Because of my experience in eating disorder recovery, when I blog about mental illness, I focus primarily on the disorders that I have been most affected by: anxiety, depression, OCD, and my eating disorder. However, many of the things that I have learned in therapy are applicable for individuals who struggle with other mental illnesses, addictions, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. This topic is one of those things.
This concept of reaching out to other people instead of our unhealthy cooping mechanisms is one that is easy to comprehend, yet so hard to carry out.
Reaching out to other people requires effort, and lots of it.
Identifying your recovery team
It first requires you to identify the people that you trust with your recovery. These are your “go-to” people when you are having a hard day or are on the verge of relapse. These people are “safe”. They may or may not have gone through what you are experiencing, but they are always willing to listen with compassion, show grace, and empathize without completely understanding. There may be people in your life who aren’t worthy of your recovery journey.
These people are “unsafe”. They often lack the maturity or experience that it takes to understand the type of pain associated with mental illness. They may care about you as a friend, but that don’t know how to empathize or how to respond on a hard day. You may still be able to trust them, but maybe not as an accountability partner in your recovery. They may not understand that talking about diet, exercise, and weight can be very triggering and unhelpful when it comes to your recovery.
You want to surround yourself with people who you love, trust, and can rely on to help you get better. One of the hardest parts is at the beginning of your journey, you may find that some people who you thought were “safe” for you, aren’t actually. That can be a tough pill to swallow. Simply put, you find out who your real friends are when you walk through a season of suffering. There have been some bumps in the road, but I have been able to identify the “safe” people in my life, and I am comfortable with the people that I have let in on my recovery journey.
Talking about support expectations
Once you have identified your “safe” people, it’s a good idea to ask them to be apart of your recovery/support team. When doing so, ask each person about personal boundaries and the type of support they can best provide. For example, my treatment team is always available via e-mail and will generally respond quickly when I have a question or need additional support. They also support me at our appointments. Their support looks different than the support from my mom, for example, who provides financial support, spiritual support, and emotional support around the clock. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to contact my recovery team at 10:00 PM, but I know that my mom wouldn’t mind answering a phone call if I needed her late at night. Likewise, I’m not going to wake my sister up at 5:00 AM. Some friends/family members supported me by simply spending time with me, playing games, watching a movie, or going shopping with me. Many people are more comfortable with that type of support, which is something that I desperately needed. Those people were apart of some the best days, where my eating disorder didn’t seem to be ruling and reigning over my life. Yet other friends poured into me their spiritual wisdom & encouragement, by praying for me and always pointing me back to the gospel.
Two important things to note before we move on:
- We must choose recovery for ourselves. We must make the choice to reach out when we don’t have enough strength to fight on our own. Recovery strips away our self-sufficiency and requires us to rely on other people, no matter how independent we may think we are. Our loved ones may do everything in their power to help us recover, but at the end of the day. It’s our choice. They can’t choose recovery for us.
- There are things that go on in our hearts and minds that only God can heal. No therapeutic technique. No perfect meal plan. No ideal weight. No person. Only God. Lean into him, wrestle with him, cry out to him, abide in him, spend time with him. It is only then when the deepest wounds in our hearts can be healed.
Reaching out to other people
In the moment, it’s so difficult. We know what we are supposed to do. We aren’t supposed to do the things that keep us sick. We aren’t supposed to numb out our feelings…it just seems so easy to do so at the time. There were many times that I didn’t choose to reach out to people, and instead chose my eating disorder. This always made the pain worse in the long run-physically and emotionally.
The pain that my eating disorder caused me pushed me to reach out to other people, and the life that I wanted without my eating disorder pulled me when the pain wasn’t enough.
I started seeing significant progress when I started to reach out to first God, and then my support team, in moments where the temptation seemed too much to bear. I would come to God open and honest with my feelings, asking him to give me the discernment and strength to choose the next right thing in that situation, whatever that may have been. God’s Holy Spirit consistently and actively spoke to me and showed me the path I needed to walk on, it was just a matter of if I was going to choose it that day or not.
One night at work I had a strong urge to skip dinner and go to the gym instead. I felt the hunger pains in my stomach and heard the growling as I began to serve meals to other people. I knew that my body needed food, yet psychologically it was the absolute last thing I wanted to do.
I called my husband (boyfriend at the time)…no answer.
I called my mom…no answer.
“Awesome,” I thought to myself. “This is just a sign that I am supposed to go workout and that I don’t need dinner anyways. They didn’t answer so I am home free.”
Almost immediately after that thought the Holy Spirit convicted me. God had given me so many amazing resources to help me get better, but that wasn’t going to happen if I didn’t choose to do so. I knew that the LAST thing that I needed was to skip dinner and go to the gym. I couldn’t do it alone. I needed to call someone else.
I decided to call my best friend, Megan.
Megan has such a sweet, sensitive, discerning, & nonjudgmental spirit. She helps me process through my recovery slowly, thoughtfully, and intentionally. With Meg, there is no room for guilt, shame, or condemnation, only grace, compassion, listening, and understanding.
I love Megan, but I didn’t really want to talk to her when I called her.
*Please don’t pick up, please don’t pick up….*
Me: “Um………I hate doing this. I hate everything about this…..but I am really tempted to skip dinner and go workout but I know that I cannot do that if I want to be healthy. I just need someone to talk to.”
And then I burst into tears. Typical.
I didn’t workout that night. After I got off the phone with Megan, I went and brought my nana flowers and then went home and ate dinner with my dad. I went to bed feeling thankful, proud, & of course, a little exhausted.
At the time, that was one of the hardest things that I had done in my recovery. There was nothing about me that wanted to reach out to other people. I wanted immediate relief from my anxiety. I didn’t want to have to be vulnerable and share my deepest struggle with other people. I hated every minute of it, but I was so glad that I did it. That night became a turning point in my recovery, one where I started to open up even more to my recovery team and trust that they knew what was best for me.
What is one way that you can reach out to people, rather than your eating disorder today?