Eating Disorder Recovery: Getting Better and Losing Friends
Summary: Relationships change as you make progress toward solid recovery. Joanna helps you understand which relationships can last and which can't so you can be sturdy and kind to yourself and proceed on your path to a new and more healthy life.
If you are recovering from an eating disorder, whether it is bulimia, anorexia, compulsive overeating or binge eating, you are probably experiencing some upheaval in your personal relationships. You may not understand why your behavior and preferences in recovery are so upsetting to people in your life. And you may be surprised, bewildered or feel guilty when you want to pull away from people who used to be close friends.
When a person is seriously ill with her eating disorder, the people who are close to her accept or are attracted to or need her as she is. That means many people are close to her, not despite her eating disorder, but because of her eating disorder.
Some people see through your symptoms to the genuine person you are. They are treasures in your life and will be loyal friends. Others need your symptoms and, therefore, need you to remain ill
Changes in recovery
Everyone who has a relationship with a person who suffers from an eating disorder is in a relationship with a sick person. If that person is you, then when you start to get well, your attitudes, choices and responses change. You are more caring and respectful of yourself. You resist sacrificing your personal resources (time, money, skills, energy) because you no longer believe that others are more important than you. You begin to use your resources to make your own dreams come true, dreams you didn't know you had because they were buried by the eating disorder.
You no longer engage in high risk behavior for thrills or because you are going along with everyone else and are numb to your fears. You feel. You regain your mind. You have opinions. You have a point of view. You matter to yourself. You say, "No," where you used to say, "Yes" or "Okay, if you want me to," or worse, not saying anything and just going along because you feel it's expected and you can't say, "No."
Objections to Health
The people in your life who wanted all the qualities that attend an eating disorder may object to the change toward health in your life. They can be ruffled, disappointed and then hurt and angry as you develop more self esteem and become more healthy. If they can grow themselves and accept your healthy attitudes then the relationships change and grow.
If they cannot grow and adapt, if they need a relationship with a person who goes numb, who says yes, who sacrifices and feels guilty and responsible for other people's needs, then they will grow both resentful and bored.
If you do not go back to how you were when you were ill so the relationship is the same as it ever was, the relationship will fall apart.
If you are truly in recovery, you will not or cannot go back to your illness to support people who require a self sacrificing person to fulfill their needs.
Getting Better and Gaining Friends
If this is you now, then just wait and live your life in recovery. People who are attracted to health will be attracted to you. People who have their own solid self esteem and are willing to be responsible for themselves will become visible to you as you become visible to them.
In recovery and growing health, you have more choices and can have more satisfying relationships based on who you are now.
Be brave. Life gets better!
Joanna Poppink, Los Angeles psychotherapist, licensed since 1980 (MFT #15563), is deeply committed to bringing recovery to people suffering from eating disorders.
Her specialized psychotherapy practice is designed to allow clients to progress through anxiety situations to ongoing recovery from bulimia, compulsive eating, anorexia and binge eating. Her primary goal is to provide people with a way to achieve thorough and long lasting healing.
Last Updated: 18 April 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD