One of the most devastating and heartbreaking truths of my life is the incompatibility of my eating disorder with human relationships.
I mean, in the most obvious sense, when I devote all my energy to something as demanding and isolating as an eating disorder, there’s simply not enough of me left to devote to the people around me. As an introvert, I spend a good deal of time on my own anyway, but in many ways that made it much easier for anorexia to steal me away. But there’s more than that. An eating disorder becomes a relationship – a separate entity in itself that requires consistent commitment and sacrifice. In fact, in therapy it is often compared to an abusive partner. Everything I did was suggested or approved by the unsatisfied voice in my head. If I didn’t follow its instructions or disobeyed the rules it set for me, I was riddled with guilt and forced to endure an agonizing period of penance.
Relationships are always difficult. They require the dynamic balance of give and take, otherwise they become dangerously unhealthy. I mean, my eating disorder loved telling me that if I followed its guidelines, I would be happy and beautiful and desirable, but I almost gave my life to anorexia and not once did I ever reap the supposed benefits. And I think the reason I was so susceptible to its deception was because I had never known a completely healthy relationship.
I’ve always had issues with my self esteem. Like every middle school girl, I was self-conscious about my appearance and awkward in my interactions with others. I went through a period of time when I didn’t have a single friend to my name, and when I finally found people who were willing to spend time with me, I was completely confounded as to why they would want to do that at all. Through the years, my friends were split distinctly into two categories: the givers and the takers.
The givers were the people I leaned on when I was going through a hard time. There were not very many of them, and I didn’t admit to needing them very often, but they were there. But when I didn’t need them, I avoided nurturing a relationship with them because they were a constant reminder of my detestable weakness. I hated myself for placing such a burden on them.
The takers, on the other hand, were plentiful. Those were the friends who leaned on me when they were going through a hard time. I often took on these people’s problems at the expense of my own well-being – dropping everything for them, taking phone calls in the middle of the night, neglecting my own emotions in favor of theirs. In these friendships, I felt no guilt because I was selflessly working for the betterment of others. I sought out the brokenhearted and lonely, hoping that by devoting myself to them, I would be able to separate from the unpleasantness in my own life.
My eating disorder was just another taker. It confirmed my fear that no one truly loved me and convinced me almost fully that I didn’t deserve givers at all. Finally, instead of constantly worrying that I wasn’t worthy of love, I knew for a fact that it was true. My efforts became focused on simultaneously punishing and improving myself through this ridiculous set of rules, because I was promised that when I was done I wouldn’t have to feel guilty anymore.
Because I’ve been thinking this way for a very long time, I know it’s not going to change overnight. I don’t know how to magically maintain awesome friendships any more than I know how to magically cure myself of the urge to restrict my diet. But I’m slowly learning. I try to spend more time with the givers, sitting through the guilt long enough to start to realize that they do truly care about me. I try to set boundaries with the takers, allowing myself to take a break from other peoples’ issues in order to deal with my own. Someday, I’m hoping the relationships worth saving will settle into a pattern that is both comfortable and healthy. Some relationships may not survive, but that’s okay too. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’m allowed to need support, and that doesn’t make me any less available when others need it too.
I’m lucky enough to have a huge amount of people in my life that love and care about me. I am grateful every day that I have those people to make me laugh, pull me through the rough patches, and make me feel important. All of these people are deserving of healthy, give-and-take relationships – and you know what?
So am I.
I can’t have it both ways. It’s either anorexia or the group of beautiful people that show me how strong and good the human race can be. Living the right choice in my daily life is incredibly difficult, but the choice itself is a no-brainer. And it is absolutely and doubtlessly worth it.