Learning to trust someone with an Eating Disorder again:
‘You step back. You grit your teeth, and you support them in taking teeny tiny risky steps which have the potential to go wrong’
I committed (or perhaps surrendered) fully to my recovery on the 10th June 2016. I’d hit rock bottom. Literally. A gentle fall landed me on my *actual* bottom, and my emancipated body couldn’t protect my brittle bones.
I’ll never forget the desperate tiny ‘me’ crawling around Superdrug, searching for heat packs to sooth my cracked pelvis. I was too scared to call a doctor.
I look back now, and I wonder HOW I let that happen. HOW did I not give up? Give in? Or allow people to take the pain away from me, and help me heal. I’ll never be able to explain the power of an eating disorder. But if broken bones and no painkillers felt easier than eating, it goes some way to explain the strength of this illness.
Years later, and whenever I see my Mum she says to me…
“Please look after yourself, I do worry about you”.
I roll my eyes.
“Oh Mum for f*ck sake I’m fine!”
*(If there’s one thing an eating disorder brings to a family…it’s the acceptance of swearing in every other sentence FYI)*
But when I really think about it. Of COURSE she’s worried. I’m 28 years old and she still finds it hard to trust I have the ability to look after myself. I lost that trust and it’ll take years to re-gain.
So how can you learn to trust someone in eating disorder recovery? (The early recovery, the later recovery, and every other recovery in between).
I hope these insights help you.
- Don’t be scared of the salad. I’ll never forget the first time I chose a salad when I went for dinner with my Mum. The fear in her eyes was stronger than the double gin in my tonic. It can be terrifying to see someone eating/drinking/acting in ways they did in the midst of their eating disorder. I lived on salads with a side of Diet Coke (and that was on a ‘good’ day!) SO. Initially in recovery these were two things I HAD to avoid, and two things people were in TUNE to look out for.
But don’t always see someones consumption of these as a weakness.
There is a time and a place for them in recovery. Sometimes, trigger foods, going on the same walks they used to drag their body on and watching programmes they used to get diet tips off can all be signs of strength within recovery. Eating the foods. Walking the routes. Watching the programmes. CHOOSING as opposed to HAVING to do them is an important part of the process. It isn’t always about relapse. It can be about power over the eating disorder and turning the tables on WHO’S in charge.
So, quietly monitor their salad intake, and consider their Diet Coke consumption. But allow them the chance to try making their OWN choices. They’ve been denied this for so long.
- Take positive risks. You step back. You grit your teeth, and you support them in taking teeny tiny risky steps which have the potential to go wrong, cause harm and/or lapse/relapse…but also have the potential for personal growth. Do they want to re-engage with fitness? Maybe they want to try a new job? Move into a new home? Live alone? Go on a holiday?
I know my family were terrified when I chose to to re-engage with exercise after years of being in an un-healthy relationship with it. But they supported my choice, and it turned out to be one of the best I ever made.
- Encourage a WRAP plan (Wellness Recovery Action Plan). It’s a bible. A passport. The most valuable document you’ll both ever own. If someone has entrusted you with a copy of their WRAP plan, be assured that if you need it, it’s there and you can use it. It’s a contract. Between you and for you. Aiding trust, encouraging you to be a part of their recovery.
- Try not to suffocate. This feels hard. I know because I also have loved ones with an eating disorder, and I have to remind myself not to suffocate them too! Remember, you cannot heal them, but you can HELP them heal. Support. Listen. Cry. Laugh. But don’t try and do it *for* them. My recovery strengthened the second I was at the forefront of it. Be a cheerleader, but you cheer and they lead.
- Trust yourself. They will lapse. They will struggle. They will make unwise, unhealthy choices along the way. They will get worse. They will get better. The illness is a cycle, and the recovery is too. That cycle might take months or years but if you trust that one day they’ll break it, they’ll trust in that too. So cycle with us. Alongside us. Cheer the good times. Cry the bad times. And be there for all those times in between.
I always think of recovery in my two hands. In my right hand is me. In my left hand is all those who love me and everything which promotes and supports my recovery. I need both hands and I need them to work together. If you’re reading this, and you’re in someones right hand. Thank you. They trust you, and they’re working on you trusting them too.
All my writing is experienced based.
*Although I advocate for positive risk taking in eating disorder recovery, please do speak to someone if your loved one is taking dangerous and potentially deadly risks with their health and well-being.*