I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
She sent a text asking if I would be able to meet for coffee. I said sure and that I would meet her at the Starbuck as soon as I could. I knew she had been having a rough go lately and I wanted to make sure she had been doing okay. I walked in and I noticed her posture seemed a little more reserved than the usual confidence it radiated. I gave her a hug and we made small talk but I knew we were just biding time before she got comfortable enough to get to the marrow of her week.
“So what happened?” I asked.
“Well,” she said. “You know the ambulance had to come and get me because I passed out.”
I did. She had texted me earlier in the week about passing out which, even if she didn’t outright tell me, was a direct result of her eating disorder.
She went on to tell more details about the situation but I knew it was mostly about her talking it out and venting. From what she mentioned, she really didn’t have many outlets to talk openly about her issues, which were many.
I sat and listened and did my best to be present to show her that I did care. Because those of us with nowhere to turn really do care about the people who are willing to simply listen. One of the things I learned a long time ago is that people who are genuinely interested in listening to your problems are few and far between and are not as common as people might think. So I listened and did my best to try and understand what she was going through, even if I couldn’t. So I said just that.
“Listen, I understand that this situation is difficult and it is something that is uncontrollable for you right now. And unfortunately I can’t simply yell at you and tell you to stop because I know it won’t make a difference.”
I went on to tell her about all the women that I had dated with the same issue. Eating disorders impact the lives of far more people than we realize. So I told her that no matter how much I would like to be able to identify, I simply couldn’t. I didn’t know her journey and wouldn’t pretend to do so because it would only be patronizing. I wouldn’t minimize her struggle with advice when I had no idea of what she was up against. So I did the next best thing.
“All I can tell you is this – people care about you and want to see you healthy. You want to be healthy and you know that you cannot continue these behaviors for the rest of your life. So knowing that much, how do we move forward?” I asked. “Well, we work with it. First of all, you sitting across from me and simply telling me the details of your E.D. is a good start.”
“How?” She asked.
“I can see how uncomfortable you are. When we sit here and talk about the struggle and the way you view your body, I can see how awkward it is for you.”
“It really is.” She said.
“But that’s good. It’s good for you to feel it and internalize it and start a dialogue and to recognize it and say it out loud. You don’t really talk about this with anyone, do you?”
“Exactly. That’s my point. This exchange is important.” I said, “And second, we need to slowly work through this. I know you won’t change overnight but we can at least work on you getting the vitamins and nutrients you need so you don’t pass out at work again and have an embarrassing ambulance ride, right?”
She smiled and chuckled, “No, you’re right.”
I went on to tell her about the little changes she could make, the importance of electrolytes, and how the way she viewed eating by either restricting or purging, were not the only options.
But what I didn’t do was tell her that I understood – because I didn’t and it wouldn’t have been helpful. I didn’t know her struggle. I didn’t know what her triggers were or what put that need to control in her head. So I told her about the people in my life who struggled with E.D. and how they got better. I told her that at the end of the day, it was about identifying triggers, learning about when and why the behavior started and talking it through because that is the starting line on the road to recovery of all addictions. In fact, having a friend who will support you and understand that you’re never going to be perfect is one of the best things you can have in your struggles. Not one that is constantly telling you how to live your life and attempting to shame you out of your behaviors, but one that is willing to truly listen and not just wait for their turn to talk. If there is one thing I can leave you with it is I can not stress the importance of allowing someone to talk it out. Sometimes people aren’t looking for advice, they’re just looking for someone to listen. They need to purge the black smoke of their brains and sometimes we just need a witness to make it real. And sometimes someone to hold us accountable. There is a healing power in saying your weakness out loud. It makes it real and if it’s real, it’s easier to find. And if you can find it, you can fight it.
No one goes into battle with us. At best, and if we are lucky, we get the support of people on the sidelines shouting our names and reminding us that we are loved.
During the fight and after the fight.