so it’s better to let go of those friends—err, frenemies.
  • Your recovery has to take priority in your life. Once you are (relatively) free of your own ed, then you will be able to help others.
  • Your recovery is not dependent on anyone else’s!
 Author’s note: This was a surprisingly difficult post to write. It’s something that I believe is very important and needs to be addressed; but when I sat down to write, I had trouble deciding where to start. There’s so much to say, and I could probably write an entire series of posts on the subject (if not an entire blog)!
As I said, eating disorders + friendships is a sticky subject. And how can I pare down such a mysterious thing as friendships into mortal words? Who am I to judge or write about them? What do I know more than you?
I suppose my chief concern is this: keep yourself and your friendships safe. An ed tends to infiltrate every aspect of our lives and take away what’s most precious. We must fight hard and stay vigilant, but our eventual freedom and happiness is well worth the work.


  1. I must say, I love this post to bits. I can relate to it a lot, and it is so truthful. I fear sometimes, that my friend who also had an eating disorder is only an "ED" friend because I find myself comparing. Not competing, but comparing -- as though I am seeking reassurance from someone more "recovered" than me. This really has me thinking about other friends, too -- non ED ones. I compare way too much against way too many people. I must stop! I have wonderful bonds with my best friends. This amazing post reminded me how important they are.

    Thank you, Amanda and Rose!

  2. GREAT post. i find that ED + friendships are tricky and sometimes hard to manage, bc you're right: it's all about finding the right balance and values within the friendship. what TRULY matters to you? can you put your own recovery aside to give to a friendship?

    love this!
    wishing you a happy, healthy and safe new year!

  3. Wow. Intense topic here. And I agree whole-heartedly with Amanda. "Your recovery IS NOT and CANNOT be dependent on anyone else’s recovery." that is just SO true. There are so many dramas behind "eating disorder friends"...and sometimes, you just need to step back and keep your distance for awhile, for the sake of your own sanity, and for the sake of your friend.

  4. i can so relate to that. I compare so much. I think we all do. We live in a culture that fosters, no --encourages comparison.
    Not-comparing is a skill one must work hard at, it definitely doesn't come naturally, at least not for a lot of us.
    I'm so glad you liked this post. Happy new year!

  5. I absolutely love the idea of doing a series on friendships Rose! After all, they are an important part of life :) I would love to see you write about how they can be dangerous… especially because I ended up experiencing that completely out of the blue.

    I was really close with one person - like, inseparably close - and it backfired without warning. She ditched me for her boyfriend, and I was left confused and alone… (at which point I started dieting like mad and I'm sure you know how that played out). I was so engrossed in our relationship that I started identifying myself with her and when she was gone it was like I didn't exist anymore. Enter: Eating disorder.
    It took me a long time to figure out who I actually am. Friendships can be amazing, but they can also distract us from our real feelings, passions, likes and dislikes. It really hurts not to have a best friend right now. Really. BUT, I am thankful for the time I spent without one so I could figure myself out… and now I think I am ready to go and find someone that loves me for the 'me' that I really am on the inside.

    Okay, that was corny but you get the gist.

    Amanda, if you're reading this, you wrote an amazing post! I am always blown away by your writing and your attitude towards eating disorders. Thank you so much for sharing this… I've never really had a friend who has dealt with an eating disorder (besides the ones I have in cyberspace of course), and I can see how sticky the whole situation can be. I think your thoughts and views on the subject are absolutely wonderful though. I always love how dedicated you are to your own health, while still managing to be extremely compassionate towards the rest of the world. That's not an easy thing to do!

  6. Throughout treatment I have also found both types of friends and I really treasure the latter kind. You know you have found a soul mate when you can trascend the pain of an ED and still have laughs together, plan for the future and have free-spirited fun. You are blessed :)

    Happy New Year!!!!!!

  7. Thank you, Tat! I don't think what you said was corny; it's a very good point! Knowing who YOU are---apart from another person and apart from an ed---is so important. Because you can be YOU now, I know you will find a special, best friend.

    Best wishes to your health and friendships in the New Year!

  8. Tat, i have had a very similar experience with losing a best friend.
    it's pretty much one of the worst things in the world.
    it has also given me time to explore who i am without one. good for you for seeing that bright side...i don't always see it. I have faith that you will make great friends when you go off to uni sooon. i think it's going to be wonderful for you. i can feel it :)

  9. I'm so glad you've found such a good friend Amanda. It is so hard to draw that fine line between a relationship based on ed and a friendship with ed in common. I struggle with this A LOT. I'm noticing that there are some friendships I need to step back from for a while until I am strong enough to stay in recovery while engaged in that relationship. It's hard and it SUCKS but we have to put ourselves first...otherwise we'll never make it through recovery!

  10. i would love for you to post something on how a friend should act when we know someone we love has an eating disorder. i have friends in various stages of disorders from just starting to slowly recovering to finally starting to move past it and i would like some perspective on how i should be there to support them. i know it is different for each person however is there any advice you can give me on how to help them without being overbearing. should i bring it up? should i tell their parents etc etc.
    thanks so much and i love your blog!

  11. i love this question! thank you so much for asking! I will definitely do a post on that. in short, my advice is to tell them if you are concerned, or mention it to them and say that you want to help, or that you're here to talk if they ever need to. If you make that clear and they don't bring it up again, i'd say it's most likely safe to just keep your own boundaries, and remember to take care of YOURSELF first, and not get too wrapped up in their stuff (ie...don't sacrifice important things your life for them- make sure they know you are there for them if they ask, but further than that, it's not your job to help them (ask them to eat, buy them food, etc)
    Hope that helps. i'll think on it and will definitely write a post on it soon. Again, thanks for asking! i love my readers :)