By Angela Haugen
I spent many years in the middle of my eating disorder. It literally ate me alive – the drive to continue as well as the drive to stop. Those competing forces were so strong. They sent my mind into overdrive.
It never rested. There wasn’t a moment of peace. More than 5 years on high alert trying to make change. Keeping the same path. Changing course. Maybe this way would be better. Or perhaps that way might provide more success.
What was success? How do I get there? The thoughts pulsed and pushed. It was as if I opened the door to a flood that couldn’t stop coming no matter which door I shut or which one I opened.
I would still consider myself “recovering”, even more than a decade without any sign of disordered eating or disordered mindset of my body. I remain alert to what is being said around me and what I’m saying to myself. This is as much for me as it is for my daughter – I pay attention to how I interact with others, how I interact with food, how I talk about and engage in exercise, how I encourage and compliment, and what I look for in compliments and encouragement from others.
I walked a long hard road to recovery, as anyone with an eating disorder does. Many addiction recovery stories include avoiding the triggering substance – ED’s are forced to face their biggest hurdle multiple times each day.
I find it easy to still think I’m in it all alone. So much of it is in my head – it must just be me that feels the weight of it all. But in truth there are and always have been many along my path that helped me.
Sure, some got frustrated and left. It’s understandable, even though it was hurtful. Recovery is a hard road and the square-root of the burden lays on the person engaging it. The burden so greatly impacting the behavior; the burden so symbolically needing to be lifted to find recovery. But it weighs on those around us as well. Many could not handle not being able to control my poor choices. They didn’t understand it. They had no idea the dizzy speed of my mind or how desperately I was trying to find a way out. They only saw the wrong in what I was doing and the need I had for change.
At the time I didn’t get it – but now I have more grace. I see their hurt and pain in the loss of control. In watching me hurt. It’s too much for some people. I look back in love, understanding that they too were unable to hold that pain and had to release it to be lighter themselves. Some people feel the need to hold on too tight. Their letting go is for them and, truly, ends up being better for you.
Instead though, it’s the people that have stuck with me. Those that have held me loosely. The ones that have known my pain in the midst of this low point – they are the ones that I know I can turn to with anything. They continue to make my road lighter. They accept my expectations, my boundaries – or they set their own with me. They see me as I am: imperfect and trying. I return the grace-filled favor. I truly believe that those that held me in that time of internal chaos would hold me now even if I was still there.
We rarely talked food or weight or exercise. We talked life, and hurt, and happy, and annoyance. They invited me out, they invited me over. They invited me to talk. They invited me to sit and be. We had fun. We went out. We stayed in. We talked. We ate… or not. With them, I wasn’t only a girl with an eating disorder – I was just a girl in the world that they shared life with.
They set an example and eventually, I followed. With them, through these relationships, my mind was set free. I eventually couldn’t focus on another goal or what was going on in my head. I was re-calibrating. I was feeling loved for who I was right there.
Despite needing to make changes on my own, I could not have overcome this on my own.
So, to the ones that stood beside me in the depth of my hurt, the ones who never let my setbacks define me, the ones who let me be where I was and loved me anyway – I have nothing but the biggest debt of gratitude. You allowed me to freely be me. To move at my pace. You never took on my burden – you just made it lighter by walking beside me, helping me to focus on what was good about the moment, helping me to find a new identity. You sacrificed time and conversation – opening ears and schedules and space.