Relationships in Recovery
Recovery, in essence, is one’s journey towards self-fulfillment and self-discovery. It is unconditionally an inward-focused process, one in which you must put yourself first. With that being said, your closest, most time-consuming relationship in recovery will be with yourself. Yes, you. You must be a loyal friend to that part inside you that is still struggling and holding on to a clouded force. You must be supportive and accept your mistakes and flaws, as any true friend does. You must explore the deepest depths of your mind, becoming a skilled expert at the art of identifying your thoughts, goals, and emotions. You must lean on your shoulder, look inwards for strength and the will to swim against the current. You must immerse yourself in you.
However, I’m not insinuating that other relationships aren’t also a huge part of recovery. In fact, relationships with loved ones become all the more important….Recovery is the ultimate test, a validation of one’s unwavering loyalty and genuine concern (or a disappointing truth that people who may stick by you through clear skies are unwilling to do so when times become tough). Recovery has lent me both this validation and disapproval. It has inadvertently shown me who my true friends are, and who I must let go.
I remember the first time I was hospitalized. I needed my friends more than ever, ears to listen to my rants, shoulders to lean on, and hands to wipe my tears. And most of my friends came through, being so undeniably supportive that I felt undeserving of such an immense love. I was written 3000 word letters, reminding me of how great and strong I was. I was sent heartfelt notes, reminding me that if I put in the effort now, better days would soon come. I still have all these letters, and I go back to them when I’m feeling disheartened. They manage to light up my face like nothing else, a testament to the totally worth it trials and tribulations of friendship.
I remember the first time I was hospitalized. I felt so alone and isolated from the world, sitting in some dark room alone scrolling through pictures of my friends having fun without me. Just when I felt like time was passing by without me, when I felt like my existence had been forgotten after just two weeks of solitude, my friends drove for hours to visit me, indulging me with huge teddy bears, pillows, and hugs. In my hour of need, my friends put in the effort to surprise me and make sure I knew that I could never be forgotten. I remember that foreign feeling of happiness that crept up on me as we laughed and everything felt the same as before. I will never forget these acts of kindness that brought me closer to and more overwhelmingly grateful for the bestest of friends.
I remember the first time I was hospitalized. One girl, who I thought of as my best best friend at the time, failed to offer me the support and encouragement I so desperately needed. When I told her I was being hospitalized, all she said was “Have fun!!” I didn’t receive a single text from her during the coming, hardest weeks of my life. Three years of being inseparable and not even a simple “How are you?” At the time, I was heartbroken, questioning how three years of laughter and inside jokes could merely be a one-sided friendship. I was devastated and angry, but I now realize this revelation was just as much necessary as it was painful to accept. I am thankful, for recovery helped me let go of the negative forces in my life. Recovery helped me cleanse myself of those who only had my back conditionally. And it was a catalyst for building upon the relationships that mattered most.
As for one’s relationship with his/her family, I’m not going to lie….it’s going to feel more turbulent than sailing through the bitter waters of the Drake Passage. Watching their child suffer immensely is probably the worst thing parents can envision. To see their child shrinking away, losing the light in his/her eyes, is unsurpassably agonizing. They will probably blame themselves internally for being failures as caretakers, even though the manifestation of the illness is no one’s fault. A parent never wants to send his/her child away from home….it is usually a last resort, the only way out. And admitting a child into a treatment program is perhaps the most distressing and selfless “see you later” a parent will ever have to say. Someone during the early stages of recovery probably won’t see this as a brave act….instead, like I once did, they may think that their parents abandoned them, leaving them to go bother someone else. Like I once did, they may think that their parents are imprisoning them, that their so-called “unconditional” love was merely a work of fiction. Because of this, there will undoubtedly be many arguments, much finger-pointing, and dozens of angry text messages.
A text from my mother while I was away at a residential treatment program: “My dear Simran, it is late at night and I can't sleep because the house does not seem complete. We all miss you and love you dearly. Seeing your face today, was soooo amazing. How do we help you end this eating disorder? How can I bring you home and watch you waste away before my eyes?? Simran, there is nothing more in the world than wanting you back home and part of our family, especially by Christmas. But if I can get you help, then that's what I have to do. I can't be selfish. I know it's not your fault, but you can choose recovery. And if you have a chance at recovery and a normal life, then I am willing to sacrifice whatever it takes. Pls Simran, help us fight for your life! Always, mama 💔 ”
My (rather ungrateful) response: “If you would just listen to me you would know that i did choose recovery! but no, you have to ignore everything i say ALL the time. I told you that i felt it in my heart that my eating disorder was gone and you still didn't believe me. So, actually you are being kind of selfish. Just because you don't trust me means I have to stay here? Just trust me. This is the last time, I promise. I will NEVER go to another program. I enjoy eating food and don't want to limit something that makes me happy. I love you, but I wish you had a little faith in me. Because, it seems to me that all that is keeping me here is you not trusting me. Does my promise not mean anything to you? I know I have broken my promises in the past, but this time is different. I don't care about whether or not I am skinny. I just want to do things that make me happy like eating, traveling, and being at home with you guys. Please take me home for Christmas! It is my favorite day of the year and I will be crushed if I am stuck here. I know I will become so depressed if I'm not in Hawthorne with all of you guys. So, if you really want to do whatever is best for me, I advise that you discharge me before Christmas. I am giving you a warning that I will be completely heartbroken if I am not home with you guys. If you really want to do what is for my benefit, you will listen to me.”
Clearly, I had trouble realizing that my mother was only doing what was best for me in the long run. During those weeks, I was so angry at her because I knew she had the power to pick me up from the emotional hellhole that is treatment. She had the power, and yet she didn’t use it. In the midst of recovery, your relationship with your family, especially your parents, will feel like a heated, high-stakes game of tug of war. On one side, you will be pulling to avoid treatment, to resist accepting help, and to refuse to acknowledge that you are frightened for your life. On the other side, your family will be pulling to be reunited with the old, bubbly you again, to save your life before it’s too late, and to push you towards the dire reality of the situation.
This tug of war will be mentally draining on both ends. And when you’re just too exhausted to keep pulling, you will forfeit. You will stop pushing away all your emotions and start recognizing the truth. You will gain insight and learn that what you’re fighting for is not worth losing your feelings of love and happiness and every other essential, wonderful human instinct. You will join the team that is fighting for your dear life—your family. You will bond with your teammates, being eternally grateful that they advocated for you when you could not do so for yourself. Your relationship with your family—one marked with ups and downs and fights and apologies—will be mended. Flow with the currents of recovery and you will end up giving and receiving more love and gratitude than you ever imagined was possible. In recovery, your relationships may hit bumps in the road, but never lose faith that they may one day be better. Because if you’re like me, they will.