Midway Through Recovery: What Do I Need?

Posted by on Aug 18, 2014

Throughout recovery from an eating disorder, you need different things at different points of the process. Early on, your needs may be very concrete: you need encouragement during meals, regular check-ins with your support system, a shoulder for the copious tears that accompany recovery.

I’ve always found it difficult to articulate my needs; it has been even more difficult to come up with an answer now that I’m here in the middle ground. My needs are less concrete now, because my task is to gradually take responsibility for my own recovery. I need to bring myself to follow my meal plan, even when I don’t want to. And when I’m struggling, it’s my job to reach out to my supporters, rather than wait silently for someone to notice me.

needsMy supporters have been incredible. They’ve gone so far as to purchase books about eating disorders and to offer every kind of assistance, from emotional to financial. Most importantly, they make it clear that they want to understand what I’m going through, even if they’ll never be able to fully comprehend what it is like to have an eating disorder. This is the quietest kind of support, and it is the one that matters most.

Each supporter has asked me at some point, “What can I do to help? What do you need?”  Because I’ve never been good at telling others what I need, I usually try to dodge this question by giving a broad, vague response. But that doesn’t serve either of us. Just like I’m hungry for connection and relationships (even if I don’t always admit to it), my supporters are hungry for connection with me.

I know I’m not alone in this problem—many people struggle to figure out what they need and how to ask for it, whether or not they have an eating disorder. Nevertheless, it’s something every person ought to ask him or herself. If you don’t know what you need, then there is no chance that you or anyone else will be able to fulfill that need. Pinpointing your needs not only helps your loved ones, who yearn to support you in some way, but it also helps you. People can’t be there 100% of the time. Life is busy and full of struggles. My supporters are generous, but it would be selfish of me to expect that they can attend to my needs every time (especially because they would actually attempt to do that for me).

So I’ve asked myself…

What Do I Need?

With regard to food:

  • I know that this is a thorny topic. People don’t want to say the wrong thing, or push too hard, or not push enough. At this point in recovery, though, you’re off the hook when it comes to food. Taking responsibility for my meals is what I now need to master. So, share a meal with me, show me that food is something nourishing, not fearful—but don’t worry that you need to do anything out of the ordinary. It’s time to restore meals to their rightful purpose—occasions to nourish our bodies, to gather friends, to share as companions (Check that one out, Latin scholars! – sorry, I’m a bit of a nerd).

Checking in with me:

  • Don’t feel pressured to check on me and ask whether I’ve eaten, what I’ve eaten, etc. I am very fortunate to have an outstanding team of professionals who check in regularly with me. So the burden is off of you to have to make that call or ask that question, and hope you are doing the right thing. If I’m struggling, it’s my job to either go to my team so that I can process and correct whatever is happening, or to come to you and ask concretely for what I need.

Open dialogue:

  • When I struggle—and not just with my eating disorder—I tend to use humor to cope. That doesn’t (necessarily) mean that I’m minimizing my pain or not taking it seriously. Sometimes life leaves you feeling so helpless that all you can is laugh about it—which helps restore some of your control. So, indeed, I throw out an eating disorder joke now and then. I do this (hopefully in good taste) because I live with a lot of shame related to my eating disorder. Laughing about it eases the shame—and it’s okay for you to laugh about it with me.
  • If it makes you too uncomfortable, though, then it’s your job to tell me that—just like it’s my job to tell you what I need from you. I’ll listen to you and take your needs into account. Ignoring your discomfort and allowing that tension to remain between us empowers the eating disorder, which thrives on secrecy and disconnection. And if the eating disorder becomes something tense or awkward, then it becomes something “wrong” with me, something that separates us. Don’t let that happen. Tell me what you’re thinking and feeling.

Attitude:

  • What I want and need more than anything right now is to normalize this experience. There is a lot of shame and stigma that come with eating disorders. I often feel isolated. So above all else, I just need you, just as you are. Tell me about your life and how you are doing. Ask me how I’m doing at work or how excited I am about starting grad school. Let’s gossip a little bit and then feel guilty about it and compensate by talking about how we’re going to change the world. Let’s just be. I have an eating disorder, but that is not all of who I am. I’m the same little girl you played with in the backyard, the same friend who sat next to you in the flute section, the same young woman you entrusted your best friend to when he told you he was getting married. The eating disorder is part of me, and is something I need support with. But there is so much more to me, and to our relationship. Let’s honor those things.

I’m sure if I were to dig a little more, I could come up with other needs. But the journalist in me knows that it’s best to keep things short and sweet (if you’ll actually consider the above either short or sweet…). I don’t ever expect anyone to be perfect—I’m certainly not perfect in this recovery process. But struggling together and figuring it out as we go is the way that we grow.

Above all, know that I am profoundly grateful for your love and concern, and that I don’t take lightly the courage it requires to reach out to someone and offer your support. That support is the very thing that is healing me. Thank you.


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2 Comments

  1. Wow. You had me in tears through this post. I absolutely love it and everything you believe in–you honestly sound like me in my own recovery and this is just beautiful written. Best of luck in everything you do, I am going to remember these wants and needs when I am struggling
    Thank you

    • Hi Kate,

      Thank you so much for your kind words 🙂 My writing here is a helpful tool for my recovery, but it’s always my hope that it can have an impact on others, too. I’m happy to hear that you are on a recovery journey of your own. It’s tough, as you know, but worth it. Keep on keeping on <3

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      Please come back soon, and always feel free to give feedback!
      Peace,
      Joanna