Eating disorders not only wreak havoc on your body and mind but also your relationships.
When I was deep in my eating disorder, I lost some of my best friends, the people I thought would be there for me for the rest of my life. I lost even more throughout my recovery journey. As I’m sure you can imagine, this was incredibly hard for me to come to terms with. Once I started to recover, I think a part of me understood why I lost friends during my eating disorder. I was not a nice person and definitely not an easy person to be friends with when I was sick. But it hurt even more when I lost friends during recovery because it made me think that I was too broken for anyone to want to be my friend.
This could not be farther from the truth. I did not lose friends because I was broken, I lost friends because I was growing. Friendship isn’t a one-way street, most friendships need both parties to put in effort to thrive. However, recovery required me to focus completely on myself and my healing, so for a period of time, I was not in a place where I was able to devote the right amount of attention to certain friendships, especially with people who couldn’t understand what I was going through. This wasn’t either of our faults. I needed to prioritize my health and some of my friends didn’t know how to approach me because they just didn’t understand.
I first want to address losing friendships when you are deep in your eating disorder. I said before that I was not a nice person during this time and I wasn’t. I was in pain and unknowingly took this pain out on those around me. Looking back, of course I wish I had treated my friends with more kindness, but I also know that I was very sick. The most important thing is that I realized the way I was treating others and put in the work to learn healthier coping mechanisms that did not involve lashing out. I felt guilty about my actions for a long time, but I was able to achieve closure by investing in my health first and realizing that the person who was treating others so maliciously is not who I am at my core.
When I was early in my recovery, I had a group of friends who were so supportive. They sent me cards and gifts and visited me in treatment. But as time went on and I still struggled, the cards become less frequent, the visits slowly stopped, and suddenly I didn’t hear from them at all. For a long time, I was so angry at these people. My mom would always tell me that they just didn’t know what to say to me and I remember thinking to myself, if I have to live through this disorder every single day, they can handle sending me a text or calling me to at least let me know they care.
The truth is, it was never my friends’ job to understand what I was going through. In fact, I hope that they never have to understand. At that point in our lives, I was forced to grow up really fast and confront some hard realities about life while they were able to be kids. My anger was misdirected. I wasn’t really angry at them, I was angry at myself and at my eating disorder for taking my childhood from me. Of course, I was hurt that it seemed like my friends didn’t care anymore, but in reality, I was simply witnessing our paths diverging and bringing us to where we are now. It seemed like life as I knew it was ending, but it was just one door closing for another to open. I wasn’t able to see it at the time, but everything was happening for a reason. Losing touch with some of my childhood friends allowed me to invest in friendships with people I met in treatment or group therapy and it was so comforting to be supported by people who understood my struggles.
This is not to say that you should let your friendships fall flat during recovery. I just mean that if you lose friends during this time, it’s okay. It does not mean you’re broken. It does not mean you are not worthy of friendship. It means you and your friend are in different places in life. You are at a place where you need to prioritize your health and that is not something you should ever feel guilty for or regret. Losing friends hurts. Let yourself feel those emotions, but also know that if it’s meant to be, you will be friends again. Know that if you lose touch, it does not say anything about who you are as a person, it means that you are growing and recovery is opening up new opportunities in life. You can always connect with those friends again.
I also want to say that I did not lose all of my friends. I am so grateful to the ones who have stuck by my side or the ones who became friends with me in treatment, one of the most vulnerable times of my life. I met my absolute best friend in treatment and I believe that she was put in my life for a reason. I also reconnected with friends I thought I had lost later on. When I was far into recovery and feeling content in my life, some old friends and I were able to find things in common again because I was not consumed by my eating disorder and my personality was able to shine through.
The point is that relationships are fluid. They grow and change along with people. Recovery is ultimately a period of growth, so it is normal for relationships to go through transformations. Ultimately, people are attracted to positivity and and light in others, so you have to focus on healing through recovery to achieve happiness within yourself first and thriving friendships will follow.