The Combination of Support and Love to help Someone in Recovery

A message to the family and friends of a loved one in recovery bears repeating. The most important thing to say at all times is the following: I love you and support you no matter what.

Based on the premise of the last post, it feels imperative to explain how to put that information into practice. A common way to help people through challenging experiences is to praise their progress and achievement. These statements provide both acknowledgement of the hard work and recognition of the results. 

Extension of this kind of support appears on the surface to apply to someone with an eating disorder. It's not clear at all why a simple vote of support and confidence would be harmful, but it is. 

The eating disorder not only represents a way of facing food in daily life but also a way of navigating the world and of understanding oneself. As an all encompassing philosophy of living, the eating disorder thoughts have been the structure influencing the person's thought process and decisions every day. 

Choosing to ignore the thoughts and live as someone without an eating disorder may be a new and compassionate way to see oneself, but it is also excruciating because it means stepping away from a way of life that is safe and into the vast unknown. There may be the opportunity for love in the world without an eating disorder but it feels vulnerable and scary. 

Words of encouragement only reinforce the fear and exposure of steps into recovery. Telling someone they ate well or look good or have been really present in life may all come from the heart, but these statements reinforce the terror of being in recovery. Acknowledging the real steps into wellness is hard to do but it is especially hard to realize others see it as well. 

Reminding the person she is loved and has support in this scary environment provides different support and something much more needed. These words reinforce the opposite of the eating disorder, love, and help the person understand that even in recovery, she will be ok.


The Opposite of an Eating Disorder

A somewhat corny phrase has popped into my mind recently about recovery. On the surface, it appears that the cure or the opposite of an eating disorder is eating regularly and maintaining health, yet a more true statement in my experience is that the opposite of an eating disorder is love. 

These illnesses promise a utopia of sorts when someone fully dives into them. The rules and strict guidelines of an eating disorder provide a powerful feeling of safety and comfort, something coveted by most people suffering with them. The uncertain and unmanageable aspects of life, both external circumstances and internal thoughts and feelings, become irrelevant compared to the reliability and consistency of the eating disorder. 

The reality of these rules is a life of isolation. There is no room for friendships, relationships or, most importantly, love when the eating disorder blocks any path towards meaningful connection. Real love and caring are fraught with land mines: vulnerability, feeling misunderstood and being hurt. The eating disorder causes suffering but with no surprises, and the benefits are clear. 

It may be obvious that the love from an eating disorder is lonely and hollow. An eating disorder cannot replace the true connection from another person but merely distract the sufferer from her pain. 

Recovery involves engaging with people directly, not from behind the veil of an illness but in a true and genuine way. A sensitive and emotional person will struggle at first with the raw vulnerability that comes with opening up to others and caring about building relationships. However, even a few positive steps in a friendship are often enough to remind the person of what she has been missing. 

Through this experience of love, recovery can take significant steps forward. The thoughts and behaviors of an eating disorder may be ingrained, but the pull of true connection serves as enough of a carrot to take the meaning and power away from the benefits of an eating disorder and make the struggle of recovery worth it.