#4: What our friends may never tell us before appropriately drifting away
Recovery takes a toll on friendships, romantic partnerships, and family relationships because our healing process is messy, exceptionally intense to experience and excruciatingly painful to watch.
Our process of focusing inwards is NOT selfish because our becoming our best selves is exactly what empowers us to bless the world we genuinely love; nevertheless, that process is appropriately very exclusive, internal, without an estimated time arrival, finish line or task checklist to indicate completion, and it is unpredictable.
None of those unpredictable factors build a sturdy foundation, and only a small percentage of the finest, firmest foundations survive inconsistency. Consequentially, we finish once beautiful relationships very divided, and what makes it most difficult is not a poor relational stewardship of either party but rather every finite human’s self-awareness of her capacity, its limits, own evolving hardships and decision for what or whom to sacrifice pieces of her well being.
In that already fragile, complex process, each party is guaranteed feeling shame, unintentionally choosing silence as an (ironic) attempt to hide the truth that may hurt the other. It is counterproductive, expediting the relationship’s crumbling foundation.
Our illness’ severity does not fairly propagate unkindness, nor does it breed respect, dignity or the appropriate level intimacy each relationship needs. And though every trauma is valid, abuse victims particularly wrestle with the idea that “our needs are not real” and “we got what we deserved,” a double-edged sword because it means we have not only been beaten down by lies but have adopted them as permanent life stories on which to base our decisions for self-care.
In the other pair of flip-flops, there is the equally real, crucial, basic boundary that no other individual we know informally is our therapist, caretaker or fixer.
Even those with the most incredible emotional intelligence, mental health awareness, magnificent of the most magnificent verbalization and listening skills, or our own fellow recovering overcomers cannot parent or take care of us.
It is not a measure of irresponsibility, inconsiderate feelings, poor character or lack of compassion. It is a boundary to prevent codependency, which always begins breeding the instant an individual thinks, “I can change” the individual s/he loves.
Codependency results in hurt feelings, emotional strain, awkward enmeshments and a general unhealthy kinship that, like silence, exacerbates what day-to-day dysfunctionalities us in recovery are working diligently to correct.
The point is, when we are uncomfortable depending on others to carry very, very severe burdens with which they are unfamiliar, that is a good red flag warning sign, and when our best friends begin to drift away in effort to deny themselves the responsibility for owning any part of our healing journey, they are correct to do so.
Though it will never feel so, our friends’ refusal to step into our lives more deeply than they are equipped is the only possibility for a restored relationship.
Our mental health illnesses are creepy and sly in that they take authentic connections away from us while we were still looking, and, in the worst circumstances, we confuse being the victim of crimes that are not our fault with appropriately participating in our own lives’ restoration, using the guidance from our bright, competent clinicians whose job and responsibility it is to help us rebuild what was broken.
To those who support me, I want to clearly voice again that I have, at no point in my journey, sought to overwhelm your carefulness or take advantage of your kindness.
Watching our mental illnesses steal our positive connections is not the same as seeing that thievery, because when in dark spaces of our disease, we are one with that disease.
An eating disorder is its own version of an addiction, and I can say unashamedly that I felt like a slave to my eating disorder, in that I felt “my eating disorder is the only thing I have control over,” not realizing that a person without choice is the same as an unfreed person. One choice is not a choice at all.
Previously, I’ve described feeling as though I have an “orphan brain” as a result of childhood starvation, or rather, lifelong starvation, considering recent events, as well as years of consistently being belittled, undervalued, actively neglected or manipulatively controlled by sneaky, malignant behaviors.
The “orphan brain” and I coped by understanding answers to our invalidated needs only presented themselves occasionally, so survival existed only in what is a form of bingeing in response to fear. Even today, when I experience good things, I am instantly afraid of never experiencing that good thing ever again. It can be as simple as hearing a song playing on my Spotify playlist and playing the song on repeat until I realize there are many tracks on the station that I enjoy, and my subscription allows me to listen to virtually whatever song in the universe I want to listen to over and over again.
This is the very nature of dependency: I am cognitively convinced that I am not entitled to life, kindness or the most basic extensions of goodness, because I am a bad person at my core, as evidenced by the abuse I’ve experienced or the abusive mindset that is eerily stuck in my thinking patterns.
When I say my treatment team is superb, I mean it, because they are not excluded from instances in which I latch onto their kindness in fear of their abandonment. My very closest, best friends have likely experienced that cycle of self-hatred more than anyone else because my internal self-denials or exposure to people who tear me down is blatantly obvious in my relational presence or absence.
Their mercy, not giving me what I do deserve, and their grace, giving me what I do not deserve, is a huge sacrifice, and I know it is authentic because they have never voiced any of these current musings to me. In general, I am deeply saturated in unconditional, sacrificial love, and I know it is so because, in every time I have been removed from our friendship community, they have grieved and not reengaged the space in their hearts for me.
Each time I suffer, I am removed more and more from what makes our friendship worth the continued investment. It is a blow to our greatest love offerings to one another. I must focus on what draws me back into toxicity and rob us of fulfillment.
They must focus on the emotional pain and other relational consequences of my refocusing, including the rightful decision they have to separate to the extent they find necessary to maintain their own foundations. At the end of the day, we must first care for our individual selves, we are responsible for ourselves and that is not the same as our responsibility to other people.
Regardless of the best, most exciting recovery outcomes, the roller coaster of sickness, health, prolonged sickness, hope for healing, and so forth is exhausting for the entire community. And it is tearing us up.
My eating disorder is lying to me every time it tells me that its thinking and behavioral spaces allow me to grieve my pain without it impacting everyone. My eating disorder is lying to me when it tells me that it is no one else’s business except my own. My eating disorder is lying to me when it instructs me to self-isolate as an effective way to protect others from me. My eating disorder is lying to me when it tells me that honesty and transparency are more painful to others than my secrecy. Mom is the direct correlation that has got to go. It is not coincidental that her absence is my prosperity, and her prosperity is my healing's absence. I have come too far and sacrificed too much to see this happen ever again.
When we think about the unkindness we show ourselves, we ask ourselves if we would ever show someone else that unkindness. The answer? No. In fact, we are very confused by our ability to surpass expectations and commitments in genuine cheerfulness but do not believe we deserve that care ourselves.
I think it is exactly us, those with the worst self-image, that is ironically the most generous, intuitively creative caretakers of mankind. We show love because we remember what it was like to need love. We listen well because we know what it was like to be unheard. We do well to strengthen connections because we know how absence destroyed dead souls in walking people. In our healthy times, our undeniable strengths of grace, love, and compassion quickly establish trust. In our worst times, our afflictions birth a self-punishment that destroys everything we love, including who we love. None of this is okay.
When I say ReignDear Games are over, I am saying that I will no longer ruin my relationships by preserving ties to what is ruining me.
The scariest piece of the past few weeks is the realization that I am still very, very, very controlled by mom, who is so far away. I have not lived at home in eight years, yet I continue recreating home patterns in my physical body and physical apartment space. I treat myself the way I was treated despite knowing how to treat myself the way I should be treated, and it can happen instantaneously.
What our friends may never tell us, not because they do not love us, but because it is not their place, is that our continued talk of what we face and fixation on change is sometimes an indication that we are still a slave to whatever it is that binds us. Our best friends are those who love us.
Our eating disorders serve a purpose of some sort, and mine was not actually a way I desired to control my life but a way I sought to comply with someone who did control me, because I was convinced that if I just changed enough of all of myself, the abuse would stop, and she would love me.
As we continue to fight the functions of our eating disorders, or whatever mental illnesses or habits currently wrecking our well being, I hope we can quickly become cognoscente of the boundaries that must exist in healthy relationships, what we lose and what we gain in our illness’ entertainment, may explicitly identify what triggering somethings or someones command the strongest facets of our illness, and determine to cut them out of our lives.
It finally occurred to me in a conversation with my sister that “I had done everything right this time.” By that, I meant that I’d finally stopped intentionally restricting, and I was putting in the work, and I was thriving. That thriving is a separation from toxicity, though, because it compromises a controller’s ability to continue manipulating situations into opportunities for sole reliance on itself. That is why I have stopped giving the benefit of the doubt, my forgiveness definition no longer includes a continued opportunity for connection, I will not keep her secret anymore and we are separated. The ReignDear Games are over.
We must say, “I cannot change what has happened, but I will choose to shape what is to come.” When what we seek cannot be sought in an existing environment or with a domineering presence, we will not respond by continuing to wrestle with what clearly cannot be tamed.
I have a home in my body and this world that deserves a consistently trustworthy foundation, and I will forsake everything for its construction. My friends especially deserve it.
Photography © natalie rose eddings