By Sarah Hrudka, Outreach Specialist at The Emily Program
I remember the terror and anxiety that ran through my veins prior to confronting my friends about their eating disorder(s), because I was so unsure of how they might react. But I once heard the quote, albeit a bit cheesy perhaps, that “I would rather have a mad friend than a dead friend.” Not that I had enough power as a single human to save their life and well-being per se, but instead holding steadfast to the notion that I had enough of a voice to help, because I would rather say “I tried” instead of “I should’ve.”
Once one of my friends began treatment at The Emily Program, I soon realized that there were also resources for Supporters, which quickly became my saving grace. I would attend both the friends and family night, which is offered weekly, as well as Recovery Night that was run once a month. In that I learned so much about not only how to be a better supporter, questions to ask, learning how not to enable behavior, etc., but tools for how to handle what came up for myself personally. A few points to note, that hopefully can help the supporters out there, as well:
- You are allowed to have your own issues. It sounds funny because no one wishes for difficult issues upon themselves. But you too are entitled to support, and because a loved one is dealing with something, doesn’t mean that your issues are irrelevant. A friend actually told me recently something that rang loud in my mind: “This is not the pain Olympics.” It is always good and best to have perspective; it can aid in checking our egos at the door. But something I had to and still have to remind myself of daily is that my own issues are not less than, but instead they are just different. And most importantly in all of that, which brings me to my second point, is:
- You are the best supporter possible when you are supporting yourself. I am someone that is able to check in, say hello to myself, and get grounded through yoga. At times that is my therapy or church, so when I am not allotting time for that, I am anxious and agitated. When I was learning how to be a better supporter at the beginning of all of this, I would often skip classes so I could attend therapy appoints or AA meetings with my friends. This is absolutely okay if it is best serving everyone. I am someone that bears too much guilt, especially self-inflicted as a means to somehow alleviate it from someone else. Turns out, I’m a really poor supporter and that icky shade of resentment creeps in down the road once everyone else is in a good place and you’re still stuck in the mud. Instead, lead by example and say “I want to be there for you. But in order for me to do that, sometimes I have to do this”. And let them know that you want them to get to a healthy place so they can join you someday, whatever the activity may be.
- You are powerful, but you are not Jesus. Or whoever your higher power may be. Wouldn’t it be nice to fix everyone ourselves? I remember telling a friend’s therapist once when she asked why I came to a group twice in one week. At that point in time, it wasn’t so much for my own maintenance, but instead, because I thought “maybe this one time will be it. Maybe if I go, something will click and they won’t have to suffer.” She looked at me kindly and with the humor that wraps you like a hug, simply said “sister, if you were that powerful, I’d be out of a job.” Enough said! Duly noted.
- There is power in numbers. Reach out for resources, find others who are supporting, and lift each other up. You are not the only one feeling sadness, anger, confusion, or discouragement. I absolutely, 100% can promise you that. Even on the most isolated of days, though each person and situation is unique, you are not alone. This is the truth, and you have a place. And you’re here right now, reading this—start here.
- If you are frustrated or sad, explain that. But that being said, remember to remind your loved one that it isn’t them, it’s their eating disorder/addiction/whatever the diagnosis. It’s difficult to disassociate someone who physically is the same human, but mentally is checked out or not present. If you are lucky enough to have known them prior to their disorder diagnosis, then remind yourself that that can be enough to not lose hope. You have hope of who they can be in the future and you know that recovery is possible. If you haven’t seen it first hand, keep the resources and gatherings at the forefront of your priorities. This will remind you that the proverbial light is there, even if it’s dimmed sometimes.
The Emily Program continues to offer free support groups for family and friends of those who are struggling with an eating disorder. The groups are open to anyone in the community – your loved one does not have to be getting treatment at The Emily Program for you to participate in these groups. They also hold the monthly Recovery Night in St. Paul. You can get more information about all the Family & Friends groups at our Minnesota and Washington locations here.