Relationships and Recovery
By Rebecca Cooper
I have learned many things about myself that I did not know when I had my eating disorder. One is that food was my best friend, my primary relationship. I went to food like some people go to a trusted friend or confidant.
When Food Is Your Primary Relationship
Relationships take time and energy to develop, but so does disordered eating. I spent so much time around the thoughts of what or what not to eat, actually eating, and then hiding what I had done, that I didn’t have the necessary time to create healthy, authentic relationships.
I was uncomfortable being around people because I felt inadequate and ashamed. I was afraid that they would find out about my secret and confirm that I was a bad person. I felt safer and more comfortable at home with my eating disorder. Unfortunately, using my relationship with food in this manner prevented me from building social skills.
It was also impossible for me to be honest with anyone, which is important in any relationship, because I had to hide what I was doing—exercising to the extreme, spending huge amounts of time, energy, and money on bingeing and purging, disappearing after meals…the list goes on and on.
And although communication is part of any social interaction, when I was in the depths of my eating disorder, I felt I had nothing to talk about. What was I going to say? “I ate a quart of ice cream by myself last night?” My dysfunctional behaviors had taken the place of hobbies, interests, and other activities that most people pursue and find interesting.
So, although food seemed like my best friend, the shame of it robbed me of other relationships. It even prevented me from knowing and being the real me. In order to find out who I was and what was meaningful for me, I had to give up the eating disorder. Eventually, what I discovered was that I wanted to experience authentic love more than I wanted whatever the eating disorder was offering.
Replacing Food with Friends
One important part of recovery, then, is being able to speak your truth instead of hiding behind food. Learning skills such as negotiation, anger management, listening, compromise, and cooperation is essential to that process. If you have used an eating disorder as a means of avoiding your feelings and other people, developing these skills will take courage and practice. Here is a practical list that may help you:
• Write your thoughts before communicating a difficult subject
• Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
• Make eye contact
• Don’t wait for the other person to start a conversation
• Speak your truth. Let your ‘yes’ mean yes and your ‘no’ mean no
• Really listen instead of rehearsing what you will say
• Ask questions
• Project positive feelings towards the person you are communicating with
• Pursue interest and hobbies that you can talk about with others
• Pay attention to your feelings
• Pay attention to body language
• Words are powerful; use them to uplift yourself and others
Loving Ourselves to Love Others
Also, in order to have authentic, healthy relationships, you must be willing not only to get to know yourself, but also to be vulnerable enough to share that self—faults and all—with others. Pretending to be someone you are not is unfulfilling for everyone involved. You cannot keep up the act forever. Even if someone loves you, you may not feel that love because you believe the other person does not know the “real you.” But when you get to know and love who you truly are, you can be authentic and real in your interactions. And as this loving Self develops, people will recognize and respond to it, allowing the barriers to intimacy to fall away and loving relationships to blossom.
Then you will know, at a profound level, that an eating disorder cannot take the place of true friendships. It cannot protect you or make you feel good about yourself. Nor can it fill that empty place inside you. And when you take the courageous step to cut ties with your disorder, you will learn, as I did, that there is nothing more nurturing or fulfilling than a relationship based on honest sharing, mutual respect, and true self-love.
About the Author
Rebecca Cooper is a licensed therapist, Certified Eating Disorder Specialist, Founder of Rebecca’s House Eating Disorder Treatment Programs (www.Rebecca’sHouse.org) and the author of the Diets Don’t Work® disordered eating recovery program.
Reprinted with permission from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Spring 2009 Volume 7, Number 2
©2009 Gürze Books