I’ve heard lots of variations of the same basic message: having people around you who understand makes a world of a difference. Only recently, since beginning to attend a recovery therapy group, am I realizing how very true that is.
Growing up with an eating disorder, I honestly thought I was the only one who had ever had these feelings. Of course, I eventually realized that thousands of other girls struggle with body image, diets, and eating disorders. But no one understood my demons; I was a special kind of fucked up, beyond understanding, and without a chance of recovery. On the surface I denied I had a problem, but inside I knew I was far from having normal, healthy thoughts about food and about my body. I just assumed (because of my special, one-of-a-kind, eating disordered brain) that I’d stay this way forever, so acknowledging that I needed help, and getting it, would be a waste of time. So, for ten years, I obsessed, stressed, counted, and restricted; the whole time trying to convince myself I was living a normal life.
Stumbling upon the book Life Without Ed by Jenni Shaefer was a harsh eye opener for me. She writes about her journey with her eating disorder; all the way from her first negative thoughts about her body as a small child, to the depths of her struggle, to her eventual recovery to health. As I read, over and over, I found myself thinking “Holy crap, WHY would you do that, that’s crazy!” only to realize a half a second later that I’d done the same thing; I was every bit as crazy as her. For the first time, I realized just how messed up my thinking had gotten, and I couldn’t deny it anymore. But instead of scaring me, it gave me comfort and hope. This girl, Jenni, had gone on to be happy and healthy, so maybe there was a bit of hope for me, too.
A few months later, and I’m accepted into an intensive recovery program, part of which is a weekly group therapy. Going into my first session, I was pessimistic; none of these girls seemed like likely allies in the pursuit of recovery. At first glance, it was a broad range of women; young, old, skinny, overweight. Honestly, if I had met this group in a normal, everyday context, there’s no way we’d emerge as friends.
Before the end of the first meeting, though, I wanted to hug each and every one of them. As each girl talked about her own issues and struggles, it became clear we were all much more similar than I’d thought. In every story, there were feelings and thoughts and confessions that I was all too familiar with, that I had thought I was alone in feeling. Just knowing I wasn’t the only one feeling like this was a huge relief. Knowing I wasn’t alone in all this made it just a little bit less scary.
Being able to talk to people who are fighting the same demons as I am is incredibly comforting. My friends and family try to be understanding, but they’ll never truly get it, and a small part of me is always worried they’re judging me, just a little bit. The girls at support group though — they’ve been there. They’ve had the same crazy thoughts; they’ve gone to the same crazy measures in order to obey their eating disorders.
I’m less than a month into the group sessions, but already I feel such a sense of solidarity with everyone there. Each weekly session feels like entering a safe zone, where I’m not the odd man out. I’m surprised by how comfortable I am, sharing things I’ve never talked about, and crying in front of near strangers. I’m even more surprised by how much I care for these girls; I want each of them to be healthy and happy, and I find myself wondering about how they’re doing in between meetings.
Maybe in time I’ll get to know these girls more personally, and we can bond over things other than our eating disorders. Ideally, eating disorders won’t even be an issue, and we could just be “normal” friends. For now though, I’m just incredibly grateful to have learned that I’m not alone, and I’m not incurable, and that there are amazing, beautiful people right by my side in this battle against ED.