Friends are a bowl of rice.
Growing up in a Japanese home, rice was the mainstay of practically every meal. Even when my mom made spaghetti with garlic bread for dinner, there was always sticky white rice waiting in the cooker to soak up the marinara sauce. Musubis wrapped with crispy black nori, a pile of steaming jasmine topped with curry–rice was, and still is, an integral part of every dish, and without that scoop of rice on the plate, a meal didn’t feel complete.
The same can be said about friends.
I’ve known many people in my short thirty-five years–some of them ran miles and miles with me while training for marathons. Others sat their yoga mats next to me when I did Bikram yoga classes. A few performed box jumps and pull-ups with me when I dabbled in Crossfit. All of them are wonderfully friendly, considerate, and kind individuals that I still keep in touch with via social media. I see their posts about the newest asanas they are practicing, the last marathon they ran, or how they fared in the recent Crossfit Open–and I’m happy for them. I press my Facebook “like” button when I view their pictures and sometimes post a “Happy Birthday” or “Congratulations” for their landmark achievements. Unfortunately we don’t hang out at the beach on the weekends or laugh over glasses of wine very often, but their daily adventures (all documented via Facebook or IG) bring a smile to my face.
Then there are other people I recently met through work or other church activities that I also consider friends. A major trait that sets these colleagues apart from the aforementioned friends is that there’s a closeness, a bond, that is formed because of our mutual love for Christ. There is something easy about conversations with these folk because I never worry about being looked down on or condemned by them. Even if I tell them about the irrational eating disorder voice commanding me that I shouldn’t eat dessert or that I don’t need to eat lunch, they will not turn a judgmental eye in my direction. In fact, with a loving and peace giving spirit, these colleagues will stop to pray with me, or while we pass one another in the halls, in an encouraging voice, these co-workers let me know that they are praying for my health and well being during their own quiet times.
Then there are those people I rarely see but still feel a deep connection with. Most of these individuals are my close high school or college classmates, and this group of lovely gals are the ones that randomly message me to see how my day is going and send me birthday cards and well wishes, even if we rarely get to visit with one another because we live in different states and countries. The remarkable thing about these pals is that we may not have dinner or see each other face to face for months, even years, yet we can pick up conversations and laugh, cry, and enjoy life with each other like no time has elapsed at all. Although we reminisce about the teenage crushes we had as pimply high schoolers and chuckle at the photos of us with nineties-inspired haircuts and braces, there is an unspoken bond that we have one another’s backs no matter where life takes us.
All of these friends make my life complete. Like rice, they may look different (fried, instant, sticky, brown), yet all are wonderfully vital to making life (or to continue the metaphor–a meal) complete.
I love my friends. They help me in countless ways that they may not imagine. Here’s the thing though. When it comes to recovering from an eating disorder, no matter how good of a friend a person may be, no matter how many late night phone calls she makes to offer help, no matter how many times she encourages me with hugs and tears, she will never truly comprehend everything I will experience. It’s a sobering reality, but the walk to recovery is so individualized and exceedingly challenging, that it is God and God alone who can give the type of internal strength and support needed to overcome a viciously insidious eating disorder.
Take my situation for example. A handful of my high school and college friends have seen me at my lowest point, which was when I was admitted to an inpatient setting because my heart may have petered out at any moment. At the time I was a weak eighty something pounds and so frail a strong wind could break my bones. These gals went above and beyond what I could have ever imagined true friends to do: they attended support groups where we talked about eating disorder triggers, met with and asked my dietitian questions on how to help me stay on top of my meal plan, and cried with me when I openly shared about the many reasons that contributed to my physical deterioration. Yes, I eventually restored my weight and we celebrated the fact that I no longer ran miles after miles everyday and was FINALLY the old Lauren they knew. Life was grand, but then another major, stressful obstacle entered the picture and suddenly without forwarding I was back to square one–facing hospitalization because I was down to a double digit weight. Again. And then again. And then again. My friends did everything within their loving grasps to help, and I could see that relapse after relapse, time after time, how the emotional roller coaster they were involuntarily placed on was extremely exhausting and tested their limits of our relationship.
It is entirely frustrating. It is gut wrenching difficult to see a person one cares about NOT be able to eat or refrain from exercising even though it’s plainly obvious to even the blindest person that what she is doing is damaging her health. It is painful to see someone dying in front of you. I know. I saw my mom perish before me and I still am at a loss of words to describe the emotions there. It wasn’t until I was weight restored and more emotionally stable that my friends told me how much it pained their hearts to see me suffer.
Their words were like a sharp sword being driven into my gut. I hated the fact that I was putting another person through a crazy amount of stress, frustration, and sadness. I hated having another person feel pain at my expense. But then God revealed that my friends’ words and actions, the late night calls and lunches out to make sure I stayed on meal plan, were their ways of trying to understand what was going on in my convoluted and crazed brain. I know that if I saw my good friend in need, I’d be over to her home with coffee, donuts, and time to talk. They were merely doing the same and attempting to rectify a problem that required more than just their love to overcome.
So here are some words of insight to those who are family and friends of someone battling an eating disorder. I know you want to see your loved one beaming with a vibrant smile and free from the constraints of an eating disorder. You want to help and provide the best type of support. But here’s the kicker: the patient herself doesn’t expect you to know all the right answers, and in fact, the one battling the disease is not totally herself. She has become a hybrid of the real her and a grotesque mask of anorexia and compulsive exercise, and it is only after weight restoration when her cognitions become unfuzzy that she may be able to verbalized how best you CAN help. Until that point, just know the friend, the person you knew to be full of energy and life IS still there. Yes, her rational mind is eclipsed by a sinister eating disorder voice that is trying to do everything within its’ power to keep a hold on its’ victim, but just love her. You don’t need to give advice or attempt to carve out a treatment plan. Just be there. Let her know that you will not leave her side even when she struggles with gaining those last few pounds.
Love her the way you want to be loved. In Matthew 7:12, Jesus commanded us to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and while it is entirely normal to want to shake a person going through treatment to “JUST EAT!!! IT’S SO EASY!!!”, it is not so easy for the patient. If the solution was merely to “just eat”, she wouldn’t be at that low weight in the first place. There are psychological and biological factors that contribute to a girl developing an eating disorder, and to recover from such a mental disorder requires nutrition intervention and (more importantly) psycho-social education. Would you tell an alcoholic, “Hey, just stop drinking?” and then automatically assume he’ll refrain from hanging out at the bar or going to the store for a six pack? Obviously not, yet many don’t see that eating disorder treatment is similar to any other kind of addiction recovery–missing coping mechanisms are replaced with negative ones, and the further one engages in them, the more the disorder warps her brain into thinking those destructive tools are the only way to find true happiness.
So to my friends, the ones that I’ve known from our years at Bingham Bench, the ones that taught me about God in InterVarsity, the ones that I talk English and books with, the ones that enjoy sweating in the gym with me, to all of you, thank you for supporting me thus far, even though it is one hell of a challenging and heart wrenching journey. Thank you for the messages and words of affirmation, for taking me out to lunch, and for praying for my needs. My only hope is that even during this challenging time of recovery, I too can be just as good of a friend to you as you have been to me. Thank you for being my bowl of rice–I don’t know what I’d do without your starchy goodness on my plate