Recently, I’ve found the strength and courage to share my story with my friends. I kept them in the dark about my struggles with eating, so I saw no need to share my eating disorder diagnosis.
Like I always say: recovery is a process.
In the beginning, I didn’t want to let them down. I felt embarrassed. I worried my friends would think less of me and view me as a fraud. I often considered myself one because I had put on an act for so long.
I lied to them and myself. I was loud, obnoxious, and all about just having fun with my friends. I didn’t want to let them in on the pain and hell inside. It was easier to accept their praise for how well I had handled the rough hand life dealt me.
A few months into therapy, I brought up the notion to my therapist, about sharing my story.
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I feared my friends would abandon me like so many others have in the past. I wasn’t the balls to the wall, overachiever Jason they knew for long. I lacked self-compassion at that point, so I figured none of them would have compassion for me.
My mental illness made me believe my friends only liked the character I portrayed.
The one who lost all that weight in high school and had built this picture-perfect life after years of hell.
My therapist reminded me that I had accomplished so much and overcame many obstacles to get to where I was. He asked, “What do you have to offer to your friends?”
It took me a minute to respond, but I dug deep and realized I have compassion for my friends. I wanted to be their support system, an empathetic and caring friend. From death to evictions to broken families, I’ve experienced a lot in my 34 years. These experiences enabled me to be a better friend because I could provide comfort and hope for my friends during their trials.
I also realized I hadn’t truly listened to my friends in years. I thrived on attention. I loved talking about myself but did I get to know them, like really know them. Ask questions, dig deeper, show a genuine interest in their lives.
My definition of friendship morphed during that session.
I realized I could still be fun-loving, but I could also be my friend’s support system when they needed me. I want to be a connected friend, not just a party friend.
It would still be a few months before I was ready to share my story with friends. The pandemic complicated things since most of my closest friends live in other parts of the country. I didn’t want to tell them over the phone, but I eventually realized that was just my excuse to put off telling them.
I needed to have compassion for myself before I could expect compassion from them.
I had to forgive myself for years of putting on a mask around my friends and not being the best friend I could be because I was so wrapped up in myself.
A few weeks ago, I shared my battles with my closest friends. My hands trembled, and my heart raced with each word.
SHOCKER! They loved me.
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They were proud of how far I’ve come and reminded me they’re always there.
I am so lucky to have friends like this. Friends that often loved me more than I loved myself. But it was one sentence from my best friend that opened my eyes and allowed me the opportunity to experience full self-compassion.
While on the phone for one of our regular catch-up sessions, she remarked about how I had been in survival mode for so long. Survival mode! Wow, it was the same sort of light bulb that went off in my head after stumbling across the term orthorexia.
During my illness, I hated myself for the mistakes I made in my early twenties. I blamed myself for so many things that went wrong that were actually outside of my control. I bore that burden for years, which opened the door to orthorexia’s horrific acts. Hearing my best friend refer to that timeframe as survival mode changed everything.
She witnessed the pain and suffering I was in, even back then. She understood that I was trying to survive, unsure how. Her words allowed me to fully forgive myself for the events that occurred in the aftermath of my mother’s passing.
I no longer blamed myself for developing this eating disorder, and most importantly, I no longer viewed myself as ever being a failure.
I was simply adapting the best I knew how to survive a period of intense stress—the actions I took to get there no longer mattered. The only thing that did is that I SURVIVED.
I am resilient. I may make mistakes, but we all do. My mental illness and eating disorder don’t make me weak or a failure. Instead, they’ve made me battle-tested, ready to take on the next challenge I face.
Realizing that others held compassion towards me for things I hated about myself enabled me to gain compassion for myself.
This transformation would never have happened had I not found the strength to share my battles and perceived weaknesses with my friends.
I allowed myself to be vulnerable and, in return, realized my biggest strength. In the words of Beyonce: I am a survivor, and I will keep on surviving!
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