If you have found yourself dating one of these incredibly brave, strong, beautiful girls.... you may be wishing loving someone so complex came with a manual. Being with a girl recovering from this awful disease is no easy task... but I promise you, she's worth it. I could write a book on the many things that are important to know about one of these fascinatingly, breathtaking humans; but I am going to start with twelve of the things that are most important to know in my opinion, and have been learning experiences in my personal recovery journey from anorexia nervosa.
1. She is NOT her disease.
I will warn you. It will walk like her. It will talk like her. But it is NOT, I repeat, NOT her. She is separate from this horrible disease. In the five times I have been to different treatment centers, one consistent approach has always been used. In order to teach us and our loved ones that our identities are separate from our eating disorders, we are taught to personify them. The most common name given to the disorders, and the name I personally use for it, is ED. Ed is short for eating disorder. The girl suffering is NOT Ed. Having an Ed is like being in an abusive relationship. He promises you lie after lie and convinces you that you need him. If you try to leave he gets LOUD and threatens that no one else will ever love you. He threatens that you will be worthless without him. Struck in fear of what Ed is screaming, we often stay with him despite all logic. He is scary and mean and convincing and he tries very hard to keep you in the viscous cycle of the abusive relationship. It is complex and especially hard to fully grasp and comprehend if you have never suffered from Ed's abusive ways. But the one thing I want you to take away is that she is NOT her illness. She is her smile, her laughter, the way her eyes light up, she is her passion, her love, she is beautifully and completely her. She is NOT anorexia. The more you learn to recognize what is her and what is not, the better you can fight off Ed and help her achieve the full, real, and completely possible, freedom she deserves. Do not be fooled by Ed's schemes, your brave girl is in there and she is not and never will be, her anorexia.
2. It WILL try to push you away.
If you have not caught on by now, I will let you in on a little secret. Ed is MANIPULATIVE to say the very least. He will hiss lies into your pretty girl's ears that she is unlovable and worthless without him. He may truly convince her that without him she will never be loved. That if she leaves him, everyone she loves will leave, her. He may convince her that people will always leave her worthless self, but he is the only one who will never leave, He will tell her that she is better off isolating herself from people and spending all her time with him. She may truly believe that Ed is the only one who will ever love her so she is better off leaving people before they have a chance to abandon her. He will hiss lie after lie after lie, whatever it takes, to get her to start pushing you away. She may self sabotage. She knows her eating disorder is a scary pill to swallow for you, and Ed may use that to his advantage. Although she is devoted to her recovery, Ed will become louder than ever, trying to get her to engage in disordered behaviors. She may have lapses, she may slip up, and that is exactly what Ed wants. Ed wants to scare you away in every way possible that way he can have her precious life all to himself. He is out to destroy her life, and so he will stop at nothing to get her alone where he can ruin her. You stand as a roadblock on his path of destroying her, so he will try to destroy you to get his hands on her. Like I said before, this is an abusive relationship, and this dude, or entity, or demon, or whatever you want to call it, is determined to keep abusing her until he can ultimately reach his end goal of stealing her life.
3. She is NOT asking you to save her, she is asking you to stand by her as she saves herself.
Now I am sure after the last two points I have made you are terrified, and rightfully so. You probably feel like packing up your bags and getting the hell out of here as fast as you can. This is scary. You are allowed to be scared. But breathe. Hope is real, recovery is real, life without Ed is real. A beautiful life with this beautiful girl is REAL. Now thinking about how scary this is for you to watch from the outside, try to imagine, try to even begin to fathom... just how terrifying it is to live with this in your head twenty-four-seven. There is no vacations, no breaks, no days off. Every second of every day she is fighting to hear truth through the screaming voice in her head telling her to destroy herself. She is not asking you to save her. Only she can save her, and she knows this. But what she is asking, is that you stand by her side, as she saves herself. It is easy to beat the enemy, but it is impossible to do it alone. This girl needs your love and support. You have the choice to walk away, to take a break any moment you want. You can leave her and abandon her at any time. But she, she can not abandon herself. She is stuck with this voice in her head every moment of every day. And if you think you are scared, imagine how petrifying it is to deal with this demon without a single second of relent. I can not stress this enough, she is NOT asking you to save her. You can not save her no matter how much you want to. She has to save herself. But what you can do for her, is hold her hand, wipe away her tears, and remind her of how much stronger she is than this demon. Stand by her side, your support mean everything and it makes all the difference in the world to know she is not alone in this battle.
4. You may have to be the voice of reason.
She lives in an irrational world. Things that seem so simple and logical to you, just do not click in her head. This is the way her brain is wired. For now. It can and is being rewired slowly but surely. But because she sees through a distorted filter, she may need you to be her voice of reason. Her voice of truth. Not only can she not see the logic about how her eating disorder is a viscous circle that only ends her in the same deadly place time and time again, whether it be hospitalization, treatment centers, therapy, or even eventually death... the voice in her head promises the exact opposite. Sometimes she needs to be reminded of the reality of what the disorder is truly doing to her and leading her to. She also can not see herself correctly. When she says she is "fat" use logic to remind her that she is not fat and that her perception is not accurate. Be her voice of reason, be her eyes, be a warrior against the lying voice in her head. Be truth. Be logic. Right now her brain is living in an irrational, illogical, deceiving world, but truth is sobering and the more you pour truth into her the more she will start to believe it. Do not give up. The voices are loud, but she can still hear you through them. Lastly remind her that the disorder hates her, it wants her dead. But you love her and want her to live the beautiful life she deserves. Ask her which one she would rather trust? That gets me every time. It is a no brainer, a sobering thought. Of course, I want to trust the one who loves me not the one who hates me and wants me dead, and the reminder of this is more powerful than you can even imagine.
5. Brave girl eating.
Every bite, every single, damn bite... is an amazing act of courage when you are living with anorexia. Every meal, every snack, is a victory and worth celebration. Do not underplay her successes. Recognize them. Acknowledge them. High five her, hug her, give her a kiss on the forehead, squeeze her hand. She may feel embarrassed that something so simple to others is such a huge victory for her, but deep down, you being proud of her means everything. And it sinks in, and it makes her proud of herself as well. Sometimes you may have to rub her back when she is struggling to eat, whisper encouraging words, shower her with love, remind her she is stronger than this. Combat Ed's lies with your love. She can eat, and she will eat, sometimes it just takes a deep breath and a hand to hold, but she can do it. Do not give up on her. Every bite counts. This girl is fighting one hell of a fight. Your girl, she's fighting the good fight, and she will keep fighting the good fight, until it is not longer a fight at all.
6. Bad days she is fighting her hardest.
Bad days are not always a sign of a relapse. She may have lapses, slip ups. Actually, she will have these... it is part of the journey. But these bad days, are days she is fighting her absolute hardest. The voice is loud, and even though she may fall into its trap, the fact that she is picking herself back up and trying again is just one example of just how amazingly strong your brave girl is. Picking yourself back up after a lapse, instead of falling into a relapse is one of the biggest victories in recovery. Do not underplay them. Do not panic about a bad day. She is strong. She is brave. And through every bad day, she is learning, and she is getting stronger and stronger.
7. She may break down sometimes.
This fight is exhausting. And sometimes little things will just be the straw that breaks the camels back. Despite how courageous and strong she is, sometimes she might just break down. This is normal. This is healthy. This is progress. People with eating disorders often cope with emotions by starving, binging, or purging... it is less painful than feeling in their eyes. But a breakdown is a huge victory. Instead of turning her emotions inward and taking them out on herself, she is letting it out. She is coping in a new and scary and HEALTHY way. It is okay for her to cry, to scream, to breakdown. Remind her this. Hold her while she cries. This is exhausting. And her breakdown is a sign of a great deal of vulnerability. These breakdowns are progress. She is getting better. Hold her hand, wipe her tears, and remind her this is a fight she CAN and WILL win.
8. She will fear losing you.
Like I said earlier, Ed wants her all to himself so he can destroy her, Like I also said, Ed is scary... terrifying. Even just watching Ed from the outside is terrifying. It is so scary that many people have left her. Not because she is not amazing, but because it takes over her and her actions to scare people away. She has been abandoned over and over. By friends, by family, by boyfriends. It is something that the average person can not comprehend or stay courageous against. And that is okay. Not everyone is cut out for dating one of these beautiful, determined individuals. But because so many people have walked out of her life because of it, she has trust issues. She will believe that you will abandon her just like everyone else. Abandonment is a huge trigger for her. When people walk out of her life, Ed goes nuts. He tells her it is because she is unlovable and not sick enough to be loved. He tells her if she were sicker, people would not abandon her. He tells her that she needs more of him in order to keep people in her life. And she believes this sick lie. The most twisted part is that her sickness is not the way to keep people in her life, it is actually what pushes them away. But Ed's lies convince her it is the opposite which in turn just keeps the viscous cycle of her losing people and getting sicker and sicker. It's a deadly, contradictory, illogical paradox. But in her head, it makes sense. She fears abandonment, and when it does happen, she feels like it is all her fault for not being skinny enough, and sick enough. She believes everyone who walks into her life will eventually walk out. Abandonment is inevitable in her eyes. Prove her wrong. I promise SHE is worth keeping around, Ed is the one who needs to be abandoned.
9. She is beautiful, and she is so worth it.
I know you are probably exhausted of being with a girl who battles such evil demons. Heck, you are probably exhausted just by reading this article that is so raw and real. But I promise you this, battle, this crazy journey.... it is worth it. SHE IS WORTH IT. This disease, this monster, this fight is ugly.... but the fight is also beautiful. SHE IS BEAUTIFUL. She is so much more than her disorder. She is a beautifully crafted individual, full of worth, and full of gifts that only she can bring to this world. She is unique, and special, and there is only one her on this entire earth and that makes her pretty damn important if you ask me. So she has to put on her shield of armor and battle this on the daily. So she may lose some of the battles. Sometimes you have to fight a battle more than once to win. But she WILL win the war. You know how I know? Because God, mother nature, the universe, whatever you believe in.... gives the toughest battles to the strongest warriors. Life will never throw something at you that you can not overcome. For whatever reason, she was chosen to battle this because she is capable of overcoming it. Demons do not attack the weak, they attack the strong, they attack the people who they know are so special and meant to change the world. They attack the ones who can impact this world and the lives of everyone they meet in the most positive ways. They attack the one's who are beautiful inside and out, the one's who are so worthy of this gorgeous life. If you can not stand by her through the storm, do you really deserve her when she is basking in the sunlight? When she reaches the gleaming light at the end of the tunnel? I am here to tell you, the tons of people I have met who are battling this disease are without a doubt the most beautiful, intelligent, and worthy people I have ever met. So stick around, this girl is full of beauty, full of strength, and she is worth more than any of us can even fathom.
10. You are lucky to have her heart.
These beautiful girls come guarded, they come cautious, they have been walked all over before. This is because they have the biggest hearts you can ever imagine. They are filled to the brim with overflowing love. One of their many gifts is to love on people with all their heart and soul. When you have seen hell, when you have walked through the flaming depths of anorexia, it changes your heart. It makes you sensitive to any pain anyone around you is feeling. It makes you want to love on and help every individual you meet. It makes you want to keep anyone from ever feeling the way you have felt. Her heart is so precious, it is so full of love despite how many times it has been taken advantage of. She would rather be hurt by loving people, then not feel at all by withholding love. You are one lucky person, to have the heart of someone who has a heart made of absolute gold. Treasure her heart for the gem it is. Do not take advantage of her heart, but do not try to change it either. It is a gift and a curse to feel so deeply, but it is a blessing more than anything. She will love on you with all she has. Cherish this beautiful gift, cherish her, and cherish her rare, pure, unconditionally loving heart.
11. She is thankful more than you can imagine.
It is the little things that mean the most. The "I'm proud of you's." The whispers of love when she is afraid to admit she is hungry. The way you eat with her so she does not have to do it alone. The way you ask if she has eaten, and you make her a plate without her asking. It is the way you believe in her. The way you have not left. The way you face her demons with her. The way you hold her through the pain. The way you love her through the breakdowns. It is the way you have not given up. The way that even when it gets scary, you do not walk away. The way you recognize that she is separate from this disease. The way you recognize her strength. The way you make her laugh through her tears. The way you see the true her. The way you see her strength. It is the way you stick by her even though she is not quite to the other side yet. The way you bring light into her dark world. It is the way you see the real her, the true her. It is the way you love her. Ed is pretty good at not only stealing her identity, but stealing her voice as well. Sometimes it is hard for her to tell you how much this all means. Sometimes it is hard to even come up with words that are strong and accurate enough to depict what you mean to her. Know that your efforts matter. That you matter. That you are making a difference, an unbelievably positive one. But above all know this, she is wholeheartedly thankful more than you will ever be able to comprehend.
12. Love is LOUDER.
Louder than what? Louder than the pressure to be perfect. Louder than the lies. Louder than the voices. Louder than the demons. And so much louder than anorexia. The only thing I have found, the one and only antidote that is stronger than the screaming voice of Ed is the even louder voice of love. I truly believe, that at least for me, my eating disorder is a product of a love deficiency. Real or perceived. Now logically I know I am loved beyond measure. But in the world of anorexia that engulfs my mind, I am not loved. And that lie is loud, but the one thing louder than Ed is the voice of love. Love can penetrate the forcefield of Ed's captivating lies. Please do not give up on your brave girl. When Ed gets loud, love even louder. When self hatred takes her over, love her louder than those demons. These demons try very hard to make her feel unloved, and loving on her is like pouring water onto their flaming schemes. You can put out the fire in her mind and soul. You can distinguish the flames. THIS IS A FIGHT SHE CAN WIN. This is no easy battle, but it is so worth it. She is so worth it. Her life is worth it. Your future with her is worth it. The only thing louder than anorexia is love. And honestly, with as much love that exists towards this beautiful girl, anorexia stands no chance. So it is time to take after your brave girl and be brave yourself. Grab your shield of love and you sword of worth and fight off those demons. Be brave with your brave girl. You can do this, she can beat this. So be loud, scream, shout, LOVE at the top of your lungs. Because Love, it wins every time.