A Support Network Is Vital to Eating Disorder Recovery
When it comes to my recovery from anorexia, like in a lot of areas of my life, I strive to be fiercely independent. Imagine a petulant toddler yelling, "I do it self!" at the top of her lungs and pushing people away while simultaneously crying because she can't actually "do it self." Excellent. You have just drawn yourself a picture of my first three years of recovery failures.
When I first started therapy in earnest five years ago, I didn't tell anyone why I was going. That is, if I told you I was going at all. So when the meals started getting smaller and the runs longer, it seemed that I was "eating clean" and "being healthy." If you had known that one of the major issues I was told I needed to work through was my eating disorder, this might have been suspect. As it was, I was praised by nearly everyone in my life.
Contrast that to today, when everybody and his brother knows I am recovering from anorexia. And while part of that is due to my work with this blog, a lot of it has to do with the fact that I realized I wasn't having much success trying to do recovery solo. Today, if I'm having an off day, at least one person is getting a text message or email and, more than likely, someone is listening to me vent on the phone or in person.
I have to be honest -- recovery is working a lot better these days. Instead of pretending that everything is okay and then using behaviors to deal, I say what I'm feeling when I'm feeling it. Not only that, but there are people in my life who are looking out for me: making sure I'm eating, encouraging me to get outside, making plans with me so I can't spend all day in the gym.
Who Can Be Part of My Support Network?
In a word: anyone -- provided that you trust them and can be honest with them about where you're at. They don't need to be in the same city or even the same time zone. They don't need to have master's level counseling skills. They don't need to know all the nitty gritty details of your eating disorder.
The key is that they are accessible and can help you take care of you. They might have professional degrees, and they might not. You can pull support people from any area of your life:
- Professional: Not just your own treatment team (therapist, psychiatrist, dietitian, doctor), but what about your own work environment? Is there a supervisor or manager that you can go to if things at the office get crazy who can help you sort everything out?
- Family: If you are lucky enough to have a family who supports you, use them. You'll never have anyone more invested in your health and research supports the use of family-based (Maudsley) treatment for adolescents and partner-based interventions for adults.
- Friends: Maybe you met when you were six and maybe you met last year in treatment. Heck, maybe you have only ever met online through your writing. No matter though, friends you can call in the middle of the night when you're having a tough time are vital. In fact, having a few friends around the country is ideal -- then you can call regardless of the time of day and reach somebody. (A word of caution: Other people in recovery can be great support people to have, but make sure these people are in recovery -i two eating disorders having a conversation isn't helping anybody.)
- Community/Neighbors: While having folks scattered about that you can call is great, you also need people who are in your area that you can call in the event that you need to be around people (to stay safe or make recovery-focused decisions). I've always been blessed to have a great church community around me, and my pastors and small group members were people I knew I could call if I needed someone to get coffee with me. So look at your church community, parent-teacher's association (PTA), mom's group, book club, etc. and find people that you can trust and who can be available if you need them.
Obviously, the more people you have in your network, the better the chances are of finding someone who is available when you're in a moment of need. This is why I say it isn't necessary for everyone to know the nitty gritty details of your eating disorder and recovery. They may not know about your eating disorder at all, but are people you can call if you need to get a drink after work (if you are of age and not in danger of symptom switching, of course) or take a walk at the park and vent some things.
Using Your Support Network
Having a group of people who are willing and able to help you in your recovery is great, but completely worthless if you never call them for help. I'm not doing better in my recovery because "all of a sudden" people decided they would help me and be there for me. I'm doing better in recovery because "all of a sudden" I decided I would actually start calling people when I'm having a rough time.
It is also really helpful to have some ideas about how people can be helpful. On both ends, you throwing up your arms and screaming "help!" can be overwhelming and frustrating if the person on the other end of the line doesn't know how to help. Having very concrete ways someone can be there for you lessens the pressure on that person and makes it easier for them to help. You can work with your therapist to think of ways that people can help. Some ideas that I have used include:
- Invite me over for dinner or a cup of tea.
- Invite me over to play with the kids while you nap (admittedly, I am a sucker for a cute kid, so this is very specific to me).
- Go on a walk with me.
- Meet me at a bookstore to look at journals.
- Pray for me.
- Remind me of things I have said before about why I'm recovering.
And sometimes, you just need someone to say, "Wow. That sucks. I'm really sorry." Not trying to fix it, not trying to make me feel better about it, just acknowledging where I am and letting me be there. Letting me know that it's okay to have feelings and they don't have to be warm and fuzzy all the time.
Who are some people in your support network? What are some ways that they help you on your road to recovery?
Hudgens, J. (2014, September 30). A Support Network Is Vital to Eating Disorder Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 16 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivinged/2014/09/a-support-network-is-vital-to-eating-disorder-recovery
Author: Jessica Hudgens
thank you for replying and I will read that part of the blog next! You explain things so well, it's really helped me to become introduced to recovery by reading your posts.
Sometimes it's just nice to know that someone understands!
This is my first time reading through your blog and I cannot thank you enough for posting all of this. I have been struggling with anorexia for 12 years and recently began my journey to recovery this past August. I have not been in recovery long and am still in the beginning stages, trying to get my health where it should be. However, I have slowly started forming a support system through my in-laws. Although they have only known about my struggle the past few months, they have helped me in so many ways. They make sure I am eating and taking it easy at the gym, help me think logically about my triggers and eating habits and, most importantly, they listen.
When I first made the decision to start recovery this past summer, I was sure I could do it on my own. This was not at all the case. I have begun confiding in my family when I have an off day or need help getting through another step in recovery, but I still feel embarrassed or ashamed for asking for help. How have you overcome this, if you have ever had to? Asking for help is tough.
I wrote an entire blog about shame and eating disorders <a href="http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivinged/2013/02/shame-and-eating-disorders/" rel="nofollow">(shame and EDs)</a>, and it has quite a few comments on the thread to assure you that you are not alone in this feeling! Asking for help is absolutely difficult and I'm so glad you have been able to begin asking for the support you need from your in-laws. I've found that a lot of times, asking someone for help is easier (for both parties) if I can tell them exactly what to do (e.g., "I need you to take me to coffee on Tuesday nights after my dietary appointment so I don't run straight to the gym"). A lot of my shame focuses on being a burden, so giving someone a small task makes me feel like I am less overwhelming to them and they aren't questioning what would be helpful. Also, sometimes, just calling someone and asking about how they're doing is enough for me to be distracted and get my brain off whatever ED loop it is running through!
Welcome to recovery and thanks for commenting!
I love your suggestions of what people can do to help you in recovery, especially the last two points.
Amazing relationships can come out of offering or accepting support in eating disorder recovery. :)