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How to Help Others Help You on the Road to Eating Disorder Recovery

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Telling people was the biggest fear and obstacle I have faced so far in recovery from my eating disorder. It was also one of the best things I have done.

I have surrounded myself with friends and family who care about me and want to truly help me through this part of my story. However, helping people is hard. When I told people, I discovered a lot of times they were uncomfortable, sometimes taken aback, but they always wanted to be there.

Loved ones want to be there and they want to help, yet sometimes it can be overwhelming. The questions they ask and the things they say can set off triggers. You can feel backed into a corner, and it can feel like you’re suffocating. When I first told my parents, I felt all of these things. I felt like I was in slow-motion.

In the span of two days, I told my parents, went to a doctor and met with a therapist. All things that were very helpful but happened quicker than I was prepared for. It took me a week to process everything. In that time, my best friend gave me some great advice, “Help them help you.”

This friend has known about my eating disorder longer than anyone else. He was the first person I told and for a long time the only person who knew. Over several months, he was able to ask questions and discern how best he could help me. My parents and other friends didn’t have that ability. So as strange as it seems, I had to find a way to help them help me.

At first, it was hard because my mind kept telling me, “These people just want to help you. You can’t turn them down or even speak out when their help isn’t all that helpful.” My friend helped me realize it was OK for me to speak up and guide them so that they could efficiently help me.

There are three things I came to realize my loved ones needed from me: honesty to tell them what is beneficial, when they have broken trust and encouragement to let them know I appreciate all their efforts.

Here are things I did to help the people in my life help me:

1. Find help that is and isn’t beneficial for you and be vocal about it.

Many times, I have had to be reminded, as well as remind myself, that every journey is different and no two paths of recovery are the same. So when people give me advice, I have to understand it may do more harm than good. I remember receiving advice that weighing myself at a set time each day could help. It would give me an idea of where am I at and let me plan accordingly, which if you know me is something I would usually love. However, it was not good advice for me where I am at in my recovery. It made me anxious and it made me more aware of every single thing I consumed.

When I realize some things are not beneficial or could potentially harm me, it is up to me to tell those around me. It’s not that I don’t want their help but because I want to keep them in my life. Vocalizing my thoughts is a way to teach them and allow them to better help me.

2. Acknowledging broken trust.

Trust is everything to me. I went through an event in my past that led me to lose all trust in everyone. I shut people out and was superficial about my life and what I told people. I went on like this for 10 or so years until my sophomore year of college. Zane, the best friend I mentioned earlier, was the first person I began to fully trust again. It was hard at first and I found myself lying or protecting myself in certain ways. He helped me decipher the eating disorder thrived off of this. It wanted to keep me isolated. It wanted me not to trust people.

It was the main reason I didn’t tell my parents or friends. I didn’t have any trust in them. I didn’t want to trust them. So when I told people, my big concern was them breaking my trust, which does happen. It sounds horrible to say but it can and will happen a few times. Telling people when this trust has been broken or how it could be broken really does help mend relationships. When I talk to certain friends and even my parents, this was the first thing I brought up. With my parents my relationship had been on a fast decline over the three to four months before I told them. However, after telling them and highlighting why I couldn’t tell them, as well as what they could do that could potentially drive me away, I now talk to them a couple times a week.

3. Encourage the people who are supporting you.

Finally, everyone needs some sort of encouragement. They need to know what they are doing is appreciated. Otherwise, they may not want to contribute anymore. Encourage your loved ones to let them know you appreciate any and all efforts they make. Even when the attempts may cause more harm, or break trust, encouragement is the building block to help teach them how they can do something differently. Encouragement is the way to notice the positives in a world where sometimes all you can see is negative. Encouragement is the way you can gain control over your eating disorder and give power back to yourself. Whether you are receiving or giving it, encouragement is essential to recovery.

Allow yourself to let people in. Allow yourself to have a community to support you, and allow yourself to take charge of the type of help you receive. Don’t be afraid to talk to those around you. Let them know how they can help. Isabel Allende said it best, “We only have what we give.” So give the help your loved ones need in order to help you.

Originally published: July 12, 2016
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