by Meghan Turnbull
Note: This post originally appeared on www.recoverybymeghan.com and has been cross-posted with permission.
“You go in alone, you leave alone”.
Throughout the course of my treatment, I was reminded to “focus on myself”. Living with other girls (and boys) who also suffer from the same illness as you can be tough, especially when those people are acting on eating disorder thoughts. Eating disorders thrive on competition and jealousy, which makes it really difficult to remain focused and do what needs to be done despite outside influences.
Many times, I was reminded that “you go in alone, you leave alone”. In other words, you’re not in treatment to make friends. People are brought together from all over the world to fight this nasty illness but at the end of the day, everyone gets discharged and goes on to lead their own lives.
That being said, I never expected to be friends with the people I was in treatment with. But after nine years of intense hospitalizations, I can honestly say that I’ve met some of the most passionate, dedicated, and inspirational people while I have been in treatment. Something happens when you meet someone who is in the same situation as you; sometimes, two people just click. You realize you have similarities, face the same struggles, share the same fears, or even possess the same sense of humour. Living with these people for weeks and months at a time can allow you to form this kind of unbreakable bond; something that is hard to find in this world.
I haven’t stayed in touch with many friends from treatment; far from the majority. Because it can be difficult. You can have the time of your life with someone while you are hospitalized together, and then each go on to live your own lives. That part is sad, I must admit. It is hard to think of all the people that, for one reason or another, I have lost touch with. Sometimes it is due to distance; I have met people in treatment who have come from all over North America. Technology and social media allows us to stay in touch, though it does require time, effort, and patience. On the other hand, I have come to realize that some people who I have become close to simply lead far different lives than I do. This is not a bad thing; often, it just means that we are at different points in our lives.
I lost contact with a couple others because either a) they kept relapsing, or b) I kept relapsing. It’s hard to remain close to someone when their behaviours and actions are exactly the behaviours and actions you yourself are trying to avoid. When you see a friend restricting their food intake, or exercising in an unhealthy fashion, or talking continuously about food and calories, it becomes hard to attach yourself to them. Eating disorders are similar to addictions; we, as people in recovery, must refrain and abstain from certain things in order to lead a fuller and healthier life. So friendships become complicated. This goes for my relationships with friends, and for my friends’ relationships with me. Because I have been the one to relapse, too. I have been the one acting in accordance with the eating disorder and I have had people feel the need to end their friendship with me.
When it comes down to it all, I have to remember that although the eating disorder brings us together, the people I meet in treatment are in charge of their own lives, and I am in charge of mine. That has been one of the hardest lessons; the strength to let go of what others are doing and focus on myself. Because at the end of the day, I am responsible for me, and no one else. Others will make their own decisions and somehow, I have to be okay with that. Let’s say it’s a work in progress.
They all hold a special place in my heart, though, and will never be forgotten. I guess the bottom line is, people come and go in our lives, and that goes for the people you meet in treatment, too. It isn’t natural for us to remain friends with EVERYBODY that we meet; that just isn’t part of being human. There will be gains and there will be losses. At the end of the day, I really believe that certain people came into my life for a reason – and that reason was to help me get through treatment. Treatment for a life-threatening eating disorder was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to endure in my life so far. I really, really couldn’t have done it without the support of the friends I made in the hospital.
I didn’t go to treatment to make friends. I went to treatment so that I could get help and live a happy, fulfilling life. But I crossed paths with so many inspiring people along the way. Treatment friendships, like any other friendships, take work; hard work and a lot of work. But if you are lucky enough to land a couple of close friendships while you are in treatment, count them as blessings. And know that it’s okay if the relationship between you and your friend isn’t easy, or natural, or positive all the time. Treatment friendships are difficult, like any relationship you have in your life. You’ll know if its one for keeps, and it’s okay to close the door on some friendships if they are not beneficial to you. Just remember to put yourself first. That’s not a selfish thing; I can assure you. You come first and your friendships will follow. If you come across a good one, hold on tight. But be strong enough to let go if it causes you more harm than good.