Recovering from an eating disorder calls upon us to avail ourselves to all that may support and nurture our recovery journey. A key enabler of the recovery process is the establishment of a support system.
Support Is Key
For many of us, support systems extend themselves to those of whom we trust and keep vast amounts of company. Such as those within our immediate living sphere. Having loved ones lean into our journeys with empathy supports accountability. And it helps cast an illuminating hue on our soul’s deepest drives for pursuing the recovery path.
Knowledge Is Power
Crucial to this process and in optimizing its efficacy, support systems are encouraged to actively embrace a certain level of knowledge and awareness on the topic of eating disorders. As their fluency in these complicated illnesses increases, so will their capacity to support you.
If you’re experiencing an eating disorder and hope to cultivate the constructive engagement of your loved ones in navigating your recovery journey, I encourage you to consider the below steps:
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6 Steps To Help Loved Ones Support Your Recovery
1. Communicate openly and transparently
Whilst all eating disorders are underpinned by a suite of commonalities, everyone’s experience is unique. This makes communication about your individual experience key.
You and your loved ones are traversing territories that are scary, painful and, for many, largely unfamiliar. Remaining open and transparent will help to minimize relational discord by deflecting mounting frustrations and averting unintended resentment.
Provide tips to your loved ones on what to say, and equally on what not to say. Offer the specifics of your triggers so these can be faced as a united front. Enter into dialogue around the notion of support: what does support look like to you and how can your loved ones help translate this into action?
Developing an understanding of your specific experience minimises the opportunity for misunderstanding and harnesses the power of the collective.
2. Provide resources
The devastating proportions in which eating disorders now exist has given rise to the development of many easily accessible information sheets and resources. Some of these are in the form of fact sheets and are specifically designed for those within a supportive role. Comprising short and succinct points, these fact sheets are often a great introductory to the basics of eating disorders.
Sourcing these resources and providing them to the people within your support sphere is an easily achievable step. Look to sites such as The Butterfly Foundation, National Eating Disorders Collaboration and Eating Disorders Families Australia for reliable, evidenced-based information that accurately speaks to the severity of your illness and the importance of their role in your recovery.
3. Seek (cautionary) counsel through YouTube
Not the most conventional of approaches, the burgeoning of social media has given rise to an increase in accessibility of information through digital technologies. One of these platforms, YouTube, is more and more being identified as a popular source of information and inspiration for those in recovery.
A quick search of “eating disorder recovery” and you are presented with a range of clips, including informative presentations, short stories from those with lived experience and the commentary of those within the supportive role.
Whilst useful, this suggestion is cautioned with the fact that not all material is of a safe and beneficial quality, and – as a platform not necessarily regulated with eating disorder sensitivities in mind. Some videos may be triggering. Discretion, as with most online interactions, is imperative.
4. Have them accompany you to a therapy session
Involving loved ones in the recovery process is an adjunct to, if not a core component of, the prevailing therapeutic approaches targeting eating disorder treatment. Practitioners are skilled at supporting this process. Communicative methods often held by practitioners include meditative techniques, allowing the various parties involved to voice their feelings in an environment cushioned by safety and enveloped in empathy.
Allowing these conversations to play out in the company of a professional where emotions are relatively calm and neutral can enhance communication channels and promote more productive conversations outside the therapy room.
5. Appreciate the supportive role is difficult
The inclusion of loved ones in one’s recovery should coincide with recognition that eating disorders and their inherent complexities can be incredibly difficult to understand.
An appreciation for the difficulty of the supportive role can go a long way in softening the challenges being experienced by those fulfilling this function.
For those struggling to comprehend your experience, I encourage you to acknowledge their difficulty. Dismantle your defense and avoid exerting effort on “convincing” them of the depths of your distress. Disheartening as it may, channeling your already gravely limited resources to the task of validating your illness is not a useful allocation of effort. Reserve your resources for only you and your recovery.
6. Recognize your role in the bigger picture of body image discourse
The prevalence of food and body issues today is staggering. It is therefore highly probable that someone within your support sphere is, or has, experienced their own sensitivities in this area.
Whilst not always possible in a world overrun with diet culture, limiting your exposure – and, as equally, your contribution – toward conversations centered around calories, sizes, weights and detox trends, to name a few, is an effort highly worth making when moving through recovery (and beyond).
For those brave warriors currently in the dark midst of illness or recovery right now, the importance of your support system cannot be understated. Relationships characterized by frequent discord and combative rhetoric will often counter recovery efforts, empower your eating disorder and further sow its sovereignty in your life. It is therefore imperative to avert relation disharmony through the development of rich and mutual understanding and the active upholding of interactions that reflect compassion, empathy and hope.
I implore you, warriors, to consider the above steps in cultivating the constructive involvement of your loved ones in your recovery journey.